SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Last Night at Citizens Bank Park

The family and I went there and sat in the upper rows of the upper deck on the right field line. Not so far away, as, say, the Weasley family and Harry Potter sat the Quidditch World Cup final between Bulgaria and Ireland, but far enough away so as not to see with a discerning eye whether, in the 7th inning, Chase Utley a) actually got hit by a pitch, b) was really safe at second base or c) missed third base when scampering to score after Reds' rightfielder Jay Bruce lost a fly ball in either the lights or a sea of Phillies' rally towels. We were close enough, though, to experience the electricity in the place, the timely hitting of Utley, the miscues in the field by not only Bruce, but also one-time Gold Glover Scott Rolen at third, Gold Glover Tony Phillips at second, and, of course, Utley.

It was a tale of two games, or, perhaps, a game of two acts. Act I was all Reds, as tall starter Bronson Arroyo pitched more like a crafty little lefty named Moyer throwing slop up there or a pitcher having a second life (picture knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the Mets) throwing pitches that Hall of Famer Satchel Paige would have called "bat dodgers." Arroyo was good, and then he turned the game over to a bullpen that the overmatched WTBS announcers labeled was better than the Phillies (a friend texted me on this point). (As an aside, on that point the announcers probably were right, but in watching some of the games on TBS I couldn't help but notice how unprepared they were when making utterances about players and teams). When Arroyo exited, it was 4-0 Reds (and Phillips started off the game in the best possible way for the Reds, hitting a bomb off Roy Oswalt that quieted the crowd and made them realize that no, they weren't going to get two no-hitters in a row but, in fact, they could get tattooed by the proudful, league-leading hitting Reds, who, no doubt, saw this as a revenge game of biblical proportions).

Enter Act 2. So, the Reds came out with the fire and brimstone, but then the Phillies added their own twist of the moral of the story of Lot's wife -- don't look back, for something might be gaining on you (sure, that quote also is attributed to Paige). Why? Because in the Old Testament, Lot's wife looked back on the home town she gave up (Sodom) and turned into a pillar of salt. The Reds might have looked back to see where the Phillies that they thought they had stymied and left behind, and, well, their gloves turned into pillars of stone. Bad throws, missed tags, a missed fly ball, and before you knew it the crowd at Citizens Bank Park cranked up the volume, it was 6-4 Phillies and the wheels fell off what should have been the party bus back to Cincinnati, with the series tied at 1-1 and the Reds haven taken the home-field advantage away from the "team to beat" insofar as the post-season was concerned.

But that didn't happen. It wasn't because the Phillies hitters woke up, no, not really. It was because the Phillies' bullpen relieved an underwhelming Roy Oswalt (although, truth be told, how many pitchers really would want to follow a teammate who pitched only the second no-hitter in post-season play and face the best-hitting team in the league?) and excelled -- Romero, Durbin, Contreras, Madson and Lidge fared well, while Rhodes, Ondrusek, Chapman and Masset correspondingly didn't pitch as well. Yet, when all was said and done, it was the "small ball" aspects of the game that did in the Reds. Field the ball better, and they go home with a victory. Give this veteran, successful post-season team more than three outs in an inning, and they'll kill you. Which is exactly what the Phillies did.

It was a beautiful night for a ball game, we sampled some Bull's Barbeque all the way up in the (as of playoff time, not so) cheap seats, the hard drinkers mercifully were not in our section but had too much merriment about 5 sections over and were quickly ejected from the premises (in fairness, most fans were festive, wearing Phillies colors and saying things that they wouldn't be embarrassed in their mothers heard them). The 45,000 plus fans were merry upon exiting, something that I wouldn't have necessarily projected after 5 innings, a lackluster pitching performance by Roy Oswalt, and the dance of slumber that the Phillies' bats put on.

But here's the thing: this version of the Phillies keeps grappling, keeps scrapping, and keeps on coming back. You cannot count them out -- and while all of baseball probably knows it, the Phillies reinforced the point last night.

A few other points:

1. One of my simplest joys is to eat a bag of peanuts at the game. They taste great, and, I suppose, there's something about being able to toss the shells around with impunity that, well, for someone like me is about as daring as I get.

2. Phillies' fans should reconsider their booing of Scott Rolen. They should remember that Curt Schilling compelled a trade to Arizona in 2001 because the Phils had no chance of winning. Rolen turned down a long-term deal around that time and was dealt in 2002 (I think that we barely remember the players the team got in either of those deals, except Vicente Padilla might have arrived in the Schilling deal and Placido Polanco might have arrived in the Rolen deal). At any rate, then-manager Larry Bowa and GM Ed Wade got all over Rolen, who was portrayed as a villain who was dissing the city by not wanting a lucrative deal. I never took what Rolen said personally, and I allowed for the notion that he was speaking truthfullly -- management didn't want to spend for a winner. Well, after that, with the team languishing with second-tier talent and a new stadium in the works, management had what to me was a revelation -- that local fans will watch a great team in a cow pasture but won't (for long) come to a palace to watch the same second-tier talent. That led to the signing of Jim Thome and the acquisition of better talent, and look where we are today. I do think that Rolen was a linchpin to the future success, precisely because his tough stance was a wake-up call to an ownership team that once referred to the team as a "small-market" team even though it was (and located) in one of the largest media markets in the country (top 5 or 6). So, when you think about booing Scott Rolen, perhaps you should change your mind and start cheering him.

3. Lots of different jerseys last night out there, including a guy wearing a Ugueth Urbina jersey and a Tony Longmire jersey (I didn't know that they made either of them). Of course, there were plenty of others, along with jersey shirts that exclaimed "Rauuuuuuulllllll" and "Choooooch", among many others.

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