Monday, December 27, 2010

Romero Returns

After declining his $4.5 million option for next year, and having a deal with Dennys Reyes fall through, the Phillies have resigned left-handed reliever J.C. Romero. The contract details have not yet been made public, but knowing that the Phillies are now extremely tight for money after signing Cliff Lee, it stands to reason that Romero's contract is similar to the $1.1 million deal that they were prepared to give Reyes.

With Romero, the bullpen is all but set for next year: Brad Lidge as the closer, Ryan Madson setting him up, Romero from the left side, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, David Herndon, and the final slot (assuming they keep seven pitchers in the bullpen) will likely be kept for a spring training prize. If for some reason Joe Blanton isn't traded, the slot will probably go to Kyle Kendrick, who would serve as the long reliever/slot starter. If Blanton is traded, which seems likely, the likes of Sergio Escalona, Mike Zagurski, Vance Worley, Drew Carpenter, and Scott Matheison will battle it out. Unless the Phillies shock everyone by signing a right fielder, their major offseason moves are probably done. resigning Romero and Contreras takes care of their bullpen needs, they feel comfortable trying some combination of Ben Francisco/Ross Gload/Domonic Brown/John Mayberry Jr. in right field, and then that whole Cliff Lee thing happened. It's possible that they would still resign Chad Durbin, and that would pretty much set the bullpen for the year, unless they're not actually committed to Herndon. At this point, the Phillies will probably make some minor league signings, and those guys will have opportunities to get a bench or bullpen slot, or maybe even the final rotation slot.

Romero struggled with his control last year, issuing 29 walks in 36 2/3 innings, but that may have been related to his injury filled 2009. He still managed a 3.68 ERA. Even with his control issues, left-handed hitters hit .217 against him, in comparison to Reyes against whom they hit .307. Even with his mediocre 2010, Romero has a career 2.60 ERA with the Phillies, and as long as they're signing a left-handed reliever of his caliber, such as Reyes, Joe Biemel, Ron Mahay, Randy Flores, and so on, it may as well be a guy who has been successful for them in the past. Best case scenario, he can bounce back and put up the kinds of numbers he's had for Philly in the past. Worst case scenario, he battles injury, though that wasn't an issue last year, and someone like Escalona has to step up, a possibility the Phillies were apparently considering anyway.

Actually, the ultimate best-case scenario is the reincarnation of three-headed monster at the end of the Phillies bullpen formed by Lidge, Madson, and Romero that happened in 2008.

Monday, December 13, 2010

O, Ho-Lee Night

This time last year, Ruben Amaro claimed that it wasn't possible to keep Cliff Lee and acquire Roy Halladay. Apparently it is possible to keep Roy Halladay and acquire Cliff Lee.

Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels reported that Cliff Lee contacted him and told him that he was going to sign a contract with the Phillies. Apparently, he's going to sign a five year contract, with an option for a sixth year, that could amount to a total of $120 million. Both the Rangers and the New York Yankees, who were widely expected to land the stud pitcher when the offseason began, were offering more years and more money. However, in the end, the Phillies swooped in and Lee decided to return to a place he had never wanted to leave in the first place.

This is what the Phillies rotation will look like next year:
Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Roy Oswalt
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton/Kyle Kendrick/who really cares at this point?

I can honestly say, I don't think I have ever seen a rotation as potentially dominant and intimidating as that in my life. I have to imagine there are people twice my age who could say the same thing. The fifth spot in the rotation aside, these aren't just four outstanding pitchers. These are four pitchers that have been stud aces in their careers. These are four pitchers who would unquestionably be Opening Day starters for most teams in the league (with the possible exception of Hamels). These are also four pitchers that have already had fantastic success in Philadelphia. In one season...

- Halladay: 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 219 K in 33 starts (plus a Cy Young Award)
- Lee: 7-4, 3.39 ERA, 74 K in 12 starts (plus, remember what he did when he first came to Philly, and how dominant he was in the playoffs for them)
- Oswalt: 7-1, 1.74 ERA, 73 K in 13 starts
- Hamels: 14-10, 3.53 ERA, 205 K in 34 starts (this is a 162-game estimate from

These are also guys who will be around for more than one year, with the possible exception of Oswalt, who has an option for 2012. If all goes well next year, I'd be stunned if he didn't take it. With this signing, the Phillies have set the tone of the franchise for years to come. They are committed to winning with starting pitching.

