Tag Archives: Charlie Manuel

The Philadelphia championship dream delayed, or drowned?

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Pedro Feliz and Jimmy Rollins try to battle the Rays and in elements on a rain-soaked infield

 

It all started so well.

Game 5 of the World Series began last night with Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels mowing the Tampa Bay Rays down in order and in easy fashion in the top of the first.

In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies loaded the bases thanks to some rough umpiring and the early wildness of Rays all-star lefty Scott Kazmir. And then Philliescenter fielder Shane Victorino, the ‘Flyin‘ Hawaiian’, one of the many heroes of this glorious post-season ride, lashed a base hit to left field to score two runs and give the Phillies an early 2-0 lead.

The fans at Citizen’s Bank Park erupted in a frenzy of ‘rally towel’ waving, and thus began what was hoped to be, what everyone believed would be, the night that would end ‘The Curse’. For 25 years the vast majority of the people in this sports-crazed region have waited for a champion.

In that quarter-century of teams falling short, the inability of Philly’s major pro sports teams to bring home even one title among them has taken on the stuff of legend. It is to the point now where everyone refers to ‘100 seasons’ without a championship, referring to the fact that all among the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers have each played out those 25 years without a title.

So, here in the City of Brotherly Love we have been forced to sit through a hundred titleless pro sports seasons among our hometown professional sports teams. But something has been building with these Phillies that felt different. Events of this past weekend only served to solidify that feeling.

On Saturday night, the Phils had overcome a daylong rain that delayed the game, winning in dramatic fashion in the wee hours of Sunday morning to take a 2-1 Series lead.

On Sunday, the sun had broken through and on a chilly night the Phillies bats awoke and delivered a 10-2 drubbing to the overmatched Rays to setup this potential clincher.

The possibility of rain lurked all day on Monday, but there was a very real possibility of getting the game in under chilly and drizzly conditions, and with a true nor’easter coming through on Tuesday, the powers that be at Major League Baseball decided to try to get it done.

Back in the game, Hamels continued to breeze as the rain began through the early innings. The Phillies took that 2-0 lead into the 4th inning as the rains intensified and the field slowly began to deteriorate.

When the Rays’ wunderkind rookie third baseman Evan Longoria finally broke out of a series-long slump with an RBI single in the 4th, Tampa Bay had cut it to 2-1, but Hamels still seemed in control.

Only the weather was now becoming a serious problem. The skies began to open up and dump out a deluge of water, and without some break coming quickly the nightmare scenario of the World Series ending under the literal and figurative cloud of a shortened game was becoming a serious possibility.

When Hamels got out of the top of the 5th thanks to an incredible double play turned by Chase Utley, the game was official based on MLB rules, and the storm was only getting more intense.

At home in the warm, dry comfort of our family room, my wife and I flipped to a local cable 24-hour weather service. The radar was not telling a pretty tale. The dark green of the heavy rainstorm showed no relief in sight.

It was very apparent at that point that this game could not possibly continue much longer no matter what MLB officials wanted, no matter what the players wanted, no matter what the 46,000 championship-starved fans wanted.

The field at Citizen’s Bank Park is state of the art as far as handling any kind of normal rain load, but this was nothing of the sort. The turf and dirt were taking a real pounding with puddles forming as the ultra-modern drainage system and a determined grounds crew were simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume and persistence of the water that Mother Nature was pouring down.

Was there a chance that the umpires would be forced to stop the game, that the tarp would be brought out and the infield covered, and a lengthy rain delay ensue?

Problem with that scenario was that the weather forecasts now contained no good news. You could wait two, four, six hours. You could wait all night, this thing was not going to let up.

Was it possible that the Phillies could become the first team to ever win a World Series title in a game called by rain? I don’t care how long we have waited, there was not a single fan in that ballpark, in this entire area, who wanted to win under those conditions.

Well, the point became moot. The umps decided to try to squeeze out one more frame. In the top of the 6th inning, Rays slugger Carlos Pena came through with a game-tying single before Hamels could close things out. With the score now knotted at 2-2, there was simply no other choice than to suspend the contest.

And so here we sit in Philadelphia as the Tuesday nor’easter rages all around us. The storm is scheduled to last all day, meaning that the field is going to have no chance to dry out even if the rains stop by the scheduled 8:00 pm game time, which is itself no guarantee.

The weather around here was gorgeous just days ago. At the end of this week, it is slated to be beautiful again, giving the kiddies a nice Halloween evening on which to trick-or-treat. But right now when we need it most, the late fall weather is making the game of baseball embarrassingly, ridiculously unplayable.

How this will all end now is a great unknown. What seemed like an inevitable championship just one day ago now seems much riskier. Whenever the Phillies and Rays will start again, with the game entering the bottom of the 6th inning tied at 2-2, a shortened risk/opportunity of three innings.

Will Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel give the ball to Brett Myers? Will they put it in the hands of their lights-out bullpen? Have the Rays hitters awoken just in time to steal a shortened game and send the Series back to Tampa-St. Pete? All great unknowns.

I can tell you this. Right now it doesn’t feel good. It feels like something happened last night that was not in the players power to control, something which may have turned the momentum towards the Rays.

