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10/06/2005 Archived Entry: "Phillies Journal - 2005"

Phillies Journal - 2005

by Max Blue


I ain’t taking the blame for this one, pal. I wore my BASEBALL: A WAY OF LIFE tee shirt until it literally fell apart. Ask Liddy, she tried her damndest to patch the holes. All I can say is if I let her do that the Phils would for sure not have survived until that final line-drive Cubs out in Houston that if it had been hit a couple of feet one way or the other would have tied the game and who knows what would have happened after that?
So we lost one more time, and I wonder how long I’ll remember the Billy Wagner flame ball that Craig Biggio turned around for a three-run 8th inning shocker after David Bell booted what would have been a game-ending ground ball. Or the 8th inning three-run homer Urbina gave up to Ramon Castro, Mike Piazza’s backup. Or the Phillies leading the Mets 5-2 in the 8th in the last week of the season only to have Urbina cough it up again. Which is worse? To lose it like this, on the final pitch of the season, or to fall out of it in August? The end result is the same- Phillies lose.
This is better. We have the satisfaction of knowing that this time the Phillies have the best team but for two or three pitches out of the 40,000 or so that were thrown. Front-running fans of the Braves, Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Angels will laugh, even scoff at this, as indeed will Philadelphia sportswriters and sports radio loudmouths to say nothing of all those misguided Eagles’ fans, but let them- we who have mastered the knack of how to root for a losing ballclub know how to take our pleasures where they are to be found. Think Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins waiting ‘til next year to continue his 36-game hitting streak.

Final Standings of the Clubs – NL East – 2005
Team W L GB
Atlanta 90 72
Philadelphia 88 74 2
Florida 83 79 7
New York 83 79 7
Washington 81 81 9

Final Standing – National League Wild Card – 2005
Team W L GB
Houston 89 73
Philadelphia 88 74 1


It ended the way it began,
A loss to the Pirates; not our plan.
Post-mortems can now begin.
What does it take to win?
Max Blue will do what he can.

Monday, September 27, 2004. Citizens Bank-rupt Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh – 6, Philadelphia – 1.

Indeed it feels like the Phillies are dead. What began two years ago in bubbling excitement when Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood were signed has ended with yet another failed attempt to make the playoffs.

Final Standing of the Clubs – 2004

National League East
Atlanta (what else is new? 96 66
13 straight division
Philadelphia 86 76
Florida 83 79
New York 71 91
Montreal 67 95

National League Wild Card
Houston 92 70
San Francisco 91 71
Chicago 89 73
San Diego 87 75
Philadelphia 86 76

The Phillies fired Larry Bowa two days before the season ended and hired Charley Manuel a couple of days ago, passing up the chance to hire Jim Leyland who insisted that he really wanted the job. In his post-interview press conference Leyland said the biggest problem with the Phillies was they swung and missed too much; they had too many poor at-bats. Does anybody think a new manager will fix that?
In his press conference after he got the job, Charley Manuel said, “I’m the right guy for this job because I’m a motivator.” Does he think he can motivate his guys to not swing and miss so much?
But guess what? With all due respect for Jim Leyland and Charley Manuel, the reason the Phillies lost had nothing to do with hitting—big surprise—the problem was pitching. Wagner, Madson, Millwood, Padilla, and Wolf all missed major time on the disabled list.
Eric Milton managed to win 14 games even though he gave up 43 homeruns—43!! Who did he think he was, Bert Blyleven? Robin Roberts? Right. You can make the Hall of Fame even though you give up a ton of homeruns. But don’t look for Eric Milton to make the HOF. Brett Myers was painful to watch—there were days when he was terrific followed by performances so bad you wanted to cry.
Speaking of crying. Pat Burrell must have the worst approach to hitting of anybody who has ever played the game. Don’t get me started on Burrell. Let’s talk about Jimmy Rollins, Polanco, Abreu, David Bell—all had great numbers. Jim Thome and Mike Lieberthal were pathetic with runners in scoring position, probably costing the Phillies a pennant. Sure, Thome had 42 homeruns and 105 runs batted in – he should have had 150.
He started the season with a broken finger and a strained thumb and probably played all year with sore hands, but he didn’t want to make excuses and we never knew for sure except for the many times he checked swing and shook his hand hoping to stop the pain.

