Just this past week, the Phillies just played their first week of baseball without Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino. They went 6-1 on the week, completing a run of 14 wins in 17 games (including a 12 game home winning streak) and with construction of a new high-speed light rail commuter line between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia. The Philadelphia to Houston spur is still being built. Sources say that Ruben Amaro is negotiating to have Ed Wade pay for most of the construction though it will be named after Roy Oswalt. Houston media reports that Brett Myers, J.A. Happ, Michael Bourn, Jason Michaels, Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett were all disappointed to hear the news.
Their original Opening Day lineup (technically Rollins was in the lineup but was scratched at game time) has played together just seven times because of injuries to Utley, Howard, Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz. Amidst all of this, the team has been through the rumored trade of Jayson Werth, the end of Raul Ibanez (deemed “washed-up” by fans and media alike), the end of Jamie Moyer’s 2010 season -and possibly career?, the Major League debut of Domonic Brown, the much-heralded Trading Deadline Deal to acquire Roy Oswalt (2 starts so far in a Phillies uniform, but not a lot of success) and the little-heralded post-deadline waiver wire deal to acquire veteran first baseman Mike Sweeney (who will help fill in for Howard and provide a right-handed bat off the bench and as DH).
Playing without Howard and Utley is different. Those two are the heart of the lineup, a double-whammy as the pennant race heats up, so the fact that the Phillies scored 37 runs in those seven games is worth noting. Ross Gload, Carlos Ruiz, Wilson Valdez, Brian Schnieder, Ben Francisco and the aforementioned players have all taken part in this offensive reclamation project. The Phils have closed a 7 game NL East Division deficit to a two game separation. As notably, the Phils sit 1/2 game behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL Wildcard standings.
“This team has a different mentality of any team I’ve been on,” said Raul Ibanez following Sunday’s 6-5 victory over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park, which keeps the Phillies two games behind the Braves in the National League East and within a half-game of the Giants in the Wild Card race. Mentality is always good. Having players who can step in to tear the cover off the ball and deliver clutch hits is even nicer. For those critics of the Phillies bench… scoreboard?
A grand total of two players have been hotter hitters over the past two-plus weeks than Raul Ibanez, who hit a three-run homer in the third inning to give the Phillies a three-run lead Sunday. Ibanez is hitting .407 (24-for-59) with four doubles, 4 HR, 16 RBIs, 12 walks, a .500 on-base percentage and a .678 slugging percentage during his career-high 16-game hitting streak. This same Ibanez was hitting .248 with a .331 on-base percentage and a .394 slugging percentage on July 21, and has since raised those marks to .274, .359 and .439, respectively. Just a few weeks ago, fans wanted Domonic Brown called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to replace Ibanez, now it is hard to imagine where the Phillies would be without Raul’s resurgence.
“He’s hitting the ball hard,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s tried everything. He’s talked to everybody. He lost a lot of sleep, probably.” Ibanez carried the Phillies through the first few months of 2009, but injuries slowed him the rest of the season. He started slowly this season, too, which had many wondering about his ability to play. Had the 38-year-old fully recovered from his offseason sport-hernia surgeries, or had he simply lost bat speed overnight? Maybe it was just a prolonged slump? Was he not eating his Wheaties?
“The harder you look, the less you find it,” Ibanez said. “It’s almost like you have to back off and just trust yourself and trust that everything that you’ve done and all that work that you’ve done is going to pay off. Less is more, and it really is.” Was he looking too hard before finally backing off?
“Oh, I looked,” he said.
Ibanez’s homer Sunday provided right-hander Roy Halladay (14-8) a nice cushion on an afternoon when he needed all the support by game’s end. Halladay allowed two runs in the first inning to give the Mets a two-run lead. Jayson Werth hit a solo homer to center field in the second to make it 2-1, and the Phillies scored five subsequent runs in the third. It looked as though Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran might have been able to catch Werth’s homer, but Beltran instead ran into the fence and awkwardly caught his head under the padding.
“I would have caught it if I didn’t get stuck in the fence,” Beltran said. “I would have caught it.” Witnesses later described Beltran’s effort as that “of a bobble-head doll.” Nice!
Halladay allowed nine hits, five runs and one walk, and struck out 10 in seven innings. He retired 10 consecutive batters at one point and did not allow a run from the second through fifth innings. He then allowed one run in the sixth and two runs in the seventh. Halladay, who has not enjoyed much run support this season, would take the win.
“It’s a little easier to sleep at night with a win, especially against a team we need to win games against,” he said. Halladay entered the game first in the NL in innings (178), complete games (eight) and shutouts (three); second in strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.52) and walks per nine innings (1.06); and third in ERA (2.17) and strikeouts (158). He has been everything the Phillies had hoped he would be. Sunday was the fifth time this season he has allowed five or more earned runs in a start. He has a 7.67 ERA in those outings. He has a 0.94 ERA in his other 19 starts, which includes his perfect game against Florida and a 9-inning 0-0 duel resulting in a no-decision for Halladay and a Phils win in 11 innings vs. Cincinnati(after breaking up a perfect game bid).
Halladay exited after 7, followed by Ryan Madson who pitched a perfect eighth and Brad Lidge who threw a scoreless ninth… Lidge did allow a leadoff single to Josh Thole before retiring the side. “Lights Are Flickering” Lidge is 4-for-4 in save opportunities in his last five appearances. He has allowed just two hits and no walks in 4 1/3 innings, and he has struck out four… (whispering)… could Lidge maybe be regaining form in time for the stretch run?
“I think I’ll start doing my best if I can get some consistent work and get out there a lot,” Lidge said. “Fortunately, we’ve been playing real well, and I’ve been getting a lot of opportunities.” Lidge is getting those opportunities because the offense is scoring runs, even without Utley, Howard and Victorino. Ibanez is a big reason why, but it is a team effort.
Next up, the Phillies will host the fading Los Angeles Dodgers (58-54), sending Kyle “K” Kendrick to the mound against former Phil Vicente “Perspiration Flotilla” Padilla (who threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the Padres in Los Angeles on Wednesday, striking out 9, walking 2 while throwing 77 of his 105 pitches for strikes). Padilla is most proud of his improved performance, especially since it took him 90 pitches to throw four innings in the previous outing. The Dodgers (Phils playoff opponent in the past 2 years) sit in 4th place in NL West, 5 games behind San Diego, San Francisco and Colorado and 5th in NL wildcard standings also 5 back.
Phillies: Howard eyes mid-August return
Ryan Howard’s sprained left ankle is still swollen, but he is walking without crutches and hopes to be back with the team on Aug. 17, the first game he is eligible to play. He sprained the ankle on Aug. 1 in Washington and still has a limp. Adding Howard, who is batting .292 on the year with 17 doubles and 23 home runs, would provide a valuable late-season boost as the Phillies try to gain the upper hand in the divisional and Wild Card standings.
“It’s better,” Howard said. “I’m just trying to get the range of motion back and get the swelling and stuff out of there. Right now it’s still sore. I think [Aug. 17] is realistic. I think the biggest thing is just getting the swelling down. Obviously, it’s going to be a little stiff and sore, but I’ve got to get that swelling out of there.”
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley looked a little more like himself on Friday at Citizens Bank Park, no longer with a cast on his right hand. Utley has had the cast since his July 1 surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb. Utley remains a few weeks away from rejoining the Phillies’ lineup, but he said he’s optimistic that can happen before the end of August. The Phillies originally estimated that Utley would need eight weeks to recover from his surgery. Utley is allowed to use his thumb like he would normally use it, except when it comes to hitting or throwing. He could get the OK to start swinging a bat after he visits doctors again next week.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org