Thanks to this incredible deluge from the heavens, our championship dream has been drowned. It is up to these so-far resilient Phillies players to find a way to overcome this latest obstacle, and bring home that elusive title.

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!

Phillies on a pennant push

For a baseball fan like myself, it’s always a great summer when your home team is involved in a pennant race. My hometown Philadelphia Phillies have found themselves in the race for most of the past half dozen summers, finally reaching the playoffs a year ago when they won the National League East Division pennant on the final afternoon of the season. The Phils chased down the New York Mets last season, edging them by a single game after trailing by 7 1/2 games with just 17 left to play. This year the Phils are not in such desperate shape heading into the final week of the season. In fact, the club is firmly in control of it’s own playoff destiny. By winning their last 7 straight games, they have taken a lead over the Mets by a half game in the NL East, and the New Yorkers have lost their closer, Billy Wagner, for the remainder. Better still, the Phils are two games up on the Milwaukee Brewers, the nearest pursuers to the Mets for the NL Wildcard berth, and the Brewers may have just lost their 2nd best starting pitcher, Ben Sheets, for the remainder. So the Phils enter the next-to-last weekend in first place, and with a firm grasp on a playoff spot. They probably need finish only 5-4 to get the playoff berth, though will perhaps have to do better than that to nail down the divisional title. The Phils offense began the season being led by a red-hot Chase Utley, who bolted out of the gate on fire for the first two months, and Pat Burrell, who was picking up where he left off last season with big hits. Utley and Burrell’s fire was needed, as both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino spent significant time on the Disabled List early on, and Ryan Howard was ice cold the first two months. Just when Utley and Burrell began to cool, Howard heated up significantly, and was joined by outfielder Jayson Werth in leading the offense. Victorino returned and also got hot, and as September began even J-Roll began to get his game together and started producing. Howard has remained hot since June, and is a leading NL MVP contender heading into the final week, needing perhaps just one more hot week leading the Phils to that division title to clinch it. But the real reason that the Phils are in this solid position right now is an unexpectedly strong performance from the pitching staff, especially the bullpen. Cole Hamels has been as good as advertised most nights, and Jamie Moyer has once again defied Father Time to post one of his most consistently strong seasons in years. Brett Myers was downright awful for the first three months, got sent down to the minor leagues, and since returning two months ago has simply been one of the best pitchers in baseball. Joe Blanton was added in trade to provide stability, and he has done just that. He will never be a lights-out stopper, but he gives you a dependable, veteran, quality start most times out. Kyle Kendrick kept winning for awhile, but it was with mirrors, and the league finally caught up to him. To the rescue has come lefty J.A. Happ, who has been solid every time the Phils have given him a chance. In the bullpen, the off-season trade to bring in Brad Lidge as the new closer has proven to be perhaps GM Pat Gillick’s best acquisition to date. Lidge has been perfect in save opportunities, though he has struggled from time to time since being misused in the MLB All-Star game back in July. The rest of the pen has also been solid, with Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Clay Condrey, Rudy Seanez, and now the newly acquired Scott Eyre holding most of the leads with which they have been entrusted. Greg Dobbs and Eric Bruntlett have been invaluable off the bench, and Pedro Feliz has been one of the best defensive 3rd basemen in the league when healthy. The Phils catching combo of Chris Coste & Carlos Ruiz is highly underrated. And for the pennant push there are veteran bench bats Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, So Taguchi, and Tadahito Iguchi around for depth and pinch-hitting. Charlie Manuel’s team appears like it has everything that it needs heading into the final games, and hopefully into the playoffs, and there is every reason for we fans to believe that not only will this pennant push be successful, but that the season will continue well into October.

Phillies take the lead in the 2008 NL East Division race

The Phillies have vaulted out to a four game lead in the NL East here in early June. With the last two National League MVP’s in slugging first baseman Ryan Howard and team leader shortstop Jimmy Rollins, along with one of the favorites for this year’s honors in all-world second baseman Chase Utley, the Phillies offense is off to another great start.

Speedy Shane Victorino has taken charge in center field and on the base paths. Veteran left fielder Pat Burrell has been productive as he plays out the final year of his contract. Newcomers at third base (Pedro Feliz), right field (Geoff Jenkins), and closer (Brad Lidge) have made huge contributions, as has outfielder Jayson Werth in an expanded role.

Newcomer Eric Bruntlett filled in well for Rollins when he missed a month due to an injury and is a quality infield reserve. Greg Dobbs has again been one of the league’s top pinch-hitters. And the catching duo of Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste has been solid.

On the mound, Cole Hamels is an emerging NL All-Star candidate, as has been closer Lidge. Brett Myers has struggled at times in his return to the rotation, but seems to be rounding into form. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Kyle Kendrick have also pitched well of late.

The bullpen of Lidge, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, and Rudy Seanez has been strong all season. The club could probably use another lefty out of the pen, as well as one more reliable big-time starting pitcher, in order to hold off expected second half challengers.

A repeat of their 2007 NL East championship is not only possible, but at this point the Phillies have to be considered the favorites. Their top expected pursuers should still be the struggling New York Mets, and the pitching-starved Atlanta Braves. Meanwhile, the young Marlins remain their closest challengers at the moment as the two clubs open up a three-game series in Miami tonight.