Philly - the 6th Boro and hating it
One of the main reasons why the Phillies no longer reserve the right to even think "wild card" was that short stretch in June in which they allowed Philadelphia to live up to its nickname "The Sixth Borough."
In one nine-game homestand, the Phillies lost five of six to the New York Mets and New York Yankees, getting treated with less respect than a Manhattanite pays Staten Island.
The team from Queens was especially tough on the Phillies, sweeping three games to increase its lead in the National League East over the Fightins' from 6 1/2 games to 9 1/2.
Not that the Mets couldn't have done it without them, but the Phillies made the visitors look an awful lot like the 1998 Yankees - that near-perfect team that won a total of 125 games - regular- and postseason - en route to World Series championship.
The Mets outscored Philadelphia, 23-14, in those three games - 7-0 in the first innings, alone! They never trailed at any point in the series.
Like that '98 Yankees team, the Mets are filled with hitters who display patience and an understanding that the guy next to him in the lineup can get it done if the pitches are worthy of swinging at. That deepens a lineup - and makes it deadlier.
The Mets' baserunning was also so aggressive the likes of Jose Reyes seemed to move at fast-forward speed compared to the bumbling Phillies, and it forced Phillies' misplay after misplay.
That pedal-to-the-medal mentality throughout the three games was a tribute to Mets manager Willie Randolph, a "National League"-style player even though he spent nearly his entire playing career in the American League.
Earlier in the season Yankees manager Joe Torre paid his fellow manager and former coach as high a compliment as there is when he said the Mets "play the way Willie did."
Hamels Impresses Yankees
Just because Cole Hamels isn't piling up victories doesn't mean he isn't leaving some good first impressions. The lefthander threw a solid seven innings at the Yankees -- giving up just two runs on six hits with six strikeouts in a 5-0 lossto New York on June 21.
Said Yankees manager Joe Torre: "Very impressed. ... He had a great deal of poise, threw the changeup at will. But we knew coming in he was pretty good.
Said Johnny Damon: "[Coming in] we had no idea what he threw. We realized that he throws a cutter and has a good curve ball. And he has good poise out there. He also throws hard for a lefty and that's an added bonus. I feel that with a little work and as he builds up his legs, he may be able to go out there and throw a little harder as he matures.
Said Jason Giambi: "He throws harder than Barry Zito. He has a great young arm. He wouldn't throw me a fastball, except out of the strike zone. He has a great changeup and throws it for a strike, so it's hard to eliminate pitches when he was throwing all of them for strikes."
... Alex Rodriguez: "Good stuff, very impressive. He's got a great future."
And Derek Jeter: "He threw well. I only got one change and it was on a hit-and-run. But it looks like he has good control of it."
"Wild card:" four-letter words to some
Thoughts of a wild card berth aren't coarsing through the minds of the Phillies any more. Fact, is, who knows what those guys are thinking. ...
But for all those teams starting to think in terms of the wild card, a word of advice from veteran pitcher Tom Glavine: Don't.
"I can only tell you from my experiences from my years in Atlanta - we wanted to win our division, period.," said the presumptive Hall of Fame pitcher who's helped pitch the current Mets to the top of the NL East.
"That was our goal," Glavine said of the Braves' 1990s dynasty. "That is what we wanted. If something else happened, you deal with it and you accept it. But, our goal, even in years when we found ourselves behind, it wasn't about, 'well, we still have the wild card and we'll fall back on that.
"You're going to do what you can do to win the division and if you can't, then you accept the wild card. But that was never our goal."
Glavine also cautions against the catch phrases that signal surrender and suggest that so-called contenders deep down inside know they're just pretenders. Phrases such as "he's a youngster and it is good to get him some experience in the major leagues," or "we're just treading water until our injured players come back," or "we're waiting for those guys [the team being chased] to come back to us."
"That's not sending a real ringing endorsement on your thoughts of you chances of really doing something," said Glavine. "I mean, you have to believe you have a chance to do something, whether you're the team in first place or in second place. If you're in one of those positions you're in contention. And if you're in contention, you're in contention for a reason - and that's usually because you have talent.
"Bottom line: if you're in contention, you're there for a reason - and you have to believe in those reasons why you're there."