When I was a sophomore in college, a bunch of my nerdy honors college friends were going to start a fraternity. It was really just an excuse to hang out, put something on our resumes, and generally to bother the living daylights out of the fraternity council. I was signed on to be a founding member You see, these folks were all big student government types (yeah, me too, I did a term in Student Senate), and one of the ringleaders in this scheme had been defrauded out of being student body vice president by the Greek machine. This is the same kid who swears up and down that he punched out Russ Feingold’s son on the floor of Congress, interned for Congressman Joe “You Lie!” Wilson, R-S.C., and during that internship mocked John Kerry to his face.
So he figured out that we only needed to fulfill a few bare requirements to get into Greek life. Something like 25 members, 2 philanthropic and 2 social events per semester or something like that. So we’d get that, sit on fraternity council and do our level best to piss off the serious frat boys. We’d get t-shirts made with a picture of a pink polo shirt and a pair of sunglasses on croakies (for those of you who have never been to college at an SEC school, Southern frat boys dress like your dad did in 1997). We’d mock their boat shoes and hit on their perfectly-formed but vapid A D Pi girlfriends. It was an incredibly nerdy fantasy that, of course, never amounted to anything. But it was fun to think about nonetheless.
And I swear this is related to the Phillies.
You see, our frat was going to be called Kappa Omicron Kappa (KOK, pronounced “cock” not only as a (an?) homage to the school mascot at South Carolina, the Gamecocks, but also because we felt it was an appropriate moniker for a fraternity), and our Latin motto was to be “Vado Magnus Vel Vado Domus,” or “Go big or go home.”
I mention this not only because telling the story makes me sound pathetic, which it does, but because it touches on a salient point for this year’s playoffs.
I consider sports to be entertainment, and, with that in mind, I like teams that are 1) fun to watch, either on or off the field or 2) good. If you’re lucky, you get both, and you get the Showtime Lakers or the Gretzky-Messier-Coffey Edmonton Oilers. The Johan Cruyff-led “Clockwork Oranje” Dutch national soccer team of the 1970s, even though they never won the World Cup. The University of Florida football team. You get the picture.
It’s ok to be good and boring. I’m sure the Neutral Zone Trap Devils don’t mind having won any of their three Stanley Cups by playing unwatchably boring defense, nor would Scuderia Ferrari mind having almost killed Formula One’s entertainment value by Michael Schumacher reeling off five straight drivers’ championships. On the flip side, when USC basketball coach Dave Odom retired two years ago, I lobbied heavily for Duggar Baucom of the electrifying-but-mediocre VMI Keydets to replace him.
That’s why I loved the Flyers’ signing of Ray Emery and the Eagles’ signing of Michael Vick. These were all signings that could either work out well or be disasters of biblical proportions.We in Philadelphia know what playing conservative gets you: either a consistently bad boring team (the Sixers) or a consistently good borinig team that can’t bring home a title (the Eagles). Better to go for the jugular and fail spectacularly than to play by the rules and fail quietly. Where’s the fun in that?
That’s why Charlie Manuel’s pitcher use strategy makes me so happy. He essentially said, “Well, we’re going to start Lee and Hamels, and figure out the rest as we go along.” On a certain level, it makes sense–you’ve got five quality starting pitchers and no dependable relievers. Joe Blanton’s been pitching as well as anyone else on the team recently, why not chuck him in for a few high-leverage relief innings, particularly when you’ve got other options to start games 3 and 4?
Uncle Cholly is flying by the seat of his pants in a way I’ve never seen a successful playoff manager do, and so far, it’s working. The big rube lucked into Madson (ostensibly his best reliever) pitching the most critical part of the game, the 7th, instead of the bottom of the 9th with a lead, which, as you know, is the only place you’re allowed to use your best relief pitcher. He lucked into Brad Lidge being just effective enough to get three outs in the ninth (thanks to Carlos Gonzalez not having read the scouting report on Lidge, and Tulowitzki popping up a batting practice fastball to end the game. If he had gotten a hold of it, that ball would have landed in Idaho.).
