Two back, three to play. Those words have been echoing around the Phillies since Thursday night’s loss in Washington. Two back, three to play. With the game lasting into the wee hours of the morning due to a four and a half hour rain delay, and a less then stellar performance turned in by Jon Lieber, seven hits and three earned runs in five and one third, the Phightins have found themselves in quite the hole going into the final series of the season.
The uphill fight that the Phils have should not take away the run this team has turned in after the trade deadline. All but written off for dead buy the national prognosticators and even their own management, a youthful Phillies put together an August and September like we have not seen in this city in quite some time.
The final homestand was perfect evidence of the change in attitude toward the team, with sell out crowds on hand arriving early to watch their new scrappier, younger hero’s take batting practice. They stood and roared whenever Ryan Howard’s head popped out of the dugout. The chant of MVP reverberated around the stadium long after the stadium announcer called his name.
There is a certain feeling now with this team, led by the epitome of hard nose players, Chase Utley, whose sizzling hot bat could only be cooled by the inability of first base umpire Rob Drake to determine if a ball is a home run or not. There is definitely a different feeling with Chase hitting in the three hole this year, a feeling of knowing he will produce by, I don’t know actually swinging the bat. This is a drastic change from past years when individuals who manned that spot in the lineup would wait patiently for those behind him to produce.
The starting rotation seems to have developed a swagger with two young pitchers at the top that are as different as night and day. They have the cool presence of Cole Hamels with one of the most devastating change-ups in the game today, who seems never to get rattled by in-game situations or the pressure of being in a playoff chase. To be opposed by the fiery Brett Myers, whose temperament is as blazing as his fastball. With the two of them, the Phils have legitimate stoppers at the top of their rotation. With the crafty Jamie Moyer teaching as much as he is pitching, as a fan you almost feel a win when those three toe the rubber.
This is a different team made up with a different dynamic than years past. However, they do have their dead spots as leftovers from previous management’s generous contracts. Pat Burrell has become a liability every time he is in the lineup. He can’t hit, can’t run, and can’t field. There has to be something with how he sees the ball coming out of the pitchers hand, which is the only explanation for the amount of times he strikes out looking. Mike Lieberthal is another. His bat warmed up a little, but a nagging stiff back has hampered any hope he has of actually being productive down the stretch. Unfortunately the biggest dead spot is the manager. Charlie Manuel has managed to be pulled along by a young team playing good baseball. He still does not handle the bullpen very well, refuses to double switch, and pinch-hits for position players in the fifth and sixth innings.
Even with the slight aggravation of watching Burrell stand at the plate with the bat firmly cemented on his shoulder, this team is still fun. When was the last time you saw Phillies fans react the way the ones did who traveled to D.C. when the Phils won in the 14th inning? The Phillies for the first time in a long time have captured the hearts of the locals. The support for the team is there, ready to burst through. The question of “when is the other shoe going to drop” took longer to be asked this year than most. With the history of this franchise, that is definitely a step in the right direction. The only unfortunate aspect of it all is two back, three to play.