Thursday, October 30, 2008

Oh, What A Season

If you are looking for coherence this morning, you should probably move on. Too many thoughts and feelings are trying to get out at the same time.

As the Phillies began assembling the core of what would become a World Series championship team - Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Pat Burrell, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, Brett Myers - many of us hoped they would remain together long enough to reach their goal. When they added the missing pieces - Brad Lidge, Greg Dobbs, JC Romero, Pedro Feliz, Chad Durbin - many of us allowed ourselves to believe they had arrived at the moment when they could indeed contend. (For the record, I picked them to finish third in their division!!)

Now that they have won the World Series changes are inevitable, but for themselves and their fans they will always be the 2008 team, veterans and youngsters, stars and journeymen, numbers 26, 6, 8, 5, 11 etc., frozen in time, wearing red pinstripes, piling on each other in front of the mound, spraying champagne, to a man reveling in their personal triumph and in the collective triumph of the city in which they play.

One refrain we heard in every post-game interview throughout the playoffs and Series was how good the chemistry was on this team. There were no cliques or controversies. These guys more than got along; they delighted in their comraderie. Veterans like Rudy Seanez, who wasn't even on the post-season roster, expressed the feeling this was the most cohesive clubhouse they'd ever known.

More than once throughout the post-game celebration, commentators recalled the immortal lines of Flyers' coach Fred Shero: "win tonight and we walk together forever".

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As long as we are looking back and forward, we should again remind ourselves again how lucky we are to be watching Chase Utley play the game every day. Utley's home run in game one was the key blow. He would hit another key home run in their 5-4 victory in game three. For the rest of the series he struggled at the plate, but he more than made up for it with his superb defense. His backhand grab up the middle, deke to first base and off-balance throw to the plate to nail Jason Bartlett at the plate in the top of the seventh with the potential go-ahead run was the key defensive play of the game if not the series.

He just does everything right. There can be no greater tribute to a player.

* * * * * * * *

We may have seen Pat Burrell play his last game in a Phillies uniform. For most of his career Burrell was a man of few words. During this post-season run he has opened up more, expressing his hopes for the team and its legions of fans, who haven't always been kind to him. When a teammate came through with a clutch hit, Burrell was usually the first guy to greet him at the top of the dugout steps, a wide grin and clap on the back at the ready. Mired in a oh-for-the-series slump prior to his last at bat, Burrell chose his final moment to deliver the hit that eventually led to the winning run. It was no small measure of satisfaction for a guy who more than any other Phillie emblemizes the vicissitudes of a big leaguer's life in Philadelphia.

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Pedro Feliz was signed in the off-season to provide great defense and a decent bat at third base, which had been a trouble spot ever since a fellow named Schmidt retired. Feliz delivered exactly what was expected. He grabbed everything hit his way and threw the ball with unbelievable authority. And once every four times at the plate he would come through, especially last night as he drove in the game-winning, Series-clinching run.

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Carlos Ruiz had a tough year at the plate but he picked things up in the playoffs. Where he stood out was behind the plate. He started the year sharing the catching duties with Chris Coste. There were even a few pitchers who appeared reluctant to see him behind the plate. By the end of the season and throughout the playoffs Coste had completely disappeared and Ruiz had emerged as the team's field general. To a man the pitching staff likes throwing to him and it shows when they congratulate each other after a victory.

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A quick glance at the totals in the box score from last night's game reveals that none of the Phillies hit very well throughout the five-game series. They won because of their pitching, plain and simple, and because of the superb advance scouting that enabled the Phillies pitchers to stop a potent Rays' offense in their tracks. Both starters and relievers delivered as they'd done all year. Prior to the beginning of the season the offense was seen as this team's strength and, in fact, they did score more runs than any other team except the Cubs. But they would go through long stretches of poor hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, and when they did score it was in bunches and usually via the long ball. The one constant throughout the season was their bullpen, led by Brad Lidge, who converted every save opportunity with which he was presented. The biggest surprise throughout the season was the performance of Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, who led the staff with sixteen victories but faltered for the first time all year in his first two playoff appearances. Fortunately, he rallied in his onlyi World Series start to pitch a fine game. Will Moyer be back next year? Hard to say. With the emergence of Cole Hamels as the true staff ace, the apparent resurgence of Brett Myers, and the solid pitching by Joe Blanton, who really picked it up in the post-season, the Phillies starting rotation should be solid again next season.

