The Phils hosted the Red Sox today at the Vet, their final meeting there the Phillies e-newsletter proclaimed. Yeah, and their meetings have such a rich and illustrious history. It was a wild one that the Sox ended up winning, 13-9, on a Trot Nixon grand slam.
Ah, a classic Phils-Red Sox one-game series in September, it's just another reason to hate interleague baseball. The game had been originally scheduled for June 20, but had to be postponed because of the deluge that was early summer this year. My first reaction when I saw the weather in the Northeast today was that the game would have to be called again. That left the lovely prospect of a the game having to be replayed after the season since the Phils have no more empty non-travel days this year. Take the scenario that the Phils end up one-half game ahead of, say, the Expos and Marlins and the Red Sox end the season one-half game behind the M's. The game would have to be replayed on the day after the season, and any potential playoff games would have to be played the next day. What a mess!
Anyway, that fiasco did not materialize as they got the game in. However, the game itself may have been as big a mess in the end. Both bullpens imploded, the Phils' pen should be awarded the Monty Python nit of the year award having been able to commit suicide at a more productive rate. The Phils held a 6-5 lead after six after Mike Williams defused a bases-loaded, non-out situation to hold the lead. The bases were loaded because of Larry Bowa's insistence on bring in Dan Plesac to pitch to two lefties in the fifth and of course, Plesac walked them both. With Williams efforts, the Phils pen actually was unscored upon for their first two innings. But it wouldn't last long as Cormier, Mesa, and Wendell allowed eight runs in three innings. The Phils also allowed 14 walks on the day (including 7 by starter Brett Myers).
The Phils actually held a 9-7 lead in the ninth. But then-closer Jose Mesa walked off the leadoff man in the ninth, allowed a single, threw a wild pitch, intentionally walked Garciaparra, and then allowed an infield single to Leo Merloni, really. Tomas Perez attempted to barehand Merloni's weak chopper down the third baseline and go home, but could come up with the ball. I couldn't understand why Perez was concerned with the run with a 2-run lead. If he hadn't rushed the play, he would could have gotten Merloni at first for the second out.
As it was, Wendell relieved Mesa and promptly walked Kevin Millar-san for the tying run. Then came Nixon's upper-deck slam to seal the win on a 1-0 hanging slider. Earlier in the game, Nixon had been hit on the wrist by a pitch that looked to be about middle of the plate and high. That's how far he was hanging over the plate.
The Red Sox pen had its troubles in the eighth, allowing three and coughing up a 7-6 lead. But with one out and men at the corners, Byung-Hyun Kim came in to double up Pat Burrell to end the threat. The Phils went meekly in the ninth against the Kim.
The loss puts the Phils one game behind Florida for the mild card. Boston gained a game on the Yankees who were clobbered by the Blue Jays in Toronto, 8-1. They also picked up a half game on idle Seattle in the AL wild card and now trail by one game.
The Red Sox at least do not have the travails of the Phils. First, manager Larry Bowa excoriated the team on Thursday after the Phils started a road trip 1-9 and falling into a virtual tie for the wild card with practically the entire National League. They went on to sweep the Mets, so all, one would assume, would be right in their world.
Well, no, Pat Burrell hit a home run on Friday and failed to shake Bowa's hand. Spot third baseman Tyler Houston was then released the next day, he says, for backing Burrell up and as an example to the rest of the team. Whatever the reason, it's an odd move to do in a playoff run when your competition is expanding its roster. He gave an interview over the weekend that was published yesterday and it goes a little something like this:
"I've read that the team is winning because of Bo's meeting," Houston said. "It's not winning because of Bo's meeting, it's winning because of the players' meeting.
"Bo's meeting was just the last straw with Bo. We had to have a players' meeting because of him. A lot of guys felt like he was giving up on them. So the players decided we have to win for ourselves.
"In our meeting, everybody on that bus felt the same way about Bowa. This is a great group of guys. If this team does what it wants to do, it's going to be because we had to have that meeting to talk about how we have to win for ourselves.
"Everybody feels the same way about Bo - he doesn't give a crap about anybody in there. He doesn't give a crap about his players. Bo only cares about himself. You see it in the negativity and disrespect that he has for his players, the way he speaks to his players.
"He's the first one to slam you, embarrass you, throw stuff in the dugout, throw his hands up in the air.
"No free agents will sign back here as long as Bo is here. It's an easy decision for them to make...
"Pat's my boy. I'm going to be there to shake his hand. So they're going to make me an example...
"Bo can't handle his own clubhouse. Now they're finding out what's going on. They had to make an example of me because of big, bad Bo."
