Monday, October 27, 2008

The Proverbial Happy Bubble

Leaving the Linc yesterday afternoon spilled the observer into a world of happy- the proverbial happy bubble. The common areas surrounding the multiple Philadelphia temples of frustration were a sea of green and red: balloons, signs, apparel. It was a perfect weekend in south Philly: the Phillies pull oh-so-close, the Eagles win and someone throws a stink bomb at a Flyers’ game. And of course, remonstrance such as the following:
During Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday night, Rays family members and employees say they were harassed and abused by Phillies fans at Citizens Bank Park to an unacceptable degree.

Children were cursed at, and one 9-year-old boy had beer poured on him. A Rays family member stayed locked in a bathroom stall because, he said, Phillies fans were banging on the walls and threatening him.
I have been skeptical about the Phillies chances in the Series- rating it a stone toss up only if the Phillies managed to get both games Hamels was scheduled to pitch versus the Ray’s number three Scott Kazmir. But I was wrong about the lift the Phillies have gotten returning home to their ball park.

I’m not talking about the fans really. Certainly the Phillies pick up some in front of their own fans. But here, I’m talking about the ballpark itself.

To me, a huge turning point of this series is the homerun Carlos Ruiz hit in the third game- the sort of routine fly ball that gets out in Philly, and few other places. People gripe about Citizens Bank Park as a hitter’s friendly park- but it really isn’t. It is a real good poke to straightaway center to get the ball out. The outfield isn’t big like Shea; the corners are tight and play fair. Particularly for a new ball park, there is a goodly amount of foul ball territory. And poor weather is a factor in April and October.

But the one place it does play a real crazy is from, say, both the traditional power alleys to the foul poles. The fence is in close there- and warning track power gets the ball out in those segments of the ball park. Ruiz’ home run- and Blanton’s and Howard’s first from last night- are good examples. Neither was crushed, neither probably gets out of Shea- and both were well out of Citizens Bank park.

Ever since Ruiz homerun, the Rays have pitched real scared. Andy Sonnanstein never walks anyone- and he was walking and behind guys all night. The Phillies' game three ninth inning rally was part and parcel of the same fear. If you want to know why JP Howel was pitching Bruntlett and Victorino like they were Roger Maris, well, the Rays pitching is pressing. Brunlett may be .217 hitter- but to a Rays reliever, he looks like a guy who can potentially hit a 350 foot routine fly ball into the flower bed.

Psychologically, pitching at the Bank requires a mentality. I forgot this sometimes- as the Mets and Braves and Marlins come in enough to know, hey, homeruns happen. Moyer and Blanton were touched up for close calls and homeruns- and both just asked for a new ball. The Rays have responded by pitching scared- and pitching scared at the Bank means hitting guys with pitches, extra base runners putting pressure on your defense, more guys on base for when Howard does lose one into the ether- and more excuses to press and press.

That being said, it is not done yet. Kazmir is not a chump- and he is left-handed. One could argue that really, all the Phillies have proved is that they can hit RHP in their cozy ballpark- something we frankly know already. If the Phillies lose tonight- and the pressure is squarely back on them with a real shaky Myers and up and down Moyers between them and a collapse on the road. It would behoove Philadelphia to just win this thing with their best option. And thus, I stand by my original forecast- the Phillies need Hamels to win his pair.

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