Phillies Confidential: The Untold Inside Story of the Championship 2008 Season

Phillies Confidential: The Untold Inside Story of the Championship 2008 Season

by Gary Matthews, Scott Lauber

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781600782022
Publisher: Triumph Books
Publication date: 11/14/2008
Pages: 214
Sales rank: 1,262,316
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Gary Matthews is a former professional baseball player who spent 16 seasons in the majors with the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and Seattle Mariners. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1973 and MVP of the 1983 NL Championship Series. He is currently a television analyst for the Philadelphia Phillies. He lives in Chicago. Scott Lauber is the Phillies' beat writer for the Wilmington News Journal. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, and he won an Associated Press Sports Editors Award in 2005.

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Phillies Confidential

The Untold Inside Story of the 2008 Championship Season


By Gary Matthew, Scott Lauber

Triumph Books

Copyright © 2008 Gary Matthews and Scott Lauber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60078-202-2



CHAPTER 1

The Off-Season

OCTOBER 9, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — Amid the elation of the division-clinching champagne party at Citizens Bank Park, team president David Montgomery lavished praise upon manager Charlie Manuel for directing the first-place finish despite a 4–11 start, a spate of injuries, and a patchwork pitching staff — all in the last year of his contract.

Tonight, Montgomery put the Phillies' money where his mouth was.

After joining his agent Pat Rooney in a long day of negotiations, Manuel signed a two-year, $3 million contract extension with a club option for 2010. The Phillies always wanted to retain Manuel, but with general manager Pat Gillick planning to step aside once his contract expires after the 2008 season, it wasn't certain they would make Manuel a multiyear offer. And after working all of 2007 as a lame duck, Manuel likely would've bristled at a one-year deal.

"I'm happy he's back," closer Brett Myers said. "I'm able to talk to Charlie about anything, and that's important. The fact is, he took us where we needed to be this year. Maybe not to the ultimate goal, but he got us into the playoffs. He kept this team together with all the injuries and kept the mood positive. It's good to know he'll do that for years to come."

Manuel, 63, wasn't the popular choice in November 2004. Fans wanted the Phillies to hire Jim Leyland, so they often derided Manuel for his Virginia twang and down-home personality and criticized his in-game strategy.

But he has steered the Phillies to a three-year record of 262–224, and last month, he reached the 250-win mark in fewer games than any manager in club history since Pat Moran in 1918. He's also the first Phillies manager to oversee three consecutive winning seasons since Danny Ozark (1975–1978).

And during the Phillies' on-field celebration of their unlikely division crown, fans finally saluted Manuel with chants of "Char-lie! Char-lie!"

Manuel's coaching staff — Rich Dubee (pitching), Milt Thompson (hitting), Jimy Williams (bench), Davey Lopes (first base), Steve Smith (third base), Ramon Henderson (bullpen), and Mick Billmeyer (catching) — also will return in 2008.

* * *

I'm glad they brought him back. What he does is he brings a calmness to his baseball team. Not only that, he sticks to players. Like when Ryan Howard wasn't going good, people were saying, "Sit him down a day," or, "How can you keep playing him?" Then, he winds up with 40-something bombs and all that damage, and it's, like, okay. There are a few other managers you can put into that category. Bobby Cox, the respect that he gets from his players like [Tom] Glavine, [John] Smoltz, [Greg] Maddux, and the way that the players play. Bobby understands that by letting guys do what they want, he'll get the most out of them, instead of someone coming in and saying, "Okay, no golf clubs on the plane." For me, it was always Bobby Cox, John McNamara. He was kind of a players' manager, too. He let you go out and play and let you do what you needed to do. It didn't matter back then with the Big Red Machine. They were just pouncing on guys. Those guys were an intimidating bunch. If you had mediocre pitchers, you got exploited. Plain and simple. They beat the heck out of you.

Regardless of whether they made the playoffs or not, I already saw the way players would play for Charlie. And besides that, the things that they say. At one particular point or another, he's probably had to get on each and every one of them — I'm talking about his superstars and so on, the guys who make the team really go. The intangible for the managers, a lot of times, is that they get stuck with players they don't particularly want. They have to prove to upper management that they're not really good players. A lot of times, upper management is making deals, and they're looking at paper and saying, "Here's a guy we want you to have," instead of asking guys who've been around a particular player or coach. How about gathering information? He's gotten stuck with some of those guys, and still, he's been able to overcome for whatever reason. Again, I'm sure Ryan obviously believes in his ability, but more importantly he is happy to be around someone who isn't fickle. All the guys appreciate that. That's the respect factor that he has. These guys have a tremendous amount of respect for each other, and that comes from Charlie. They never put the blame on anybody. They never say, "Can you believe this guy here can't do this?" How great is that? There's something to be said for that. Every team I've been on, you'll have guys who will say things about a player and the effort that he's giving or whatever. But I've never heard a guy say that here. When Charlie makes a move, they pat the other guy on the back and say, "Go get 'em." That comes down from Charlie. That's the effect he has.