What are the ramifications of Lee's return? The Phillies have been shopping Joe Blanton and Raul Ibanez in the hope of lowering the payroll. Odds are, Blanton will be traded and Kyle Kendrick will be the fifth starter. Whether or not they should trade Ibanez, I don't know. Even though they've already lost Jayson Werth, it might not be a bad idea since it would allow top prospect Domonic Brown to start without making the lineup any more left-handed than it would have been. Ibanez has also been erratic in the past couple years and isn't getting any younger. Either way, his contract expires after this year, and the Phillies would do well to get something for him while they still can. If he isn't traded in the offseason, I wouldn't be surprised if Ibanez were shopped at the trade deadline unless he proves to be an invaluable asset to the offense. If Ibanez goes, it is very possible that they would start an outfield of Domonic Brown, Shane Victorino, and Ben Francisco. Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing that.

Hard to say who would be in the market for guys like Blanton or Ibanez. Ibanez might have value to a team looking to compete next year, knowing that they're only bound to him for one year. Having missed out on Lee and Carl Crawford, I could see the Yankees being interested, or maybe a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers. Blanton is a harder sell. He's making a lot of money, and he simply hasn't been that good. The Phillies might have to take on some of his contract in order to trade him. But clearly, Blanton is the more expendable of the two players, and it's sounding like he's the one who will be dealt.

Who knows: maybe this plan of rotation-domination will blow up in the Phillies' face. Having four players used to being the top dog of the pitching staff could result in a clashing of egos, though it seems like these four guys are as level-headed as they come. When it was Halladay, Hamels, and Oswalt last year, everyone did extremely well, and Cliff Lee has never been one to make a fuss about anything. In fact, last year the three aces benefitted from playing with each other. They inspired each other to go out and conquer their opponents. Lee had better offers from a team he went to the World Series with last year, and the most dominant franchise in all of sports, and yet he chose to take less to come back to the Phillies.

I remember the Phillies in the late 90's, when they were the pits of the National League. I remember when Scott Rolen demanded to be traded because he hated what was expected of him from Larry Bowa and from the Philadelphia fans (Honestly, I don't blame him; I would welcome him back to Philadelphia with open arms). I remember when J.D. Drew wouldn't sign with the Phillies when we drafted him because he didn't want to play in Philly (Drew I would not welcome back. Have fun sitting on the DL.). Maybe it's the way Charlie Manuel manages the team, maybe it's the rest of the management, maybe it's the gratitude in the clubhouse after taveling a long road in the past ten years to rebuild the team and establish themselves as a dominant team in the league. Whatever it is, in the past two years, two of the best pitchers in baseball, possibly the best two pitchers in baseball, have committed to play for this franchise for far less money than they could be making. That says a lot about what this franchise has become and the people who are in it.

Welcome home, Cliff Lee.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's the Offseason, Charlie Brown!

The season ended with Ryan Howard looking as Brian Wilson saved the National League Pennant. Wilson then helped to lead the Giants to a World Championship. Not exactly the ending the Phillies were hoping for after acquiring Roy 1 and Roy 2, Halladay and Oswalt, bringing back Placido Polanco, and winning 97 games to have the best record in the Major Leagues. The first set of Winter Meetings are already over, and here is a recap of what happened so far (in no particular order):

- GM Ruben Amaro Jr. announced his top priorities for the offseason: Improve the bullpen and find a right-handed option for right field. Sounds about right, though I would add starting pitching depth, including another high-level starter if available and if they want to intimidate the rest of the league.

- First base coach Davey Lopes and the Phillies could not reach a contract agreement, so Lopes is now with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lopes has a reputation as one of the best first base coaches in the league, and in his four years with the team, the Phillies have been among the top four teams in the NL in both stolen bases and fewest times caught stealing. However, the Phillies filled his position with former Phillie All-Star Juan Samuel who will become the third base coach, while Sam Perlozzo moves from third to first base.

