Thursday, May 31, 2007

Back from a break

Hola amigos! I was busy procrastinating and managing my time poorly so I didn’t get a chance to post anything substantive here over the past few days. Because of that, I won’t try to overwhelm everyone all at once. Instead, here’s a few recent stories, trends, etc. that I thought were interesting.

Let’s go:

Ryan Howard finding a seat on the bench with Greg Dobbs, Rod Barajas, Jayson Werth and Michael Bourn for last night’s game against the Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson was something that raised eyebrows and caused a few to say to no one in particular, “Hmmph.”

Cosmetically, I suppose, it makes sense in that it was left-hander Randy Johnson pitching and Howard is a left-handed hitter. Add the fact that Howard got a cramp in his hamstring during the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s loss and perhaps manager Charlie Manuel was just being safe than sorry.

“(Howard's) played five days and Randy is pitching,” the skipper said before the game. “I figured from a conditioning standpoint, everything kind of points to me giving him a day off. He'll rest tomorrow although he is available to pinch-hit. He had a cramp and once he got over it he was fine.”

But from another point of view – namely Howard’s – that explanation was just silly. Though Howard is hitting .133 in just 45 at-bats against lefties this season, he hit .279 with 16 homers against southpaws in his 2006 MVP season. Interestingly, Howard has never faced Johnson during his career, though Johnson has faced such notable Phillies as Ruben Amaro, Mike Schmidt, Bob Dernier and Floyd Youmans.

How does Randy Johnson get to face Floyd Youmans but not Ryan Howard?

Regardless, the notion of sitting Howard against Johnson doesn’t work anymore. Sure, Johnson can still pitch and he showed that by holding the Phillies to just one hit and no walks on just 61 pitches through six innings. But that famous fastball, apparently, isn’t what it once was and in sticking it to the Phillies last night Johnson relied on a slider that got in on the right-handers as well as the overzealousness of the hitters.

How overzealous were they? Well, the Phillies were so anxious that even with Johnson out of the game the Phillies went down in order in the seventh inning against reliever Doug Slaten on 10 pitches.

Anyway, in regard to sitting against Johnson, Howard said:

"It is what it is. It's fine. It's done. It's good.

“I told them I was alright. It was my hamstring. I told them it was alright. I'm sure when I grabbed my left leg, which is the one where I had the quad injury, everyone thought it was that. My quad is fine.”

The Phillies, however, are not in the best shape. After all, it’s quite reasonable that “The Team to Beat” could be up to a dozen games behind the New York Mets in the NL East before the first full week of June.

What did Jimmy Rollins, the author of the “team to beat” quote have to say about getting swept by the Diamondbacks and falling below .500.

“Unfortunately everything that went right for us in Atlanta went wrong for us here,” he said. “We get tomorrow off. Regroup, come back and get some wins against San Francisco.

“The losing record is only one game below .500 fortunately but we do have to play better ball. Things we did in Atlanta we have to do the rest of the season.”

With 109 games to go in the season, the Phillies’ best chance rests with the wild card. But if it will take 95 victories to win the wild card, the Phillies have to go 69-40 the rest of the way. That’s .633 ball, which is about what the Red Sox and Mets are doing these days.

Can the Phillies do that too?

No one asked me, but I think the Arizona Snakes would be a much more menacing nickname than Diamondbacks. I don’t like snakes, in fact, I’m probably afraid of them. A Diamondback does nothing for me. Snakes and Bugs would be a better team name… the Arizona Flyin’ Bugs? That has a nice ring to it.

If you are like me and a fan/participant of endurance sports, it’s worth noting that Martin Dugard has a blog. I just discovered it yesterday after hearing him interviewed on The Competitors radio show from San Diego.

Speaking of cycling (wasn’t I), the 2007 Men's Pro Cycling Tour hits the area starting this Sunday with a race through downtown Lancaster. It culminates on Sunday, June 10 with the U.S. championship in Philadelphia.

Interestingly, folks in Lancaster complain about some of the top cyclists riding through their downtown streets, while in Philadelphia they turn the event into an all day party.

Yes, in that regard I believe the people in Philadelphia are smarter than the people in Lancaster.

Back to baseball…

The Phillies, the very minor flap with John Smoltz was fascinating not because of what Smoltz said regarding Brett Myers’ move from the rotation to the bullpen, but because of the way the Phillies reacted to it.

You know, because the Phillies go to the playoffs every year and the Braves have just one World Series title in their 124 seasons in the Major Leagues… wait, I think I got those mixed up.

Anyway, from the way I read the stories from the long-forgotten sweep in Atlanta last weekend, it sounded as if the Phillies reacted as though Smoltz offered his sage opinion regarding Myers’ move to the bullpen instead of simply answering a question posed to him by a writer.

Come on… baseball players don’t go around offering their opinions to anyone who will listen.

Oh wait… I forgot about this guy.

Digressing again, assistant GM told writers last weekend that Smoltz really ought to just butt out.

“The Phillies have a great deal of respect for John Smoltz and what he's represented to the Braves and to this division. He's a Hall of Fame pitcher. At the same time, I'm not sure it's appropriate for him to be making comments about personnel decisions that we've made as an organization.”

The entire thing could be a matter of poor reading comprehension on my part, but I don’t understand why the Phillies chose to comment at all, nor why they would be so dismissive of John Smoltz. In fact, I remember talking to him back when he was closing games for the Braves and asked him about the move from the rotation to the bullpen and how it affected his golf game.

Big time, is my many years removed paraphrasing of the conversation.

Back then Smoltz said that the training regime for a reliever was much more intricate than that of a starter. As a reliever, Smoltz had to be ready every single day and he had to train for that during the off-season. As a starter, he could pace himself a little more.

Certainly, in regard to Myers, I don’t think he injured himself because he wasn’t strong enough, stretched out or couldn’t handle the work load, but the everyday-ness of relieving could have caused a slight muscle weakness. Myers will definitely work all of those issues out if he has a long-term future as a reliever/closer.

Hey... Barry Bonds comes to town tomorrow. I bet he gets booed.

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Bonds hits town again

Typically, Memorial Day is a significant milestone during the baseball season. As the days begin to get hotter and the cooler evenings are spent with a game glowing from a TV fans finally can gauge what they are watching.

Is it a team that is going to keep one’s attention through June, July and the Dog Days of summer with the hope of late-night games in the autumn? Or is a team that is better left for the days when one simply needs to watch a game?

Here in Philadelphia it appears as if the Phillies will keep the collective interests piqued past Labor Day. Whether or not that results in games around Columbus Day or closer to Halloween is still to be determined.

But away from the everyday minutia and rhythms of the team trying to end a 14-year playoff drought is the historical. You know, the types of things that occur once in a lifetime or perhaps once every quarter century or so. The things that baseball fans as well as the larger fabric of the sports’ world deems significant enough to place one of those “Where were you when…” plaques on the memory.

They happen so rarely. In my lifetime I can remember Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s record for the most hits in September of 1985. Then there was Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s unbreakable consecutive games streak in September of 1995. I was too young to remember Hank Aaron slugging home run No. 715 in April of 1974, but there is a good chance I’ll be in front of a laptop, television or at the ballpark on the day Barry Bonds surges past Aaron with No. 756.

