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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Phillies-Red Sox Last Night

The family and I went to a considerably warmer Citizens Bank Park than the park we found 2 weeks ago when Barry Bonds and the Giants were in town. No, I'm not talking about the fan atmosphere, just the fact that the wind was blowing out to right last night instead of right at the 45,000 or so who attended the game. While it did get chilly at the end, we didn't come away feeling that we watched the game in a freezer. Having watched several games during my lifetime at Candlestick Park in S.F., I do know the feeling of having been reduced to the temperature of your average chicken nugget.

We arrived early enough to go to Bull's BBQ, the restaurant in center field where Greg Luzinski hangs out and signs autographs. I say "hangs out" because The Bull (who is even bigger than when he played left for the Phillies in the 1970's and early 1980's) sits near the cash registers and signs autographs. He's not a serious conversationalist, at least around strangers, so there isn't the ebullience of a Boog Powell in Baltimore, for example. But he was there nonetheless, with a smile on his face, and after we ate the kids wanted to go get his autograph.

I was the same way as a kid -- getting an autograph was something special -- and hard to get. Today, I don't totally get it, but given what I felt then I sort of understand the allure for the kids. So, after we ate our sandwiches, we walked up to where Greg Luzinski was sitting. I gave the kids some instructions about asking, about saying "please" and "thank you" and calling Greg Luzinski "Mr. Luzinski." The kids were wearing their Phillies' shirts and were greeted with a smile and a "How are you guys doing?" and then each handed him his/her ticket and got a nice autograph.

I told Greg Luzinski that I saw him play in the 1970's and that the teams on which he played were fun to watch, and then I suggested that he would have hit 500 home runs playing at Citizens Bank Park. He replied: "Yep, it would have been fun to play here," and, as we finished signing we thanked him and walked away. It was a fun encounter for the kids, and now my daughter has Greg Luzinski's autograph to add to her budding collection. For my son, it was his first autograph.

We sat in the upper deck last night on the third base line, as when we purchased our "Six Pack" of Phillies' tickets we were guaranteed seats for the Red Sox' series. My guess is that so many members of the Red Sox' nation purchased single-game advanced tickets that we ended up in the upper deck instead of on the first level behind home plate. While I'm no great fan of heights in ballparks, I must confess that the view from this spot was spectacular, as we saw Center City Philadelphia, the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Walt Whitman Bridge, as well as having a great view of the entire park. If you like views at nighttime, sit up top, it's worth it.

There were thousands of BoSox fans at CBP last night, so much so that "Let's Go Red Sox" chants started almost every inning, to be drowned out each time by roaring "boos" from the hometown faithful. My six-year old son picked up on the unwritten rule of hometown protection, and joined the chorus, effectively I might add. My eight year-old daughter would have liked to start a "Let's Go Phillies" chant, but curiously none of those ensued last night, at least where I was sitting. By the end of the game, as we were leaving the ballpark, we heard a few "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!" chants. Read on and you'll see why.

Right before the game began the Phillies' played the scene from "Rudy" on the scoreboard where the actor who played Dan Devine (same guy who played the obnoxious townie who tried to tell Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) how to do his job at the beginning of "Hoosiers") says to the Notre Dame football squad: "This is our house. . . and no one. . . I repeat no one. . . comes into our house and pushes us around."). I'm not sure that a "Let's Go Red Sox" chant began after that vignette, but it was a curious choice given that the home nine had lost four in a row, including one the night before to the Red Sox. Apparently, "getting pushed around" gets severed into single-game scenarios, at least by the Phillies' scoreboard management.

The pugnacious Brett Myers started out wonderfully, pitching as though he is going to be the stopper that the Phillies haven't had since they traded Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks for four guys whose names you really can't remember anymore (Travis Lee, Vicente Padilla, Omar Daal and Nelson Figueroa, okay, so I remember them, but it isn't with any fondness). He pitched great for five innings and enjoyed a 1-0 lead thanks to a line drive shot of a home run that Chase Utley hit off Josh Beckett in the third inning. The starters were averaging 10 pitches an inning at that time, and it took only about an hour to play the first five innings.

After five, Beckett was pitching well and had struck out more batters, but Myers was pitching better.

