Monday, May 30, 2011

Random Past Phillie: Mike Jackson

Name: Michael Ray Jackson
Position: Pitcher
Born: December 22, 1964 in Houston, Texas
Acquired, Part I: Selected in the 2nd Round of the January, 1984 Draft
Acquired, Part II: Signed as a free agent on December 7, 1999
Phillies Debut: August 11, 1986
Final Phillies Game: October 2, 1987
Uniform Numbers: 33, 42
Career Elsewhere: Mariners (1988-91, 1996), Giants (1992-94), Reds (1995), Indians (1997-99), Astros (2001), Twins (2002), White Sox (2004)

About Mike Jackson: In sports, it is not uncommon for a player to go on to greater success with a team other than the one who originally drafted or signed him. It can be a case of a young prospect being traded in order to acquire an established player in an attempt to put a contending club over the top. It could also be a case of a player simply finding his niche later on in his career or getting an opportunity that wasn't previously available. Every now and then, a team has a chance to reacquire such a player, in hopes that they'll show the form they never got to show the first time around.

Heading into the 2000 season, the Philadelphia Phillies made some waves when they brought back a pair of pitchers who had originally broken in with the club before experiencing a good deal of success elsewhere. As it turned out, neither pitcher ended up being much of a factor as the Phils suffered through their worst season in nearly three decades. One of those hurlers was Mike Jackson, who was signed to shore up the back of the team's bullpen but never set foot on the mound in a regular season game thanks to shoulder issues that had scared away at least one other team in the preceding offseason. That's not to say Jackson never had his moments as a Phillie, as he very nearly made history on a Sunday afternoon at the Vet during his first stint with the club.

Mike Jackson's pro baseball career began in 1984, when the Phillies selected him in the second round of the now-defunct January Draft. Assigned to mid-level "A" Spartanburg, Jackson made a good first impression as he went 7-2 with a 2.68 ERA in 14 starts. He would be used as both a starter and reliever for class "A" Peninsula the following year, going 7-9 with a 4.60 ERA in 31 games, 18 of which were starts. Feeling his sharp slider was better suited in a relief role, the Phillies moved Jackson to the bullpen full-time for 1986. He responded by going 5-4 with a 2.18 ERA at two minor league levels, good enough for a promotion to the parent club. Jackson made his MLB debut on August 11, 1986, working a perfect ninth inning in an 8-4 loss to the New York Mets at Veterans Stadium. In 1987, he would appear in 55 games for the Phillies, including what would be the only seven starts of his 17-year career. One start in particular was more memorable than the others.

On June 7, 1987, Jackson took the mound for the Phillies at the Vet against the Montreal Expos. Milt Thompson singled and scored a run to give the Phils a quick 1-0 lead in the first before homering to make it 2-0 in the third and singling home Steve Jeltz in the seventh for a 3-0 advantage. That was all the help Jackson would need as he mowed down the Expos without a hit through the first eight innings. He would be denied the first no-hitter in Veterans Stadium history when Tim Raines doubled leading off the ninth and eventually came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Hubie Brooks. After ex-Phillie Tom Foley singled, Jackson was replaced by Steve Bedrosian, who got Vance Law on a game-ending fly to right. It was the first win of Jackson's career, and that electrifying performance had to make the Phillies believe they had a good one on their hands.

Unfortunately, Jackson's next two starts did not go so well, as he gave up four runs while failing to last five innings in both. He would never start another game for the Phillies or any other big league club. In all, Jackson appeared in 55 games (seven starts) in '87, going 3-10 with one save and a 4.20 ERA. After the season, Jackson, right fielder Glenn Wilson, and first baseman/outfielder Dave Brundage were traded to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Phil Bradley, a left fielder who the Phils believed was on the verge of superstardom, and relief pitcher Tim Fortugno. A mediocre 1988 season on the field and poor attitude in the clubhouse had Bradley shipped to the Baltimore Orioles after one year in Philadelphia, while Fortugno never appeared in a game for the Phillies. Wilson would be dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in July of '88, and Brundage never made it to the Major Leagues. Jackson, meanwhile, found his groove in the Seattle bullpen and would go on to be one of the game's top relievers over the course of the next decade.

Jackson would appear in 65 games for the Mariners in 1988, going 6-5 with four saves and a 2.63 ERA. Following a 1991 season in which he went 7-7 with 14 saves and 3.25 ERA in 72 appearances, Jackson was traded to the San Francisco Giants along with pitchers Dave Burba and Bill Swift in exchange for outfielder Kevin Mitchell and pitcher Mike Remlinger. As a Giant, Jackson picked up right where he left off in Seattle, appearing in a league-leading 81 games in 1993. San Francisco won 103 games that year, but was edged out for the National League West title by the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the season, the last one in which the two-division format was used. An elbow injury limited Jackson to 36 appearances in 1994, but he did go 3-2 with a 1.49 ERA in the strike-shortened campagin, which was his last with the Giants.

When the infamous strike that wiped out the 1994 postseason was finally resolved in April of 1995, it left Major League Baseball and its teams in a pickle. Scores of free agents remained unsigned, while the clubs would have to scramble through a brief Spring Training before playing an abbreviated 144-game season. Mike Jackson was among those players without a home as camp got underway, but he'd find work with the Cincinnati Reds. The injury bug would strike Jackson again, as shoulder woes limited him to 40 games in '95. He was effective when healthy, however, posting a 6-1 record with two saves and a 2.39 ERA for the NL Central Champion Reds. Jackson appeared in all three NLDS games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, tossing three and 2/3 shutout innings and adding a bases-clearing triple at the plate as Cincinnati swept the series. The NLCS was a different story, though, as Jackson was 0-1 with a 23.14 ERA in three appearances as the Reds were swept in four games by the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves.

The 1995 season would be the only one Jackson spent in Cincinnati, as he would return to the Mariners as a free agent for the 1996 campaign. After going 1-1 with a 3.63 ERA in 73 appearances in '96, Jackson moved on to his fourth team in as many years, signing with the Cleveland Indians. After going 2-5 with 15 saves and a 3.24 ERA in 71 games for the American League Champion Indians in 1997, Jackson would take over as Cleveland's full-time closer in 1998, saving 40 games while going 1-1 with a 1.55 ERA in 69 appearances. He'd slip to 3-4 with a 4.06 ERA in 72 games in 1999, but still recorded 39 saves as the Tribe won its fifth consecutive AL Central title. Jackson would again hit the free agent market following the '99 season, and it appeared as though his next destination would be St. Louis. In fact, the Cardinals had gone so far as to schedule a news conference announcing Jackson had signed with the club. At the last minute, however, everything was called off and the Cards took their offer off the table amid concerns over Jackson's health. The Phillies were next in line and after performing a series of MRIs, brought Jackson back to the organization on December 7, 1999.

Entering the 2000 season, the Phillies were looking to turn the corner as a franchise. They hadn't had a winning season since taking home the National League pennant in 1993, but a solid young core looked like it was ready to blossom. Added to the mix were some veterans who were returning for a second stint in Philadelphia. All-Star starting pitcher Andy Ashby, who had broken in with the Phils in 1991, was obtained from the San Diego Padres. Second baseman Mickey Morandini returned to the club in a deal with the Expos just before the start of the regular season. Jackson was to be the club's closer, with Jeff Brantley and Wayne Gomes expected to take on setup roles. It proved disastrous, as Ashby went 4-7 with 5.68 ERA before being traded to the Braves in July, Morandini hit .252 while declining steadily defensively and was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in August, and Jackson never got to make an impact one way or another.

After not appearing in either of the season's first two games, Jackson felt pain in his right shoulder while warming up during the third game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was placed on the disabled list the following day, shut down after experiencing more pain during a bullpen session a week and a half later, which led to Jackson undergoing season-ending surgery in late May. Jackson's second stint with the Phillies was over before it began, as the club let him walk as a free agent following the 2000 campaign. He spent the 2001 season with his hometown Houston Astros before moving on to the Minnesota Twins in 2002, reaching the postseason in both seasons as those teams won their respective divisions. Out of baseball in 2003 after being released by the Diamondbacks at the end of Spring Training, Jackson concluded his MLB career in 2004 with a single-season stint as member of the Chicago White Sox.

