Good morning. I ducked out of New York City a day early. Marcus Hayes will be filling in on the beat today as I prepare to fly to Pittsburgh. Here's what's percolating this morning:
1) While yesterday's game-ending triple play was really just a confluence of bizarre circumstances that happened to result in one of the rarest moments in the game of baseball, it was also a reminder of how much went right for Brad Lidge last season when he saved all 41 of his opportunities during the regular season. Don't get me wrong - it would be a huge mistake to credit the success of last season to luck and the struggles of this season to misfortune, but it is important to keep in mind how much went right last year. Remember Shane Victorino's throw-out at home to save a save in Atlanta? And Jimmy Rollins' diving stop/double play to clinch the division. Lidge suggested yesterday that the karmic balance of his universe might be correcting itself. We'll see. . .
2) Paul Bako, who has caught each one of Cliff Lee's four starts this season, appeared on Daily News Live last week. During the interview, I asked him to name the pitcher that Lee reminded him most of. Bako has caught some great ones in his time. He was on the Braves with Greg Maddux, and last season caught the Reds' two young stars, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. But Bako answered with a pitcher whom he has never caught before.
"He reminds me of a left-handed Roy Halladay," Bako said.
It was an interesting comparison, given the Phillies' immense pre-trade-deadline interest in the Blue Jays ace. But it fits. Lee does not look like your typical lefty. He pounds the strike zone, throws effectively to both sides of the plate, and brings to the mound the attitude of a right-handed power pitcher. He is also a bona fide ace, which the Phillies have not had since perhaps Curt Schilling. As good as Cole Hamels was last season, let me ask you this question -- did you ever feel the way prior to Hamels' start that you do on a day like today when Lee is scheduled to take the mound against the Mets?
3) That last question I wrote is unfair to Hamels. But only because the expectations that fans and media placed on him may have been a tad unrealistic. I won't say the expectations were unfair, because when a guy wins the World Series MVP and then signs a multi-year contract, they come with expectations. But as I wrote in my game story on Friday night, Hamels is still just 25 years old, and he is still maturing into the type of no-doubt-about-it, top-of-the-rotation pitcher that Lee has become over the past two years.
In 2005, at the age of 26, anothing young lefty had what looked to be a break-out season. He went 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA, striking out 143 and walking 52 in a career-high 202.0 innings of work. The next year, he posted a 4.40 ERA and his opposing batting average rose from .251 to .278. Then in 2007, his ERA jumped to 6.29, his BAA to .284, and he found himself relegated to the minor leagues.
That lefty was Cliff Lee.
4) Brett Myers is scheduled to throw his second rehab outing today in Lakewood. Yesterday's was rained out.
5) The Mets are now 15.5 games out of the National League East lead.
6) Charlie Manuel has admitted over the past couple seasons that it sometimes feels as if someone else has to pry Chase Utley out of his cold, dead hands to get him out of the line-up. But Manuel knows how to pick his spots. Eric Bruntlett was 6-for-11 off of Oliver Perez heading into yesterday's game, while Utley had struggled. I'd say it worked out.
7) The Phillies enter today's action one game behind the Dodgers for the best record in the National League. While that would be significant if the two teams met in the NLCS, it could be irrelevant in deciding the first round playoff pairings. Currently, the Rockies lead the Wild Card race. Because the Rockies and Dodgers both play in the NL West, they can not meet in the first round. So if the Wild Card does come out of the West, the Dodgers will end up playing the Cardinals regardless, assuming St. Louis holds on for the NL Central crown. For what it's worth, the Dodgers are 2-5 against the Cardinals this season, while the Phillies are 4-2 against the Rockies.