Monday, September 25, 2006

Let's Run The Table

Having pushed their home record above .500 for the first time this season with a win on Saturday, the Phillies stepped onto the field Sunday in sultry, tropical-like Citizens Bank Park and could have been excused if they thought their game with the Marlins had been hijacked overnight to South Florida. And sure enough, when a torrential downpour arrived in the top of the seventh inning, delaying the game and sending the sold-out crowd for cover, even the weather man seemed to be in on the old switcheroo.

In between, the Phils watched the Marlins jump out to a quick 4-0 lead against Jamie Moyer before most fans had taken their seats only to roar right back with seven runs of their own in the bottom of the third en route to a 10-7 win. Then, it was on to scoreboard watching, and what a experience that turned out to be. First, the Padres maintained their 1.5 game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West with a 2-1 win against the Pirates and later Nomar Garciaparra added his name to Los Angeles’ wall of fame but most assuredly not to the Phillies Christmas card list by hitting his second walk-off home run of the week, this one a grand slam, as the Dodgers beat Arizona 5-1 to remain half a game behind the Phils in the Wild Card chase.

Speaking of the Wild Card, a few ploggers and I will be at Citizens Bank Park this evening for the final regular season home game. In anticipation of attending, I informed my wife I would not be home for dinner.

“How are they doing?” she asked in blissful ignorance.

“They’re a half game ahead in the Wild Card chase,” I replied.

“What is the ‘wild card’?” she inquired.

After I explained the finer points, my wife’s take on the whole matter was this:

“So, let me get this straight. They’re playing for fourth place and the best possible outcome at this stage won’t even see them on the medals’ stand. Am I correct?”

I started to say, well, no, not exactly but stopped myself short. Leave it there, I told myself, and with that, any thoughts of inviting her to join me at the game vanished.

After a long pause, she looked at me and must have guessed what I was thinking. “Have a good time at the game, dear.”

Back at the Bank, Sunday’s affair featured the continued torrid hitting of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, a near home run by Ryan Howard (who had two hits), and the daily Abraham Nunez show at third base. Nunez is routinely turning in three or four outstanding plays a game at the hot corner and, temporarily, making everyone forget his anemic batting average. As a matter of fact, in yesterday’s win with the Phils trailing 4-0 after only one inning Nunez started the first rally of the day with a solid single in the hole. After Moyer sacrificed him to second, Jimmy Rollins smote a home run to left and the comeback was on. Utley followed with the first of his two home runs of the day and Chris Coste capped off the rally with a three-run blast. Later, Coste told reporters it was the “biggest home run of my career” and he wanted “to do cartwheels around the bases.”

Nunez is still not the likely answer at third base next year, but his continual astounding play in the field and his slow, inexorable climb back to respectability at the plate may induce the Phillies to believe he can man the fort for one more season while they fill other holes.

For his part, Utley’s sense of timing is as marvelous as his overall approach to the game. He’d been scuffling for weeks until this current home stand, but ever since his average temporarily dipped below .300 during Wednesday night’s game he has been impossible to retire, raising his average in the process to .309 including 31 home runs and 98 rbi’s. Meanwhile, Jimmy’s home run was his 24th and the two rbi’s raised his total to 76, both career highs. He also has 183 hits and 122 runs scored.

So the Phils are in the position of controlling their own destiny. No matter what the Dodgers do this coming week, the Phillies can keep them at bay by playing as they have for the past week. A short while ago Charlie Manuel declared the team that got hot would win the Wild Card. Right now the Phillies are that team. All they have to do now is remain so.


tc said...

Not to get greedy but the Phils are now technically in "third place" in the national league - with a better record than St. Louis. Never thought that would happen.

To boot, as a Phils phan in the heart of Red Sox nation, I've been told on more than one occasion over the past two weeks that the BoSox would be in the playoffs if they were in the NL East. Well, damned if the Phightens aren't a half game in back of the Sawx. I can't wait to catch them.

Enjoy the game tonight. Looking forward to your report tomorrow.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

Y'know you're drowning in optimism when you start trying to justify £400+ expenditure to get to Philadelphia for a NLDS game which has no guarantee of happening, and takes place one week before one of your best friend's wedding, two weeks before your other best friend's wedding, and would mean arriving back the morning of a crucial tie for your national footie team.

I swear, if there hadn't been 5+ weddings this year, including my own, my credit card would have been maxed out and I'd be leaving a very angry wife behind . . .

Tom Goodman said...

A Phils fan in Red Sox Nation. Yikes!! I lived in Cambridge for two years, long before the Hub was known as Red Sox Nation, and at the time was an Orioles fan having grown up in Baltimore. I kept it to myself, especially when I went to Fenway.

