Category Archives: BASEBALL

Joe Blanton Night at the 2008 World Series

Blanton heads around the bases after blasting a home run in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series

 

When most big-league clubs send their number four starting pitcher to the mound, about the best they hope for is that the hurler keeps them in the game and gives the offense a chance to win.

Seldom do they expect a gem, and even more seldom do they either expect or receive any kind of offensive production from that hurler.

Going into the crucial Game 4 of the 2008 World Series, both the Phillies and the Rays decided to go with their fourth starters.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon sent out right-hander Andy Sonnanstine, who looked uncomfortable from the get-go. He was hurt by a bad umpire’s call that allowed the Phillies to take a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning, and continued to struggle mightily before leaving early. Sonnanstine did not give the Rays much of a shot when they desperately needed one.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent his fourth starter to the mound as well. But his hurler commanded the game, pitching strongly into the 7th inning. He struck out seven, walked just one, and allowed just five hits and two runs.

Oh, and after allowing a pinch-hit home run in the top of the 5th that cut his lead down to 5-2, that moundsman answered by pounding a homer of his own in the bottom of the inning, becoming the first pitcher to hit a home run in the Fall Classic in 35 years.

Welcome to ‘Joe Blanton Night’ at the World Series.

Way, way back in the final week of March, Blanton started the very first game of the 2008 Major League Baseball season for the Oakland A’s over in Tokyo, Japan.

In a different uniform a half a world away, Blanton may have just pitched what will prove to be the penultimate game of that same long season on the final full weekend of October.

Pat Gillick, on his last go-around as a general manager in a long and distinguished baseball career, pulled the trigger on a trade back in July that rescued Blanton from a struggling small-market Oakland club, plopping him down in the middle of a pennant race with the defending N.L. East champion Phillies.

Blanton immediately began to pay dividends by providing what the Phillies had a hard time finding an extra starter to do: pitch quality innings at the back end of the rotation and give the team a chance every time out.

The Phillies ended up going 5-0 in Blanton’s starts, which were rarely dominating but usually effective. In his final four starts, as the Phillies battled back to overtake the New York Mets and rallied for the second straight year to win the east, Blanton went 3-0 to play a pivotal role.

The big righty pitched 23 innings down the stretch, allowing just 19 hits and eight earned runs, lasting at least five innings in each start.

In short, Blanton did exactly what Gillick traded for him to do: he kept the Phils in games and gave them a chance to win.

Last night, in the biggest start of his 27-year-old life, on the biggest baseball stage that there is, in the hitters haven that is Citizen’s Bank Park, Joe Blanton starred in the game of his life.

From the outset he threw strikes, moved the ball all around the plate, and kept the Rays young hitters off-balance. And then for good measure in the bottom of the 5th he did what he later described as “swing as hard as you can in case you hit it.

Did he ever swing hard, and did he ever hit it, drilling a line drive no-doubt-about-it laser shot of a home run into the left field stands.

The Rays have also been unfortunate to find that postseason sleeping giant Ryan Howard has finally awoken, and just in time for the FightinPhils.

After smashing a home run in Game 3, ‘The Big Piece’ blasted two more moon shots last night. His first was a classic Howard opposite-field blast to left, a three-run bomb that gave Blanton some breathing room at 5-1.

Howard’s second blast was a monster drive to right, a two-runner that followed an earlier Jayson Werth two-run homer in the bottom of the 8th inning as the Phillies put the game out of reach and won 10-2.

The Phillies now have a commanding 3-1 lead in the World Series, and will look to win just the second world championship in their 123-year history tonight in front of the home fans with ace Cole Hamels on the hill.

If they do so, it will largely be thanks to the efforts of their somewhat maligned third and fourth starters the past two nights. First came the Game 3 heroics of 45-year-old hometown boy Jamie Moyer. And then last night it was Joe Blanton Night at the World Series. Go Phils!

Praying for a World Series win

Ruiz chopper down the third base line scored Bruntlett with the winning run in Game 3 of the 2008 World Series

 

I don’t think it’s wrong at all, to ask God for a Phillies victory, do you? After all, the Phillies had blown a 4-1 lead in the crucial third game of the 2008 World Series, which was tied at a game apiece.

The young, talented, and resilient Tampa Bay Rays used a blown call by the first base umpire, their speed, and a throwing error by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz to push across three runs over the last couple of innings to get even.

Now in the bottom of the 9th, super sub Eric Bruntlett is hit by a pitch to leadoff the inning. Rays reliever Grant Balfour then unleashes a fastball tracer right at the legs of Shane Victorino.