- The Washington Nationals surprised pretty much everyone by signing Jayson Werth to a 7-year , $126 million dollar deal. People knew that Werth was one of the top free agents on the market, but no one expected a contract of that size. While Ruben Amaro Jr. claimed that they intended to pursue Werth, it seemed evident that they knew resigning him was a longshot. Pat Gillick brought Werth into the franchise in 2007 as a bench player, and over time he became a platoon player with Geoff Jenkins and then a key member of the offense. Now, Werth will be making bank with the Nationals until he's 38. As important as Werth was to the offense, attempting to top that contract would probably not have made much sense. Not surprised to see him go, but he will be missed.

- Both Ben Francisco and Kyle Kendrick had their contracts tendered. Also not surprising, as Francisco seems to be a main reason the team is okay with losing Werth. Kendrick has never become a permanent force in the rotation, but starting pitching depth is always valuable, so while the Phillies can control Kendrick, he's still reasonably young, and he isn't too expensive, they're probably better off keeping him. Kendrick could become a long reliever/backup starter if the Phillies sign another starter for the rotation (as I think they should... more on that later).

- Jose Contreras resigned with the Phillies for two years. Contreras filled every bullpen role last year the Phillies threw at him: long reliever, setup man, and closer. He wound up with a 6-4 record, 4 saves, and a 3.34 ERA in 67 games. Sounds lovely, except that he's 39 years old. But Charlie Manuel seems to like Contreras a lot, and if Ruben Amaro's plan is indeed to make the bullpen younger, presumably using some of the young guys in the system who have made appearances in the past couple years, having an elder statesman like Contreras is probably good.

Players who probably won't be back in 2011: Greg Dobbs, Chad Durbin, Paul Hoover, Jamie Moyer, Nate Robertson, J.C. Romero, Mike Sweeney.
- Dobbs had a lovely stint as a good pinch-hitter and part time third baseman, however once his playing time decreased, so did his effectiveness. Besides, having him and Ross Gload on the same team is a bit silly. Only thing Dobbs does that Gload doesn't is play third base.
- Durbin may actually resign. The Phillies are currently in negotiations with him. Durbin has been an effective member of the bullpen for quite a few years, and hopefully the Phillies can bring him back.
- Moyer is having surgery and may attempt a comeback in 2012, but it may be the end for the 48 year old anomaly. Then again, if he can pitch this long, who's to say that he can't find a way to keep going. If he does retire, the Phillies would be wise to snag him as a pitching coach somewhere in the system before someone else does.
- Once upon a time, Nate Robertson was a regular starting pitcher in the Detroit Tigers' rotation. In 2006, he had an ERA under 4.00. He did have over 100 strikeouts in five straight seasons, but that's about all I can say for him. Philly took a shot on him, it didn't seem to work. Oh well.
- Philly got three great years out of J.C. Romero, but after a season marked by inconsistency and injury, he's gone. Though, he had a 3.68 ERA. One could certainly do worse, and he's only 34. But he may command a larger contract than the Phillies would like to give him and he's been injured during the last two seasons. I wouldn't be surprised if they brought him back to a smaller contract if he goes unsigned, but most likely they'll look elsewhere for a lefty reliever.
- I liked the idea of having Mike Sweeney on the team, but he was basically a left-handed hitter for down the stretch who could spell Ryan Howard while he was recovering. Having him take a bench spot for an entire season makes no sense.

Players already brought in for 2011: Eddie Bonine, Kevin Cash, Erik Kratz, Jeff Larish, Michael Martinez, Dan Meyer, Brandon Moss.
- Who?
- Martinez was taken from the Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft. Not exactly a fair trade for Werth, but they'll also get a couple draft picks. Martinez is a solid defensive infielder who can play multiple positions. At best, he's another versatile, cheap player on the bench that will take the slot vacated by Dobbs. At worst, he goes back to the Nationals.
- The rest of the players were signed to minor league deals. Cash is a veteran backup catcher who probably becomes the third or fourth option at catcher. Larish looks like a younger version of Dobbs who looked okay with Oakland last year. Meyer was a solid left-handed reliever for Florida in 2009, but struggled and was injured last year. Moss started in right field for Pittsburgh in 2009, but he wasn't much of a factor then, and only played in 17 games for the Pirates last year.
- In other words, these guys are role players at best.

