Take Game 162 for instance. With the NL East already wrapped up and nothing to play for other than some statistics, manager Charlie Manuel filled Sunday's lineup with September call ups. Because of that, Greg Golson, Mike Cervenak and Lou Marson have proper Baseball-Reference pages.
That's certainly no small feat. In fact, the underlying theme of the movie "Field of Dreams" was all about a ballplayer named Moonlight Graham and his not-so spotty entry in the encyclopedia. Graham, as made famous in the film, played just one inning of one game in right field for the New York Giants in 1905. He didn't get a chance to bat, nor did he make a play in the field. When the game ended, Graham never again played in the Majors so his record consists of one little notch under the games heading and that's it.
As a result, Graham has the most rudimentary and mysterious professional record in the books.
Contrarily, if Lou Marson never gets a shot to play in the big leagues again his ledger will look pretty full. Now this isn't to say that Marson will never again play in the Majors - quite the opposite. Clearly Marson should be tabbed as the Phillies' catcher of the future after a summer in which he stood out at Double-A Reading and was an integral player for Team USA in the Beijing Olympics.
"He's going to be a good big-league player," Manuel said.
Obviously, the Phillies like Marson very much though he likely seems to be slated to spend most of 2009 seasoning himself at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Nevertheless, in his first (and only) Major League game, Marson batted eighth as the starting catcher against the Washington Nationals on Sunday. Better yet, he caught all nine innings, picked up his first hit and - oh yeah - clubbed a two-run homer in the eighth inning to help the Phillies put the game out of reach.
So if you go to that Lou Marson Baseball-Reference page, it looks pretty gaudy with the career .500 batting average and 1.720 OPS. Better yet, he averages out to 162 homers and 324 RBIs for a full season.
See, told you it was fun.
"He has a chance to be very good. He hits the ball a lot to right field, but today he pulled his home run to left," Manuel said. "It's just a matter of time until he learns to really handle pitches and hit the ball out front more. He's got a chance to be a real good hitter."
Marson was pretty good for Reading where he hit .314 with five homers in 94 games. For Team USA, he hit .308 in five games during the Olympics and even threw out two of three would-be base stealers. However, when Marson joined the Phillies in early September, he didn't do much more than take batting practice before the games. He also had a pretty good spot to watch from the dugout, serving as an emergency catcher in case of an injury to Chris Coste or Carlos Ruiz. Marson will reprise that role during the playoffs when he heads off to the Arizona Fall League to be ready if the Phillies need to add him to the playoff roster.
In the meantime, after nearly a month of hanging around the team Marson finally got a chance to play. Needless to say, he made the most of it.
"It was great for me to be around the guys and see how they go about their business in a pennant race and what they do every day and how they prepare - everything like that," Marson said. "Just watching guys play helps me a lot."
Perhaps he picked up the home run swing from watching Ryan Howard?
"I never imagined I'd hit a home run my first time," Marson said.
Though he homered in his first game, Marson singled for his first hit. That is unlike Chase Utley who hit a grand slam for his first big-league hit.
"I was excited when I came in today and saw my name up on that board," Marson said. "I just wanted to make the most of it."
It's been pointed out in other places, but how much fun is it that the White Sox are hoping to save their playoff chances by sending Gavin Floyd to the mound against the Tigers' Freddy Garcia?
On another note, Garcia (1) and Floyd (16) have combined for 17 wins this season. That's more than twice as many as the pair combined for in 35 career starts for the Phillies.
Other than Coste’s tomfoolery, the celebration was slightly muted. Oh sure, Brett Myers took perverse pleasure dousing anyone and everyone with beer and Pat Burrell made sure his bulldog, Elvis, made it to the party.
Otherwise, the Phillies acted as if clinching celebrations was old hat. After all, last year’s wild bash was 14 years in the making and it took the Phillies until the very last day of the season to sew it up. This year manager Charlie Manuel retreated to his office after the game while the party simmered in the clubhouse and out on the field.
