Wednesday, July 23, 2008

That Was Soooo Taguchi!!

It was redemption night at Shea Stadium Tuesday evening.

Without further ado:

So Taguchi, c'mon down.

Perhaps no one has been more savaged in the blogosphere than Taguchi, signed this past off-season to be primarily a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter. Until last night Taguchi had, charitably speaking, been neither. He was zero for sixteen as a pinch-hitter and had botched more than a few balls in the field.

Last night he came up in the top of the ninth with the Phils trailing 5-3, the bases loaded and no outs and was quickly in a 0-2 hole. Uh oh, So. But this stoic veteran hung in there like the professional he is, fouling off pitches, even throwing his bat at one pitch to barely stay alive and, then all of sudden, he drives a ball over the head of rightfielder Endy Chavez and look, two men are scoring, the game is tied, there are still no outs! Can it be, as Harry would have said had he been there? The past is suddenly forgotten, especially when the Phils go on to score three more runs to cap an improbable (to say the very least) comeback and victory over the stunned New Yorkers. So, you are officially forgiven.

Carlos Ruiz, c'mon down.

If Soguchi isn't the most savaged player in the blogosphere, Carlos Ruiz is. The Panamanian catcher was expected to handle most of the starting assignments this year and continue his improvement at the plate. Instead, he is splitting time with Chris Coste and struggling to remain above the Mendoza line. But not this night. Ruiz gathered two hits off a very tough Johann Santana and drove in one run in that miraculous ninth on a fielder's choice. He even smiled a few times like he was enjoying himself for a change.

Jimmy Rollins, c'mon down.

J-Roll needs no redemption in this observer's opinion, but apparently he does throughout the airwaves, pixels and printed pages of the Delaware Valley. It's been an up-and-down season for the reigning NL MVP. Most of the barbs have been aimed at Jimmy's effort, perceived lack of hustle at times, and lack of patience at the plate. Still, he's the guy who makes the Phillies go...or not...and he is one of those players who rises to the occasion when the stage is biggest. They hate him in New York ("Hate" is probably too strong a word for a guy who is very appealing: they just love to razz him) which is fine with Jimmy because he loves playing in the Big Apple and makes no bones about it. That 100 megawatt smile needs lots of spotlights trained on it and he is always obliging. The New York press eagerly anticipated Jimmy's arrival for this big series and he, as always, obliged them with good copy. His two run double last night gave the Phils the lead for good.

Shane Victorino, c'mon down.

If anyone tends to drive fans to distraction nearly as much as Jimmy it is Shane Victorino, who has the tools, energy and personality to succeed but is forever failing to do the little things like hit the ball the other way or work the count or just hit a fly ball with a runner on third and less than two outs. When he fails to deliver the faithful just shake their heads and dream about the departed Aaron Rowand. But people forget this is only his fourth season and his first as a full time starter and good things lie ahead for him. He is a superb fielder, has a great arm, can run the bases, and hits for average. He isn't the power hitter most people associate with centerfield, but on a team with lots of power that part of his game isn't missed. When he and Jimmy are clicking on all cylinders the Phillies' engine purrs.

Last night he homered off of Johann Santana and later got a key hit in that rally in the ninth. More significantly, he busted his butt to second on a grounder to short where he could have been an easy out had Jose Reyes not botched the play and simply missed stepping on the bag for the force. Watching Victorino storm into second waving his arms frantically in the safe sign several times tells you all you need to know about this guy. He hustles. He claps his hands in excitement. He comes to play.

Pat Burrell, the Fielder, c'mon down.

How about that throw by Pat Burrell to cut down Endy Chavez? Everyone knows they can't run on Pat, even Charlie Manuel. Is Pat Burrell a great outfielder? Hardly. Does he catch most things he can get to? Definitely. Does he have a gun for an arm? You'd better believe it. Endy does. Manuel insists he's still going to replace Burrell in the field when appropriate but I'd be willing to bet the definition of "appropriate" has been stretched in the last few games.

The Phillies offense, c'mon down.

Offense was supposed to be the Phillies' strength, but over the last 30 games they have been missing in action, scoring fewer runs on average than at any time in the last two years. (Two 20-run games during the stretch skew their average substantially. The numbers are even worse without those two blowouts.) The biggest problem has been getting hits with runners in scoring position.

Not last night, however. The hits just kept on coming in the ninth inning. Next to watching the players on the bases and in the dugout clapping, jumping for joy and smiling ear-to-ear, the greatest delight was watching as the cameras continually panned the stunned New York crowd, the furrows in their collective brows deepening with each AB.

One final note.

It may have been Redemption Night at Shea, but as the cameras panned the outfield walls picking up the various emblems of the Mets' successful past (World Series victories, NL Division Titles, etc.) the one that kept catching my eye was "1969 WS Champions". There will never be any redemption on that front as far as this longtime Orioles fan is concerned.

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