CLEARWATER, Fla. - One hundred, Jimmy? OK, maybe if you count the exhibition victories you guys seem to regard as annoying speed bumps between the tedium of February workouts and the boredom of those meaningless March games.
I'll give you 88. You're on your own for the rest. Win 100 with this pitching staff, you can broker Mideast peace, then bail out the subprime lenders.
Sorry, but when you break camp - keep down the cheering - that still leaves three more meaningless games up north, three more of nothing more than "getting in my work" so everybody's sharp when the bell rings and the switches are thrown and the 25 guys who sleepwalked through spring training turn into the raging "Beasts of the East." And the last game, the day before
Opening Day, is a bus ride up the Turnpike against the Lehigh
Valley Iron Pigs. (Nobody tell them there's a chance for snow in the long range.)
Here's flu-weakened Charlie Manuel talking Saturday before the Phillies' who-gives-a-bleep loss No. 11 gave them the worst record of the 30 big-league teams:
"Guy says to me the other day when I asked how he thinks he did - and I won't name him -
'I felt real good,' he says. 'I threw all four of my pitches. I hit my spots and I really feel like I had good command.' I told him, 'Well and good, but you got hammered, so how could you have been throwing so damn good?' "
Jimmy, I would love to give you those 100 victories you predicted over the winter at a time when W's are so easy to come by. But I can't, not even as a St. Patrick's Day benediction for a reigning National League MVP.
A year ago at this time, you guys had six starters and four of them were named Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer. General manager Pat Gillick thought enough of No. 5, Adam Eaton, to shell out $24.51 million for the oft-injured righthander's services through 2009. And what a chip veteran Jon Lieber figured to be - trade bait in July, bullpen insurance if a setup guy went down, and starter insurance if any of the Phab Phive Phailed. A three-fer.
I will not rehash the gory details of a pitching meltdown where Myers wound up in the bullpen and Garcia turned into pitching's Bear Stearns.
Somehow, despite Charlie's five-by-five club (typical outing: five innings pitched, five earned runs), the Phillies won 89 games, including the one on the final day of the season that brought a defeat-battered city its first division title since 1993. That result was an anomaly in every respect because 89 normally does not get 'er done. But the Mets collapsed like one of those Wall Street
towers filled with bad loans.
Given the circumstances, I don't get the pinstriped strut that has dovetailed into guys not running through bases, neglecting to work counts, failing to throw strike one. Before a team earns "lordly" in front of its name, James, it has to acquire more than 89 W's, followed by a one-and-done rollover to a team of upstarts.
You've probably guessed by now . . . This is the St. Patrick's Day column I have done each spring training since 1993, when I took a perception that Jim Fregosi's band of soon-to-be way overachievers would run through a brick wall if there was a W on the other side. I used those good vibrations and little else to climb waaaaaay out on a limb and predict a pennant - not just an East title - for a team that had finished last in 1992 and was picked by most to finish fourth or fifth.
So, let's cut to the 2008 chase. I think the ownership of this franchise has done a terrible disservice to what could be the most dynamite position roster in the majors. They have ordered up a Bentley convertible, then slapped a Hyundai four-banger in it because, by God, they had a bottom line targeted and were sticking to it. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke would be proud.
They have surrounded MVP-capable Ryan Howard, you Jimmy, and Chase Utley with a pitching staff that has put more furrows in Manuel's kindly brow than the Colorado River raging through an eon of limestone.
Brett Myers is solid up front at No. 1 or 2. He's a bulldog with
attitude. You hope the shoulder "strain" that cost him a long DL stay was a one-time thing. Cole Hamels whined about his $500,000 contract renewal and hinted darkly that he will have a long memory down the road. Since then, he's been handled like a Ming vase. Cole's arm strength appears to be coming later than usual, but it's time to get him back against real hitters.
Jamie Moyer continues to be Ponce de Leon in pinstripes. His fastball comes up like an undercooked gnocchi that somehow turns hitters' bats into strands of linguini. Hitters simply refuse to extend his pitch counts with patient at-bats. But if Jamie hits a wall called decrepitude he has been pushing back for more than a decade, it could be a mortal blow to the staff. When Kyle
Kendrick, an obscure Double A suspect a year ago, allowed just three runs in an outing against Double A hitters, the brass was thrilled. Never mind the 16.43 ERA and staggering 19 hits in 7 2/3 varsity innings.
Last I looked, the No. 5 starter was somebody named Adam Durbin-Durbin Flipacoinandhopeforkris. I don't have a clue and neither does anybody else.
Tom Gordon is a gutty gamer pitching with a ragged labrum. Wounded Knee closer Brad Lidge will face his first live hitters of the spring Thursday. They don't win in 2007 without J.C. Romero. The jury keeps asking to see more evidence in the cases of Ryan Madson and a
gaggle of front-end bullpenners.
So light a candle for the pitching. Light several candles.
And pray that this is not another high-80s reflection of an ownership that just doesn't get the requirements of assembling a complete championship baseball team and apparently never will. The Teflonics are in town, by the way. I'm sure the partners have been assured the exhibitions don't count.
Meanwhile, James, here is the headline you don't want to read:
"Howard Blasts No. 60 as Phils Clinch 3rd Place" *
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