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In a Rut
It was 1998 all over again – nice start, bad finish, third place; this time 35 games behind the Atlanta Braves (103-59). And joy of joys, the Philly guys got to open the season with a four-game series in Atlanta, facing the Braves bullet-proof rotation of Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, and Kevin Millwood. Braves manager, Bobby Cox, apparently intent on going undefeated, declined the Maddux-Schilling opening day matchup that had cost him a game last year, and picked Tom Glavine to deal with the Phillies’ horse. Too bad, Bobby, you lose again; Schilling was not overpowering as before, but he was good enough as the Phillies grabbed the league lead with a 7-4 win.
Game Two had to be a joke – Greg Maddux against the Phils’ Chad Ojea; you’re kidding, Francona, right? Maddux added a homerun of his own to the 11-3 Braves’ romp. Smoltz shut out the Phils in Game Three 4-0, as Carlton Loewer made it respectable, and the Phillies got a series split when newcomer Paul Byrd stopped the Braves on two hits in a 6-3 win.
A decent start, and a steady march through May, June, and July, though there never was much doubt that the Braves were still the class of the league as they cruised to their eighth consecutive division title. But a pair of lopsided Phillies’ wins on August 24 and 25 at the Vet, caused some heads to turn, and a small flicker of hope to flair. San Diego was the victim of 18-2, and 15-1 Phillies’ blowouts. Paul Byrd and Robert Person did the pitching, and Rico Brogna, Bobby Abreu, Mike Lieberthal, and Scott Rolen much of the hitting in those fun-filled runaways.
What happened next defies explanation – from August 26 to September 14, the Phillies played 19 games and lost 18 of them. On September 3rd at the Vet, Curt Schilling (15-5) stopped a seven-game losing streak with a 10-2 win over Cincinnati, but the next day, the Reds pummeled Paul Byrd (14-8), and four relievers for nine home runs in a 22-3 rout that triggered an 11-game Phillies’ losing streak.
Manager Francona needed to work on his game strategy.
Mike Lieberthal won a Gold Glove for the league’s best defensive catcher.By max blue