WHILE PHILLIES NATION hyperventilated about Charlie Manuel's incredible shrinking offense, the rank and file did something inherent to the species.
They beat hell out of the obvious.
Some called for the unloading of Ryan Howard and his jumbo contract. One fan wrote it is time to jettison No. 6 for whatever the market will yield. Ditto Ancient (former) Mariner Raul Ibanez and J-Roll, the over-the-hill shortstop. The RBI solution?
"They bit the bullet with Bull [Greg Luzinski] in left, can Matt Rizzotti be that bad?" (Insert groans here.)
Guy got demoted back to Double A after a weird 2010 season at three levels. Hit for high average at Clearwater but had one homer in 109 ABs against Class A pitching. His .358 average earned a promotion to Reading.
Playing in a hitter-friendly park, Matt cranked 16 homers in 266 ABs while batting .361. On to the IronPigs. In Lehigh Valley, the Pride of Manhattan University hit zero homers in 45 ABs. Three levels: 17 homers in 420 ABs.
Rizzotti is a traffic island at first. The enemy scouting report: Don't let him get his arms out; more important, don't run into him. The Big Rizz is listed at 6-5, 265, 6-5 being either his height or his time to first base.
With Chase Utley in a long and cautious rehab and everybody but Shane Victorino swinging maple bats - maple sugar, that is - we were assured the punchless judys had no chance to win a series from a "good team." And look what was coming, a 20-game stretch against the Braves (Beware!), Marlins (Help!), Braves again (Mercy!), Cardinals (Yikes!), Rockies (Avalanche Warning!), Rangers (The Horror!) and now the revenge-bent Reds (We surrender, just spare the women and children).
Back-sore Roy Oswalt lost half a yard off his fastball and was sent to Clearwater on a rehab ticket. He was mediocre against the Fort Myers Cardinals, outstanding in two varsity starts since then. Media scouts have been fired.
In a Clearwater rehab, sore-bodied Jose Contreras hit his pitch count before getting his second out. Yesterday, Jose pitched two scoreless innings for the IronPigs.
Victorino, Charlie's only consistent hitter during the protracted low tide, blew a tire and will soon be boarding the rehab shuttle. The Threshers could have used him Monday night in an epic, 2-1 loss to the Jupiter Hammerheads in 23 innings. (Note of irony: After getting two scoreless innings each from designated hitter Joe Savery and first baseman Darin Ruf, manager Dusty Wathan gave the ball in the 23rd to Justin Friend, the Florida State League's No. 1 closer with 16 saves and a 1.27 ERA. Baddabing . . . Bleeder, sac bunt, walkoff single . . . )
Utley didn't have to do any more but show up Monday night. The lineup card finally had a Good Old Times look. Chase had one of the least relevant 0-for-5s in franchise history. And the 10-3 blowout of the Reds left the Phillies 8-9 during their death march.
There are two axioms at work here. Both are a century or more old and have withstood most tests thrown at them by time.
First, the key to winning a pennant is winning two out of three at home and playing .500 on the road.
I used to prefer the second, which states that the key to winning a pennant is beating hell out of the bottom feeders and playing .500 against the contenders.
However, it's difficult to beat hell out of the bottom feeders when you have to play 18 games against both the Mets and Nationals in a division where the Braves and Marlins are a formidable presence. And the woeful imbalances presented by interleague play are a whole other story the players must address in their next basic agreement.
This season is writing a script where the disabled list is an equal-opportunity employee and no team will get through the long season unscathed.
The Braves have been scuffling for runs, as well, and must deal with sore-shouldered phenom Jason Heyward going on the DL and ace righthander Tim Hudson's stiff back.
Josh Johnson, the best righthanded starter in the National League not named Halladay, has spent so much time with famed Birmingham arm surgeon Dr. James Andrews that they file a joint income-tax return. Johnson is down with another bout of shoulder misery. If he's headed for a protracted DL stay or, yikes, surgery, the Marlins are probably cooked.
Meanwhile, the unintended but happy consequence of the injury epidemic - or accelerated decrepitude, if you prefer - contains echoes from 1980.
Dallas Green will be happy to tell you there is no way in Hell or Libya the Phillies would have won that difficult pennant without rookies - starters Bob Walk and Marty Bystrom, outfielder Lonnie Smith and catcher Keith Moreland. The bullpen front end was energized by young righthanders Dickie Noles and Warren Brusstar.
That was Dom Brown and John Mayberry Jr. in the outfield for Utley's return. Michael Stutes served some filthy pitches late in the blowout and Antonio Bastardo powered to a mop-up goose egg.
If you don't appreciate the subtle infusion of what legit talent the farm system has to offer in the wake of the denuding 2009-10 harvests, please stop hollering for changes that have no chance of happening.
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