Saturday, August 02, 2003

Phillies 4, Dodgers 2

After the authentic experiences of Yankees Stadium and Fenway Park, I returned to the Vet Wednesday night for the middle game of a three-game set against Los Angeles. In introducing the starting lineups, P.A. announcer Dan Baker always welcomes spectators to "beautiful Veterans Stadium." The Phillies did an awful lot of whining about the Vet's numerous deficiencies in order to wheedle taxpayer money out of City Hall and Harrisburg to fund Citizens Bank Park. There's something vaguely dishonest, then, about turning around and lamely trying to convince everyone that the current dump, the place they've spent years heaping abuse on, is "beautiful."

Anyway, back in the concrete jungle, far removed from sellout crowds and natural grass, I settled into the 300 level and let my eyes drift over the acres and acres of empty blue seats. The Phillies are in the thick of the wild-card race -- the division race now must be conceded to the damn Braves, who somehow have run away with it -- but on this decent summer night, they could draw only 25,000 people.

Those who stayed away missed a pretty good game. Brett Myers was on the hill for the Phils and Kevin Brown for the Dodgers. Brown has been almost untouchable this season, yet the Phillies had him on the ropes in the first, scoring a pair of runs but unable to land the knockout blow. Myers, whom I find more impressive with each start, gave Larry Bowa six good innings. The anemic L.A. offense was able to tie the game off the young hurler, but that was it. Brown settled down quickly, and Myers' effort helped keep the Phillies in the game.

Ricky Ledee, filling in for the brutally sucky Pat Burrell, will never be the star the Yankees envisioned, but he has played very well off the bench for the Phillies. In the seventh he rocketed a triple off the center field wall, scoring Marlon Byrd -- though just barely -- with the eventual winning run. The Phils' setup guys pitched an uneventful seventh and eighth, then yielded to Jose Mesa, who provided his all-too-common fireworks before finally closing the door.

An interesting part of watching the Dodgers play is the sight of Ricky Henderson attempting to patrol left field and hit leadoff. He's 45 or 46 now, and really showing his age. Over the course of his career Ricky has done his damndest to disprove the axiom about there being no "I" in "team," but his act is far less charming now that his skills have diminished so much. (His being signed by Los Angeles from the independent Newark Bears tells you all you need to know about the Dodgers' dry spell at the plate.) He completely dogged it to first after hitting a grounder to Jimmy Rollins in the seventh, and my two-year-old daughter could hit the cutoff man more effectively than he. In the first, Henderson's weak throw home was laughably inept; having apparently gotten the joke by the seventh, he didn't even bother to throw after catching the sacrifice fly that plated Ledee with the Phillies' fourth and final run.

To tell you the truth, the familiarity of the Vet was rather welcome. From the fan seated down toward the field wearing a jersey that bore the phrase "P. WHIPPED" across the back to the fan-friendly concession worker who wouldn't put peppers and onions on my buddy's cheesesteak because that stuff is reserved for the sausage sandwiches, it felt like home. I knew where to buy good beer, what gate to use to ensure the quickest route to my car, and where to go to see former umpire Eric Gregg, now pathetically reduced to pouring suds at one of the in-stadium bars. (Hopefully they don't let him anywhere near pitchers; no doubt he'd miss by a foot or so, especially if he was pulling the tap for Greg Maddux.)

Meanwhile, the Phillies would go on to sweep the Dodgers Thursday, then opened a four-game series against the Padres last night with a 6-0 victory. Kevin Millwood was back to his dominant self, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth and finishing with a three-hit complete game. Jim Thome and Tomas Perez, one of the Phillies' very talented role players, had big hits for the Fightin's. A studly Millwood and the kind of timely hitting they get when they win would go a long way toward securing post-season play in Philadelphia. The Phils have been wildly inconsistent all season; now would be a great time to start playing solid baseball for a change.


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