Saturday, September 30, 2006

Uh-oh Part whatever

According to a story in the LA Times, former Phillie Jason Grimsley accused former teammates Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte used performance-enhancing drugs, while Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons used anabolic steroids.

Grimsley, as some remember, was involved in a bizarre incident this summer when federal agents raided his home, implicated several former teammates, and was asked to wear a wire to help feds in their steroid and baseball investigation... if there is such a thing.

Not to go out on a limb or anything, but I'm going to guess that Clemens, Pettitte and the others will either deny the allegations or refuse to talk to reporters about the accusations.

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2006 NL Awards

The BBWAA awards ballots have to be in when the regular season ends, so for fun, here’s who I would have voted for in all of the categories:

Rookie of the Year (top 3 in order)
1.) Ryan Zimmerman, Washington
2.) Hanley Ramirez, Florida
3.) Dan Uggla, Florida

Manager of the Year (top three in order)
1.) Joe Girardi, Florida
2.) Willie Randolph, New York
3.) Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia

Cy Young Award (top three in order)
1.) Brandon Webb, Arizona
2.) Trevor Hoffman, San Diego
3.) Carlos Zambrano, Chicago

Most Valuable Player (top 10 in order)
1.) Albert Pujols, St. Louis
2.) Ryan Howard, Philadelphia
3.) Lance Berkman, Houston
4.) Alfonso Soriano, Washington
5.) Miguel Cabrera, Florida
6.) Jose Reyes, New York
7.) Jason Bay, Pittsburgh
8.) Aramis Ramirez, Chicago
9.) Chase Utley, Philadelphia
10.) Carlos Beltran, New York

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A little help?

The big victory over the Marlins last night was pretty amazing when all that the team went through is taken into consideration. It would seem to me that playing an important baseball game when the team did not get to the hotel in Miami until 8:30 a.m. could have an effect on some players.

Not these Phillies.

Trade away Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Rheal Cormier and Cory Lidle? No problem. Have the general manager go on record saying the team was two years away? Pee-shaw. Start an important game at 11:30 p.m. after a four-hour, 32-minute rain delay, and wait on a bus until close to 4 a.m. figuring which airport has a pilot to fly the team to Miami?

Is that all you have?

Now all the Phillies need is for the Padres and/or Dodgers to lose two games in a row.

Of course, the Phillies have to win but that seems like the easy part. Any team that can go through what the Phils have during the past week with the homer stolen from Chase Utley on Tuesday, the 14-inning game on Wednesday, and the debacle with the rain on Thursday.

“All of a sudden, things went sour," Manuel said. “We've had to overcome some things, too. But as I look back, I see hustle. I see concentration. The outcome doesn't indicate the level of effort. At the same time, we've made a lot of mistakes. We haven't gotten it done. And it's hard to put your finger on why.”

Part of the reason why was that MLB bent down and puckered up to smooch FOX on the rump. When the Phillies were trying to get Thursday night’s game rained out so they could get to Florida before the sun came up, the reason they got from the wizards at MLB was that the Giants and Cardinals might have to play on Monday.


According to folks following the team in Miami, the Phillies were told by MLB that the league was concerned about the possibility that the Giants and Cardinals would have to play a makeup game on Monday and that FOX was worried that it would only have American League games to broadcast when the Division series start on Tuesday.

Seriously. No joke.

But, of course, the Phillies had to win more than one game in Washington for their whine to have any cheese. Winning cures a lot of ills and the Phillies didn’t do that at RFK.

Even though the Phillies failed to take advantage of wonderful opportunities on Tuesday – when they went 11 straight plate appearances with runners in scoring position without plating a run – and Thursday when they squeaked out just five singles, they somehow find themselves breathing.

Better yet, with the core of the team set to return next season it’s hard not think that the Phillies will stash this run away in the memory banks. Yeah, they came close last year, too, but this year feels different. It might feel even more different next season if the Phillies’ outfield “improves its speed” in a way general manager Pat Gillick wants.

Of course, when I heard Gillick mention how he wanted the team to improve its speed in the outfield, I took that to mean, “We want to get rid of Burrell.”

Funny, Jim Leyland wanted to do the same thing.

Nevertheless, Burrell hit the ball hard on Thursday and Friday nights and will finish the season with some decent-looking numbers. For Burrell, 29 homers and 95 RBIs is nothing to sneeze at. Yet to mull over Burrell’s season now, after all that has been written, is nothing more than piling on.

So, since we have the time and the space, let’s think about the Phillies’ lineup for 2007:

c – ?
1b – Howard
2b – Utley
3b – ?
ss – Rollins
lf – Dellucci?/Conine?
cf – Rowand
rf – Victorino




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Friday, September 29, 2006

Best bets

After the 1-1 opening week (2-0 selecting winners), I'm going to mix in a college game with this week's football choices.


Take Vanderbilt and give up the 34 points to Temple. There's nothing about the Owls early efforts that suggest that they will score another point for the rest of the season.

Around these parts, people go crazy for Penn State despite the fact that many of them have no affiliation with the school. I guess it's those flashy white helmets that makes sports' fans swoon. Anyway, Penn State is giving 19 1/2 points to Northwestern this weekend, and since everyone I know who went to school at the coldest (temperature, not attitude) campus in America are really nice people, I suggest avoiding this game.

Don't touch it with a big stick.

In the NFL, take Miami giving the three points to Houston, as well as Jacksonville minus 2 1/2 over Washington because Mark Brunell stinks.

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Down go the Phillies

The Phillies have the odds stacked against them and, no, that has nothing to do with the fact that they are two games behind the Dodgers in the wild-card race with three games left in the season. Obviously, that doesn't help, but it appears as if the hill is too steep to climb.

For starters, the team was still waiting in buses to go to the airport when I walked out of RFK at a shade past 3 a.m. this morning. Though they went through security clearance at the ballpark and the buses will drive right on to the tarmac so that the players can hop get on their chartered flight to Florida, a best-case scenario has the team getting into the air at 4 a.m. at the very earliest.

And that depends upon if they went to National, BWI or Dulles.

There's more, too. It was 2:30 a.m. when I walked into the tight and cramped visitor's clubhouse at RFK where the first person I saw was Jamie Moyer, tonight's starting pitcher, sitting in his locker waiting to head to the airport. Moyer had the option of flying ahead so that he could be properly rested for tonight's important game, but the veteran thought it would be better to wait the night out with his teammates.

Make no mistake about it -- Moyer was going to wait. According to sources and Charlie Manuel, the Phillies were going to play the game against the Nationals no matter what. It would not have mattered if the rain finally stopped at 2:07 a.m. (which is when the game ultimately ended); the game was going to be played before the Phillies left for Miami. That, they say, was the edict from MLB in New York. Apparently, they did not leave themselves any wiggle room in next week's playoff schedule, which seems to be their M.O.

No wiggle room on performance-enhancing drugs and no wiggle room on the TV schedule. Way to go, MLB!

Nevertheless, the Phillies clubhouse was as quiet as a crowded room could be. Forget that it was 2:30 a.m. and there was another ballgame looming after they arrived in Florida as the sun was rising. The Phillies, it seems, see the graffiti on the wall.

"I'd say [the team's mood] is down, yeah," Manuel said at 2:24 a.m., standing against some dungeon-like corridor wall in the bowels of RFK. "But when you don't hit and don't play real well, I don't know what you can do about it. That's the way baseball is sometimes. But it's hard to live with it."

Sometimes it's hard to live without, too. That seems like the way it will be for another October in Philadelphia.

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Mandelbaum! Mandelbaum!

On another note, I (as well as a bunch from the Philadelphia-writing contingent) was nearly hospitalized from laughing so hard when Ken Mandel, dressed as the big-headed Thomas Jefferson, took a header onto the outfield grass during the always-popular Presidents Race held between innings.

Ken, not exactly the epitome of grace or athleticism (think the opposite of Adonis!), finished DFL in the four-man race in part because he fell -- head first -- not once, but twice. Worse, when he finally got his equilibrium together, the scribe seemed to dash for the first row of seats near the Phillies' dugout instead of for the finish line.

Yes, it was a black day for baseball.

But it was also the hardest I laughed at a ballgame since the Oriole Bird moment in Baltimore during the 2001 season.

While Ken was running like Thomas Jefferson with his head cut off, Dennis Deitch, the erstwhile (yeah, that's an apt description for Deitch) writer for the Delaware County Daily Times finished second in the race. Wearing the George Washington head, Deitch ran gamely despite falling behind to Abraham Lincoln very early. Deitch bravely made up ground after the midway point of the race, but the deficit was too much to overcome.

Meanwhile, Phils' pitcher Randy Wolf seemed to know that the man wearing the Jefferson suit was Mandel after the first fall, and alerted a few of his teammates. I suppose there is something about Mandel falling flat on his face that is unmistakable.

On a final note, Deitch was welcomed back into the press box with rousing cheers following his race. His competitiveness deserved the applause.

