Tag Archives: Philly

The Pressure is on the Phillies in Game Five

A few months ago I posted about the “Beauty of a Game Seven.”  Most underdogs can either steal or over-achieve in two games which improve the quality of a seven-game series because it allows the best team to win. But, game fives don’t have the same magic.  The lesser of the teams CAN win a series because the margin of error is so small.  A team only needs three wins to advance to the next round instead of four. On paper, the difference is only one more win, but there are still two teams.  A 2-2 series compared to a 3-3 series is TWO more games which, in the scope of baseball (only sport with five-game series), is at least 18 more innings, one less chance to use the team’s Ace on full rest, and creates a “hot-team” complex that can be argued doesn’t exist.  It doesn’t have the same grueling drama or bravado that a seven game series has.  Game five is game seven’s little, more annoying brother who just wants to know, “Why can’t I go to movies with you?!” Which big brother would reply, “Because you’re just not old enough, now SCRAM!”  Game five is the reason that the pressure is on the Phillies to win on Friday.

The St. Louis Cardinals have stolen two games from the Phillies.  Two blown leads by the “Phightins” have given hope to a more inadequate pitching staff and an above-average lineup that didn’t come alive until September.  They also have Tony La Russa, the all-knowing baseball prophet, who decided to pitch Jaime Garcia, his second-best starter, in game three because of his home record and La Russa had confidence that they would split the first two games. (The worst part, that idiot was right) Playoff stud Cliff Lee pitched like the opposite of Playoff stud Cliff Lee and surrendered a four run lead in game two that tied the series at 1-1.   Regardless, the pitching for the Phillies has been solid.  Albert Pujols, his generation’s best hitter who is batting .412 in the series, only has 1 RBI and has been getting misleading base hits.  The bases are usually empty or the outfielders for the Phillies are able to get the ball in fast enough to stop any base runners from advancing.  But, the Phillies problem is guys like Ryan Theriot and David Freese who are batting .600 and have five RBIs in the series, respectively.  

The contrary can be said about the Phillies’ bats who still are susceptible to a team-wide slump can’t win scoring 3 runs a game, even with that pitching staff.  Ryan Howard is continuing his trend of disappearing in the playoffs and is batting a dismal .133 with six of his 15 outs being strikeouts. The rest of the offense has stalled to averaging three runs a game after putting up 11 in game one.  In game four, Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino went a combined 0-12 in a loss that sent it to game five. The offense only needs to come alive a little bit because, unlike the Cardinals, Phillies have their Ace of the Aces, Roy Halladay, going in game five.  Halladay, who in a conference said “I’m here to bury Caesar not to praise him,” is the video-game player you’d want for an elimination game.  There’s not much more I can say on it that doesn’t require actually watching the Machine pitch.  He’s so fierce and so competitive and his focus is so strong it’s like he took three Adderall with a 24 oz. can of Red Bull. The man could pass a polygraph test his demeanor is so calm.  If I was to use a cliché I’d say that, “he doesn’t have blood in his veins, but ice.”  At an early 2-1 favorite, Halladay will be the reason the Phillies advance.

But because it is a game five and “anything” can happen, I thought of the two cause and effects that can potentially happen after Friday’s game.

Cause: Roy Halladay does his thing, shuts down the Cardinals offense, and gets the and win

Effect: The Phillies won’t get much hype for pulling off a game five win because that’s not how the media looks at favorites.  The Phillies were SUPPOSED to win this series and all they did was keep within the hype. But, because it wasn’t a sweep, the questions John Buccigross will ask Chris Singleton are along the lines of “The Phillies waited until game five to put a lesser team away, is there cause for concern in Philly?”  The baseball pundits won’t agree and say that the Cardinals were a hot team and “people forget how much talent St. Louis really has.”  It’ll be followed by Halladay being recognized again as arguably the game’s most dominant pitcher with the Phillies players saying that they’re looking at it as just another win and are looking forward to the next series. 

The fans of Philly will be calm, but with shades of doubt.  The Brewers-Diamondbacks series has been display after display of offense as each team is averaging more than five runs a game.  They’ll set pitching matchups, seeing when Zack Greinke will pitch against Halladay or Lee. They’ll call Mike Missanelli nervously asking, “With how good the bats from the Milwaukee/Arizona are looking and our offense doesn’t look like it can compete?” To which Mikey Miss will reply, “In the playoffs good pitching beats good hitting. I don’t see how anyone could doubt the Phillies with that pitching staff. They’re the best team in the National League.”

Cause: The Phillies offense stagnates and the Cardinals do just enough to win

Effect: Turmoil in the streets of South Philadelphia. The end of Philly as a city will commence.  Car pileups, fires, looting, riots, destruction of the streets, and chaos infect one of the oldest cities in America (yes, you can argue that this happened in 2008 when the Phillies win the World Series).  Mayor Nutter has taken refuge in city hall as the citizens of Philly demand for his head because no one can grasp what happened.  Signs littered throughout the city would read “Missing Person: Ruben Amaro Jr.”

