Ramp Posted September 16, 2003 Share Posted September 16, 2003 why Jayson Stark thinks the Phillies will take it Of course, the Phillies are going to win the wild card and go on to the National League playoffs. They have no choice. It's their destiny. Veterans Stadium One last stand at the Vet? It could be a house of horrors for Florida. It's the Law of the 3. As far back as anybody can remember -- as long as the anybodys in question can't remember back to the 1970s -- the Phillies always go to the playoffs in years ending in a "3." They're required to, by law. The Law of the 3. In 1993, they went from last place the year before to the World Series. In 1983, they were only two games over .500 on Labor Day, then rallied improbably to go to the World Series. And now it's 2003. So what choice do they have? They have to win. It's the law. But just for the heck of it, here are five other reasons: 1. Experience True, the Phillies have made a lot more visits to Pat's Steaks over the last 20 years than they've made to the playoffs. Nevertheless, 12 current Phillies have appeared in a postseason series, vs. eight Marlins. And of those 12 Phillies, 10 play a prominent role of some kind or other. Jim Thome and Placido Polanco are regulars. So is David Bell, who could be back for the final week. Kevin Millwood fronts the rotation. And five Phillies relievers have postseason experience. Only the backup catchers -- Todd Pratt and Kelly Stinnett -- are irregulars. And Pratt, who is available to pinch-hit, once hit an extra-inning home run that won a playoff series, for the 1999 Mets. The Marlins, on the other hand, have just two everyday players who have batted in a postseason game -- Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Conine. Of the other six, only Todd Hollandworth has more than 101 at-bats or a dozen innings pitched as a Marlin. And isn't it supposed to be that big-game experience that shows up at times like this? 2. Jim Thome What Barry Bonds is to the Giants, Thome is to the Phillies ... except Thome's teammates actually like him. Thome is already the first Phillie in two decades to hit 40 homers in a season. He's about to become the third Phillie in the last 48 years to drive in 120 runs (joining only Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski). He owns 17 postseason home runs -- which are 17 more than all the Marlins combined (and tied with Bernie Williams for the most among active players). Thome's career postseason home run ratio (one every 12.5 plate appearances) is second only to Babe Ruth (10.8). But most important, says one scout, "he's a big-game player. He'll be the best player on the field every night. Players like him rise to the occasion in these games." If he does, that'll be OK with the Phillies. They're 27-8 when he homers. And the Marlins' rotation and bullpen are both heavily right-handed. 3. Left-right offensive balance Speaking of Thome, he has hit 35 more home runs this year than all of the Marlins' left-handed hitters combined. Yep, the Fish have hit exactly five left-handed homers all season -- and one of them was by Dontrelle Willis. (Three were by Hollandsworth and one by Juan Pierre.) So it's no surprise that the Phillies are 16 games over .500 (70-54) in games started by a right-hander, while the Marlins are only four games over (59-55). The Phillies bat .262 against right-handers and .264 against left-handers, while the Marlins' splits are .260-.288. And guess which hand all three Phillies starting pitchers will throw the baseball with in their three games in Philadelphia this week? That would be the right hand. And best we can tell, the Marlins will face only three left-handed starters (against whom they're 24-11) the rest of the season. 4. The Vet The not-exactly-beloved Veterans Stadium doesn't have long to live now: Two more weeks, unless the playoffs stop by. Well, Camden Yards, it isn't. Pac Bell, it isn't. Heck, Stade Olympique, it isn't. There's a good chance nobody in baseball, football or any other activity known to man will miss it. But the Phillies will. They just finished their most torturous schedule stretch of the year: 27 games in 27 days in seven different cities. Only a week of that marathon was spent at home. But now, of their remaining 13 games, the Phillies play 10 of them at the Vet. And at the Vet, the Phillies are 16-4 since July 29, and 11-1 since Aug. 13. Since their only loss was to the Red Sox on Labor Day, they haven't lost to a National League team at home in more than a month. After the Marlins leave, the Cincinnati/Louisville Reds visit for three. After a day off, the Phillies play three in Florida, then close up the Vet with three emotional games against Atlanta. As the Vet's life span dwindles, the crowds will grow, the memories will flow, and the passion will reverberate. And the Phillies have fed off that all year. Since their home-opener loss to the Pirates, they're 13-4 at home in front of crowds over 35,000. Of course, Florida swept them at home in July. But the Marlins haven't won in Pennsylvania since. OK, so they haven't played in Philadelphia since, either. But they did get swept in Pittsburgh last month. 5. The Eagles In some cities, maybe it wouldn't be a good thing for the local baseball team to have the local football team start its season playing more like Louisiana-Lafayette than like the next Super Bowl champ. But in Philadelphia, life is different. In Philadelphia, the Eagles' crummy start just means people get nastier and angrier and more frantic than usual. So they can either spend the next two weeks snarling at the Eagles, or they can turn to other stuff. The Phillies could very well be that other stuff, especially if they keep winning, and the entire city isn't washed into the sea by a hurricane. In a city desperate to win something, anything, the Phillies have a chance to capture the hearts of a wounded public, replace that Eagle-induced pain with a road-to-October joy and send the Vet to the dynamite crew with a special triumphant glow. Then again, they could also go 0-12, finish fourth in the NL East and force all the suicide hotlines to go to 24-hour operation. But this is supposed to be the Why-Good-Stuff-Will-Happen-to-the-Phillies section of this package. So forget you just read that last sentence. Or else. and why Alan Schwarz thinks the Marlins will take it My assignment, now that I've chosen to accept it, is to come up with five reasons to like the Marlins in the rough-and-tumble National League wild-card scrum, which starts to crescendo with Florida at