Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Living Another Day

Ignominy was in the batters' box in the person of Russell Branyan. Two men were on and two were out. Fortunately for the Phils, Branyan always either strikes out or homers -- nothing in between. This time he took a called third strike to end the game and thus the Phils, who at one time led the Cardinals 11-0, held on to win 13-11. It wasn't pretty but as they say, it was effective. Big home runs by home-grown Ryan Howard (two of them), Jimmy Rollins and Aaron Rowand (also two) moved the Phils to within 2.5 games of the Mets and 1.5 games of the Padres.

With the specter of their meltdown in Atlanta a few weeks ago fresh in everyone's mind, the Phillies avoided having last night's game enter the annals of late-season horrors. There is no rest for the weary. Tonight may really be the most important game of the season when Cole Hamels, who has been on the DL for more than a month, takes the hill. Hamels will be on a strict pitch count according to reports, but if he can give his mates five solid innings the boost to morale will be incalculable. Coming at a time when the starting rotation remains in tatters and the bullpen is nearly spent, a quality start by Hamels could make the difference between a berth in the post-season or not.

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With so many different position players taking turns leading the Phillies second-half surge one player who has quietly played a key role has been lost in the shuffle. Carlos Ruiz has taken on the lion's share of the catching duties and has performed admirably. Any carryover from last season's reports of some language difficulties in communicating with pitchers have evaporated. Ruiz has also become something of a fire-brand, whipping the ball around, urging on his battery-mates, taking command, throwing out base-runners and hitting decently, indeed sometimes in a little bit of hard luck. He blocks the plate, handles bunts very efficiently and has become a very dependable backstop. Nor is he afraid to get into it with opposing players either when necessary. His energy level rivals that of some of the more vocal Phillies.

1 comment:

David said...

I like your commentary on Ruiz, whose unspectacular contributions often get lost in the shuffle. He is a solid presence on the field. I think it's safe to say he won't need an overpriced caddy next season.