ONLY A few hundred feet from Citizens Bank Park sits The Turf Club, a place where men armed with knowledge, advice and insight seek to improve their fortunes by playing the ponies. Sometimes they win, often they don't, and sometimes they go on ridiculous runs that are hard to explain.
Kind of like the last 7 days of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s life.
Or the last 48 hours of it.
* J.A. Happ, nearly traded for Toronto's Roy Halladay, threw a 10-strikeout shutout Wednesday night against the Colorado Rockies, one of the hottest-hitting teams in baseball.
* At the same time, about 68 miles away in Reading, Pedro Martinez struck out 11 batters in what likely is his final minor league tuneup.
* During that game, Dominic Brown, another player nearly traded for Halladay, bounced a 426-foot home run off the wall of an auto-glass shop beyond the rightfield fence. Which, of course, is more impressive and less costly than bouncing it off auto glass.
* Yesterday, Cliff Lee, for whom Amaro traded lesser regarded prospects, allowed one run over seven innings in his Citizens Bank Park debut, striking out nine in a 3-1 victory over the Rockies. It was his second victory in as many starts as a Phillie.
"What a great job, man," Shane Victorino said of Amaro in the Phillies clubhouse the other day. Victorino, you might recall, was pleading for Amaro to pull the trigger on the Halladay deal, prospects be damned. But that was before he watched Lee pitch in San Francisco, before he played behind him yesterday, before he watched the Phillies' rookie general manager win his first game of trade-deadline blink, still winding up with a Cy Young Award winner - just not one named Halladay.
Said Ryan Howard, "I pat him on the back."
Amaro has done a real nice job of spreading the pat around. His answers begin with we, incorporate all the front-office names that have smoothed his transition from Pat Gillick assistant to Pat Gillick heir. Elevated to the position less than a week after the team won its second World Series, Amaro seemed destined to suffer by comparison.
Yet here he is, Aug. 7, with some pretty amazing notches on his belt: Raul Ibanez, his December free-agent signing; Pedro Martinez, a $1 million insurance-policy signing; and Lee, who seems every bit unlike a prima donna as Halladay is reported to be.
True, Amaro has leaned on some heavyweights in the game, names such as Chuck LaMar, Benny Looper, Gordon Lakey, Scott Proefrock and even Gillick, too. But Amaro is the one making the calls now, the guy whom Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi thought he could pressure into a total talent drop, the guy who would have taken the brunt of angst around here if the deadline came and went without a major deal.
"I've sat in the office and been at the deadline where we've been aggressive and we couldn't get something done just because of circumstance," he said, alluding to those days as Ed Wade's assistant, when the farm was bare and the budget much tighter. "It was kind of the perfect storm for us to get something done. We had the players, we were leading our division, and we had a specific need."
Lee has allowed two runs over 16 innings of work as a Phillie. Happ has been just mind-boggling amazing, to the point that Amaro declared before the game that he would remain part of the rotation, leaving veterans Jamie Moyer and Martinez to battle for the final spot.
Amaro's horseshoe hand was accentuated when Brown went auto-glass building the other night. Imagine if Happ did what he did in Toronto, Brown did what he did for the Blue Jays farm team, and Halladay was hit around as a Phillie here the way he was at Yankee Stadium the other day.
A little different vibe today, no?
"Everybody said he was a GM in the making," Victorino said. "But to see him make these moves . . . He not only earned his keep, he put himself in the perspective where a lot of people were 'OK, he's legit.'
"I mean that was the big thing about it. He actually made it happen."
Amaro was asked whether he'd received some congratulatory phone calls. He squirmed uneasily, then went on long and hard about all the help he received.
"We don't do this to receive congratulations," he said, finally. "We do this to win games, man."
Well said. And well played. *
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