Tuesday, May 5, 2009

First Place!

With their win tonight, the Phils have pulled one half game ahead of the Florida Marlins in the NL East, and are in first place! Florida is a nice story, and they have loads of good young players, but this is not their year. I'm not saying that the Phils are going to win the division, because that would be a little premature, but I do believe that the division will be won by either the Phils or the dreaded Mets. These two teams are stacked, and, while the Marlins' players have a lot of talent, it is still raw. The Phils and Mets seem to me to remain the marquee teams in the East, and along with the Cubs and Cardinals, the marquee teams of the league.

But, who wants to read about the Mets and Marlins. Let's get to the good stuff! The Phils had another great offensive showing tonight, scoring 10 runs against the second best team in the National League, record-wise. Unfortunately, the pitching was less than stellar, and allowed the Cards to keep it close all game. Brad Lidge allowed a HR to Albert Pujols. Since Lidge joined the Phils, Pujols is 1-2 against him with a HR and an intentional walk.

It's great news that the Phils have taken the division lead, and it would be nice to hold it with a win tommorrow, but it is almost impossibly hard to sweep a team, no matter what their record is, and the Cardinals are certainly no slouches. While I would love a Phils sweep, I'm not expecting one for this reason. Also, I know that the best way to win a division is one series at a time. As long as you can do that, you'll be a contender for a long time.

Also, it should be noted that with his second grand slam of the season last night, Ryan Howard tied Mike Schmidt for the Phils all-time lead, with 7.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Welcome to Another Year

Well, another school year is winding down, and another baseball season is in full swing. I figured its about time I start writing here again. Last year I stopped posting after a while, but I'm going to try to stay with it this year.

My final post in May of last year (read it here) was surprisingly prescient. I'm not sure if this was because I wrote about what I wanted to happen, and reality conformed, or I actually know what I am talking about (less likely). Anyhow, I wrote about the importance of winning one-run ballgames, and how doing so is a key feature of a championship ball club.

Well, the Phils were 27-23 in one-run games last year, not counting the playoffs, and they're wearing rings now. The team with the best regular season one-run game record, coincidentally, was the Tampa Bay Rays, who the Phils played in the World Series.

Anyhow, enough about last year. As numerous Phils have said, 2008 is behind us. It's time to focus on 2009.

I don't think it would be appropriate to begin the discussion of 2009 with any topic other than Harry Kalas.

I love baseball. It is hard to imagine my life without it. Since 2000, it has been a staple in my world. I discovered baseball on the radio. I learned the game from Harry Kalas and the rest of the Phils' broadcast team. However, I didn't just learn the rules of the game. The fascinating and wonderful thing about baseball is that it is more than just a game that men play. It is a patchwork quilt of history made up of names and places and stories. Baseball is a metaphor for life. You could be a student of the game for your entire life and never learn everything there is to know about it. Baseball is beautiful, and Harry Kalas showed me its beauty.

So, with sadness, I bid farewell to Harry Kalas, who, although he never had an official at bat or threw a big league pitch, left his mark on the game forever.