Chase Utley. You have to talk about Chase Utley. The ninth inning homerun off John Smoltz to tie a game the Phillies won in ten; a 95 mph fastball just below the knees that Utley slammed 400 feet over the centerfield fence—WOW! Fourteen homeruns and 53 RBIs in less than 300 at bats. He plays second base with grit, determination, and increasingly with skill. So now what? We already have a great second baseman in Placido Polanco. Polanco is a free agent; should we let him go? I don’t think so.
And what about Ryan Howard? Here is a kid who hit almost 50 homeruns between AA Reading, AAA Scranton-Willkes Barre, and the Phillies. He played enough in the Bigs to show he’s no fluke. A big raw-boned lefthanded slugger with a pretty good glove at first base. A young David Ortiz. But he’s not going to replace Thome. We’re told they might try to make a leftfielder out of him. Wouldn’t that be something? We wouldn’t have to watch Burrell’s frantic hacks.
So there it is. It’s over. We lost. The future is fogged.
Max is Blue
November 6, 2004.

When the Phillies signed Jim Thome over the winter they picked up a few thousand extra season ticket customers, including Liddy and me. What could we do? Thome is from Peoria where I grew up playing baseball against Jimbo’s Grandpa Chuck and his Uncle Art. Also, it didn’t hurt that this guy has hit way over 300 homeruns for Cleveland, and promises to do the same here in Philly. What could I do? We get the Sunday package—we like the day games. Section 318 row 3 seats 14 and 15. Behind the Phillies dugout. Good seats. We’re not even through April when we see Kevin Millwood beat the National League champion Giants 1-0. We know it’s something special when Millwood slings a 95 MPH fastball across the inside corner at the belt for strike three to end the 7th inning, and leave Barry Bonds standing there shaking his head. It’s a no-hit, no-run game, and Liddy and me are there. At Veterans Stadium.
2003—September 21, Sunday. Only 7 games to play and we got this wild card thing right where we want it. If we beat Cincinnati today and Florida loses to Atlanta, we are half a game ahead looking at three games in Florida then back to Veterans Stadium to close it out with three against Atlanta. Cincinnati is a last-place team that has traded away all their best players so they can play a bunch of young guys who don’t get paid so much. In the sixth inning Jim Thome slugs a three-run homer sending 50 some thousand Philly fans into a screaming frenzy. We go into the seventh up 3-1 with Vicente Padilla, a 14-game winner, in control. All of a sudden Padilla is no longer in control, the Reds score three and we lose 4-3. Fifty some thousand fans take it sitting down. They don’t know who to boo.
2003—September 28, Sunday. The final game at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies collapsed in Florida and the Wild Card race is history. We lose. Again. But we still have to play this one last game. Against the team that has wrapped up its 12th consecutive division championship—the Atlanta Braves. And facing the guy who has had more than his share to do with all those winning seasons—Greg Maddux. Kevin Millwood,who won 17 games for the Braves last year, is trying for his 15th win as a Philly, but he is plum awful. The Braves treat him like batting practice and he leaves in the 4th inning before he gets killed. The guy we cheered in April for his no-hitter gets booed in September. Millwood, in a fit of anger, fires his glove and cap into the seats behind the dugout as he leaves the field. Somehow it seems a fitting end to our memories of Veterans Stadium.

The answer is Chase Utley. The questions are three: 1) Who was the last rookie to hit a grand slam homerun at Veterans Stadium for his first major league hit? 2) Who got the last walk-off hit at Veterans Stadium? 3) Who made the last out at Veterans Stadium?
Who turned out the lights at Veterans Stadium? It was September 28, 2003 and along with almost 60,000 other Phillies fans, Liddy and me were there to help flip the switch. Atlanta 5 Philadelphia 2. What else? The Phillies lost. Not much consolation that the winning pitcher was Greg Maddux, the guy we beat in game 6 of the 1993 League Championship series right here at Veterans Stadium.
Oh yeah, there were some high moments here at Veterans Stadium.
But wait ‘til next year.

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