So where do the Phillies stand in accomplishing their goals:
The only player the Phillies did come out of the Winter Meetings with was left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes. Well... sort of. They agreed to terms with him: 1.1 million with an option for 1.35 million in 2012. Once he passes a physical, the deal will be completed. He wasn't much better last year than Romero, and lefties hit him really well, so I'm not exactly sure what the appeal is. Apparently, they were in the running for George Sherrill, but Atlanta outbid them.
At the moment, they have Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Contreras, Danys Baez, and David Herndon, so there will be either two or three spots open. Most likely, one spot will be a lefty reliever (which Reyes would cover), and another will be a long reliever/spot starter. If the Phillies do want to make the bullpen younger, they'll probably start committing to guys like Sergio Escalona, Antonio Bastardo, Drew Carpenter, Vance Worley, and Mike Zagurski. They may also bring Durbin back. There are quite a number of intriguing relievers on the market, including Miguel Batista, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Bobby Jenks, Chad Qualls, Jon Rauch, Arthur Rhodes, and Kerry Wood just to name a few. I'm not saying all of these guys would be great fits, but there's a lot of available talent, so they should have no problem shoring up the bullpen with top notch talent.

Right Field:
Amaro keeps saying that he would be comfortable with the platoon of Francisco and Brown/Gload taking over for Werth, but he has also been exploring other options. He's said he would only make a move if it would truly upgrade what they already have. The Phillies liked Matt Diaz and Jeff Franceour, but they signed with Pittsburgh and Kansas City respectfully. Personally, I don't think they missed much losing out on either of them. There has also been talk of Scott Hairston, who I think has more upside than Diaz or Franceour.
There was also talk of trading with the Giants for Aaron Rowand. Rowand was a great fit while he was in Philly, and while he wouldn't supply the power that Werth had, he would be a welcome re-addition to the lineup. His ethic and clubhouse manner would be worth it. Giants GM Brian Sabean squashed rumors about a Rowand deal, but the Giants have a bunch of outfielders and Rowand didn't have a great year for them last year. Sabean claims Rowand is part of their plan next year, but I would imagine he could be had in a deal.
Other outfielders on the market that could be worth pursuing if they don't cost too much: Bill Hall (more as a utility bench player than a starter in right field), Brad Hawpe, Gary Matthews (would be great for the bench if Francisco becomes a starter), Xavier Nady. I might even suggest Magglio Ordonez, if he could be had for a short contract, and maybe, just maybe, Manny Ramirez would be worth it. He does have a history with Charlie Manuel, and it doesn't appear that many teams are interested in signing him. If he could be had for cheap, it could be a low-risk, high-reward situation.

Starting Pitching:
While there hasn't been an enormous amount of talk regarding getting another starter, there should be. If this is a team that expects to dominate the league, Joe Blanton and (most likely) Kyle Kendrick just isn't going to cut it for the bottom of the rotation. There is no reason the Phillies can't go out and find an excellent player for the fourth slot in the rotation. The Boston Red Sox (who after acquiring Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez may be the team to beat in the majors) have Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholtz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, with Tim Wakefield waiting in the wings. There is a major drop-off after the Phillies' top three pitchers and that is something that should be addressed.
The one name I have read about is Kansas City ace Zack Greinke. Greinke won the Cy Young in 2009, but is coming off an off year in 2010 where he went 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. Greinke is 27, has two years left on his contract, and he and the Royals management both know that the team is probably a couple years away from competing, which is what makes him attractive to a contender now, while he's entering his prime. However, since he's under contract, the management feels no need to hastily trade him away, so they will require a lot of talent in return for him. I'm not sure whether or not the Phillies do in fact have the kind of talent the Royals are looking for, since they depleted the top levels of their minor league system in trading for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. I have never been completely sold on Greinke, but then again I wasn't completely sold on Lee when they acquired him. Amaro seems to be interested in acquiring long term options, so for that reason Greinke might be a great move. If they have the talent to land him. If the Rangers lose Cliff Lee to the Yankees or another team, they might swoop in to get Greinke. The Marlins are another potential destination, and their farm system is typically stocked with talent.
Other than Greinke, there are some extremely intriguing free agents that the Phillies could pursue. First of all, Brandon Webb. Yes, he was injured last year, but has everyone really forgotten how good this guy used to be? The highest ERA he has ever had in a full season is 3.59. The lowest number of strikeouts he has ever had in a full season was 164. Both of those lows came in the 2004 season. If Webb can pass a physical and be signed to an incentive heavy deal, he could make the Phillies rotation one of the scariest in baseball. Most of the more intriguing names on the market have some kind of injury history attached, but this is for the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation. Why not take a chance on a guy like Webb, Jeff Francis, Rich Harden, Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, or Chris Young? Worse comes to worse, they get injured, no one will be surprised, and they'll be left with the same rotation they would have had anyway. Best case scenario, they add yet another ace-caliber pitcher to the rotation. Who knows - maybe the Roy Halladay conditioning method will wear off and the Phillies can revive someone's career.

