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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Three Important Lessons from a Baseball Game

There were 3 unlikely heroes in last night's Phillies' game: the last position player on the bench whom most fans view as a mistaken free agent signing, a reliever who should get the Duncan yo-yo endorsement for most times being yanked up and down from the majors to AAA during a season, and a promising fourth outfielder who had trouble seeing the ball early in the contest.

The Phillies beat the Cards in 14 last night, 7-4, leaving themselves 1.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East and 1.5 games behind the Padres for the wild card. They're either on the verge of a great finish that will enable them to make the playoffs or they'll finish as the fifth best team in the NL for the third year in a row, narrowly missing the playoffs. All that said, they're fun to watch, a team with a World Series-caliber position playing lineup and a pitching staff that could give Six Flags' best roller coaster a run for its money.

Last night, the Phillies went into the top of the 14th tied at 4 with the Cardinals. Chase Utley was on second, Aaron Rowand on first, with two outs. Because of a double switch earlier in the game, it was the pitcher's turn to bat. The Phillies had one position player left on the bench, reserve catcher, Rod Barajas. Barajas was signed as a free agent in the off-season and handed the starting catcher's job, which he promptly lost to both second-year player Carlos Ruiz and the Disney movie waiting to happen, second-year player Chris Coste, who made the majors for the first time last season at the age of 33. Barajas was put on the DL about a month or so ago with an NBA-type of injury, came off without much fanfare, and has hardly played. Needless to say, when I saw him come up to the plate, I figure that the Phillies' bullpen would need to hold -- again -- to survive for the 15th inning.

I was wrong. Barajas, ever the professional, was ready for his moment, smacked a hard single to right center driving in a sprinting Utley to make the score 5-4. It was a clutch piece of a hitting for a team that knew that the Mets had collapsed against the Nationals in DC earlier that night and a win could put them within 1.5 games of first in the NL East. What a lesson Barajas taught us all -- that a true teammate stands ready to play whenever he is called upon. Barajas did just that.

Then there was Werth, who had left 6 men on base and struck out twice in key situations earlier in the evening. Werth is playing a lot in right because he's had a hot bat and because the incumbent, Shane Victorino, still hasn't fully recovered from an injury to his calf that he sustained in July. Werth followed Barajas to the plate with the opportunity to give the Phillies a few insurance runs. Showing that a short memory is key for a good hitter, Werth hit a tailing line drive a few feet inside the first-base foul line that made it was to the rightfield corner. Two runs scored, and the Phils were up 7-4.

Enter Clay Condrey, the reliever who should win the Puddle Jumper Airlines' Man of the Year award for how much he's rode the shuttle to and from Ottawa, home of the Phils' AAA farm club. Condrey also demonstrated what a professional he is, because the night before he let in 5 runs in relief en route to an almost-disaster for the Phils, who held on to win 13-11. He pitched a strong final inning for his first career save (and was about the 8th Phillies' reliever to notch a save this year). Condrey obviously blocked out the horrors of his Monday night performance and came up with a key inning last night.

And the Phillies' bullpen came up with the following stats last night:

11 IP
6 H
1 R
1 ER
2 BB
8 K.

A great job by an oft-maligned (deservedly so at many intervals) group.

As for who's left to spell Jamie Moyer tonight, there are a few guys, that's for sure. But what wins championships for teams are not only the outstanding day-in, day-out performances of the Utleys, Rollins and Howards, but also the lesser publicized efforts of guys who many fans probably forget 5 years after they leave town, the Barajases, Condreys and Werths. And while that may be, let's remember this: last night, when it really mattered, they played like Hall of Famers.

All of us should take stock in what Rod Barajas, Clay Condrey and Jayson Werth accomplished last night. All have taken many knocks this season, and all bounced back to make the most of their opportunities last night. That's a great measure of a player and a person -- not only basking in the good times, but getting up after the bad ones.

The 14-inning game was exciting, and the Phils provided a few extra lessons in the final innings.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been ages since i posted here. Been sick, busy etc. There are not many games left this season. It has had it's up's and down's. Meet some new Reds i adore. Meet David Ross again. Knew of him when was a Dodger. Missed Sean Casey a lot. Reds then got rid of Austin Kerns. Seen the Reds 9 times this year at Busch Stadium. Saw the Phillies 3 times. Seen The Astros 3 times. Gonna see the Astros for my 4th time September 13th. Gonna go to games in 2 weeks to see Brian Giles.No idea who will make the playoffs.First Choice Reds. Second Choice Phillies. 3RD Astros. 4TH Choice Padres. Padres just because of Brian Giles, Geoff Blum and Trevor Hoffmann. I hope to at least attend one playoff game. But if the Cards don't make it won't go to any. Because i can't afford to travel. But if i had to choose. I'd rather the Reds win the Central and just have to watch them on tv.Seeing them on tv would be better than them not making the playoffs at all.
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