Saturday, August 16, 2003

Phillies 7, Cardinals 4

Last night's victory over St. Louis was, I think, the kind of game a lot us envisioned the Phillies playing when the season began. Filling in for Marlon Byrd, Ricky Ledee led off the Phils' first with a dinger, and they went on to score four more times in the inning to take a 5-0 lead. Starter Vicente Padilla cruised for a few innings, then was touched for a pair of two-run innings -- including a monster, upper-deck roundtripper from Jim Edmonds -- as the Cards made it interesting.

With the home crowd restless, Jim Thome sealed the deal. His seventh-inning tater, a moonshot that just barely cleared the right field wall, gave the Phillies a comfortable three-run lead and earned the big fella a curtain call. Excellent relief work from Terry Adams, the rejuvenated Turk Wendell, and Dan Plesac nailed down the win, allowing the Phils to maintain their half-game wild card lead over Florida, which hammered San Diego, 10-0.

As noted yesterday, this series is an important one for the Phillies, and it was heartening to see them beat both a good pitcher in Woody Williams as well as a good team. Padilla, who appears as capable of throwing a no-hitter in any given start as he is of getting bombed before notching an out, showed exactly that form last night. The Phils could use much more consistency out of their No. 3 starter.

Boos' Clues

The Cardinals' trip to Veterans Stadium meant that Scott Rolen visited his old stomping grounds for the first time this season. And it gave Philadelphia a chance to display its pathetic inferiority complex yet again.

Look, the City of Brotherly Love gets knocked around pretty good by the national chattering class, and a lot of it is unfair. Folks in New York and Boston and Chicago and Washington and Los Angeles boo just as hard as we do, and occasionally as inappropriately. That's why it's so frustrating to hear sports commentators ragging on us when it happens at the Vet or at the CoreStates/First Union/Wachovia Center.

But once in a while, we deserve all the abuse we get. Rolen was booed, loudly and viciously, every time he came to the plate last night, and all because he had the temerity to not want to play for Larry Bowa, who in the old days would have been described admiringly by the press as "fiery" -- which in today's words means he's an a-hole. I've been watching baseball for 30 years now, and can think of no other Phillie who attacked the game with the kind of abandon Rolen did when he played here. He was exactly the kind of guy Philadelphians are supposed to love -- modest, from a middle-class background, loves his parents, doesn't showboat. Just comes to the park and plays his ass off, every game, every at-bat, every pitch.

But after making up his mind that criticism from Bowa in the Daily News and Dallas Green on WIP wasn't his cup of tea, Rolen became a marked man. He declined to sign a new contract with the Phillies, and the team, in a move reeking of pettiness, leaked the amount Rolen turned down, turning him into an instant pariah among the leatherlungs at the Vet. It was as if Philadelphia took Rolen's decision personally. Because big-mouth blowhards Bowa and Green couldn't keep their pie holes shut, Rolen opted out, and the rest of us somehow saw that as a slur on Philadelphia -- and on us.

And thus the booing last night. All it does is cheapen us, and further our reputation is a resentful, second-rate city that would much rather focus on what it's not than on the wonder of what it is. Rolen is no J.D. Drew, a puppet of his agent who turned down fantastic money he hadn't earned so that he wouldn't have to play for a team which at that time didn't appear committed to winning. He is, rather, a lot like us -- a man who wants a pat on the back when he does a good job, and a private chat, not a public ass-kicking in the media, when he doesn't. Why that makes him such a bad guy to so many is beyond me.

The flip side is that when Bowa went to retrieve the ball from Vicente Padilla in the 6th, there were more than a few boos wafting down from the stands. Perhaps it's because the Phillies marketed Bowa for so long in their promotional materials, but you get the sense that some are taking out the Phils' underachievement on the manager. For a while he had carte blanche; he was the feisty former shortstop and the popular choice among fans to ride herd over the collection of young and disaffected players (Travis Lee, anyone?) who were then sleepwalking through season after season. Now that GM Ed Wade has loaded up on veteran talent, you'd think the Phillies would be neck and neck with the Braves inside of trying to fend off the Marlins -- the Marlins, for God's sake! -- and hold on to the wild card. This is, of course, not the case, and it's interesting to see Larry Bowa begin to feel some heat.


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