BDD: It’s Always Classy in Philadelphia

I’ll shut up about it soon, but I can’t stress enough how much class the Phillies organization has shown over the years. It makes it that much more enjoyable to follow them as a fan.

It is because he has been such a good person and a good teammate and a good example that tonight, with a seven-run lead and one out left before the Phillies won their game against the Houston Astros and celebrated their division title, manager Charlie Manuel strolled to the pitcher’s mound to remove Scott Eyre from the game. The band Drowning Pool blared through the speakers once again, and Lidge emerged from the bullpen to a standing ovation from the Philadelphia crowd for the honor of once again notching the last out before a division title.

Business As Usual: Phils Clinch Division

During the Ed Wade era here in Philadelphia, we wondered if we would ever sniff post-season air. We were exposed to the Chris Brocks and Joe Roas of Major League Baseball much too frequently for such hopes to have a life span of more than a couple seconds.

How little we knew and how low our expectations were.

Pat Gillick took over Wade’s job after the 2005 season and quickly bolstered the team with some sly roster maneuvers. Just two years into Gillick’s reign, the Phillies finally achieved that vaunted post-season berth thanks to a collapse of epic proportions by the New York Mets. One can just imagine how sweet that victory champagne tasted in the clubhouse. For half of the teams in baseball, a simple post-season appearance is an achievement in and of itself; for the Phillies, who hadn’t been there since 1993, were unsatisfied with a meager three-game appearance abruptly ended by the Colorado Rockies in ’07.

The ’08 Phillies came out on a mission. They did not take baseball by storm; they did not even take the NL East by storm. It took, as in ’07, a last-minute coup de grace to leap into meaningful October baseball. Gillick, architect supreme, may not have drafted and cultivated the breadwinners that turned the gears, but he peppered that home-grown talent with guys you’d never expect to positively contribute to a championship-winning baseball team — guys like Joe Blanton and Pedro Feliz.

The Phillies did, of course, win that championship, the first since 1980. They went into the ’08 post-season, kicked some tail and took some names, winning the series 3-1, 4-1, 4-1 and never once lost a game in front of the home fans.

Gillick, having done many times what most GM’s would love to do just once — construct championship-winning baseball teams — stepped down and fresh blood in the form of Ruben Amaro took the helm. It doesn’t happen often, the button-pusher behind a World Series-winning team stepping down immediately afterward. With the change, many involved in the success of the ’09 Phillies could have resisted or become complacent. Not the Phillies.

47 games into the season, the Phillies wrested control of the NL East and that was it — that lead was never relinquished. It was the most dominant Phillies team since, well, 1993. So dominant that fans had to work themsleves into a frenzy when the Phillies were only 99.2% to win the division instead of 99.7%.

What did Amaro do to bolster the roster? Unlike Gillick, he did not trade a couple of B-level prospects for a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a utility player. He replaced fan-favorite Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez, who would right now be a heavy contender for the NL MVP award if not for a groin strain that hampered half of his season. Amaro also went out and gave up some significant talent for last year’s AL Cy Young award winner in Cliff Lee, and signed free agent Pedro Martinez, who is a Hall of Famer the second he is five years separated from his last Major League pitch. That just doesn’t happen to the Phillies. Good players never wanted to play here before!

It is with the overt moves of Amaro and the shrewd machinations of Gillick that the Phillies have won the NL East division for three years running, the first time that has happened in Philadelphia since the 1976-78 teams.

When you look at teams like the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, you empathize. We know what that is all about. It contrasts starkly to what has been going on in Philadelphia these last few years. We are so fortunate to be able to watch the great game of baseball played every night by these professional athletes — these classy, professional athletes.

Winning back-to-back championships is even harder. Improbable, even. Only three National League teams have ever done it. If there’s one thing we have learned about these Phillies, it’s that they are capable of achieving anything.

It was only nine years ago that the Phillies notched their seventh-straight season of sub-.500 baseball. Here we are now, NL East division winners three years running, and a mere 11 wins away from a second straight championship. In retrospect, it was worth trudging through the failures of the Ed Wade administration because it made this — all of this — taste that much better.

Charlie Manuel Can Adapt!

All season long, Charlie Manuel — known as a “player’s manager” — stuck his head in the sand and ignored the struggles of Brad Lidge. For five and a half months, he did this. For five and a half months, the Phillies didn’t pay any mind to their post-season chances. With two weeks left in the season, the finish line in sight, and a lack of any kind of improvement on the part of Lidge, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro switched horses mid-stream.

When Amaro delivered the news that Lidge would no longer be closing out games for the Phillies, he did not specify who would be taking over the role. From FOXSports.com:

“At some point, we’re going to have to juggle, be creative, figure out who that person is — whether it’s by matchups, closer-by-committee, whatever it takes.”

But, come on, it’s Madson, right? Park has been injured, Myers recently came off of the DL and is still fighting his way to full-strength — who’s it going to be? J.A. Happ? Nope. Durbin, Condrey, Walker? No, no, no. So, although Amaro never named a closer, he may as well have — Madson was the only logical option.

Of course, Mad Dog also has the closer traits that we all identify with. The 95-MPH fastball, the ridiculous off-speed stuff (for Lidge it was his slider; for Madson, it’s his change-up), the odd delivery. He has closer written all over him. And he has, you know, actually been a great reliever for the past three seasons.

So tonight, in a game the Phillies should have been able to, and did win, Manuel used Madson in the eighth inning with a three-run lead. Lidge, Durbin, Walker, et. al. sat in the bullpen and watched him shut down the Astros 1-2-3 in the eighth.

Should have saved him for the ninth, Charlie.

He did.

Madson took the mound again for the start of the ninth to face the top of the Astros lineup: Matsui, Tejada, Berkman, Lee, and Pence, one through five. The worriers thought about his supposed ninth-inning struggles — the .778 OPS hitters have notched in the ninth against him as opposed to the .662 OPS in the eighth inning. But, of course, we’re dealing with that small sample size where anything can happen.

As if to make sure none of us were breathing easy, Madson allowed singles to two of the first three hitters. With runners on first and second and just one out with the tying run coming to the plate in the form of Carlos Lee (who had gone yard earlier in the game against J.A. Happ), a pow-wow was held at the pitcher’s mound. He had thrown at least one breaking ball in each at-bat in the ninth thus far.

After the mound visit? Nothing but heat. Madson threw four fastballs in the strike zone to Lee, getting him to swing and miss for strike three. With one out left and Hunter Pence at the plate, Madson stuck to his heat, quickly getting ahead in the count 0-2. After a 96 MPH fastball taken for a ball, Madson froze Pence with a 97 MPH fastball for strike three. Game over.

Ryan Madson is your new closer. Get used to it and enjoy the ride, however long it lasts.

Only twice before this season had Madson been used for two inning relief appearances. With the Phillies having played lackadaisically recently and the Braves playing their best baseball all year, Manuel decided to stop toying around with the NL East division lead. He went to the best reliever he had and asked him to get not just three, but six very important outs. Charlie Manuel adapted.

That’s all we ask for.