Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Here's a true story …

Once upon a time, my cousin and I were playing my two uncles in basketball at a cookout, your standard 2-on-2, must win by two, young teenagers taking on a couple of old men. We were younger and quicker and at least my cousin was stronger than the old guys, but you know how old men, specifically family members, play basketball — dirty, and I'm not talking Christina.

Anyway, they were cheating their way to staying close when finally my cousin and I were primed to end this travesty and let the geezers catch their breath. We're up one at game point, there's a scuffle for a rebound and my cousin rips it away from my uncle (who just so happens to be his dad), lays it up, game over. We go into our gloating routine, making fun of the old men, as my grandfather joins in the fun, harassing his son and son-in-law for losing to the youngsters.

But then it happened. My uncle, refusing to accept defeat at the hands of his son and nephew, claims he called "firsts" on the loose ball that was eventually wrestled away from him for the game-winning bucket. Now, I've heard of this stupid pansy business of calling firsts, but I had never actually come across it in all my years playing pickup basketball. It's just something you don't do, like taking a charge or calling the Puerto Ricans at 2nd St. for traveling (they might stab you). Well, my uncle claims he called "FIRSTS!" Refused to let it die and demanded the game go on, even as my cousin and I spouted off about how ridiculously girlish it is to call firsts. But you know, the whole respect your elders thing forced us to continue the game, and by some dumb luck, they hit three straight contested shots to "win," even though they had already lost.

Why do I bring this all up? Well, it seems as though finally, after weeks of looking like they just weren't going to win, the Phillies have called "firsts" and are well on their way to taking the division title from the Braves.

With last night's unnecessarily dramatic victory combined with Atlanta's third straight loss, a 5-0 shutout against the Pirates, your Philadelphia Phillies are back in first place, a half game ahead of the fledgeling Braves. I've never respected Pittsburgh so much. In fact, I've never respected Pittsburgh — besides PNC Park and Andrew McCutchen — at all in my life. I guess there's a first time for everything.

Perhaps even more amazing than wrestling away first place from the Braves for the time being — something that seemed inevitable as the Phillies inched closer and closer even as the injuries piled up and the bats went cold — is that the Phillies are the first team in the National League to reach 80 wins this year. I was as stunned when I heard it as Larry Andersen and Scott Franzke were when they said it.

And why was I listening to Franzke and L.A. instead of watching Comcast and hating every word that came out of Tom McCarthy's big, fat mouth? I'm glad you asked. You see, my plan was to plant my ass on my couch and not move until the Phils were in first place. At first, that plan was going about as well as I could have hoped.

I watched the first 7 innings from the comfort of my living room, watched as the Phils took a 1-0 lead thanks to an RBI single by Jimmy Rollins that plated Ryan Howard, who doubled right before him. Jimmy sure does look a whole hell of a lot better as a five-hole hitter — and Shane a lot better in the leadoff spot. Then I watched Joe Blanton give that run right back and then another in the next inning, and surrender a third in the inning after that, only to have Raul make it a one-run game with a solo shot, and the Phils take the lead with two more homers and another big hit by Raul in the 5th — solo shots by Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard (who's doing is customary mashing in September thus far) and an RBI single by Ibanez to plate Rollins.

Then my phone rang. It was my roommate, and immediately, I knew it wasn't good news for me. He was supposed to pick up our other roommate, Adam EatShit and another friend of ours at the airport at 10. They were in Vegas for the long weekend for a bachelor party.

His class was running late. He couldn't make it on time. So he asked if I could pick them up. FUCK! That's what immediately went through my head as I calmly said, "No problem." Now not only would I have to get my very comfortable ass up, but I had to miss the ending to a close game with first place on the line. Just great.

I stayed in front of the television as long as I could and saw the Phillies continue to let Emilio Bonifacio get on base and score for a second time to make it a a one-run game. Then I saw the Phils extend it to a 7-4 game thanks to a sac fly by Jimmy to plate Polanco and a triple by Raul to score Howard. Alright, I had to leave and that sucked, but at least the Phils had a three-run lead heading into the 8th and Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge have been extremely reliable of late.

I hop in my car, tune in to 1210 and head down 95. Fully expecting Madson to enter the game, I was surprised when Franzke said the Phils had elected to go with Jose Contreras to begin the eighth. I understand that Madson has pitched a lot lately, but in a three-run game with first place on the line this late in the season — and an off day finally, mercifully coming on Thursday — you'd have to think Charlie would want to go with his setup man and closer to finish this thing off. He did not, and it proved to be an unwise decision.