Tom Goodman said...

Oisin: Have your wife call my wife.

tc said...

I went to the BoSox-Phils series up here a couple years ago and the Sox fans were gracious. The Phils were no threat to them (and were so good as to give them 2 of 3, I think).

But I can't imagine being an O's fan in Red Sox nation - the closest I came to that was the Iggles-Pats Supe. The Pats fans were down right nasty to me. Of course, I didn't win any friends when I compared their swagger to that of Yankees fans...

Oisín/Wizlah said...

funnily enough, one of aforementioned best friends is a red sox fan (he has even less of a reason to get into baseball than I, esp. red sox baseball), and over the years we've been consistently surprised at the connections between the two teams - be it heathcliff slocumb or tito francona. so each of us ends up rooting for the other guys team a fair bit. I don't dare assume its like that when you're in the middle of red sox nation tho'.

And tom - any counselling of the wife is appreciated. Imagine the looks you get when you're asked why you came to bed at 3.30am, so waking said life partner from essential sleep, not because you're even drunk, just because you were watching a baseball game . . .

RickSchuBlues said...

With all these New England Phils fans crawling out of the woodwork, I'll chime in 'cause I lived in Boston for four years myself...I attended the first ever game between the Phils and Red Sox, which had an absolutely miserable ending...the Phils had a two-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth, but then Gregg Jefferies overran a fly ball in the left-field corner, and with the score tied and the bases loaded, Ricky Bottalico hit a batter with a pitch to force in the winning run. I remember downtroddenly boarding a packed T at Kenmore station, full of jubilant Sox fans, and me there with my sorry Phillies regalia...oh, why look back! It's looking better now, eh?

I like the Sox okay, but really, the whole martyr bit was always so overblown. If you're from Philadelphia, you're not going to have any use for all those Boston sob stories. The Red Sox have, I think, *2* losing records in the past 35 years. Please - how you all suffer.

Tom Goodman said...

RSB: Four years, eh? That made you a student there by my calculation. (You have now exhausted my math skills.)

Yes indeed, Red Sox fans do know how to toot their own suffering horns, don't they? I've always described them as the "long-suffering insufferable Red Sox fans."

I am sure you are familiar with the famous Steinberg map of New York. (Once the cover of an issue of the New Yorker and now an ubiquitous poster.) His map illustrates the notion that everything beyond the Hudson River is not just terra incognita as far as New Yorkers are concerned, it's terra New Yorkers don't feel any need to know. If he'd done a map of Boston, the areas west of Concord would be terra Bostonians refused to acknowledge even exists!!

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

I will beat you all...

I was student in Boston for 4 years from 1990-1994. I then lived and worked there full-time from 1997-2003. I was the ultimate Phillies fan in Boston all those years.

I was at that game where Bottalico blew the game in Fenway. That hurt like a bitch! I went to many more Sox Phils games at Fenway where there were some better results.

And I will be at the game tonight. I'd love to know where you guys will be. I'd love to meet up with a few of you.

tc said...

Well, I didn't expect this sort of thread after my initial comment. Nice to hear people return to the Philly area after spending time up here.

For the record, I've found Sox fans pretty supportive of my Philly fandom.

That said, I think BoSox fans dole out their support in a backhanded way. Going to RSB's and Goodman's point, I was telling my boss about how great it was to be at Fenway for a Phils game and have a friendly back and forth with some Sox fans. He said, "yeah, we have a soft spot for losers."

I've also found a remarkable number of people yell "go phils" when I am walking the streets in my hat. It usually leads to a conversation about where in PA I came from. Last week at the Sox-Twins game I was sitting in front of a Phils fan and we spent the game calling people for Phils updates since the scoreboard changer was taking his sweet old time updating the score.

But enough of that. I love being up here and having the Phils still in it. Go Phils.

RickSchuBlues said...

I was not actually a student in Boston, but that's a reasonable assumption when someone only lives there for four years!

Want to talk about Jimmy Rollins for a minute, because I can't get over how good this guy is. I mentioned over on BL that his numbers are up in the territory of his idol, Rickey Henderson, but what's even more amazing, as his homers have increased by ten, is that it hasn't resulted in him (or from him) swinging for the fences. He's been consistent, not overswinging, hitting line drives to all fields, and having better and longer at-bats through this power surge. And can anyone remember a switch-hitter who had such perfect symmetry from both sides of the plate? Rollins has an excellent shot to be one of the best players, and the best shortstop, in Phillies history; I think his game sometimes gets lost amidst all the hubbub over Utley and Howard.

J. Weitzel said...

“Let’s run the table” = The most infuriating hangover headline ever.