Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Good to be home

Man, I figured I would always be able to think of something to write about in these italicized unrelated introductions, since they're not limited to baseball. I guess I was wrong...

Just like Mr. Ozzie Smith told that high school auditorium full of fans in Cooperstown, "It's all about timing."

It didn't matter that Jimmy Rollins was hitless in his first eight at-bats since coming off the DL. The only important thing is what took place in his crucial ninth trip to the plate tonight with his team down a run in the bottom of the ninth inning to the Cleveland Indians.

First of all, the Phillies are lucky that with a runner at first and nobody out, pinch-hitter Ben Francisco's ground ball didn't result in a double play. That left the tying run on base and gave J-Roll a chance to be a hero.

And I don't think I've ever seen Jimmy hit a ball that hard. All I can say is thank goodness it stayed fair.

It was the first walk-off blast of Rollins' long career, and the Wizard of Oz was sure on to something when he talked about timing. To get a big hit like that just after returning to the club provided his teammates with a glaring example of why he's so vital to their success. J-Roll not only came through in the clutch but also right after committing an error that allowed the go-ahead run to score a half-inning earlier. Maybe the presence of Rollins really can help the Phillies get back on track, or at least not dwell so much on how far they've fallen in recent weeks.

Before I move on to my next topic, I must mention how I "saw" J-Roll's shot. With no access to the live game, I was watching it using Gameday on It's a three-dimensional simulation of the live game, showing the trajectory, speed and break of each pitch right after its thrown. Despite Indians closer Kerry Wood's great difficulty with staying healthy during his career, it was impressive to see that his fastball was still reaching the mid-to-upper 90s.

It's also impressive that no matter how hard a ball is thrown, if it's right down the middle, a professional hitter will crush the hell out of it. Wood's 1-1 fastball to Rollins clocked in at 95 miles per hour, but he could not have hit the center of the strike zone so precisely again if he tried, and Jimmy knew exactly what to do with it. The hit reminded me of J-Roll's walk-off triple in Game 4 of last year's NLCS off Dodgers closer Jonahtan Broxton. That fastball was thrown at 99 mph.

Tonight's win gave the Phillies their sixth win in their last nine games, believe it or not, and many of those games have been against the best teams in the AL. With four Interleague games left, Philly already has more wins than it did in IP last year and in 2008.

The victory also guaranteed the Phils a home series win, something they haven't pulled off since taking two out of three at home against the Braves May 7-9 (it was also their first Interleague home series win in three years). This is the second time I'm referencing the 1997 Phillies since starting this blog, and I hope it's the last. That was the last time Philadelphia played six straight home series without winning one of them. It's a good thing they've thrown in a few road series wins or else they'd need binoculars to catch a glimpse of first place in the East.

Dramatic victories are always fun for a team and after the Phillies' only other walk-off win on May 4, they won nine of their next 11. If that's what's in store for them in the next two weeks, it's going to be a relaxing All-Star Break.

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