NEW YORK — To call Roy Oswalt quiet is a disservice to the word. Tranquil might be a better description. Maybe understated, unflashy, unpretentious fit in there, too. After all, when Oswalt speaks with his soft, Mississippi drawl, it’s best to move in close or risk a chance at not hearing anything.
His body language is the same way, too. When Oswalt walks on (or off) the mound, it’s placid, efficient and light. It’s almost as if his feet glide over the grass on his way to the dugout and he shows no emotion with eyes focused and posture as straight as a country mile.
But don’t mistake Oswalt’s quietness for shyness and don’t think that because he’s a kind sort that he is soft. Considering that his goal is to make hitters look dumb whenever he throws a baseball, Oswalt has a sadistic side. Affable off the mound, Oswalt is nasty on it and if there is one pitcher opponents have struggled with lately, it’s been the quiet kid from Weir, Mississippi.
There were 32 kids in Oswalt’s high school class where he was a pitcher for the baseball team and a defensive back on the state championship football team at Weir. His dad, Billy, is a logger and served in Vietnam, and his grandfather, Houston, was a logger, too. Logging is tough work and a hard way to make a dollar with injuries, and worse, a regular occurrence. But as the story is told, when Astros owner Drayton McLane asked Oswalt what his goal was in baseball it was related to a life spent on the stark and austere land near the gulf coast of Mississippi.
“I want to own a bulldozer,” is what Oswalt reportedly told McLane.
So maybe that’s why Oswalt carries himself the way he does. Knowing how harsh the land can be he chooses to show respect until he has to go to work. Then, like logging and pitching, he attempts to decimate wood. Perhaps that’s also where the rumors indicating that Oswalt preferred not to play for Philadelphia came from, too. Long since denied, those reports about a pitcher from a town with a population of 553 not wanting to pitch in Philadelphia are missing the point. Philly is a blue-collar city only different from Weir, Mississippi as it relates to population, area and types of industry.
In both places they appreciate people who have a strong work ethic and they really like to win.
“I feel like I got a new life coming over here,” Oswalt said with his soft, Mississippi drawl. “I’d been out of playoff contention for five years and now we’re trying to get back into the playoffs. (Most of the guys) got a ring. I don't. Hopefully I can push them to get another one.”
And since joining the Phillies at the end of July, Oswalt has had an impact not just in the game he’s pitched, but on the entire rotation as well. In nine starts since the trade from the Astros, Oswalt is 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA. Take away his debut against the Nationals that came not even 24 hours after the trade went down, and Oswalt is 6-0 with a 1.56 ERA.
More importantly, he has been the catalyst of a friendly competition between fellow aces Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, as well. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Halladay solidified his Cy Young Award credentials by going 6-2 with a 3.12 ERA to boost his wins total to 18. But of The Big Three, Halladay is actually the worst of the trio, statistically speaking. Over the same span, Hamels is 3-3 with a 2.09 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 56 innings. The lefty is also riding a scoreless innings streak of 25.
It’s the damndest group of pitchers, according to manager Charlie Manuel. Not only are they at the top of their games, but not one of them has an ounce of hubris.
“[Oswalt is] quiet. Between those three, Cole talks the most, but he’s not what anyone would call [talkative],” Manuel said. “All of them work hard. You don’t see [Halladay] around much because he’s always doing something. He’s always working or looking at videos or something. All three of them have the same work ethic and they sit there together a lot. I’m sure they’re talking about pitching.”
Nevertheless, Oswalt’s arrival begs the question… if all three pitchers are rested and ready to go in a Game 7 elimination game, which one gets the ball?
(You hesitated before answering, didn’t you?)
“Halladay and Cole are tremendous pitchers,” Oswalt said. “They go out there and compete every day. It’s a friendly competition with each other—at least I try to treat it that way because it pushes me even more, makes me try to go deeper into games. And I'm trying to push them a little bit, too.”
It’s worked. In fact, it’s worked in a manner similar to how it was in Houston when Oswalt was the third wheel in the bulldozer driven by Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Not exactly the most demure guy on the planet, it would seem as if there would be some personality conflicts in the Astros’ trio that went to Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS and the World Series in 2005. However, to see Oswalt tell the stories it seems as if he enjoyed the wildness and the antics from his better-known teammates.
“Roger was kind of standoffish. He had something written into his deal that he didn’t have to be there every day because of his family, but when he was there you couldn’t ask for a better teammate,” Oswalt said with a smile that seemed to indicate that there were stories he couldn’t tell in polite company. “He still keeps up with me and will probably send me a text today. He has a great presence and pushes guys.
“Pettitte was the same way. He had a demeanor where he didn’t think he ever should lose. These guys are the same way. When Halladay gives up a hit he looks like it’s the end of the world. So you have to have to have that competitiveness.”
Oswalt’s demeanor always stays the same. He doesn’t fluster easily, not even when a tornado touched down in Weir last April and destroyed his boyhood home where his parents live, barely a mile away from Oswalt’s current home. But having acquired that bulldozer long ago, Oswalt simply had the house rebuilt. His parents moved back in just last week.