Waitin’ Around to Lose

The Phillies’ monochromatic color man, Chris Wheeler, who explains the purpose of the “no-doubles defense” every single game (like the name isn’t self-explanatory enough, or like we haven’t heard it a few thousand times already), actually said something worthwhile last night in the post-game segment: “They’re waiting around to lose.”  This was after the Phils blew a 4-1 lead in the 7th inning on the road to an eventual 7-4 loss, and after losing the fourth of their last five games (and the fourth out of five to the Mets this year, all of them at home).  It’s become something of a trend lately for them to jump out to an early lead and then score nothing the rest of the game, squandering plenty of opportunities to pick up extra runs, while the other team gradually chips away.  And with the bullpen they have, the worst in the league so far, this is like adding cargo to a sinking ship.

Cholly’s Follies

Woo boy.  Cliff Lee pitched ten shut-out innings last night, averaging around ten pitches per inning, and the Phillies still managed to lose.  Of course, Matt Cain pitched just as well, going nine and giving up none on a similarly scant number of pitches.  The way the game was going, it seemed destined to end as it did, 1-0, and even though neither team really “deserved” to win more than the other, it still felt like the Phillies blew it.

In the top of the 11th, they had a runner on third and only one out, after Carlos Ruiz led off with a double down the left field line and Freddy Galvis laid down a sacrifice bunt.  The pitcher’s spot was up next and Charlie sent his buddy Jim Thome up to pinch hit, and this of course prompted Bruce Bochy to bring in one of those nasty lefty “specialists” he seems to have in endless supply.  Instead of replacing Thome with a right-hander (Mayberry or Polanco), though, “Cholly” left him in, and the thoroughly likeable but probably over-the-hill future hall of famer sadly, predictably whiffed on five pitches.  So then Cholly sent Mayberry up to bat for the man whose head is as small as Polanco’s is big, Juan Pierre, who (the stats nerds will tell you) hits lefties better than he does righties, and Mayberry sadly, predictably hit a weak dribbler to the infield.  Inning over, along with the Phillies’ chance to score the go-ahead, and potentially winning run.

At this point I said “fuck it” and turned off the TV to get ready for bed.  It was almost midnight and, you know, I have a job (the only reason I stayed up was because the game was going so fast that by 11:30, the time I usually bail out on these west coast games, it was already in the 8th inning, instead of the 4th or 5th, and I figured another half-hour wouldn’t matter).  I couldn’t resist one more score-check before getting in bed, though, so after brushing my teeth I flipped the TV back on just in time to see the stadium emptying out and the final score: Phillies 0, Giants 1.  What I missed was Antonio Bastardo giving up a lead-off single, followed by a ground ball to third that could have been a double play but instead was mishandled by Ty Wigginton, followed by a walk-off RBI single by Melky Cabrera.  So, in addition to mismanaging his pinch hitters, Cholly inexplicably left the notoriously ham-handed Wigginton to play third in a 0-0, extra-inning game while last year’s gold glove third baseman, Polanco, watched from the dugout.  There’s a contingent of fans over at the Philly news site who incessantly bash Manuel, portraying him as a gum-chomping rube whose idea of in-game strategic managing is to wait for someone to hit a three-run home run.  Hard to argue with them after last night’s performance.

The Phils are now 5-7, after dropping 2 of 3 to the Mets and Giants.  Ryan Howard is still “rehabbing” his Achilles tendon and no word on when he’ll be ready to play.  No word either on Chase Utley, who appears to have gone missing, perhaps into something akin to the witness protection program for injured ballplayers.  If they don’t figure out how to score some runs, it’s going to be a long season.  Or a short one, depending on how you look at it.

Up next: Four in San Diego and three in Arizona, then back home.

Phils even record, prevent sky from falling…for now

After winning the season opener against the Pirates, the Phillies lost the next three, including the home opener against the Marlins, sending the Phaithless scurrying for the life boats, or the Flyers.  But suddenly the offense came alive and they took the next two from the Marlins.  On Wednesday, they pounded Josh Johnson, winning 7-1, and last night, behind Joe Blanton doing his best Roy Halladay impression, they won 3-1.  They even hit two home runs last night, doubling their season total in one game.  Mind you, nobody’s going to confuse this team with an offensive juggernaut, but at least they’re getting hits when they need them, and the pitching’s been as solid as expected.  Up next: The Mets for three in Philly.

The Phightin’ Pheels

As local TV color man Gary Matthews, aka “Sarge,” pronounces the team nickname.  Anyway, I’ve put off writing about the Phillies all summer because, well, the baseball season is long, and, aside from a couple of hiccups along the way, they pretty much lived up to all the pre-season hype, cruising to 102 wins and clinching their fifth straight NL East title with two weeks to spare.

In other words, barring the loss of Halladay or Lee’s pitching arm(s), making the playoffs was a foregone conclusion, and the 162-game regular season basically a formality (at times it actually seemed that way; they went something like two months without losing more than two games in a row).

So now here they are, two games into the NLDS, and they’re tied 1-1 with the Cardinals.  After Cliff Lee blew a 4-0 lead on Sunday and with Jaime Garcia, who looks like he’s pitching to a high school team when he goes against the Phillies, awaiting them in Game 3, things aren’t looking quite so foregone anymore.  “Hollywood” Hamels is going to have to pitch his ass off, and the regulars are going to have to figure out how to hit Garcia’s 89 mph “fastball” and his even-slower offspeed stuff, if they’re going to win this game.

Not that they’re necessarily dead if they lose today; they’d only have to beat Edwin Jackson to get the series back to Philly for Game 5, and with Halladay on the mound again, I’d say their chances are pretty good, even against Carpenter.  Still, I’d prefer not to have to test this scenario out.

The National Pastime

Frank Deford taking a whack at the correlation between the size of a baseball team’s payroll and its chances of winning.  Now this particular dead horse has been beaten so often and so hard that it’s pretty much an unrecognizable lump of meat by now.  Deford, at least, does it with some style and wit.

But it’s not just the size of the payroll that matters; it’s also how it’s acquired.  Every team benefits from some amount of government largesse, but it turns out that one in particular (three guesses) is a bigger “welfare queen” than all the rest:

To sum up: The most successful, most opulent, and most hated baseball franchise in North America, widely known as “the Evil Empire,” receives an unprecedented amount of government giveaways in a time of recession and government budget-squeezes, with which it increases its already sizeable revenue advantage, partly by charging ticket prices that only the rich can afford. With all that dough safely pocketed, the team then shells out $423 million in free agent contracts for just three players, who help vault them back into the League Championship Series for the first time since 2004.

Back in the mid-1970s, when the Yankees were re-emerging from more than a decade of uncharacteristic mediocrity, a favorite negative stereotype on the political right was the “welfare queen,” living high off government largesse that had been intended for the genuinely poor. It’s an enduring puzzle in contemporary America that long after “welfare reform” restructured transfer payments to individuals, the corporate welfare queens—who by any estimation have been sucking more from the public teat than all welfare recipients combined—continue gobbling hundreds of billions each year, image largely unsullied.

So root, root, root against the home team tonight. It’s bad enough that they play in a fascist stadium; the real outrage is that you paid for it.

Whole article here.