Personal Recollection: The time in which Mike Jackson began toiling with the Phillies basically coincides with when I first started to follow the team. A name like Mike Jackson immediately stuck out, because, well, unless you've been living under a rock the past three or four decades, you know he shared a name with a famous entertainer. I was always a fan of the King of Pop's music, so he had that going for him.

Even though my family had Sunday season tickets from 1979-2001, I did not attend Jackson's near no-hitter. See, my sister had a dance recital that day. She attended dance school for 11 years and it seemed like her recital fell on a Sunday in which the Phillies happened to be at home every year. Given her druthers, I'm sure my sister would've blown off the recital to go to the game, but of course that never ended up happening. Anyway, we didn't find out about Jackson's gem until we got home that evening and saw it on the news. Keep in mind, this was 1987, so there was no internet as we know it, no text messages, iPhones, etc. I was a couple months shy of my seventh birthday at the time, and though I was starting to become aware of baseball's nuances, the enormity of a no-hitter didn't really resonate with me. Had I been a little older, I probably would've felt a little miffed over missing out on seeing some near-history. Of course, Jackson coming up three outs short was probably a relief to my sister, who may have felt a little guilty over the whole thing. Fortunately, I did get to witness Kevin Millwood's no-hitter in person 16 years later.

When Jackson was traded to the Mariners, it seemed as though most of the local reaction was focused on losing Glenn Wilson, who had been a very popular player for the Phillies. There was a lot of hype for Phil Bradley, who had some very good years in Seattle, but it just didn't happen for him in Philly. Wilson never really did much after leaving the Phils, but Jackson ended up being the one who got away. Then after a dozen solid years elsewhere, he came back. There was a lot of cynicism over Jackson's return after the results of his physical scared the Cardinals away. Of course, it turned out to be warranted as Jackson never pitched in a game and the Phillies were once again reduced to a laughingstock. Those were not fun times, but sticking it out back then makes one appreciate the current era even more.

That's my story on Mike Jackson. Feel free to share your own recollections.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

5-26-11..Where were you?!?!?!

Congratulations to Wilson Valdez, who, on May 26, 2011, became the answer to a trivia question.

45,000 plus people entered Citizens Bank Park on May 25, 2011 for the 7:05 p.m. Phillies games against the Cincinnati Reds.  On May 26, 2011 at about 1:20 a.m., around 10,000 or so people exited CBP after an exhausting 19 inning game.

There had been an air of excitement in the park -- it was, afterall, a Halladay.  The fan favorite and Cy Young winner was starting the game with the usual suspects -- JRoll,
Howard, Polly, Raul, Wilson, Francisco, Mayberry and Chooch,   The team was playing sans Utley (another crowd favorite), who returned to the line-up 48 hours earlier after a
long stint rehabbing a knee injury.  Chase eventually appeared at the plate to pinch hit, however, the Reds walked him.  Intentionally.  Boo.

On this night, the fans saw the Phillies take a 3-0 lead that was eventually tied.  In the 10th inning, Jay Bruce homered allowing the Reds to take a 4-3 lead.  Not to be outdone, one Mr. Ryan Howard took to the plate and hit a homerun that hit the stairs in the bullpen.

Nothing really happened until the 19th inning.  There was the 14th inning stretch (twice).  The bullpen emptied out and both teams ran out of pitchers.  Baez pitched five scoreless innings.

At the beginning of the 19th inning, Dan Baker announced changes for the Phillies:

Number 51, catcher Carlos Ruiz, was moving to third base.

Number 27, third baseman Placido Polanco, was moving to second base.

Number 4, catcher Dan Sardinha, was catching.

Number 21, second baseman Wilson Valdez, was pitching.

Yes, Wilson was pitching.  The move left a lot of fans scratching their heads, but Wilson garnered a standing ovation and chant from the fans, who were quickly impressed with his first pitch -- an 89 mph fastball.  Wilson’s inning as a pitcher can be summed up quickly:  the Reds didn’t score and former Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen was hit by a pitch.  Rolen went 0-7 that night and it seemed the boo’ing from the crowd got louder with each plate appearance.

The game ended in the bottom of the 19th inning with a walk-off sac fly by Raul that brought JRoll home.

Wilson Valdez earned the win.  This game has forever cemented his spot in baseball trivia and has joined him in the ranks of Babe Ruth in additional trivia questions.  Not since Babe Ruth did in October 1921 has another player started in the field and earned a win as a pitcher.

by: Shannon McGinley

Friday, May 27, 2011

JMurl's Craft Brew of the Week and Fantasy Focus

JMurl's Craft Brew of the Week

Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot

Brewed by: Lagunitas Brewing Company/ Petaluma, CA

Style: American Strong Ale

ABV: 7.83 %

Dark amber with a creamy one fingered head...sweet and malty with the presence of some citrus and pine hops...medium body, refreshing and sharp...fizzy carbonation....a nice strong ale similar to a dark, double IPA...4 out of 5 burps

Rating System-

5 burps- The cream of the crop...if microbrews had a Cannabis Cup, this would be the equivalent...your taste buds with thank you

4 burps- Good brew, but not the crème de la crème that would earn 5 burps

3 burps- Okay, but “I'm not a big fan” and its got alcohol in it, so I'll drink it

2 burps- “Do you have any Bud Light instead?”

1 burp- The brew master is a clown and I will quit drinking tomorrow

JMurl's Fantasy Focus (abbreviated this week due to JMurl being on vacation...3 and 3 will resume next week!)

Start Em:

Gaby Sanchez (Marlins-1B) Has 58 hits in just 48 games this season to go along with 7 dingers and 31 RBI' the top 10 in every major batting category including an OBP of .396 for 6th best in the NL...get him in your lineup for the rest of the season

Sit Em:

Ubaldo Jimenez (Rockies-SP) What has gone wrong with Colorado's ace??? His first 11 starts in 2009 resulted in a 10-1 record, 80.1 innings pitched and an ERA of 0.78....then he went 9-7 and his ERA sky rocketed up to 4.08 for the second half of the 2009 2011, he has 8 starts, with an 0-4 record and a 5.44 ERA...bench or trade him if you can get good value for him....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Drunk Phils Fans giving back....

If you’ve never seen a nun scream and yell, or come as close to cursing as possible without quite crossing that line, you’ve probably never seen her at a baseball game.

Sisters’ passion for root, root, rooting for the home team is as American as the sport itself. Whether they’re baking cookies to raise players’ spirits, like the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Cleveland, or taking bus trips with their fellow sisters to cheer on their teams, baseball season is something of a religious experience for nuns across the country.

Sister John Cecilia was no different. A nurse at St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown, Sister John – Aunt Carmella to her family – was a faithful fan of the Phillies. From wearing her Phillies gear over her habit to standing on her seat every time the Phils were at bat (much to the disbelief of people in the seats around her) Sister John was a devoted, passionate fan.
When she wasn’t cheering on the Phils, she was working tirelessly at St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown, a residence for aged and ill nuns. She put her heart at soul into her work, treating everyone as if they were the most special person on the planet.

When she died unexpectedly this year, her dedication to the residents and passion for baseball inspired family friend Chris Nowaczyk to volunteer on the dementia floor at St. Joseph, bringing baseball back to those who are unable to go to the game.

Each week will feature a different aspect of baseball, whether it’s a focused exercise of player or stat recollection, or a trip back in time to watch a past game, Chris’ goal is to interact with the nuns at St. Joseph using a common passion – baseball.

Although it started as a project designed to honor the memory of his family friend Sister John Ceclia, Chris would like others to become involved, volunteering at St. Joseph or doing something simple such as making a donation to purchase equipment like a television and a projector to help in making presentations.