Mandel, on the other hand, was greeted with even louder cheers though it was the type of applause saved for a guy who limps away after embarrassingly getting kicked in the groin.

One more thing regarding scribes and running: Rich Hofmann looks as if he is fit enough to rip off a 3:30 marathon even though he only hits the roads three or four times a week.

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That's all she wrote?

With three games remaining, the folks at Baseball Prospectus give the Phillies a 5.59430 percent chance to win the wild card. Perhaps that figure would be even lower when the comments from the Marlins Scott Olsen and Taylor Tankersley are factored in.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Manuel just wins for Phillies

WASHINGTON – There’s a lot more to Charlie Manuel than people see on television. In fact, the Charlie Manuel people see on TV is not the same one the writers and players see every day. That guy is verbose and uncomfortable in his own skin. He isn’t the kind, patient and quick jokester that people behind the scenes see.

Maybe that’s part of the act or part of the homespun manager’s charm? Maybe Manuel’s uneasiness that has made him a target for so many slings and arrows has allowed his players to escape their errors and miscues behind a façade of stutters and malapropisms.

Could he be that diabolical?

Probably not. Often with Manuel, what you see is what you get. But at the same time…

“When it comes down to [crunch] time, I’m going to do what’s right,” Manuel predicted last season.

For the second season in a row the Phillies have taken the season down to one final do-or-die weekend. If they can survive one more game against the Nationals and three in Miami against the Marlins and get some cooperation from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies will capture the National League’s wild-card spot. If not, well, the Phillies certainly made it interesting. That’s especially so after general manager Pat Gillick jettisoned veterans Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Rheal Cormier and Cory Lidle then told fans to wait until the year after next season.

“It will be a stretch to say we’ll be there in ’07,” Gillick said on July 30. “We’ll have to plug in some young pitchers and anytime you do that you’ll have some inconsistency.

“It’s going to take another year.”

Yet in two seasons at the helm in which the Phillies will be in contention until the very final out of the season, Charlie Manuel has been ridiculed, questioned and put down. His intelligence has been questioned and his Appalachian drawl has been made fun of in a manner that can only be described as mean spirited and personal. It seems as if people believe Charlie is dumb because of the way that he sounds – never mind that some of these critics of Manuel’s baseball acumen have thick, undecipherable accents that can only be heard in Philadelphia.

Hello, pot.

So Manuel takes the insults and keeps going. Aside from leading the Phillies to the doorstep of the playoffs and getting closer than any of his predecessors had in the past 13 years, Manuel has won more games in his first two seasons than every manager in Phillies history except for Pat Moran. More than 90 years ago Moran won 181 games and took the Phils to the World Series in 1915.

But Moran had Grover Cleveland Alexander anchoring his staff, while Manuel has Jon Lieber and Brett Myers – hardly pitchers destined for the Hall of Fame. Sure, Cole Hamels, all of just 22-year old, may one day be a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher, but right now he’s an inconsistent rookie.

Yet maybe therein lies the genius of Charlie Manuel. Not only can he get the most out of Lieber and Myers, as well as players like Shane Victorino and Chris Coste, but also he can be deemed as a poor manager for winning. When has that ever occurred with the Phillies?

Along those lines, when have the words “Charlie Manuel” and “genius” ever been used in the same sentence?

The secret to Manuel’s success might be the rapport he has with his players. On one side he appears to be everybody’s favorite uncle always picking players up with positivity and kind words when things aren’t going well. Often, when he lumbers with his distinctive gait through the clubhouse, he stops to joke with a player or ask them about how things are going away from the field.

Then there is his loyalty to his players that is sometimes criticized by the fans and media, but always respected by the players. Rarely will Manuel speak poorly of a player in public, and his critique of his team’s sometimes shoddy play is always peppered with language about how “we” have to play better.

Or he’ll make a joke, like with hyped-up rookie Michael Bourn whose excitement and greenness caused the Phillies trouble on the base paths a time or two this week.

“I might have to put one of those shock collars on him,” Manuel laughed.

Though Manuel is an old-time baseball man who speaks fondly of playing with Harmon Killebrew and for managers Billy Martin and Walter Alston, his approach is hardly "old-school" in the sense that former Phillies managers Larry Bowa, Jim Fregosi and Dallas Green wore that label. But as long-time old-school baseball man Johnny Pesky, the 87-year-old treasure for the Boston Red Sox, points out, modern ballplayers don't need a manager to motivate them.

"These guys are making millions of dollars and they don't need somebody screaming at them to make them play better," he said.

Manuel understands that treating a player with respect and a little humanity is the best tact.

That method is hardly fullproof, though.

Perhaps Manuel has stuck with Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal longer than he should have in the final month of this season. Perhaps he should have turned to Coste or David Dellucci and Jeff Conine much sooner than he has. But don’t think for a moment that Manuel’s loyalty has gone unnoticed by his players.

But do not mistake Manuel’s kindness for weakness, pitcher Randy Wolf warns.

“Charlie is a great guy. He’s friendly and really cares about his players. He’ll do anything for us and wants us to trust him,” Wolf said. “But he is not soft. You don't want to cross him because he'll let you know about it.”

Jim Thome liked to tell the story about the time in Cleveland when Manuel removed the ping-pong table from the Indians’ clubhouse when he thought the players were too focused on table tennis than baseball. Then there was the time earlier this season when the Phillies were sleepwalking through another April loss in Florida when Manuel ordered his players back into the dugout before they could take the field and launched into a tongue-lashing that proved to be the impetus to a nine-game winning streak during a stretch where the team won 13 of 14 games.

So maybe there is a method to Manuel’s madness?

Just don’t ask him to explain it with the cameras rolling.

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All hands on deck

The easy part about baseball is second-guessing. Sometimes, second-guessing the moves made throughout a game is also the most fun part of watching a game.

But if there is one thing that’s evident is that managers and coaches HATE being second-guessed. I can’t say I blame them. Who wants some smart-alecky guy who can watch the game high in a perch above the field with TV monitors and a laptop at the ready to look up any information needed?

Back when he was managing the Yankees, Billy Martin always had a direct answer for any questioner challenging his moves. When asked why he made a certain move, Billy invariably said: “Because I’m the bleeping manager, that’s why.”

Billy Martin was Charlie Manuel’s first manager in the big leagues back when he came up for the Minnesota Twins in the late 1960s, and the Phillies’ skipper has – from time to time – recited Billy’s old line, though with less colorful language.

That said, since Manuel is the manager and his decisions are what they are, I’m curious about some of the choices the skipper made for his bullpen in last night’s game as it extended into extra innings. Knowing that the Dodgers had won in Colorado and a loss would send the Phillies to two games off the pace with just four games to go, I’m surprised Manuel remained so compartmentalized and rigid with his use of the bullpen.

How so? Didn’t he use the reliever he had? Well, yes and no. He used Clay Condrey, who pitched great, and Fabio Castro, who was shaky in notching his first big-league save, but what about Randy Wolf? Why couldn’t Wolf be used in the ‘pen?

Wolf pitched Monday night in Philadelphia and is slated to go on Saturday in Miami, but when the Dodgers won and the game went into extra innings, it was all hands on deck as far as I was concerned. Plus, since there is talk of Wolf being bumped from his next start so that the Phillies can move up Brett Myers and Cole Hamels to pitch on short rest, perhaps it would have been smart to get the starter ready.

Then again, the game only lasted 14 innings. Perhaps Wolf was going to pitch from the 15th inning on?

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fair, not foul

From our vantage point in the press box at RFK Stadium, we can’t see the right-field corner where Chase Utley’s “foul” ball apparently landed. Better yet, from the press box at RFK, we can’t see the outfield.

At all.

Last night I had a view of most of the infield, but not of the second baseman because there was a big, white pillar blocking my view. That wasn’t as bad as the view Phil Sheridan of the Inquirer had sitting directly to my right. If he wanted to see the pitcher, he had to lean hard to the left.

Then again, Phil used to come to RFK to cover Eagles-Redskins games back in the old days. Based on what I’ve seen of the old ballpark, I imagine those games made for cozy conditions with the press corps.

From the Phillies first-base dugout, the view is equally as bad though they can see most of the outfield. However, the one spot they can’t see is the right-field corner – exactly where Utley’s home run landed.

So when Manuel says he couldn’t see where the ball went and couldn’t confront the umpires over the poor call, he isn’t exaggerating. There is no way he could see anything going on in the right-field corner. From Manuel’s spot in the dugout, right field is nothing but a rumor.

The point is, a lot of people in the press had no idea Utley’s shot had struck the foul pole because we couldn’t see it. Meanwhile, we didn’t get the Nationals TV feed in the press box. Instead, we could only see the in-house scoreboard feed, which wasn’t about to show a replay contradicting the call on the field.

So when I got down to the clubhouse after the game, I was a little taken aback by Charlie Manuel’s anger. Obviously, he was able to see something we (or I had not) and that drastically changed things. It wasn’t until I got home and watched the highlights shows that I saw that first-base umpire Rob Drake blew it.