Tonight, the Phils played a game which Harry Kalas would have enjoyed, because he would have gotten to call two grand slams. Tonight, the Phils scored 13 runs for the second day in a row, powered by grand slams from Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. It was the fourth time in Phillies history that they had two grand slams one game. Here are the others:
  1. April 28, 1921 - Ralph Miller and Lee Meadows vs. Boston
  2. Aug. 18, 1997 - Billy McMillon and Mike Lieberthal vs. San Francisco
  3. Sept. 9, 2003 - Tomas Perez and Jason Michaels vs. Atlanta
Some facts about the grand slams tonight:
  • Ryan Howard now has six career grand slams, which ties him with Bobby Abreu, Willie Jones, Chuck Klein and Cy Williams for second-most in team history, behind Mike Schmidt who hit seven.
  • It was Howard's first slam at Citizen's Bank Park, and his first since September 17, 2007.
  • Raul Ibanez now has eight grand slams, which ties him with many people for the fourteenth most in MLB history. His last slam was on Aug 4, 2008, with the Mariners.
Also, the Phillies are now 10-8, and all but one of their wins has been a come from behind win. I absolutely loved the way they refused to stop fighting back, no matter how many times the Nats took the lead due to our unacceptably shody pitching. The pitching is a bit of a cause for concern. Even the Phillies won't score thirteen runs every night, and if we want to contend, we need to get better outings from our starters, and we need a dependable bullpen. Tonight the pen allowed so many runs, I thought I was watching the Mets! Hopefully Cole Hamels can figure out how to turn it around tomorrow night in game two. If we can sweep the Marlins, we need to find a way to beat the Nats as well, and thirteen runs is not a feasible solution. We know we have a great offense. If our pitching just steps up, we'll be poised for a great run in 2009.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Checkmark on the path to October

Former MVP Ryan Howard had just been thrown out of the game by the home plate umpire. Future MVP Chase Utley stood at first base after knocking a single on the first pitch he saw. But now, all the attention was on Pat Burrell, who stepped to the plate with the weight of the world seeming to rest on his shoulders. Burrell climbed ahead in the count early, letting three straight balls pass by. The fourth pitch was called a strike, and the the fifth was fouled away by Burrell. The count stood at three balls, two strikes. With two outs, Chase Utley would be running on the pitch, and had a chance to score if Burrell could get the ball into the corner or back to the wall. All of this ran through the head of each player on the field. Each knew where he should be, and what he should do if he got the ball. Burrell, who had seen five straight fastballs, had to wonder whether he would see another. As Burrell dug his cleats into the dirt, as pitcher Brian Wilson nodded to the catcher and wound up to deliver, the world seemed to pause, recognizing the gravity of the situation. As he had done 20,339 times before in his life, Burrell watched the pitch come towards the plate at 139.365 feet per second. He had less than .43 seconds to decide whether to swing. He made the right decision. In another 2.5 seconds, the baseball was long gone into the stands, and the Philadelphia Phillies had won their seventeenth ballgame in 2008.

All wins count the same towards your record, but this one was incredibly important. No matter how the season ends, this win will be underlined as one of the highlights of the season. Should the Phillies make the playoffs, it will be labeled as a important point on the path to October.

Yesterday, the Phillies took the division lead after their first winning April since 2003. The Marlins, who came into today a half game behind the Phils, won their game tonight. If the Phillies had lost today, they would have dropped back in to second place immediately after taking the lead. Now, with their win, they are guaranteed to be alone in first going into tomorrow, solidifying their place as the division leader.

Also, for the last two days, the Phillies have won a one-run ballgame. Coming into Wednesday, April 23,their record in one-run games was a pitiful 2-6. Tonight, they won their fourth one-run ballgame in the last nine days, and they now have a 6-6 record in one-run games. During the course of a 162 game season, you are going to blow some teams out, and get blown out by some teams, but the close ballgames usually end up making the difference between a good season and a bad one.

It is extremely important to have a good record in one-run ballgames. So many one-run ballgames are ones in which one team goes ahead, and the other attempts, successfully or unsuccessfully, to battle back. For instance, today, the Phillies took an early 4-1 lead, but in the seventh inning, the Giants scored three runs to tie the game and starter Kyle Kendrick's night. Former Phil Aaron Rowand added a solo shot in the top of the tenth inning off JC Romero. 5-4 Giants, and the momentum all in their favor. If the Phillies had failed to at least tie the game in the bottom of the tenth, they would have seen what was a promising game until the seventh inning slip into the loss column, haunting them for the rest of the season.

