Electric Night at the Bank
Yet, there was something particularly exciting about going to the ballpark last night -- the arrival of Hunter Pence.
Don't get Phillies' fans wrong -- we love the players we have, but we figure that the window for this group of players to win World Series will shut in 3, 4 years, and the idea of holding onto well-regarding high A ball prospects for the future perplexes the faithful because this team can win it all now. And the amateur GM in all of us compelled the conclusion that the Phillies have such a good shot to win it all this year that adding one more piece might make that good shot great. When you couple that thinking with the track record of GM Ruben Amaro -- the actual, professional GM whose day job it is to outthink the amateur GMs in the stands -- we figured that he wouldn't sit idly by while the Giants upped the ante in the high-stakes game that is the run toward and into the playoffs by doing nothing.
So, when the news broke on Friday night that Hunter Pence -- all 6'4", 220 pounds of a strong-armed, power-hitting, righthanded batting rightfielder -- was en route, Phillies' fans became even more excited (as did the local merchants, who probably began ordered their Pence jerseys and jersey shirts at on-call shirtmakers after midnight). And that electricity was apparent as we walked into the ballpark.
If you park behind the outfield, the Phillies have huge posters up on the wall near left field behind the stadium that tells you what the starting lineup is. And, in the fifth spot, there was a picture of the field with the indication below it that the right fielder was batting there, behind Ryan Howard. Despite bad public press, the average education provided to Philadelphia-area residents is such that we all could deduce what we had hoped for -- that Pence was going to start on this night.
Regulars at the games can predict with great certainty which players emerge from the clubhouse and in what order for their pre-game warmups. We saw Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins emerge from the dugout to right behind the first-base area to get their stretching and running in. A bit later we saw Carlos Ruiz walked toward the bullpen, followed by Cliff Lee, who was to begin his regimen of stretching and then long toss before going into the bullpen to start throwing hard. Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino also came out, and they, too, began their twists, stretchs, turns and runs. Finally, the last one out -- and a 4:30 arrival at the ballpark -- was Hunter Pence.
He's hard to miss -- a ballplayer right out of central casting -- big, strong and with the high red sox that make him look like he'd want to play two at mid-day in the midst of a heatwave. He ran out to the same area, and by the time he was closer to the rightfield seats, the fans realized who this large player wearing #3 was. And then they stood and applauded, and, as Pence moved toward center, the fans did the same thing. He acknowledged them with a wave, which drew more applause. As he then moved back toward the right field foul line, the fans there obliged him with rousing cheers, and he waved to them.
Welcome to Philadelphia, Hunter Pence! Welcome to the electricity and excitement of the team with the best record in baseball. Pence would receive loud cheers all night, and it was a night for the fans to cheer loudly. Ryan Howard homered before Pence's first at-bat, causing the faithful to be even more loud than they would have been had Howard whiffed before Pence's first appearance. Howard would go on to have a single, two doubles and an intentional walk in addition to that home run, and the second double was of the sort that could he have borrowed Shane Victorino's wheels he would have hit for the cycle. Cliff Lee got two hits, Victorino tripled, Pence got a hit (and should have had another but for a missed call at first on a close play) and, all told, the Phillies had 7 runs and 16 hits en route to a 7-4 victory over a Pirates' team that was gritty and refused to lie down.
Phillies fans don't take these times for granted. We know that they don't last as much as we know the baseball famines that we and our parents and grandparents have endured over the course of generations. We have a great appreciation for how special this era of players is, as we also have -- in the back of our minds now -- the mentality of the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam in the mid-1970's, wondering whether there will be one last helicopter to rescue us before the opposition overruns our position. We know that the getting always isn't this good.
Which makes nights like Saturday night extra special. We celebrated a wonderful new addition. We celebrated Jimmy Rollins' making of two acrobatic plays at shortstop that seemed to declare that he isn't declining any time soon. We celebrated the amalgamation of a great core group of players, the sum of whom far exceeds the contributions that any individual can make, and we celebrated an ownership group and front office that has evolved from being cheap and defeatist into an elite. We celebrated summer, we celebrated togetherness, and we celebrated a victory.
We know that nights like this don't come around all that often.
And that makes them all the more special.