You know, I've tried to hate the Phillies. I really have. But I can't quite manage it.
There's the country thunder of Ryan Howard, the guts and intensity of Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins' habit of backing up his big talk. Can't hate any of them. There's the goofy surfer charm of Jayson Werth and Cole Hamels, and the strange sight of Raul Ibanez, who somehow has 20 home runs despite looking like he's about 60 years old and hunched over in constant pain. None of them get black marks in my book. There's the stranger-than-fiction story of Chris Coste and the apparently never-ending tale of Jamie Moyer. Great stuff. There are guys who annoy the crap out of you but you know you'd adore if they wore your uniform — a category that includes the likes of Shane Victorino and J.C. Romero. Not so long ago, the Phillies were known as a soft clubhouse full of guys who spent the spring hiding from Larry Bowa and could be counted on to quit in the summer. Now, the Phillies play like the fate of the world's at stake every night, and the clubhouse accused of being soft is our own.
I'm not saying some of the Phillies don't get me worked up — Brett Myers needs no explanation and Greg Dobbs strikes me as a Cody Ross-level douchebag. (Rollins' takeout slide on Alex Cora was clean; Dobbs's tonight was decidedly not.) And I like that the Phillies rub the Mets the wrong way — I wish more opponents made the Mets a bit testy. But watching the Phillies — even getting beaten by the Phillies — just doesn't make me seethe like seeing triumphant Yankees or Braves does.
Maybe it helps that tonight's game was another classic — just one that turned out wrong for us. There was more bad feeling on display, another three-run lead surrendered, chance after Met chance wasted, tit-for-tat highlight plays and finally too much Werth and Utley to withstand. And there was plenty to ponder along the way.
For openers, it's increasingly apparent that Mike Pelfrey is somewhere between eccentric and batshit insane. During the broadcast it came to light that Johan Santana had taken Pelfrey aside and told him to stop fidgeting and taking off his cap and being generally Pelfreyesque on the mound. Gary, Keith and Ron used that to salute Santana's leadership, but it struck me as evidence of just how weird Big Pelf has become: He falls off the mound, mutters the pitch he's going to throw so the hitter can hear, picks fights with enemy batters and at least once per start has to be tended to by the catcher and the infield like he's a spooked horse. It's not that there's anything wrong with this — rather, it's that pitchers are expected to start off flighty and jumpy and then calm down, or at least channel their competitiveness as they mature. But Pelfrey seems to be going in the opposite direction: The better he gets, the weirder he gets.
Speaking of weird, is it possible baseball's umpires have taken up pre-game crack? Dan Iassogna blew two calls at first (Castillo was out, Beltran was safe) and Fernando Tatis all but draped himself over Carlos Ruiz on a remarkably incompetent bunt without drawing an interference call from Randy Marsh. What gives? And while I'm feeling cranky, whatever happened to the home-plate umpire removing the bat when a runner was inbound?
When Bobby Parnell came into the game, I glanced at his stats and did a double-take: Were opponents really hitting .300 against him, with lefties up in Ted Williams territory? Yes, they were — and the Phillies immediately proved it, with Utley lacing his fatal home run into the right-field seats and Ryan Howard driving Jeremy Reed to the left-field wall and a good distance up it. Lighting up three digits on the radar gun is nice and all, but that BAA is more than a little terrifying for an eighth-inning guy.
And finally, what can you say about Werth's catch? Werth himself admitted he didn't expect to catch it, which I'm sure offers David Wright no comfort. A couple of inches in any direction, and our lasting image of tonight's game is Werth rolling over disconsolately in the grass as SNY's cameras track the ball to a final resting spot somewhere on the warning track and Wright gets dogpiled at first. Then Emily goes to Citi Field Thursday night with her husband having bought her a mini-broom and insisted she chant “SWEEP!” all night while he glues himself to the couch and tries not to think too hard about a share of first place.
Instead, we're left with this: He sure as hell looked like Ron Swoboda out there, didn't he?
METSTOCK: 3 Hours of Pizza and Baseball is coming to Manhattan on Thursday, June 18, 7:00 PM. Meet the authors of A Magic Summer, Mets By The Numbers and Faith and Fear in Flushing: An Intense Personal History of the New York Mets, talk baseball with them, watch the Mets beat the Orioles just as they did in '69 with us and have a generally great time. Details here.