So it’s working, and I like that Uncle Cholly is crazy enough to try something like this. Because when it fails, and it invariably will (think: Antonio Bastardo starting a pivotal Game 6 of the NLCS, or Cole Hamels starting an elimination game on two days’ rest), it is going to be incredible to watch.
On another note, here are some interesting facts about the series so far:
- Since 1980, the Phillies are undefeated in postseason series against teams with starting shortstops who are 6-foot or shorter and winless in series against shortstops who are taller than 6-foot-2. Against shortstops who are 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, they are 2-2.
- Cliff Lee is the only National League lefty ever to win a postseason game against the Rockies. Incidentally, the only National League lefties to take losses against the Rockies are Cole Hamels and J.C. Romero.
- Raul Ibanez is the first Hispanic outfielder to start regularly for a Phillies playoff team.
- Two of the Phillies’ last four postseason games have been suspended or postponed due to inclement weather.
- Both Chase Utley and Garrett Atkins had characters named after them in Patrick Robinson’s 2000 novel U.S.S. Seawolf. As far as I can tell, no other pair of UCLA infielders has ever been the inspiration for fictitious U.S. Navy enlisted men and gone on to face each other in a postseason series. And Utley and Atkins have now done it twice.
- Ryan Spillborghs’ at-bat music is “Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani, which is no way statistically relevant, but just makes him awesome.
- According to Google Maps, there are nine roads in the United States called “Huston Street.” The closest to Denver is in Los Angeles, 1,024 miles away. There are no roads in the United States named “Ryan Madson.”
- The Phillies have the only two college-educated starting pitchers in this series: Lee (Arkansas) and J.A. Happ (Northwestern). Joe Blanton went to Kentucky, but I don’t think he’ll start this series. Jason Hammel spent two years at something called Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon, but that sounds like a fake school, so I’m not going to count it.
- 11 of the 25 Phillies (and 11 of the 17 American-born Phillies) are from Illinois or California. None are from Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware. None of the Rockies are from Colorado, though Eric Young, Jr. was born in New Jersey and Joe Beimel was born in Pennsylvania.
- In the past two postseasons, the Phillies are 2-2 in domed stadia, but 11-2 in open stadia.
- Two pitchers with four-letter last names took losses against the Phillies in last year’s LCS. Apart from them, pitchers with four-letter last names are 6-2 against the Phillies in postseason play. The only losing pitchers of the bunch are Rich Gale, in Game 6 of the 1980 World Series, and Elias Sosa, in Game 1 of the 1977 NLCS. The only starting pitchers left in the playoffs with 4-letter last names are Aaron Cook (who won Game 2), J.A. Happ, and Randy Wolf.
- In their postseason history, the Phillies have faced three American league teams from east of the Appalachian Mountains, but have never faced a National League team from east of the Appalachians.
- In their history, the Phillies are 2-0 in World Series where their Game 1 starter was left-handed, and 0-4 when their Game 1 starter was a righty. Their four right-handed starters: Grover Cleveland Alexander (1915), Jim Konstanty (1950, that year’s NL MVP), John Denny (1983, that year’s NL Cy Young winner), and Curt Schilling (1993). Also, since the advent of uniform numbers, every Game 1 starter in Phillies history (in any playoff series, not just World Series) has worn a number between 32 and 41.
- The Rockies started Kevin Ritz in Game 1 of their first playoff series. They haven’t started an American in a Game 1 since. Nor have they started another pitcher named after a cracker.
- The Phillies and Rockies are the only two remaining playoff teams that still play in the cities in which they were founded. As such, the American League is guaranteed to have the first transplant pennant winner since the Yankees in 2003. The last all-transplant World Series was in 2002 between the San Francisco (originally New York) Giants and the then-Anaheim (originally Los Angeles proper) Angels.
Ok. That’s quite enough of that for the moment. I originally just meant to put down the tall shortstop fact, but I got carried away. Ok. Here’s hoping for a win tonight so I don’t have to stay up past 2 again.