Bill Conlin: Phillies clinch, now it's time for a laugh

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Jamie Moyer and Pedro Martinez celebrate after the Phillies beat the Houston Astros last night to clinch the NL East title. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

WHEN I'M KING of the World . . .

Permission to exhale will be granted when the magic number reaches one . . . However, gallows humor will be banned once the lead of a first-place team is shrinking more rapidly than the magic number . . . Heard this gallows-humor classic on the grapevine after Monday night's prairie-flat effort against the Astros and Yorman Bazardo, not to be confused with Antonio Bastardo, a legitimate prospect. Anyway, a beat writer and a Phils broadcaster were waiting for the elevator after the debacle. Beat Man: "I don't think the Division Series is gonna last very long." Broadcaster, shrugging: "Who's gonna beat the Braves?" Fortunately, Charlie Manuel made his Mohammed-goes-to-the-mountain clubhouse speech Tuesday and all is suddenly at peace with the world . . . A champagne-drenched peace, as it turned out when the Phillies clinched the NL East last night.

There was a 1971 film starring a young Al Pacino called "The Panic in Needle Park." Scoring heroin, even during a shortage, wasn't everything, it was the only thing. Want evidence that MLB's random drug testing has scared a lot of juicers straight? Just check the American League home-run leaderboard. It's Oct. 1 and not a 40-homer guy going into last night's games - despite the AL East homer havens called home by the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays. Are you kidding me? And last year Miguel Cabrera led the AL with a 15-inch-mound-era total of 37. In 10 seasons from 2007 back, the AL leaders had 54, 54, 48, 43, 47, 57, 52, 47, 48, 56. As Arte Johnson used to say on "Laugh-In": "Verrrrrrrrry interesting." Arte is a nod to '64 Collapse survivors.

When I'm King of the World . . .

Ballclubs running out of gas and other bodily vapors in the stretch crucible will adopt Jim Fregosi's "Lose one to win four" strategy . . . It's tough to rest a player when a lineup has so many stars and so little bench as these Phillies. Pedro Feliz has Gold Glove skills at third, usually bats No. 7 and has 79 RBI. Five of the six guys batting ahead of him went to the All-Star Game and Jimmy Rollins has had an All-Star second half. So who do you sit? Fregosi had no such problem in 1993 and he frequently ran out lineups liberally sprinkled with reserves. Here's a '93 example: The Phils had lost two straight and were starting to look mortal during a club-record sprint to an imposing lead in the East. On June 17, Fregosi started this lineup at home against the Marlins: Dykstra, Thompson, Jordan, Daulton, Incaviglia, Duncan, Batiste, Millette. Phils lost their third straight, then won six of seven to lead the East by 9 1/2 games. Fregosi's reasoning was simple. "You win two of three over the course of a season, you'll drink a lot of champagne," adding, "There are times when you need to take a strategic loss, just so you can give your regulars a blow. And that goes for the pitchers, too." In 1964, the more the days dwindled down to a precious few the more Gene Mauch treated each game like a holy war. He made more awkward moves than a roadhouse pole dancer. How might it have turned out had he taken a deep breath and ran Ray Culp or Art Mahaffey out there to give Jim Bunning and Chris Short the extra day their arms were begging to have? . . .

Pat and Doris Gillick recently returned to Seattle from a vacation in Italy. Pat said, "I just wanted to get away from baseball for a while." Hmm. Italy was hosting the baseball World Cup at the time. So, if the Phillies sign some guy whose name ends in a vowel, don't be surprised. The architect of the Phillies' 2008 World Series champs hints he might be induced to take the executive reins of a team - if the opportunity and team are right - and the job is on the West Coast. Well, that whittles the field to - reading north to south - Mariners, Giants, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Padres.

When I'm King of the World . . .

Joe Paterno, or his successor, will never schedule an Al Golden Temple team the week before the Nittany Lions play Iowa . . . Give an assist to the Owls for Iowa's physical mauling of Penn State. Temple lost big on the scoreboard, but gave a long afternoon to a young State offensive line and spent much of the game forcing quarterback Daryll Clark to run for his life. And the Owls' relentless hitting created some key wounded and walking wounded, including Butkus Award favorite Sean Lee and explosive 'backer Navorro Bowman. Lee didn't play against Iowa and might miss Illinois Saturday. Bowman was used sparingly. True freshman tailback Adam Robinson shredded the middle of the patchwork Lions defense . . . Who says playing the Wildcat is tough? I figure there are about 20 high school QBs in the area who could have handled the package Andy Reid gave Michael Vick for his debut. Take a long snap, hand to the running back next to him. Fake a sweep and hand off. Line up under center and hand off. Yawn . . . But you and I both know that is not all there is or will be. Can't wait for the Statue of Liberty Place.

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