Although the above was said tongue-and-cheek, it’s not that far from the truth.  ESPN will brutalize the Phillies as badly as the Eagles.  With Cliff Lee picking Philadelphia for less money and creating arguably the best starting rotation in the history of baseball, anything short of making the World Series is a bust.  The Phillies already used their “get-out-free” card with a loss in the 2010 NLCS to the inferior San Francisco Giants.  ESPN would blast headlines like “What a Mis-steak!” or “Four Aces Can’t Beat St. Louis’ Straight Flush” (those are actually pretty good) and the 2011 Phillies would be considered one of the most blown seasons ever; especially since they lost a team who needed 18 wins just to MAKE the playoffs. (Regardless if the Cardinals are considered the “hot team” there’s no such thing baseball.  Yes, they’re “hot” at the end of the regular season, but the playoffs are a different monster.)  Don’t be surprised if they do a timeline of all the signings the Phillies and Eagles made throughout the past year while the national sports fan begins to look at Philly as a Choke City.

I really hope for the former.

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Why Sports are So Important

On Saturday night, I attended a wedding between two good friends of mine. It was a nice ceremony and I cut a rug for the majority of the time.  I ran into my friend Shawn and immediately said, “Yeah, I’m gonna miss the [Eagles] game Sunday because I have work all day.”  His response, “Dude me too.” Then both of our minds clicked and we said at the same time, “We should just record the game and watch it later.” We devised an entire plan. With a time window from 9-11 pm I would patiently wait for Shawn to walk into my house and tell me he’s done work.  We would then wait for our friend, Steve (who also had work), to call us so we could all watch the game. My phone and laptop would be off all day and I wouldn’t turn it on until the next day.  To help reinforce our plan I set up signs at work outside of my area that read in bold blue ink, “NO Talk About the Eagles Game” “I DVR-d It.”  I didn’t talk to my boy BC because we argue football every time we see each other and I couldn’t risk it. (He yelled to me that the Cowboys would win the Super Bowl and Tony Romo would win the MVP. I honestly was left speechless because it was so irrational my brain couldn’t grasp it, I had to sit down.)    I put my Ipod on shuffle and trudged through my nine hour shift.

When I left at 9:00 I came home and immediately yelled as quickly as I could, “Don’t tell me anything about the game. I know nothing, justleavemealoneanddon’ttellmeanything!” Shawn arrived around 9:30 and I said was to meet him in 10 minutes at his house.  The plan became such a mission that we didn’t watch the Phillies because they might reveal the score of the Eagles game which happened a few hours earlier.  I didn’t put on my Michael Vick jersey because we were getting food and I didn’t want someone saying, “So how about that game today?” To say we were paranoid, determined, anxious, and excited would all be appropriate and it made me think, “Is there anything else that evokes this much emotion?”

Look at it this way.  Does anyone record the State of the Union address or America’s Got Talent or American Idol or any other event with that much vigor and determination to have it viewed without any biased or prior knowledge?  I tried making a list or at least an idea on why sports are such an integral part of our lives and why we go to the ends of the Earth or to the brink of insanity to keep the purity of something that only last a few hours.

It is a representation of your region- If you think about it; it’s the least logical, but strongest reason for why sports are so important to us.  Does the fact that Milwaukee has a good baseball team make it a good city? No, I visited that city in August and it was fun, if you enjoy empty streets by 11 and empty bars that have drunken Brewers fans talking about how much better Yovani Gallardo is than Roy Halladay (it really was fun though).  But sports fans don’t take it that way.  If your team is bad, then you have a self-conscious perception of yourself that the entire world judges you as a part of that team. If the Phillies blow it against the St. Louis Cardinals then people nationally will call people from Philadelphia “choke artists” because sports are the microscope that American cities are looked through. It makes us invested in the game because if the team is the best, then the CITY is the best.  Do you know anything about people from Seattle? No, but you know that the Seahawks stink so why would visiting Seattle be on your list of “West Coast Cities I’d Like to Visit?” It’s the reason that BOSTON got its own issue of ESPN the Magazine; not just the Patriots or Celtics or Bruins or Red Sox.