As Victorino reflexively dances out of the way, the ball flies past Rays’ catcher Dioner Navarro and heads towards the back wall behind home plate. Bruntlett takes off for 2nd base, which he would normally make easily.

But this time the wild pitch was so hard and fast that it caromed directly off the brick and back to Navarro, who spun and tried to nail Bruntlett at 2nd base. His throw was wild and slid into center field, and Bruntlett moved on to third base, moving the winning run into position just 90 feet away with nobody out.

As the fans in the stands at Citizen’s Bank Park went nuts, twirling their white and red ‘Rally Towels’ above their heads like 45,000 helicopter blades whirling madly through the late-night South Philly air, the Phils appeared to be in great position for the win.

The ‘late night’ part was a story unto itself. The game, the first World Series game here in Philly in 15 years, was delayed at the start by an hour and a half thanks to the end-stretch of a daylong rain spell.

So here we all were at 1:30 am in the morning, the Phillies with the winning run and a 2-1 lead in the World Series now tantalizingly close with no outs.

What for some teams might be an automatic win was far from it for our Phillies. This team had been setting a new record for futility, constantly failing to drive in runners from scoring position during the series.

Rays manager Joe Maddon decided that he was going to walk both Victorino and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, loading the bases and setting up a force-out situation at home plate.

There is not a Phillies fan around who is being honest with themselves if they didn’t fear the very real possibility of the slow-footed Ruiz grounding into a double play, and then the Rays incredibly getting out of the jam and taking it into extra-innings where nothing good would surely happen for the hometown nine.

It was here that I closed my eyes, put my head down, and said a little prayer: “God, I know there are a billion things more important going on in the world right now, but if there is anyway that it doesn’t affect some bigger plan that you have going, could you please, please give me and all the rest of these fans this gift?

I don’t know what some think about asking God, bothering Him with these relatively trivial matters in our prayers. But it is my opinion that God has time for anything that we want to share with Him.

I have never been afraid to pray for things like sporting victories. I just make sure to toss in the caveat and allow for the possibility that God might have some bigger plan involved in a different outcome than that for which I am praying.

And we also have to remember that there is probably more than one person on the other side praying for the exact opposite outcome. In those cases, I have no problem putting the answer in His hands.

Pray to God. Pray that your families stay healthy. Pray that He stays close to you. Pray that you get that job for which you just interviewed last week. Pray that the important loan comes through as approved. Pray for world peace, for justice in a court trial, that your candidate wins the U.S. presidency.

And also feel free to pray that your hometown team wins the World Series.

God is never too busy to listen. The answer will not always be what you wanted, but it will be so much more than if you never prayed at all.

Carlos Ruiz did indeed end up hitting a weak grounder, but it was not for a double play.

His slow dribbler rolled down the third base line on the infield at Citizens Bank Park as Rays’s phenom Evan Longoria charged the ball. Bruntlett sprinted home and slid in ahead of Lonogoria’s shuttle throw. The Phillies had won 5-4 to take a 2-1 lead in the World Series.

Sometimes the answer to our prayers is exactly what we asked for after all.

Thank you, Lord. Go Phillies!

1915 World Series: Phillies vs. Red Sox

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…well sort of, the Philadelphia Phillies appeared in the World Series during the early part of the 20th century.

The Phillies lost the 1915 World Series to the Boston Red Sox and legendary outfielder Tris Speaker by 4 games to 1, marking the second straight season that a team from Boston had defeated a team from Philly for the championship.

The previous year, the Boston Braves of the National League had swept Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics out of the Fall Classic.

It is not likely that there are many left alive who saw or in some other way experienced first-hand that 1915 Series. If you were born that year, you are now 93 years old. So, most everyone – perhaps all who were there, in fact – are now gone.

Much as with their current 2008 brethren, things started well in that 1915 Series for the Phillies. They won the first game here in Philadelphia at the old Baker Bowl, edging the Red Sox by a 3-1 score behind the pitching of ace Grover Cleveland Alexander to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

The Phillies got on the board first in the 4th inning as leffielder George Whitted, nicknamed Possum, singled home center fielder Dode Paskert.

The Sox tied it up in the top of the 8th, but in the Phils bottom half they manufactured a pair of runs to take the 3-1 lead. The 28-year old Alexander, who had won 31 games that season, finished up a complete game win, but not before some baseball history was made.

In that top of the 9th, the leadoff batter reached on an error, and the Red Sox sent to the plate a kid pinch-hitter who they felt had some pop in his bat. It would be the first-ever World Series plate appearance in the big leagues for the 20-year old Babe Ruth, and in fact it would mark his only appearance in the entire Series.

