For 159 games that year, the Phillies gave the Braves all they could handle.
Give some credit to first-year manager Larry Bowa for getting the most out of his kids by putting his foot on the gas and never letting up. Bowa made his players treat every game as if it was the seventh game of the World Series and for the most part they responded. Of course those tactics backfired often throughout Bowa’s tenure in Philadelphia, though in the manager’s defense the team’s talent wasn’t quite there yet.
In 2001 though, Bowa took on the Braves with a rotation that featured Robert Person, Randy Wolf, Omar Daal and rookies Nelson Figueroa and Brandon Duckworth. Person reached the apex of his career by winning 15 games that season before the injuries mounted, while Wolf entrenched himself as a bona fide big-league starter. Daal was the veteran lefty in the mix who got the ball on opening day simply because he was the only guy the team had ready to go.
Meanwhile, Figueroa and Duckworth held down spots in the rotation because of injuries and the fact that Bowa didn’t quite trust Amaury Telemaco and Dave Coggin too much. Maybe he didn’t trust those guys either, but for a little while he was pleasantly surprised.
Who would have guessed that all these years later Figueroa and Duckworth are still out there fighting for spots on big-league rosters? Last season Figueroa made 10 starts for the Mets and has appeared in 32 games for his hometown team over the past two seasons. In between his 2001 season for the Phillies and 2009 work for New York, Figueroa has pitched for Milwaukee and Pittsburgh in the Majors, as well as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Nashville, Long Island, Buffalo, Chihuahua in the Mexican League as well as South Korea.
Yes, with his 36 birthday quickly approaching, Figueroa will pitch for whatever you want to pay him.
The same goes for Duckworth, too, only in locales that are not as exotica as his old buddy, Figgy. After landing in Bowa’s crowded doghouse, Duckworth was a piece in the trade that brought Billy Wagner from Houston to the Phillies. Following a couple of seasons where he shuttled up and down between the Astros and New Orleans/Round Rock, Duckworth moved to the Pittsburgh organization where he pitched for Indianapolis.
Duckworth appeared to be a cornerstone of the Phillies future during the 2001 season. However, the mild-mannered right-hander got around the league a couple times after the ’01 pennant chase, big-league hitters caught up with his repertoire. However, in Game 159 with the Phillies clinging to hope that they could catch the Braves, Bowa yanked veteran 13-game winner Omar Daal from a start in Atlanta in favor of Duckworth.
Since 2006, Duckworth has been pitching for Kansas City and their top farm club, Omaha, where he worked mostly in relief.
The relief role just might be where he fits in with the Phillies in 2010.
What goes around, comes around…
Of course Duckworth has to make the team, first. However, in making the official announcement that Duckworth had agreed to a minor-league deal with the team on Tuesday, the soon-to-be 34 year-old righty will likely spend the summer in Allentown with the Triple-A IronPigs.
In the meantime, Duckworth will get into a bunch of Grapefruit League games this spring and get a first-hand look at how much things have changed since he left before the 2004 season. Sure, some tired old faces are hanging around, but for the most part the Phillies are a different beast than they were in the early 2000s.
Regardless, it’s always neat to see guys like Duckworth and Figueroa hanging around the game and still battling for a spot on a roster. At its essence, those are the guys who make Major league Baseball interesting. They are just regular dudes who work as hard as they can in order to carve out a little spot in the game for as long as possible. They may never get to an All-Star Game or see their picture on too many baseball cards, but it’s difficult not to respect their perseverance and love for the game.
Gotta love the guys just hoping to get by.