Having had the chance to watch Bonds come up through Arizona State on rebroadcasts of college games during the early days when ESPN was digging for programming to fill the spots between episodes of Vic’s Vacant Lot and Dick Vitale, to his blossoming to a perennial MVP in Pittsburgh, this should be a major event.

Should, of course, is the operative word.

Yet like a lot of folks who follow baseball closely and even the most casual of fans, Bonds’ ascent to become the all-time Home Run King is more of a nuisance than significant event. It’s more spectacle than a historical event. Just like most fans I don’t know if Bonds surpassing Aaron should make me angry or just join in with the chorus of yawns that seem to be echoing from every spot on the map outside of the seven square miles surrounded by reality called San Francisco.

Certainly the debate over the importance of Bonds’ taking over the home run record is better served in the hands (and brains) of smarter people than me. That much is evident. So too is the reaction that Bonds will receive when he arrives in Philadelphia with the Giants for the four-game series to be played at Citizens Bank Park this weekend. Certainly Bonds will hear louder boos than J.D. Drew ever heard in his travels to play against the Phillies.

Nevertheless, instead of summer where baseball fans should rally around a significant milestone in the long history of the game, they have decided to ignore its biggest villain. Warranted or not, Bonds has slipped through the sports’ fans consciousness until he shows up in their hometown. Then they come out to boo.

But then again, even the commissioner of baseball says he hasn’t decided whether or not he will be on hand to witness the crowning of the new home run king. That, in itself, is odd. Since Bud Selig is presiding over the game during the so-called steroid era, he should be there when its poster boy breaks one of the game’s most sacred records.

It’s also possible that Bonds will inch closer to the record, too. Standing at 746 as of this writing, computer projections indicate that the record will fall before Independence Day. But unlike the Framers who gathered in Philadelphia on that sweltering day in July of 1776 whose place in history was never in question, it doesn’t appear as if Bonds’ legacy will be liberated from the clutches of public doubt any time soon.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

That's a fine howdoyoudo

Mike “Bronko” Zagurski, or “Li’l Krukie” as Larry Andersen called him on the radio, made an impressive Major League debut last night in Atlanta. In pitching a perfect eighth inning, Zagurski fired 10 pitches, threw six strikes and got two ground outs.

He also seemed to have a good-looking curve and a hard fastball, though I can’t say I know much about him. According to the stats, Zagurski spent all of spring training in the minor league camp, and after pitching part of 2005 for Batavia as a starter, all of 2006 for Lakewood, the first part of 2007 at Clearwater and six games for Reading, Zagurski found himself on the mound at Turner Field last night.

According to baseball people, Zagurski blossomed when he was converted from a starter to a reliever in 2006. That’s when his rather pedestrian fastball jumped to a stead 93 mph and the strikeouts piled up. In 16 1/3 innings for Clearwater, Zagurski had 30 strikeouts and added eight more in seven innings for Reading. All of that goes with a combined 1.16 ERA this season.

Either way, Zagurski has had an Apa Sherpa-like ascent.

So if you’re putting it all together, Zagurski – a prospect seemingly unworthy of an entry in the Baseball Prospectus annual – has pitched just six games and seven innings above Single-A ball and none in Triple-A. That, of course, is not counting his first Major League inning.

If you’re counting – and I know you are – four different players (all pitchers) have made their Major League debuts for the Phillies this season. Along with Zagurski, Joe Bisenius, Zack Segovia and Yoel Hernandez entered the record books this season. Better yet, the quartet has allowed six runs in 11 1/3 innings. Five of those runs came when Segovia allowed five during a five-inning start against the Marlins on April 8.

Zagurski should be with the club next weekend when Barry Bonds, James Earl Jones and Danny DeVito all turn up at the Bank. Bonds will be in town for the weekend series with the San Francisco Giants, which certainly will give the hometown fans someone to boo in addition to Rod Barajas.

Jones, according to the Phillies, will be at the ballpark on June 1 to participate in a special on-field reading of “Casey at the Bat” with the Phanatic before the game. Meanwhile, DeVito, known in these parts as the infamous Louie DePalma, will join “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” cast mate Rob McElhenney to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Sunday.

I’m told “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is a television show and not some odd phenomenon.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Enjoy your weekend, folks

Have fun at the beach or downashore or whichever colloquialism you prefer.


Can't they all just get along?

Baseball players are babies… there, I said it. When one ballplayer has a beef with another player and wants to engage in fisticuffs, what does he do? Yeah, that’s right… he throws a ball at the other guy.

How silly is that?

Say I’m sitting in the press box at Citizens Bank Park or RFK or anywhere else in the country, and I have a problem with, say, Mike Radano. Do you think I’m going to throw an apple at him from across the room? No, of course not. If such a situation arises, I’m going to get up out of my seat, walk to the other side of the room, and punch Mike.

Hey, that’s how I roll.

I’m not going to shout and scream and carry on about beating up the other guy or yell about how tough I am. Instead I’ll introduce Mike to Jack Johnson and Tom O’Leary. Of course I’d probably end up in the roundhouse, but that’s a different story.

Anyway, every so-called baseball “fight” starts and ends the same way. One pitcher throws a ball that hits another player. Then, to retaliate, the pitcher for the team of the plunked hitter drills a player of the plunkers’ team. As you can see it’s a messy, tangled web.

Sometimes, when these bean balls get to a particular point a batter charges after the pitcher, which isn’t exactly a stealth move. It’s kind of like when the British Navy attacked the Falklands – first they told them they were coming, then they got in their boats and three weeks later they were in the southern hemisphere.

And then it was on.

Or at least a bunch of jostling and yelling takes place – like in the Phillies’ minor dust-up with the Marlins last night. In that instance Jon Lieber drilled Aaron Boone, then threw one behind Marlins’ pitcher Dontrelle Willis. When Lieber came up to bat in the fourth inning, Willis threw one three feet behind Lieber.

All even, right?

Apparently not. Apparently Lieber said something to Willis as the teams were changing sides at the end of the inning, which, according to sources, just might be the most Lieber has said about baseball all month since he has chosen not to engage the Philadelphia sporting press lately. Oh sure, he’s talking, but he’s not really saying much.

Nevertheless, Lieber’s comments stirred something in Willis to stand at home plate and call out the Phillies as if he was Tanner Boyle from the North Valley League Bears. Because of that, the Phillies’ bench spilled out onto the field and the Marlins emptied out and the tango was… well, it was more like the gang fight in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video.

So that was that. In the modern parlance, that’s a baseball fight. But in retrospect, perhaps baseball players aren’t wimps at all. Better yet, they seem kind of smart. After all, what good does fighting do?

Why, no good. No good at all.

Interestingly, one of the first Phillies on the scene of last night’s tango was maligned catcher Rod Barajas. In that instance, Barajas properly blocked a Marlin from advancing. It’s just too bad for the Phillies and Brett Myers that it didn’t come about 24 hours earlier.