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Last night's game ended at 9:58PM EDT, the earliest finish in the entire series. The early time meant in all likelihood a lot of school-age kids got to watch the final game of the Series as well as all the celebrating. Few things are more apt to make fans out of kids than the excitement and jubilation they witnessed in real time.

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Finally, my hats of to the Phillies bloggers who have made this such a wonderful season. Jason Weitzel (Beerleaguer), Erik Grissom (Philliesflow), Tom Goyne (Balls, Sticks and Stuff), and Tom Durso (Poor Richard's Scorecard) are my regular stops but there are many other worthy chroniclers and pundits. Congratulations to all of you, too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nearly Everyone In Philadelphia Reads Swing

If you are sitting in the Rays' clubhouse reading this (what?!, the Rays don't read Swing?) you're telling yourself you're still in this thing.

If you are sitting in the Phils' clubhouse reading this (we know Chase, Ryan, Brad and Shane can't begin their day without finding out what Swing has to say!), you're telling yourself, hey, we're up 3-1, Game 5 is tonight and we get an extra at bat!!!

See you at the parade. Friday?

Monday, October 20, 2008

What We Hope

Finally, an opponent, and a worthy one at that. Experts, so-called experts, self-anointed experts and the rest of us will offer our predictions. I won't simply because I haven't a clue who will win. I will allow I am delighted the Red Sox were eliminated. Their "nation" and the drumbeat for it in the media are nauseating at this point.

The best expression of our collective local hopes here in the Delaware Valley can be found hanging from one of the bridge overpasses on the Vine Street Expressway. The hand-lettered sheet says it all:


Friday, October 17, 2008

Still Ticking

Anyone out there who still believes experience doesn't count should check out this morning's results of the Tampa Bay-Boston game. Down 7-0 in the seventh, the Red Sox roared back to win 8-7.

The Red Sox may be harder to kill off than virtually any other hydra-headed team in sport...but Tampa Bay is going to regroup and do it...unless, of course, the old Josh Beckett shows up.


Everyone outside the Delaware Valley was rooting for a LA-Boston series for many reasons other than Manny Being Vengeful. The two cities certainly have their historic rivalry, at least in terms of basketball. But the Philadelphia-Boston rivalry isn't exactly chopped liver when it comes to the hardwood and when it comes to Digby Baltzell's Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, we have it all over those nouveaux antagonistes from Southern California.

Who's the better opponent for the Phils? Tampa Bay is loaded with young talent, but those Red Sox are always dangerous even when you cut off four or five of their heads.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ain't The Beer Cold?!!

By the sixth inning I already knew my headline for today's post, a tribute to longtime Orioles' announcer Chuck Thompson.

The Phils weren't my pre-season pick to win the division let alone the NL championship. They were good, I thought then, but they didn't have the pitching to go deep into October. Their offense wasn't a concern, but the bullpen and starting rotation looked pretty thin.

Shows what I know.

The axiom was and will always remain good pitching beats good hitting but that didn't mean the Phils were sufficiently endowed to prove it. Let the record show, however, that good pitching and enough hitting were indeed the order of the season as the Phils motored through the NLDS and NLCS, winning seven of nine games they played.

Cole Hamels established himself not only as the team's ace; he settled any lingering questions as to his status as a big game pitcher by convincingly winning his three starts, one against Milwaukee and two against the Dodgers. For his efforts he was rewarded with the MVP of the NLCS.

Naturally, as is nearly always the case, Jimmy Rollins, who struggled much of the series against LA, set the tone just as he did in the clincher versus the Brewers when he led off this game with a home run. It always bears repeating: as goes Jimmy, so go the Phillies.

Yes, there were many other heroes in this series, not least of all was Shane Victorino both with the glove and the bat. Chase Utley hit well, throwing that monkey off his bat, and fielded even better. When the Phils pulled off a double play in the bottom of the sixth, forever squashing the Dodgers' hopes in this game and series, he allowed himself a rare display of public emotion, a fist pump.

Ryan Howard, who nearly every fan was on for failing to adjust to the breaking stuff away every team was feeding him, had three hits last night to follow up his two the night before. Some self-anointed pundits posting comments elsewhere suggested he be benched for defense in late innings. A few geniuses even suggested Howard be traded, though they would have the decency to wait for the off-season!