But then disaster struck for the Phillies. A Rookie League throw by Jimmy Rollins with one out in the top of the sixth that, had it been properly thrown, would have led to the second out, but instead sailed about ten feet over 1B Ryan Howard's long reach and almost went into the stands morphed into a four-run BoSox' inning (all of them unearned, because Big Papi Ortiz's sacrifice fly that led to the first run would have made the third out of the inning). Under the Earl Weaver theory of having one big inning to win a ball game, the game would prove to be effectively over. Myers clearly became unglued, as the throwing error was made on a grounder by the then light-hitting Boston SS Alex Gonzalez, the eighth hitter. He then gave up a single to the #9 hitter, Josh Beckett, and, well, click here for the rest of the story.

Red Sox 8, Phillies 4.

Myers has pitched great all year for the Phillies but has suffered from a lack of run support. Before last season, the knock on him was that he had a million-dollar arm but a Five Below makeup, that the littlest things would rattle him. With a new pitching coach last year, Myers showed flashes of brilliance and had a 12-6 record. This season, he's been pretty much "lights out", and he showed some great poise in his last several starts, including one several weeks ago when he outdueled Pedro Martinez (who also pitched a great game). Last night, though, working on a one-hitter, he seemed to lose either his focus or his cool, and the Phillies' paid for it dearly against a crafty Red Sox lineup. Look, everyone's entitled to a bad inning every now and then -- it has happened even to those in the Hall of Fame -- but the Phillies needed a stopper's effort last night and they didn't get one. Sure, it didn't help that a) Phils' skipper Charlie Manuel left Myers in the game too long in the 7th, when he yielded his only earned runs of the ninth, b) Ryan Madson couldn't close out the Sox in the 7th without yielding a further run and c) Aaron Fultz yielded a 2-run homer to Alex Gonzalez of all people in the eighth.

Be all those things as they may, Brett Myers is a good pitcher having a very good season. A better effort last night would have convinced me that he's close to being worthy of the "stopper" designation. The real effort last night, though, showed me that he has some ground to cover before he gets there.

If there's any doubt, look at the effort his counterpart, Josh Beckett, gave last night, not only with the bat (a single and a home run), but on the mound. Myers had better control on an inning-by-inning basis for the innings they battled and had a much better ratio of strikes to balls, but Beckett's stuff seemingly was more electric and he battled from behind on many batters and got outs. That's a stopper, getting the job done even without his best control, and keeping his composure when behind in the count.

As for the Phillies, it hasn't helped that their bats have cooled off, that lead-off hitter Jimmy Rollins is hitting in the .230s and likes to swing at the first pitch, that RF Bobby Abreu looks out of shape and hasn't hit well since before last year's All-Star game (he was woeful in clutch situations last night) and that with catcher Carlos Ruiz in the lineup, the Phillies have two automatic outs in the lineup, the pitcher and Ruiz. The team has to be eagerly awaiting the return of Mike Lieberthal. Ruiz seems an able defensive player, but he's hitting all of .150 (or in that neighborhood). Hitting at the Mendoza line would be a vast improvement for him. The Phillies also eagerly await the return of Aaron Rowand, but until then if I were Manuel I'd experiment in one way -- move Rollins to 7th and let Shane Victorino lead off. The reserve OF has serious wheels, and they should turn him loose. He's also hit about .400 in his last 15 or so games. The bench has played inconsistently -- Shane Victorino has been absolutely brilliant, but everyone else -- Abraham Nunez, Alex Gonzalez, David Delluci, Ruiz -- has not.

Clearly, this team isn't as great as its 13 out of 14 streak that ended a week ago, and they're not as bad as the current five-game losing streak. But there is a wild-card spot out there for the taking, and it also isn't as if the Mets are running away with the NL East, either, or that the NL is all that good. To contend for a playoff spot, the bullpen has to hold leads (it was woeful in Milwaukee, blowing three of them) and the highly paid hitters have to hit when it counts. When everything clicks, this team looks like a thoroughbred running a Triple-Crown race. When everything doesn't, well, it looks like a lot of the 75-win teams we've watched in Philadelphia over the past 20 years.

It's up to this year's squad to determine which team they want to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg Luzinski is one of the nicest guys from any of the Phillies teams - ever. He is good to fans - never too busy for an autograph or photo. His food is awesome, too!

7:04 PM  

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