If you would like to volunteer or make a donation, please email Chris at

Monday, May 23, 2011


 "Raise a Drink for Tomorrow," A Drink for Tomorrow's 3rd Annual Fundraiser
The clean water charity “A Drink for Tomorrow” will host its 3rd Annual “Raise a Drink for Tomorrow” Fundraiser. The evening will include a raffle and silent auction with items such as a one night stay and breakfast for two at the Hilton; four superbox tickets to see tennis legends Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe and Courier Compete at the Champions Tour Tennis Event September 24th at the Wells Fargo Center; a Jeff Carter Philadelphia Flyers jersey; a jewelry basket from Family Jeweler; a Virtua Wellness & Spa gift certificate; a cooking class from Baccio’s Restaurant; Phillies Tickets; a $100 gift certificate to City Tap House; and two tickets to The Philadelphia Speaker Series: Azar Nafisi, New York Times bestselling author of Reading in Lolita in Tehra. In addition, Neal Hughes, fine arts painter and partner of A Drink for Tomorrow, will showcase his collection of prints. Guests can enjoy local beers such as Flying Fish and Yards, mojito martinis and 24 WineMasters wines from around the world while helping to bring safe water to impoverished communities. WineMasters selections to be served during this event include: Killer Cabernet Sauvignon, Tui Grove Sauvignon Blanc, Heart of Hearts Chardonnay, Mingo Tempranillo, Vista Pinot Grigio and Adagio Pinot Noir.

Saturday, June 04, 2011
5:30pm - 8:00pm

640 Water Works Drive, Philadelphia, PA


Tickets are $40 per person

Random Past Game: July 8, 2001

Date of Game: Sunday, July 8, 2001
Location: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Opponent: Baltimore Orioles
Final Score: Phillies 5, Orioles 4
Winning Pitcher: Randy Wolf
Losing Pitcher: Buddy Groom
Save: Jose Mesa
Home Runs: Travis Lee, Chris Richard

Phillies Starting Lineup

Doug Glanville, cf
Jimmy Rollins, ss
Bobby Abreu, rf
Scott Rolen, 3b
Travis Lee, 1b
Pat Burrell, dh
Marlon Anderson, 2b
Gary Bennett, c
Eric Valent, lf
(Starting Pitcher: Robert Person)

Orioles Starting Lineup

Brady Anderson, lf
Brian Roberts, ss
David Segui, 1b
Jay Gibbons, dh
Chris Richard, rf
Tony Batista, 3b
Melvin Mora, cf
Brook Fordyce, c
Jerry Hairston, Jr., 2b
(Starting Pitcher: Jose Mercedes)

About This Game: When it comes to attending sporting events, few if any experiences are as unique as seeing your favorite team play on the road. Even in instances where the away team's fans seemingly outnumber those of the home team, the fact remains you are in enemy territory. Cheering for your team in an unfamiliar locale can take some getting used to, and it is most definitely uncomfortable hearing the crowd and blaring music whenever the home team does well. When the road team comes out on top, however, there's a satisfying feeling that may even border on smugness that one can get leaving the ballpark. If they pull out a win in dramatic fashion, well, that only increases the level of satisfaction. On July 8, 2001, it seemed as though all the Phillies fans who made the trek to Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards would have a long trip up I-95 back home. One swing of the bat would change all that, and provided the Phils with one of their most stunning wins in what was a very surprising season.

The Philadelphia Phillies entered play on July 8, 2001 as one of Major League Baseball's biggest success stories that year. After finishing 65-97 in a humiliating 2000 season, first-year manager Larry Bowa's club sat in first place in the National League East at 49-37, one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves. The Orioles, meanwhile, were looking towards the future after Cal Ripken, Jr. had announced he would bring his legendary career to a close at the end of the season. They entered play on this date with a record of 40-47, fourth in the American League East and 12.5 games behind the division-leading New York Yankees.

This Sunday afternoon tilt at Camden Yards was to be the conclusion of a three-game weekend set that would lead into the All-Star break. The series opener had gone to the Phillies, 3-2 in 10 innings. Travis Lee delivered the deciding blow in that game with a solo home run off Mike Trombley after Jimmy Rollins had tied it with a two-run shot off Willis Roberts in the seventh. The Orioles took the middle game by a score of 4-3 as a three-run sixth put Baltimore ahead to stay as they held off a late Phillies rally. Little did anyone know the first two contests would end up providing a little glimpse into the future.

Robert Person would start for the Phillies in the rubber match, while Jose Mercedes took the hill for the Orioles. The best scoring chance for the Phils in the early going came in the first inning, when they put a pair of runners on base with two outs before Lee lined to first to retire the side. Person retired the first seven batters he faced before running into some trouble in the third, as Baltimore loaded the bases with one out. The Orioles would be denied, though, as Person struck out Brian Roberts and David Segui to end the threat.

The Phillies would break into the run column in the fourth thanks to some small ball and shaky Orioles defense. Pat Burrell and Marlon Anderson started the inning with singles before a sacrifice bunt by Gary Bennett put runners at second and third with one out. After Eric Valent was called out on strikes, Doug Glanville legged out a grounder to short for an infield single to score Burrell, with Anderson coming home when Roberts threw wildly to first. It didn't take very long for Baltimore to cut the lead in half, as Chris Richard connected for a solo homer with one out in the bottom of the fourth. The 2-1 score held up until the bottom of the sixth, when things started to unravel for the Phils.

Roberts led off the sixth with a single, moving to second when Segui walked and to third when Jay Gibbons flied to right. Segui advanced to second on a wild pitch (Roberts held at third), after which Richard was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out. Tony Batista followed with an unintentional walk to bring Roberts home with the tying run and send Person to the showers. Amaury Telemaco took over on the mound and was greeted by Melvin Mora, who gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead with a sacrifice fly. Brook Fordyce walked to reload the bases before Telemaco hit Jerry Hairston, Jr. with a pitch to score Richard and put Baltimore up by a score of 4-2. Ed Vosberg relieved Telemaco at that point and stopped the bleeding by getting Brady Anderson on an inning-ending grounder to first. The leadoff single by Roberts turned out to be the only hit for the Orioles in the sixth, but four walks, a hit batter, and a sacrifice fly paved the way for a three-run inning.

The Phillies had at least one baserunner in six of the first seven innings against Mercedes, but were unable to push anything across aside from the two runs they scored in the fourth. Chad Paronto worked a 1-2-3 eighth for the Orioles while Randy Wolf tossed two perfect frames of his own in a rare relief appearance for the Phils. Trombley came on for the ninth and retired Glanville on a grounder to third before walking Rollins. O's manager Mike Hargrove then lifted Trombley in favor of lefty specialist Buddy Groom, who got Bobby Abreu on strikes for the second out before Scott Rolen kept the game alive with a single, sending Rollins to third and bringing to the plate the go-ahead run in the person of Travis Lee.

Though the Phillies were kicking up a little fuss in the ninth inning, the Orioles still had the matchup they wanted as the lefthanded-hitting Lee stepped in to face Groom with two outs. Keeping the game alive for Burrell would've been perfectly fine, but Lee took matters into his own hands as he jumped all over a hanging 1-1 slider and launched it well over the scoreboard in right field for a three-run homer and a shocking 5-4 Phillies lead. Just like that, the sizable Philadelphia contingent had been whipped into a frenzy while the hometown crowd could only look on in disbelief. There was no further scoring for the Phils in the ninth, but that became moot as Jose Mesa finished things off by retiring the O's in order in the bottom half of the frame. Wolf got the win in relief, moving his record to 5-9 while Groom fell to 1-3 with the loss. Mesa's save was the 24th of 42 he would earn in 2001.

With the win, the Phillies improved to 50-37 and remained a game ahead of the Braves in the NL East. They hadn't held the top spot in the division at the All-Star break since their pennant-winning campaign of 1993. In what would be a back-and-forth race, neither the Phils nor Braves led the East by more than 3.5 games at any point after June 21. The upstart Phillies were tied for first as late as September 24, but Atlanta would ultimately prevail with a record of 88-74, with the Phils finishing second at 86-76. Though there was understandably some disappointment over not winning the division, it was still a pretty impressive season for the Phillies, who finished above .500 for the first time in eight years while winning 21 more games than they had in 2000. The Orioles, on the other hand, lost for the fifth time in six games that day and never recovered, as they staggered home with a 63-98 mark. It was their fourth consecutive season below .500. That streak continues as of this writing, as the O's are still seeking their first winning campaign since taking home their last American League East title in 1997.

