Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 4

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Remember that thing Tom Verducci wrote back in December about how the Phillies are turning into the Yankees?  I thought that probably overstated things, but there is at least one thing they have in common: Obstructed press box views in their spring training ballparks:

Press Box Clearwater.JPGI was able to position myself to where I could see most of the field and crane my neck to see the parts I missed, but given how the Phillies seemed to get almost every detail right at Bright House Field, I was surprised to see this kind of thing. Of course, the fans don’t have obstructed views, so maybe this was an intentional move designed to screw with reporters a bit. If so, I’ll give Philly credit for either excellent priorities or a nice, if somewhat harsh, sense of humor.

By the way, the dude on the left in that pic is Buster Olney. A minute after that picture was taken, Olney opened the window in front of him and returned to that exact chin-in-hand position. A minute after that a foul ball bounced off the facade of the press box and somehow ricocheted through the window. Olney caught it with his left hand without otherwise budging. It was a pretty swift move. Certainly the coolest thing you’ll ever see Olney do, and certainly swifter than some of the reporting he did regarding the Phillies that day.

By the way: Ruben Amaro called Olney’s Howard-for-Pujols rumor “lies.”  Who knows where Buster came up with that one, but I did see Olney talking to a bunch of Philly reporters earlier that morning. I have no idea what they were saying, but I’d like to think that the Philly guys were peddling that stuff to Olney to see what he’d do with it. I further imagine that when Olney’s report went live yesterday they all called each other to say “Ha! Olney bought it!”

Anyway, there was a game on Saturday:

  • Jamie Moyer wasn’t with the Phillies. Reason: The rain messed with the schedule and to keep him on track they scheduled him to pitch against the Blue Jays’ b-team up in Dunedin today.  For the third time this spring. I’m not big on predictions, but if the Phillies and Jays meet in the World Series, and the plane carrying the Jays’ starters goes down in a cornfield, thus pressing the backups into service, I’m giving the edge to the Phillies. Moyer probably owns them by now. (UPDATE: Or not).

  • As the game began the wind was blowing out to right at approximately 158 m.p.h. Carl Pavano was the Twins’ starter. As such, I predicted 12 Ryan Howard home runs. Sadly he didn’t deliver.

  • Oh, forgot this bit from before the game: The Phillies were taking infield practice when the coach hitting the fungoes yells out “$500 for a perfect infield!”  As soon as he said that, Ryan Howard bobbled an easy one. Then Utley threw one away. Then Polanco bobbled one. By this time they’re all laughing their heads off and can barely field the ball.  During the game: no infield errors for the Phillies.

  • Jimmy Rollins came to the plate to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” I have no idea if he was doing that before, but this was the first time I had noticed it. Either way, I like Jimmy Rollins about 123% more now than I did before Saturday.

  • The grounds crew dragged the infield after every two innings, which is way more frequent than you usually see. Bonus: no “YMCA,” “Thank God I’m a County Boy” or “Cotton Eyed Joe.” Grounds crew members are professionals. Maybe some of them like that song and dance stuff, but I bet more of them prefer to simply do their jobs.

  • So much for the wind: both Carl Pavano and J.A. Happ were on point. Pavano threw a perfect three innings. Happ only gave up one hit and struck out three in four innings. The game hummed by.  Way crisper and regular-season feeling than any game I saw last week.

  • Best beer guy of the spring was at Bright House too: “Beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!” He sounded like he could have been a member of the Asylum Street Spankers.

  • Official attendance: 10,501,
    which is largest in Phillies spring training history. This is the second time that has happened at a game I attended last week, the first being at the Twins-Cardinals game. I had no idea I was so popular.

  • Shane Victorino made a two base error that allowed a run to score, but it was nice to see him replace his divot in the OF grass.

  • Antonio Bastardo came into the game and quickly blew up, allowing four runs on five hits in a single inning of work. You may be surprised to hear that some fans began doing a clever little play on words with his last name. Bet he’s never heard that before.

  • Jacque Jones came into the game to play right field. According to the little media notes they handed out, Jones is 10th all time in homers for the Twins. I never would have guessed that in 100 years.

  • Matt Tolbert had a hell of a day after coming in to spell Orlando Hudson at second. In a single inning:  average-speed grounder hit to him and he pulls a Roger Dorn Ole job on it to put a runner on first. Next up: infield popup. The infield fly rule is in effect so it doesn’t matter if Tolbert catches it or not, but it is an easy fly and he drops it. Couple plays later, no runner on first this time, popup to second. Alexi Casilla runs over from short, ignores Tolbert’s “I got it” and catches the ball himself, saying more or less everything that needed to be said about Tolbert’s defense. Orlando Hudson: you are in no danger of losing your starting job late this season.

  • Cody Ransom comes in for the Phillies and hits a home run. Between the homer and the fact that he doesn’t have to talk to the feds about Dr. Galea, the New York tabloids dust off last year’s stories and begin their “Ransom should start at third instead of Planco” campaign.

  • Jose Contreras
    came in to pitch. Between him, Thome and Raul Ibanez, there were three guys in the game older
    than me. That doesn’t happen too much these days.

  • Pat Neshek came in to pitch for the Twins. His windup and delivery is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
  • I decided that I had had enough of catered press lunches, so I went out onto the concourse during the game to grab something to eat:

Horsemeat and Velveeta.JPGThat, my friends, is a horsemeat and Velveeta sandwich from Delco’s. Old Gator can pretend he doesn’t like them, but I think he’s just trying to start arguments. Either that or he’s crazy. Best ballpark food I had all week.  Oh, and the stuff in the cup? Um, something must be wrong with the color on my camera because I was drinking soda. Yeah, that’s it, soda. Any resemblance to Yuengling is completely coincidental. I was working after all, and you certainly can’t drink a tasty, tasty beer while working on a sunny Saturday afternoon when there’s a baseball game happening. No siree. That would be wrong.

Game ended with the Phillies beating the Twins 5-4. It was over in a cool 2:28 (would have been 1:57 if it weren’t for Bastardo and Tolbert). Between the size and modernity of the park and the overall quality of play in the game, I left feeling jazzed, stoked and otherwise hyped for the regular season to start. Spring training is wonderful, but bring on the games that count.

Cardinals take 1-0 NLDS lead over the Cubs behind John Lackey’s brilliant outing

John Lackey
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.

Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.

Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.

The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.

The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

cardinals logo

The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.