By Bill Campbell
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Phillies have become a real puzzle of late. There are days on which they look like they can play with anyone. There are other days when they really make you wonder. Last Tuesday night against the Marlins, left-fielder Domonic Brown seemed to freeze on a line drive headed his way. He badly misplayed the ball as it flew above his head and missed the catch. His miss really changed the tempo of the game and the Phillies ended up losing it 3-2 at Citizens Bank Park. Brown turned a liner that should have been caught into an extra base hit. Until then, pitcher A.J. Burnett had great stuff and appeared to be throwing a potential shutout. We’ll never know. It was the kind of game that the Phillies must win if they are to prove themselves as contenders in the 2014 season – and the opportunities to do that are going to begin to fade. As Manager Ryne Sandberg put it after this one, “If we are to play like a solid contender we have to execute the fundamentals correctly and executing the basics includes playing in position properly and making catches when they are presented as well as hit[ting] safely at the proper times. Otherwise, we’ll continue to look like the same old Phillies, ‘here today and gone tomorrow’.”
This latest blip of Domonic Brown’s also led to a lot of questions about the young outfielder, who made the All Star team last year but has been going through a brutal 2014 season both in the field and at the plate. He hit pretty well through the early part of the season (.273 – 23 HR) but he’s gone a little flat at the plate of late. Moreover, even if your bat is cold, catching the ball is important too. To his credit, Brown apologized to Burnett after the game. “It’s a play I’ve got to make for my team,” he said. “That changed the whole game. I told A.J. I was sorry about it. That play has to be made. It was a hard-hit line drive. I made a break on it in and that definitely was a big mistake.” The seasoned pitcher, Burnett, later said of Brown, “He doesn’t need to apologize, man, he’s a good kid. He did do that. And I apologized right back. I mentioned it, you pick your teammates up. If I get a punch-out there or a ground ball there it’s a one-run mistake. Whether the ball should be caught or not, you don’t need to apologize. He’s a gamer. ‘Bleep’ happens and it happened tonight.”
One can’t ignore the fact that the Phillies had their chances in this one and the failure to take advantage of them does not rest solely with Dominic Brown. Chase Utley missed a grand slam by a couple of feet in the fifth, hitting a sacrifice fly to center that brought the Phils within two. In that same inning, the team loaded the bases with one out when Ben Revere reached on a fielding error, Jimmy Rollins singled and Carlos Ruiz was hit by a pitch. But after Utley’s sacrifice fly, Ryan Howard flied out to center and the inning was over. In the sixth, after Marlon Byrd led off with a single, Domonic Brown hit an RBI single to right to bring the Phils within one run. But Revere followed by grounding into a double play to end the inning. In the seventh inning, after Rollins doubled, the Phils had runners on the corners with two outs but Howard grounded out to second. All of this brings me back to Ryne Sandberg’s comments about “the fundamentals.” You’ve got to get hits and you’ve got to catch balls. If you don’t, you lose.
Elsewhere, the 76ers had 7 picks in last week’s NBA Draft. General Manager Sam Hinkie showed with his choices that he is intent upon building for the future though he likely frustrated the Philadelphia fan base with his decisions. At Number 3, the team selected former Kansas center Joel Embiid, a player of higher caliber that last year’s pick, Nerlens Noel. But with Embiid they have put themselves in a similar situation as they did with Noels. The Sixers held Noels out for the entire 2013-14 season due to a torn ACL. With Embiid, it’s likely that they will have to wait for him until January as he must recover from recent surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot. He also has a history of back injury. Apparently, Sam Hinkie and his management team hope that the 6’11” Noel, paired with the 7’, 250-pound Embiid, will form a strong front court partnership that they can build around for the future. However the fan base, which still smarts from the saga written here by pay-me-but-don’t-play-me Andrew Bynum, has got to be pretty frustrated. Basically they are being told they will have to wait another year to see a real team take the floor. In other draft news, the 76ers also chose Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton with the tenth pick and later traded him to Orlando for Croatian forward Dario Saric and two future draft picks. It seems that Mr. Hinkie is a patient man. The fans may not be.