More interestingly, in activating Ryan Howard from the disabled list the Phillies sent Chris Coste to Double-A Reading. Why Double-A instead of Triple-A Ottawa? According to assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr., Coste was sent to Reading so that he can work as a catcher more often. In Ottawa Coste spent most of his time playing first base so that prospect Jason Jaramillo would get the majority of the time behind the dish.

Who knows, maybe with Coste going to Reading to catch means that he will be returning to Philadelphia as a backstop in the near future. It definitely seems as if the Phillies could use a reliable backup for Carlos Ruiz.

The umpiring crew featuring Dan Iassogna is working tonight’s game in Atlanta. Does anyone want to bet that someone gets ejected from the game? How about if I set the series over-under on ejections at five, or is that too low?

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

That was something

Yeah, well that happened.

Perhaps some day when Charlie Manuel is no longer the manager of the Phillies – say he gets fired or his contract is allowed to expire or something like that – the bottom of the ninth of last night’s inexplicable victory over the Florida Marlins will be shown over and over on a virtual loop.

Yes, it was that odd.

Where do we start? With Brett Myers starting another ninth inning with a four-run lead? With Greg Dobbs’ throw to the plate on a bunt? On Rod Barajas’ “For who, for what?” moment where Hanley Ramirez scored by going five-hole on him? On Myers’ injury? The comebacker that Clay Condrey snagged? Or how about how Condrey bounced back from his previous outing… that was something, huh?

Anyway, everyone seems to be talking about the Phillies’ crazy ninth inning from last night, so there is no sense in rehashing it here. However, I had been asked quite frequently today if I had ever seen the Phillies cough up a lead in such a manner.

Yes. Yes I have.

It was Sept. 3, 2001 at the Vet. A warm, Labor Day afternoon. The Phillies, in the thick of a race for the NL East with the Braves lost to the New York Mets, 10-7, by allowing five runs in the top of the ninth. Jose Mesa was credited with a blown save and the loss though his role in the loss was merely cosmetic. He simply blew it.

The real goat on that Labor Day was the reliever who followed Mesa, Jose Santiago. Santiago, as some remember, pitched in 95 games for the Phillies during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, compiling a 4.94 ERA, including a poor 6.70 ERA in 42 games during 2002.

But to me Jose Santiago will always be the pitcher who allowed the go-ahead run to score when missed the throw back from the catcher.

Let that sink in for a second…

Yes, he missed the throw from the catcher.

It wasn’t a wild throw or a hard one. He didn’t have to lunge for it or stretch with a little leap for it. He missed it. The catcher threw the ball to him and Santiago missed it.

He simply missed it.

As the ball trickled away from Santiago, Todd Zeile – not particularly the most fleet afoot – took off from second to third base and then scored when shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ wild throw skipped past Scott Rolen at third base. Jay Payton ended up going from first to third before scoring an insurance run.

The only thing missing was the circus music.

So when people ask about the ninth inning in Miami from May 23, 2007, tell them about the ninth inning at the Vet on Sept. 3, 2001 where the pitcher allowed the winning run to score when he missed the throw back from the catcher.

Just missed it.

Otherwise, waiting for the final prognosis on Myers’ strained shoulder must have a few folks at 1 Citizens Park Way feeling more than a little tense. Frankly, if Myers has a major injury, that could be all she wrote for 2007, folks.

From here the Phillies head to Atlanta for a weekend series against the Braves. Fortunately for the Phillies Ryan Howard will return to the lineup on Friday night. Even better for the scribes on the beat, The Vortex is in Atlanta, which, as they claim, is the place to go for burgers. From looking at the menu, it appears as if the joint is veggie friendly, too.

Not that anyone is interested in any of that silliness.

Today is Bob Dylan's 66th birthday. Could Bob be the most notable person ever to attend the University of Minnesota? I say, "Yes. Yes he is."

Happy birthday, Bob.

Special thanks to the good folks at The Mike Gill Show on 1450 AM in Atlantic City.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Not that guy again

When his career is over and he has his lone Cy Young Award and six Cole Hamels Awards in his trophy room (or a cardboard box in the garage), Phillies’ left-hander Cole Hamels could remember the 2007 season as the year he found his footing as a Major Leaguer. But until then Hamels is likely pretty peeved that he blew a two-run lead in the sixth inning of last night’s game against the Florida Marlins.

Worse, Hamels was touched up for a four-run, game-breaking sixth inning against Marlins goofy lefty Scott Olsen, who seems to be despised by opposing ballplayers and sportswriters equally. The players seem to dislike Olsen because he appears to talk an inordinate amount of trash for a rather ordinary player. Writers seem to dislike him because he ruined a few stories with poor pitching during last season’s wild-card chase.

If there is one thing that irks writers more than anything it’s having to rewrite a perfectly good story when deadline is quickly approaching. In that vein, Travis Lee was a killer during the 2001 season. Worse, he was miserable when approached in the clubhouse.

Nevertheless, Hamels could have been adding victory No. 7 to the ledger based on his first five innings of work and the fact that he was facing the combustible Olsen. Certainly seeing that dude on the other side is enough to give the opposition some confidence.

Said Hamels to reporters last night: “I definitely saw that light at the end of the tunnel. I knew I was pitching well enough to pitch another couple innings and get the ball in the hands of Brett. And when Brett has the ball, the game is over. I saw that. I felt it. I know the team definitely saw that, too. Especially when you're playing against a pitcher that's not on everybody's good side. You want to go out there and win as bad as anything, but especially against him.”

If there is a bright side to the loss it’s that Ryan Madson pitched two perfect innings in his return from the disabled list. Madson whiffed two hitters and threw 16 of his 24 pitches for strikes. Certainly adding a healthy Madson back to the bullpen could be a huge lift for the Phillies.

It's worth noting that last year's first-round draft pick, Kyle Drabek, is pitching well for Single-A Lakewood. In two of his last three starts, the hard-throwing righty has tossed two-hitters through 7 2/3 innings and 7 innings. And in eight starts, Drabek is 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA and has 43 strikeouts in 49 innings. Opponents are hitting just .227 off him.

Meanwhile, struggling first-round pick Greg Golson has shown marked improvement this season. With five hits in his last 10 at-bats for Single-A Clearwater, Golson is up to .295 and is second in the league with 14 stolen bases.

Ovandy Suero, for the Lakewood Tigers, leads the league with 33 stolen bases in 35 games. Yeah, 33 stolen bases in 35 games… what are other teams thinking when he gets on base?

“Uh, guys. I think he might try to steal. Call it a hunch.”

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's not the science, it's the circus

Most nights my ride home the ballpark can be a pain. Firstly there is the Schuylkill, which quite possibly could be the worst stretch of paved road in the world. On top of the Surekill, there is some construction linking the Expressway near Valley Forge to the Turnpike that makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans look like a Sunday drive through the country.

Finally, there’s the distance, which comes to approximately three hours round trip. Sometimes the drive can be quite taxing, but I guess it’s my fault for living out in the middle of nowhere. That said, it’s much nicer here than in any of the neighborhoods that I surely would be priced out of – it’s a little slow to adapt to modernity or new ideas out here, but at least the sprawl has been fairly well contained (in comparison) for the time being.

