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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Welcome to Fans from "Baghdad by the Bay"

Okay, so Herb Caen I am not, but I lived in Northern California for three years, during which time a) an earthquake leveled Coalinga, California, b) the Giants were in the NL West race during the last week of the season, only (i) to host less than 20,000 fans a night when the Astros (who would go on to win the division) came to town and (ii) to have Joe Morgan hit a home run against the Dodgers on the last day of the season to knock their archrivals out, c) "the play" in the Big Game between Cal and Stanford (this description is for those in Southeastern Pennsylvania, as everyone in Northern California knows what "The Big Game" is and refers to San Francisco (and not New York) as "The City"), and d) see the 49ers hit their stride. I haven't been back much since, but I remember my days there very well.

Here are a few observations about the Phillies-Giants series:

1. It's inexplicable to me that Pat Burrell remains beloved in Philadelphia. Yes, he was a member of the World Champions in 2008, but by the end of 2007 he was a statue in left field and for most of 2008 he didn't hit, and he also didn't hit in the World Series (save a double in Game 5 that, yes, was very much helpful). It's also (pleasantly) surprising that after a horrid 1 1/2 years in Tampa he resurrected himself with his hometown team.

2. The team that wins this series could do so by scoring less than 10 runs in 4 wins, perhaps as few as 7.

3. Both teams have terrific new parks. In constrast, their old parks were not so great. To be fair, Veterans Stadium was a curiosity when it opened in the late 1960's and a big improvement over Connie Mack Stadium, but by the end it was one of those space-age curiosities that was neither well-suited for football or baseball. Candlestick Park, on the other hand, couldn't ever have been well-suited for baseball. For example, in 1962, Stu Miller was blown off the mound in an All-Star game. In the summer of 1984, my father and I went to a Phillies game at the Vet in mid-August, and it was about 95 degrees with 85% humidity. A week later, I returned to Northern California, and a friend of mine and I went to see the Phillies (ironically) play the Giants at the Stick, where it was 55 degrees with a 25 mile-an-hour wind off the bay. In Philadelphia, we wore t-shirts and shorts. At the Stick, we wore long pants, many layers, took blankets and drank hot chocolate (and I've never had a good hot chocolate at any baseball game or football game, for that matter).

4. I rooted for the Giants as a little kid, because my father, who was born in New York, rooted for them and loved Willie Mays. I recall going to Giants' games with him at Connie Mack once upon a time. We switched our allegiance to the Phillies when a) they got better in the mid-1970's and b) it became increasingly impractical to root for an out-of-town team (although, today, with the internet and cable packages, it's much easier). I have a good friend who remains a Giants' fan to this day, despite growing up in New Jersey and living in the Philadelphia suburbs.

5. Okay, we don't have Anchor Steam, don't eat a lot of sourdough, don't have our own wine country, don't have cable cars, two baseball teams (although, truth be told, most San Francisco residents -- never, ever call the place "Frisco" -- wouldn't go to Oakland to watch a baseball game, even if the Hungarian sludge made its way from Lombard Street to the Marina District and toward ATT Park). But we do have cheese steaks, crab fries, the Liberty Bell, soft pretzels, Tastykakes, the Big Five, an electric baseball park and many other good things to offer. We also have passionate fans, and they bridge every socioeconomic, racial and ethnic group.

As for predictions, well, it's hard. The Giants have excellent pitching, but so do the Phillies. The Phillies' lineup is better, but the Phillies' lineup hasn't hit nearly as well this year as it did in 2008. The bullpen isn't as good as in 2008, either, but two things are more pronounced -- the team's starting pitching and the team's grit, which was always pretty good. This team has rebounded from more casualties than Lucky Leckie's platoon in "The Pacific", and with that comes a determination and confidence that they can overcome just about anything. That grit -- along with playoff experience and tremendous leadership -- from skipper Charlie Manuel to Jimmy Rollins, their first among equals, to the determination of spiritual leader Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz -- should give the Phillies the edge, perhaps in 6 games.

But here's the thing: the Phillies came out of nowhere to win in 2008. Remember, in 2007 they relied upon a Mets' collapse to make the playoffs, only to run into superior pitching from the Rockies to get swept. The following season, of the four teams in the NL post-season, they were the least talked about going in. The Brewers had acquired CC Sabathia from the Indians for the stretch run, the Rockies had a torrid run to make the post-season, and the Dodgers had acquired Manny Ramirez mid-season and he hit over .400 in the second half. Yet, the Phillies dismantled both the Brewers and Dodgers and made it to the Series.

Here's the point: teams that have been their before don't always get there again or, if they do, succeed when they're there. If that were the case, then the team that won the first World Series -- the Pirates -- would have won every one of them since 1903. The Phillies have the experience, the Giants the desire to show everyone that they belong in the conversation with the Yankees and Phillies. What will win out -- the desire to knock the veterans out, or the experience that says "we're far from done, and we want to establish ourselves as a dynasty." Both are compelling motivations, and with the marquis names among the pitchers, it should be a great series to watch.


Anonymous Philadelphia Phillies Tickets said...

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1:27 PM  

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