September 2006

Gloomy Saturday

6:46 p.m.

That was the time on my home computer when the Padres’ game ended in Phoenix.  I was clinging to hope on GameCast.  But San Diego won.  A few minutes earlier, the Dodgers won, thus eliminating the Phillies from a postseason berth on the last day of summer, a gloomy Saturday.

The wild ride that started after the July 31 trade deadline didn’t end with a wild card.

It is disappointing, frustrating, upsetting, demoralizing—whatever you want to call it—for everyone, Charlie Manuel and his staff, the players, everyone in the organization and the passionate Phillies fans. Winning a championship is the Phillies’ goal. 

Oh, the Phillies have had winning seasons in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and this year but a winning record falls short.. 

It sort of reminds me of the 1976, 1977 and 1978 seasons.  The Phillies won the Eastern Division pennant each year but never made it to the World Series. 

Tomorrow the book closes on the season, game #162.  The team will return home.  Players will pack their belongings at Citizens Bank Park on Monday and then head for their homes.

While the Hunt for October won’t play in Philadelphia this year, there’s hope for next season.  There’s a lot young talent on the club.  Will spring training ever get here?

Travel Nightmare

Meet Frank Coppenbarger, a gentleman in his 18th season with the Phillies.  He originally came east from the Cardinals as the Clubhouse and Equipment Manager.  Later, he acquired the additional duties as traveling secretary. 

Transportation and hotels are one of his many chores.  It takes a lot of planning to move the team around the country.   

Frank held at team meeting on Friday, September 22, at Citizens Bank Park.  The message: “As you know, we’re going on our last regular-season road trip (Washington/Miami). After that, we might have to return home for a Monday tie-breaker game or a Tuesday tie-breaker game, or return home on Sunday night (Oct. 1) and leave for St. Louis the next day, or leave Miami on Sunday night for San Diego or Los Angeles, or stay in Miami Sunday night in case SD and LA have a Monday playoff game.”

That double-talk message was nothing compared to what he faced last night in Washington, DC.

As most people know, the Phillies waited 4 hours and 27 minutes before starting the crucial game against the Nationals.  The outcome stung. Washington won, 3-1. 

It was during the rain delay that Frank’s life became very complicated:

**Because of a 62-person traveling party, Frank had chartered a 757 through Delta to carry the team to Miami after the game.

**That plane arrived in DC at 9:00 p.m.  That was the good news.  The bad news: with the late start of the game and the anticipated end of the game, the pilots wouldn’t be able to fly because of union rules.

**Plan A:  Delta began checking the availability of pilots.  The issue became further complicated because not every pilot is qualified to fly a 757.  A pilot was located in Washington but a co-pilot couldn’t be located.

**Plan B: The pilots who flew the Reds to Pittsburgh on a 737-800 (a little smaller) could fly that plane to Washington.  The crew, in turn, could then fly the Phillies to Miami but a different plane was needed.  Only complication: the crew and plane couldn’t get to DC until 4:00 a.m.

**Plan C: Frank contacted the team hotel in DC (Grand Hyatt) to see if he could get rooms in case they had to stay overnight in Washington.  The hotel had 41 rooms available.  The players’ union contract stipulates that players get single rooms.  Frank felt he could get the players to waive that rule.  He began pairing people. 

**Plan D: A 737 that was bringing the Mets to Washington would be the aircraft the Phillies could use to get to Miami and the pilots flying the Reds would be the crew.  That was the final answer.

**Plan E: Frank canceled the Grand Hyatt rooms.

**The Phillies buses left RFK Stadium at 3:00 a.m., the airplane took off at the Dulles airport at 5:00 a.m. and landed in Miami at 7:30 a.m. in time for rush-hour traffic. They got to the hotel at 8:30 a.m.  Frank got his luggage at 2:15 p.m.

Now, the Phillies are faced with a 7:09 game against the Marlins tonight, followed by a 1:25 Saturday afternoon game and a 1:05 Sunday afternoon game.  At the other end of the country, the Giants host the Dodgers for three games.  Phillies fans are also Giants fans this final weekend.

Frank, by the way, has seen his grey crew cut turn greyer and greyer.

Gutty Win

Anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy.  I don’t know who said that but it certainly applied to last night’s gut-wrenching, must-win game in Washington. 

How about Chase Utley! 

His next run scored will put him in exclusive company, the 21st player in MLB history to reach 200 hits, 30 homers, 100 RBI and 130 runs in a single season.  Among the names on that list are Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Alex Rodriquez, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial and Chuck Klein.