Philadelphia tonight. There are plenty of reasons to root against the Phillies (OK, just one -- Veterans Stadium) but thinking of five to support their main competition was surprisingly easy. Without further ado: 1. Don't derail the D-Train How can you not like a kid who once spray-painted a strike zone on the side of his mother's house so he could play "strikeout" and practice his high leg kick with his friends? How can you not like watching a pitcher with more arms and legs than a prosthesis factory? How can you not like a guy who bends at so many angles he could audition for Plastic Man and Stretch Armstrong's sidekick from the 'hood? Forget Willis' four-game losing streak through most of August, when his ERA rose from 2.56 to 3.39. He has beaten the Expos and Braves his last two starts and now stands 13-6, 3.27. He'll face the Phillies on Thursday night. If you don't like watching Dontrelle Willis pitch, you don't like cool, fall breezes -- just like what he could bring to these playoffs. I asked Willis last week how he handled his slide, his first failure in the major leagues, and he laughed. "I want to win, of course, but man -- you can't complain about struggling in the major leagues. I'm 21 years old. You know how many people would kill to struggle here?" 2. Gutsy front office Look around -- you won't find many clubs who were more creative the past 12 months than the Marlins. How many low-revenue clubs would have pulled off getting Ivan Rodriguez for one year? How many would have been able to dump the contracts of Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson, and then most of Mike Hampton's? How many would have felt comfortable getting Juan Pierre in the deal, having correctly evaluated that his skills would translate just fine going from Coors Field to Pro Player Stadium? Remember when we all scoffed at Florida's acquiring Ugueth Urbina just before the All-Star break, while the club was anonymously hovering around .500 in the middle of the National League pack -- and then saying he wouldn't even close? Urbina has been fantastic setting up for Braden Looper, posting a 1.15 ERA. Hats off to general manager Admin Beinfest and the rest of the Marlins front office for taking a club that had no business contending and giving their (however few) fans one heck of a season, wild card or not. 3. Jack McKeon's really old Forget the fact that Jack McKeon, who on May 10 replaced Jeff Torborg when the Marlins were flapping around at 16-22, has gone 67-44 since taking over. You just have to like a team whose manager is so old, he was born in November 1930 when Herbert Hoover was still insisting the economy would, you know, improve. You have to like a team whose manager is so old that his middle name is "Aloysius." You have to like a team whose manager is so old, he started managing in the minors in 1955, before children had heard of a polio vaccine -- and when fellow minor-league managers included the likes of Pepper Martin, Dolf Luque (who pitched for the Reds team that won the fixed 1919 World Series) and Lefty O'Doul. Jack McKeon is so old, he managed Missoula's 1958 entry in the Class C Pioneer League, whose top lefty led the loop with 245 strikeouts and a 2.99 ERA -- Jim Kaat. Jack McKeon is so old, he managed in Dallas and Atlanta before they were major-league markets. And consider this: Willie Mays was on deck when Bobby Thomson hit his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951. Jack McKeon is older than Willie Mays. Harvey Kuenn led the American League with 209 hits 50 years ago. Jack McKeon is older than Harvey Kuenn. And Johnny Podres is renowned throughout Brooklyn for winning Game 7 of the 1955 World Series to bring Flatbush fans their only championship. Jack McKeon is older than Johnny Podres. 4. The starting rotation Marlins followers have noted that Florida's starting rotation has not only stayed intact through the summer -- since June 28, the same five pitchers have made every start: Willis, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, Mark Redman and Josh Beckett. This is remarkable, considering the shambles that the Marlins' pitching staff was in one month into the season. It wasn't so long ago that staff ace A.J. Burnett was lost for this season (and probably next) to elbow surgery after four starts; Redman broke his thumb trying a squeeze bunt and went on the disabled list; and Beckett, the team's top building block, went on the DL for two months with a sprained elbow. Soon Torborg and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg were fired in part for leaving the club with fewer arms than the Venus De Milo. The addition of Willis, McKeon and new pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal seems to have turned everything around. Penny (13-10), Pavano (11-11) and Redman (12-9) have all either set or tied career highs in wins. And Beckett, who returned in early July, is throwing like the power-pitching phenom he has been advertised to be: He is 5-3, 2.27 since the All-Star break, giving up just a .228 opponents batting average with control that Kerry Wood would kill for. Florida got a scare last week when Penny had to leave Friday's start against Atlanta in the first inning because of elbow pain and underwent an MRI. (And not conventionally: At 255 pounds, he was too big to fit in the tube.) Tests revealed a hyperextended elbow, minor enough to push him back just a few days and let him start against Atlanta again this Saturday. 5. Storybook ending You want drama? Willis is slated to start the final game of the season, when the entire year could come down to one game against the Mets. But he could also enjoy the benefit of a certain bat once written off: Mike Lowell. Lowell's left hand was broken by a pitch from Expos reliever Hector Almonte on Aug. 30, and his offense -- he was leading the club with 32 homers and 105 RBI when he went down -- was immediately believed to be lost for the rest of the season. But his early rehab work has been so successful that the third baseman is holding out hope that he could return for the final two games. Imagine Lowell pinch-hitting in a final, season-deciding game, his only at-bat coming after a month off. Maybe it ain't Hank Greenberg returning to the Tigers in 1945 after four years in the army, and hitting home runs left and right to help them win the pennant. But you know what? We couldn't ask for more. Kind of like the Marlins themselves this whole crazy season. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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