Thursday, May 10, 2007

Comfort Zone

Ryan Howard's first-pitch pinch-hit grand slam home run provided quite a lift for this fan but not nearly as much as reading about it this morning in my first opportunity in nearly two weeks to sit down with a hard copy of the newspaper.

No amount of bookmarks, toolbar icons, hyperlinks or aggregators can substitute for sitting at the dinning room table with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper. Thumbing through the pages, scanning the headlines and images, I felt reconnected to the Phillies and Philadelphia itself as I hadn't since suspending home delivery in anticipation of our move into town. This familiar and comfortable feeling was akin to the one I always experience upon returning from a long trip and turning on KYW 1060 to hear the weather, traffic or just the familiar voice of Harry Donahue.

As for the game itself, the Phils looked over matched again through six innings as Randy Johnson befuddled them. The ancient left-hander opened the game by striking out the first six batters. He continued to dominate the Phils until the seventh when he surrendered a single, hit batter and walk to load the bases and set up Howard's dramatic pinch-hit.

Johnson's opposite and equally ancient number, Jamie Moyer, turned in another fine performance. Where would the Phils be without this steady, dependable senior citizen? Somewhere closer to the woeful Washington Nationals no doubt. Brett Myers relieved Moyer to begin the eighth inning and pitched two solid innings to record his third save and, more importantly, further consolidate his spot as the team's closer. I had been dubious about Myers' shift to the bullpen, fearing his temperament was ill-suited to the pressure, but he has convinced this doubter he can fill the role.

The Phils return home from a 4-6 road trip to the not so friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park. A quick look at the NL East standings shows four of the five teams have either losing or .500 records at home. Only Atlanta has a winning record in their own ballpark.


David said...

Rarely have I ever witnessed a more instantaneous reversal of fortunes as when I saw Howard connect for his slam. I had to rub my eyes and convince myself I wasn't watching a highlight from some other season, but this actually happening *live*. It seemed, as you might say, beyond the Phillies' ken.

And so instead of a morose conclusion to a dispiriting 3-7 trip, there is again a glimmer of hope with a manageable 4-6 trip and a 10-game homestand to follow.

Howard's homerun was a badly needed reminder of how quickly one's perspective can change. Things can go along in a seemingly endless rut, but the possibility always remains that it can get turned around, just like that, when you least expect it.

I assume you read the Inquirer and not "The People Paper" this morning, but I wonder if you caught Conlin's first Phillies column in a month, in which he appears to absolve Gillick in the course of reiterating Ed Wade's sins. The most interesting part of it was his assertion that Jim Leyland, in his manegerial interview, had demanded that Burrell, Bell, and Lieberthal be moved posthaste. I wonder where exactly he got that information, but I don't doubt that it's accurate. I hate to dredge up the whole Leyland/Manuel thing, but it does render one ill to consider the difference he could have made to this organization. Alas, Burrell is somehow *still* here, and less relevant than ever. His lethargic bat singlehandly seems to bring the Phillies' energy level down several notches.

Tom Goodman said...

Yes, it was the Inquirer. I haven't read the Conlin piece but will do so. Your point about Howard and the glimmer of hope are precisely how I felt at the time but in posting this morning I was unable to allow myself to feel too excited. Things do get turned around "just like that" but he has a long row to hoe before he is all the way back. I have been one to post in the past that I detected a different batting stance and last night before he hit that pitch he looked more like his former self (vintage 2006) than I can recall from this season. So, despite myself I was at least thinking optimistically if not posting so.

Nat said...

I have never really been on the "shoulda hired Leyland" bandwagon, but if you're telling me that doing so would have avoided two full season seasons of watching Lieberthal, nearly two seasons of Bell and god knows how much longer of watching "rhymes with Fat Girl," I'm on it now.

David said...

Where Howard is concerned, you're quite right. The main problem, other than whatever problem he's having with his legs, is that he's just not having good at-bats, and ignoring the fundamental rule of hitting as proclaimed by Ted Williams: "Get a good ball to hit." I think you're right that his hitting approach and stance are off as well, and these are big factors in his early performance, but to me the biggest of all is that he's just trying to do too much. It's almost a shame he couldn't have had the SF series to sit out instead of Arizona, because it would have perhaps been helpful for him to hone in on what Barry Bonds does. No one wants to pitch to Bonds, and yet he still puts up great numbers because he knows he'll see one pitch to do something with in a given at-bat, he waits for it. If he doesn't get it, he walks; if he gets it, he kills it. Howard needs to sit and watch and think for a bit. He'll get it, I think. This is just something he has to go through, but he's too smart and talented to have his star dimmed. (Although he could stand to start losing some weight.)

J. Weitzel said...

Howard isn't getting much to hit, either. That's a factor here, too. Frankly, pitchers know what's behind him can be handled pretty easily. What's Burrell batting now ... .237, no power?

Perhaps we're seeing why lineup protection in the form of Soriano or Sheffield was such a priority for Gillick.

David said...

It's funny, but I actually think Burrell has a better overall approach to hitting this season. He isn't pulling off nearly as much, and a lot more balls are being hit where they're pitched. I think the main trouble is, he doesn't really do much with hittable pitches most of the time. His bat is getting to be as slow as his gait. And yes, that absolutely does affect the pitches Howard sees. I think Helms was brought in as an alternate no. 5 hitter in case this happened to Burrell - but *he* doesn't even have a single homer!

JW, I know you have an issue with Gillick getting no return in too many trades, but I think we can both see the day approaching where the exact same thing is going to happen with Burrell. Me, I'll just be glad to not have to watch him anymore. But I supppose that sounds all too familiar. People said, 'don't trade him for fifty-cents on the dollar' in the off-season, just as they had in the previous off-season with Abreu. So the Phils ended up getting about five cents on the dollar for Abreu, and watch it happen all over again with Burrell, either in July or November.

Bottom line: go back and read Gillick's comments back on *October* about what needed to be addressed on this team: protection for Howard and a more fortified bullpen. Solution: Wes Helms and Antonio Alfonseca. Bill Giles himself couldn't have done any worse. Other than acquiring starting pitchers who are well past their prime, Gillick has been a miserable failure.

Oisín/Wizlah said...

speaking of comfort zones, Pat G obliged you today, Tom, by lobbing a big ol' fat pitch in the inquirer this morning. I'm looking forward to you hitting it out of the park.

(I left out the fancy hyper-text links out of respect for your love of ink and coffee.)