Friday, October 22, 2010

Game Five Roundup

As Published on
Too much is being made of this foul bunt called fair.  FOX couldn’t stop talking about it and Ken Rosenthal led off his post-game interview asking coyly for an admittance of a foul ball from Roy Halladay. Obviously that was a foul ball whether Doc admits it or not, but the result of the play was no better than had Doc just laid down a fair bunt: runners are moved over, one out. Had Doc been safe at first then that would’ve resulted in an extra out and baserunner for the Phils. Bases would have been loaded with no outs, but Doc stayed in the box and was out at first anyway.
Had Kungfu Panda not missed the bag at third, the Giants would’ve gotten a double play out of a foul bunt. The Phillies would’ve been screwed. So back off, FOX. That bunt was not a game changer as much as it was a hairy situation for the Phils that turned out neither as good or bad as it could’ve been.
Roy Halladay was visibly mad after a 1st inning showdown with the artist formerly know as “Trade Pat Burrell”. He was seething. Red in the face. The angriest Mitch Williams had seen him this year- that's angry, man. This was very uncharacteristic of Roy, who is normally all-business, cool as a cucumber. 
Ken Rosenthal, the only reporter who fits in Tim Lincecum’s pocket, asked Roy how he succeeded without having his best stuff.  Roy said he “battled”, and he did. He struggled, going deep into counts, but got all the outs he absolutely needed. Overall he pitched well, despite some booted balls, an unfavorable home plate umpire, and a Giants team that was having an unbreakable chain of quality at-bats. He did this while battling an injury, in an elimination game, on a rainy night, against the two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner.
Werth’s home run in the 9th inning, a towering opposite field poke, was gigantic. Some may look back and say it wasn’t necessary because the Giants failed to score in the bottom of the inning, but its impact on Brad Lidge’s confidence and freedom in the save situation can not be underestimated.
That extra run opened up the pitching bag of tricks for Lidge in the 9th. He could throw his regular slider and his dirty one. Perhaps more importantly, it served to deflate the Giants, who had been quite at home in the anti-home run dimensions of “The House that Steroids Built”. That long poke just may turn out to be the turning point of the series.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Season is in Joe Blanton’s Hands

As published on
Panic Button time? Not yet, but you should get it out of the closet and dust it off. It’s probably right next to your collection of “Relentless” t-shirts and T.O. bobble figurines. You don’t have to get it now, but come 11pm EST Wednesday night, you might need quick access to that panic button.
With the series hanging in the balance, and with Joe Blanton set to take the mound on Wednesday for his first start since September 29, the Phillies faithful are a justifiably nervous bunch. Blanton hasn’t been the most trustworthy starter this year (not even close), and here he is with the keys to Ruben Amaro’s $145 million Red Lamborghini. Ruben promised he’d take us all to Disney World again this year, but he didn’t say Joe was gonna drive for the scary parts.
This season, when Joe Blanton was set to make a start, Phillies fans could be seen grunting their way to the ballpark. They cursed Joe Blanton, the Phillies rotation and the rotation of the planet itself for landing Joe Blanton on the tickets they bought three months earlier. But more often than not these pessimists left the park eating crow, having seen a Phillies “w”, and an offense come to life.
Despite Blanton’s 9-6 record, his 4.82 ERA, and his general inability to go deep into games this season, the Phillies won the vast majority of his starts, going 17-11. Contrast that with a 22-11 record in Roy Halladay’s starts, and an 18-15 record in Hamels’ starts, and maybe you’ll start to think that Blanton is almost as good as those guys. You’d be wrong, but you’d have some numbers to back your stupid case.
The truth is that the Phillies’ bats had just a little extra pop with Joe on the hill this year. The numbers bare this out, as Blanton received more run support of any Phillies starter, 5.7 runs per game. Comparatively, Hamels got only 3.3.
What was the cause of the disparity? Who knows. Maybe Joe seldom faced a top flight starter. Maybe Joe pitched on hotter days where the ball carried more. Maybe Joe has an extra hot wife and the everyday players tried extra hard to impress when she was around. A quick trip around the internet would probably disprove all of these theories, but we can’t worry about any of that right now, and neither can the Phillies.
The bottom line is the Phillies need a win in game 4. They need to hit a guy named Madison Bumgarner. They need to hit the ball. With runners on base. And they need to do that more than the San Francisco Weird Beards. Victorino needs to get on base, and then steal bases. Raul Ibanez needs to do something, anything, even if what he does is change his name to Ben Francisco. Jimmy Rollins needs to get the back end of the order going. Joe Blanton needs to hit another moon shot. Howard needs an RBI or ten. Polanco needs to go 4 for 4. Utley needs to sit on an inside fastball and drive it into the bay. Werth needs to swing at strikes, and hit them, hard. The Phillies need to score runs, in bunches. I know this all sounds odd, but this type of thing used to happen, all the time, not all that long ago.
Think back to a Joe Blanton start against the Dodgers on August 12th. He gave up 3 quick first inning runs that night, settled in for a few more, and left the game in the 5th with the Phillies down 4-2 and not hitting a lick. And then with the Phillies buried 9-2 in the bottom of the 8th, they woke up. Scored 4 in the 8th, and 4 more in the 9th to win the game. That’s the type of magic that never happens with Cole Hamels on the hill, but that’s exactly the type of thing the Phillies do for Joe.
Maybe a Joe Blow start is just what the doctor ordered. Maybe a 3 run San Fran first inning is just what these Phillies need to see to remember that pitching can’t beat pitching. Maybe just seeing a guy on the mound not named Lincecum, Cain or Sanchez will be enough to wake the bats from their postseason slumber, but one way or another, if the Phillies are going to play for another championship, they have got to score runs.
For one game only, it’s not about pitching. But if it does turn out to be about pitching, well then, you can go ahead and hit that panic button