Personal Recollection: This was the second Phillies away game I ever attended. The first was in 1997, also at Camden Yards. The Phils lost that game, 8-1, which was best remembered for Gregg Jefferies misplaying a Cal Ripken fly ball to left into a grand slam. It was one of those towering drives that kept carrying. Jefferies drifted back and appeared to have just enough room, but he stumbled on the warning track and the ball hit the top of the short wall before bouncing over. And of course, the bases happened to be loaded. It gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead in the third inning and the game was never close after that.

Back to this game, Robert Person seemed like he was going to cruise along after stranding the bases loaded in the third, but things fell apart for him in a hurry in the sixth. Larry Bowa came out to the mound before Person faced Tony Batista, but decided not to make a pitching change. I think everyone in the ballpark was stunned by that, as it was pretty apparent by then Person had lost it. He walked Batista to force a run home, then Amaury Telemaco came in and was all over the place. Definitely one of the uglier innings by Phillies pitching I've seen over the past decade.

As it got to the late stages of the game, I have to admit I was thinking about how bad it was going to suck walking out of there after a loss again. Even after Scott Rolen singled, the last thing I was thinking about when Travis Lee stepped to the plate was a home run with a tough lefty-lefty matchup. I was really just hoping for a walk or a bloop hit, then leave it up to Pat Burrell. Then Lee got that hanging slider and absolutely crushed it, a no-doubt-about-it shot that almost made it on to Eutaw Street for what would be his second game-winning homer of the series.

Lee had a weird season in 2001. He didn't put up great numbers, but he hit some big home runs that year. He hit a three-run walkoff against Ugueth Urbina to beat the Expos, 10-8, after the Phillies had entered inning down 8-6 and the first two batters were retired. He hit a grand slam off Eric Gagne (back when Gagne was a starter) to spark a win over the Dodgers. Then, late in the season against the Marlins, the Phils were down to their last out against the Marlins when Lee took Antonio Alfonseca deep to the opposite field to tie it before Johnny Estrada won it with a walkoff in the 10th.

I guess Lee was just a weird player in general. Tons of talent, outstanding defensively, but it just seemed like he didn't enjoy playing the game. Now, a lot of guys are stoic and don't play with a lot of emotion, and sometimes that can be mistaken for a lack of passion. In Lee's case, though, it just seemed like he didn't want to be there. He was a highly-touted prospect who was represented by Scott Boras and gained notoriety after he was drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in 1996, as he was declared a free agent due to a draft loophole (it was determined the Twins hadn't tendered Lee a contract within the necessary 15 days after selecting him) and was signed to a lucrative deal by the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks nearly two years before the franchise began play. Maybe Lee was burnt out by the time he became a Phillie. He was cut loose by the Phils when they signed Jim Thome after the 2002 season and would retire at the age of 31 during Spring Training in 2007.

That game in Baltimore was the first of seven straight road wins I witnessed by the Phillies in person. They'd take two more in Baltimore (one in 2003, the other in 2005), three in Milwaukee (2004), and one in Washington (2005). However, the Phils are just 4-9 in away games I've attended since then. My next shot will come August 1-3 this season when the Phillies take on the Rockies in Denver. No matter how many more Phillies road wins I witness, the first one will be very hard to top.

That's my story on July 8, 2001. Do you remember this game? If so, feel free to share your own recollections!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

JMurl's Craft Beer of the Week and Fantasy Focus

California Dreamin' IPA

Brewed by: Manayunk Brewery/Philadelphia, PA

Style: American Double Imperial IPA

Abv: 8.5%

Deep copper in color...superb malt background, nice lacy head...smells of grass, sweet biscuity malts, citrus, and a hint of alcohol... tastes of oranges and pineapple, with a firm sweet bread backbone, an earth and spicy hop finish...medium in body with good carbonation and a bitter bite in the finish... 5 out of 5 burps

Rating system:

5 burps- The cream of the crop...your taste buds will thank you
4 burps- Good brew, but not the crème de la crème that would get 5 burps
3 burps- Okay, but “I'm not a big fan” and its got alcohol in it, so I'll drink it
2 burps- “Do you have any Bud Light instead of this?”
1 burp- This brew sucks so bad, it make you want to run to the closest AA meeting

Start Em':

Matt Joyce (Rays-OF) With a minimum of 75 plate appearances this year, Joyce is the second-best hitter when facing right-handed pitching. In 94 at-bats he’s hitting .394, a 433 OBP, 11 doubles and 4 home runs as well...facing all righties this week...

Adam Jones (Orioles-OF) Last 10 games, he is hitting .351 with 7 RBIs...during this streak, recorded 3 multiple hit games including an 8/14 and 5 RBI performance in the Mariners series last week...might struggle against the Yankees (Colon and Sabathia), but should put similar Mariner-type stats against the Nationals this weekend...

Anibal Sanchez (Marlins-SP) Has 52 strikeouts in 49.2 innings in 2011 with a 2.90 ERA and 1.23 WHIP...last two outings have been superb (albeit vs. the Nationals) going 7 and 8 innings respectively, giving up zero runs and fanning a total of 20 batters...

Sit Em':

Chris Coghlan (Marlins-OF) Has been absolutely terrible (said like Charles Barkley) against left handed pitching this season...batting .122 with a .162 OBP....Coghlan should always be riding the pine when facing the southpaws...

Aubrey Huff (Giants-1B) Only has 1 HR in his last ten games...has been pretty putrid against right handers this season batting only .174...faces 4 righties this week...sit him down and look for other options at 1B...

Russel Martin (Yankees-C) May has not been his month has he is hitting just .125 with only 3 RBIs...Yanks Triple A prospect Jesus Montero is hitting .336 and could be getting a call up sooner, rather than later...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Random Past Phillie: Jeff Grotewold

Name: Jeffrey Scott Grotewold
Position: Catcher/First Baseman/Outfielder
Born: December 8, 1965 in Madera, California
Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent on December 17, 1986
Phillies Debut: April 12, 1992
Final Phillies Game: October 4, 1992
Uniform Number: 48
Career Elsewhere: Royals (1995)

About Jeff Grotewold: It can be argued that the toughest role in sports is that of a pinch-hitter in baseball. The job basically entails trying to stay loose for a couple hours before facing a pitcher who is usually throwing at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour and/or possesses nasty offspeed stuff. Very few players achieve a great level of success pinch-hitting, but the select few who do often go on to have lengthy careers, sometimes (specifically in the National League) to the point where they rarely if ever make an appearance outside of that role. For a couple months during the spring and summer of 1992, it seemed as though Jeff Grotewold was well on his way to carving out such a niche for himself. A catcher by trade, the stocky Grotewold's pinch-hitting prowess caught the attention of the entire baseball world after one particularly hot stretch, but he'd fade back into obscurity shortly thereafter.

Jeff Grotewold's journey in professional baseball began quietly, as the Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent out of the University of San Diego following the 1986 season. His first pro season was spent with mid-level "A" Spartanburg in 1987, where he hit .252 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI in 113 games. Grotewold would slump to .219 with six homers and 39 RBI in 125 games for high "A" Clearwater in 1988, before hitting .262 with six homers and 66 RBI while splitting the 1989 season between Clearwater and "AA" Reading. In 1990, Grotewold enjoyed his finest pro season to date, hitting .269 with 33 doubles, 15 home runs, and 72 RBI in 127 games for Reading. Those numbers were enough for the Phillies to name Grotewold their Paul Owens Award winner as the organization's top position player. Grotewold moved up to "AAA" Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 1991, but appeared in just 87 games during an injury-plagued season. He returned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the start of the 1992 campaign, but didn't stay there very long. When Dale Sveum went down with a shoulder injury a week into the season, the Phillies came calling.