Every game that is won in this fashion adds momentum to a team and gives them the feeling that no matter what, they will win the ballgame. Many one-run games are built around these types of stories. Win most of them, and you definitely have the resilience that is required to be a contender in September and a champion in October.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Trip to PNC Park, chapter three

On Sunday, I attended the final game of the three game series between the Phillies and the Pirates at PNC Park. This was the first time in my life that I attended an entire series. The Phils lost the game by a score of 5-1, as Paul Malholm managed to quiet their bats for nine strong innings.

It was a beautiful day in Pittsburgh, and we had eleven Phillies, Pirates, and Baseball fans in our group. I cannot overstate how enjoyable attending a game at PNC Park is. We each paid nine dollars for great seats in left field (our seats are boxed in red in the following photograph). We were able to find free parking about five walking minutes away from the ballpark, at a boathouse row style jogging/biking trail adjacent to the Allegheny River.

We got to the game about an hour and a half early, and were able to walk around, as well as catch the tail end of Phillies batting practice.

Sunday was a day which really reinforced my love of the game of baseball. Before the game, the Pirates had a ceremony to honor an usher who had worked at Forbes Field, Three Rivers Stadium, and PNC Park in a career spanning 70 years. I believe he had just turned 90 years old. It was wonderful to see this man being recognized and honored by the team he had devoted his life to. In these days of free agency and dismantling of championship winning teams, it was inspiring and heartwarming to see such loyalty. The Pirates had offered him the day off, but he refused to take it, so instead they brought his friends and family to the park to watch the game for the day. Also, throughout the game, several kids in the stands got balls tossed to them by the outfielders after the inning, or signed by players in the bullpen. Their excitement was a beautiful thing to see. For the rest of their life, they will remember going "down to the ballpark", being with their families and enjoying some baseball. Last year baseball set a record for total attendance, and based on the look in the eyes of some of the children there, they will continue to do so for many years to come.

Although the Phillies lost, they won the series, which is enough for me. If a team wins two out of every three games they play, they will finish with a record of 108 wins and 54 losses, easily enough to win any division in baseball, any given year. On the way out of the stadium, an usher, noticing our Phillies shirts, said, somewhat triumphantly, "No sweep today!!". Of course, sweeps are very hard to come by in baseball, but I guess avoiding one was still something for Pittsburgh to celebrate. Outside the ballpark, representatives of Shearer's Foods, Inc. were giving away free bags of barbeque potato chips, which were a welcome relief from hunger that was starting to set in.

Friends, Great weather, baseball, the Phillies, and a beautiful ballpark are ingredients to a wonderful time, and I had a great weekend. I would strongly encourage anyone who stops by Pittsburgh to include a game at PNC Park on their schedule.

Tomorrow, the Phillies will return to action back home at Citizen's Bank Park against the San Diego Padres. The Phils hope to see the return of Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino to the lineup, in what should be a shot in the arm for one of the NL's best offenses.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Trip to PNC Park, chapter two

I attended the second game of the Phillies - Pirates series at PNC Park, along with 24,790 others, many of whom were Phillies Phans. The Phillies exploded for 5 runs in the 1st inning, effectively taking the Pirates - along with the crowd - out of the game almost immediately. The Phils batted a round plus one, fueled by Ryan Howard's 5th home run of the year and two Pirate errors. Morris, who fell to 0-4, threw a whopping 71 pitches while only lasting 1.2 innings.

Watching a game is always fun at PNC Park, and I had another great time, but I am realizing that I really like Citizen's Bank Park's setting much better than PNC Park's. The Pittsburgh police do an excellent job of crowd control, and there are no huge traffic jams, but that may be due mostly to the fact that Pittsburgh averages about one road per resident, and no one needs to take the same road as anyone else.

Unfortunately, tonight must have been "National Act Like An Idiot Day", but I didn't know, so I merely sat in my seat and watched the game. However, those who got the memo did a good job making themselves look stupid, Phillies and Pirates fans alike. I've never been to a game with so many rowdy fans. I think it might have been because the Flyers and Penguins are both in the playoffs, and hockey fans project the rivalry on to the non-rivalry Phillies and Pirates game.

