NEW YORK - If you haven't really arrived until they notice you in New York, then Jimmy Rollins made his official major-league debut yesterday.
"Jim-my Roll-ins, Jim-my Roll-ins," came the mocking singsong from the stands at Shea Stadium. The fans added a verb occasionally, just for effect, but it wasn't all that necessary. Fifty thousand people chanting your name is testament enough.
Yesterday, the fans had been primed upon arrival. The local media outlets, never ones to let any turn go unstoned, have reminded fans for weeks and weeks that Rollins declared the Phillies "the team to beat" in the NL East this season. How audacious!
"I said what I said," Rollins said. "There's no reason to have to defend it. I had a lot of fun out there today."
He was the only one. The rest of the Phillies endured another Day of the Living Dead, falling to 1-6 for the season with a come-from-ahead loss that will sting all the way through a day off today.
Yesterday's game wasn't about Rollins all that much, but his proud boast put him into the spotlight, and then a bad, eighth-inning error brought the fans together in song.
"The crowd is great. They're supporting their team. That's what they're supposed to be doing," Rollins said.
It would be nice if the Phillies started doing what they are supposed to be doing, but yesterday was another strange, maddening day at the ballpark. They started out 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position, of course. They had the bases loaded with nobody out in both the third and fourth innings, and scored just one run. They seemed destined to miss opportunities, waste a good Cole Hamels start, and give the game nervously to the bullpen again.
That was before Ryan Howard awoke with a great snort like a rhinoceros and lasered a three-run home run through the wind and over the right-field fence in the sixth for a two-run lead.
Suddenly, this was a game that could mean something. And then, suddenly again, it became a game that meant only more of the same.
""We do some good things, then all of a sudden our game falls apart," manager Charlie Manuel said after the ugly 11-5 loss was complete. ". . . We've got a hell of a long ways to go, but we need to get things fixed."
If you want to pick apart the game and find the problems, set aside a few hours for the task. The focus will return to Manuel, as it always does, and his decision to use Geoff Geary to finish the seventh inning and then pitch the eighth as the setup man for a Tom Gordon save. It didn't work out as planned, though.
Manuel could have used Jon Lieber or Francisco Rosario, but thought unfamiliar relief roles weren't best tried in the eighth inning for the first time. He didn't have Antonio Alfonseca or Ryan Madson available, he said, and that left Matt Smith, Clay Condrey and Geary.
He used Smith in the seventh, then Geary to finish that inning and work the eighth. Unfortunately for the Phillies, Geary wasn't very sharp. When Jose Reyes hit a high hopper to Rollins' backhand side with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth, the Mets were going to at least tie the score. Even hurrying, Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley couldn't have turned a double play on the ball.
Rollins hurried, though, and the ball bounced off his glove for an error. A wild pitch and a walk later, Geary was gone, Lieber came in to compete the carnage, and the fans didn't forget whose error had kept the inning alive.
"Jim-my Roll-ins, Jim-my Roll-ins."
Perhaps this is just the first round of a very long title fight this season, one that the Phillies will come back and dominate before it is over. Perhaps Rollins will be proved right eventually.
"Our record doesn't show that, but that's the beauty of a season," Rollins said. "There are times you are up, and times you are down. We're not where we want to be, but we know we're a lot better than that."
If Rollins is right about the Phillies, now would be the time to start indicating that. The bullpen does not have the manager's confidence, obviously, and the offense is still unreliable in crucial situations. The Phillies' own fans are on the verge of mutiny.
"They never believe in us until we start winning anyway," Rollins said. "What's important now is getting some wins, getting our record back to .500 and going from there."
What Jimmy Rollins liked yesterday was that a stadium full of hostile fans knew his name. If the team keeps going as it is, he'll get to experience that every night in Philadelphia, too.