Tag Archives: Cole Hamels

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!

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.

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.

It’s just a fantasy

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If you know me, you know that I am a huge baseball fan. A lifelong Phillies fan, of course, and someone who played for and managed a local championship men’s softball team for over a decade and a half.

As I got a bit older, I retired the old glove and bat, and moved into the fantasy game. Fantasy baseball has been one of my biggest hobbies over the past decade, particularly with a ‘Keeper’ league of which I am a part known as the ‘Whitey Fantasy Baseball League’.

In this case, ‘Whitey’ refers to the man for whom the league is dedicated, Philly’s own Rich ‘Whitey’ Ashburn. We have 16 players in the WFBL known to each other as GM’s (general managers) of the 16 teams, which are all league-owned.

My own team, the Philadelphia Athletics, has been highly successful. My team has captured seven of the 11 pennants in our Paul Owens (East) Division, and one league championship during a history which began back in 1998.

That first summer saw the WFBL stock each of our team rosters for the first time with an original draft. Since then, players have been exchanged over the years through trading and a waiver-acquisition process. We are permitted to keep between 16-20 players every year, so you can actually build a team and keep it together if you like.

That original franchise-stocking WFBL Draft yielded me Scott Rolen and Derek Jeter as the first two picks. They became cornerstones, and I picked up later in the Draft such young studs as Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones.

We have two divisions, my Owens Division and the western Connie Mack Division, with eight teams in each. Most of the current 16 GMs have been with the league for a long time, with four of us still remaining from that first Draft day and season.

In the east there are teams representing New York, Boston, Alexandria, Carolina, Atlantic City, Middle Village (NY), Montreal and my Philly club. From the west the teams are in Portland, California, Jackson Hole, Alabama, Louisiana, St. Louis, Eugene and Spokane.

The actual GMs are from all across the country as well. There are two of us from Philly, three guys from the Bayou of Louisiana, and the rest spread from the Pacific Northwest to the Cayman Islands and everywhere in between. Our ages range from 24 to 58, with most in their 30’s and 40’s.

We utilize an even mix of offensive and pitching stats, making both sides of the game equally important, and we play a head-to-head schedule of 22 games, once each vs. the other division and twice vs. your own division rivals.

It’s now playoff time in the WFBL, and my A’s finished in 2nd place in the Owens/East. We will open this week against the 3rd place Boston Bulldogs.

My club has always been known as a pitching-first team, and this year was no exception as the A’s staff was tops in the league led by Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee (pictured), Cole Hamels and Tim Lincecum in the rotation and closer Francisco ‘KRod’ Rodriguez. My offense features Chase Utley, Jose Reyes, Mark Teixeira and Grady Sizemore.

Boston has a tough squad, one that the A’s edged out in last year’s opening round. Okay, it’s only fantasy, but in our little 16-man world of nationwide friends, it’s a big time of year. Here’s to hoping that my A’s put the stats together over the next few weeks to bring my second WFBL championship to Philadelphia.

NOTE: On Sunday September 28th, after a three-week run against the best competition in the league, my Philadelphia Athletics edged the Eugene Emeralds by a 6-5 final score to win the second championship in my history, the first since 2002.

The ancient Mariner keeping Phillies afloat

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Jamie Moyer was born on November 18th, 1962, just two days short of my own first birthday.

John F. Kennedy was the President of the United States and dealing with the Cuban missile crisis, West Side Story was highlighting the motion picture scene, television was still in black & white and had only three channels available, and Richard Nixon had lost the California gubernatorial race stating famously “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore!”

In the preceding months, Hall of Fame athletes Jerry Rice of the NFL, Patrick Ewing of the NBA, Grant Fuhr of the NHL, and boxing champion Evander Holyfield were all born. All are long retired from their respective professional athletic careers. Meanwhile, Jamie Moyer continues at age 45 to slip low-80’s fastballs and an assortment of breaking pitches past hitters in Major League Baseball.

The team that he now pitches for is my team, and his hometown team, the Philadelphia Phillies. So far in 2008, the Phillies have been an underachieving squad that has alternated between first and second place in the National League East Division.

They were supposed to have a prolific offense, and they remain among the top five scoring clubs in the league, but they have been maddeningly inconsistent, scoring 20 runs one night and then going a week without scoring twenty total over five or six game stretches.

The starting rotation was supposed to be solid, with budding young ace Cole Hamels and returning member Brett Myers leading the way. Hamels has been okay, sometimes dominant, sometimes struggling. Myers was a disaster until a mid-season demotion to the minor leagues may finally have turned him around.

Through all the drama of a team trying to win its second straight divisional title, trying to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1980-81, the one consistently dependable character has been Jamey Moyer.

Last night in San Diego, Moyer pitched 7 innings of shutout ball to win a 1-0 duel with future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. The win kept the Phils within one game of the front-running and suddenly hot New York Mets.

Moyer is now 11-7 on the season, with a strong 3.64 ERA, and has logged 151 innings over 25 starts. In short, Jamie Moyer has been a godsend for the Phillies.

Moyer was born in the area, in Sellersville, PA, and attended Souderton High School and Saint Joseph’s University, making us fellow Hawks.

He even made his Major League debut in 1986 for the Chicago Cubs against the Phillies. That’s right, he made his debut in 1986! After a promising first few seasons with the Cubs he was dealt to Texas where injury and inconsistency led to his bouncing between there, Saint Louis, Detroit, Chicago again, Baltimore, and Boston in both the Majors and the minor leagues.

Finally, in 1996, ten years after making his debut, Jamie was dealt to the Seattle Mariners, a move that would change his career and his life. Jamie got to Seattle at a great time. It was the heyday of the Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson days in the Emerald City, and he took off professionally.

For the next decade, from 1996 through 2006, Moyer became a consistently strong starter, winning 145 games while losing just 87, and producing a pair of 20-win seasons. As he aged into his forties and continued to win there, Jamie gained the nickname ‘The Ancient Mariner’, and was a local icon in the Seattle area.

During the 2006 playoff race, Jamie was dealt to the Phillies and pitched strong, going 5-2 for a Phils team that fell short of the playoffs. But in 2007, the Phils finally won the NL East on the final day of the season.

Who was on the mound on that final decisive Sunday but one Jamie Moyer. He pitched 5+ shutout innings that day, and the Phils moved into the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

Once again this season, Jamie Moyer continues to defy the skeptics and Father Time, and continues to find MLB success. With the last two NL MVP’s in Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, MVP caliber 2nd baseman Chase Utley, longtime slugger Pat Burrell, revitalized closer Brad Lidge, as well as rotation-mates Hamels and Myers, the Phils are loaded with stars who apparently have more talent than Moyer.

But ‘The Ancient Mariner’ may in the end be the single most valuable player on this Phillies team. He just keeps confounding hitters, winning ball games, and keeping the Phillies close in the standings in this once again tight race.