Ruth was in just his second season with Boston, having begun with 10 plate appearances in 1914 and another 92 in that 1915 season, so he had just 102 total big-league at-bats to that point.

Alexander induced Ruth into an easy ground out to the first baseman, then got the final hitter on a popup to first, and the Phillies had their first-ever World Series win.

Little did the franchise’ owners, players, and fans know that it would be 65 years before they would enjoy another.

Game 2 was also at Baker Bowl, which was located in a small one-square block area bordered by Broad Street and 15th Street, Lehigh Avenue and Huntingdon Street.

Approximately 20,000 fans would pack the Baker Bowl for each of the three games played there that fall, and for this second game of the World Series there was more history made. One of those in attendance was President Woodrow Wilson, marking the first time that a U.S. President had attended a Series game.

The game began with the Sox scoring a run in the top of the 1st inning, and it would be their only run until they scored another in the top of the 9th frame. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they could only muster one of their own, and the Red Sox evened the Series at a game apiece thanks to that 2-1 victory.

When the series switched to Boston for Game 3 and 4, the now famous Fenway Park was the Red Sox sparkling new home, having just opened a couple of years earlier.

However, the team ownership often used Braves Field, which had just opened that very year and was the home of the National League Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves) for the Red Sox ‘big games’ because Braves Field was larger and held more fans than Fenway.

So the Phils never got into Fenway Park that year, instead playing before over 40,000 rabid sox fans at Braves Field. The Red Sox 2-1 victory in the second game was exactly duplicated in those next two games, with Boston winning each by identical 2-1 scores to take a 3-1 lead in the Series.

Things looked good early on in Game 5 back in North Philly at Baker Bowl thanks to veteran first baseman Fred Luderus, who doubled home a run as the Phillies scored twice in the 1st inning.

Boston answered with single runs in the 2nd and 3rd innings, but then Luderus blasted a solo homer and the Phils rallied for another in the bottom of the 4th for a 4-2 lead.

That lead held all the way into the top of the 8th before Boston left fielder Duffy Lewis cracked a two-run homer off Phils‘ reliever Eppa Rixey to tie the score at 4-4 heading into the 9th inning.

In the top of that 9th, right fielder Harry Hooper, who would be selected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1971, broke the tie with a one-out homer, his second of the game.

The Red Sox took that 5-4 lead into the bottom of the frame where the Phillies went down in order meekly.

Both of Hooper’s homers actually bounced over the fence in what would be considered ‘ground rule doubles’ today. The center field fence that his 9th inning, game-winning homer had bounced over was erected especially for the World Series to allow more seating capacity at Baker Bowl.

Boston celebrated it’s third World Series championship, having won the first-ever modern series in 1903, and then again winning it in 1912.

For the Phillies, that first-ever World Series championship would have to wait all the way until 1980.

But it was in 1915 that the Phillies got their first taste of the World Series, only to fall short thanks to four consecutive frustrating one-run defeats.

Price is right for Rays

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Talented rookie lefty Price shut down the Phillies to even up the 2008 World Series

 

History has shown that for a sports organization perhaps the most essential element in building long-term success is continuity at the top of the organization.

It is one of the principal reasons that sports talk radio programming can never be allowed to run a team. If call-in fans and trouble-starting hosts had their way, coaches and executives all across America would get canned on a nearly annual basis.

Just look at what is happening right now here in Philly with the Eagles and coach Andy Reid. All he has done is oversee the longest, most consistent winning tenure in the history of the franchise.

But Reid has made the mistake of not yet winning the ultimate Super Bowl title. The Philly sports fans constantly talk about time passing him by, and they call for his head.

The same was done around here with the Phillies organization for years, with the fans calling for the head of GM Ed Wade. Finally, almost mercifully by that point, the fans got their wish.

What they lost was the man who brought Jimmy Rollins (2007 NL MVP), Ryan Howard (2006 NL MVP), Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, Carlos Ruiz, and Cole Hamels among others into the organization with his drafts.

The fact, despite what know-it-all Philly fans and talk hosts might stir up, is that ownership needs to make the decision to hire a good person to head their club, and then get out of and stay out of the way barring some completely outrageous circumstances.

These Phillies were largely home-grown by Wade. Their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays, were built in the same way by their original GM Chuck LaMar.

The Rays GM had the misfortune of taking on the job of an expansion team GM for an ownership that ultimately decided to build through the draft, a painstaking process that can take years.

LaMar did his job well, adding Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria, James Shields and others via the draft. He also traded for Scott Kazmir. Another of his big draftees, Delmon Young, was eventually traded by the new GM Gerry Hunsicker to get Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.

