Monday, July 12, 2004

Inbetween Days

Faced with a 14-game, make-or-break homestand, the Phillies did neither, going an uninspired but not awful 8-6 and hitting the All-Star break in first place but not comfortably so, with three teams within two games of them.

Since my last post, the Phils played four games that could serve as a microcosm of the season so far. On Thursday night Bobby Abreu's ninth-inning heroics saved the Phillies from the ignominy of dropping three of four to the Mets at home. (Yes, I have noticed Bobby's recent fine play, as well as his selection to the All-Star team. I may not always like the way he plays, but I acknowledge achievements when they happen, and, hey, I voted for him in the online poll, so step off.)

Friday night saw me, my brothers, and a friend at the Park for my annual birthday present (last year's trip was to Yankee Stadium), and boy did we see a doozy. The Phillies clawed out of a 6-1 hole with runs in the eighth, ninth, and 10th to earn a 7-6 win over the Braves in a terrifically exciting game. Early on, Rafael Furcal had homered down the leftfield line; replays would later show the ball to be clearly foul. Nestled just behind the rightfield foul pole, we were about as far from the disputed tater as one could be, but from the way Pat Burrell blew in from left to protest the call, we thought immediately that maybe the umps had gotten it wrong. A few batters later, after the replay presumably had aired on the clubhouse TV, Larry Bowa got run, prompting him to let the home-plate umpire have it. With fans screaming in support, Bowa, his leg twitching from time to time, went toe-to-toe with the ump and got his money's worth. (The over-under on the date of his on-field stroke, by the way, is August 2.)

The Phils chipped away, though, and the CBP crowd was more into the game, and not just the ballpark scene, than I've seen it this season. When Chase Utley took a really good, down and in pitch from John Smoltz over the right-center wall to tie the game in the ninth, the place exploded. An inning later, Tomas Perez's base hit plated Mike Lieberthal, and our little party drifted to a great little neighborhood bar near the Parkway to celebrate the victory.

It was a wonderful win, the kind of gut-check performance that can propel a team into a hot streak. Oh, right, this is the Phillies. They followed up their pair of last-inning Ws with a clunker against Mike Hampton Saturday and yesterday's Randy Wolf implosion.

And so, 87 games into the season, we know about as much about this team as we did in late March. Which is to say, not much. As Bill Conlin asks in today's Daily News:

With all the body-English agonizing over the water-torture game this team seems to play most days, is it possible that this is all there is? Maybe there is no there here.

Did everybody miscalculate how good these Phillies were going to be, everybody from Ed Wade to the fans in the not-so-cheap seats?

If so, can any amount of trading and body-shuffling do enough to redeem what might be a basic slightly over-.500 team?

The Phillies have 75 more games to answer that question.

Most observers think that the Phillies probably have enough to win, but are unwilling to call them a lock. Writing in yesterday's New York Times, for example, Murray Chass rather heavy-handedly called the Phils "kings of the underachievers," but noted "[t]hey may still take command." Likewise, Phil Sheridan, in yesterday's Inquirer, pointed out that the chance to grab the division is still right there, but without a certain "chemistry or personality or whatever" that the really good teams all seem to have, they're going to have to battle their own legacy:

At the all-star break ... the best you can say is that the Phillies haven't blown that opportunity.

They haven't exactly seized it, but they haven't blown it. Unfortunately, given their history, you get the queasy feeling they're more likely to blow it than not.


At July 12, 2004 at 1:47 PM, Blogger Bangme. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At July 12, 2004 at 3:37 PM, Blogger Wyatt Earp said...

Eh, what?

Actually, that does sound kinda cool.

At July 12, 2004 at 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, i've been to that bar!

anyone thinking this team "may still explode" is kidding themselves in my opinion. what, is kevin millwood suddenly going to pitch like a major leaguer (forget ace)? is there suddenly going to be a bonafide lead-off hitter (barring a major trade)? is there manager suddenly going to inspire a more positive, achieving clubhouse?

87 wins, here we come.


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