Nevertheless, while Manuel expressed his displeasure at the bad call – as well as his team’s inability to get a hit with runners in scoring position – all I keep thinking to myself was, “It’s always something with this team… this is the way it’s going to end for them, isn’t it?”


But maybe not. The one thing that stood out amidst the hand wringing by the Phillies’ officials was Utley’s demeanor and attitude. He was not going to break character or allow himself to lose his focus on the task at hand. Sure, he recited all of the usual clichés, but the thing with Utley is that he believes what he says.

“When you look at the replay in regular [speed], it's hard to tell,” Utley explained. “When you slow it down, it's easy to tell. Everybody makes mistakes. We have to put this behind us and come out tomorrow ready to go.”

He will put this episode behind him and come back the next day and try to win.

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Tobacco? In baseball?

Lance Armstrong is preparing to run the NYC Marathon (more on that at a later date) so it only makes sense that the seven-time Tour de France champ sits down with an interviewer from Runner's World, right? In a Q&A posted on the Runner's World web site, Armstrong discussed his training (or lack thereof) and the differences between cycling and running (one uses a bike) during the short interview.

But particularly interesting and funny was the answer to the requiste drug/doping question. It seems as if Armstrong wonders why ballplayers need to take performance-enhancing drugs when there's all that spitting going on. Here's the question and the answer:

Runner's World: What are your thoughts about Barry Bonds?
Lance Armstrong: I have to say I understand what he's going through. I think there's probably more of an association just because of the BALCO stuff and the grand jury testimony. Barry is more - it seems from the outside - he's a tough character. He's not gone out of his way to try to fix the situation or make friends there. But I don't really follow baseball. Mostly because I don't understand it. If you can do tobacco and play the sport, then it's technically probably not a sport.

To read the full interview, click here.

As an aside, I don't believe for a minute that Armstrong is merely running and trying to finish the Nov. 5 race "within an hour of the winner." I think he's understating his training in these interviews and is training his rear off.

I'm not basing this on anything, and I certainly could be wrong. All I know is that people like Armstrong like to win.

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They really count now

Phil Garner managed his rear off on Monday night at the Bank, showing how to use nine pitchers in nine innings because his scheduled started decided to pitch the night before on national TV. As a result, the Astros have climbed to within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals in the NL Central, which is kind of amazing.

Actually, it's 1964 Phillies-type of amazing. The Astros, seemingly ready to shut it down, have made up seven games in seven days against the free-falling Cardinals. That's unheard of. The '64 Phillies didn't choke up seven games in seven days, did they? They certainly didn't have a "genius" manager like Tony LaRussa guiding the ship, either.

Nonetheless, the Cardinals, without their closer and half of their pitching rotation, are in a dogfight now. It may be better not to go to the playoffs where they will surely lose in the first round.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, manager Grady Little has re-arranged his pitching rotation so that Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe will pitch in the last two games of the season on short rest. Maddux pitched in last night's victory in Denver, while Lowe is scheduled to go tonight. That means both pitchers will work on just three days rest in San Francisco in attempting to get the Dodgers into the playoffs.

Will Manuel -- who beat out Little for the Phillies managing job -- try the same thing this weekend in Miami with his two best pitchers?

"I'm sure we'll do some talking about that. I don't know what we'll do, but we'll definitely discuss a lot of things," he said before Tuesday night's game.

The idea would be to bump up Brett Myers, who pitched well despite Tuesday night's loss, as well as Wednesday night's starter Cole Hamels, who has never pitched on short rest ever.

On another note, former Phillies GM Ed Wade, now a scout for the Padres, was at RFK on Tuesday night watching the Phillies for the second night in a row. Though Wade has some insider knowledge on the Phillies, I'm not so sure he's the right guy to scout his old team. Seriously, Wade gave Pat Burrell a $50 million contract with a no-trade clause...

Speaking of Burrell, here's a fun stat: 14 of his 27 homers have come with no one on base and only three of them have come with runners in scoring position.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Get them before they're gone

Not to jinx anything, but the Phillies announced that playoff tickets will go on sale on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. If the Phillies win the wild card, the team will play on Saturday, Oct. 7 at the Bank and Sunday, Oct. 8 if it's necessary.

According to the Phillies, a maximum of four tickets per game is allowed for each of the division series games at a cost of $20 to $45 per ticket, which will be sold online at, by calling the team's phone center at 215-463-1000, or in person at the Citizens Bank Park first-base gate ticket windows.

The Phillies say information regarding a public sale for NLCS and World Series tickets would be announced at a later date if the Phillies are involved.

Nonetheless, the Phillies will not have home-field advantage for any of the playoff serieses should they advance.

If the Phillies get there, the schedule is as follows:

NL Division Series (game times to be determined)
Wednesday, October 4, road game.
Thursday, October 5, road game.
Saturday, October 7, Citizens Bank Park.
Sunday, October 8, Citizens Bank Park (if necessary).
Monday, October 9, road game (if necessary).

National League Championship Series (All games on FOX TV)
Wednesday, October 11, road game (game time TBD)
Thursday, October 12, road game, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 14, Citizens Bank Park, 4:00 p.m.
Sunday, October 15, Citizens Bank Park, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, October 16, Citizens Bank Park (if necessary), 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, October 18, road game (if necessary), 4:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, October 19, road game (if necessary), 8:00 p.m.

World Series (All games on FOX TV)
Saturday, October 21, 7:30 p.m., American League city.
Sunday, October 22, 7:30 p.m., American League city.
Tuesday, October 24, 8:00 p.m., Citizens Bank Park.
Wednesday, October 25, 8:00 p.m., Citizens Bank Park.
Thursday, October 26, 8:00 p.m., Citizens Bank Park (if necessary).
Saturday, October 28, 7:30 p.m., American League city (if necessary).
Sunday, October 29, 7:30 p.m., American League city (if necessary).

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Playoff lineup

The Phillies still haven't determined their playoff roster yet, nor have they ironed out a pitching rotation, but at least they know when the games will be played. This afternoon, the team sent out an email with the postseason schedule. Here it is:

NL Division Series (game times to be determined)
Wednesday, October 4, road game.
Thursday, October 5, road game.
Saturday, October 7, Citizens Bank Park.
Sunday, October 8, Citizens Bank Park (if necessary).
Monday, October 9, road game (if necessary).

National League Championship Series (All games on FOX TV)
Wednesday, October 11, road game (game time TBD)
Thursday, October 12, road game, 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 14, Citizens Bank Park, 4:00 p.m.
Sunday, October 15, Citizens Bank Park, 7:30 p.m.
Monday, October 16, Citizens Bank Park (if necessary), 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, October 18, road game (if necessary), 4:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, October 19, road game (if necessary), 8:00 p.m.

World Series (All games on FOX TV)
Saturday, October 21, 7:30 p.m., American League city.
Sunday, October 22, 7:30 p.m., American League city.
Tuesday, October 24, 8:00 p.m., Citizens Bank Park.
Wednesday, October 25, 8:00 p.m., Citizens Bank Park.
Thursday, October 26, 8:00 p.m., Citizens Bank Park (if necessary).
Saturday, October 28, 7:30 p.m., American League city (if necessary).
Sunday, October 29, 7:30 p.m., American League city (if necessary).


There for the taking

According to the good folks at Baseball Prospectus, the wild card is the Phillies’ to lose. Actually, according to the statistics – nobody owns statistics… the numbers are out there in the ether and know no borders – the Phillies have a 63.70844 percent chance to hold on to their half-game lead in the wild-card race compared to the 26.98136 percent chance for the Dodgers and 9.23012 percent chance for the NL West-leading Padres.

So, if the statistics play out according to the way folks at BP crunched them, the Mets will host the Cardinals in the NLDS, while the Phillies go to sunny San Diego for two games starting on Oct. 4. Game 3 comes to Philadelphia on Saturday, Oct. 7 with a chance for Game 4 coming on Oct. 8 when the Dallas Cowboys are slated to come to town.

They have some wide receiver that people around here know and don’t like.

Anyway, the Phillies’ chances are greatly enhanced by a decision made by Roger Clemens last week. Rather than pitch in a game in Philadelphia on Monday – a game that could shape the outcome of the season for the Phillies, Dodgers, Padres and any other team clinging to life in the playoff hunt – Clemens decided to pitch on short rest in Houston on Sunday night so that he can get what he wants one more time.

That is more national TV time, one last outing in Houston, and everyone to jump through a hoop for him.

I wonder what Clemens would think if the shoe were on the other foot and he was playing for the Dodgers and another team’s best pitcher decided he didn’t want to face a team in the wild-card chase?

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Best bets recap

I went 2-0 in picking winners, but 1-1 against the spread. It took a late field goal from iron-leg kicker John Kasay for Carolina to knock off Tampa Bay by two points. Meanwhile in Seattle, the Seahawks smacked the Giants around, 42-30, which has led to day after finger pointing and whining by the New York team.

