Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Power Of Positive Thinking

What? A Phillies fan (me) having a positive thought about the Phils? (yes, it happened).

As Game 4 of the NLCS was inching toward its conclusion, it was looking like L.A. was going to get the road win they would need to guarantee the series would head back to California.

An early 2-0 Philly lead quickly turned into a 4-2 edge for Los Angeles. After the Phils crawled back to within one-run in the 6th, The Dodgers were hanging onto that 4-3 lead into the bottom of the 8th. The Phillies mounted a rally, getting two men on with only one out for Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth.

This was it! Another chance for Howard to be a hero, or Werth -- who singled home the NLDS series clinching run -- to get the job done again.

Strike out, fly out, on to the 9th.

After Lidge dodged some bullets and kept the deficit at one heading to the bottom of the 9th, it happened. My moment of positive thinking. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth, so that whenever the game ended I could just turn off the TV and head to bed -- for my upcoming four hours of sleep -- and I said out loud to myself, "just gotta think positive here, right?"

Why shouldn't I? After witnessing this team rally for the 2007 and 2008 NL East titles, winning it all in '08, and advancing to the NLCS in '09, why shouldn't I feel positive about their chances in the 9th.

All I kept thinking was, if they could just turn the lineup over...if they could just turn the lineup over.

And, with Jonathon Broxton coming in -- and is there anyone else in baseball that looks like they need to immediately pee in a cup? -- I knew that the Phils would find a way to get Matt Stairs into the game to pinch hit.

Stairs, of course, drilled a Broxton fastball "into the night" in game four of last year's NLCS, sending the Phils to a 7-5 win, and a 3-1 series lead.

The 9th opened quietly enough with Ibanex grounding out to second base -- and, does anyone ground out to 2nd more often than Raul? -- but then here came Stairs, and you could tell Broxton was having some bad flashbacks. He pitched around Stairs, walking him to put the tying run on 1st.

If one of the next two guys could get on base, they'd turn that lineup over for Rollins.

thankfully, Broxton's composure was still shaken, and he hit Ruiz with a fastball. As long as Dobbs didn't hit into a DP, Rollins would come up.

Why was I confident in Jimmy? He was due. It was hit turn for his 2009 moment.

After Dobbs lined out to third, up came Jimmy with two on, and two out. A single ties it up. An out, and the series is 2-2.

Jimmy likes to swing for the fences, and being eager to jack one out on the opening fastball -- which he missed badly, as it was about six inches inside -- I got a little nervous with the count 0-1.

"Come on, Jimmy! We only need a hit here, not a home run!"

And then...

Even Henry Hill from Goodfellas was excited...

Worst. Drive. Ever.

With Game 2 of the NLCS being played in the late afternoon, for the second year in a row I got to listen to the tail end of the game on my drive to work -- covering a local high school football game.

I tried to stay home as long as possible before leaving, as the pitching duel between Pedro Martinez and Vicente Padilla was moving along briskly...until the 8th inning, at least.

It got to the time of the day where I couldn't wait to leave any longer. The Phils were clinging to a 1-0 lead, and after having pulled Pedro -- who was masterful through seven scoreless innings (but only 87 pitches!) -- the Dodgers were mounting a threat.

Chan Ho Park was in the game, and L.A. had the first two runners on with nobody out. Perfect. This should make for a fun and relaxing 30-minute drive to my night gig.

That's what's different about baseball from any other sport...and what makes it so excruciatingly stressful if you have a rooting interest in a playoff team. EVERY pitch is critical. So, as I'm working my way through traffic, hoping against hope that the Phils will be able to hold off this Dodgers rally, I'm living and dying with each pitch, holding my breath, exhaling, shaking my head, going through all of the different ramifications of each pitch in the 20 seconds before the next pitch.

It's brutal. But, it's playoff baseball. Not for the weak.

As my drive continued, so did the Dodgers rally: fielder's choice, but an error on Chase Utley's throw to first, allowing the tying run to score.(ruining a perfect double play chance), a Thome single putting runners at the corners, and then back-to-back walks forcing in the go-ahead run.