Houston has been given surprisingly little playing time even though starting third baseman David Bell has been out much of the year, but he has also done little with the playing time that he got (.722 OPS in only 97 at-bats, though Houston was out for about two months with a broken finger).
Bowa responded with "He's a loser. You can put loser in the paper with his picture," and "All I've got to say about him was seven teams in seven years. And that's the last thing I'm going to say on the matter." But of course it wasn't. He defended himself in his own particular idiom, "I haven't thrown one thing in the dugout this year." Sounds great, Greg (to quote Bobby Brady). To be truthful, Houston has played on five teams, not seven, in seven years and he played almost three full seasons each for the Cubs and Brewers. The Dodgers and Indians, his other two clubs besides the Phils, added him for late season playoff-run depth. Bowa even messed up the old "look up X in the dictionary and you'll see his/her picture" joke (where X is some derogatory trait).
"I was dumbfounded," Houston responded (not about the awkward joke by Bowa). "They never even called me into the office, never talked about it, none of that. All it was was covering this up about me not being happy with my role. This is the way they want to say it went down because they can't run their own clubhouse."
Ed Wade on the Phillies website repeated the club mantra, "He was a divisive influence in the clubhouse, and I told him this might be an indication why he's on a different team every year." Bowa responded with "Na nana na na."
Bowa was called the worst manager in baseball by a recent players' poll in Sports Illustrated. Besides anyone who pays even passing attention to the team can readily tell that Bowa's main contribution to the team is the mass consumption of sunflower seeds. Though Bowa's presence did not frighten off potential free agents as Houston warned, he did have some impact on Scott Rolen's decision not to re-sign with the Phillies, which led to last year's clubhouse rhetoric and Rolen's eventual departure. So Bowa is not exactly a people person.
But we all knew this. The real decisions are made by coaches John Vukovich and Joe Kerrigan. However, even the redoubtable Kerrigan, the best pitching coach this side of Leo Mazzone, is getting caught up in the furor. He is becoming extremely frustrated with his young pitchers not sticking to the established game plan during their losing streak.
So where do the Phillies go from here? It would have been best for them to have parted ways with Bowa before this season. They are underperforming as compared to their expected win total by four games, the lion's share of which is Bowa's responsibility. Some would say that the Phils are lucky to be in the playoff hunt after the offensive dearth in the first half and their pitching debacle in the second half and that they have Bowa to thanks for it.
I guess the manager's job is to a large degree based on perception. And perception is what the Phils are trafficking in as they prepare to move to a new stadium in 2004. This season was supposed to be the one in which they upsurge for next season began. The Phils signed some big name free agents after years of inaction in the market. They finally spent money like the large-market team that they are. But it was not a newfound altruism towards the fans that caused the Phils' brass spending spree even while most teams were cutting payroll. The Phils expected to get to the playoffs, either by bumping off the then-tottering Braves or via the wild card route, making this season an ad for the big payoff next year.
Somehow, they allowed the mercurial Bowa to be a part of that plan because as an ex-player he is a fan favorite, which shows you that even with all their spending their baseball acumen had not changed appreciably. If the Phils had jettisoned Bowa during the first go-round with Rolen, perhaps their biggest hole-Phils' third basemen are second to last in the majors in OPS as a group-that was created first by the ineffectiveness of and then by the injury to David Bell would never have been opened in the first place. Some would say that the Phils used moneys earmarked for Rolen to sign Jim Thome, but given that their wallets had been opened less frequently than Jack Benny's ("Well!"), they could have scraped together deals for both.
Anyway, whatever you think of Bowa, you have to admit that his clubhouse has been a house of cards at best for the last two seasons. Even if Houston is a troublemaker, his comments about Bowa are clearly not far from the mark.
What happens to Bowa again depends largely on perception. If the Phils win a playof spot, the season is validated. If they lose after expectations (and the payoffs for next season) were so high, the owners will look for blame. If those of talk radio ilk blame Bowa, it will be time for the Phillies to part ways with the manager. If the Conlin-ites absolve Bowa, then so too will the brass. They will create as much positive publicity as possible in the offseason through free agent signings and/or trades and hope for the best. Unfortunately, there probably will not be another Jim Thome signing or Kevin Millwood trade to buoy the locales.
Maybe the best-case scenario for all involved is for the Phils to make the playoffs and then part ways with Bowa in the postseason excitement that would ensue. However, that would make too much sense so expect more bandaids-on-a-compound-fracture moves like the acquisition of third-string catcher Kelly Stinnett (who by the way is on his fourth team in seven years) over the wekend.