Either way, we're 1-1 and are looking forward to improving this weekend. Be ready for more selections this Friday.

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Workin' for the weekend

Let's tie up the events from last weekend, shall we?

First, the Furyk-Woods pairing in the Ryder Cup wasn't enough to help the uninterested U.S. team from going belly-up like a well-fed puppy. The only reason Europe didn't set the record for the largest margin of victory was because they did the "sporty" thing and pulled back.

Seems as if the U.S. Ryder Cup team is about as interested in the event as the U.S. basketball players are excited for the Olympics.

Meanwhile in Berlin, Haile Gebrselassie ran to victory in 2:05:56, which is a minute off the world record, but impressive nonetheless. Why was it so impressive (other than the fact that Geb ran 4:48 per mile)? For one thing, Geb won the race by almost five minutes -- five minutes! That means he ran by himself -- the duel with Sammy Korir didn't pan out -- on a warm day with a headwind. That's not optimal conditions for running, yet Geb was still on world-record pace until the final 5K of the race.

Since we love hyperbole and grandiose statements, some are already saying that because of the conditions with the heat, humidity and win, no pacesetters and no competition, Geb's run was the best ever.

A 2:05:56 speaks for itself.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

7 weeks to go

Seven weeks to go. A couple of tough days, and I lost the toenail on my left big toe, but the ART treatments are working. I'm running a half marathon this weekend so I have to figure out a good, short taper.

Anyway, here's the work:

Monday - 20 miles in 2:22:15. Ran without orthotics, which wasn't a good idea.

Tuesday - 16.3 miles in 1:54:12. Kind of bonked over the last 10K. If it wasn't a case of bonking, it was reaction to the humidity or not enough to drink. Meanwhile, my left hamstring is really achy.

Wednesday - 16.3 miles in 1:52:41. Felt pretty strong until my left hamstring started bothering me a bit. The strength part is really good. The distance is easy.

Thursday - 17.8 miles. First run: 12 miles in 1:24:38. Second run: 5.8 miles in 38:20. Got some ART.

Friday - 14.5 miles in 1:43:37. Felt pretty tired during the first half and had to make a pit stop. During the second half of the second half I felt really good and could have run all day.

Saturday - 14.5 miles in 1:38:06. Tried to run the second half around 6 to 6:30 pace and I was able to do that despite the hard hills. Coffee definitely helped this run, too.

Sunday - 5.8 miles in 40:30. Easy.

105.2 miles for the week.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Best bets

Just to show we aren’t all about baseball (and running), here is our best bet for football picks this week:

Take Carolina giving three points over Tampa Bay.

Carolina will not go to 0-3.

Want a bonus? OK. Take Seattle and the three points over the Giants.

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What's this? A plaque?

The local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America released the results of their annual end-of-the-year awards without much controversy this season. The winners:

Mike Schmidt MVP: Ryan Howard
Steve Carlton Most Valuable Pitcher: Tom Gordon
Dallas Green Special Achievement: Chris Coste
Tug McGraw Good Guy: Mike Lieberthal

If you want to know the truth, the award are a sham and nothing but a popularity contest. Besides, the BBWAA is an evil secret society more evil than Skull & Bones, the Rotarians, the Free Masons, Phi Beta Kappa, the ladies auxillary at the Lancaster Country Club, the Junior League, and the Stonecutters. Combined.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Observations with 10 games to go

Based on just looking around and listening, here are a few observations about the surging Phillies:

  • After injuries and other maladies curbed his first handful of pro seasons, it finally looks as if Cole Hamels is going to make to the end of one unscathed. Who would have guessed that Hamels first full season would come in the big leagues?

    Be that as it may, Hamels is 6-3 with a 2.67 ERA over his last 10 starts, so it seems as if he’s getting stronger. According to his teammates, he’s just the same old Cole.

    "That’s his personality," catcher Chris Coste said. "He’s strong minded. He knows what he can do. Whether it’s the middle or July or the seventh game of the World Series, he’s the same guy. That’s just the way he is. Whether it’s a playoff game or a game like this one, he’s the guy you want on the mound."

    Said fellow lefty Randy Wolf: "He has one of the three best changeups in baseball."

    Johan Santana is at the top of that list, according to Wolf.

  • Trading for Jamie Moyer and Jeff Conine was a masterstroke by general manager Pat Gillick and his assistant Ruben Amaro Jr. Forget what those guys are doing on the field, it’s in the clubhouse where the influence is really important.

    Moyer and Conine, both 40 and over, are two classic lead-by-example guys, who have shown the youngsters on the Phillies how to prepare and get into the right frame of mind to play. Both guys are intense, they do their homework, and they bring an organic intensity to every task. Moyer and Conine are not in Philadelphia to goof around – they’re here to win.

    In 2003 the Marlins picked up Conine for the stretch run and he helped his team hammer the Phillies to win the wild-card and contributed to the World Series run. More important than his home runs to beat the Phillies was the attitude he brought to the Marlins. I remember Juan Pierre watching how the veteran prepared every day and said he was afraid to talk to Conine because, “He always looks like he’s mad.”

    It turns out Conine wasn’t mad. He’s just hungry.

  • Yeah, there are nine games left and the Phillies are as close to a playoff berth as they have been since 1993. Every victory puts them just a tiny bit closer. However, I still don’t feel it yet. Maybe it’s from watching too many Phillies games over the years, but I’m going to wait until the very end and reserve judgment.

  • Be that as it may, I think the Padres will win the NL West. Call it a hunch.

  • Speaking of Baseball Prospectus, here’s something interesting from Will Carroll’s injury column that could have some bearing on this weekend’s series:

    Miguel Cabrera has missed a couple games with a strained shoulder, the result of an awkward lunge at an outside pitch. Cabrera’s injury isn’t considered serious, but could keep him out for the rest of the season. The team is focused on getting past the controversy surrounding their manager and one way to do that would be finishing at or above .500. Cabrera’s return might well be tied to the chances of hitting that magic number. The MVP candidate should have no long-term concerns from the injury.

    Carroll’s column is stellar stuff, though Howie Bryant’s steroids-in-baseball book was far superior to Carroll’s.

  • I play hunches, but at BP they use science. Here are the latest postseason odds as generated by the folks at BP simulating the final 10 games of the season a million times:

    Phillies are on pace to win 84.1 games, which gives them a 46.53874 percent chance to win the wild card. However, the Padres (85.4 victories) and the Dodgers (84.7), still rate above the Phillies.

    Can you say playoff game in Philadelphia on Oct. 2?

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  • Look at that!

    I generally don’t like to watch sports for long periods of time. I guess that makes me weird or perhaps someone who made a bad career choice.

    Actually, let me explain myself. I dislike watching sports that I’m not writing about nor have some sort of connection to. I’m like Vin Scully that way since the greatest voice in baseball history has never attended a game he wasn’t working. Ol’ Vin just refuses to go to a game just for the sake of going to a game.

    My problem is my attention span. I just can’t sit still long enough to fully concentrate on sports on TV. I need to get up and walk around. Or check stuff out on the Internet. Or read a book. Or do sit-ups. Something, anything but sit and stare at a box.

    But this weekend is different. Aside from the Phillies’ big series against the Marlins, the always fun Ryder Cup is burning up the airwaves. The most interesting part from these parts is that homeboy Jim Furyk from Manheim Township is paired up with Tiger Woods in team action. According to the word on the street, Tiger has taken a shine to the Lancaster kid because of his competitiveness and work ethic.

    Maybe that endorsement from Tiger is not what Furyk needs? After all Tiger stinks in Ryder Cup-style play.

    Then again, the last time we heard such accolades heaped on a guy from around here, he was riding his bike to Paris wearing the Yellow Jersey.

    Nevertheless, the Ryder Cup is tons of fun with all of the best elements of golf. Every shot is meaningful and every putt has the chance to sway the balance of a match. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

    You want to watch people run? You mean… run?
    Uh, yeah. Is that odd?

    For most people, Sunday means parking it in front of the TV so they can feel their rear grow into the couch. But if I can get up (or stay up), I’m watching the showdown in Berlin where the great Haile Gebrselassie goes against Sammy Korir, the second-fastest marathoner in the history of the world, in Sunday’s 26.2-mile race.

    The race won’t be on TV in the United States, but it will be on NBC pay-per-view on the Internet. Frankly, this is a great idea and is the perfect for the web – there are a few fringe sports that a few Americans are interested in. Why now “televise” them on the Web? Hopefully, broadcasting on the Web becomes the future for sports. I have the feeling that it’s already heading that way, since, as I type, I have the Dodgers-Diamondbacks game on my PC.

    Anyway, the big race in Berlin is expected to flirt with the world record because the course is flat and designed for fast times and the runners are very talented. Korir lost to Paul Tergat in the classic 2003 race in Berlin with a 2:04:56. Tergat had to break the world record to beat him.