All of this transpired over the course of 30-plus minutes, and against five different Phillies relievers.

The half-inning started before I got in the car, and still wasn't over after my drive to work.

Needless to say, my good vibes built up after watching Pedro dominate L.A. while watching the game at my house quickly turned to sadness, anger and frustration by the time I got to the high school football game.

Even though the loss still left the Phils with the desired split in L.A., at that moment, as I took my gloomy mood and down-trodden face into the high school press box, it would have been awfully hard for me to truthfully believe Philly was about to sweep three straight at home to earn a return trip to the World Series.

But, it's playoff baseball. And, it's a different Phillies team then we're used to.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

What a clincher! Certainly helps erase bad memories from the last time the Phillies played playoff baseball in Colorado.

Now, I didn't see one pitch of Game 3, since the game didn't start until after 9:00pm local time for me, and I had to get up at 3:00am the next morning.

Nothing like going to the Yahoo MLB page, and tilting my head away from the main part of the screen, focusing instead on the scoreboard in the lower right corner, and slowly dragging the sidebar down until I got to the Phillies score, saw "Philadelphia" in bold -- an indication that they won -- and seeing the score.

From what I read, that was a doozy as well. But, hard to imagine it was anywhere near as exciting, and riveting, as Game 4.

I did watch all of that one. Well, most of it. I purposely had the game on DVR so I could fast forward through the commercials -- the only way to watch a sporting event -- and, it allowed me to (kind of) fast forward through other parts of the game I didn't want to every Rockies' at-bat.

I just didn't care to hear the Rockies' crowd going nuts, or watching the Phils give up runs. No thanks.

So, I saw Vic's solo home run, and Werth's, and through the magic of double speed fast forwarding in play mode, gathered that the Rockies had cut the lead to 2-1.

Then it went to the bottom of the 8th, and all hell broke loose. The Francisco catch, Giambi's hit off Madson, then Torrealba seemingly hitting the game winner with a two-run double -- followed by a bad karma-inducing amount of celebration on second base. As my hopes dipped well below the Mendoza line, I fast forwarded to the top of the ninth.

Dobbs strikes out. Rollins works a single off of Street, and at least the tying run is at the plate. Victorino -- who already has a home run in the game -- hits a comebacker! Double-play? No, Vic's too fast and beats the throw.

Utley up, Vic is allowed to steal second. And, Chase draws a HUGE walk bringing up Howard. At this point, I'm about 5 minutes behind live television, and my wife -- unbeknownst to me -- is watching the game upstairs (live) while rocking our youngest daughter to sleep.

I hear her get up to put Sarah to bed, and I think for a second, "was she watching the game, saw Howard strike out to end it, and then got up at that point to put Sarah to bed? Am I thinking too much? Is it too late to start drinking?"

She comes down the steps, and I tell her -- again, not knowing what she knows -- that the Phils gakked up the lead and were down 4-2 with two outs in the ninth. She looked at the TV, smiled a bit, and made one of those "it doesn't look too good" faces.

She sat down with me to watch the rest of the game though. Not that I thought much about it at the time, but in hindsight, if she knew Howard was going to make an out, she certainly wouldn't want to be in the room with me when it happened.

Sure enough, after Howard crushed the double to right -- which when it left the bat, for a split second I thought it was gone, then at least was relieved to know they'd tied it, then thought, "oh, no, they'll just lose it in the bottom of the inning, or worse, have to go to extra innings. All of this was followed by the horror of the possibility that they wouldn't even tie it, as when they cut from the shot of the ball in the outfield back to Victorino (the lead runner) he was JUST TROTTING HOME FROM 3RD! Where was Utley?? Would he even score?? Turns out, Vic had initially missed third base, and after going back to tag it, then had to hustle to get to the plate before Chase who was right behind him -- my wife told me she had seen Howard's at-bat, but didn't know anything else.