Anyway, the drive back to the boondocks gives me plenty of time to listen to a bunch of the podcasts I subscribe to. A favorite is a radio show based out of San Diego called The Competitors Radio Show, hosted by former world class triathletes Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle. Needless to say the show focuses on endurance sports like triathlons, running and cycling, which for geeks like me is really fascinating. As far as I can tell, Babbitt and Huddle host the only show like The Competitors and that’s a shame.

So while driving home on Friday night I listened to a rebroadcast of an interview with Greg LeMond, the three-time champion and first American winner of the Tour de France. LeMond is the man who put cycling in the U.S. on the map. In places like Philadelphia and Lancaster, cycling (and running) are mainstream participatory sports that exploded after LeMond won his first Tour in 1986. But frankly, that’s about all I knew about LeMond. Sure, I had heard about the comments regarding Lance Armstrong and now Floyd Landis, but it really didn’t seem like much of a big deal.

Isn’t every cyclist suspected of doping these days?

Still, some had written LeMond off as a bitter jerk since his record in France had been broken. No one seemed to notice when LeMond said Armstrong’s record run was the best thing the ever happened to cycling. But in July 2004 when LeMond said that “If Armstrong's clean, it's the greatest comeback. And if he's not, then it's the greatest fraud,” well, that made all the papers.

LeMond is right, of course, but you know…

Regardless, during the interview LeMond explained he realized doping took a firm grip on cycling when guys he never heard of rode by him like he was standing still – and he was in the best shape of his life with three Tour de France titles. Listening to LeMond it sounds as if cycling and baseball hit the doping era at the same time with similar results. While no-name riders were doing wheelies by the best rider in the world, the 50-homer plateau was topped 22 times from 1996 to now. From 1977 to 1995, one player hit 50 homers. Meanwhile, from 1961, when Roger Maris beat Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, to 1996, only three players hit 50 homers in a season.

From listening to LeMond it sounded as if all cyclists Brady Andersons were slugging 50 homers every year.

LeMond also revealed that during Floyd Landis’ ride for the Tour de France title it appeared as if the statistics were back to normal. He noted that he was withholding judgment about the defending champion (for now), and that he had a confidential conversation with Landis that he was going to keep private. This interview was originally recorded last August.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.

Dressed in another bold, yellow tie with a dark suit, Floyd Landis faced cross-examination on Tuesday in the USADA arbitration hearing. It is from the those hearings at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. where it will be determined whether or not the Lancaster County native gets to keep his Tour de France title or becomes the first rider in the long history of the race to be stripped of his yellow clothing.

Oddly, though, a majority of the questions Landis faced were regarding LeMond and his role in a potential witness tampering, which bordered on obscene and insane. Instead of answering questions about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs during the now infamous 17th stage of last summer’s Tour de France, Landis had to explain his actions regarding Will Geoghegan, his “friend” and former representative who threatened LeMond by telephone last week by threatening to reveal that LeMond had been sexual abused of which as a child, and which only Landis knew about.

From Eddie Pells of the Associated Press:
“Would you agree, that as my mother used to say, that a person's character is revealed more by their actions than their words?” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency attorney Matthew Barnett asked Landis.

“It sounds like a good saying,” Landis said.

Then, it got ugly, as Barnett dredged up events surrounding testimony LeMond gave last Thursday. On that day, the three-time Tour champion testified he'd received a phone call the night before from Landis' manager, Will Geoghegan, who threatened to divulge LeMond's secret.

USADA lawyers cross-examined Landis about everything from the color of his tie to the timing of his decision to fire his manager.

Barnett tried to portray Landis and Geoghegan as scheming together to keep LeMond from testifying, then not showing remorse until they got caught.

Landis said that although he was sitting near Geoghegan when the manager made the call last Wednesday night, he didn't know what was going on until later.

Barnett tried to pin him down on when, exactly, he told his attorneys of the call, and why he waited to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond revealed details of the call on the witness stand.

Landis testified that he told his attorneys about the call as soon as he arrived to the hearing room Thursday, though nobody thought to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond's testimony.

“In hindsight, I probably should have fired him immediately, but I needed someone to talk to,” Landis said.

USADA attorneys tried to portray Landis as an active participant in the LeMond plan. They pointed to his wardrobe that day -- a black suit with a black tie instead of the yellow tie he's worn every other day of the hearing -- as evidence that he had it in for LeMond.

“That's why I wore the black suit, because it was a terrible thing that happened,” Landis said. “It wasn't a thing to celebrate by wearing a yellow tie.”

Was the black tie symbolic support for LeMond?

“No. It was a disaster. Nothing good could come out of that day,” Landis said.

Landis was also questioned about some unflattering Internet postings where he called LeMond a "pathetic human," though didn’t seem to face much heat when it came to discussing doping.

The focus, as it appears, will be on the circus and not the science. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though. Credibility is the real issue in the arbitration hearing and to most folks it doesn’t seem as if Landis has any no matter what the science might say.

Why? Will Geoghegan, of course.

My mother used to say that a person is known by the company they keep. Or, as Rocky Balboa said in the original film, “If you have knucklehead friends, people will think you are a knucklehead.”

It’s difficult argue with that logic.

Look, we want to give Landis the benefit of the doubt and it seems like something is amiss with the tests and the ratios and everything involved in the epic ride to the Tour de France victory that should have been the best sports story of the year. But if Floyd is so willing to get down and dirty with a seemingly scorched earth attack where something as horrible as sexual abuse of a child is fair game.

Certainly Geoghegan was the one who made the calls to LeMond and Floyd said he was embarrassed by it all – but he didn’t do anything about it when it happened. To me that makes Landis complicit.

According to Lee Jenkins' story in The New York Times:

Landis and Geoghegan were clearly close. Landis said he gave Geoghegan all of his phone numbers, including LeMond’s. And Landis told Geoghegan that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child, after LeMond shared that secret with Landis.

Landis’s choice of friends and clothes were both on trial Tuesday. Barnett asked Landis why he showed up in court for LeMond’s testimony Thursday wearing all black, when he showed up the other days in much brighter colors. Landis has an obvious preference for yellow ties, evoking the yellow jersey worn by the Tour de France leader.

Through it all, watching from the gallery were Paul and Arlene Landis, the Mennonite parents of the most notorious bike rider in history. I wonder what they were thinking?

For the best recaps of the arbitration hearing, check out Trust But Verify, Steroid Nation and ESPN’s page of stories. Better yet, check out The Competitors Radio Show interview with San Diego Times-Union writer, Mark Zeigler. Good stuff.

Meanwhile, in baseball Jason Giambi says baseball owes the fans an apology for something and MLB wants to investigate. I guess being in baseball means you never have to apologize?

Tomorrow: Back to Baseball.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Stay tuned…

Tomorrow I will write an entire post about Floyd Landis, Greg LeMond, Falcon Crest and the latest in the USADA's arbitration case against the current Tour de France champ. I'd write about it today, but I really need to let my head to stop spinning so I can figure out what the hell just happened there…

Talk about a plot twist.

