OBSERVATIONS, ruminations, insinuations and downright opinions . . .

Hold 'em or fold 'em

After the Four Aces bent, spindled and mutilated the opposition, Joe Blanton would come along and give stunned enemy batsmen a glimpse of mere competence.

That was the template. But to quote Joaquin Andujar's "There is one word in America that says it all, and that word is, 'You never know,'" the Four Aces have been something less than the sum of their immense hype. Cole Hamels and Doc Halladay are heading for the All-Star Game. But Doc has been hit around lately by less-than-stellar opposition. On the other hand, the left one, Hamels has been magnificent, the embodiment of both true ace and stopper.

Lee has lacked both support and consistent command, which is not a great combination. He served Danny Espinosa a cut fastball the other night that was so flat, fat and flammable half the righthanded power hitters in the league would have smoked it into the seats. Espinosa bleachered the ace lefthander twice.

Roy Oswalt has pitched well since his return from the DL, but needs to have no-hit stuff to win with that sleep-walking offense behind him. He was surprised Charlie Manuel lifted him after just five innings Wednesday. It seemed the manager was saying, "See . . . you guys are making me lift a starter who has allowed just two runs because I got to see if the bench can get something started."

The No. 5 spot is in disarray. Joe Blanton is down. Vance Worley is out. Kyle Kendrick has been strapped into the crash-dummy seat once again. The gritty sinkerballer keeps surviving head-ons. I haven't heard the Doob-speak on Worley, but the kid went from freezing hitters with his late-moving fastball and well-located slider to batting practice stuff. They sent him out after a couple of great Blanton fill-ins and when he came back, the word was he wasn't properly stretched out. Exactly whose fault was that, when they knew he would likely be back in the rotation at some point? His stuff in Washington was shockingly deficient and Vance was headed south to Gwinnett County, Ga. the next day.

My naturally suspicious nature usually concludes that when a major league pitcher suffers such a dramatic and obvious decline of stuff, there is an arm injury afoot. We shall see. Worley also had a deer-in-the-headlights demeanor that had replaced the in-charge swagger of his earlier work.

Flash Gordon II, Savior of the Universe?

The first time Lehigh Valley righthander Brian Gordon unfurled a strong start for the IronPigs, I started hearing from the impatient minority. "Any chance of calling him up if Kendrick falters?" I replied that the guy will be 33 in August. Wednesday night, in the 93 degree heat of Gwinnett County, Ga., Brian became Flash II. Against a weak Braves Triple A team, he allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings, walking none, striking out 11. The guy now has enough innings to qualify for the International League leader board and he leads it with a sick 0.84 ERA.

Here's what we know about the him: He's been signed as a minor league free agent three times, the first two as an outfielder. With his bat beset by termites, Gordon became a pitcher after the Astros signed him in 2007. He worked with Nolan Ryan, but was released after one game in 2008. The Rangers were next. When the Phillies signed him on Jan. 29, 2010, his minor league record was 19-10, mostly as a starter. With the IronPigs, he was 1-3 in 40 relief appearances with a decent 3.46 ERA. I'm a stickler for minor league pitching prospects allowing significantly fewer hits than innings pitched and having high strikeout-to-walks ratios. If they can't nail those stats in the minors, they invariably will be banged around in the majors.

Gordon has allowed 28 hits in 42 innings, which is good and has a 6:36 walk-strikeout ratio, which is better. But, I emphasize, Flash Gordon II turns 33 in August and has pitched just four major league innings.

What's 53 years among doo-woppers?

OK, Danny and The Juniors didn't top the charts with "We've Got Four Aces," their peppy tribute to the rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

But, incredibly, the venerable group of former teen heart-throbs now in their 70s, has topped the charts again, 50 years after everybody was humming, "At The Hop." On May 23, 53 years after "Hop" began a long run at No. 1, Danny and The Juniors hit No. 1 on Cashbox Magazine's Beach Music chart with a Joe Terry (Joe Terranova) composition titled "First Kiss to The Last." It would be nice if the Phillies would invite Danny and The Juniors out to The Bank one night to perform their hits.

Do ballplayers still work in the offseason?

Before Marvin Miller handed the vault keys to his Players Association, most players had to work in the offseason. So here is this week's Trivia question, a little tougher than last week's Rich Ashburn slam dunk:

Three prominent Phillies from the 1970s - Deron Johnson, Richie Hebner and Woodie Fryman - had unusual offseason occupations. What were they? Tough to Google these, so we'll find out who the real fans are.

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