Then Werth followed with an equally huge hit, serving a line drive into right-center to score Howard. Thank you, Jim Tracy for not walking Werth to face Cairo!

Up 5-4 with Eyre starting the bottom of the ninth thanks to a slew of lefties set to hit the plate for Colorado. Suddenly with two out, two men are on base, and TUlowitzki is coming up, and here comes Brad Lidge.

By now, I'm pacing in my seat, hands up to my mouth. My wife is still in the room rooting along with me -- not for her love of the Phillies, but her love of having me in a pleasant mood -- and three pretty decent sliders later, "Tulo" strikes out, and the Phils move on.

Amazing win.

Hopefully there are eight more nights in the near future where my wife and I are clapping and high-fiving after a Phils postseason victory. They don't all have to be this exciting, either. We'll gladly take a few 10-2 routs, guys.

Monday, October 05, 2009

As I Was Saying...

A few weeks ago, I promised I'd tell some recent stories that happened this summer, and to this point, I've forgotten to do that.

It's been a lazy few months at the blog, and I apologize to my millions and millions of readers. More blogs are coming. And they won't ALL be Phillies related. I think.

The two stories I had meant to tell involved a night at a Jackhammers game, and a lost afternoon trying to find my family at a park in Joliet.

Neither went as planned.

Back on July 4th, we had a pretty good amount of rain during the day, and the threat of significant rain remained for the evening hours as well. We decided to squash any plans to go see fireworks in the area, not wanting to sit and get drenched.

Our oldest daughter, Megan, was fine with it, and we promised her we'd take her somewhere to see fireworks sometime soon.

The most obvious choice -- from a close to home standpoint at least -- was to take her to a Jackhammers game on a night when fireworks would follow the game.

We rounded up some tickets for a Friday night in late July, and I took both of my daughters to the game (my wife had plans to go out with a few friends that night).

The game was set to start at 7:05pm, and since I had to work the next morning, I was pretty confident that I'd still be able to get out of there by 10:00 or so, and be home in enough time to still get a good night's sleep.

I mean, how long could these lower level minor league games last? There's no TV timeouts, there can't be a ton of managerial moves, etc. that typically drag out a major league game, right?

Well, the one thing I didn't take into account was bad baseball. Really bad.

The night we chose to go, the Jackhammers offered up a clinic on how not to pitch, hit and field. And considering how bad the 'Hammers were this year, that's saying something.

Fargo-Moorehead was the opponent. They scored early, and often. So did the Jackhammers. Inning after inning dragged along with bad pitching, fielding, and bad feelings building up inside your friendly blogger as the time kept on ticking away on a balmy Friday night.

Megan, 9, kept asking if the game was almost over. I couldn't give her any assurances as I was wondering the same thing. Our youngest, Sarah, 3, was getting sleepy by the 7th inning.

Again, so was I.

We finally reached the ninth inning at around 11:15pm. Sarah's asleep, daddy's getting cranky and Megan looks as bored as a nine-year old can look.

Of course we can't get a 1-2-3 inning so the dozens of fans that are left can get the only thing they came to the game for in the first place.

Nope, the Jackhammers start to mount a "rally" scoring several runs, prolonging the torture.

And to cap it off, as the ninth inning dragged on, one of the pitches from the Fargo-Moorehead pitcher came in a little to tight for the liking of whoever was batting for Joliet, so we almost had a bench clearing brawl.

We had the bench clearing part, but no brawl. Look, if you're going to give us an a game that lasts over four hours, at least treat us to a nice bloody brawl, right? I wasted precious space on my digital camera recording what ended up being a group of about forty players and coaches walking around the field puffing out their chests, with not a single punch thrown.


thankfully, the game ended soon after, and the fireworks show took place moments later. Megan and I enjoyed the fireworks, but Sarah slept through it.

We got home shortly before midnight, but at least Megan got to see fireworks, and for better or worse, a more memorable night I 'm guessing.

Story number two is coming up in another post later.

Thursday, October 01, 2009