What a Glorious Day…There’s More Baseball to be Played!

Citizens Bank Ballpark Game Five of the World Series was what we’ve been waiting for and, as a result, there’s more baseball to be played.

Hallelujah!

As Dave Sheinin wrote in this morning’s Washington Post, “The Yankees still hold a 3-2 edge in the series, but it feels exponentially smaller than it did 24 hours ago.”

In his Washington Post column, Tom Boswell has a wonderful piece on how this has turned into an “Old School Series.”  How right he is.  And he nails the landing:

Once back in New York, Matsui and Posada will be back in the lineup. Pettitte will be set to pitch a game that might be Exhibit A on his Hall of Fame résumé someday. Utley will take aim at Reggie-Reggie-Reggie. A-Rod has a chance to be MVP and own New York for decades. Girardi won’t sleep for the next 48 hours. Martínez has a chance to reverse the “Daddy” chants for a day and bring baseball a Game 7 that would raise the hair on heads from coast to coast.

This is what we wanted. It’s almost here.

Enjoy.

More to come…

DJB

Success and Excellence

BaseballWhen Thomas Boswell decides to write a baseball column, we are all the richer.

Thankfully we’re in luck, as today’s Washington Post contained a Boswell gem entitled Phillies Thrive on the Quirky Wisdom of Charlie Manuel.

There’s a lot to savor in this column:

Many have been amazed at the Phils’ gift for clutch play in this postseason, including late heroics by Werth and Ryan Howard that were topped here Monday night when Jimmy Rollins, the 5-foot-8 shortstop who is the core of the clubhouse, turned around a 99-mph fastball from 290-pound Jonathan Broxton and became the fifth man in postseason history to turn a defeat into victory when he represented the last out of the game.

But Manuel isn’t surprised at all by the Phillies’ comeback knack and their ability to shake off blown saves all season by their dubious bullpen. He and others in the front office, like Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro, believe you can identify players who are at their best under pressure because they are both energized and focused by the spotlight, not paralyzed or distracted by it.

Charlie Manuel quotes an old Boswell book, The Heart of the Order, and a key Boswell precept: “There is no substitute for excellence – not even success.”

“You’ve got to be totally relaxed, you’ve got to stay focused and it gets back to the [idea of] excellence over success,” said Manuel. “If you strive to be the best, then success will be there.”

Charlie boiled it down to:  “Don’t get hung up on success and what people think of you; focus on excellence, play the game the right way, enjoy the moment and don’t be scared of it.”

It is nice to see the Phillies – and their quirky manager who fundamentally understands the game –  in the World Series again.

More to come…

DJB

Do I Love Baseball Quotes? You Betcha!

The Philadelphia Phillies win the 2008 World Series in one of the strangest ways imaginable – closing out a game that began in the bottom of the 6th after a 46 hour rain-delay – and the morning papers are full of the great quotes and writing that make baseball such a delight.  Can you imagine getting an intelligible quote out of a football coach after the Super Bowl?  Of course not.  But even the lowliest man on the World Series roster can provide some wonderful, thought-provoking line that brings a smile.

Here are a few gems I picked up from today’s Washington Post and New York Times.

The Phillies and Rays turned a mess into a mini-masterpiece, transforming a suspended game into a tense, 79-minute suspension of disbelief. – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

A game that began with a deluge has washed away an epic drought. The Philadelphia Phillies have won the World Series. – Tyler Kepner, New York Times

Rays Manager Joe Maddon said he considered using phenom lefty David Price from the start Wednesday night, but decided to use a matchup-focused bullpen strategy instead.  “Retrospectively, may you could have done that [with Price] but I really had it mapped out the exact way it occurred…[The Phillies] just did not cooperate with their offense.” – Maddon as quoted in the Washington Post by Dave Sheinin

“It’s kind of weird, kind of odd, that the game is going to start with the seventh inning stretch,” said the Phillies’ Brett Myers, who exaggerated by an inning, but made his point nonetheless… – Quoted by Tyler Kepner in the New York Times.