Then there were Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, who down the stretch have been as effective a one-two punch as any in baseball. Madson was absolutely flawless. Lidge provided more than a few anxious moments, but always clamped down in the end.

And finally, there was Charlie Manuel. A few years ago nearly everyone was ready to run him out of town for his accent to say nothting of his difficulties with the double-switch. But the players love him and playing for a guy you feel strongly about makes a big difference, especially when there are 25 egos to salve. If nothing else, Manuel succeeded in making every player on this roster believe he would get a chance to contribute. And guess what? They did.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Boorish In LA

I was wondering how many of the national media outlets, especially ESPN, FOX and TBS, would pick up the following story about fan behavior in LA during the NLCS? The pundits are always quick to point out the deficiencies of Philadelphia fans, but they never quite seem to run with the story when the location changes.

Lesser Lights Shine Brightly

Matt Stairs' majestic home run underscores what I wrote below ("Superb Coverage") regarding the best observation this post-season by a television commenter.

I cannot recall if it was [John] Smoltz or [Joe] Simpson (I believe it was the former), but one of them made an incredibly astute observation regarding why in short, post-season series lesser known players frequently succeed. Simply because the opposition identifies which players are most likely to beat them and concentrates a lot of energy trying to prevent that from happening. This emphasis allows the more lightly taken threats to sneak through. The playoffs and World Series have seen a lot of these lesser threats take center stage.

Stairs takes his rightful place at center stage not only in Phillies lore but in the annals of post-season baseball. His shot deep into the Southern California night was a thing of beauty in form to say nothing of function. Not bad for a guy who can go two or three games without making an appearance and then is "merely" summoned to face the other team's best reliever usually in a pressure-packed situation with the game on the line. The thing is, with Stairs it does not appear the pressure part plays much if any role in his approach. He's been doing this for fifteen years, knows what to expect and what he expects of himself, and just does it.

A lot of role players have come and gone in Phillies history, many of them more athletic looking and, frankly, a little more shall we say colorful. Their names and numbers merge in some vague collective recollection. Indeed, in some cases their nicknames may be easier to recall than their exploits. But years from now Phillies fans will be able to ask one another, "were you watching the night Matt Stairs hit that home run?" and everyone will instantly nod knowingly and will close their eyes and see that perfect swing and hear the crack of the bat.

Stairs may be just passing through town on his way to a comfortable retirement in the not so distant future, but should he decide to pay the occasional visit to Philadelphia in subsequent years he is advised to leave his wallet behind.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Make That One More, Please

Yes, we know revenge is a dish best served cold but Shane Victorino never got the memo.

One night after taking one for the club and being none too happy about the location of his largess, the Flyin' Hawaiian drilled a game-tying two run homer in the eight inning to set the stage for Matt Stairs dramatic two-run pinch hit homer a few batters later. With one swing of the bat Victorino silenced the smug LA crowd and exacted a large measure of sweet revenge. He has driven in eleven runs in the post season. With his one swing of the bat Stairs put the Phils within one victory of their first appearance in the World Series in fifteen years.

There were other heroes last night as well. Chase Utley drove in three runs and started and ended a crucial double play when he dived to the bag at second just ahead of Rafael Furcal, killing a potential game-changing rally by the Dodgers. Utley's bat has come alive at just the right moment. Ryan Howard is starting to swing the bat better, too.

The bullpen, save Chad Durbin's rough outing, was again superb. The same could not be said for the Dodgers' pen. Their closer, Jonathan Braxton, hadn't had an opportunity to strut his stuff so far this series. The Dodgers wish his debut had been delayed at least one more night as Stairs launched a 3-1 home run deep to right and in the process forever etched his name in the hearts of Phillies fans young and old.

While everyone loves a dramatic home run or two, let it be said the Phils won this game with a more balanced approach than they've shown in earlier post-season games. First, they scored two runs in the opening frame using a more station-to-station approach. They scored a lone run in sixth when Ryan Howard scored from third on a wild pitch and, then, they scored the four runs in the eighth on the pair of home runs. They wasted plenty of opportunities along the way, but they took the lead, surrendered it, and took it back for good with the combination that has served them so well all season: solid relief pitching and hitting home runs.