    So far this year, Korir has the best time in the world with a 2:06:38 in Rotterdam.

    Geb, of course, is judged by many to be one of the greatest runners in history. He has the gold medals from the Olympics, a handful of world records, but he hasn’t been able to dominate marathoning like many suspected he would. Regardless, there’s a buzz about Berlin this year and reports are the pacesetters have been instructed to hit the halfway point in 62:30 – right on world-record pace.

    New York, New York
    Speaking of marathons, the New York City race has assembled a deep and interesting field. Tergat, the defending champ and world-record holder, is in the race, along with Olympic and World champ Stefano Baldini. On the women’s side, American-record holder Deena Kastor should duel with Catherine Ndereba, the all-time great Kenyan who trains in Valley Forge.

    But the interesting part is the Americans that are running in New York. Olympic Marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi and Olympians Alan Culpepper and Dathan Ritzenhein (his marathon debut), are in, along with Peter Gilmore, who was seventh at this year's Boston Marathon.

    So why run in New York instead of Chicago where the Americans can get a faster time? How about money, money, money. New York has set up a special prize structure where the the top American gets $20,000, second place gets $15,000. Third wins $10,000 and then $3,000 and $2,000 for fourth and fifth.

    There is no mention of bonuses for running specific times, though the Toronto Marathon is offering a $20,000 bonus for anyone running faster than 2:10.

    Personally, I think that anyone who can run a 2:09 marathon should be set for life, or at least make more money than the Major League minimum salary, but that’s me.

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    Wednesday, September 20, 2006

    Signs of the Apocalypse

    To steal from a very popular sports' magazine, this little event was pointed out to me in the press box at Citizens Bank Park last night that had me so perplexed and my head spinning that there was no way to intelligently explain it. Therefore, I'll turn it over to Dan McQuade of Philadelphia Will Do:

    September 19, 2006

    Stephen A. Smith Hollas At Nieces, Nephews

    Stephen A. Smith -- the ESPN sports analyst, Quite Frankly host and sometimes Inquirer sportswriter -- tried to branch out on Saturday, appearing on CNN to discuss the War in Iraq, among other topics.

    Deadspin went through the transcript and pulled out some of the funnier parts yesterday -- "You have a lot of people out there looking saying all right, you know, Osama bin Laden, this is what he did. With 9/11 and what have you, but we're in Iraq. You understand? We're still looking for him," "I agree with Senator Clinton," etc. -- but here are some of my faves:

    Let me tell you a little story, because I'm a little scared. I'm 38 years old. Let me be honest with you. I might as well be 70 that's how scared I am. Because I look on this side, I sitting out here, I work my butt off every day because I have to take care of my Mama, because she works so hard. So I have to make sure she's living the life.... You can do it, right!

    On the other side, I got like ten -- eight nieces and two nephews, these folks walk around with their heads cut off like they don't know what's going on.

    We'll step up and handle the challenge faced with us, but only after we crash and burn.

    I think moderation will kick in, but only after America continues to burn. I think America's burning as we speak and anything that's burning ultimately changing form.

    I can't be sure -- it is Stephen A. -- but I think he spent his time on national TV over the weekend... making fun of his nieces and nephews.



    If only it were this easy

    My daily, baseball must-read this time of year is the postseason odds report on Baseball Prospectus. What the stat heads at BP do is simulate the remainder of the season one million times to come up with the most-accurate projected order of finish.

    If only it were that easy.

    Nevertheless, as of right now the winner of the National League’s wild card will need 85 victories. So who gets it? Not the Phillies. They finish with 84 wins and have a 36 percent chance to win the wild card.

    Here’s how the BP simulation solves the National League:

    Average wins by position in NL East:  99.0 83.8 79.8 77.8 70.8
    NL East W L Pct3 Avg W Avg L Champions Wild Card Playoffs
    Mets 92 58 .552 99.0 63.0 100.00000 .00000 100.00000
    Phillies 78 73 .491 83.7 78.3 .00000 36.60086 36.60086
    Marlins 74 77 .485 79.4 82.6 .00000 .81411 .81411
    Braves 73 78 .480 78.3 83.7 .00000 .05052 .05052
    Nationals 66 85 .450 70.8 91.2 .00000 .00000 .00000

    Average wins by position in NL Central:  86.5 80.0 77.8 73.2 68.9 66.4
    NL Central W L Pct3 Avg W Avg L Champions Wild Card Playoffs
    Cardinals 80 69 .478 86.5 75.5 99.66073 .01979 99.68052
    Reds 74 77 .468 79.6 82.4 .21103 .43616 .64719
    Astros 72 78 .490 78.2 83.8 .12823 .07525 .20348
    Brewers 68 83 .452 73.2 88.8 .00000 .00000 .00000
    Pirates 64 87 .417 68.6 93.4 .00000 .00000 .00000
    Cubs 62 90 .443 66.7 95.3 .00000 .00000 .00000

    Average wins by position in NL West:  86.3 84.4 80.2 77.4 75.6
    NL West W L Pct3 Avg W Avg L Champions Wild Card Playoffs
    Padres 79 71 .525 85.6 76.4 59.25494 25.28678 84.54172
    Dodgers 79 72 .530 85.0 77.0 40.30682 35.29052 75.59734
    Giants 74 76 .490 80.1 81.9 .42963 1.41416 1.84378
    Diamondbacks 71 79 .483 76.4 85.6 .00827 .00922 .01749
    Rockies 71 80 .497 76.8 85.2 .00033 .00264 .00298

    Average wins by NL Wild Card: 84.9

    As the title says, the post-season odds report was compiled by running a Monte
    Carlo simulation of the rest of the season one million times. Current wins,
    losses and expected winning percentages are taken from the Adjusted
    Standings Report

    Expected winning percentages (EWP) for each team starts with their W3 and L3
    from the Adjusted Standings. A regression is applied to derive the EWP for the
    rest of the season, which is going to be between the current winning
    percentage and .500. To allow for uncertainty in the EWP, a normal
    distribution centered on the EWP is randomly sampled, and that value is used
    for the remainder of the season in that iteration. To simulate the normal 4%
    home-field advantage, the home team gets a .020 point bonus, while the
    visitors take a 0.020 penalty. The likelihood of winning each game is
    determined by the log5 method.

    W and L are the team's wins and losses through yesterday's games.

    Pct3 is the expected winning percentage, taken from W3 and L3, with the
    regression-to-mean component.

    Avg W and Avg L are the average number of wins and losses each team finishes over the million season iterations.

    Champions is how often, in percentage terms, this team won the
    championship of their division. Ties are not broken, but credited as 0.5
    championships apiece (for a two-way tie), .333 apiece for a three-way tie, .25
    for four-way, etc. This is why the final decimal place is not an error!

    Wild Card is how often, in percentage terms, this team won the wild card. As
    with championships, ties are not broken, but apportioned among the tied teams.

    Playoffs is how often, in percentage terms, the team either wins the division or the wild card.


    Mail call

    Yes, we read all the email we receive from readers. Even the angry and rambling missives that read like the Unabomber's manifesto sent by people who can barely compose a sentence or use proper punctuation. Those are our favorites if only for the entertainment factor.

    But those emails are rare. Most of our readers compose well-intentioned and interesting, literate emails. For instance, I received a few emails this week regarding the race in the NL West between the Dodgers and Padres and which team Phillies fans should root for.

    That's a good question. From the way that race is jumbled -- on the seesaw, if you will (and I know you will) -- it seems as if the Phillies are chasing two teams. But that's wrong. The Phillies are chasing the team not in first place. That means Phillies fans should root for whichever team is leading the division and root against the team leading the wild-card race.

    Better yet, since the Dodgers and Padres don't play each other any more, just root for them both to lose and the Phillies to win... that is if you want the Phillies to go to the playoffs.

    Double play duo
    Another interesting email I received asked whether or not Jimmy Rollins, with 22 homers, and Chase Utley (28 homers) are the first middle-infield duo in Phillies history to slug 50 homers?

    See, good question.

    I haven't looked it up and I'm not going to ask the Phillies PR staff because all they will do is roll their eyes, huff and puff and basically give an annoyed, "I don't bleeping know... " to any query presented. But based on what I know about the Phillies and their history, I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes, yes they are.

    As for a double-play combo smashing 50 homers in a season in Major League history, I found Bobby Doerr and Vern Stephens with 56 for the 1948 Boston Red Sox, 57 the next season, 57 more in 1950.

    Of course there is Alex Rodriguez, who as a shortstop for the Mariners and Rangers, routinely hit 50 homers by himself. In 1999, A-Rod and David Bell (remember him?) hit 63, with Rodriguez getting 42 of them. In 2001, A-Rod hit 52 while Michael Young added 11 and the following season, Rodriguez hit 57 and Young hit 9. During Rodriguez's last season in Texas in 2003 -- his last as a shortstop -- he hit 47 and Young hit 14.

