Thursday, June 24, 2010

Advantage, Average Joes

My Dad never gets tired of telling me that during Matt Stairs' brief but memorable tenure with the Phitins, he considered the two of them twins. They were both 5-foot-8 and of generous girth (Stairs apparently grew tired of the comparison as he shed 30 pounds in the offseason before heading to camp with the Padres). The only major difference between them was the distance the ball would travel when each of them made contact with a major league fastball. My dad's batted ball might barely reach the pitcher's mound if it had a good tailwind, while Stairs' ball would result in a beer shower for the guy sitting halfway up the second deck after it landed in his cup. The chubby MLB journeyman resembled many of his fans, which along with his easy-going personality and timely pinch-hit bombs, endeared him to all in Philadelphia. Having a gut doesn't necessarily mean you can't win big games.

It's been crazy times at Wimbledon with single matches lasting three days, and I just watched a clip of the movie "Dodgeball." The combination of the two to form the title of this blog works so well with the Phillies' most recent game against the Cleveland Indians that I feel like everything in the cosmos may be righting itself. It's clear I don't have enough faith in my team to believe it was capable of returning to its former self without any supernatural intervention.

It's also so easy to forget that the Phillies are actually a game better than they were at this point last year, because four games above .500 was still good enough to claim first place in the division in '09. When Jimmy was no longer rolling and the rest of the team laid down and dared everyone else in the East to try and dethrone them, no one could do it.

That strategy didn't work as well this year, but a little competition never hurt anyone.

Every other Phillies blogger or reporter has already slapped a metaphor on the vicious storm that halted today's laugher in the eighth inning, but who can blame them? This is the first time in more than a month that the Phils brought the thunder and truly beat up on someone, and like Stairs in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, the chubby guys led the charge.

First, there was Uncle Cholly, who got ejected for the second time in three games in the second inning, causing him to miss virtually all of the Phillies' outburst. His usually calm and collected demeanor fits this team well, but it always helps to see your manager show some emotion. The players are returning to their early-season form, and he doesn't want to see them get cheated. Big kudos.

Then there was Joe Blanton, and there wasn't anything average about his performance today. He threw his second straight quality start after notching just two in his first eight. He's finally gotten control of his sinker, as he's induced 19 ground outs against 11 fly outs over those two starts. His eight strikeouts today were also the most he's collected in a start since striking out 10 Tampa Bay Rays exactly one year ago.

Finally, Dane Sardinha had Phillies scouts booking the next available flight to Hawaii when he belted his first major league homer. Most fans had no clue who this guy was before today's lineup was announced, and now a few nuts will purchase some fish head masks off and spend the next few weeks isolated in a section of the upper deck at Citizens Bank Park, gyrating to their own choreographed dance and calling themselves "Dane's Sardinhas."

The slimmer stars did their part as well. I usually look this kind of stuff up myself, the stickler that I am, but I'll simply ask when was the last time Chase Utley and Jayson Werth each had at least three hits in a game? I may hate myself later for saying this, but it looks like the slump is ending. The offense not only piled on the runs, but did so in multiple innings, which had been a problem even before the team's well-documented struggles.

Of course, the Indians are a team the Phillies are supposed to beat, and they finally did so in a manner that we're used to seeing. The bats are finally rewarding some stellar outings by their starting pitchers. I know Roy Halladay is begging for that kind of support, so we'll see what big boys step up for him tomorrow against his old team. At least I'm feeling optimistic again, which should automatically be the case when Doc takes the hill.

note: I noticed earlier today that the recently-improved Phillies are just one of three teams in the NL (the Reds and Padres being the other two) that sport a record above .500 both at home and on the road. Now there's a nice shot of optimism.

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