Today is an off day. When play resumes tomorrow the Phils will be sending Cole Hamels to the mound needing one victory to keep playing baseball late into Autumn.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Series Thoughts

Random thoughts on the NLCS....

The Phillies' offense has been missing in action the entire post-season with almost all of their scoring coming in bunches in just a few innings. This is not news to those of us who followed them throughout the season, but it is rotten timing. Jimmy Rollins has been having a particularly miserable time against the Dodgers, striking out four times in Game Two, something he had never done before including little league.

* * * * * * * *

The head-hunting and alleged head-hunting in Game Three is a reminder that these are not men playing a boy's game but boys who never grew up playing a boy's game. You can count on Manny Ramirez to have to be restrained from going after the entire Phillies squad as long as their are twenty-four other Dodgers and assorted coaches and trainers on the field to "restrain" him.

Myers' pitch behind Ramirez in Game Two was clearly a slip. No one, not even Brett Myers, is that stupid. Clay Condrey's buzzing of Russell Martin was an attempt to pitch inside, not high and tight. Hiroki Kuroda's pitch at Shane Victorino's head was deliberate and cheap.

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Listening to anyone hired by Fox Network is painful and unnecessary punishment. The pre-game trio that includes Mark Grace were openly rooting for the Dodgers, with Grace getting the best dig in when he said the Dodgers' players were glad to be home where no one would be yelling or throwing things at them. Way to go, Gracie. So far you get the cliche of the post-season award.

It's no secret the networks are rooting for LA to make the series.

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Watching Chase Utley last night it finally dawned on me why he is so beaten up by half way through the regular season. He dived for at least four balls that I can remember, landing hard on his body each time. That's a part of the game we tend to overlook when trying to assess how much of a beating his body is taking. We all admire how he plays the game; it's too bad the way he plays will probably shorten his career. He doesn't know about half speed.

* * * * * * * *

Other than Ramirez, no one in the Dodgers' lineup is scary. This is a team that can and should be beaten, but it's going to take a wake up call to the top half of the Phillies lineup.

* * * * * * * *

The Jamie Moyer saga is a wonderful storyline, but increasingly it looks as though the last chapter is being written right before our eyes. Moyer hasn't been fooling anyone at the plate lately. Interestingly, the theory about facing Moyer has always been to be patient, but last night the Dodgers were swinging at and connecting with first pitches.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dare We Dream?

Dare we dream?

One day after writing the Phillies live and die by the long ball, they scored eight runs on a succession of singles and doubles in beating the Dodgers 8-5 to take a two games to none lead in the NLCS.

A look beneath the totals reveals a team that still can hardly be called proponents of small ball, especially with Might Brett Myers at the bat. Myers collected three singles in the game, ran the bases like a runaway Mack Truck and was caught on camera several times mocking his own achievements. Dodgers' starter Chad Billingsley was the goat, failing not once but three times to put away his opposite number who describes himself as one of the worst hitters in baseball. Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz contributed big hits as well, but Myers was really the difference maker. Combined with his now legendary AB against CC Sebathia, don't be surprised if Cooperstown calls the big righthander for his bat.

It's a good thing Myers brought his bat with him yesterday because he sure didn't bring much of an arm. He barely made it through the five innings required to get the win, walking four, giving up six hits and five earned runs. His outing featured a pitch two feet to the right of Manny Ramirez and another right down Broadway that the Dodgers' leftfielder smoked for a three-run homer making the game 8-5.

After Myers departed a succession of Phils' relievers were brilliant. They were helped by a superb leaping catch by Victorino in deep left centerfield off the bat of Casey Blake. The Dodgers carped plenty following Thursday's home runs by Chase Utley and Pat Burrell but it is clear they still haven't figured out how to pull the ball at the Bank.

The series moves to LA for game three with Jamie Moyers, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, getting the start. It would be sweet to see the ancient one stifle the Dodgers at Chavez Ravine.

Dare we dream?

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Long And Longer Of It

All season the Phillies have lived and died by the long ball. The post-season has been no different. Trailing 2-0 in the sixth inning of the NLCS opener, the Phils capitalized on a throwing error by Rafael Furcal to put Shane Victorino on second base with no outs. Chase Utley followed with a two-run shot to right centerfield and two batters later Pat Burell hit what turned out to be the game-winning home run to left.

