SINCE HIS arrival 18 months ago, Pat Gillick has lived a charmed life in the City of Brotherly Love. Just as Wes Helms will receive a grace period
because his last name does not end in Bell, so too has Gillick been allowed to run the Phillies with little or no criticism because his name does not end in Wade.
And because his manager is Charlie Manuel.
Well, that should stop now. The team that has again stumbled to a 1-6 start, this time amid lofty expectations, does so with his fingerprints smudged all over the place. Freddy Garcia, the 17-game winner acquired over the winter, has a bum arm. Jon Lieber, whom Gillick anticipated trading after signing Garcia and Adam Eaton, is instead a disgruntled and so far ineffective $7.833 million middle reliever.
He's not alone in his ineffectiveness. The career of 39-year-old Tom Gordon, the closer signed by Gillick to replace Billy Wagner and who will be paid $7 million this season, seems to be coming to a screeching - and for Phillies fans, harrowing - end.
As he did last spring, Ryan Madson has struggled at the start - and this time in his more familiar role as a setup man. Even rubber-armed Geoff Geary, whose strength is his control, tossed one, "Bull Durham"-like, over the catcher's head Monday at Shea.
Gillick was well aware of the need for bullpen help in the
offseason. He also correctly pointed out that it wasn't just his concern, that lots of teams needed it and that it was hard to get. He dangled Lieber out there. There was reported interest in Aaron Rowand.
He failed to get significant help.
He came to us with a nickname of "Stand Pat," his reputation
for driving too hard of a bargain preceding him. True or not, the Phillies entered spring training with one notable addition to their bullpen: Antonio Alfonseca. Coming off a season in which he experienced arm trouble. Alfonseca will turn 35 Monday. He was signed Jan. 23, 4 days after the Braves traded first baseman Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh for hard-throwing lefty Mike Gonzalez.
The Braves, who blew 29 of 67 save opportunities a year ago, appear to have addressed their bullpen needs this year. First, they re-signed closer Bob Wickman, whom they acquired in a July trade with Cleveland, to a $6.5 million deal. In early December, they traded lefthanded starter Horacio Ramirez to Seattle for setup man Rafael Soriano, then re-upped Soriano for $1.2 million.
Gonzalez will cost $2.35 million.
John Schuerholz calls this year's Braves bullpen as good as any he's had in 17 years as their GM. Against the Phillies, it showed. The Braves' bullpen was outstanding as the Braves rallied against the Phils twice in sweeping the first three games.
"We tried to address what we thought was our fatal flaw in our bullpen and we believe we've done that," Schuerholz told the New York Daily News during the Mets series that followed. "From the time we finished the reconstruction of our bullpen, the attitude and the countenance of our players in Atlanta changed."
There is, of course, the danger that will happen in reverse here. The Phillies have held late-inning leads in more than half of their games so far, then watched their bullpen melt them away. Jimmy Rollins was correct when he said his pitching staff would give his team a chance to win
every night. Except for Eaton's outing, that has been a constant.
What he underestimated is how brittle the bullpen was going to be.
Can the season be saved? Well, Lieber is still here, as is Rowand. But neither is the kind of cheap help that teams look for, especially now, and that difficult arms market this winter now seems a near-impossible one. Manuel, who on Opening Day looked like a man in Game 161, made a not-so-veiled request for help from the front office after Monday's ugly loss.
"We've got to fix our 'pen," he said.
And if they don't? Well, it's a good bet Charlie won't see Game 161. Like his laissez-faire managing or loathe it, Manuel may meet his end because of the inaction of a boss who came here 18 months ago as a skilled team builder, a proven winner.
We're waiting to see solid evidence of both.
And our love has just about run out. *
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