Bird that Sings

August 28, 2010

Every Season Tells a Story, Don’t it #2

While the rest of the country, not to mention the Northern Hemisphere, cooks in the cauldron of Climate-Change-Alert summer, this has been coldest summer in memory in the coastal towns and cities of the San Francisco Bay. That is until this week when an offshore flow more associated with September and October swept through and brought baseball weather to the cheering packed house down at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, home to the San Francisco Giants.

For the Giants, and certainly their General Manager Brian Sabean, this is a make or break season.

When the Giants played at Candlestick Park, on Candlestick Point, the coldest, most windswept, godforsaken spit of land in the State of California, the typically spare crowds were mostly hard-core and hard drinking.

Then in 2000, the Giants moved to Pac Bell Park, now meretriciously renamed AT&T Park.

In the new millennium, with Barry Bonds–love him or hate him, the greatest hitter of his era–breaking home run records, the Giants in contention, margaritas at the bar, Orlando Cepeda’s Caribbean Cha-Cha Bowls at his concession stand and the once nerdy tech guys and girls basking in their new found dot-com wealth, everyday at the new ballpark was a celebration.

Then came the dot-com crash and the failure of the Giants to win the World Series in 2002.  Bonds got old, then indicted and as Sabean desperately tried to build another contender around his aging superstar, it became clear that for ordinary players, it was really hard to hit home runs at Whatchamacallit Park.

The fans–new and old– went on the warpath, calling for Sabean’s head, but the GM was saved by the emergence of a young pitching staff headed by “The Freak,” Tim Lincecum, and his formidable partner, Matt Cain.

The pitching made the Giants a fashionable choice to take the NL West for the past two years, but the anemic hitting of the post Bond’s era continued, so this year, in mid-season, Sabean went on a wild binge.

He picked up Pat Burrell, the one time Phillies slugger, who had been released by Tampa Bay. He picked up Jose Guillen from the Royals, Mike Fontenot from the Cubs, and this week, Cody Ross, a solid hitter with some power from Florida.

They joined a cast, which, against all odds, was already potent, headed by Outfielder/first baseman Aubrey Huff, having the season of his career. There was career journeyman, Andres Torres, at 34, winning the Centerfield job from one time all-star Aaron Rowand. There was this year’s prize prospect, catcher Buster Posey to go along with last year’s prize prospect, 3rd baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval.

Add to the mix, ex-batting champion, 2nd baseman Freddie Sanchez, and power and clutch hitting shortstop, Jose Uribe and suddenly these Giants had hitting up and down the line-up. They seemed ready to challenge the more than surprising San Diego Padres in the West.

However after losing 2 out 3 to San Diego in San Francisco, and then 2 out 3 in both Philadelphia and St Louis, the Giants came back home to play Cincinnati, a game behind Philadelphia in the Wild Card and 6 games behind San Diego in the West.

The Giants won the first two games of the series and were playing a day game Wednesday afternoon. I was out myself: I needed to go food shopping and was walking over to my first appointment with the local CityCarShare, which I joined after my wife totaled our car. It was still hot, but the weather was already changing. You could feel a slight breeze and smell a hint of the Bay.

I found the reserved car just where it was supposed to be and put the electronic sensor up the window: nothing happened.

I walked home and turned on the game.

The Giants were down 10-1. I went to make lunch . . . and the Giants started rallying. They scored two in the bottom of the 5th, two in bottom of the 6th and then six in the bottom of the 8th to go ahead 11-10.

The fans were going nuts.

Meanwhile Atlanta had lost a 10-1 lead in Colorado, losing their third game in a row, this one 12-10. This was good because my team, the Phillies, had just lost the night before at home in sixteen innings and were chasing Atlanta in the East while trying to stay ahead of the Giants in the Wild Card.

You’re not supposed to lose extra inning games at home when you come from nine runs down to go ahead, but on Wednesday afternoon the Giants did, losing to the Reds, 12-11. Then the Phillies lost that night, at home, 3-2, behind their ace Roy Halliday. Then the Phillies lost again today–four in a row at home to the out of it Astros– while the Giants were off.

It’s now late Thursday afternoon and the fog’s rolling over San Francisco, that sad, gray city as Jack Kerouac once wrote.

The Phillies are flying to San Diego to play the Padres tomorrow. The Giants are hoping that one of them loses, and everybody’s starting to worry about Colorado.

There’s five and a half weeks left to play in the season.

To paraphrase Curtis Mayfield, gotta keep on pushin’.

August 20, 2010

Every Season Tells a Story, Don’t it

Filed under: Sports,The Philadelphia Perspective,Uncategorized — admin @ 1:24 am

This is my almost unmentionable 50th year of following the Philadelphia Phillies, but even fans of less antiquity understand: This is the best Phillies team of all time.

The phrase has a warm ring to it, but I can’t help remembering the words of my late father quoting Branch Rickey — or maybe it was Paul Richards — that the best team on paper almost never wins.

