Phils pulling away. But from what?………

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Just as the Phillies were coming back from their All-Star break, I was going on a break of my own. Sort of.

Just as the Phillies were coming back from their All-Star break, I was going on a break of my own. Sort of.

In a decision based on business/pleasure, I decided to join some friends (twist my arm, right?) down in Florida for a little R and R (turns out there was NO rest) and to watch the Fightin’ Phils at the perennially empty Land Shark Stadium to take on the second place Marlins. From a baseball perspective, there were two things I learned on this trip. 1. You completely and utterly appreciate the mecca known as Citizens Bank Park after attending a Florida Marlins game. And most importantly 2. NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY, is going to catch the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East in 2009.

For starters, when you pull up to the stadium, you are instructed to park- on the grass. I literally felt like I was going to watch a little league game in my hometown. As we parked and acted like tourists for a brief second, four of the “reported” 3,600 fans who were cooking out gave us a snicker as we walked by. I was going to show them the logo on the side of my hat that said “World Champions 2008,” but then I remembered that they have been around since 1993, and have just as many titles as we do. I took into consideration that they are Marlins fans and called it a draw. Ironically, the groundbreaking ceremony took place on the Marlins new stadium Saturday afternoon. If the Marlins brass think that people will magically start coming to games because they will now have a partially-domed stadum in 2012, think again. The new location is 30 minutes away from the current one, and the Rays went to the World Series in a domed stadium and they don’t draw either. It’s no surprise that it took five years for the stadium to get funding.  

After entering the stadium, we asked an usher what kind of food we should keep our eye out for. She said “none” in a joking yet affirmative tone. After looking at the vacant barbecue stands, I turned my attention to the tough decision of purchasing a nacho grande or chicken sandwich. My friend Mike purchased the chicken sandwich, which was basically a chicken nugget on a huge bun. So I went with the nacho grande- which consisted of stale nachos with a slab of cheeze wiz in the middle. Not good.

As we sat in our seats, which were directly on top of the Phillies bullpen, we looked around the stadium and saw nothing but Phillies fans. Easily an 80/20 ratio of Phillies to Marlins fans. I actually sat next two two sisters who grew up in the town over from me in South Jersey. The park was so empty, you can literally have a conversation with someone halfway across the stadium if you wanted to. I’ve never been to a minor league game. However, my friends were quick to point out that not only is there a better vibe at a Triple A park, there are more people as well.

The first game was quick. Aided by Raul Ibanez’s two moon shots to opposite fields, and Ryan Howard’s 200th career home run (eclipsing Ralph Kiner as the fastest player ever to do so), Jamie Moyer allowed one hit over seven innings, and the Phils coasted to a 4-1 win. Despite a breeze in the middle of the game, the humidity is ungodly. I’m not completely ready to give Kevin Millwood a free pass, but I’ve never felt heat like that, and I visit my sister in Palm Springs quite often.

Friday night’s game was interesting. We visited the Marlins Clubhouse Store, which should be called the Miami Dolphins Clubhouse Store. Because the Dolphins technically own the stadium, you see bronze statues of Dan Marino and Don Shula instead of Edgar Renteria and Josh Beckett. Moreover, Yankees Jerseys and Mets Jerseys are sold there as well. All was not lost, however. Coincidentally, there were more available concessions on Friday night. Maggie’s Bistro had the best beef and pork sandwiches served on pita bread that I have had in a long time. Top that off with a Corona and a jovial Marlins employee who was trash talking as he served us our food and everybody came away happy.

We sat in the players family section Friday night and had some nice conversations with some of Ryan Howard’s childhood friends. All great guys, but then the rain came. Brad Lidge definitely made it interesting, but the Phils eventually squeezed out a win in the 12th.

Unfortunately, we had to return home by Sunday. But the Phillies didn’t need our help for the series finale, winning 5-0 behind Rookie of the Year candidate and potential trade bait J.A. Haap. Haap threw seven strong innings, improving his record to 7-0, and lowering his ERA to 2.68- good for fourth best in the NL. The Phillies have now won eight straight. While the Pirates, Reds, and Marlins may not mirror the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays, the team can’t control who they play.

What was really evident the entire series (with the exception of Saturday’s rain-out) is that the Marlins never seemed to appear as a threat to the Phillies in any capacity. While Josh Johnson certainly looked dominant in the early stages of Saturday’s game, the Phillies everyday lineup can undisputedly compete with any team in the major leagues. No other lineup in this division is even close, including the Mets when their M.A.S.H. unit isn’t on the field. Although the Phils starting pitching has come around as of late, Atlanta’s pitching is more consistent but lack the offense to go with it. With their sweep against Florida, the Phils now hold a six and a half game lead over the Atlanta Braves while Florida drops to third place. The last time the Phillies had this big of a division lead, I wasn’t shaving or driving, and artists like Silk, Snow, and SWV dominated the Billboard Hot 100 (yep, I don’t remember them either).

Barring a MAJOR collapse, it is hard to see the Phillies letting this lead in the division completely slip away. There are some tough teams in the coming weeks (including the red-hot Cubs with Harden and Zambrano waiting in the wings) and that lead may possibly shrink. We’ve been Phillies fans too long to get carried away. Judging by their performances the last two Septembers, the question now may not be whether this team can win the division, but how they can manage to win the National League to return to the World Series.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Roy Halladay beat Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox by the score of 3-1………………………………..

(Feel free to check out the photo gallery on the right)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Snow

    Rolla,

    Glad that this is the thing you remember most about this article (HA!) I just remember everyone making fun of Snow because he was a white rapper from Canada (lol).  I was more of a Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stones, VH, Pink Floyd, etc.  in high school.

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