SportsProf

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Exorcism Of The Ghost of Chico Ruiz?

A short while back I posted on the problem that haunts the Philadelphia Phillies, the looming spectre of the Reds' SS in 1964 stealing home in the bottom of the 15th inning of a game in Cincinnati that prompted the demise of a would-be magical season for a franchise with a record of tepid play.

That was then.

Then there was this.

Yesterday.

Against perhaps the best pitcher in the National League. A pitcher whose manager has so much confidence in that the pitcher batted eighth, ahead of a rookie shortstop. Against a resurrected reliever whom the Phillies jettisoned after last season because he pitched badly. Against defenders whose resumes boast Golden Gloves.

Could it have been an exorcism?

The Phils trailed the Marlins 2-0 going into the top of the ninth, with the D-Train, Dontrelle Willis, cruising against them. Willis allowed the first two batters to get on base, prompting Jack McKeon to call in his closer, Todd Jones. You can read all about it in the linked article, but 2B Luis Castillo booted a ball and also forgot to go into short center for a pop up that CF Juan Pierre tried and failed to catch on the dead run. Later a ground ball went through 1B Jeff Conine's wickets, and Jones also threw a ball away on a Chase Utley bunt that went between the pitcher's mound and third base. Four errors in one inning.

I might well have the sequence out of order, but there were timely hits and a few walks, and when the dust settled at the end of the top of the ninth, the Phillies had scored 10 runs, and led 10-2. Instead of having to insert closer Billy Wagner into the game (which Charlie Manuel had planned to do if the Phillies' offensive output was limited to only three runs), the Phillies' gave Wagner an extra day off and closed the game out with outstanding middle reliver Aaron Fultz.

The Phillies were 1-61 in games they trailed after 8 innings going into yesterday's game. Now they're 2-61.

This is a team with a catcher who some of the pitchers don't like throwing to and who is a fair hitter at best, an SS with a 23-game hitting streak but who may be ill-suited to the leadoff role, a 3B with a balky back, a big 1B who can't hit lefthanded pitchers, no true CF, and an LF and RF who are accused of not being clutch. This is a team without its purported best producer on offense (Jim Thome) and its ace lefty starter, who had Tommy John surgery (Randy Wolf). This is a team with patchwork starting pitching, but with an outstanding bullpen (Fultz, Wagner and setup men Ryan Madson and Ugueth Urbina).

This is a team with intangibles.

And yesterday's game kept them on 1/2 game back of the Houston Astros for the wild card. This is a team who lost 5 in a row a couple of weeks ago, was in all of those games and should have won at least three of them. This is a team that has kept on coming, and could easily have mailed it in yesterday because the D-Train was cruising and Fireman Jones was awaiting them should the Marlins' ace have faltered.

Could yesterday's result prove to derail the Marlins' season? Could it make the Phillies'?

We'll know in a few weeks.

But right now the stars are aligned for the Philadelphia Phillies.

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