Anyway, for all your up-to-date information on the streaker at yesterday's Brewers-Phillies game in South Philly, I direct you to The Zo Zone, where our man Todd Zolecki takes you inside the mind of a public nudist that is so organic that it almost makes you want to double check to see if you haven't accidentally lost something.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hey, I told you so…

The idea this winter was that catcher Carlos Ruiz wasn’t quite ready to handle the intricacies of playing every day in the big leagues. So to help out the rookie backstop, the Phillies spent $3 million on Rod Barajas. But so far this season Barajas has struggled and his playing time has waned, while Ruiz is second amongst all rookies with 17 RBIs and fourth with 28 hits in just 98 at-bats heading into Thursday’s action.

Interestingly, the Phillies very easily could have had Ruiz and Chris Coste as the team’s catchers for the league minimum… or Mike Lieberthal for a third of Barajas’ salary.

So in our first installment of, “Hey, I told you so… ” Dennis Deitch of the Delaware County Daily Times offers a reprint of his story on the day the Phillies signed Barajas.

Phillies sign catcher Barajas

PHILADELPHIA – When Pat Burrell offered so little protection to Ryan Howard in the batting order that the eventual MVP couldn't get a pitch to hit, the Phillies turned to Jeff Conine, who offered some professionalism to the fifth spot in the batting order.

When Mike Lieberthal's injury-plagued career with the Phillies wound to an injury-plagued conclusion last season, Chris Coste filled the gap and hit .328, including .356 with runners in scoring position.

Conine and Coste received nifty Christmas presents from the Phillies Thursday for their 2006 efforts: Conine got a one-way ticket to Cincinnati, while Coste watched as Rod Barajas signed a one-year deal with the Phils to relegate last year's feel-good story to third-stringer.

Next up for Pat Gillick: A Christmas Eve reindeer hunt.

Actually, the Phillies' general manager isn't out to ruin the holidays for anyone – at least not purposely. But you have to wonder whether his personnel decisions in recent days are improving the Phillies.

According to Gillick, the signing of outfielder Jayson Werth Tuesday didn't leave much playing time for Conine in an outfield that includes Burrell and his disappearing act, Aaron Rowand and his well-worn Blue Cross/Blue Shield card, and Shane Victorino.

"We think we weren't going to be able to give Jeff the playing time we were a month ago, six weeks ago," Gillick said. "When Werth was completed, we thought the best plan for us was to move Jeff on. I know he wants playing time. Right now, we project Werth is going to get a majority of the playing time that Jeff had.

"We acquired a player who can do similar things. I'd say that at this point, Werth is a better option."

Hmm. That guy who does similar things is the same Werth who didn't play a game in 2005; who has had two surgeries to correct a wrist injury suffered 21 months ago and admittedly isn't completely healed; who has a shade over 800 big-league plate appearances and a career .245 average, compared to Conine and his 7,500 plate appearances and .286 lifetime average.

At least the Phils got a pair of underwhelming prospects in return – a no-bat third baseman named Brad Key, and outfielder Javon Moran, who originally started in the Phillies' organization, but was traded to Cincy for Cory Lidle in 2004.

"It was a little bit of a surprise a couple of days before Christmas to get the call from Pat Gillick," "Obviously I didn't have a long tenure there in Philadelphia."

As for Barajas, he received a $2.5 million contract from the Phils for 2007, with a team option for 2008. Barajas started about two-thirds of the games behind the plate for the Rangers over the last three seasons and averaged 16 homers and 53 RBIs per year in that span while batting a lukewarm .252.

It should be noted that Barajas put up those numbers in the American League, where the No. 9 hitter in the lineup often sees a healthy dose of fastballs. That particularly was the case for Barajas, who was hitting in front of players like Gary Matthews Jr., David Dellucci and Michael Young while in Texas.

There was some controversy when Barajas changed agents after some reports had him reaching a verbal agreement with the Blue Jays last month.

"I wanted to the right fit for me," Barajas said. "This feels completely right."

According to the Phillies, Barajas and Carlos Ruiz will share time behind the plate, with performance determining which catcher makes the majority of starts.

So, does Coste at least have a spot on the club as a bench player solidified?

"I can't use the word solidify," Gillick said. "We still need a left-handed hitter. The fact that Werth can catch some … there's some flexibility there. If we acquire a left-handed hitter, someone could be in jeopardy."

Hard to believe a guy who hit .328 who showed a knack for clutch hitting and delivering in the pinch might be at peril … but so says Gillick.

When it comes to protecting Howard in the order next season, Gillick said, "If we don't get another hitter, we'll probably make an internal adjustment to back up Ryan."

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Keep on dancing

Since the first time I went to a Major League Baseball game in 1976, I’ll guess that I’ve been to over 1,000 games. Add in little league games, legion games, high school and college to go with a bunch of minor league games and it could be another thousand ballgames.

Whatever the actual total is, it’s a lot of games.

Yet of all those games I’ve seen exactly one – ONE – no-hitter. I watched a few on TV, but as far as being in the park to witness a no-hitter that honor goes to Kevin Millwood when he blanked the Giants at the Vet in 2003. I saw Eric Milton get to within three outs of getting one and Vicente Padilla come four outs away. I also saw one-hitters from Jim Gott/Roy Lee Jackson in 1982 and Randy Wolf at the Vet against the Reds in 2001.

I’ve seen more cycles at the Bank (David Bell and Brad Wilkerson) than no-hitters, ever.

Nevertheless, I thought I was going to witness one last night, though in the end it really didn’t get that close.

Cole Hamels, of course, carried a perfect game into the seventh inning and came within nine outs of finishing the no-hitter. That’s close, but still an inning away from it really getting interesting. Regardless, in facing one of the better hitting teams in the Majors (the Brewers lead all of MLB with 51 homers) Hamels seemed like he was the Harlem Globetrotters with the bucket of confetti and the ball on the string against the Washington Generals.

Quite simply, Hamels can pitch the way most people breathe, eat or go into out-of-control credit debt.

But what’s most interesting about this fact is that Hamels knows he is very, very good and doesn’t mind saying so. Better yet, he does this without arrogance or coming off as too overbearingly cocky. Instead, he’s just refreshingly confident and candid. In the clubhouse after the game last night, Hamels was asked if he thought he was going to get the no-hitter and if he believes he will get one in sometime soon in the future and he didn’t even hesitate with the answer.

“Oh course,” he said. “I try to think that every night… ”


“Of course. Every year I go out there and try to get at least one.”

It doesn’t sound outlandish that Hamels will someday toss a no-hitter, but then again people used to say it was just a matter of time before Steve Carlton threw one, too. When his career had ended, Carlton had six one-hitters to his credit and zero no-hitters.

Last night Brett Myers pitched in the third game in a row and his fifth of the last seven despite the Phillies holding a comfortable four-run lead and a bullpen full of relievers waiting to get a little work in. Manager Charlie Manuel has always maintained that he views four-run leads as save situations in cozy Citizens Bank Park, but even so using Myers in such a situation was a little curious.

Sure, Myers is stretched out and pitched around 200 innings for the last few seasons, but there has to be a delicate balance for how much a reliever can pitch…


Nevertheless, when asked if he would be ready to go today if he got another call in the ninth, Myers was succinct.