With the first set of Winter Meetings over, it still remains to be seen how the Phillies will spend this offseason improving. This is a team that is built to win in the present. If they do nothing to improve on what they already have, the cracks will show and their pseudo-dynasty will begin its downfall. But there's still plenty of time to make a few moves and create another monster team going into 2011.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome to Doctober!

Roy Halladay waited a long time to pitch in the postseason. Now that he's in, he's sure making the most of it.

Halladay made baseball history, throwing a no-hitter in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, who just happened to have the highest-scoring offense in the National League. That put Doc on a very select list: he and Don Larsen are the only pitchers ever to throw a no-hitter in the playoffs (Larsen, of course, threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series). On top of that Halladay got an two-out RBI single in the second inning, which allowed Shane Victorino to drive in two more runs and give the Phillies a 4-0 lead. (In other words, Halladay had one more hit and RBI than the entire Reds offense, not to mention Don Larsen, who went hitless in his perfect game.)

They wouldn't score again, but they wouldn't need to, as Halladay thoroughly dominated a dangerous Reds lineup, his only blemish being a walk to Jay Bruce. Usually in a no-hitter, there are a few plays where the pitcher gets some help from the defense. A diving catch, ball dug out of the dirt at first, etc. Dewayne Wise's catch to preserve Mark Buerhle's perfect game last year comes to mind. But Halladay didn't need anything extraordinary from his defense.

Reds pitcher Travis Wood had a sharp line drive to right field in the third, but it was right at Jayson Werth, and in the sixth Juan Francisco had a fairly hard hit grounder up the middle that was slowed by the mound and fielded easily by Rollins. And then there was the final out - a dribbler in front of the plate that Carlos Ruiz dug out and fired to first about a step ahead of Brandon Phillips. But that was as close as the Reds got. Halladay made it look as easy as a pitcher can. All in all, just an incredible performance.

The offense did its part as well, though it was not exactly dominant. They made Edinson Volquez throw a lot of pitches early. Victorino hit a one-out double in the first inning, stole third, and scored on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly, then he struck again in the second inning for two RBI. That was enough to chase Volquez but the Reds bullpen shut the Phillies down for the rest of the game. It may have been a simple lack of urgency from the position players, who may have been watching Halladay throw a game for the ages, just like the rest of us. And it is worth noting that Utley and Howard hit back-to-back deep fly balls that might have gone out had it not been for a hard wind blowing in, but still, not the most encouraging performance.

But in the end of the day, no one will remember that. They'll just remember Roy Halladay and the debut of a lifetime. Welcome to October, Roy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Phillies Close to Landing Oswalt

According to ESPN, the Phillies are on the verge of landing Roy Oswalt, giving their rotation a major boost for the stretch run. Supposedly the Phillies and Astros have agreed on terms and it's just a matter of Oswalt waiving his no-trade clause. Thus far the players involved have not been announced, save that J.A. Happ would likely be dealt. One has to think he will jump at the chance to leave the cellar-dwelling Astros and join a team who, with him, has to be back in the conversation as elite title contenders.