The Phiilies continue to score their post-season runs in single innings, but the score-keepers only care about the final totals, not how they got there. Who's to say it would be preferable to score runs by other means when the Phils pushed this year's post-season record to 4-1? As Cole Hamels put it, the game of baseball is about home runs these days.

Utley had seen his share of post-season struggles prior to last night's game, but one sensed a new urgency when he singled to centerfield in the first inning. Utley may betray few outward emotions, but there can be little doubt he deeply understood how momentus the occasion was for him, playing for the NL championship against the team he rooted for as a boy, the team that also tried to sign him out of high school. So, when he came up in the sixth with Victorino on second he was looking to move the runner over to third. Utley rarely swings at the first pitch, but he jumped on a flat sinker from Derek Lowe and moved the runner right past third to go. While he was at it, he came along for the ride. Much is always expected of Utley. More often than not, he delivers.

Burrell, who struggled mightily down the stretch of the regular season and in the first three games of the playoffs versus Milwaukee has now hit three home runs in his last two games, two of them game winners. His turn-around could not have come at a more crucial moment for him or his team. If these playoff games are to be his last in a Phillies uniform, Burrell seems intent on creating positive lasting memories for all parties.

The game began on a shaky note for Phils' starter Cole Hamels, who surrendered a first inning run on a booming double by Manny Ramirez that hit the most distant part of fair territory in the Bank without clearing the fence. His double high off the centerfield wall was hit much further than either Utley's or Burrell's home runs, but those are the breaks. Hamels would surrender one more run in the fourth inning in going seven strong innings. Ryan Madson pitched the ninth and Brad Lidge closed the game out. Both relief pitchers gave up some hard or long outs, but they got the job done.

* * * * * * * *

The Fox team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver is truly awful. I tried turning off the sound and putting on 1210 radio, but there was a significant delay between the video on the television and the audio on the radio so I gave up and largely left the sound off. When I did occasionally lift the MUTE restriction, I was treated to things like McCarver saying Utley came up in the sixth guessing first-pitch fastball (it was a sinker by all accounts including, significantly, the guy who threw it) and in the eight inning his announcement that Ryan Madson had "the best changeup on the team" after a fellow named Hamels had just thrown seven innings filled with pretty fair ones himself.

Buck, meanwhile, makes a home run sound just slightly more exciting than draining pasta.

Their routine makes me long for the TBS team that called the NLDS against Milwaukeee. (See post below.)

* * * * * * * *

We are going to here a lot of complaints about Citizens Bank Park this series and beyond, no doubt many emanating from the West Coast in the next few days. It is worth remembering that the visiting team is entitled to a minimum of 27 outs in all games played there and it's up to them to avoid hitting as many of them to centerfield as they can. In the first inning, as noted above, a ball was hit to the deepest part of the field while in the final inning, at least two balls were hit more or less to the deepest parts of the park. Mssrs. Utley and Burrell had the presence of mind to pull the ball in their opportunities.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Superb Coverage

The trio of Brian Anderson, John Smoltz and Joe Simpson were superb in covering the Phillies and Brewers in the first round of the playoffs on TBS. We can only hope they will assigned to the next series.

Smoltz was brilliant in providing viewers with a good feel for what a pitcher is thinking. Anderson called a fine game while giving Smoltz and Simpson plenty of room to comment. And Simpson was marvelous at being well-prepared and accurate in discussing teams and players he does not normally get a chance to follow. Most national commentators don't even get the big picture right let alone the details but Simpson knew which players had struggled or succeeded, when and why.

I cannot recall if it was Smoltz or Simpson (I believe it was the former), but one of them made an incredibly astute observation on why in short, post-season series lesser known players frequently succeed. Simply because the opposition identifies which players are most likely to beat them and concentrates a lot of energy trying to prevent that from happening. This emphasis allows the more lightly taken threats to sneak through. The playoffs and World Series have seen a lot of these lesser threats take center stage.

Fox and TBS are going to split duties on the remaining playoffs so I don't know at this time who will be assigned to the Phillies and Dodgers. If we are lucky, we will get to hear the above-mentioned trio; if not, we get the insufferable Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. That will send this viewer to the radio for audio.

