By Bill Campbell
The Phillies are in serious trouble now. The team is not scoring many runs and has had to rely on its pitching. Now it seems to have a pitching problem with the injury to Cliff Lee. The talented left-hander injured his left oblique while pitching ten shut-out innings last week in San Francisco and he has been placed on the fifteen-day disabled list.
It may be interesting to note that in this age of relievers and closers and seven and eight inning pitchers, no one pitches ten innings anymore. In fact, Lee said he injured himself on a pitch in the fifth inning. He is the first Phillies starting pitcher to work into the tenth inning since Terry Mulholland in 1993 and the first anywhere since 2007. General Manager Ruben Amaro said Lee has shown some improvement in the last couple of days and the Phillies are hopeful he will miss only a couple of starts. But with the team already missing Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and with Hunter Pence struggling with the bat, the team is in some trouble. Last year’s Big Four pitching rotation has slipped to the Big Two: Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. Vance Worly is a newcomer to the fold, based on his impressive pitching in spring training and in the early season. He could be called upon to replace Lee occasionally in the rotation. But Lee’s absence still could create a left-handed void. Look for the Phillies to make a major personnel move soon if only to sustain that string of consecutive sell-outs.
The art of pitching and how it is presently handled creates a vivid reminder of how the game of baseball has changed. The introduction of the designated hitter in the American League is the major change. The introduction of the winner of the All Star Game becoming the home team in the World Series is the most ridiculous change. But starting pitchers working every fifth day instead of every fourth should not be overlooked. Along with the alleged use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. The almost total elimination of double headers also should be considered. The Great American Game ain’t what she used to be. Even Roy Halladay loses a game now and then.
I’ve been hearing unofficial, unconfirmed rumors of late that Doug Collins is losing control of his team — reports that I have seriously doubted. Doug has been fired in three other places before taking over the Sixers and I guess it could happen again. It’s the nature of the beast. But I’ve known Doug Collins for a long time, since he came to the Sixers as a drafted player many years ago. And I’ve always regarded him as someone who, once he’s assumed control of anything, never yields. The Sixers, as you know, have clinched a play-off spot for the second straight year and Collins has also gotten the attention of the officials recently to the tune of a $15,000 fine for verbal abuse. But I think his players are still tuned in, particularly Lou Williams. The team has five double figure players and it was Williams’ four-point play last week that keyed the big win over Indiana in overtime, which ended the Pacers seven-game winning streak. Speaking of Williams, stronger reports have him opting out of the final year of his 76ers contract and becoming an unrestricted free agent. If he were to opt out, he would be due $6.4 million from the Sixers. If Williams ends up as his team’s leading scorer, he will become the first non-starting player to do so since Del Curry did it for the Charlotte Hornets in the 1993-‘94 season.
Before Game Six began, Flyers’ star, Claude Giroux, asked Coach Peter Laviolette to include him in the first shift. Just before they dropped the puck, Giroux skated over to team-mate, Danny Briere, and said, “Watch the first shift.” It took only 32 seconds and the puck was in the Pittsburgh net off Giroux’s stick. Can there be a more common display of leadership? Giroux then proceeded to the serious business of leading the Flyers into the second round of the Stanley Cup play-offs. It was the first game in the series in which the team that scored first went on to win. When Giroux followed up his goal by crushing Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby with a clean hit, it introduced a contagious feeling that this series might be over. It was a scintillating series which began as if it would be a rout as the Flyers got off to a spectacular start. The final tally was 4 games to 2, marking the third consecutive spring in which the Flyers have advanced past the first round. Forty-year old Jaromir Jagr conceded, in his words, “For us, it was a Game Seven. It would have been much tougher to lose at home and return to Pittsburgh for a seventh game.” Sharing first-round honors with Giroux and Briere were Scott Hartnell, Erik Gustafson and Braden Schenn, all of whom scored goals. We can’t forget goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov, who ended a see-saw first round with 30 saves in Game Six. In a random poll of forty-eight of the nation’s hockey experts, only eight picked the Flyers over the Penguins. Now the Flyers could very well enter the second round of the play-offs as the overall favorite. Fifty-six goals were scored in the all-Pennsylvania series: 30 for the Flyers, 26 for the Penguins, a record for a six-game series. It was only four games short of becoming one of the top five highest scoring battles in the 94-year history of the Stanley Cup play-offs. If the Flyers go on to a Stanley Cup parade, it will be their first in 37 years.
I had thought that Ozzie Guillen might be the first baseball manager fired in the new season. Now I think it might be Bobby Valentine in Boston. They celebrated the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park last week before a capacity crowd. Valentine, whose last managerial job was in Japan and who had voiced some negative comments about some of his players recently, was relentlessly booed throughout the ceremonies. The Red Sox suffered a humiliating 15-9 defeat at the hands of the Yankees, blowing a 9-0 lead in the process. At the end of the day, the team officials held a closed door meeting with executive general manager Ben Cherington, principal owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino in attendance. Cherington emerged after the meeting to issue the usual “kiss of death” saying that he was satisfied with the Red Sox’s early season record which, at the time of the meeting, was 4 and 10. Really?
When has the Kentucky Derby produced more exotic names than this year? Check the field: “Union Rags”, “I’ll Have Another”, “Went the Day Well”, “Daddy Long Legs”, “Daddy Nosebleed” and “Take Charge Indy”. How can anyone possibly pick a likely winner out of that motley crew?