The lefthanded hitting Grotewold's Major League debut came on April 12, 1992, when he struck out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Veterans Stadium. He would get his first MLB hit two nights later with a pinch-hit RBI single against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. It would be a common theme for Grotewold, who made 11 plate appearances during his first month in the big leagues, all as a pinch-hitter, going 3-for-10 with a walk. After a brief demotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Grotewold returned to the Phillies in early June. He would continue to be used exclusively as a pinch-hitter, save for a brief appearance at first base late in an 8-1 blowout loss to the Montreal Expos on June 24. Given the role in which he was being used, it seemed as though it would be impossible for Grotewold to make much of an impression, but his shining moment would soon arrive.

On July 2, 1992, the Phillies set out on a three-city, 13-game West Coast trip that would lead into the All-Star Break. The trip included two doubleheaders, the result of the Phillies having two games postponed earlier in the season while in California during the riots that followed the verdict in the Rodney King trial. The Phils lost 11 of the 13 games, including the last eight in a row. Already in last place, the trip locked the club in the NL East basement to stay for the remainder of the '92 season. There was one bright spot amid all the gloom and doom, however, and it was provided by one Jeff Grotewold. Against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park on July 6, Grotewold connected for his first career home run, a pinch-hit solo shot off Bud Black in the seventh inning of a 4-2 loss. The following day, the Phillies would be swept in a doubleheader, losing by scores of 8-7 and 10-6. In the first game of that twinbill, Grotewold grounded out as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, but he went deep again in the nightcap, this one a solo shot off Mike Jackson in the seventh inning while batting for Don Robinson. It was lucky sevens again for Grotewold the very next day, as he stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Curt Schilling with one out in the seventh. He proceeded to blast a two-run homer off John Burkett to tie the game at 3-3, but again it wasn't enough as the Giants went on to win by a score of 4-3. Though Grotewold did not equal the record of homering in three consecutive pinch-hit appearances, he was the first player to hit three in a three-day span.

The home run binge set Grotewold off on a tear in which he collected seven hits in 11 plate appearances, all as a pinch-hitter. On July 30, he singled while batting for Cliff Brantley in the seventh inning of a 7-2 loss to the Expos at Olympic Stadium. He stayed in the game to play left field and struck out to end the game. Little did anyone know that Grotewold's pinch-single would be the next-to-last hit he would collect in a Phillies uniform. From that point through the end of the 1992 season, Grotewold had one hit in 32 at-bats to finish with a .200 batting average in 72 games. Of his 75 plate appearances, all but five came as a pinch-hitter. Grotewold saw action in one game at first base, two behind the plate, and two in left field, the latter of which included his only start on September 16 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Though Grotewold certainly had his moments for the Phillies in 1992, he was fighting an uphill battle when it came to earning a spot with the club during Spring Training in 1993. The Phils had an all-star catcher in Darren Daulton and first baseman in John Kruk, both of whom hit lefthanded. With the corner outfield positions featuring platoons of Pete Incaviglia/Milt Thompson and Wes Chamberlain/Jim Eisenreich, there simply wasn't a place on the big league roster for Grotewold. Thinking he may be better served with a fresh start elsewhere, the Phillies shipped Grotewold to the Minnesota Twins on March 25, 1993. In return, the Phils received Mica Lewis, an infielder who never made it higher than "AA" and was out of pro ball by the following season.

Grotewold's fresh start never materialized in Minnesota. He spent the entire 1993 season with "AAA" Portland, hitting .252 in 52 games. Granted free agency following the campaign, Grotewold signed with the Detroit Tigers for 1994, but was released near the end of Spring Training. He'd spend the '94 season in independent ball, splitting time between the Duluth-Superior Dukes of the Northern League and the San Bernardino Spirit of the California League. Grotewold got another crack at affiliated ball in 1995, when the Kansas City Royals signed him. He would return to the Major Leagues that season, hitting .278 in 15 games for the Royals and re-signing with the organization for 1996. Grotewold hit .278 with 10 home runs and 51 RBI for "AAA" Omaha in '96, but did not make any appearances with the parent club in what turned out to be his final professional season.

Personal Recollection: For a while there, Jeff Grotewold just seemed like your basic forgettable player during a forgettable season. There weren't many opportunities for him to play, and he didn't really do anything of note when he did get in there. Then, he went nuts for a few days in San Francisco. It was a really cool thing and you could tell how much his teammates enjoyed it, even though they were going through an absolutely horrific stretch of baseball at the time. Grotewold was evidently pretty popular with his teammates, as when he was sent to the minors after his initial callup, there were some players who voiced their displeasure about it in the media.

I remember a couple bench-clearing incidents involving the Phillies in 1992. One came in San Francisco early in the season. Dave Hollins, as he was known to do, hadn't made much of an effort to avoid being hit by a pitch. Giants first baseman Will Clark took exception to this and had something to say to Hollins, leading to a heated exchange between the two. No punches were thrown, but the benches cleared and Grotewold was right in the middle of it. He was out there with his shin pads on, as he'd been in the bullpen with the relief pitchers in that little shack-type thing they stayed in when they weren't warming up at Candlestick Park. The other incident came at the Vet against the Cubs in late September. Again, this one centered on Hollins, who charged the mound after being hit in the head by one-time Phillies prospect Bob Scanlan. Hollins and Scanlan both received four-game suspensions while Grotewold was fined for his role in the melee. So maybe that had something to do with why his teammates thought so highly of him.

Another thing I remember about Grotewold was from the team's Home Companion that was released following the '92 season. For whatever reason, Grotewold had a toy train with him. He then started dancing around the clubhouse saying "I think I can!" while bobbing his head in the motion of a locomotive. The looks on the faces of his teammates were priceless, as you can probably imagine.

Until doing research for this article, I'd forgotten that Grotewold appeared in the big leagues after his time with the Phillies. Just about all of his playing time with the Royals came as a designated hitter. Guess he wasn't quite adept enough in the field to stick as a position player nor productive enough at the plate to make it as a full-time DH. But we'll always have those three days in San Francisco.

That's my story on Jeff Grotewold. Feel free to share your own recollections.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

JMurls Microbrew and Fantasy Insight of the Week

JMurl's Microbrew of the Week

St. Bernardus Abt 12

Brewed by: Brouwerij St Bernardus NV/Belgium

Style: Quadrupel

Abv: 10%

Dark brown body, with a reddish edge towards the bottom of the head sticks around for a while and leaves a little lacing...subtle aromas of plums, dark fruit, and candy sugar...slight carmel towards the finish with some dryness...zapping carbonation with a medium hell of a Belgium potion...4 out of 5 burps

Rating system:

5 burps- The cream of the crop...your taste buds will thank you
4 burps- Good brew, but not the crème de la crème that would get 5 burps
3 burps- Okay, but “I'm not a big fan” and its got alcohol in it, so I'll drink it
2 burps- “Do you have any Bud Light instead of this?”
1 burp- This brew sucks so bad, it make you want to run to the closest AA meeting

Start Em':

Gaby Sanchez (Marlins-1B) ...hitting .464 with an OBP of .531 in the past seven games...on the season (through 125 at bats) he is hitting .328, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs, 21 runs scored and his OBP is .414

Evan Longoria (Rays-3B) ...finally back from injury and made his presence known this past weekend hitting .417, five RBIs, and scored four runs against Baltimore ...will be tested this week against the Indians who are 4th best in the AL for team ERA (3.25), but he should continue the trend upward...

Fausto Carmona (Indians-SP) ...Opening Day outing against the White Sox was horrendous has he went only 3 innings, giving up 11 hits and 10 earned runs...his last three starts have been Cy Young-ish by striking out 14 batters and a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings of work...get him in your starting lineup this week against the Marlins...

Sit Em':

Buster Posey(Giants-C) far in the month of May he is hitting a pitiful .167 with no homers and only 2 RBIs...batting average on the season is .241 which is way below the .305 he hit last season which helped him win the NL Rookie of the Year award...

Brian Roberts (Orioles-2B) ...has only one hit in his last 24 at-bats...through 32 games this season, he has only 3 steals and 14 runs to go along with a .221 batting average...look for other options at second base...

Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies-SS) ...finished up the month of April like an All Star with 7 dingers, 17 RBIs, and hit .298...the month of May has been subpar as he must be having “off the field distractions” like Pau Gasol has he is hitting just .100 and only one homer...obviously, you don't want to drop him but keep him on the bench until he turns it around...historically he has been a “2nd half of the season” performer hitting a career .312 from July through October...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Random Past Season: 2003

Year: 2003
Record: 86-76 (3rd place in NL East, 15 games behind Atlanta Braves)
Manager: Larry Bowa
Coaches: Greg Gross, Ramon Henderson, Joe Kerrigan, Tony Scott, Gary Varsho, John Vukovich
General Manager: Ed Wade
All-Star: Randy Wolf
Top Draft Pick: Tim Moss (3rd round, 85th overall)

About 2003: The 162-game odyssey that is the Major League Baseball season is one full of peaks and valleys. Even the best teams go through spells where very little goes right. Conversely, the worst teams manage to sneak in an occasional hot streak here and there. Then there are those who fall somewhere in between, teams that do enough to stay in contention but can never quite make that final push as the season enters the home stretch. The 2003 Philadelphia Phillies were one such team. It featured a Jekyll and Hyde offense that could be downright explosive, yet was often muzzled immediately following their outbursts. A promising young starting rotation boasted four pitchers who won no fewer than 14 games, but never quite seemed to be firing on all cylinders. A veteran-laden bullpen generally did a masterful job setting up, but all too often stumbled before crossing the finish line. Despite all the ups and downs, the Phils found themselves in position to end a decade-long playoff drought before a freefall in the final week of the regular season left them on the outside looking in. The postseason that followed ended up being a cruel reminder of what could've been.

It was known for a couple years in advance that the 2003 season was going to hold a special significance for the Phillies, as it was to be their final campaign at Veterans Stadium, the place they'd called home since 1971. While the Vet was much-maligned, it held a lot of sentimental value for fans, as the longest sustained run of success in franchise history had taken place there in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including what at the time was their only World Series title in 1980. But by 2003, the stadium had long outlived its usefulness as one of the last remaining multipurpose facilities that had been the building trend in the 1960s and early 1970s. Detractors called them "cookie cutter" stadiums, as it was hard to tell one from the other save for a few minor details. Still, the organization made no secret that it would go all-out to ensure the Vet received a proper sendoff.

While giving Veterans Stadium a dignified exit from a marketing standpoint was basically a given, it was unclear as to what kind of sendoff would be given by the players on the field. The Phillies appeared to be building a solid, young core, but the fact remained at the time that the club had finished above .500 just three times since 1984. One such winning season had occurred in 2001, when the Phils went a surprising 86-76, staying alive in the National League East race until the season's final weekend before finishing two games behind the Atlanta Braves. The 2002 campaign was a huge disappointment, however, as a horrendous start knocked the Phillies out of contention right away while the inevitable trade of disgruntled star Scott Rolen seemed to weigh the club down. The team's play improved noticeably after Rolen was finally dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in late July, but it couldn't undo the early-season damage as the Phillies finished 80-81. As the '02 season was coming to a close, there were some hints dropped that the Phils were going to be very aggressive in the free agent market that winter. The name most mentioned was Jim Thome, the slugging first baseman from the Cleveland Indians who was considered to be the prize of the market. The notion was scoffed at by many, as the front office had been criticized mercilessly for many years for what was perceived as an unwillingness to spend the money necessary to become a serious contender.

Early on in free agency, the Phillies signed third baseman David Bell, who had been a key contributor for a San Francisco Giants team that came within one win of a World Championship. Then, in early December, the organization stunned the baseball world by luring Thome away from Cleveland. The Phils weren't done, as they were a finalist for the services of future Hall of Fame lefty Tom Glavine, who ultimately signed with the New York Mets. Undaunted by losing out on Glavine, the Phillies turned heads again when they acquired 18-game winner Kevin Millwood from the division rival Atlanta Braves in exchange for catcher Johnny Estrada. Adding these established players to a rising young nucleus led many to believe the Phillies were ready to dethrone the Braves atop the NL East, or at the very least be a top Wild Card contender.

Though the signing of Thome was expected to turn the offense into a juggernaut, it was pitching that kept the Phillies afloat early in the 2003 campaign while the bats struggled to find some consistency. Never was this more evident than on April 27, when Kevin Millwood no-hit the Giants in a 1-0 victory. Thanks to strong starts on the mound by Millwood, Randy Wolf, and Brett Myers, the Phils ended April at 16-12. They would not be above .500 at the end of the season's first month again until 2008.

Outside of Mike Lieberthal and Placido Polanco, few Phillies hitters got off to strong starts at the plate. Despite occasional flashes of brilliance (including twice scoring 16 runs in a game during the opening homestand, only to be shut out the day after one such scoring binge and limited two runs after the other), this trend continued over the season's first two months as the ballclub stayed slightly over .500 while the Braves built up a big lead in the division. In late June, the Phils finally seemed ready to turn a corner as they won 12 of 14, improving their record to 46-34. Thome and Bobby Abreu began to heat up after slow starts, while rookie Marlon Byrd caught fire after struggling mightily in April and May. Those performances helped pick up the slack for Pat Burrell, who appeared lost after a breakout 2002 season and David Bell, whose first season in Philadelphia was deteriorating into an injury-plagued disaster.

Just when it appeared as though the Phillies were ready to make a serious move in the NL East, they were swept at the Vet in a three-game series by the Florida Marlins over Fourth of July weekend. The Phils bounced back to win 10 of their next 14 after that series, but their momentum would again be stopped by the Marlins, who swept a three-game set in South Florida. A key reason for Florida's success against the Phillies the strong performance of their bullpen. For the most part the Phils were getting quality performances from their relievers. Rheal Cormier was nearly unhittable after an awful first outing of the season, while Terry Adams and Dan Plesac came on strong after struggling early. Turk Wendell was the opposite, starting strong before faltering late. The ninth inning was where things came to a screeching halt, however, as closer Jose Mesa was going though a nightmarish season. Near the trade deadline, the Phillies reacquired Mike Williams from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Williams, who had pitched for the Phils from 1992-96, had been serving as Pittsburgh's closer and it was hoped he could take some of the pressure off late in games. Instead, it proved to be a complete bust as Williams went 0-4 with a 5.96 ERA after the deal.

Though they weren't without their share of issues, the Phillies seemed to bounce back after every misstep and found themselves leading the NL Wild Card race at 69-54 on August 18 as they set out on a 13-game road trip. A decent showing would seemingly put the Phils on track for a postseason berth, but any thoughts of that were long gone when they lost nine of the first ten games, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Milwaukee Brewers and an absolutely humiliating four-game sweep by the Montreal Expos. The latter series appeared to rip the team apart at the seams as Brett Myers and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan engaged in a shouting match after Myers pitched poorly in one game while manager Larry Bowa ripped the team's lackadaisical play after a 4-0 getaway day snoozer in the series finale. The players themselves held a meeting of their own on the team bus prior to heading to the airport en route to New York for their next series, where they would sweep the Mets in a three-game set that proved to be controversial in its own right. In the opening game of that series, the struggling Burrell refused to shake Bowa's hand in the dugout after hitting a home run. The following day, the Phillies designated Tyler Houston for assignment, believing the club's leading pinch-hitter had put Burrell up to it. Bowa and Houston would wage a war of words in the media for a few days afterwards.

While controversy raged over the dugout snub incident, the Phillies followed the sweep at Shea Stadium with a 6-1 homestand to keep pace in a Wild Card race that saw as many as eight teams within striking distance of the lead at various points. After splitting a four-game series in Atlanta, the Phils dropped two of three in Pittsburgh to find themselves 1.5 games behind the Wild Card-leading Marlins, who came to the Vet for a three-game set on September 16. The Phillies would win two of three from Florida, and a 7-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds on September 19 gave them an 85-69 record and a half-game lead atop the Wild Card standings. Losses in the final two games against Cincinnati dropped the Phils a game behind the Marlins heading into a three-game showdown in Florida beginning on September 23. The Phils blew a three-run lead in the seventh inning of the series opener and never recovered, as the Marlins swept the series to eliminate the Phillies from playoff contention. Florida would win the NL Wild Card and ultimately took home baseball's ultimate prize as World Champions in 2003.

