New Manager, Still Last
Terry Francona gave it his best shot, but after an 8-16 April, it was only a question of how far back his team would finish. The answer: 33 games back, fifth in a five team division.
So how do you root for a losing ballclub? If you’re Max Blue you write about it.
August 7, 1997
You probably been wondering why it’s already the first week in August and I been quiet about the Phillies since we came back from the London trip in May. The problem is I don’t mind talking about a team that is maybe 10, or even 15 games out of the race, which you figure there is still hope because in the past teams have made up that kind of deficit as late as August. But sometime in June, before the season was half over, the Phyllis dropped maybe 40 games under .500 and 32 games behind the Atlanta Knaves, and even I could see this is hopeless, although I never stopped looking for the start of a 10-game winning streak.
But lately, though they are dead as Tim McCarver’s arm, they are starting to twitch when the kid catcher, Lieberthal leads all National League hitters with a .400 average in July after hitting less than .200 for April, May, and June. Also they got this rookie, Rolen, at third base who is playing way better than Mike Schmidt when he was a rookie althjough nobody wants to say so because of a jinx. And the other thing is, all of a sudden the pitching don’t stink so bad, and they have won something like eight out of 10. So when I find out they are playing a day game with the Houston Astros who come to town in first place in the NL Central, I say to Liddy, “Liddy, how about we go to the game?”
But Liddy don’t want no part of these losers so she tries to think of a good reason why we shouldn’t go even though the weather is a perfect 84 degrees with no wind and not much humidity, “Loo,” she says, “no way I am going to that game and pay money to sit in the nosebleed section, and besides, I can’t stand to look at them losers.” But I’m telling her we can get good seats because with the team so bad, who’s buying tickets anyway, and finally she says okay though she don’t seem too happy about it.
The game was a beauty although Liddy slept through the middle innings when the pitchers got into their grooves and not much was going on. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, after we all stretched, things started to pick up when Rex, “the Wonder Dog”, Hudler got a pitch in his nitro zone and hit it up against the MAB paint sign just below the upper deck in left field with a man on to tie the game at four. Wonder Dog is a story here in Philly because here is a guy who though he is already 36 years old, gets a two-year contract for $2.3 million, and has just spent 50 games on the disabled list because of pulled hamstring muscles and a messed up knee. He comes into the game today with nine hits all year, hitting .145.
After the Phils take the lead in the bottom of the eighth on a two-out out hit by Kevin Stocker, and a blown save by Bottalico in the ninth, we go into the 11th tied at five and Liddy is getting antsy. She remembers the time we watched a 16-inning game against the Cardinals. But the Wonder Dog strikes again with a game-winning line drive to the left-center gap that scores Ricky Otero from second, and the bench erupts and rushes onto the field to get a whack at the Dog’s back after he crosses first base in a couple of jack-in-the-box leaps that must have made his hamstrings wonder what the hell he was doing.
Later we see it on video tape, and there is the Wonder Dog being mobbed by his teammates, and when the camera zooms in to show manager Francona giving a big bear hug, we see that Dog is actually crying, and the tears are real. Let us stop to think about this for a minute; here is a team more than 30 games out of first place in the first week of August acting like they just won game seven of the Series. What is all this talk about losers?
These dogs is wonders.By max blue
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- Kevin Stocker, Mike Lieberthal, Philadelphia Phillies, Rex Hudler, Ricky Bottalico, Scott Rolen, Terry Francona, Tim McCarver