Friday, October 2, 2009

You Knew It Was Going to Happen

I walked through the gates Wednesday night and sensed the feeling, "Tonight IS the night!" I got to the concession stand, grabbed my traditional two dogs, fries, and a soda and headed to the seats. I turned to walk down to my seat and noticed Pedro had loaded the bases, but that isn't what really caught my eye. The seas of white "rally" towels were raging through the stands and even though Pedro looked out of whack, you knew tonight was it.

So he walked in a run. No big deal. The way I looked at it was Hunter Pence was the hitter who had been hitting over .400 against the Phils this year, so a walk RBI was no big deal. The next batter popped out and the inning was over. Then, the glimmer of hope for the postseason came in the bottom of the inning. It seemed this year that when the Phillies backs were to the wall, they would rally, and fall just short. However, tonight was different. The Phillies answer immediately. When Jimmy Rollins stroked that double down the right field line, I knew that the wheels were only starting.

Victorino then sacrificed him over to third, and Rollins was "Chased" home by Utley's RBI ground out. That was something atypical that might have the Phillies turning the corner at just the right time.

It was the next few innings that show Pedro was not Pedro tonight, but he limited the damage to let the offense take over. Astros Catcher J.R. Towles shot two solor homeruns over the flower box in left center on pitches Pedro dosen't normally let hitters get ahold of, some high cheese. But no fear, after the second solo shot in the top of the fourth, up come the Phillies pinned against a wall down 3-1.

Then, the bottom of the 4th proved the magic was going to be tonight. The Phillies rarely produce runs. Usually, get a man on, then POW, the long ball. At one stretch, 10 of their 11 homeruns were solo shots. But tonight, Victorino singles, steals second, Utley walks, and just as I called it, Ryan Howard sent a bullet right past Lance Berkman manning first base. And with Howard on first, while Raul Ibanez taps one to the pitcher, SS Miguel Tejada points to the second baseman to be covering for the pitcher to throw to. The only problem was the second baseman was no where near the base. Utley scores, Howard to third and Ibanez scoots to second.

After the Phillies put 4 on the board in the bottom of the 4th without a homerun, it was time for more small ball. J-Roll leads off with a triple, and not to be outdone, The Flyin' Hawiian follows suit. Two batters later, Raul sends a sac fly to deep right center getting Shane home. He would tack on two runs later with a career high 35th homerun of the season.

The next few innings went by and with a 10-3 lead, everyone in the stands started chatting. Who is going to end it? It looked like Lidge was up in the 8th, but we were fooled and Charlie brought in Chad Durbin. Then there was a lefty and righty warming up in the pen.

Then, Scott Eyre came in and there was one out in the ninth. Miguel Tejada sends a shot to centerfield that looked like trouble. Let me tell you the Hawaiian was Flyin' and caught up with it. Everyone was high fivin' and feeling good. Then, out walked Charlie Manuel from the dugout and our whole section went silent! "Are you kidding?" "I don't think a seven run lead is big enough!" "We want Mad-dog" were cries from the fans around us.

Then, as 'Lights Out" finished his warm up tosses, everything became surreal. Lidge rocked back, delivered and one pitch. That was all it took. A one bouncer to Ryan Howard and the NL East was ours! The stage was set for a chance at a repeat.

The curtain will rise next week. Are the actors ready? Is the show stopper ready? Let's see if Charlie the producer will help lead his actors to an Emmy winning performance one again.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Major League IV: The Phillie Version

When thinking of the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies, the movie Major League comes to mind. If you haven't seen it, here is a short synopsis. A team that is somewhat aging thinks there time for a championship has come to an end. Thus the team flounders around until they put their minds to it an no one thinks they can do it.

Not that the previously mentioned description compares too much to the current Phillies, the persona of the players does to a degree. First of all, their manager is a washed up minor league coach, Lou Brown. This was kind of the image given to Charlie Manuel when he first took over as most of the public, including myself, screamed for Jim Leyland. Their leadoff hitter is the flashy Willie Mays Hayes, played by the ever so flashy Jimmy Rollins. Ever since Jimmy became the 2007 MVP, he has put a little more giddy into his giddy-up. Their catcher, Jake Taylor, reminded of the now Houston Astro Chris Coste. He was a fan favorite that kept everyone on the team a realist.

Then there is Pedro Cerrano. He is the middle relief pitcher that literally scares the crap out of opposing batters. This I would have to assign to JC Romero. Pedro usually performs voodoo rituals in the locker room and that is something I wouldn't put past JC. The aging fielder, Roger Dorm, reminds me of Raul Ibanez. Both were quiet guys nearing the end of their careers but were productive and gave 110% on the field. There is even a comparison in the press box. Crazy Bob Uecker reminds my of Phillies color commentator Chris Wheeler. They both are quircky and throw facts out there that make you think, "Where did he get that from?"

Finally, which makes the comparison true to form, is the closer . . . Ricky Vaughn, played by Charlie Sheen. He was nicknamed, "The Wild Thing." Do I have to give you the comparison - that's right, Brad Lidge. Both were closers that were known as the cream of the crop, had outstanding careers, and then the cover came off the ball. Balls were flying in the dirt, behind the hitters, and yes, even right down the pike for hitters to take out of the yard. "Wild Thing" Vaughn, just like his Phillies counterpart, blew many a games.