“‘The mind, once stretched, can never return to its original form.’  I like that expression.  Our minds have been stretched.  Our players will never be satisfied again with less than winning.” – Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon on his teams “worst-to-first” rise in the American League, as quoted by Tom Boswell

The Fog Bowl and Jeff Ruland, Scott Stevens and Joe Carter – all of the symbols of local futility – can be put to rest.  The Philadelphia fan does not need them anymore as proof of a hardened soul.  Hearts are light now, joy has come to Mudville.  The Phillies are champions. – Tyler Kepner on the long drought between Philadelphia championships, in the New York Times

More to come…

DJB

Bang-Bang Plays

With two bang-bang plays at the plate, I may have been an eyewitness to the week when we see the crowning of the Philadelphia Phillies as repeat NL East Champions amidst another historic Mets breakdown.

Friends will know that a couple of years ago I started on a quest to visit every Major League ballpark.  And in the last week of the 2008 season, I was lucky enough to squeeze in my fourth new stadium visit of the year.

Don and Nancy, friends and great preservationists from Philadelphia, read of my goal on More to Come.  Don called a week ago and said “I have three tickets – two for Nancy and me and one for you if you can make it.”  That was all I needed to hear, and I was on I-95 for the short two-hour drive to Philly yesterday afternoon.

Citizens Bank Park is a beautiful stadium, opened a couple of years ago.  After a short walk around the park and picking up my free “Fightin’ Phils” rally towel, I joined Don and Nancy for dinner and baseball in terrific seats right behind the plate.  Getting to see the ballpark was a treat in itself.  Experiencing a fantastic game in the last week of a red hot pennant race was heaven.

The Phillies entered last night’s game 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mets for the NL East title with 7 games left to go.  The Mets were playing the Chicago Cubs (who’ve already clinched the NL Central title) in New York, trying desperately not to fall out of the playoffs as they did last year when they squandered a 7 game lead with 17 games left to play.  The Phillies jumped to a quick one run lead in the first and the home fans were ready for more.

In a crisply played game (how many American League games are over in two and a half hours), the Atlanta Braves battled back and tied the game 2-2.  It stayed that way until the eighth.  In the meantime, scoreboard watching was required, as the fans cheered when the Cubs took an early lead and then became restless when the Mets came back to tie it 2-2 in New York.

Two bang-bang plays gave a clue as to how the night was going to turn out.  In the middle innings, the Braves had a runner on third with less than two outs, and the Phils had the infield in.  On a sharp grounder, Phils Shortstop Jimmy Rollins fired to the catcher just in time to beat a sliding runner for the out.  The crowd roared.

In the meantime, careful scoreboard watchers noted that the Cubs had loaded the bases against the Mets in the 4th inning, and when the Cubs-Mets score changed from 2-2 to 6-2 in one fell swoop, the crowd exploded.  The score was highlighted on the big screen, and only later would we learn that it was the Cubs pitcher who hit the grand slam.  Incredible!  Maybe those two losses to the Nationals last week really rattled the Mets.

The bottom of the eighth arrived in Philadelphia with the score still tied at 2-2.  The crowd was getting nervous.  But a leadoff single, followed by a throwing error on a pick-off move, put pinch runner Greg Golson on third base.  Time for the second bang-bang play.  On a grounder to third, Golson broke for home.  The throw beat him, but Golson got his foot on home plate just before the tag, and the crowd erupted (see opening photo).  Two very similar plays.  Two vastly different results.

To make sure the run stood, Pat Burrell added a three-run home run later in the inning and the celebration was on (see photo above) with rally towels in abundance.  Mopping up in the 9th was simple, and I headed back down I-95, listening on XM Radio to Kerry Wood of the Cubs throw three heaters past a hapless Mets batter to wrap up a Cubs win and to give the Phils a 2 1/2 game lead in the division.  Great night, great pennant race, and great ballpark.  It only seemed appropriate – given that Don and Nancy are big bluegrass music fans – to crank up XM Bluegrass Junction on Track 14 for the ride through Delaware and Maryland.  Thanks Don and Nancy!

More to come…

DJB