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.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to win a baseball game

Every Major League Baseball team has the same goal: win the world series. To do this, they must win most of their games during the regular season and the playoffs. There is a simple formula which must be followed to achieve this:


RS represents runs scored by your team in a game, and RA is the number of runs scored by the other team in a game. As long as you can follow this formula, you will win the ballgame, every time.

The Phillies are touted as one of the top offensive teams in the major leagues. And for good reason - the Phillies scored the most runs in the National League in 2007 (892) and more than any team except the New York Yankees (968). And hey, we won our division.

This year, the Phillies lost center fielder Aaron Rowand, who was one of the cornerstones of their offense, but so far, they have been able to pick up the slack. As of their 22nd game last year (April 27, 2007) they had 110 runs scored (RS). As of their 22nd game this year (April 23, 2007) they have 111 RS. Even with the loss of Rowand, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino on the DL, and Ryan Howard hitting a meager .181 with 4 HR and 9 RBI, they have kept up with last year's RS total. Through their 22nd game last year, the Phillies' record was 10-12. This year, they are one game better, with a record of 11-11.

However, the offense has been lacking consistency so far. In their first five games, the Phillies' scores were:
  • 6 - 11 (loss)
  • 0 - 1 (loss)
  • 8 - 7 (win)
  • 8 - 4 (win)
  • 4 - 3 (loss)
This is an illustration of erratic run production from the Phil's offense, which has made it tough to stay above .500.

Here are some more statistics:

Phillies' average score in ballgames they win: 6.73 runs
Opponents' average score in Phillies win: 3.64 runs
Phillies' average score in losses: 2.91 runs
Opponents' average score in Phillies loss: 5.27 runs
Phillies' average margin of victory: 3.09 runs
Phillies' average margin of defeat: 2.45 runs
Phillies' wins by one run: 1 game
Phillies losses by one run: 6 games

All of this data clearly shows that if our offense could push across one or two more runs per game, our record would improve drastically. That seems like a tall order: how can an offense which is already third in the National League in RS up their average from 4.74 R per G to 6.74? Well, if you look at the left on base (LOB) numbers, I think you can tell that we have had no shortage of base runners, and therefore, potential runs.

So far this year, the Phillies have had 173 LOB, or 7.52 per game. More importantly, of those 173 runners, 84 of them were stranded in games when the Phils lost. That's 7.64 per loss. As we saw earlier, the Phillies score, on average, 2.91 runs per loss. They leave, on average, 7.64 base runners on base per loss. The average margin of defeat is 2.45 runs. Also, six of our losses have come by one run. If our offense could push one or two of those seven or eight runners across the plate, we could turn a lot of losses into wins.

Even if we only won one extra game per month, it would make a difference. One extra game per month would mean six extra wins a year. As you can see below, this would have been more than enough to push the Phillies into the playoffs for the last few years:

  • 2001: Finished in second place, 2 games behind the Braves in the NL East
  • 2003: Finished in third place, 5 games behind the Marlins in the NL Wild Card
  • 2004: Finished in fifth place, 6 games behind the Astros in the NL Wild Card
  • 2005: Finished in second place, 1 game behind the Astros in the NL Wild Card
  • 2005: Finished in second place, 2 games behind the Braves in the NL East
  • 2006: Finished in second place, 3 games behind the Dodgers and Padres in the NL Wild Card

You can see that six extra wins a year could be the difference between a long offseason and a world championship.

I believe that Phillies have a good chance of winning the division if they can eliminate some of the one-run losses, and raise their average score in a loss to 4.5 or so.

Pat Burrell sets RBI record

Today Pat Burrell hit a double in the eighth inning off of Brewers Reliever Brian Shouse, knocking in Greg Dobbs and Chase Utley. The RBIs were his 24th and 25th of the year, and his 23rd and 24th in April, setting a new Phillies record for RBI in the month of April. The record was previously held by Von Hayes, who had 22 RBI in April, 1989.