Only when the remaining fans called for him with an echoing chant of, “CHARLIE! CHARLIE! CHARLIE!” did the manager work his way back out to the field to tip his cap and celebrate ever so briefly with his players.
Been there, done that appeared to be the theme as the celebration quickly morphed into a neighborhood cocktail party. Though pulling off the repeat wasn’t easy, the Phillies believe there is much to prove during the second season.
“I think we got a little taste last year of it, short and sweet,” Chase Utley said. “There's a lot of focus, a lot of drive, a lot of intensity. We're definitely not done.”
Last year the Phillies were finished in the playoffs pretty quickly. In fact, the team barely got warmed up before the Colorado Rockies sent them packing in three straight. Utley, in particular, went through some growing pains in his first playoffs where he struck out four times on just 13 pitches in Game 1.
It wasn’t just Utley who had trouble, either. In three games the Phillies collected just 16 hits and batted .172 with 26 strikeouts. Of the eight runs the Phils scored during the series, five came on solo homers.
“We didn't really know what to expect going into the playoffs last year,” Utley said. “This year, you have more of an understanding of how everything works. It's no different, it's still baseball. You have to prepare and go out there every day. I never played baseball in October before last year.”
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins says the Phillies worked so hard just to get into the playoffs last season that once they got there they didn’t have much left.
“I think we were so hell bent on that and so focused to win the division that we kind of ran out of steam heading into the playoffs,” Rollins said. “There's no such thing as pacing yourself, but we know that there is more than just winning the division. We won the division last year and three games later we were watching with everyone else. We don't want that to happen again, so we'll be a little more under control and hopefully bring home a championship.”
There is a big difference between the maiden voyage in 2007 and the return trip in 2008. For one thing, every player expected to be on the playoff roster – except Geoff Jenkins and Chad Durbin – have post-season experience. Better yet, six players (Brad Lidge, Eric Bruntlett, Tadahito Iguchi, So Taguchi, Pedro Feliz and Scott Eyre) have appeared in the World Series.
For a change, the Phillies will have experience as an asset.
“Our focus is different this year,” Howard said. “This is the first step, making the playoffs. We didn’t like the feeling [of losing] last year, but we got the experience. We know what to expect this year.”
In fact, manager Charlie Manuel says there won’t be a repeat of last season.
“Believe me – we’re going to go farther in the playoffs than we did last year,” Manuel said.
Nevertheless, the Phillies still don’t know who they will play come Wednesday in Philadelphia. Though Cole Hamels will get a second consecutive Game 1 start in the NLDS, the Phillies must wait for the Brewers and the Mets to settle the wild-card race. If the Mets survive to make the playoffs after blowing a 3 ½ games lead in the NL East just two weeks ago, the Phillies will host the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But if the Brewers come out on top, they will head to Philadelphia to open the playoffs with the memory of the four-game sweep that led to manager Ned Yost’s firing still fresh in their minds.
Manuel says the Phillies matchup pretty well against either the Brewers or Dodgers.
“It doesn’t really matter. All the teams we play we match up well against them,” Manuel said. “The Cubs have a lot of right-handed pitchers and our left-handed hitters match up against them. It doesn’t really matter to me who we play. We’ll see.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
Jenkins, who had been ranked fourth amongst active players in games played without a playoff appearance, spent the first decade of his career with the Brewers. Needless to say, the irony of facing his old team when he finally gets to the playoffs was not lost on Jenkins.
“I’ve been waiting to get into the postseason for so long. It's just a happy, unbelievable feeling about getting here. I'm just excited about keeping it going,” Jenkins said. “You picture how it might be, but until you go through it, you can't even picture how great this is.”
Yeah, the Phillies already know. Now they want to find out just how much better it can be.
“We all have a little experience at this,” Rollins said. “We can hopefully go a little further into the playoffs. We know winning the division doesn’t guarantee you anything. It just means you have a chance to go win the World Series.”
The second trip starts Wednesday.
Yeah, everyone remembers that one.
Though he seems relaxed and laidback away from the field, it’s obvious he gets amped up when he gets the ball. Even if the game is tight and the pressure is about to boil over, Lidge wants the ball.