In April, the Phillies came out fighting and looked like they might really blow away the League, let alone the Eastern Division. A record string of sellout crowds, some there to see the team, others there to make the scene, celebrated the moment at Citizens Bank Park. When “The Bank” opened five years ago, local sportswriter, Bill Conlin, dubbed it “the Money Pit,” and you could really see it in High Definition now.

But the hubris of the scene apparently offended the Invisible Lords of Baseball and players started dropping like flies in the unbelievable humidity — even for South Philadelphia, which is built on a swamp — and heat.

By the beginning of August, every regular on the team with the exception of Jason Werth — whom the local media had mistakenly traded three or four times — had either been on the disabled list or out for a good chunk of time.

Not only that, but the Bullpen had turned out to be like a long night trapped in a tranny bar, best epitomized by closer Brad Lidge, MVP of the World Series in 2008, whose every appearance now caused fans of all ages to clutch at their hearts. No lead was safe with Lidge on the mound in the 9th.

However, even through the smoky haze and the incredible ruinous run of injuries, the Phillies were only two games behind Atlanta in the Eastern Division of the National League, and were finally getting healthy.

And then too, the alternately celebrated and abused General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had, for the second year in a row, pulled off a coup at the trade deadline. Last year it was the acquisition of Cliff Lee. This year it was Houston Right hander Roy Oswalt, who becomes one of “The Three Aces” — the other two being Roy Halliday and Young Cole Hamels.

The Three Aces: who will give this team their commemorative handle should they bring home another World Championship to Philly.

All this is prologue: Now it was the evening of Thursday, Aug. 12, and the game was on.

My wife was leaving on a trip to Central America with her sister early Saturday morning and was out, frantically running last minute errands. I was watching the Phillies-Dodgers game on the MLB Network and trying to fix the lock on the front door.

Joe Blanton, the now appropriately designated number 4 starter, was pitching for the Phillies against 22-year-old left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who appears to the future of the Dodgers, but is not quite ready to be their ace yet.

Blanton got hit early, giving up three runs in the first, but he does that sometimes and then settles down. Meanwhile I had taken off the doorknob and diagnosed the problem: a bad spring, but figured I could WD 40 the whole thing and get it working again.

The problem was that I needed help slipping the turning mechanism back into its fitting, so I called my wife on the cell. Initially she was quite irritated, but finally agreed to come home since the front door was hanging open and I couldn’t leave, even to buy us stuff to cook for dinner.

Meanwhile the Phillies scored a run in the second and a run in the fourth, and the Dodger lead was only 3-2. I figured it was only a matter of time until the Phillies went ahead or perhaps, simply stole the game at the end since they were batting last.

Then disaster struck.

My wife was on the phone, sobbing. She had totaled the car. It was a relatively inexpensive Japanese car that we got a great deal on nine years ago, but we liked it. My wife was unhurt. According to the pop-up gauge nestled behind the grill (who knew?) she had made impact at five miles an hour, but the headlights were destroyed, the hood crumpled like an accordion, and the radiator broken. I guess that’s why it was an inexpensive car.

Meanwhile, as I put the turning mechanism back into the doorknob my own damned self, the Phillies’ bullpen was collapsing —  big surprise — and the Dodgers scored two in the 7th and three in the 8th. The eminently winnable game had become, fittingly enough, a 9-2 slaughter.

And now as I stood in the middle of the living room idly watching, waiting for my wife to get home in a cab, the Phillies rallied for four runs in the bottom of the 8th.

At least they’re making it a game, I thought.

By the time she made it home, it was the bottom of the 9th.

Dodgers closer Jonathon Broxton, who’s never been the same since Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins beat with a double in the playoffs last year, hit the first batter of the inning, Placido Polanco, then walked the second, Ryan Howard sub, Mike Sweeney.

It was a tense moment, at least in my living room. After walking Jayson Werth to load the bases, Broxton induced fourth outfielder, Ben Francisco to hit a ground ball to third.

It looked like a possible double play ball, or at the very least, a close play at the plate, but Casey Blake, the usually sure handed Dodger 3rd baseman, inexplicably came down with Bill Buckner disease — which must be some kind of congenital Dodger disorder — and let the ball go through his legs. Two runs scored and now the Phillies were only down 9-8.

The next batter, catcher Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz, who was an offensive afterthought two years ago and has now arguably become the team’s MVP, hit a double to left center, driving in Werth and Francisco.

The Phillies had won.

I ran out of the house, the local natural foods store was closing in ten minutes.

Second baseman Chase Utley, the best all around position player in baseball came off the disabled list last night as the Phillies beat the Giants, 6-2, to go ahead in the Wild Card race.

First baseman, Ryan Howard, one of the three best power hitters in baseball, probably comes back on the weekend.

It’s the middle of August; my wife is out of the country; my son is on the road shooting a movie; I still don’t have a car, and the race is on.

I’ll keep you posted.

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