With their postseason dreams shattered, the Phillies returned home for what was dubbed the Final Innings against the Braves. The Phils lost two of three to Atlanta in a meaningless series, but Veterans Stadium was bid farewell with one last fireworks show, the announcement of the All-Vet Team, and an emotional closing ceremony. Scores of players from seasons past paraded around the Vet one last time, while three of the greatest moments in the stadium's history were re-created. Steve Carlton again delivered his 3000th strikeout, Mike Schmidt trotted around the bases to commemorate the last of his 548 career home runs, and Tug McGraw jumped off the mound after reliving the final out of the 1980 World Series. Terminally ill with brain cancer, the Tugger would pass away a little more than three months later.

The rollercoaster 2003 season saw its share of bright spots. It can be argued that Jim Thome's signing made baseball relevant in Philadelphia again and he certainly didn't disappoint, leading the NL with 47 home runs while driving in 131. Mike Lieberthal hit a career-high .313 with 13 homers and 81 RBI. Placido Polanco hit .289 with 14 homers and 68 RBI while seeing significant time at both second and third base. Bobby Abreu finished at .300 with 20 homers and 101 RBI. The reserves on the club were known as "The Bench Dawgz" and provided a lift when necessary. Tyler Houston hit .278 before being cut, while Ricky Ledee, Jason Michaels, Tomas Perez, and Todd Pratt all turned in strong seasons of their own. On the negative side, Pat Burrell just never found his stroke in '03, hitting a dismal .209 with 21 home runs and 64 RBI. David Bell appeared in just 85 games, hitting .195. Top prospect Chase Utley struggled some at the MLB level, but did make some history on April 24 against the Colorado Rockies when he swatted a grand slam off Aaron Cook for his first MLB hit.

Among the pitchers, Randy Wolf won 16 games and was the club's lone All-Star, though the second half of his season wasn't nearly as strong as the first. Millwood's no-hitter was part of a phenomenal 7-1 start, but he also faltered in the second half to finish 14-12. Brett Myers went 14-9 in his first full MLB season while Vicente Padilla rebounded from a poor start to finish 14-12 with a 3.62 ERA. In the bullpen, Rheal Cormier turned in an amazing campaign, going 8-0 with a 1.70 ERA. Dan Plesac was 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in what turned out to be his final season. On the other side of things, Jose Mesa was 5-7 with a 6.52 ERA despite saving 24 games. Brandon Duckworth had a disappointing season in the starting rotation, going 4-7 with a 4.94 ERA.

An era of Philadelphia Phillies baseball ended with a painful near-miss. It was now time to move on to Citizens Bank Park, with the hopes that their new digs would allow the franchise to become one of the game's elite.

Personal Recollection: Man, what a crazy year 2003 was. There was so much excitement over the Jim Thome signing, because it just seemed so out of character for the Phillies. The buzz from that hadn't nearly died down when the Kevin Millwood trade took place out of nowhere. Of course, it turned out that Millwood never became the ace the Phils hoped he'd become while Johnny Estrada had a couple nice seasons for the Braves just as Mike Lieberthal was starting to decline, but you certainly can't fault that deal.

I was also lucky enough to attend Millwood's no-hitter, which is obviously something I'll never forget. You could tell early on that Millwood had great stuff. I remember thinking in about the third or fourth inning that the Giants would be lucky to get a hit that day, which is strange because pitchers often don't allow a hit for five, six, even seven innings sometimes and you really don't think anything of it. When Ricky Ledee made a running grab on Marquis Grissom's line smash to center leading off the seventh, it felt like it was meant to be. What a great day.

I know we get frustrated with the offense the Phillies have right now, but the one they had in '03 was on another level. It was uncanny how they would score in double figures one night and get shut down the next day. On eight occasions, they held to two runs or fewer after having reached double digits the previous game. It was amazing. I've never seen anything like that before or since.

Also amazing was the contrast between Thome's season and Burrell's. Thome got off to a pedestrian start, but was an absolute monster from about the middle of June on. He basically put the team on his back in September and nearly willed them to the playoffs. Burrell just had a lost season. It just seemed like nothing he did worked. Not sure if he put more pressure on himself after signing a big contract the previous offseason or if he was trying to keep pace with Thome, but it was just awful. The thing about that was, the more Burrell struggled, the harder fans cheered for him. Everyone knew he was trying out there, I guess it was hard not to feel bad for him.

The whole situation with Tyler Houston was bizarre. The tension between the players and coaches was no secret, but when that whole thing went down you had to wonder if this was a baseball team fighting for a postseason berth or some kind of soap opera. Still, they kept battling through and it looked like they were finally going to make the playoffs. Then they lost those two games against the Reds, getting shut out by Todd Van Poppel the night after taking the Wild Card lead before losing the series finale on one of those little hit-and-run jam shots in the spot vacated by the fielder covering that ended up producing the winning run. Then, Jeff Conine hit a big home run down in Florida and that was that. Of course, the Marlins went on to win it all, which made it all the more frustrating, knowing it easily could've been the Phillies in their place.

The closing ceremony at the Vet was something else I'm glad I got to see in person. It was tough saying goodbye to the old place, so many memories of growing up going to games there. When Tug McGraw re-created the final pitch of the 1980 World Series, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Such a fitting farewell and a great segue into the baseball mecca that Citizens Bank Park has become.

That's my story on the 2003 Phillies season. Feel free to share your own recollections.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

JMurls Microbrew and Fantasy Insight of the Week

JMurl's Microbrew of the Week

Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy

Brewed by: Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company/Chippewa Falls, WI

Style: Fruit/Vegetable Beer

Abv: 4.2%

Completely cloudy, lemon colored body capped by two fingers of bubbly off-white head that leaves no lacing...resembles a piece of lemon meringue pie in a glass ...lots of sweet lemon aroma over a weak whiff of beer...flavor of crisp and candied lemons over a mild wheat backbone...4 out of 5 burps

Rating system:

5 burps- The cream of the crop...your taste buds will thank you
4 burps- Good brew, but not the crème de la crème that would get 5 burps
3 burps- Okay, but “I'm not a big fan” and its got alcohol in it, so I'll drink it
2 burps- “Do you have any Bud Light instead of this?”
1 burp-   This brew sucks so bad, it make you want to run to the closest AA meeting

Start Em':
Justin Smoak (Mariners-1B) ...Had an 11 game hit streak going until it was snapped last night at Boston when he went 0-for-4...during the streak he was went 14-for-39 (.359) with four homers and 15 RBI...only owned in 34% of Yahoo leagues....snatch him up if he is still available....
Fernando Salas (Cardinals-RP) ...Tony LaRussa has gone with “Closer by Committee” so far this season with Boggs, Snachez, and now Salas in the mix...Salas must be Tony's favorite right now, because he has been called upon to close 3 out of the last 4 games resulting in 2 saves...
Matt Wieters (Orioles-OF)  ...Has hit 11 RBIs in the last 10 games...only 4 HR on the season, but his OBP is .319 to go along with 5 doubles on the year...find him a spot in your OF or utility position...
Sit Em':
Adam Dunn(White Sox-1B) the middle of a 5-for-31 slump (.171 season average) and has only hit 3 HR and 2 doubles on the season...also is ranked 11th in MLB for strikeouts (31 whiffs)...
Sean Rodriquez(Rays-2B)  ...after an impressive 2010 in only a part-time role, many thought he continue the trend and take advantage of Evan Longoria being out...batting .214 with only 1 HR and Longoria is due back this week...
Madison Bumgarner (Giants-P)  ...after his first five outings in 2011, his record was 0-3 with a 7.79 ERA...his last outing showed signs of improvement, but he still not get the win giving up only 1 run and 5 hits through 6 innings (his longest outing to date)...keep him on your bench until he completely turns it around and we see the Madison of 2010...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Random Past Game: June 16, 1998

Date of Game: Tuesday, June 16, 1998
Location: Veterans Stadium
Opponent: Pittsburgh Pirates
Final Score: Phillies 8, Pirates 7
Winning Pitcher: Robert Dodd
Losing Pitcher: Rich Loiselle
Home Runs: Gregg Jefferies, Mike Lieberthal, Al Martin, Aramis Ramirez

Phillies Starting Lineup

Doug Glanville, cf
Gregg Jefferies, lf
Scott Rolen, 3b
Rico Brogna, 1b
Mark Lewis, 2b
Bobby Abreu, rf
Mark Parent, c
Desi Relaford, ss
Tyler Green, p

Pirates Starting Lineup

Tony Womack, 2b
Al Martin, lf
Jason Kendall, c
Kevin Young, 1b
Turner Ward, cf
Jose Guillen, rf
Aramis Ramirez, 3b
Lou Collier, ss
Jose Silva, p

About this game: One of the most charming aspects of baseball is the fact that there is no time clock. A team is not able to sit on the ball when they have the lead late in a game. Sure, there are often large leads in games and closing out the victory is more or less inevitable, but a win is never completely secure until the final out is recorded. Every now and then, a team can appear dead in the water until things fall into place at the very end and they rally for a victory that nobody had any reason to see coming. On this rainy June night in 1998, the Phillies played eight dismal innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates before coming to life in a ninth inning that once again proved why leaving a game early is never a wise choice.