“Yep,” he said.

Meanwhile, much has been made about Myers’ choice of entrance music that is played over the PA as he makes the jog from the bullpen to the mound for the ninth inning; though it wasn’t queued up for last night’s outing because no one thought he’d get into the game.

Anyway, Myers wants “Children of the Grave,” the White Zombie version of the Black Sabbath song, to be played as he comes into the game. Apparently, in some sort of faux machismo, Myers believes Rob Zombie and the gang get the crowd “pumped up.”

“Doesn't it have that aura about it?” Myers asked.

Uh, no. No it doesn’t.

If you're going with Sabbath, it has to be "War Pigs."

However, here’s an idea – instead of some pretend phony toughness delivered through the majesty of song, maybe it would be more of a mind scramble if Myers entered the game to Lesley Gore's "Sunshine and Lollipops?"

Better yet, I have always believed that if a player was going to take the time to select a song in which to choreograph his appearance in a baseball game, that player should also perform an interpretive dance or performance art piece using the song on their way to the batters’ box or mound.

Hey, it’s a game, right? Let’s have some fun.

Here we are now, entertain us.

More: Lesley Gore – Sunshine and Lollipops

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Re: Add to Cole Hamels facts

You cannot jinx Cole Hamels. Cole Hamels jinxes you.


Waiting out the rain

While sitting here waiting out the long rain delay before the Phillies-Brewers game where ace Cole Hamels will take on Jeff Suppan, I thought it would be a good idea to break out the old-time baseball shows to keep busy. Here’s an episode of “The Baseball Bunch.”

Stay tuned… more pithy comments on sports and sports byproducts to follow.

Some people say there is a statistic to prove anything. Numbers, they say, can be manipulated to make just about any argument.

With that in mind, a story on Slate magazine argued that Roger Clemens is worth every penny the Yankees will pay him for pitching for four months this season. Better yet, they have the statistics and a formula to prove it.

The formula looks like this:

PCT = RS2 / (RS2 + RA2)

Yeah, I have no idea what it means and I’m not sure I want to risk the headache by attempting to think about it either. But if anyone out there wants to argue the argument, give it a go by checking out the Slate story.

From here on out there will be no math.

Speaking of numbers, it should be noted that a Sherpa named, simply, Apa, broke the all-time record for climbs to the top of Mount Everest on Wednesday. Apa Sherpa, as he’s known, reached the summit of the world’s tallest mountain for the 17th time to break the record of 16, which he held. The most ascents following Apa is Chewang Nima, who at 41 completed his 14th climb last year.

Apa is 47 years old and first reached the top of Everest on May 10, 1990 and has completed the climb every year since, except for the infamous 1996 expedition that was chronicled by Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air. Interestingly, Apa is the leader of a group of guides called The Super Sherpas.

New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, are credited as the first men to reach the rooftop of the world in 1953, though there is some belief that English climber George Mallory made it to the top during his ill-fated climb in 1924.

Mallory is credited with the using the quip, “Because it is there,” when asked why he wanted to attempt to climb Everest.

This could be the last time I ever get to write anything about Sherpas, specifically Apa Sherpa, so I’m taking full advantage. Thanks for indulging.

Speaking of taking one giant leap for mankind, Ryan Howard trotted around the field before the heavy rains poured over South Philly today. Still on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps muscle, Howard will start working out with former team trainer Jeff Cooper (and currebt medical staff consultant) next Tuesday before heading out on a rehab assignment to Lakewood on May 23 and 24.

Anyone who reads the stuff I write on this site knows that I am a running freak. Besides that, readers will note that I often write about marathoner Deena Kastor, who is currently the best American distance runner out there and probably the best since Joan Samuelson. If Joanie is No. 1, Deena is an Olympic gold medal away from replacing her – she already broke her old marathon record twice.

So it is with great concern and trepidation that we wish Deena a speedy recovery and long term health from her latest bout with skin cancer. Deena updates her progress on her site and cautions runners and outdoorsy types to be smart about sun exposure and diligent in getting regular screenings. Sometimes it’s a pain, but it’s not too difficult to wear proper clothing or to apply sunscreen before going outside. I certainly know that I’m often lazy about this basic bit of prevention, but I’m going to say it anyway:

Wear your sunscreen! Better yet, make sure your kids wear it, too.

Anyway, send good thoughts or prayers or whatever positive vibes Deena’s way so she can get back to the business of kicking ass with a 100 percent bill of health very soon.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Every day is game day

The good thing about baseball is that anytime you need to take a day or two away, the game will be there when you get back. Baseball is not like the second part of a movie or an episodic television show where a person needs to keep up with the back story in order to enjoy it. Sure, it helps, but it’s not really necessary.

It is just baseball after all.

So after taking a few days away from following the baseball team to travel around with my family, it’s pretty easy to jump back in. The Phillies are still fighting to get back to .500, the bullpen is still a question mark and Ryan Howard’s struggles continue when he was sent to the 15-day disabled list with a strained quad and a sore knee.

As the season progresses the Phillies should continue to be a team of streaks and should win more than they lose. The bullpen, unless Pat Gillick can make a deal to get some help, will remain a sore spot. And Ryan Howard will continue to have trouble with his knees and legs until he gets in shape.

It’s pretty simple.

Howard, as he says and everyone noticed when he was a minor leaguer, is a big dude. But when he showed up in Clearwater for spring training he was an even bigger dude. Frankly, he looks soft and it’s funny to see him and remember that some speculated that he could have used performance-enhancing drugs during his breakout season last year. If he was taking steroids, it was pointed out then; he was taking the wrong kind.

Certainly baseball is littered with the failed careers of players who simply couldn’t keep in shape. Along those lines, many more careers were cut short for the same reason. In that regard, John Kruk comes to mind. Greg Luzinski, too. Mo Vaughn was another slugging first baseman whose injuries seemed rooted in his lack of fitness.

The good folks at Baseball Prospectus took note of Howard’s physique when putting together their annual yearbook in which they surmised that Howard, at 26, could be peaking:

Historically, players like Howard, big-bodied guys with limited defensive skills such as Mo Vaughn and Boog Powell, tended to have high but brief peak periods. Their legs just couldn’t carry that much mass for very long, and around 30 their defense plummeted, their playing time dropped due to nagging injuries, and their singles dried up and disappeared. The Phillies should have a three-year window in which they can expect this kind of production from Howard, but should not plan beyond that.

Mo Vaughn was washed up at 34. Greg Luzinski played his last season when he was 33. John Kruk walked away for a pinch runner after getting a single in a late July game for the Chicago White Sox when he was 34. Their bodies just couldn’t take the rigors of a baseball season any more.

Ryan Howard is a big dude looking for an even bigger paycheck. A good way to get to where he and the Phillies need him to be is to get in shape.

Chris Coste took Howard’s place on the roster when he was placed on the disabled list. But unlike last May when Coste’s call-up led to a nearly a full season of MLB service time, don’t expect this stint to last too long. The talk around the club is that Coste will go back to Triple-A Ottawa when Howard is ready.