Friday, October 8, 2010

Doc, a Day Later

As published on
How many watchable Super Bowls have there been? How many times has Lebron James ended up not being Michael Jordan? How many times have Crispy Chicken Nuggets been all that crispy? How many times have things just fallen so far short of expectations that we have all instinctively learned to keep our expectations low?
Let’s think about that.
Think about all the steroid-driven home runs and Photoshopped models. Think about all the comedies we’ve seen that just weren’t very funny. Think about a much touted running back named Ricky Waters, who rode into town on a high horse named For Who For What. And then let’s think about Roy Halladay, the real deal, the genuine article. A man who allowed us to expect greatness, and who delivered something even better in return.
Roy “Doc” Halladay took a postseason mound for the first time in his illustrious career on Wednesday, with all the bloated hopes of the franchise that traded for him resting squarely on his shoulders. Pile on top of that, his own expectations of getting a World Series ring after so many years of toiling in Toronto without an opportunity. Add to that the fever pitch expectations of a demanding fan base desperate to cry out “Dynasty”.  Add to that the fact that Doc found himself in this pressure packed spot as a the man who precipitated the exodus of 2009 postseason hero, Cliff Lee, a move that left fans across Phillies Nation asking a lot of questions.
“An ace for an ace,” they all asked. “It makes no sense. Why not keep both? Don’t they want to win. I’m sure Roy Halladay is a damn good pitcher, but how could he ever top what Cliff did?” A good question to anyone who watched Cliff Lee a year ago. You can’t pitch better than that. Yet somehow Roy did. What’s better than Perfection? I have no idea. You’ll have to ask Roy Halladay.
Consider this: on a team that finds itself with three Aces at the top of the rotation, Halladay was a no-brainer to start game one, even though he is the only pitcher of the three with zero postseason experience. Even though, of the three, he seemed to be the one running out of gas at the end of the year. Even though he pitched more innings than anyone else in baseball this year, and should be a little tired. But we’re talking about Roy Halladay here, an Ace among Aces.
He took a rain slicked ball on a chilly day, and turned it into something transcendental, a postseason no hitter. Something that until now has only been done by Don Larsen. Once. In dusty history books, and on decaying film reels, not live and in HD, not in real time for your eyes to see. The second no-hitter in Postseason history. Against the NL’s most potent lineup. A lineup containing the NL’s likely MVP. I’m sorry, Schill, but that bloody sock has nothing on this.
No matter what else happens this postseason, we will always have this, and Doc will live the rest of his life as the only pitcher in MLB History to pitch a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter in the same year. I can guarantee that.
Even as we bathe in the afterglow of his outstanding feat, I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t half-expect that Roy would pitch exactly how he pitched in Game One.
Historically dominant in his MLB Postseason debut. Fair? No. Realistic? Not at all. After all, a postseason No Hitter is something that just never happens. But with Roy, hell, I expect him to do it again. Why not? That’s like expecting it to rain frogs, but we’re talking about Roy Halladay here. I bet if you asked Roy Halladay to make it rain frogs, he’d be mad at himself if it only rained tadpoles. Now don’t we owe it to this guy to bring him a ring? I think he’s earned his already.  Phils 1 – Cincy 0. I can’t wait to see what’s behind Roy #2.
NOTE: It was said during the broadcast that Charlie Manuel called Roy Halladay a “big Greg Maddux”. That is indeed high praise. I couldn’t think of anything scarier for a hitter to face than a big Greg Maddux, unless of course you’re talking about a regular sized Roy Halladay. Now that’s Halloween scary. Or should I say, Doctober Scary?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Playoff Preview: Good to Go

