Monday, October 1, 2007
Jimmy Rollins, Prophet?
Last January the Philadelphia Phillies shortstop caused a stir in predicting the Fightin' Phils were "the team to beat" in the National League East -- this despite the Mets only looking stronger than last year's near-World Series season. Well, 162 games later, the Phils fought from a disappointing, last-place start to the division title. The late-season surge marked the biggest comeback in Major League Baseball history, having been down seven games as recently as Sept. 12th. It's the first time in 14 years they've reached the playoffs, but for this Phillies fan, it seems far longer than that.
What accounts for this dramatic comeback? Many of the qualities that animated, and I do mean animated, the '93 team are seen in this team. Think of '93's stand-out players -- Lenny Dykstra, Darren Daulten, Micky Morandini, John Kruk, Mitch "The Wild Thing" Williams, Pete Inkavelia ... these weren't coddled, well-manicured professional athletes, but a rag-tag bunch of hard-nosed ballplayers who hustle every play and only blame themselves when things don't go well. Today's Phillies -- Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Aaron Rowand -- exhibit many of the same qualities: a lot of personality, little ego, and an obvious passion. No steroid scandals here. In the last stretch, the Phillies late-game bullpen -- J.C. Romero, "Flash" Gordon, Brett Myers -- were being worked like dogs. Asked how his body was holding up, Myers said concerns for his physical health could wait; the playoffs were his priority.
Contrast this with the Mets, where instead of collective sense of purpose competing egos tore the team apart. Billy Wagner, a former Phils closer now with the Mets, blamed Mets Manager Willie Randolph and pitching coach Rick Wilson for the bullpen's late season fall-off. "We've been throwing four innings a night!" he whined to New York Magazine. "[Wilson] has no idea what if feels like. And neither does Willie. They're not a lot of help, put it that way." It's attitudes like that that plague a club house. (After Wagner left the Phils, he criticised the team for apparently not sharing his own professional qualities. Burrell said Wagner is "a rat.")
Anyway, congrats to my boys. The last two times they've made the playoffs, they reached the World Series. My prediction of a Yanks/Phillies series is looking less ridiculous every day!