Then again, no one expected his stay to last too long last year, either.

I have a theory that if baseball or soccer were introduced to Americans in 2007 with no prior knowledge of its existence, people would hate it. Baseball, more than any other sport, seems to be one that’s passed down from father to son or whomever – and yes, that’s as close to getting all Field of Dreams on anyone. That crap is just so annoying…

Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that Major League Baseball isn’t exactly a flashpoint with folks involved in the endurance sporting world. In fact, the runners, cyclists and triathletes that I’m friendly with don’t really keep up with more than one of the major sports – typically that one is football or hockey.

To a lot of them, a baseball game is a good way to wile away an afternoon with some junk food and a beer or two following a hard training session.

So when Outside magazine – billed as a periodical “dedicated to covering the people, sports and activities, politics, art, literature, and hardware of the outdoors...” – offered a small feature on a baseball player in its June issue…


The player, of course, is Barry Zito and the feature (an interview) didn’t cover much ground or space. The topics ranged from surfing and how it has helped Zito with his pitching, to meditation and yoga, which Zito is a well-known practitioner of.

An excerpt:

Question: You also do yoga and meditate, which has led the baseball press to label you as flaky.

Zito: The most outdoorsy these guys get is playing golf or hunting. So if I play guitar or surf or do yoga, I’m some weirdo. But you have to take it for what it is. Baseball is one of the oldest games in the country. There are definitely stereotypes, but I think we’re breaking through those things.

Given the choice of a DVD of Point Break or The Natural, Zito says he’d take Point Break.

Now that’s weird. The yoga and meditation is hardly anything unoriginal or flaky. It’s smart.

I’d love to write much more about the Floyd Landis arbitration hearing, but I’m pacing myself. Interestingly, though, I thought the yellow tie Landis wore to yesterday’s hearing was a nice touch and sent a bit of a message.

Yellow, of course, being the color of jersey the leader (and winner) of the Tour de France wears.

Another interesting point came from Juliet Macur of The New York Times:

TOMORROW, the American cyclist Floyd Landis, the would-be heir to Lance Armstrong, steps before an arbitration panel in California to rebut the charge that his come-from-behind victory last year in cycling’s most celebrated race was a fraud.

If he loses, Landis will become the first winner in the 103-year history of the Tour de France to be stripped of the victor’s yellow jersey because of doping. The disastrous toll his case has exacted on cycling’s credibility — races canceled for lack of sponsors, teams abandoned by their corporate underwriters, fans staying home — offers a stark picture of what can happen when a sport finally confronts its drug problem in a serious way.

This couldn’t be where baseball is headed, could it?

Very interesting.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Stayed tuned...

We will return in full force tomorrow chock full of fun facts (or whatever) on Ryan Howard, Chris Coste, Barry Zito and Floyd Landis.

Until then...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Our man Chuck

Most former NBA stars rarely do interviews with The New Republic or magazines of that ilk. That's of course if one ignores the position paper on Keynesian economics that Larry Bird wrote for The Financial Times a few years ago.

But in the latest offering of The New Republics' web site, Charles Barkley speaks (surprise!) candidly about everything but basketball. Called Beyond Basketball: Race, Class, and Politics, Chuck lays it out.

Apropos of nothing, how great would it be to have someone like Charles Barkley playing for a Philadelphia team now?

More: Charles Barkley hates on xenophobes...
Beyond Basketball: Race, Class, and Politics

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

It ain't where you're from...

While perusing the rosters of the Atlantic League clubs, the independent baseball league centered in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, there was one particular name that jumped off the page. The player spent a little bit of time with the Phillies with a legitimate chance to earn a spot in the bullpen – or maybe even as a spot starter – until an arm injury knocked him out of commission. Four years and three big league organizations later and ex-Phillie is pitching in the Atlantic League.

That’s the way it goes sometimes.

But upon seeing his name I quickly contacted a Phillies insider to tell him about my “sighting.”

“Good guy, super smart and really had a chance to stick around. It’s a shame he got hurt. That’s quite a fall to be pitching in that league.”

Frankly, I like it when guys refuse to quit. That’s especially the case with players who were right there and all they had to do in order to put together a decent Major League career was to do the work. It’s a simple as that – work hard and be rewarded. But then those killer injuries come and wipe out all that development and it’s back to the end of the line.

It happens too many times to count.

Feeling indignant and a little saucy, I figured it would be interesting to tweak my mystery baseball insider to see what kind of reaction I’d get.

“I bet Pitcher X could be in the Phillies bullpen right now. What do you think?”


“What do you mean no? You mean to tell me the Pitcher X isn’t as good as Francisco Rosario or Clay Condrey?”

“No, I’m not saying that at all. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Pitcher X was as good as a quarter of the guys pitching on big league staffs. That’s not the point.”

Then he dropped the dozy.

“There are no secrets in professional baseball. If someone can play, we know about him. And there is a reason why someone is playing in the Atlantic League… ”

I thought about that as I watched Pete Rose Jr., Carl Everett, Edgardo Alfonso and Damian Rolls take their hacks at Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster tonight. I especially thought about it when Everett – who seemed to struggle with a mid-80s fastball thrown by the Lancaster pitcher – came to the plate and my wife started reminiscing about a game at Fenway the day before the 2000 Boston Marathon when Jurassic Carl slugged a walk-off homer to win it for the Red Sox. For about five minutes, Everett was The Man with the Sox. Now he hits cleanup for the Long Island Ducks behind Petey Rose.

It can be a cruel game sometimes.

Everett went 0-for-2 in the plate appearances I saw, though Rose was 2-for-2 with a home run that just cleared the high right-field fence in Lancaster. A few pitches later I took off for home partially because it was raining, partially because it was just about bed time for my three-year old and mostly because it took nearly 60 minutes for them to play two full innings. That’s right on pace for a 4- hour, nine-inning game.

The first thing I noticed about Ryan Howard watching him play for Reading and a call-up with the Phillies a few summers ago, it was how quickly made adjustments in his stance and swing at the plate. In fact, he didn’t simply make changes from at-bat to at-bat or game to game, but instead he made them from pitch to pitch.

Even when he struck out – which was (and is) often – Howard looks like he has a plan.

So just before he smashed his game-winning, pinch-hit grand slam to help the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks yesterday, it appeared as if Howard did something different. Maybe he was more open or had his weight more evenly distributed than putting the bulk of it on his sore back leg – who knows. Whatever it was it worked.

And it was something different than the noticeably upright stance he used the day before in a pinch-hitting role when Howard clearly was having trouble with his injured left quad. Needless to say, the over-compensation on Wednesday night was on the money.

Bruce Sutter did it. So did Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers. Now Brett Myers has done it, too.

What’s that, you ask?

A two-inning save.

Having not pitched all week and with a much-needed off-day looming, Charlie Manuel rightly chose to use his closer for six outs to avoid, I mean give his ‘pen an extra day of rest.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Where to turn?

