Monday, October 6, 2008

Phired Up

Pat Burrell must have been listening. He must have heard all the murmurs and rumblings, the whispers and the shouts. I know we were talking about it where I watched the first part of Saturday's disappointing 4-1 loss.

"We're not keeping him, are we?"
"Not at that price tag, nah."
"And besides, what's he done lately?"

And there it was. That horrible, ungrateful question asked not just in Philly, not just in the world of sports, but in pretty much every venue of life, and of pretty much everyone.

And though he's repeatedly rejected the moniker "Pat the Bat," it turned out to be precisely how he answered the question: with his bat. Yesterday Burrell became the second Phillie ever to have a multi-homer postseason game, the first since Lenny Dykstra in 1993. Much more importantly, Burrell carried the Phightins to their first postseason series victory and NLCS since that very same season. Not to mention that '93 was also the last postseason without a New York team. Coincidence? I think not. (Okay, I admit, I threw that last one in for fun. Can you blame me?)

And it seems the murmurs weren't just coming from our fair city. We weren't the only ones to notice Burrell's struggles. I mean, the Brewers intentionally walked Ryan Howard to get to a guy with 33 home runs. After all, he hit 32 of them in April (okay, slight exaggeration.) It's almost like you could hear his inner monologue (if he's got one) right before the shot that essentially pulverized the Brewers' millstones:
"Not bringing me back, eh? Not worth the money? Haven't done much lately? Intentionally walking Ryan to get to me? Fine. We'll see how you feel tomorrow."

This game was huge. Obviously because we took the series, but for another reason as well. The difference between the good and the great teams is very often the "killer instinct," the ability to put a team away when you have your foot on their throat, and not let them hang around. To have lost yesterday and to have face Sabathia in a Game 5, regardless of being at home and marginal success the first time around, would not have made any of us feel very comfortable. How often have you found yourself saying something like, "Nothing comes easy with this team." This was a big step in the right direction.

I love Jimmy Rollins leading off the game with a home run. I love that Jayson Werth made Burrell's three-run shot hurt even more by going back-to-back. (Especially after that horrid strikeout in the first inning Saturday night. Did you see that? Not only was it 5 feet outside, it bounced 10 feet before the plate!) I love that Joe Blanton was everything we hoped he would be in a clutch road performance. He made one mistake, to behemoth Prince Fielder, and there was no one on base. Other than that, a gem. 50 bucks if you can name even one of the prospects we dealt for him.....That's what I thought.

And, once again, I'd like to reiterate how much I love Brad Lidge. In Game 1, when Manuel put in Lidge for Cole Hamels, who was throwing a two-hit masterpiece, I was upset, and I know I wasn't the only one. Lidge's last handful of outings had gotten increasingly hairy, recalling images of another hairy, Wild one whose name need not be mentioned. My fingernails have only begun to grow back from that first game. Why, we all asked, would you pull a guy throwing a two-hit shutout?

In the end, I've come around. Manuel was right, for two reasons. The first is that he didn't know how long the series would go, and might have needed to save even an inning for Hamels, if we needed him to go again down the road. But the bigger reason is a mental one. My read on the end of the season for Lidge, as saves became extended pacings in my living room, is that he started to get psyched out again. Baseball is a head game, and perhaps no more so than for closers. And Lidge was as dominant as they come for closers, before his meltdown against Albert Pujols and the Cardinals in 2005. So maybe he was getting too much in his own head. And I think letting him pitch the ninth of Game 1, get the jitters out and the confidence back, might end up being huge for this team. It may not have been fun to sit through, but he's given up just one hit in his two innings since then. At least someone in Philadelphia can make a good coaching move every so often (that's right, Andy Reid, that one's for you.)

Lastly, looking ahead to the Dodgers. Yes, they're hot, and have been since the middle of August. But you know who else has been hot since then? Oh yeah, the Phils. And as they say every year, momentum goes only as far as the next game's starting pitcher. I may be a minority on this one, but I'd much rather be playing the Dodgers than the Cubs. Chicago was deeper in its pitching and its lineup than the Dodgers are, even though the Cubs choked again. I like our chances, and I wouldn't have as much if it were the Cubs.

I gave you beating the Brewers in four. We're beating the Dodgers in six.

"Cause I got to have phaith." --George Michael

Other Musings:

I don't want to talk about the Eagles, because I will take yesterday's tradeoff every time I'm given that option. Right now they should be 4-1, maybe 5-0. You know that whole foot-on-the-throat thing I talked about? Have the Eagles ever had that? Ever? Exactly.

This Onion article is worth some laughs--chuckles for the article and the awesome 80's reference, loud guffaws directed at the New York Mets. (Thanks Ross.)

If you didn't see this, it might be the greatest catch ever. (Thanks Scott.)

Also funny, from a couple of weeks ago, if the NFL had a Facebook page. (Thanks again, Scott.)

And lastly, to borrow a concept from Sports Illustrated, This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse is Upon Us. (Thanks Matt.)

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