After last night’s game when the prospect of pitching in the ninth inning of a clinching game was broached, Lidge’s eyes lit up.
“I don’t care if it’s 100-0 – I will be available,” he said. “There is no scenario where I won’t want to be out there.”
Of course Lidge usually only comes into the game when the Phillies have the lead. That thin thread became even more precariously delicate during the eighth inning when Ryan Madson entered and promptly got into a jam.
Unlike Lidge, this is the first time Madson has been in these high-pressure situations. Last season he was on the disabled list when the Phillies made their march to the post-season so all he could do was celebrate with his teammates and watch from the bench.
This year Madson gave up a leadoff single to (Phillie killer) Cristian Guzman and a long double to Ryan Zimmerman. Things really got worrisome for the 45, 177 in the house when Lastings Milledge lifted a blooper into short center field that shortstop Jimmy Rollins somehow hauled in.
But in doing so, Rollins collided with Shane Victorino -- seemingly kicking him in the shins – as Guzman tagged and scored. After the play, Victorino remained on his back, but remained in the game.
Madson stayed in, too and got Elijah Dukes on a broken –bat grounder before whiffing Aaron Boone to end the inning.
When Boone swung and missed, Madson screamed and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.
The Phillies tacked on one with two-outs in the bottom half of the inning when Victorino legged out an infield single and came around to score on Pedro Feliz's RBI double.
Here comes Lidge…
End of 8: Phillies 4, Nats 2
The truth is there is no good way to avoid the party. The best bet is to dive in, get what you need and get back to the press box to change into something a little less wet.
That’s my tact, anyway. I brought a change of clothes in case the Phillies nail this down. And following last season’s celebration where I had a beer poured down my pants by a player who shall remain nameless as well as other liquids dumped on my head, I should have brought a poncho.
Chad Durbin got the Phillies to within six outs of the clincher by working through the seventh. He had some help from Chase Utley, who turned a neat little inning-ending double play to end the inning.
The Phillies went quietly in the seventh against lefty reliever Mike Hinckley.
I don’t know… maybe the Phillies need another run or two?
End of 7: Phillies 3, Nats 1
Those thoughts got stronger when I learned about Milwaukeean Jeffrey Dahmer, Lieberace and saw Wayne and Garth visit the city to catch an Alice Cooper gig.
So nothing against the Mets, but it would be neat to see the Brewers get the wild card so the Phillies can have that second trip to Milwaukee. If we go, I hope to visit Schott’s Brewery.
Jamie Moyer escaped the sixth with his two-run lead thanks to some of his wily and crafty work after Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge singled to open the frame. From there, Moyer went to work and stranded the runners by getting two flies to center and his first whiff of the game.
After six, Moyer has allowed six hits and a walk on 86 pitches. Call it a night, Jamie.
Steven Shell relieved John Lannan and sat down the Phillies in order.
We’re into the bullpens now, folks. The Phillies need nine outs.
End of 6: Phillies 3, Nats 1
Clearly something was bothering Utley because he went from 25 home runs during the first half of the season, to just eight after the All-Star Break. In fact, all of Utley’s power numbers waned, though his batting average remained steady.
Utley ripped a few loud fouls off the lefty John Lannan, but went down on strikes when the pitcher fooled him with a slider. Regardless, Utley’s stroke seems solid.
The Nats got on the board in the fifth when Jayson Werth could not hang onto a long drive hit by Anderson Hernandez when he crashed into the right-field fence. Werth appeared to be shaken up a bit on the play, taking an extra minute to loosen up his shoulder and/or catch his breath after relaying the ball back to the infield.
Moyer, meanwhile, is up to 72 pitches. He should be able to get through seven innings.
Nevertheless, fears that Werth was a little banged up were allayed in the bottom half of the frame when he led off with home run just over the out-of-town scoreboard in right.
Call it a “Citizens Bank Park Special.”
Lannan survived big trouble when Shane Victorino’s long drive was caught at the fence.
The Phillies are 12 outs away from wrapping things up.
End of 5: Phillies 3, Nats 1