Like they did for almost the entire 1998 season, the Phillies occupied third place in the National League East on June 16. Their record entering that day was 32-34, 13.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves, who were in the process of running away and hiding with yet another division title. Of course, expectations for the Phils in 1998 were quite different from what we've become accustomed to in this current era. The main goal for that season was gaining some level of respectability after finishing in last place the previous two years, and being within striking distance of .500 was considered significant progress. The Pirates were coming off a 1997 season that saw them finish 79-83 but just five games behind the NL Central Champion Houston Astros. They entered this day with a record of 34-35, 8.5 games behind the Astros, who would go on to win the second of three consecutive division titles in '98.

This was the middle contest of a three-game series between the Phillies and Buccos at Veterans Stadium. The Phils had taken the previous night's series opener by a score of 2-1 as Matt Beech struck out 11 while allowing a run on four hits over eight innings, outdueling future Phillie Jon Lieber. Mark Leiter worked a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up the save. Tyler Green would get the start for the Phillies in the second game of the series, with Jose Silva getting the ball for Pittsburgh.

The Pirates struck first in the game thanks to a two-out rally in the first inning. Jason Kendall started the rally with an infield single, then advanced to second on a wild pitch before coming around to score on a single by Kevin Young. Though a three-run homer by Al Martin in the second increased Pittsburgh's lead to 4-0, the Bucs got some bad news that inning when starting pitcher Jose Silva's wrist was broken as he attempted to get out of the way of a Tyler Green pitch after squaring to bunt. Esteban Loaiza took over on the hill and proceeded to limit the Phillies to a run on three hits over five innings, the only score coming on a solo homer by Gregg Jefferies in the sixth. Meanwhile, the Pirates would hit another three-run homer off Green in the fifth, this one by 19-year old rookie Aramis Ramirez to give Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead. By that point, it seemed as though the only thing noteworthy coming from the Phils that night would be the first career ejection for Scott Rolen, who was tossed by home plate umpire Greg Gibson after arguing a called third strike leading off the fourth. The normally mild-mannered Rolen had to be restrained during the heated argument by on-deck hitter Rico Brogna, first base coach Brad Mills and manager Terry Francona, who was also thrown out. If that wasn't bad enough, there was a 63-minute rain delay mixed in during the seventh inning. Despite the lopsided score, crew chief Terry Tata decided to wait it out, which would pay off when all was said and done.

Green's night came to an end following the fifth inning. Darrin Winston, Toby Borland, and Robert Dodd kept the Pirates off the board the rest of the way, but the Phillies were unable to muster anything on offense aside from the Jefferies homer and found themselves down 7-1 entering the last of the ninth. Elmer Dessens worked two shutout innings following the rain delay and turned things over to Ricardo Rincon to finish off what looked like an easy Pirates victory. The Phils had a rally left in them, however, and they were aided by the fact that the Bucs had a meltdown left in them.

Mark Lewis opened the ninth with a single and came around to score when Bobby Abreu followed with a triple to make it 7-2. After walks to Mark Parent and Desi Relaford loaded the bases, Rincon was lifted in favor of Pirates closer Rich Loiselle. Alex Arias greeted Loiselle with what appeared to be a double play grounder, but shortstop Lou Collier booted the ball for an error that scored Abreu and Parent to make it 7-4. Relaford advanced to third on the play and came home when Doug Glanville followed with a sacrifice fly to get the Phils to within 7-5. Kevin Sefcik grounded into a fielder's choice for the second out, but Kevin Jordan drew the third walk of the inning to keep the game alive for Mike Lieberthal, who was pinch-hitting for Dodd. Loiselle got two quick strikes on Lieberthal, but after working the count to 2-2, Lieberthal sent a screaming line drive off the backdrop above the wall in left-center for a three-run homer to give the Phillies an unfathomable 8-7 victory. Despite getting just three hits in the ninth inning, the Phils scored seven times thanks to three walks and a crucial Pirates error. Four of the runs were unearned. Dodd got the win, his only decision in what turned out to be the last of four career MLB appearances. He was optioned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the game when fellow lefty reliever Yorkis Perez was activated from the disabled list and never made it back to the big leagues.

Curt Schilling would two-hit the Pirates the following afternoon as the Phillies completed a three-game sweep with a 3-1 victory. The win in the series finale pushed the Phils to .500 on the season. They would get to as many as five games over near the end of July, but a 20-37 mark over the season's final two months left them at 75-87 overall. Rolen faced no disciplinary action after his ejection and went on to have what would be his finest season as a Phillie, hitting .290 with 31 homers, 110 RBI, and 120 runs scored in 160 games while also taking home his first Gold Glove award. The Pirates entered the series against the Phils at .500. They left town three games under and would never make it back to sea level, finishing last in the NL Central at 69-93, including a 5-25 freefall to close out the campaign.

Personal Recollection: It can generally be assumed that the vast majority of Random Past Games featured on here will be ones that I attended. Taking that into consideration, you may be surprised to know that I did not attend this game. In fact, you may even find it a bit shocking that I turned down free tickets. Of course, I had a reason as I happened to be graduating from high school that night. See, I went to two different high schools, transferring after my sophomore year. The school that I transferred from had their graduation in that morning and some of my friends from there had been given tickets for the game that night. I was asked if I wanted to go, but obviously had to turn down the invitation.

I first tuned into the game on the radio en route to a graduation party. It was right around when Scott Rolen was ejected, and I remember Harry Kalas remarking that he'd never seen Rolen get mad about anything before. It was the second time Rolen had been called out on strikes by Greg Gibson, who was a rookie filling in for Eric Gregg at the time. Watching the highlights later, both pitches appeared to be off the plate. The first time Rolen was rung up, he gave Gibson a quick look before slapping his bat. The second time, he had a quick word for Gibson, who let's just say made sure everyone in the stadium knew he was throwing Rolen out. Rolen came back and went face-to-face with Gibson before finally being restrained. The fact Rolen was not disciplined pretty much shows that the league felt Gibson went a little overboard. Think along the lines of Ryan Howard and Scott Barry last season.

I saw very little of this game on TV, as I was busy dropping by various parties. I remember watching the homer by Aramis Ramirez to make it 7-0 and thinking maybe it was for the best that I was forced to turn town free tickets. At some point, I saw the tarp had been brought out and figured since it was 7-1 in the seventh inning, they were just going to call the game. It wasn't until I got home that I found out how the game ended. I tried to stay up and watch the replay, but didn't make it very far.

Of course, it probably goes without saying Harry made a great call on Lieberthal's walkoff. "LONG DRIVE...COULD IT BE? IT IS! A GAME-WINNING, PINCH-HIT HOME RUN, MIKE LIEBERTHAL AND THE PHILLIES WIN IT, 8 TO 7! What a devastating loss for the Pirates, what an exhilarating win for the Fightin' Phils!" Tough one to have to miss, but still a memorable night all in all.

That's my story on June 16, 1998. Do you remember this game? If so, feel free to share your own recollections!