Chase got to 200 hits last night.  Dave Cash was the last Phillies second baseman to reach to that number, 213 in 1975 and 206 the year before.  Cash didn’t walk often which triggered “he’s not a prototype leadoff hitter” complaints (we didn’t even have e-mail back then).   

It was great seeing Phillies fans at RFK Stadium emotionally hanging on every pitch.  TV did a great job showing the passionate Phillies fans. 

Remember the Phillies’ opening-season ad campaign, “Paint the Town Red?”  Well, the fans have brought it back.  Red is in.

Speaking of TV, Comcast SportsNet’s rating last night hit 9.6 (about 280,000 homes were watching the game).  That’s the highest regular-season rating ever for any sport carried by CSN. 

ESPN has picked up Friday night’s game from Miami (game time moved tom 7:35 to 7:09 p.m.).  ESPN will be blacked out in the Philly region as the game will be on CSN.  Saturday is a 1:25 p.m. exclusive national telecast on FOX.  Phillies fans nationwide will be able to follow those games.

(Because of other commitments, I was unable to post the lineup today).

Tough, tough loss

Tonight’s lineup:
Jimmy Rollins, ss
Shane Victorino, cf
Chase Utley, 2b
Ryan Howard, 1b
Jeff Conine, rf
Chris Coste, c
David Dellucci, lf
Abraham Nunez, 3b
Cole Hamels, p

At this stage of the season, any defeat is a tough one.  Last night’s was more than a tough one, especially when replays of Chase Utley’s disputed home run are run over and over on TV.

Umpires have tough decisions to make.  Being humans, they will make mistakes and there are no instant replays to review ala football.  I hope baseball never gets to that point, but it sure would have been nice last night.

Fans have inquired as to why we didn’t protest the game.  Unfortunately, you can’t protest an umpire’s judgment call. 

While the team is the focus, as it should be, there’s a lot going on elsewhere in the organization.

For example, Pat Gillick has a battery of scouts following possible postseason opponents.  More and more information, especially current information, will be very valuable should the Phillies advance to postseason play.

Scouting assignments: Billy Moore/Jim Fregosi Jr. are following the Padres; Del Unser and Dean Jongewaard, the Dodgers; Jongewaard is also catching the Oakland A’s along with Brian Kohlscheen; Sonny Bowers and Mike Ledna, have both the Cardinals and Twins; Ron Hansen and Sal Agostinelli, the Mets; Gordon Lakey and Unser, Tigers; **** Lawlor and Gene Schall, Yankees.

Hank King continues as the Phillies advance scout, scouting their next opponent.  He has an extensive file from the season and past seasons. 

At some point, all the information will be gathered and made available to Charlie Manuel and his staff.

Road Show

A half-dozen games to go and the wild card race is still a dandy.

For the Phillies, the scene shifts to RFK Memorial Stadium tonight, the first of three night games.  Among NL teams, only the Mets (43-32) have won more games on the road than the Phillies (41-34). 

The Phillies have used their success on the road to get into the race.  Since the July 31 trade deadline, they are 19-10 away from home.

A year ago, the Phillies ended the season in Washington, sweeping the Nationals in a three-game series only to fall one game shy of the wild card berth.

Tonight’s lineup:

Jimmy Rollins, ss
Shane Victorino, cf
Chase Utley, 2b
Ryan Howard, 1b
Jeff Conine, rf
Pat Burrell, lf
Mike Lieberthal, c
Abraham Nunez, 3b
Brett Myers, p

Here’s an interesting note from Elias Sports Bureau: Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are the first National League double play combination to hit at least 25 home runs each.  The Boston Red Sox did it twice in the American League.  In 1948, 2B Bobby Doerr hit 27; SS Vern Stephens, 29.  The same two did it again in 1950, Doerr (27 again) and Stephens (30).

Thanks to the fans!  The Phillies drew 2,701,815, the third highest attendance season in team history.  Phillies passion has been at a fever pitch.

For those fans sprinkled around the country, FOX has selected Saturday’s game in Dolphins Stadium as a national telecast.  Game time will be 1:25 p.m.

Monday Make-up

For the third time this season, a day off on a Monday for the Phillies has become a game day.  Tonight’s game is the result of a September 5 postponement.

Hopefully, the Phillies will fare better than the two previous Monday make-ups, an 8-7 loss at Boston on June 26 and an 8-3 loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium on August 28.

The Astros had an ESPN Sunday night game in Houston and then flew to Philly, landing around 4:00 a.m.  After the game, they fly to Pittsburgh for a three-game series starting tomorrow night.

