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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Clay Condrey: The Value of the Last Man on the Roster

If you look up Clay Condrey in Baseball Prospectus, you'll see that he doesn't get much respect. If you look up Condrey in the Phillies' 2008 media guide, you'll quickly infer that he's not a part of the core of the Phillies' bullpen, the guys who pitch in key situations that lead to the deployment of the closer, Brad Lidge.

Nope, Clay Condrey is a mop-up man, the long reliever, the guy with neutral stuff and a good demeanor who is put into a game when the team is five runs ahead or five runs behind. His goal -- to not make things worse and to pitch as long as possible to preserve the arms of the guys who are needed in more meaningful situations. That's his job.

It's not glamorous. In fact, it's a dirty or dangerous job, to borrow from the parlance of The Discovery Channel, because he's pitching at the margins. A few bad outings, and Condrey has a one-way bus ticket to Allentown, Pennsylvania to pitch for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. Sure, it's only about 75 physical miles away from Citizens Bank Park, but it's light years away in terms of career aspirations. Just ask guys like T.J. Bohn, Mike Cervenak, J.A. Happ and Andy Tracy, each of whom has had a cup of coffee with the big club this year.

Last night Condrey was called in to bring his mop and bucket into a game that the usually reliable Jamie Moyer made a mess of (Moyer lasted all of three innings). The Phillies slated Condrey to lead off the bottom of the fifth, because they wanted him to eat innings and they didn't want to waste a pinch hitter down 7-1 at that time. (At that point, it was hard to discern what Manager Charlie Manuel was waiting for).

So, up comes Condrey, who was 0-2 going into his at-bat against Pedro Martinez. That's right, 0-2, because long relievers seldom bat, as they're usually pinch-hit for. Each and every fan would have expected Martinez, a future Hall of Famer, to toy with the journeyman, striking him out on three or four pitches. Had Condrey done that, no one would have been disappointed -- he hardly gets a chance to hit.

Clay Condrey didn't get the memo that he was supposed to mail in his at bat. He went up there like a professional, hacked, and doubled down the left field line. When I saw that, I had visions of second baseman Dave Cash in the 1975 season imploring his teammates -- members of an organization haunted by a collapse of epic proportions in 1964 and plagued by bad records -- that they could make the playoffs (which they did a year later). Yes, I thought, the Phillies can win this game.

The next batter, Jimmy Rollins, homered to right.

7-3, Mets.

Chase Utley singled.

After Pat Burrell went out, Ryan Howard homered to left.

7-5, Mets.

All because a seldom-used reliever was so professional that he went up and did what he was asked to do -- have a Major League at-bat.

Yes, the Phillies went on to win, 8-7, in 13 innings, and I'd submit that Condrey's hit was a linchpin in that victory. After all, if the last man on your roster (certainly the last pitcher) gets a double in a game against your archrival, everyone else should be pumped to perform beyond expectations.

Yes, they did.

Yes, they could.

Yes, they can win the division.

And, if the Phillies do, will Mets' fans look back at the time Clay Condrey doubled as the beginning of the end of their season?


Blogger Jason said...

Just found your site today (I think via one of the SN blogs). This post makes a good point and takes the human side of baseball into account. A good story.

Of course, right now, I'm rooting against the Phils, because I'd like to see the Brewers make it back to the playoffs for the first time since my elementary school days....

5:05 PM  

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