Thursday, September 04, 2003

5 of 6

Bowa's tirade...players-only meeting. Who cares what sparked this team? They are winning again, and that's all that matters.

Kevin Millwood worked his way through a shaky first inning that saw him not get some close pitches, saw him try to adjust and give up a three-run homer, and saw Larry Bowa get tossed for the sixth time this year; and ended up working eight very strong innings for his 14th win on the season.

Millwood got two quick outs in the first before some close calls started going the other way. He walked Jose Vidro on a full count, and then carefully pitched to Vladimir Guerrero, walking him on five pitches. Millwood then worked another full count -- with a very questionable ball three -- to Wil Cordero, who then launched the 6th pitch of the at-bat over the left field wall for a 3-0 Expos lead.

At this point in the game, Millwood was as frustrated as I have seen him all season. Bowa went out to talk to him and calm him down, and in the process, got himself booted. Did this wake up the team? We won't know if it was the spark, but Millwood did proceed to get out of the inning and, other than two 2nd inning hits, stayed out of trouble for the rest of the day.

While the Expos got an early start to the day, the Phillies needed a little time to get going. Through one out in the third, Montreal's T.J. Tucker had set down the Phillies with barely a whimper. Then the Tank rolled up. Todd Pratt saw a pitch he liked, his eyes got big, and his bat got through the zone -- the result was the ball ending up in the Expos bullpen. Still 3-1 Expos, but a wake-up call for the Phillies. After Millwood popped up, Marlon Byrd grounded to third. Byrd busted down the line, causing a hurried -- and errant -- throw from 3B Jamie Carroll. Byrd was safe, and the floodgates opened.

Jimmy Rollins doubled, scoring Byrd. Bobby Abreu beat out an infield single. Jim Thome singled, scoring Rollins. Pat Burrell doubled, scoring Abreu. And Chase Utley singled, bringing home two more runs. 6-3 Phillies; five runs unearned; end of the day for T.J. Tucker.

The Phillies added another run in the fourth when Byrd led off with a double and Abreu singled him home, and one more in the sixth on Thome's 39th home run of the season, a towering fly to center.

Meanwhile, Millwood was on. Hitting 94 or 95 on the radar with his fastball, he was challenging Expos hitters...and winning. He finished the day going eight innings, giving up seven hits (only three after the second inning) and the three first-inning runs. We walked two batters -- both in the first -- and struck out eight on the day. He had good stuff all just took him an inning or so to get it under control. But when he did, the Expos were done.

And with the game, also done is the season series. The Phillies get the short two-game sweep, and take 11 of 19 from Montreal this season. After sweeping the Phillies in Montreal last week, and virtually tying for the Wild Card lead, the Expos have lost six straight, and now sit five games back. Just like that, the playoff race can change.

Elsewhere in the NL, Florida finally found a way to beat Pittsburgh behind a gem from Josh Beckett, and the Marlins remain tied with the Phillies for the Wild Card lead. Houston defeated LA, knocking the Dodgers to 2 1/2 back, and combined with a Cardinals loss, moved the Astros back to first in the NL Central. Slipping back to second, the Cards fall to 2 1/2 back, while the victorious Cubs stay three back. The Expos and D'Backs sit five back, barely above .500.

So what the Phillies and Marlins created in the way of an 8-team race late last week is slowly stretching out again. The Expos, embarrassed by the Marlins and Phillies this week, head home (to San Juan) to try their luck again with the Marlins. The Phillies, meanwhile, welcome the Mets to town for four games, starting with tonight's Randy Wolf - Tom Glavine matchup. The Phillies, of course, swept the Mets at Shea over the weekend, but we remember what happened last time the Mets came to the Vet...

Pitching matchups for the series:

Tonight, 7:05: Wolf (13-9) vs. Glavine (9-12)
Friday, 7:05: Padilla (12-9) vs. Seo (8-9)
Saturday, 7:05: Myers (12-7) vs. Griffiths (1-1)
Sunday, 8:05 (ESPN2): Telemaco (1-2) vs. Leiter (14-7)