Over the last three years, the Astros and Phillies share the best record in the majors for September-October, 53-28.

The Phillies, who have the best NL record since July 26 (38-20), have caught Chris Coste, Carlos Ruiz, Coste and Mike Lieberthal (Wednesday) over the past four games.  Combined, they have 7 RBI.  Liieberthal is hitting .383 with 16 RBI in his last 18 games.

Tonight, “Lieby” is behind the plate:

Jimmy Rollins, ss
Shane Victorino, cf
Chase Utley, 2b
Ryan Howard, 1b
David Dellucci, rf
Pat Burrell, lf
Mike Lieberthal, c
Abraham Nunez, 3b
Randy Wolf, p

After the game, it’s “All Aboard” for the Phillies, riding an AMTRAK charter train to Washington, DC, and the start of a six-game road trip, the final one of the regular season.

Youth vs. Veteran

This is one of those “good news”, “bad news” scenarios: the Baron’s Corner will appear daily for the rest of the Phillies’ 2006 season.  Hopefully, that journey will carry to Halloween.

Behind the scenes will be the theme.  Intent is to post before the game starts. 

When the sun rose this Sunday morning, the Phillies were a half-game ahead of the Dodgers in the NL Wild Card race. 

Today is Fan Appreciation Day in which the Phillies salute their passionate fans with between-the-innings prizes and surprizes.  It has been a Phillies tradition since 1971, the first year of the Vet. 

But, the “big news” is game three of this three-game weekend series against the Marlins, who handled the Phillies en route to the post-game in past years.  A Phillies sweep is going to be tough with the Marlins running Scott Olsen to the mound.  He’s a tough lefty even though he is only 22 years of age.

Charlie Manuel’s lineup:

Jimmy Rollins, ss
Shane Victorino, cf
Chase Utley, 2b
Ryan Howard, 1b
Jeff Conine, rf
Pat Burrell, lf
Chris Coste, c
Abraham Nunez, 3b
Jamie Moyer, p

Both Moyer and Conine are veterans who have been in pressure games during their careers.  GM Pat Gillick brought them here to help this young team in such situations.  The 43-year-old Moyer gives the Phillies a lot of stability and experience to the staff.

Last regular-season home game is tomorrow night, 7:05 against the Astros, who have to fly to Philadelphia following their 8 p.m. (EDT) ESPN Sunday Night telecast in Houston. 

E-mail Responses

Q–I am concerned that there has only been on true doubleheader this year at the Park.  All the other rainouts have been made up as day/night doubleheaders.

Marc:

Tropical Storm Ernesto really created some challenges when Atlanta was at Citizens Bank Park at the start of this month.

There are several factors in the rescheduling of postponed games, whether the game is made up as part of a split (day-night) doubleheader, a traditional doubleheader (twi-night or day) or an open date in the schedule.

The Phillies’ future schedule, the visiting team’s schedule and travel plans and future weather forecasts are factors that are involved.

Another factor involves seat locations.  When a large number of tickets have been sold, it is impossible to provide the same locations if the game is rescheduled as a traditional doubleheader.  By rescheduling the game as part of a split doubleheader, fans have the option of having the same seat locations. 

If fans that have tickets for the rained out game can’t make it on the new date, we are more than willing to work with them on other arrangements.

Since we’ve opened Citizens Bank Park, we have had split doubleheaders, twi-night and traditional Sunday doubleheaders.  We probably will follow the same pattern in the future.

Q–I think it is terrible that the Phillies are ending their relationship with the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons.

Michael:

The Phillies are very proud that we played a role in bringing professional baseball back to the Scranton area in 1989.  We have had a great relationship in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre throughout the years with the ownership of the Red Barons and the fans.

The opportunity to move our triple-A ball club closer to Philadelphia and into a new state-of-the-art facility that has a grass playing surface.  It was something we had to consider very strongly in making the decision not to renew our working agreement with the Red Barons.

We very much appreciate all the fan support we have received from Northeast Pennsylvania and look forward to the same in the Lehigh Valley.

Q—What about the comment on Yahoo Monday the 4th.  Hoping Ryan Howard is clean but not being sure?  Any comments on this?

Amorganti2002:

I think Ryan has answered that question well on this site in Ken Mandel’s September 5 story: “We have tests.  People take the tests.  Either you pass or fail.  If you fail, you get busted.  If you don’t fail, you’re not doing it.”

All I can say is Ryan Howard has been crushing home runs all the way back to his high school days.  It doesn’t matter, left field, center field or right field. 

Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote a column on August 28 about a legendary home run Howard hit back home in suburban St. Louis.  The ball hit a Red Lobster restaurant on the fly.  Ryan was 12 years of age at the time.

And, for those critics who say he’s playing half his games in a hitter-friendly ballpark (Citizens Bank Park), consider this:  the Phillies record for most home runs at home is 29 by Mike Schmidt in 1979; the record for most on the road is also 29 by Chuck Klein in 1932.  One more on the road and one more at home and Ryan ties two more records.

We should be celebrating Ryan’s performance.  As Jim Salisbury wrote in the Inquirer on Saturday,  “Howard has evolved into one of the best sports stories in Philadelphia in some time.”

Astros Spell Chased

Chase Utley put an end to the Astros’ 12-0, two-year run against the Phillies with a dramatic home run on a 3-1 pitch in the 10th inning this afternoon.  3-2 was the final score. 

Future Hall of Famer vs. a rookie, 347-game winner vs. someone who has won 7 games, 44-year-old vs. 22-year-old….no matter the description, the pitching match-up of Roger Clemens against Cole Hamels during the wild card race created a real buzz.

The result, a standing room only crowd of 44,674 packed Citizens Bank Park.  Of that figure, 10,000 tickets were sold after 9 a.m. today.

The game was packed with drama:

**Hamels got the first and only hit off Clemens, a looping single to left with two out in the third.

**Wildness cost Clemens in the fourth: walk, hit batter, walk, strikeout and hit batter gave the Phillies a 1-0 led.  Clemens pitched one more inning and left with a strained groin muscle.

**Rookie Charlton Jimerson, in his first plate appearance in the big show, hit a pinch-homer with two out in the sixth, breaking Hamels’ perfect game that included seven strikeouts among the first 17 batters.

**Ryan Howard did it again, driving a 3-1 pitch off the Bud Light sign in right field with two out in the last of the sixth to put the Phillies back on top, 2-1.  No. 53 is now in the books.  “MVP”, “MVP”, “MVP” chanted the full house.  His 14-game hitting streak includes 10 homers. 

**Aubrey Huff tied it with a home run to start the eighth, only the second hit off Hamels.

**Houston had a runner on second with one in the ninth but rookie Matt Smith relieved and retired the next two batters on an infield grounder and strikeout.

**Howard was walked intentionally by Houston manger Phil Garner to START the ninth inning.  Jeff Conine drove a one-out double to left, sending Howard to third but an intentional walk, strikeout and soft liner to first sent the game into extra innings.

**Houston had a runner on third with one out in the 10th but Rick White struck out one and induced an easy grounder to Howard to end that threat.

**With two out in the last of the 10th, Utley broke an 0-for-11 with his 25th home run, sending the happy throng home.

Oh, one other note.  It was Hatfield Phillies Franks Dollar Dog Day.  Just over 60,000 hot dogs were consumed. 

Another Split

“MVP”, “MVP”, “MVP”

That chorus rang throughout Citizens Bank Park in Sunday’s first game as Ryan Howard put on another historic home run show.

The big first baseman homered in each of his first three at-bats, drew standing ovations, curtain calls and the “MVP” chant.  Historic?  The first one to deep center was Howard’s 50th, a number ever reached before by a Phillies player.

For you clock watchers, they came at 2:00 p.m., 2:26 p.m. (into Braves bullpen) and 3:05 p.m. (left field seats).  He batted again at 3:50 p.m. to a standing ovation and singled to center.

The joy and emotional high for the crowd took a sharp decline when, for the second straight day, the Braves, Matt Diaz this time, hit a home run.  His three-run blast put Atlanta on top, 6-5, in the top of the ninth.

Resilient is a definite characteristic of this Phillies bunch and they came back to win in their last at-bat.  Shane Victorino took the heroes role with his game-winning single. 

Atlanta won the nightcap in 11 innings, pinning a loss on Geoff Geary who was the winner in the first game.

Now that Ernesto and the Braves have left town, the race continues against the Astros, a ballclub that has won 12 in a row against the Phillies.  Houston has been in the post-season each of the last two seasons, mainly because of their dominance over the Phillies.

Tomorrow is Labor Day, the last holiday of the summer.  The 3:05 p.m. pitching match-up has 44-year-old Roger Clements facing 22-year-old Cole Hamels.  Both are No. 1 picks in the annual draft, Clemens the 19th overall selection in 1983, Hamels, the 17th overall selection in 2002.

Hamels was barely five months old when Clemens won his first big league game in 1984.

Clemens carries a 4-0 August record and a 1.93 ERA on the road this season. 

Facing Clemens certainly isn’t a holiday.

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