Monday, September 22, 2003

Six Games, Seven Nights

The Phillies will -- or should -- spend today kicking themselves for dropping two of three against the Reds over the weekend. They will spend tonight tuned in to TBS, hoping the Braves can again knock off the Marlins, thus pulling the Fish back into a tie with the Phils in the wild-card race. And then they will spend Tuesday through Sunday playing Florida in Miami and then hosting Atlanta at the Vet. All the while they will peek at the out-of-town scoreboard to see what the surging Cubs are up to.

This week is the team's most important in 10 years. A season's worth of inconsistency comes down to six games against a pair of divisional foes. Which squad will show up? The rollicking, rampaging band of sluggers that can put up 11 runs on any given night? Or the clueless gaggle of Little Leaguers who made a couple of Cincinnati no-names look like Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling?

As Jim Salisbury points out in today's Inquirer, that inconsistent offense would have been in much better shape had Pat Burrell not been engaged in a crushing, season-long slump. The Phils' $50 million man -- and the player who single-handedly sank my fantasy-league season -- has ridden the pines for three of the last four games, and four of the last seven, in favor of career bench guys like Jason Michaels and Ricky Ledee. And, as Salisbury notes, Burrell has become a Bench Dog on merit; indeed, in his case, the emphasis must be on the canine portion of the utility guys' self-imposed nickname.

Elsewhere in the Inky, Phil Sheridan weighs in with a completely generic effort on the fact that the good-but-not-great Phillies have given themselves no room for error as they head down to Miami. While Sheridan touches on comments made by Reds pitcher John Riedling that the Phils don't look as hungry as they should be, he really pulls his punches. A lack of effort at this time of year is inexcusable, and the Phillies need to be called on that -- loudly.

Over in the Daily News, Bill Conlin grants Jim Thome folk-hero status, noting that the big first baseman has carried the Phillies on his back over the last five weeks. In the process, Conlin manfully apologizes for characterizing Thome as "a one-trick pony" last month and writes, "Jim Thome is most of the things Mike Schmidt was and many of the things he was not. In a town desperate for a hero that loves it back, he appears to be the most perfect warrior to pass through our midst since Julius Erving."

Conlin also zings Tomas Perez for whiffing on three straight pitches to end yesterday's game, after Chris Reitsma walked Jimmy Rollins on four pitches; Larry Bowa for axing pinch hitter extraordinaire Tyler Houston; and Bowa again for dodging questions on Burrell's status.

Paul Hagen observes that the series against the Reds was so heinous, the Phils would ralph on their spikes if they thought about it too much. Hagen delivers his knockout blow early in the piece: "The Phillies, a team fighting desperately to win the National League wild card, lost two out of three to a team featuring more than a dozen players wearing numbers most commonly seen on linebackers, guards and tackles." And the DN relegates Burrell's benchwarming status -- indeed, it was Todd Pratt, not Pat the Bat, in the on-deck circle when Perez punched out -- to a sidebar to its game story.


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