Wednesday, September 03, 2003

More fun and games

First off, I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend. I took an extra day yesterday to relax and do a lot of nothing; thus, no posts yesterday. But, as with every short vacation I take, I seem to have missed quite a lot.

Since Larry Bowa's outburst on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have won four of five, including a sweep in New York and an 8th inning comeback last night. The Phillies finally got to Javier Vazquez, who came in to the game with 26 consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Chase Utley's 8th inning, bases-clearing triple -- coming on the heels of a poor throw allowing the Expos' go-ahead run to score -- gave the Phillies the late lead and eventual 5-3 win.

So, four of five. Must be due to Bowa's tirade, right? Not necessarily.

I kept an eye on the Phillies news and transactions over the weekend, and one of the many moves they made really caught my eye:

Activated pitcher Mike Williams from the bereavement list; designated infielder Tyler Houston for assignment; recalled infielder Nick Punto from Scranton of the International League (AAA); optioned pitcher Geoff Geary to Clearwater of the Florida State League (A).

The bolding is my own doing, highlighting the part that threw me. Tyler Houston -- he of the .278 average in a part-time role; he of the .448 average as a pinch-hitter, his main role on the team -- designated for assignment. My first thought was that it was a numbers thing, and he would be recalled on Monday when the rosters expanded to 40 players. Then I found out it was to give him his release.

What?!? Why?!? What did I miss?!?

Evidently, a lot.

Depending on who you believe, Houston was either a clubhouse problem child -- unhappy with his role on the team -- or the fall guy for the failing relations between Bowa and his players.

Houston also suggested that he had become a fall guy for a perceived predetermined snub of Bowa by Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell after he hit a two-run home run against the Mets. According to the Inquirer, Bowa moved to the front of the dugout to greet Burrell after the homer, only to have the player head to the middle dugout entrance and engage his teammates, bypassing Bowa altogether. ( article linked to above.)

So let me get this straight: Bowa, unsurprisingly, is rubbing his players the wrong way. With the added stress of a playoff race and poor play, Bowa's emotions have overloaded, and the players are tired of the crap. There is some sort of issue between Bowa and Burrell, who chooses to celebrate with his teammates and not his manager, and because of that Houston was let go.

Everyone follow that? There's a quiz later.

Bowa and general manager Ed Wade explained the surprising release of Houston, one of the top pinch-hitters in the majors, by saying that Houston was unhappy with his role on the team.

Houston told the paper that the Phillies were "covering up" the real reason he was let go.

"I fully accepted my role as a pinch-hitter," he said to the Inquirer. "I was trying to be the best pinch-hitter in the league. This is the way they want to say it went down, because they can't run their own clubhouse."

So who is making this up as they go along? I don't have an inside source on the team, but I am leaning towards believing Houston on this one. Throughout everything, Pat Burrell has been one of the strongest Bowa supporters, at least in the public eye. So if this weekend's incident was in fact intentional, that says that there are serious problems between Bowa and his players. In responding to Houston's claims, Bowa sent the press to Jim Thome, expecting some support. He couldn't have liked what he got:

Thome, however, refused to endorse Bowa.

"Let's talk about the game," Thome said to the Inquirer.

When asked a second question along the same lines, Thome replied "We won the game ... We're in the wild-card race. That's what it's all about."

Trouble in paradise, indeed. So now, there are serious issues between Bowa and his players, and the team's top pinch-hitter was cut for...well, just for the hell of it, apparently.

Amazingly, this team has survived a 1-9 stretch, discord in the clubhouse, and the season-long slump from Burrell, and still enter today's games tied for the Wild Card lead. 24 games remain, including six with the Marlins; anything could happen from here on out. But win or lose, what happens to the make up of this team?

Obviously, there are problems internally. The players have issues with Bowa; Bowa has problems with some of his players. There may be issues between Bowa and Ed Wade; remember, Wade thinks he has put together a team capable of getting to the postseason. If they don't, and Mt. Bowa continues flowing lava, how much longer with this homecoming last? Or better yet, who will be shipped out of town? The manager who is so beloved in town, or the players that the organization has invested so much time and money into and built the team around?

Exactly...bye, bye Bowa.

The Inquirer's Bill Lyon expects something to happen this offseason, barring a World Series trophy. He says that while Bowa was what this team needed three seasons ago, the fit no longer works. It's time for a change, and it is always easier to change one part than 25.

So the month of September should be an interesting one, on many fronts. The Phillies are in the heat of a playoff race, and the next 24 games should be fun, albeit important and close all the way. It's a shame we don't have that one go-to pinch-hit guy on the bench...