On the first batter he faced, Contreras gave up a homer to Mike Stanton, 7-5. It sounded like he settled down to get Chad Tracy, and according to LA, he was starting to throw some nasty pitches to Brad Davis and got two strikes on him. Then he hung a splitter and Davis doubled down the line. This didn't bode well, and I was hoping Charlie would pull the old man. He still did not, and Scott Cousins hit what sounded like a rope to center, another shot that looked to be extra bases off the bat. Thankfully, Victorino ran it down and made a very nice catch, or so Franzke told me.

Just when it looked like the Phils had dodged a bullet and might get out of it, up stepped Emilio Bonifacio, a man who was the biggest thorn in Philadelphia's side last night. Bonifacio already had two hits and had scored two runs on the night, so naturally, he made it a three-hit game with a single to right, and all hell broke loose. Franzke did a masterful job filling me on the play-by-play shenanigans that ensued as I sat in the cell phone parking lot at the airport. On the hit, it seemed apparent that Davis would score to make it a one-run game, but for some reason he was held at third. Jayson Werth saw that, and for some reason, he decided to throw behind Davis at third, instead of wisely just throwing to second or to the cutoff man to prevent Bonifacio — the tying run — from getting in scoring position. That's when things went from bad to worse.

Werth's throw was errant, allowing Davis to score and Bonifacio to get to second. Larry Andersen was disgusted, chastising Werth by saying, "That's just not a good play." I couldn't agree more, Larry.

Then things went from worse to worser. J.C. Romero came in and balked, moving Bonifacio to third. Someone really needs to tell Phillies relievers that they're not allowed to stop their motion mid-motion. Idiots. Then J.C. walked someone yet again. Romero needs back on the juice big time. Apparently, that was the only thing that allowed him to throw strikes.

After Contreras failed to do his job and Romero failed to do his job, Charlie finally relented and brought in Madson. That prompted LA to ask, "Where they trying to avoid him (Madson) tonight or something?" I wondered the same thing, because it seemed as though the smart move would have been, you know, to have him start the 8th inning, him being the setup guy and all.

Madson got ahead of Hanley Ramirez 1-2, and it sounded as if the Phils would somehow get out of this disaster of an inning with a lead still intact. But then on that 1-2 pitch, Madson buried a changeup in the dirt, it got by Ruiz and Bonifacio scored on the wild pitch to tie the game. Unreal. Madson did strike out Hanley to end the inning, but the game was now tied, thanks to three horrendous errors — a dumb throwing error by Jayson Werth compounded by the fact he threw to the wrong base to allow the tying run to get to second, a balk by Romero to allow that tying run to get to third and a wild pitch that let the guy who should have been at 2nd base at best to score. Horrific baseball. About as ugly as it gets. Little Leaguers couldn't have done it any worse.

As word came that the Braves loss was final, the self-destruction in the top of the 8th made it look as though the Phils were going to waste another opportunity to vault past Atlanta. A pop out by Curbball and ground out by Francisco to begin the bottom of the 8th confirmed those fears. But then Shane, who looks rejuvenated batting leadoff, got a two-out single. Then he stole second. And two pitches later, with a 2-0 count in his favor, Placido Polanco slapped a single to right, plating Victorino to regain the lead.

I love that man and his giant dome.

For one reason or another, Charlie again went against conventional wisdom and left Madson in instead of going to his closer for the 9th. This time, Madson had no adventures, striking out Uggla, getting some girl named Gaby to fly out and striking out that turdface Wes Helms to end the game and put the Phils back in their rightful place atop the division.

It wasn't pretty, and not much has been with the Phillies this year besides the pitching of H2O.

H20 from Ryan Petzar on Vimeo.

But believe it or not, there was some beauty in last night's hideous victory. Shane and Jimmy continued to enjoy their new spots in the order, as Victorino went 2-for-5 with a solo homer and that final at-bat where he got the two-out single, stole second and scored the winning run. Rollins was 2-for-3 himself, driving in two runs and scoring another, flourishing for the second straight game as Ryan Howard's protection. And speaking of Howard, the big man crushed his third home run of the month, scored three runs and had two hits. Raul had a huge game, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and finishing a double short of the cycle. And Polanco joined him with a three-hit game, highlighted by the game-winning hit in the 8th. Eight runs, 13 hits and first place.

Now let's stay there.


BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. That story is HILARIOUS. I hate that call. It's as bad as calling an offensive foul, or worse, three seconds. Yes, I've played where cats have called three seconds in a pick-up game before. Despicable.