If one really wanted to know what Charlie Manuel thinks about the arsenal of arms he has in his bullpen, look no further than the seventh inning of last night’s game in Phoenix during the 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. Rather than pinch hit with Ryan Howard, Wes Helms or Jayson Werth for starting pitcher Adam Eaton with runners on first and third with two outs, Manuel decided to roll the dice on Eaton.

It didn’t work.

Eaton grounded out to end the inning before going out to the mound for the bottom of the seventh where he gave up a two-out titanic homer to pinch hitter Tony Clark.

That’s your ballgame right there.

After the game Manuel said he went with Eaton to hit in that spot because if he would have sent Howard up the D’backs would have intentionally walked him to load the bases… as if that’s a bad thing. Frankly, it’s a 50-50 shot if the D’backs would have walked Howard simply because it doesn’t appear as if he can put any weight on his back leg when he swings. Right now, Howard is an easy out. Besides, if Howard gets walked, Aaron Rowand comes up and he’s hitting .407 with the bases loaded.

I doubt Charlie knew that – or cared. Simply, Manuel would rather have Eaton out there in the seventh than turn to his Posh Spice-thin bullpen. With the way Manuel is using his ‘pen, it’s clear he has some faith in Geoff Geary and no one else before the game is turned over to Brett Myers.

Ideally, Manuel needs a couple of complete games and a few days of rain.

Hamels and Moyer and pray for rain…

There has to be something snappier we can come up with – what type of dramatic weather event rhymes with Moyer?

Speaking of Jamie Moyer, the ol’ lefty matches up against 43-year old Randy Johnson for today’s series finale. I’ll spare you all of the old pitcher comparisons, except for this one – Moyer and Johnson have faced Bob Dernier in a combined 21 plate appearances. “White Lightning” has five hits, a stolen base and two strikeouts against today’s starters.

Unfortunately for my six readers, I’m going to miss this weekend’s series against the Cubs because my wife, son and I are going to Rehoboth Beach for an extended weekend. With a new addition coming in August, the annual summertime trip to Estes Park, Colo. is out for 2007, so our old vacation haunt gets the another off-season call.

Nevertheless, we’ll continue to post here when the opportunity arises, especially after tomorrow night’s walk through the F&M campus to Clipper Stadium to see the local sandlot team, the Lancaster Barnstormers play the Long Island Ducks.

This is Atlantic League Baseball, which, stunningly, is much worse than I had anticipated. In fact, watching more than two innings of the Barnstormers "play" is so frustratingly agonizing that watching someone have a suit tailored is much more interesting. Regardless, the quality of the baseball is clearly not the point at a Lancaster Barnstormers game – in a city with a dearth of excitement, the night out while attempting to corral a three-year old is the main pursuit.

Baseball-wise, Lancaster’s second baseman is Bo Hart, who may be remembered as Fernando Vina’s replacement for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. Long Island has former All-Star Danny Graves in the bullpen; former Cardinals and Yankees pitcher Donovan Osborne, as well as outfielder Carl Everett, former Mets standout Edgardo Alfonzo, and an infielder in his 19th season of pro ball named Pete Rose Jr.

Yeah, how about that?

Anyway, the game starts at 7 p.m. and I should be back home no later than 8:30 or until Jurassic Carl knocks one onto Harrisburg Pike... whichever comes first.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

'Dear Mr. Dork'

It’s time to add a new favorite player into our elite group of baseball players. To get into this veritable Hall of Fame, the criterion is very cut-and-dried – personality matters. Forget talent and style. Those things matter, but they’re way down the list. To make my list of top baseball players, nothing is more important than entertainment value. That’s why players like Aaron Rowand and Jamie Moyer are better than Roger Clemens or Alex Rodriguez.

Besides, who wants a ballplayer that recites lines scripted right out of Bull Durham?

There’s another guy to add to the list, but not for anything he said to the press or did on the field. Actually, it’s how he interacted with a fan during the middle of a game that got this star superstar status.

That player? Vernon Wells.

Here’s what happened:

Apparently the Blue Jays’ Wells had been heckled mercilessly by a couple of guys in the cheap seats (actually, there are no cheap seats anymore, but until there is a more apt term we’ll stick with the popular nomenclature) in Cleveland. As the game wore on, the yapping from the fans grew louder and louder as more fans piled on.

Finally, after taking the abuse for six innings, Wells wrote a message on a baseball a tossed it to the ringleader. The message read:

Dear Mr. Dork,
Here is your ball! Can you please tell me what gas station you work at, so when you are pumping my gas, I can yell at you!!! Now sit down, shut up and enjoy the game.
- Your favorite centerfielder

Vernon, you had us at “Mr. Dork.”

On another note, Wells and the Blue Jays come to the Bank next weekend. Perhaps the Jays should pack an extra bushel of balls to write out messages for the hometown fans?

More: Indians fan wants last laugh
More: Interview with the ringleader heckler

No one asked, and I’m not particularly interested in football during baseball season or the months between January and December, but it seems as if the Eagles have quarterback controversy over who will be the starter three years from now.

Things like that always remind me of a quote from Tug McGraw, who upon calmly and coolly slipping out of a jam against The Big Red Machine’s murder’s row of Joe Morgan, George Foster, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench with his typical aplomb, Tug was asked how he kept his composure: “Well,” he said. “Ten million years from now, when the sun burns out and the Earth is just a frozen snowball hurtling through space, nobody's going to care whether or not I got this guy out.”

Just like we won't care that the Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb in the second round when Donovan McNabb, still 30, was coming back from yet another injury.

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Garcia improving, Howard not

Freddy Garcia injured himself by running full speed into a maintenance vehicle parked on the field during batting practice in San Francisco last weekend, which left the Phillies wondering if he could make his start in Arizona on Monday night.

There was no report on how much damage was done to the vehicle.

Not only did Garcia pitch after smashing into the maintenance cart, but he also turned in his best outing as a Phillie. No, that’s not a backhanded compliment considering that Garcia had not pitched past the fifth inning since joining the Phillies and had an ERA north of 6, but it’s something to build on.

Nevertheless, at times it appeared as if Garcia was limping or favoring the soreness in his shin after the accident. He also pitched just as deliberately (read: slooooooooow) as he typically does, as well.

But Garcia pitched well and felt good. That’s important for the Phillies. If he didn’t have to come out for a pinch hitter at the end of the sixth, Garcia could have gone deeper into the game since he only threw 70 pitches.

Regardless, there is no truth that Garcia plans on running into a wheel barrel or stepping on a rake before his next outing.

Speaking of injuries, Ryan Howard really looks like he could be hurt because his swing and stance appear off. I’m no doctor or Walt Hriniak, so this is based purely on watching the games on TV, but it seems as if Howard is more upright and open than usual in his stance. It also seems as if he’s having difficulty distributing his weight during his swing.

Howard said: "My quad hasn't been the best. It's my back leg. It's my leg that I push off of that helps generate that power. When you're off, you're rushing things. You're off balance. Right now, I just can't stay on my back side, so I'm pushing everything forward and trying to go get everything instead of letting it come to me. It's just a matter of getting back to trusting myself, being relaxed and having fun."

Based on reports from Arizona it seems as if there is some concern about Howard’s balky left quadriceps and a trip to the disabled list is not out of the question.

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