    That's about as far as my research took me, because I would probably be sitting here all day looking up numbers, going off on tangents and analyzing Richie Zisk's career.

    The Bull and some bull?
    An email from the award-winning writer (see, I told you our readers are literate) Charlie Schroeder arrived yesterday, thanking me for the plug of his story that appeared (will appear?) in The Best Sports Writing in America 2005 anthology. Here's the story for any one who missed it.

    However, Charlie, a fellow Lancasterian from the 'hood and now tearing it up in L.A., questioned some of my "facts" regarding his role in the gulley-trapping/rock-throwing incident with Pete Horn. Charlie says he doesn't remember the incident, but related something at the Day School involving a skateboard, a few ruffians, Tim Watt and Richard McNamara. Watt, as everyone remembers, was the feared slugger for the Lancaster Township Indians who used to smack them way out onto the track at the Wheatland Jr. High field. He was also much bigger than most of the other kids his age and a little crazy so to mix it up with him was to really test fate.

    As far as McNamara goes, anyone who knows me knows that my stories regarding him are classified and not publishable on something as holistic as this site. Put it this way... he and I will never go to Canada or Mexico together again.

    Anyway, Charlie produced a neat homage to Greg Luzinski for the NPR show, "Only a Game." Check it out here.

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    No comment II

    A day after slipping out the side door so he wouldn't have to talk to the local press about his poor, 2 1/3 inning loss to the Cubs on Monday night, Jon Lieber explained himself on Tuesday afternoon.

    It turns out that Lieber figured since he didn't have anything good to say, maybe he shouldn't say anything at all.

    "I was [upset]. It was nothing to do with [the media]. Trust me, I had nothing good to say. That's why I'm talking now. I didn't want to say anything [on Monday] night."

    That's fair. But it would have been just as easy to say that on Monday night instead of rehashing it all the next day. Nevertheless, Lieber knows he can pitch so poorly in his next start.

    "I let my team down," he said. "That's the bottom line. It was no one else's fault but mine. I can't be pitching like that at this point if we're going to get to the postseason. That's not getting it done."

    He's right about that.

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    Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    No comment

    I have a theory that baseball pitchers are more accountable than politicians. The reason? After every game, no matter if there is a victory or a defeat, the pitcher is there to answer questions and have his outing dissected. Politicians never have to do this. They can skirt issues and hide behind talking points and canned questions.

    But after Monday night’s game where he gave up five runs and two homers on 48 pitches in just 2 1/3 innings, Jon Lieber stopped being a pitcher and became a politician.

    Instead of dishing out his typical insipid clichés to pointed questions about his craft, Lieber sulked quietly past approximately 20 reporters specifically there to hear from him, gathered a handbag and walked through an off-limits side door. But instead of returning to complete his job -- a job that was pretty incomplete based on his work against the Cubs -- Lieber crept out a side door and left the ballpark.

    Almost as bad, the Phillies' media relations representative quietly told a select few reporters that Lieber had snuck away 15 minutes afterwards.

    Good job!

    Yeah, I think the press is a pain in the rear, too. They can be intrusive, obnoxious, rude and tactless. But in this case, when a few camera men and scribes a simply looking for the innocuous of quotes Lieber failed to deliver.


    Certainly Lieber has been around long enough to know the drill. After all, he pitched for the Yankees in the baseball media capital of the world where he would never have dreamed of pulling a secret dash stunt like the one on Monday. He knows that all he had to do was stand there for 30 seconds and say, "I wasn’t very good tonight. I didn’t have my good stuff. We'll get 'em next time." Which is pretty much all he ever says anyway, wild-card race or not.

    How hard is that?

    Even upon noticing the reporters waiting for him, Lieber could have said, "Look, I pitched really poorly and I really don’t want to talk about it. I’m going to go home now." That’s acceptable, and accountable.

    Instead, the fans who follow the team closely lose out.

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    Monday, September 18, 2006

    Please go away

    A very interesting thing occurred in Philadelphia yesterday morning, and, no, it had nothing to do with the Eagles rolling over and playing dead during the second half of the overtime loss to the Giants. This interesting event supposedly occurred at the Philadelphia Distance Run – one of the world’s marquee half-marathons – and it presents as many questions in its curiosity.

    According to eyewitnesses and chatter on the insidious running message boards, race directors of the Distance Run literally pulled runner Asmae Leghzaoui off of the course before she could run. Leghzaoui paid her registration just like everyone else (even though the elite runners are usually paid just to show up), and started the race, taking the lead through the first five miles of the race. But Leghzaoui, a 30-year-old Moroccan living in West Chester, Pa., according to a profile in The Washington Post, recently served a two-year suspension for using EPO.

    According to the story in the Post
    , Leghzaoui searched for and knowingly took EPO. Needless to say, the drug seems to have had a very big effect on how surpringly well she ran on the U.S. road racing circuit, picking up five victories in six races with four course records.

    Yet even though Leghzaoui served her suspension, she (obviously) has not been welcomed back into the running world. When she has been invited to road races in the U.S., "duped" directors either rescind the invitation or offer mea culpas for allowing Leghzaoui in the race.

    Leghzaoui, for her part, has offered apologies to anyone who will listen and has passed all drug tests after her suspension. So far it hasn't gotten her anywhere. Even paying her own way into the race in Philly wasn't good enough.

    According to the story in the Inquirer, here's what happened on Sunday:

    Asmae Leghzaoui, a 30-year-old from Morocco, was far ahead of the other women - running with the second pack of the top males. According to race officials, she dropped out between miles 5 and 6.

    But according to people who were there, Leghzaoui was pulled off the course and escorted out of the race. Certainly the race directors at Elite Racing -- the agency that organized the Philly Distance Run -- can do whatever they want. It's their race. and if they don't want drug cheats in it, good for them. Actually, it would be interesting to see what would happen in baseball if, say, someone like Ryan Franklin, a pitcher who served a suspension for failing a drug test, was not allowed to enter a game in Pittsburgh because of his past.

    Then again, that wouldn't be like baseball.

    As for Leghazoui, she served her time, shouldn't she be allowed to get on with her career? And would race directors be doing something like this with someone like Mary Decker Slaney, the one-time darling of the track who controversially tested positive for high testosterone in 1996.

    Or what about Uta Pippig, the three-time winner of the Boston Marathon who tested positive for high testosterone in 1998? Would she be welcomed into the race after serving her suspension.

    I bet she would.

    Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see one sport taking a stand against drug cheats. Lets just hope that they remain consistent.

    Meanwhile, Abdi Abdirahman finished second in 61:07 and missed the American record by 12 seconds. Wilson Kiprotich of Kenya won the race by two seconds in 61:05 in a duel over the final 5k. According to Abdirahman, a misstep at Eakins Oval cost him the race and maybe even the American record.

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    Sunday, September 17, 2006

    8 weeks to go

    Had some trouble with my calf and hamstring that seemed to effect my knee. Luckily, I had an ART appointment already set up so I only missed one workout. In the interim, I've gotten serious about stretching (with yoga) and my pre-run warmup. So far so good.

    Monday - 21.3 miles in 2:25:40. Started out around 7-minute pace and then got into 6:50ish before bringing it home in 6:20. Good run... I wish they could all be like the second half of this run.

    Tuesday - 20.2 miles. First run: 12.2 miles in 1:28:45; Second run: 8 miles in 55:35. Knee area started to hurt today. Once I warmed up it was OK, especially on second run when I ran 5:50 miles for alst three miles.

    Wednesday - took the day off to rest calf and hamstring. Started doing yoga in this morning.

    Thursday - 17.5 miles in 2:02:07. The running part was easy. I liked running the distance and it seems like it's no problem just to go out and run all day.

    Friday - 15.3 miles in 1:47:20. Had to do a decent warmup before running. Also went in for some ART treatment this morning. In order to keep running I have to stretch and do the ART and yoga stuff. Otherwise, I ran OK once I got going even though it was pouring down rain.

    Saturday - 16.3 miles in 1:50:50. Calves and hammys didn't bother me as much as the past few days, though they still are not 100 percent. Either way, I ran well in some stretches, mixing in fartlek with some hills and other good stuff. Ran the final nine in sub-6:30 pace and it was really easy.

    Sunday - 11.1 miles in 1:15:57. As soon as my calf and hamstring got warmed up I felt great. It's just a pain getting it warmed up and it's a pain when it's not warmed up. Nonetheless, ran some uptempo miles at the end and they felt pretty good.

    Anyway, that's 101.1 miles for the week. Not bad, but it was the toughest week yet.


    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    Primeau makes the smart decision

    The hardest thing for an athlete to do is to be smart. No, that’s not an insult, nor is it any type of indictment of certain scholastic records. After all, it takes a top-flight engineer to be able to memorize and decipher all of the variables in an NFL playbook. Besides, those things are thicker than phone books and like Rain Man, guys like Peyton Manning and Donovan McNabb know the whole thing by heart.