Pat The Bat

For Pat Burrell, the longest-tenured Phillie, October usually found him and his mates standing on the outside looking in, so it wasn't surprising to see him leading the charge out of the dugout last October when the Phils clinched the division title and finally made it to the post-season for the first time in 14 years.

This season Burrell was again in the thick of the celebration when the Phils made it two division titles in a row, but he could be forgiven for feeling frustrated and disappointed at his meager contributions down the stretch.

Yesterday, all shortcomings were forgiven and all failures forgotten as Burrell blasted two home runs to power the Phillies to a 6-2 victory over Milwaukee clinching the division series and propelling them into the National League Championship series against the Dodgers. After the game, Burrell expressed gratitude to his manager for sticking with him through mostly thick. Personal redemption was sweet but collective success was sweeter as Burrell also praised his teammates.

As the senior member of the nucleus of home-grown stars about whom so much has been expected and, heretofore, by whom so little had been achieved, Burrell is in the delicate situation of perhaps playing his last games in a Phillies uniform. But those decisions will come later; for now, he is relishing the moment and preparing for the next challenge. And make no mistake about it, the Dodgers present a challenge with their strong pitching and own nucleus of young stars and seasoned veterans.

The most surprising development on the Phillies this season was the overall pitching. Everyone expected them to hit, but despite leading the league in home runs, the offense was otherwise erratic. No regular hit .300. Many went through protracted slumps. Without the long ball runs were hard to come by. Perhaps no one personified these struggles better than Jayson Werth, who slumped badly through September, looked absolutely awful at the plate at times in this series, but still managed to collect several extra base hits including a home run yesterday.

Pitching, on the other hand, began the season with a lot of question marks but came on very strongly by mid-season, especially the bullpen. By the end of the season, the starters and bullpen were the team's strength...apart from Ryan Howard.

The series just concluded exemplified this new order of things. The Phils received virtually no production from the middle of their lineup save Burrell's outburst on Sunday. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were nearly invisible. The starters, on the other hand, were dominant save Jamie Moyer's somewhat shaky start on Saturday. Cole Hamels was magnificent. Brett Myers recovered from a poor opening inning to pitch very well. What can we say about Joe Blanton's performance on Sunday? Outwardly if not inwardly, Blanton is the least emotional of all four starters. He works quickly and efficiently, expending little apparent energy. He didn't try anything fancy versus a slumping but dangerous Brewers' lineup; instead, he went right at them and said, here it is, hit it. When they weren't flailing away some of the Brewers did indeed hit the ball hard, but right at people.

Blanton started the game with a one run lead thanks to, who else?, Jimmy Rollins' leadoff home run. That was all the big righthander needed as he mixed three or four pitches effectively to keep the Brewers and their noisy fans largely silent. Until Burrell launched a Jeff Supan pitch deep into left field, the Phillies clung to their one run lead. Werth followed with a home run to centerfield and suddenly the Phils were up 5-0 and this fan was probably one of thousands counting the number of outs the Brewers had remaining. Burrell, however, wasn't quite done for the day. Normally, he might have been lifted for defensive purposes by the eighth inning with the Phils leading, but he was still in the lineup long enough for one more long ball.

Redemption was indeed sweet, not only for the "old man" on the club but for all of us who suffered with him through the many disappointments and frustrations. A tip of the hat to Pat the Bat.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Best Forgotten

This one wasn't ugly, it was worse: boring. The Phillies sleep walked through game three of the playoffs and the Brewers, backs to the wall, did just enough things right to win one for the Wallbangers.

Let's just assume the heretofore free-swinging Brewers watched and listened to all of the pre-game hoopla about Jamie Moyer nibbling, changing speeds and driving batters nuts with his slow, slower, and slowest deliveries because they sure were patient right out of the gate. The first two batters of the game walked and scored. By the end of the second inning Moyer had thrown roughly sixty pitches and Milwaukee had enough runs to post the win.

Meanwhile, the Phillies managed to get men on base but they stranded them nearly every time. They even loaded the bases with none out in the ninth only to watch as Pedro Feliz, obviously guessing first-pitch fastball, ground into a double play. Carlos Ruiz grounded out to end the game. The Phillies never seemed to be in this one; by the middle of the game one had the feeling they were already thinking about game four.