Even without Oswalt, the Phillies have made a strong push lately. They current sit just 2.5 games out of the wildcard and 3.5 out of the division. And this run has come without Chase Utley. Just getting Utley back in September (assuming he's at full strength by then) could give the Phillies the spark they need to win their fourth straight division title, but adding Oswalt greatly increases their chances to make the playoffs yet again.

Oswalt's 6-12 record this season is certainly underwhelming, but that has more to do with the Astros' poor record than anything else, as he's posted a very respectable 3.42 ERA. What's more impressive is his 1.11 WHIP; his best since his rookie year in 2001, when he went 14-3 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.

He may not be as good as the Phillies' other Roy, but he is an established ace and a workhorse. He has no injury history to speak of and, despite his poor records in the last two years, has shown no signs of slowing down. What's more, he shouldn't have any trouble pitching in Citizen's Bank Park because he's already in a hitter's park. He has fared significantly better on the road this season than at home (Home - 2-9, 3.96 ERA/Road - 4-3, 2.61 ERA). Even if he posted an ERA around 4.00, that would still be an upgrade over the back of the Phillies' rotation.

Should the Phillies complete the trade and continue on to the postseason, one would have to like their chances even better than last year's. In 2009, the Phillies rotation consisted of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Pedro Martinez, and Joe Blanton. The projected 2010 rotation would have Roy Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, and Blanton or Jamie Moyer (or Happ, if it turns out he's not part of the trade). Switching Lee for Halladay is effectively an even deal. Halladay is a slightly better pitcher, but he'll be hard-pressed to match Lee's postseason mastery in 2009. Oswalt should be an upgrade over Pedro, though Pedro did perform fairly well last year. In addition, Hamels has shown far more poise this season than last and it would not be a surprise to see him return to his 2008 postseason form (or close to it, anyway). The 1-2-3 punch of Halladay-Hamels-Oswalt should make the Phillies extremely tough to beat in any series.

Of course, it must be pointed out that the Phillies had the opportunity for a Halladay-Lee-Hamels rotation. If the Phillies have to give up top-level prospects for Oswalt, it will not reflect well on Ruben Amaro's abilities as GM. It would be yet another short-sighted move. But if they can do it by giving up only Happ and some decent prospects than it's hard to complain. It is actually a wise move (and an impressive sell job on Amaro's part) to make Happ the centerpiece of the deal, selling high on the young lefty. Happ had a great rookie season, but didn't show much in the playoffs (albeit in relatively few chances) and has missed the majority of this season due to injury. If they can turn one good season into Roy Oswalt, it would be a coup, especially considering that according to every sabermetrician out there, Happ was extremely lucky to perform so well in 2009.

We'll see what the terms of the trade end up being (provided Oswalt signs off on it) but things are certainly looking up for the Phillies right now.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Domonic Brown Shines in Debut

We all knew this day would come sooner or later. Domonic Brown has been tearing up the minor leagues while his Major League counterparts have been struggling to score runs. We just didn't think he'd get to play alongside Jayson Werth, who supposedly had one foot out the door as the Phillies shopped the soon-to-be free agent. But with Shane Victorino's injury, Brown gets the call and Werth can rest assured that he's staying put for the rest of the year.

It could be argued that Brown should've been called up sooner. The Phillies offense could've used the help and he's been nothing short of dominant in both AA and AAA. His combined minor league numbers in 93 games this year consist of a .327 BA, .391 OBP, .589 SLG (combining for a .980 OPS), 20 HR, 68 RBI, and 17 SB. In other words, about as complete an offensive performance as you could ask for. But with the Phillies outfield returning three All-Stars, it was a tough sell to get him in the lineup, even with the struggles of Raul Ibanez.

But Victorino's trip to the DL opened up a lineup spot, so here we are. Brown made his debut tonight against Arizona's Edwin Jackson, batting sixth, behind Werth (the man he was supposed to replace). And give Brown this, he knows how to make an entrance. In his first Major League at-bat, he ripped an RBI double off the right field wall, giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead. He'd later hit a single and then a sacrifice fly. His line score was 2-for-3, 2 R, 2 RBI. Not bad at all.

