Monday, August 18, 2003

Since we last spoke...

...a lot has happened for the Phillies:

  • They finally had enough and sent Brandon Duckworth to AAA Scranton.

  • They finally made the long-talked about move of calling up 2B Chase Utley, moving Placido Polanco to third.

  • They reclaimed the Wild Card lead.

  • Larry Bowa reistated Jose Mesa as the closer on Saturday, and Mesa may have removed himself again on Sunday.

  • Oh, and best of all...

  • The Phillies have won five straight.

  • So, where do we start? Let's start with the aftermath of last Tuesday. After Brandon Duckworth lasted fewer than five innings (again), and gave up four first inning runs in an eventual 6-3 loss, the Phillies realized they could not avert their eyes any longer. In the midst of a playoff race, they could not hand the ball every fifth day to a pitcher who could not get past the first few innings. So off to Scranton went Duckworth; up came 2B Chase Utley.

    This move has been rumored for weeks, ever since 3B David Bell was removed from the lineup with back pain. At first, reports were that Bell would return within a few days, so the move was not made. Weeks later, Bell is still out, and Ed Wade finally called up Scranton's hottest hitter. Utley was called up on Thursday and made the start at second that night, with Polanco moving to third. The move seemed to bother neither player, as Utley went 3-for-4 with a RBI, and Polanco went 3-for-4 with a RBI and two runs scored. The two players accounted for six of the Phillies 12 hits as they defeated Milwaukee 4-3 and took the last two games in the three-game set.

    Out went the Brewers and in came the Cardinals for a three-game series. When the week started, I felt that the Phillies needed to take five of six on the homestand. After losing the opener to Milwaukee, I never expected it to happen. But a sweep of the Cardinals got it done.

    Vicente Padilla did not have the strongest outing of the season (four runs on nine hits in five innings), but he fared better than the Cardinals' Woody Williams (five runs on ten hits in five innings). The Phillies scored five in the first off of Williams, and clung to a 5-4 lead until the red-hot Jim Thome crushed a two-run homer to extend the lead to three. Four very strong innings by the bullpen -- including Dan Plesac's first save of the year -- sealed the win.

    Saturday's big inning came in the sixth. Brett Myers was not sharp that night, but for the most part was getting the job done. Entering the bottom of the sixth, however, he and the Phillies were trailing 3-1. In the bottom of the inning, Marlon Byrd led off with a double. Polanco sacrificed him over (yes, a Phillie got a bunt down), and Abreu doubled him home. Thome then crushed a Dan Haren pitch over the center field wall to make it 4-3. Mike Lieberthal followed for a back-to-back set, and just like that, the Cards were on the ropes. They got one back in the seventh, but were shut down the rest of the way. Myers picked up his 12th win, and the bullpen threw 2 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball.

    The Phillies got a break Sunday night in their attempt to run their winning streak to five: Albert Pujols had a fever. With Pujols out of the lineup, there was one fewer hurdle for Amaury Telemaco to deal with in his return to the majors. Called up to replace Duckworth in the rotation, Telemaco gave the Phillies all that they have been hoping for most of the year. After giving up a first-inning homerun to Orlando Palmeiro, Telemaco calmed down. He worked seven strong innings, giving up two runs on four hits. He struck out seven, and walked none, showing why the Phillies called him up instead of one of the young phenoms -- control. He retired the last 14 batters he faced, and handed a 6-2 lead over to the bullpen. Sunday's big inning was the third: Jim Thome hit a blast into the upper deck in right field -- only the 23rd ball to land there in the history of the Vet -- and Pat Burrell hit his own two-run shot a few batters later.

    The bullpen gave up two runs in the ninth before nailing it down. The runs were charged to Turk Wendell, but the excitement was brought on by Jose Mesa. Mesa was returned to the closer's role Saturday night, when he walked Pujols to lead off the ninth and then set the Cards down 1-2-3. Sunday night, he came in with one out and a runner on. Edgar Renteria moved to second on a catcher's indifference call, and Miguel Cairo singled him home. Eduardo Perez struck out for out number two, and Mike Matheny worked a walk after falling behind 1-2. Bowa had said Mesa would be on a short hook, and with two on in a close game, Bowa pulled his closer. Mike Williams came on to finish the game, while Mesa retreated to the clubhouse, kicking coolers and fans (the air producing kind, not the ones who paid to watch him pitch) in the tunnel on the way back.

    Mesa's troubles apparently did not end there, as it is reported that he pushed a reporter in the clubhouse following the game. From the AP report:

    Minutes after the game, Mesa sat in front of his locker with one hand on his knee and the other rubbing his chin. A reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer approached Mesa, who began cursing. A heated argument ensued before Mesa raised both arms and pushed the reporter away. Reliever Carlos Silva came in between the two men before Mesa walked into the trainer's room.

    Larry Bowa has said that Bowa will remain the closer (albeit on a short leash), but it will be interesting to see how Bowa reacts after last night's outburst.


    So where does the 5-1 week leave the Phillies. Well, in terms of the WIld Card, right where they started. The Marlins took five of six from the Dodgers and Padres, and remain 1/2 a game behind the Phillies. The rest of the field, however, fell back slightly. Arizona went 3-3 over the last six to fall to three games back. The Cubs took three of four from Houston, and then dropped two of three to the Dodgers. The Dodgers took their two over the Cubs after dropping two of three to Florida. Both teams sit five games back. The Phillies did their part to push the Cards back, and they sit 5 1/2 back, tied with the Expos. Here are the schedules for the upcoming week:

    Phillies: 3 at Mil, 3 at StL
    Florida: 3 at Col, 3 at SF
    Arizona: 1 at Atl, 3 vs. Cin, 3 vs. Cubs
    Cubs: 3 at Hou, 3 at Ari
    LA: 3 vs. Mon, 3 vs. NYM
    St. Louis: 3 vs. Pit, 3 vs. Phi
    Montreal: 1 vs. SF, 3 at LA, 3 at SD

    So, Arizona, LA, and St. Louis are home while everyone else hits the road. The Phillies and Cards will hook up for three more, as will the D'backs and Cubs and Expos and Dodgers. Florida avoids the team-vs.-team struggle, but they have to play six games against two of the best home-teams in the league. No easy task for anyone.

    The Phillies task is made that much tougher with the knowledge that the six games this week are just the first six in a 13-game, 13-day trip that also takes them to Montreal and New York. This trip will make or break this team; when they return to the Vet on September 1st, we will have a much better idea whether or not the team is set to make a September run at the postseason.

    In the meantime, they relax today and spend a little more time figuring out their closer issues.