There's hardly any reason to panic, even with the colossal figure of CC Sebathia looming in the background. Joe Blanton gets the ball today for the Phils. Win and he's remembered for a long time in this town. Lose and the Phils return to Citizens Bank Park where Cole Hamels will face Sebathia in a deciding game.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Five Faces Of Brett

If you were waiting to see which Brett Myers would show up last night I'd be willing to bet none of you were expecting his Eddie Yost impersonation!

Actually, five different Myers showed up. The first one did a reasonably good impression in the first inning of the pitcher who was sent down to AAA in mid-season to work on his mechanics and his confidence. He walked three, one intentionally and one with the bases loaded, and surrendered a double as Milwaukee threatened to blow the game wide open before CC Sabathia even took the mound.

The second one settled down by the end of that very same inning to nimbly start a 1-2-3 double play that stopped the Brewers' rally cold.

By the top of the second inning the third one resembled the pitcher who came up from AAA after the All-Star break.

The fourth Myers, the most improbable one of the evening, worked a walk off Sabathia after starting the AB in an 0-2 hole and fouling off several pitches. In all Sabathia threw nine pitches to Myers, one of the most inept looking hitters in all of baseball. On the first pitch, Myers was clearly looking fastball and he swung so hard he landed in the other batter's box, you know, the one used by left-handed hitters!! But Myers kept fouling off and taking pitches and worked a walk to keep alive a rally long enough for Shane Victorino to follow two batters later with a grand slam home run off the previously invincible Sabathia. (Myers would later have a ten-pitch AB against Sabathia and a single off reliever Seth McGlung. No word on whether or not Cooperstown has requested the bat he used last night.)

The fifth Myers then pitched well enough to hold the Brewers to one more run over seven full innings. Ryan Madson, JC Romero and Brad Lidge closed out the game as the Phils took a 2-0 lead in the NLDS.

Prior to the start of last night's game nearly everyone in the universe expected Sabathia to dominate the Phillies as he had done to the rest of the league since coming over in a mid-season trade. But let the record show the Phillies were familiar with Sabathia from interleague play and had more than held their own against him, splitting two decisions. Sabathia did make mince meat out of the left-handers in the Phils lineup, but the righties including Myers, beat him up.

The other hero of the evening was Victorino, whose play this season has clearly elevated his stature to co-catalyst along with Jimmy Rollins. The Flyin' Hawaiian generates so much energy and enthusiasm it drives the opposition nuts and his teammates wild.

Today is a travel day. The series resumes tomorrow night in Milwaukee where Jamie Moyer, aka 45-year old Jamie Moyer, takes the hill. Collectively, the Milwaukee lineup has never been particularly patient and with their backs to the wall it seems unlikely they will start now. Moyer will exploit their anxiety.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Ace High

Who said Cole Hamels doesn't step up in big games? I did? Well, serves you right for paying any attention to me.

Pitching in the biggest game of his short career before a national television audience not to mention a packed and long-suffering house, Hamels was absolutely masterful in pitching eight strong innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. Hamels limited a powerful lineup to two hits while walking one and striking out nine. He was never in serious trouble. The same cannot be said for the Brewers who looked fairly helpless as Hamels had all three of his pitches working. No batters could sit on the change-up or fastball yesterday; those that did, got a big hook for their reward.

The Phillies offense wasn't exactly potent either, but they combined a bunch of walks, a few hits and some shaky defense by Milwaukee to score three runs, which was enough as they hung on in the ninth to win 3-1.

In that ninth inning, Hamels was lifted for Brad Lidge, a decision I audibly objected to when first announced. Hamels was in complete control; Lidge had been less than impressive in his last two or three outings though he got the job done. After the game, Hamels admitted he was tired, adding that the fatigue worked to his advantage when throwing the change-up. Lidge had not worked since the division-clinching drama of Saturday afternoon and after the game he acknowleged that he needs to work more often to stay sharp.

I'll tell you what, though: if the Phillies go deep into the post-season, I don't know if this old man can endure many more ninth inning adventures from Lidge. He is giving up hits, walks and runs to make things far too close for comfort. Still, he gets the job done, preserves his continuous streak of saves and seems supremely confident of his abilities.

Now, if the Phillies' bats can wake up, we might relax a little. On second thought, facing C.C. Sabathia this afternoon hardly affords much possibility of that.