With the win, the Phillies assure themselves of at least a .500 April, which is more than they could manage for the last two seasons. This is an important step forward in the hunt for October, which the Phils have been trying to take for the last several seasons.

The Phils now have a three game winning streak, the second time they have achieved that this season, and have reached their high-water mark for the season at three games above .500.

Ryan Howard homers at PNC

Today Ryan Howard hit his fifth home run of the season, a majestic drive to dead center field, and also his fifth home run in the month of April, which ties his career high for home runs in April, set in 2006, when he went on to hit a club record 58 home runs. The home run was his first career home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and his first career home run at PNC Park. PNC Park is the 20th ballpark Howard has homered in. He has now homered in every National League ballpark, except for Nationals Park, which he has not yet played in.

The National League record for ballparks with a home run is 39, by Mike Piazza, and the Major League record is 45, set by Sammy Sosa.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Trip to PNC Park, chapter one

Yesterday I watched my second game at PNC Park, as the Phillies beat the Pirates, 6-5. Jayson Werth hit a home run, his fifth of the year. Tom Gordon picked up his second win, JC Romero got his third hold of the year, and Brad Lidge got his sixth save. Both Lidge and Romero pitched scoreless innings, retaining their 0.00 ERAs.

PNC Park is a beautiful place to watch a baseball game. It has a cool spiral ramp behind left field which gives an excellent view of the whole field. The thing I thought was most impressive was the intelligent use of the video board. In my experience, at Veteran's Stadium and Citizens Bank Park, the video board would be more appropriately named the video bored. Between innings, the board in Philadelphia usually displays useless things like the "Kiss Cam", while the board in Pittsburgh sometimes gives video highlights from other games around the league. After the play, the board often shows a replay. At the end of the game, the board shows a video recap of the game. That's such a simple idea, it took a genius to come up with it. Why in the world can't Philadelphia show a video recap at the end of the game?

The view behind center field is stunning. You can see the Roberto Clemente Bridge, the most appropriately named of The Three Sisters, as well as frequent river traffic sailing the Allegheny below it. Below the batter's eye in center field, there is a bush which is cut in the shape of the word 'Pirates'.

Another innovation is the text messaging system which allows you to text a message which will be displayed on the side scoreboards in between innings. I don't know how I feel about this one, though. It is certainly a creative use of technology, but I feel that it detracts from the atmosphere of the baseball game. About two-thirds of the messages people send seem a little to personal to be displayed to 23,000+ people, like:

Happy Birthday, Adam!
jen and dave 4ever <3!!!

Another one quarter of the messages are statements about one sports team or other not related to the game at hand, such as:

go indians beat the yankees
i <3 Sidney Crosby

The last one-twelfth are just random comments like:

eat lots and lots of wings
why show Philly msgs in PGH?

Overall, the text messages seem to make the ballpark more of an entertainment center than the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. I think that if you want to tell your boyfriend that you love him, you should just text him, not the whole stadium. The scoreboards could be used for around-the-league updates, baseball trivia, league leaders, or other baseball related subjects.

Something else worth noting is that the large video board has a closed-captioning board underneath it, which is helpful, not just for the hearing-impaired, but also if it is very loud in the ballpark.

I had a great time at PNC Park, which is at least partly due to the fact that the Phillies won the game. Also, after the game, I met Chris Wheeler, one of the Phillies' color commentators coming out of the stadium and shook his hand. I love listening to baseball on the radio. In fact, I became both a baseball and Phillies fan in April, 2000, when I turned on the radio and found the game accidentally. For the last seven years, I have regularly tuned in for almost every game. Now that I am in Pittsburgh, I can't get the Phil's radio station, but sometimes I listen over the internet. The Phillies broadcasters have taught me much of what I know about the sport, and to meet one in person was a very exciting experience for me.