    What is meant by smart is that oftentimes for athletes the easiest and most logical decision is usually the hardest thing to come to terms with. Some athletes have no trouble going out and running 20 miles a day without fail, but when it comes time to take a day off to rest the mind and muscles most guys would prefer root canal surgery.

    Take Flyers’ captain Keith Primeau, for example. After battling the effects of post-concussion syndrome for nearly a full calendar year with no foreseeable end to his rehabilitation, the erstwhile 34-year old was forced into retirement on Thursday morning. Certainly, after at least four or five concussions during his 14-season NHL career, Primeau made the “smart” decision. At home he has his wife, Lisa, and four children, whom will be around and will need their dad longer than the Flyers will need a captain and a center. In fact, in one of those “get-to-know-the-players” questionnaires that teams like to publish for the fans, Primeau lists becoming a father as his greatest accomplishment to date.

    “This decision will allow me to live a normal life and hopefully, with time, few reminders of my injuries,” Primeau said on Thursday.

    “My biggest fear is that I’d have regrets and at this point I don’t have regrets.”

    But even something as big as being a dad rarely extinguishes what burns inside of a person. For someone like Primeau, a hockey player personified, that flame burns with a lot more intensity. Need an example? Try this out:

    It was the second period of Game 2 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals where the New Jersey Devils are skating circles around the Flyers and are on the verge of taking a 2-0 lead in the series. Even though he missed parts of two games after he was carted off the ice on a stretcher and rushed to the hospital after taking a big hit from Pittsburgh’s Bob Boughner and suffering the first of a series of concussions, Primeau called out the Devils’ Randy McKay for a little tête-à-tête.

    Now it wasn’t necessarily important whether or not Primeau beat McKay in the fight. The message was loud and clear.

    “I thought our team needed a spark,” Primeau said at the time, noting that he envisioned Lisa sitting in the stands with her head in her hands as he brawled with McKay.

    “I realize it may not have been the best thing to do,” Primeau said before telling me that he had three prior concussions that he knew of before the one in Pittsburgh, and noting that he probably had others as a kid growing up in Toronto, but nothing so serious that his dad didn’t pick him up, brush him off, and send him back out onto the ice. “I’m a father and a husband, but at the same time I’m a hockey player… ”

    Sometimes hockey players don’t always make the smart decision. But in retiring, Primeau did make the smart decision because the term concussion softens what medical folks call the affliction – traumatic brain injuries.

    If Primeau takes one more hard shot to the head while skating up the ice at break-neck speed, the result could be dire.

    And we aren’t talking about something as easy as retirement, either.

    Yet despite Thursday’s announcement and the lingering symptoms from all of those traumatic brain injuries, something tells us the fire still smolders inside of Primeau. Maybe that comes from watching Primeau run up and down the area steps after games at the Wachovia Center. Besides, doing what is smart is one thing, but the human brain is no match for the heart or guts. Worse, that little voice saying, “What if… ” will always nag even if the brain says, “This is correct.”

    “He's always going to feel like he didn't get to finish on his own terms,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.

    The operative word is that Primeau was “forced” into retirement because trainer Jim McCrossin tried every mind trick he could to get the captain’s head to drill some logic into his heart and guts. The trainer told Primeau he could skate with the minor leaguers on the Phantoms, or he could practice wearing a white jersey with a red cross so that other players would know not to touch him.

    What self-respecting hockey player shies away from the contact?

    When McCrossin finally told Primeau what he really felt – that he didn’t want to live with the consequences if the hockey player took another shot to the head – it was like getting run over by a truck.

    “It was the first real time I'd been in touch with reality the last few months,” Primeau said Thursday. “I didn't want to become a distraction again.”

    Primeau was thinking about the team. That’s just what a captain does. But in time, Primeau won’t be a captain anymore, and maybe he’ll start to feel better and get the itch to put those skates on again to see what he can do.

    “If they let me go I’d keep pushing through. I’d keep going until they dragged me away,” Primeau said.

    Hopefully, making the smart decision will be a lot easier if that itch needs to be scratched.

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    Wednesday, September 13, 2006

    End of an era?

    The Phillies played another doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, and Pat Burrell was not in the lineup for either game. Chances are the star-crossed slugger will be in left field when the Phillies close out the series against the Braves’ lefty Chuck James on Thursday, but make no mistake about it, the team’s brass is sending a loud-and-clear message to their $50 million man:

    “You are not needed here.”

    By now, close followers of the Phillies have deciphered Burrell’s limited role during the wild-card chase. Better yet, Marcus Hayes and Dennis Deitch have written very trenchant and unflinching looks at the former No. 1 draft pick, who, despite the early raves, big contract, and unlimited potential, never seemed to live up to the expectations.

    There is no crime in that, of course. Often, the media anoints a player to be a star even though he isn’t built for the rigors or pressure that come with it. Other times they just misdiagnose how good a player really is.

    Then there is the case of Pat Burrell.

    There was nothing about Burrell’s ascent to the big leagues, nor his first three seasons with the Phillies, that indicated he was a mediocre ballplayer. Then again, it’s hard to call his 24-homers and 84-RBIs 2006 season mediocre. Disappointing? Yes, especially when one factors in the promise and the hype that greeted Burrell after the 2002 season in which he had his supposed “breakout” year.

    What’s most enigmatic about Burrell – other than his personality – is his failure to produce with runners in scoring position this season, as well as his failure to… well, hit during this past month. Sure, Burrell has had trouble with his wrist and his foot, both which needed surgery at one point or another. But it’s also fair to point out that Burrell’s celebrated nocturnal habits might also have something to do with his leveling off as a player.

    This isn’t to say Burrell doesn’t put in the work. At least as far as it’s known, he used to. Before the injuries, winters were spent with fitness guru Mark Verstegen at the Athlete’s Performance Center in Arizona, and Burrell may very well spend time there. It’s just that every serious athlete comes to a point in his career where he has to make a choice – is he going to be serious, take nothing for granted and dedicate himself to his craft on and off the field, which means proper rest, a proper diet and good habits.

    Or, is he going to live in the moment and hope that the fickle hands of father time don’t massage him before his prime… or before he even has one.

    Burrell still has a choice. After all, he doesn’t turn 30 until Oct. 10. But if he’s going to refocus his energies to baseball, it might be a good choice for him to waive that no-trade clause where he can enter his prime in another city.

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    Uh-oh Part II

    It was as inevitable as the change of seasons that when the story in which two former teammates of Lance Armstrong admitted to past EPO use that the "is Lance dirty" chatter would grow louder.

    Everybody, it seems, has an opinion whether or not Armstrong doped his way to the seven straight Tour de France victories. That's especially true in the climate in which athletes have to prove that they are not taking drugs. In regards to Armstrong, like every other professional athlete, there seems to be very little grey area

    Forget the fact that Armstrong's VO2 reading (his ability to use oxygen) is one of the highest ever recorded, or that he has threatened to sue over accusations tying him with doping. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds or any other high-profile athlete tied to sports' drug scandals haven't spoken as strongly as Armstrong has -- not that this is an absolution.

    So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Armstrong quickly fired back, calling the story in The New York Times, a "hatchet job."

    Meanwhile, top cyclist Jan Ullrich's house in Switzerland was raided by authorities as part of the investigation regarding a Spanish doping case.

    Before anyone gets on their sports hih horse and says, "who cares, it's just cycling," or, "who cares, it's just track," think about this:

    What if they tried to keep baseball, football, basketball and hockey as clean as they do in those sports. How different would the games be?

    Obviously, this (or anything like it) is never going to occur until an independent agency takes over as the drug authority. The league and player's unions will never let that happen.

    On another Armstrong note, he is still slated to run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. He has already admitted that marathoning is more difficult than cycling (he's right), but based on Armstrong's VO2, he should be able to run a 2:08. That won't happen, but I wouldn't be surprised if he runs better than 2:30.

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    Tuesday, September 12, 2006


    Here's something that's interesting: two members of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France team in 1999 have admitted to using EPO, according to Juliet Macur's story in The New York Times. Interestingly, one of the riders, Frankie Andreu, was a domestique for Armstrong's U.S. Postal team just like Floyd Landis was to be a few years later.

    Even more interestingly, Andreu's admission came on the same day that Landis' lawyer asked that the doping charges against the reigning Tour champ be dismissed. According to the Associated Press story, Landis' lawyer hinted, "for the first time at the Tour de France winner's official defense: that his positive testosterone tests were flawed and did not meet World Anti-Doping Agency standards."

    More: 2 Ex-Teammates of Cycling Star Admit Drug Use
    More: Landis' Attorney Wants Charges Dismissed

    Meanwhile, the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal had a bit of a scoop with an exclusive interview with Landis. Kudos to them. Kudos.

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    Mea culpa

    A couple of days ago I took Arthur Rhodes to task for not pitching in a game because of "shoulder stiffness." I wrote:

    Let’s get this straight. The veteran lefty specialist couldn’t come into a September game that very well could affect the Phillies’ playoff chances because he shoulder was sore? He’s getting paid $3.7 million this season to pitch in those types of situations and his shoulder is sore?