As published on
The playoffs are finally here. I would say “Red October”, but I don’t want to give these Reds Fans any more confidence than they already (kinda, maybe) are pretending to have. This postseason is different from the previous three for the Phillies. They are no longer the team that was just happy to be there (2007), or the team that got hot at the right time and won the whole thing on the backs of a young World Series MVP (2008), or the team that was poised to get back to the World Series, but would have to knock off the “best team” in baseball and a guy named Godzilla to repeat (2009).  These 2010 Philadelphia Phillies are entering the postseason, for the first time in their history, with the best record in baseball and as the prohibitive favorite to win it all.
Everyone from Bridgeport, CT to Vegas pretty much agrees, the Phillies are the team to beat. Even John Smoltz is on the bandwagon. And for good reason. The Phillies’ All-Star lineup is finally healthy and intact.  
Charlie Manuel (my candidate for manager of the year), can now, if he so chooses, write it down like this: J. Rollins, SS; P. Polanco, 3B; C. Utley, 2B;  R. Howard, 1B; J. Werth, RF; R. Ibanez, LF; S. Victorino, CF; C. Ruiz, C; Cy Young, P. That’s a pretty picture, isn’t it? Especially in a season where it often looked like this.
On the mound the Phillies are downright scary, showing Trip Aces before the flop. But this is no time to talk about gambling. This is a rotation that’s as close as it gets to a sure thing, flashing Roy Halladay in game one, winner of 21 games, perfect game hurler, and early runaway favorite for the NL Cy Young. Then there’s our newest RoyToy, Roy Oswalt in game 2, who has been dominant since joining the Phillies, dominant at Citizens Bank Park, and dominant against the Cincinatti Reds (23-3, 2.81 ERA) for his career. And then comes the resurgent Cole Hamels who is even better against the little red machine (6-0, 1.18 ERA) in his comparatively brief career.

These three will attempt to shutdown the NL’s most potent (on paper) lineup. Everyone agrees that they will.  Meanwhile, the Phillies bats will do just what they were built to do, bring nine guys to the plate every inning, eight of which are proven Major League hitters, stars.  
But with all this confidence, there is still a sense of quiet unease in my bowels. Maybe that’s the 2 for $3 Sizzlis speaking, but I can feel it. And deep down you can too. I know it.
As Philadelphia fans, we can’t help it. Too many disappointments. Too many visions of Joe Carter, sweeping Red Wings, Lakers, and Patriots OH MY! But don’t worry, B-West can’t fumble this one, Donovan can’t throw three picks on the same play, and Mitch Williams is safely in the press box. Michael Leighton’s legs are still oddly open … but that’s between him and his “health professionals.” After years of playing the underdog, you can trust your gut on this one. The Philles are that good. Have fun, be confident. This is the golden age of Phillies baseball, and it’s only gonna get “funner”. Now let’s just go out there and HIT!