It’s a loooooooong season- Every sports season has a range of about four months.  Exposure to something over four months a year eventually leads to a liking if not a respect for whatever the viewer is seeing. For example, I listened to “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” for about nine months every morning from 10-12. I hated Colin Cowherd. I couldn’t stand him.  From his stupid rant on John Wall (who he called J-Wow) to his whiny and high pitched voice I couldn’t understand why he had a radio show.  But hearing him every day I started to calm down and out of sheer saturation and exposure he started to grow on me.  I started to strive away from what I didn’t like and began to focus on what I DID like.  It took a long time, but I have respect for Cowherd and I don’t think he’s that bad.  He actually makes some good points and his analogies are creative and solid.  He’s educated and keen to what goes on around the world.  It’s the same with sports franchises.  The Phillies play from April-October which is more than enough time to “expose” a non-fan to the sport, to the players, to the front-office, and to the fans.  For example, the Four Aces being on the Phillies gave the team so much publicity that people now enter their own little “Four Aces Cliques” based off which one of the four they like they most.  The long season allows for the ability of gradual exposure making it simpler to ease into fandom instead of it being thrust down your throat. 

Winning is an addicting feeling- I grew up in a dismal time in Philadelphia sports. The Sixers stunk (except 2001), the Eagles stunk (up until 1999 when the Andy Reid era started), and the Phillies stunk (up until 2007). The Flyers were good but in the hierarchy of the Philadelphia sports market they’re fourth by a large margin.  Regardless, up until about 10 years ago, all Philly knew was losing.  All my generation knew was bad team after bad team after bad team.  But Philly’s new generation got its first taste of winning in 2001 when Allen Iverson led the Sixers to the Finals.  Dubbed the worst Finals team in NBA history, Iverson scored 30 of his game-high 48 in the first half and the Sixers stole game one from the Lakers. Although the Sixers lost the series 4-1 (it was the only game the Lakers lost in the playoffs that year), Philadelphia was hooked on a drug called Winning. And around the same time the Eagles became contenders with the Phillies following suit. Soon enough, Philadelphia was a winning sports town. 

But why is it so addicting? Because it’s so simple. In a world where nothing is clear-cut or simplistic, sports are.  You either win or you lose.  That’s it. There is no “well we lost out on our mutual fund, but our Sirius satellite stocks are doing well!” You either won 28-27, get to celebrate with a parade, or you lost 28-27 and you get to think about what could’ve been for the next six months.  Winning equates to accomplishment and succeeding at a task is a coveted emotion.

It’s our childhoods- Every kid grew up playing a sport. Whether it was baseball, basketball, football, hockey, swimming, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling, or track and field, we all personally had a stake in a sport.  The knowledge of the game and thrill of the competition stays with us for our entire lives.   Turn on sports talk radio and listen to how many callers say, “I used to play college baseball” or “I’ve coached football for years.” It represents the best times of our childhoods. It represents a time of purity when all you had to look forward to on Fridays and Saturdays was your next football or baseball game.   They were games that could be played with minimum resources.  All that’s needed to play basketball is a ball and a net, football needs a ball, baseball needs a bat, a ball, and a glove. All of which could be found for more than affordable prices. Today, kids spend the majority of their time playing video games which cost 300$ for the system alone. And unless they create some professional video game league, they’ll miss out on an important aspect of being kids; and that’s going outside and playing.

It’s about companionship- Some of the longest stints of my social life come during a sporting event.  I’ll go the bar during playoff basketball or a UFC title fight more often than I do just to get some drinks.  It’s a guaranteed conversation topic and it allows for people to gather for a single reason.  Without sports the bar would be a metaphorical wasteland of socialite drifters trying to find common ground with other socialite drifters that they’ve never met nor are they likely to ever see again.  With sports it creates an identity and sense of being a part of something.  Regular people now become fans and now have a common ground to start conversations.  “Hey my name is John,” becomes “So what do the Phillies do in the bottom of the inning here? Do you keep Halladay in?” I’ll be at a bar sitting next to a stranger.  Now on a regular night I wouldn’t really say anything to the stranger because there’s nothing to say.  But if I look up at the screen and Vick throws a dart to Desean Jackson I can look at him and say, “Did you ever think Michael Vick would be able to throw a pass like that?” And then take off from there.  It’s the reason that at parties, when all the guys meet in the corner, they don’t talk about the drapes that they just bought, but did Halladay pick up his 20th win or did the Eagles beat the Cowboys.  Regardless if the person is wearing a rival team’s jersey, a little hazing and heated conversation makes for a time that you can’t achieve if you’re talking about Democrats and Republicans.

After we got food and arrived at Shawn’s house it was 11:00.  I thought to myself, “I’m about 15 minutes away from seeing this game.”  At the same time, Shawn’s little brother, Mikey, walked past us.  Shawn and I both got out and yelled, “Don’t say anything, DON’T SAY ANYTHING!”  He said, “Dude…the Eagles are terrible.” My world crashed. He later told us that he thought we didn’t want to talk about it because they lost to the 49ers.  It was eleven hours and a great amount of energy for nothing.  I turned on my phone and saw that the Eagles blew a 20-3 lead and lost 24-23.