Hopefully, the Phillies can do just like the "Major League Indians" did in Major League III - Win it all (again)!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

JA Happ Might Be the Answer

A hard throwing lefty in the bullpen is hard to come by. A young one is even harder to find as usually what happens is pitchers migrate to the bullpen to find their success. We can see a very clear example of that in the Brett Myers experiment of 2007. Might it be that all of this confusion in the Phillies bullpen could open the door for the JA Happ Experiment?

Let's use Jonathan Papelbon as a comparison. For the first two plus years of Papelbon's professional career, he was used and proudly daunted as an above average starter in the Boston minor league system. He started 48 of his 58 appearances for the Lowell Spinners, Sarasota Red Sox, and Pawtucket Red Sox, compiling a 19-11 record with an era around 2.50. Then, Keith Foulke blew up the Sox pen and the Red Sox turned to former starter Curt Schilling to close out the games at the end of the season, before handing off to Papelbon. Papelbon started the year in the bullpen, toyed with starting, and finished as the future closer with a 2.65 era.

This year, JA Happ fought for the 5th spot in the starting rotation only to be outdone by Chan Ho Park. So off to the bullpen he went. When Park started to falter in the 5th spot, Happ came into the rotation to take his place. Just as the Red Sox found out towards the end of the season that something was needed for the 9th, Happ may face the same situation. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel made several statements after yet another blowup of the Phillies bullpen Saturday night that might lead you to believe Happ could be potentially given the role of closer. "I think he's got the stuff," Charlie said referring to a reporter's question about Happ's possible trip to the bullpen role. "His high heat can get anyone. Being a lefty too is a big deal to the closer role."

We will have to sit back, buckle up, and take in the ride. Hopefully, there won't be any sharp curves or potholes along the way.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Can't Be the Mets of 2007 in Red Pinstripes, Can It?

The Phillies were the beneficiaries of the collapse of the 2007 New York Mets. However, they know quite clearly what happened to the Mets as they were constantly in their rear view mirror during that eventful September back in '07.

Let see how eerily similar the situations are. Back on September 12 of 2007, the Mets had a record of 83-62 and were 7.0 games up on the second place Phillies. Then, the Phillies swept the Mets a few days later in a three game series. Fast forward to 2009. The Phillies held a 6.5 game lead on September 12 and then the second place Florida Marlins took the first place Phillies for two out of three in their home park. It is now September 26 and the Phillies lead is 5.5 games after losing the first two of three games to the NL Central Milwaukee Brewers who have already been eliminated from playoff contention. Back on September 26, 2007, the Mets lost to the then eliminated Washington Nationals for their third straight loss. Oh, by the way, the Phillies after tonight have lost three straight too!

Now for the pitching. As for their closers, you have seen the implosion of Brad Lidge. As of September 26, 2009, he has saved 31 games, very similar to Billy Wagner's 33 as of the same date. Billy Wagner did not record a save after September 12, 2007 for the Mets. In the month of September, 2007, Wagner pitched 10.0 innings, gave up 4 ER, 8 hits, and a HR. As for Lidge this September, he has pitched in 7.2 innings, 12 hits, 7 ER, and a HR. Eerily similar for the fallout of the two teams.

Back in '07, the Mets bullpen lost 5 games up to September 26, and this year, you got it, 5 losses for Lidge and company. The Mets won all but one start by Pedro, yes, Pedro Martinez in September 2007. So far, Pedro and the Phillies have one lost with him taking the hill in September.

But lets take a look at what might be the bright spot that ends the comparison: The 2007 Mets' offense vs. the 2009 Phillies offense. The 2007 Mets in September average per game: .234 avg, 1.5 HR, 4.1 RUNS, 2 BB, and 11 SO, with a .291 On Base Percentage. The 2009 Phillies: so far, .272 avg, 2.4 HR, 5.3 runs, 4.5 BB, and 9 SO, with an On Base Percentage of .381. I think it will be the Phillies offense that will kick it in high gear and who better to do that? Mr. Consistency Joe Blanton.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear Charlie . . .

You know when you were in middle school or high school and needed to break it off but didn't want to do it in person? What did you do? You wrote a note. Kind of like a "Dear John, " letter someone may leave when walking out. Well, my advice is for Brad Lidge to get off the plane from Milwaukee Sunday night, take a cab to Citizens Bank Park and leave this "Dear Charlie" letter on the pitcher's mound . . . in the bullpen (Please Brad, don't step foot back on the mound).

Dear Charlie,

I have been thinking a lot about us lately. I am really torn as to what to do with us. I really loved the times we have spent together. We have had so many wonderful times in the past 18 months. Remember the "Season of Perfection" last year and the 48 perfect saves? Remember the amazing triple play Eric turned to save us from a Mets drubbing earlier this year? That is what I remember. The great times where we bonded.

But now, every time I look into your eyes, I see Houston. I see Albert on that scary October night back in 2005. That is something I think I will never get over. I want to, but too much has happened. I want us to work it out, I really do, but I don't think it is going to happen. It's not fair to you or us. I hope you can understand, but I think we need to go our separate ways now. I will never forget you or the times we shared.

With All My Heart,