As Phillies president David Montgomery pointed out, it may have been the first time in his career as a major league executive that he'd literally paid a player out of his own pocket. Retirement signings such as the one that took place yesterday when Mike Lieberthal officially walked into the sunset as a Phillie are ceremonial in nature, but the player is required to sign a minor league contract and the club is required to reward him with some compensation.
Although the money that changed hands yesterday - Montgomery gave Lieberthal $12 cash out of his own pocket, one dollar for each month of the minor league contract he signed - was tiny in terms of denomination, it was rich in symbolism.
A player who spent 13 of his 14 big-league season with the Phillies and left town as the franchise leader in games caught (1,139), donned the red pinstripes one last time and threw out the ceremonial first pitch to a thunderous ovation.
"To spend really 17 years of my life, and to put everything that I had into baseball into the Phillies in 13 years, it's pretty special," said Lieberthal, who was drafted by the club as an 18-year-old high school catcher in 1990 and made his big-league debut 4 years later. "You don't see too many players that stay with one team in any sport for that long of a period."
Lieberthal played in 38 games last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but back problems limited his effectiveness and convinced him that he was ready to retire. He leaves the game with a .274 career batting average, 150 home runs, 610 RBI and 534 runs scored. He endured numerous injuries - knee surgery in 1996, a pelvic stress fracutre in 1998, torn ACL and MCL in 2001 - and played in fewer than 100 games in half of his 14 seasons.
Nevertheless, for more than a decade he was in many ways the face of a franchise that was struggling to make the transition from perennial cellar dweller to playoff contender.
But as impressive as Lieberthal's career was in terms of longevity - he caught more than 1,200 games in 14 major league seasons - it is impossible to ignore the years that serve its unfortunate bookends.
Lieberthal broke into the big leagues in 1994, the year after the Phillies appeared in their last World Series, and he left Philadelphia prior to last season, when the Phillies made their first playoff appearance since that 1993 season. Last year, he watched so many Phillies games in the clubhouse at Dodgers Stadium that it became a joke among his teammates. He cheered when the Phillies finally ended their 15-year playoff drought.
"It's something I never experienced, the playoff atmosphere," Lieberthal said, "so it's probably something that I'll miss. But I'll ask other players what it's like."
A little time off apparently hasn't hurt Brad Lidge, who once again befuddled an opponent and earned a save in dominant fashion. Lidge is 13-for-13 this season in save opportunities, but hadn't faced one since May 22. The veteran righthander, who has allowed just two earned runs in 23 innings and has struck out 28 batters, said he had a feeling he'd get an opportunity yesterday.
"Obviously, you know no one wants to be down 5-1, but I was thinking to myself, 'OK, this is it,' '' he said. "Because I have confidence that we are going to score at least six more runs or whatever. I actually felt like I was going to definitely throw the whole game, for sure. I knew we'd come back."
With his two home runs yesterday, Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs is 5-for-8 with three home runs against Jamie Moyer in his career. Jacobs hit a solo home run in the second inning and a three-run homer in the third, accounting for four of the Marlins' five runs. He also hit the ball well in his third at-bat, lining into an unassisted double play by first baseman Ryan Howard.
"I asked Jamie, and he'll probably tell you the same thing. He said, 'I missed my spot all three times on him,' " manager Charlie Manuel said. " 'I missed the location, and he hurt me.' "