That’s right, LaMar, just as Wade in Philly, was also gone before the fruits of his labor could be realized. New ownership wanted a new face at the top, and so Chuck LaMar watched as another man completed his building project.

In the end, the Phillies and Rays have gotten to the World Series without Wade and LaMar, but there is no denying their fingerprints all over these two clubs.

Teams most often win on a regular basis by having organizational patience, and by building solidly from the ground up, in player development and the Draft.

Last summer, Hunsicker’s first draft pick was electric lefty pitcher David Price, who again showed the value of the building process in last night’s Game 2 of the 2008 World Series.

An elite young talent (is that redundant on these Rays?), Price will be a long-term frontline starting pitcher in Tampa Bay (how many of those does one team need anyway?) beginning as soon as next season.

Price reached the big leagues in this, his first full professional season, by dominating at three minor league levels. In these playoffs he has proven a key cog out of the bullpen, and there he was last night, out on the mound at the end with the game on the line.

The 23-year old who was on the mound for Vanderbilt University just last summer ate up the final 2.1 innings for the Rays, and closed the game by striking out Chase Utley and coaxing Ryan Howard into a feeble grounder to second base, both as the tying run.

Tampa Bay won 4-2, evening this Fall Classic at a game apiece. David Price’s pitching heroics played a key role. For the Rays, this Price was right in the draft and in last night’s game.

No one should forget as this Series moves along that Ed Wade and Chuck LaMar also played key roles in getting both teams to where they are this October.

Tampa Bay’s red-hot Rays are Cole’d off in Game One

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Hamels shut down the Rays in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field in Tampa

The tall, lanky, mega-talented Phillies lefthander, one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, took the mound for his first-ever appearance in the World Series. He seemed in complete command as his team staked him to a 2-0 lead.

Cole Hamels in last night’s opener of the 2008 World Series between the Phils and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field? Well, yes actually. But the same exact scenario could have been written about Steve Carlton in Game #2 of the 1980 World Series against the Kansas City Royals at Veteran’s Stadium, spotlighted in a story at this blog just two days ago.

Though there are differences, there are also many similarities shared by the two most talented left-handed starting pitchers to ever don Phillies pinstripes.

Carlton mixed in a moving fastball and a solid curveball with his devastating signature slider. Hamels mixes in that same fastball-curveball combo with his own devastating changeup. Both have led the Phillies as the staff pitching ace into the World Series. And now both can say that the team won their start, albeit after overcoming a few bumps in the road during the game.

‘Super Steve’ mowed down those Royals through five shutout innings, but KC got to him for three runs in the 7th. He ultimately went eight innings, allowing 10 hits and six walks, but the Phils won the game 6-4 thanks to their own four-run 8th inning rally.

Hamels had to endure his own rough stretch, but was ultimately in far greater control than Carlton had been. The young lefty mowed through the first two innings without a scratch, usually a sign that the other team is in for a long night.

Tampa Bay loaded the bases in the 3rd before Hamels induced young Rays’ star outfielder B.J. Upton to hit into a doubleplay to end the inning.

In the Phils 4th, Carlos Ruiz knocked in Shane Victorino with a groundout and Hamels had a 3-0 lead. Carl Crawford then touched Hamels for a two-out solo homerun in the bottom of the inning and cut that lead to 3-1.

The Rays then rallied again in the 5th, but Hamels induced another doubleplay to get out of the jam. This time it came courtesy of a nice play by 3rd base glove whiz Pedro Feliz. Hamels then settled down and went through the 7th inning without being challenged further.

Manager Charlie Manuel then turned the ball over to the bullpen combo of setup man Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge. What that has meant for the Phillies this season has been an automatic victory. Madson and Lidge would close it out without incident, and the Phillies had a key victory in this pivotal Fall Classic opening matchup.

Hamels had yet another strong outing to pad his already bulging playoff resume. He won the NLCS MVP award as a pair of his strong starts led the Phils into the Series. He had previously been strong in last season’s NLDS loss to Colorado, and in this year’s NLDS victory over Milwaukee.

Cole Hamels is proving that he may be Carlton’s talent equal, though he still has many years to go before he can think of joining ‘Lefty’ in the Hall of Fame. But his performance last night has the Phils up in this Series.

Now it is Brett Myers turn. Myers, who plays an ’emotions on his sleeves’ ying to Hamels‘ ‘calm and cool’ yang, needs to harness his talent and control those emotions. If he does, he can take the Rays bats that Cole made go cold and put them on some seriously thin ice in this World Series.