The more these names appear at the heart of the story line, the better. Last night the foursome took center stage for the umpteenth time as the Phils opened their last regular season series at home by beating the Florida Marlins 5-2 before a packed house at the Bank.
Rollins got things started with a double in the first inning, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Shane Victorino and scored on Utley’s first of three singles.
Hamels threw 6.1 innings of one run ball, striking out ten and lowering his ERA to just a shade over 4. The rookie left-hander improved his record to 9-8 and his overall standing in the eyes of his opponents to ace in waiting.
As for the big guy, he sent a tracer over the left field wall for his 58th home run (*59 including the one that was stolen in Houston), tying him with the legendary XX, Jimmy Fox, for most home runs hit by a Philadelphia player. Fox hit his 58 in 1932 for the A’s. (Every time I read or hear about the A’s I wonder what it would be like to have two major league teams in town. Ah, well, we’d all take sides anyway and be rooting for either the Phils or the A’s.)
Howard didn’t see many pitches worth swinging at last night, but when he did he took full advantage. A few weeks ago Howard burned the Marlins badly and they vowed never to throw him anything in the same zip code when they met again. The pitch Howard hit wasn’t that bad, but it had enough of his zip code for him to send it to the adjacent one. Once that was done, the Marlins went back to plan B, issuing him intentional walks. Howard isn’t going to see many more pitches this season, especially from any team managed by Joe Girardi.
Everyone in town has been fretting over who will bat behind the big fella, the baseball orthodoxy being that the better the bat behind your power guy the more it forces the opposition to pitch to, not around him. However, as Rob Parent points out in this morning’s Inquirer, the more often the guys in front of Howard get on, the tougher it will be to issue him a free pass or try and pitch around him. Sure enough, Jimmy’s two doubles and Utley’s three singles meant as much if not more last night than the prospect of facing Dellucci, Burrell or Conine. In fact, Howard’s home run came at the precise moment in the game that Florida’s brain trust was on the fence about how to pitch to him. Once Howard decided matters by putting a pitch over that fence, the whole point was moot.
Lost in all the excitement about the Phillies’ post-season aspirations was the fact that the Yankees clinched the AL East the other night meaning Bobby Abreu will be going to the playoffs for the first time in his admirable ten year career. Hats off to Bobby!
Aaron Rowand & Shane Victorino
A piece in this morning’s Inquirer noted that Aaron Rowand had his cast removed the other day and was in the clubhouse making noises that he’s trying to get back in time for the post-season. While Rowand’s desires are well-known and admirable, it says here that should he return, manager Charlie Manuel should forego his normal policy that starters don’t lose their jobs due to injury and stick with Shane Victorino in centerfield. When it comes to desire and all-out hustle, Rowand has nothing on Shane. When it comes to everything else, Victorino is the superior fielder with better range and a far superior arm. As for batting, Victorino is at least Rowand’s equal overall and a far more dangerous base runner. To cap things off, whenever a bunt is called for, Victorino lays one down, as he did last night to push Jimmy Rollins to third in the first inning. Jimmy then scored the first run of the game on Utley's single.
Howard's Glove & Feet
That was a great play by Howard and Gordon in the top of the ninth. He is a far better fielder than some give him credit for and he is likely to improve further with more experience.
His is also one heck of a demon on the base paths for such a big guy. The only thing that worries me is that he always slides head first. He must think he's Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins. Got to stop that.
A lot of people talk about his gut but it looks pretty flat to this "big-frame" observer. Howard is much more nimble than your average 6'4" 250 lb. guy.
Local fans greeted the arrival of Matt Smith with their usual skepticism, believing he was little more than a throw-in when the Yankees swiped Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle from the Phils. They might be right down the road, but for now he's performed sparingly but very effectively. Charlie Manuel has an obvious tendency to mistrust newcomers and rookies unless forced to use them so Smith has not had sufficient opportunities to show his stuff, but from what I've seen he deserves serious consideration next year for the role Arthur Rhodes performed so unreliably this past season. His numbers are very good and what's more he seems poised and confident in tight situations.