Meanwhile the Phillies are on quite the roll right now, having won a season-high seven in a row. Roy Halladay dominated once more, throwing his eighth complete game of the season as the Phillies cruised to a 7-1 win over the Diamondbacks. In case you're wondering, the last Phillie to throw 8 complete games in a season was (not surprisingly) Curt Schilling in 1999. One more complete game for Halladay and he'll be the first Phillie to throw 9+ complete games since...Schilling in 1998...who threw 15. Okay, so he's not catching Curt in that regard (though it is worth nothing that Schilling's ERA that year was 3.25, while Halladay's is 2.21), but it's still quite an impressive feat.

Tomorrow night the Phillies will look to extend their streak to eight games, as Kyle Kendrick faces off against Arizona's newly acquired Joe Saunders. We'll see how Brown fares against a left-handed pitcher. Whatever happens, the Phillies have to be pleased with what they're seen so far.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

ROY HALLADAY RETIRES -- 27 straight batters

If there were still any lingering doubts among Phillies fans about whether it was a good idea to give up all those prospects and spend all that money on Roy Halladay, it's a pretty safe bet that they've disappeared, at least for today. That's because in the middle of a slump as the team was struggling to hold on to its divisional lead, "Doc" gave Phillies fans one day of pure unadulterated joy, reserving himself a place in baseball by pitching a perfect game against the Florida Marlins.

If you're not already aware, that's pretty rare. You'll hear these statistics quite a bit, but that's because they're pretty remarkable: It was only the twentieth perfect game in the history of Major League Baseball, and only the sixth pitched with the added pressure of a 1-0 score. The fact that Dallas Braden threw one for the A's earlier this season makes only the second time and the first since 1880 that two have occurred in a season. And the Phillies' only other perfect game was thrown by current Hall of Famer and Kentucky senator Jim Bunning during the otherwise infamous year of 1964.

In a sense it was almost surprising that Halladay, one of baseball's best pitchers and a Major Leaguer for twelve years, had not yet notched a no-hitter into his belt (he came only an out away from a perfect game during only his second start back in 1998), given his remarkable consistency and propensity to be efficient and go deep into games. Needless to say, he looked amazing today, hitting all corners with great variety and accuracy. Although he ran several three-ball count, he was unafraid to get out of them by throwing his big curve for a strike. He notched an impressive eleven strike outs along the way and needed fewer exceptional plays in the field than other perfect game pitchers have, though Shane Victorino's fine backtracking catch in centre, a good grab by Chase Utley in the hole, and especially an excellent stop and throw by Juan Castro at third -- retiring pinch hitter Ronnie Paulino for the final out -- were indispensable help.

The game looked like a close pitchers' duel from the start, with Halladay facing the Marlins' excellent Josh Johnson. Johnson was excellent for his own part, and the Phillies scored their only run, all they would need when a misplayed ball in the outfield allowed Chase Utley to take three bases and drive home Wilson Valdez, who had singled.

As early as the fifth or six inning, this game began to feel like something special as Halladay breezed through one one-two-three inning after another, and the late innings began to take on some of the greatest tension possible in baseball as the developing perfect game rode on every hitter he faced. The Miami crowd of over 25,000 got into rooting for Halladay -- no surprise when a perfect game is in the works, but last night they seemed especially eager and early to do so. The mystery was explained when TV shots showed almost all fans wearing red with Ps on their hats in the Phillies' spring training home state.

Halladay stayed true to his humble, serious, and stoic personality, looking all business until after Paulino was retired, then hugging Carloz Ruiz and his teammates with a relieved grin after it was all over. In postgame interviews he gave as much credit to "Chooch" Ruiz as to himself, which was a fitting tribute to an excellent defensive catcher and game calling, and some admirable humility.

This game will be a lifetime good memory -- not only for those involved or at the stadium, but for those of us who had the still rare opportunity to watch it unfold live. For Phillies fans this first perfect game since 1964 -- and first no-hitter since Kevin Millwood highlighted Veterans' Stadium's farewell season by no-hitting the Giants in 2003 -- is another extraordinary highlight from an amazing past few years. For the team, this game could be a catalyst to an extraordinary season. But even if it isn't, it's still something to be savored even on its own.