    Isn’t Rhodes the same guy who called out Cory Lidle for eating ice cream after games and pursuing off-field interests like poker and flying airplanes? Forget the fact that Lidle never missed a start during his time with the Phillies, except for the time when he had one pushed back to take care of a family emergency. In the end, it was Rhodes who didn’t answer the call.

    If the Phillies fail to make it to the playoffs for the 13th straight October, they can blame the bullpen.

    As it turns out there was something to that stiffness and it appears as if Rhodes will be out for the remainder of the season with an elbow injury. Since that's the case, I offer an apology for doubting Rhodes. Questioning injuries and integrity is never the right thing to do and I should know better.

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    Monday, September 11, 2006

    The greatest of all time?

    I don't know if this is a trend or simple marketing of sports so that people will not only stay tuned to the game (or whatever), but also will think they are watching something historically significant, but often it appears as if I have tuned in to watch an "all-time greatest of the game."

    It seems like such a debatable hyperbole, yet often there is no debate. It just so happens that I, luckily, have tuned in to something historic.

    Mostly this occurs with individual sports like golf and tennis, but lately the G.O.A.T./history trend has morphed into mainstream team sports as well. Take Ryan Howard for instance -- last week in Washington I was sitting in the press box for a supposed historical occasion when the slugger tied and passed Mike Schmidt's franchise record for home runs in a season. It was something to see because the shots Howard hit were magnificent and I remember watching Schmidt hit a lot of those 48 homers during the 1980 season. So to be there when the record changed hands was pretty cool.

    But it wasn't historical despite how it was being billed by certain media types. Not even close. If I had been outside of the Appomattox Court House on Palm Sunday of 1865 when Lee surrendered his army to Grant, now that would have been historic. Had I been alive to watch Neil Armstrong hop off the Apollo and onto the moon, that would have been historic. Waking up five years ago to desperate phone calls from my wife to, "TURN ON THE TV! NOW!" That was historic. This is just baseball. A nice milestone and definitely something very cool, but not anything I can brag about seeing. Not when half the people I know don't care.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. I'm just being one of those uptight guys who likes to toss a wet blanket over everyone's fun. Well... yeah. Sometimes I enjoy being iconoclastic and "brutally honest." But mostly I just don't appreciate being misled. Even in the insular world of baseball, Howard passing Schmidt was barely a blip in its history. Maybe for the Phillies Howard's homers are significant since the franchise's history is pock-marked by losing season after losing season and overt racism during the game's "Golden Era" in which the team failed to integrate its roster long after nearly every other team.

    Along those lines, Howard is already being referred to as potentially the greatest Phillie ever. Hell, he ought to just retire now. He almost has one full season in the books; he ought to hang 'em up. What else does he have to prove?

    Certainly those who call Howard the G.Ph.O.A.T. acknowledge their silliness. Let the man have a career first. But that didn't stop anyone from waxing exaggeration in regard to Roger Federer during the finals of Sunday’s U.S. Open.

    For anyone who saw it, Federer was often brilliant and mostly dominant in cruising to a four-set victory over Andy Roddick for his ninth Grand Slam victory. That's within the range of Tiger Woods, Federer's Nike brethren, who was sitting courtside with the Swooshes blazing for all of the close-up shots that stopped being about a celebrity watching a tennis match and more about selling over-priced athletic gear and shoes. Hey, if you're going to be a corporate shill, go all out... right Tiger?

    So as Federer cruised, the debate started. Actually, it wasn't a debate, it was history.

    It also got me thinking, which is probably not what CBS, the USTA, or Nike wanted anyone to do. But the idea was out there -- was Federer the greatest tennis player of all time?

    Certainly the way he pushed around Roddick on Sunday made the debate easy for that day. Federer is easily the greatest tennis player out there now, but whom is he playing? Andy Roddick? Rafael Nadal? Lleyton Hewit?


    But when I saw Federer blast balls from the baseline, daring anyone to approach the net against him, I thought, "this kid watched tapes of Borg play."

    Who can forget Bjorn Borg? For as great as the "Super Swede" was -- and he is on the short list for G.O.A.T. -- he was even more of an enigma. But perhaps that's the way Borg had to be since he had John McEnroe always buzzing around and trying to knock him off. When it wasn't McEnroe, it was Jimmy Connors -- a guy who was No. 1 in the world for 160 straight weeks -- gunning for him.

    Then came Ivan Lendl. Then Boris Becker. Then Pete Sampras, who re-wrote the record books.

    Beneath the top layer guys like Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash and Michael Stich always seemed to be hovering around the top ranks for decades.

    These days Federer isn't the king of the hill; he's a man on an island.

    That's not Federer's fault, of course. Since you can't pick your parents, you can't really pick when you are born, either. Blaming Federer for being dominant in a weak era is a lot like judging Wilt Chamberlain for being bigger than everyone else during the infancy of the NBA. Any competitor like Federer wants to measure himself against the very best.

    Eventually, Wilt had Bill Russell as his nemesis, which often brought out historical performances from both men. It remains to be seen whether or not Federer will develop a big-time rivalry with Nadal or Roddick, just like it's still up in the air whether or not the slugging Phillie will ever fall to mere mortal status against a tough lefty pitcher.

    Then again mere mortality never seemed to happen for the golf-swatting Nike billboard sitting courtside for the tennis clinic on Sunday.

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    Clinging to the pack

    At 72-71 with 19 games to go, the Phillies are still in the hunt, but it's going to take a lot of work if they are going to make it to the playoffs.

    W L GB Left
    San Diego (18) 74 68 -- 20
    Philadelphia 72 71 2.5 19
    San Francisco 72 71 2.5 19
    Florida 72 71 2.5 19
    Cincinnati 71 72 3.5 19
    Houston 70 72 4.0 20

    Charlie Manuel still holds to the notion that it will take 85 wins to get into the playoffs. I think he's off by one -- 84 should do it. So lets pretend that the Phillies will have to go 12-7 the rest of the way to get in. How does that break down? Try this:

    at Atlanta (Sept. 12, 13, 14): 2-1
    at Houston (Sept. 15, 16, 17): 1-2
    vs. Chicago (Sept. 18, 19, 20): 2-1
    vs. Florida (Sept. 22, 23, 24): 2-1
    vs. Houston (Sept. 25): 1-0
    at Washington (Sept. 26, 27, 28): 3-0
    at Florida (Sept. 29, 30, Oct. 1): 1-2

    There's the 12-7 to get to 84-78. If the Phillies can do it as it's laid out, all they need is some help from San Diego, San Francisco, Florida and Cincinnati.

    No problem, right?


    Emilie Mondor

    Running is a small, insular group of people. It's so small that the degrees of seperation between the elite and rank-and-file takes very few steps. Corresponding or even running with someone like Khalid Khannouchi or Bill Rodgers isn't like dealing with a major leaguer. There are no facades in running.

    That's why the news about Emilie Mondor is so upsetting. Mondor, a 2004 Olympian and Canada's first woman to break 15:00 in the 5,000, was killed in a car accident in Ontario on Saturday and died at a hospital later that day. The most prominent Canadian distance runner, Mondor was expected to be in Philadelphia next weekend for the Philly Distance Run in preparation for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. Apparently, Mondor battled injuries during all of 2005 and was on the comeback trail and ready to break through this year.

    She was only 25.

    More: Crash kills Olympian Mondor

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    9 weeks to go

    Monday - 20 miles in 2:28:13.
    Just an awful run. Got up early to run in a 20-mile race after working until 1 or 2 a.m. Never got loose and stomach and hamstrings nagged the entire time. In other words, I sucked. On the positive side, the distance feels kind of easy.

    Tuesday - 15.8 miles in 1:48:00.
    All hills and then some more hills. The second half of the run was mostly flat and I ran that between 6 to 6:30 pace. Much better than Monday.

    Wednesday - 15.8 miles in 1:45:11.
    Same run as Tuesday only faster.

    Thursday - 13 miles in 1:36:54.
    Big time recovery day. Actually tried to avoid hills for a change. Just went slow. Planned on adding a second run in the evening but felt too tired and went to bed early.

    Friday - 18.2 miles in 2:01:24.
    Lots of fartlek. Did a 2-mile stretch in a 11 minutes and then ran the final 6 miles at 6-minute pace. Best run of the week.

    Saturday - 14.2 miles in 1:42:18.
    Recovery. My legs were tight and tired and it was very humid, too. Probably could have run faster, but didn't see the point.

    Sunday - 7.7 miles in 53:06.
    Simply a fun run. Had planned on only going an easy 5, but took my iPod with me and had a blast listening to music and running. Run uptempo very rarely -- mostly just cruised.

    Total mileage: 104.7
    Nine weeks to go... still curious about my fitness -- it might be time to get out and race.


    © 2006 - John R. Finger - all rights reserved