NOVEMBER 7, 2007

ORLANDO — For months, the Phillies have been talking to the Houston Astros about trading for one of their relievers. Sometimes, they were focused on Dan Wheeler. Others, they discussed Chad Qualls. But there was one pitcher who really caught their attention.

Brad Lidge.

They finally got him.

Over lunch today at the general managers meetings in Orlando, assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and new Astros GM Ed Wade worked out the framework for a deal that would send Lidge and utility infielder Eric Bruntlett to the Phillies for speedy outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary, and third-base prospect Mike Costanzo. By evening, the trade was finalized.

In 2004 and 2005, Lidge was among baseball's most dominant closers, converting 71 saves in 79 chances and posting a 2.07 ERA. But he has struggled since surrendering Albert Pujols's titanic home run in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series. In the past two seasons, he has converted only 51 of 66 save chances and posted a 4.37 ERA.

The Phillies asked about Lidge in April, when their bullpen was such a mess that they turned Opening Day starter Brett Myers into a reliever. But then-Astros general manager Tim Purpura insisted on restoring Lidge's confidence, not trading him. The Astros fired Purpura late in the season, and when Wade, the Phillies' former GM, got the job, he showed greater interest in dealing a reliever. The Phillies were content to start 2008 with Myers as their closer, but they concluded that the paper-thin free-agent market for starting pitching left them better suited to obtain a closer and move Myers back to the rotation.

Lidge, who made $5.35 million in 2007 and is due for a raise through salary arbitration, had knee surgery last month. Still feeling burned by the Chicago White Sox in the Freddy Garcia trade a year ago, the Phillies consulted Lidge's doctors and felt confident that he'll be ready for spring training. Phillies pro scout Gordon Lakey, a longtime advisor to GM Pat Gillick, also reported that Lidge's fastball velocity was up in September, an indication that his arm is healthy.

There was only one thing left to do.

Gillick and Charlie Manuel called Myers at his Jacksonville, Florida, home to make sure he was cool with moving back to the rotation. Myers, a starter throughout his career, has grown to relish the closer role and took great pride in recording the last out of the NL East–clinching victory. At first, Myers was shocked — "It was kind of like the phone went dead," Manuel said — but ultimately, he understood.

"We were able to fill two needs," Amaro said, "and we did it with one move."

* * *

Everybody knows the guy has a good arm. When I was coaching with the Cubs, he was lights-out whenever he came in against us. If you saw this guy in the ninth inning, I mean, it was game over. He's got a hard fastball and a really good slider. That's his bread-and-butter pitch. You hear guys talk about a change of scenery. I believe in that, absolutely. It does wonders for a lot of people. It could turn out to be a great thing for Michael Bourn. He wasn't going to play every day here. Now, he goes over to Houston, and he's their starting center fielder. So it's a real blessing for him. A lot of times, younger players don't always recognize that you don't get these opportunities to have a job given to you. Now, when it is, you have to work hard to keep it. Michael is lucky because they've got guys around him that can hit. All they're really asking him to do is catch the ball and run the bases, and we know he can do those things. We've seen him do it here. But, pretty soon, they're going to say, "Michael, we need you go chip in a few hits here." If he can get on, he can lead this league in stolen bases.

With Lidge, there's nothing wrong with his arm. We know that. He just needed to get the confidence back to the point where, during the last two years, maybe he wasn't throwing his fastball enough. He had something bad happen to him on the field, and maybe that shook his confidence a little bit. I mean, it's a humbling game. In Houston, for a while, the game was easy for him. You ask him the difference the last two years, he would probably say there's no difference except for him not making the pitches that he should've been making, maybe because he was hurting a little bit with the knee. But coming over here could be the best thing for him, and moving Brett back [to the rotation], you figure that should help, too.


NOVEMBER 10, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — If not for lefty reliever J.C. Romero pitching nearly every day during the final three weeks of last season, the Phillies almost certainly wouldn't have made the playoffs.

They rewarded him tonight with a new contract.

Less splashy than trading for Brad Lidge, but maybe equally important, the Phillies re-signed Romero to a three-year, $12 million deal with a $4.75 million club option for 2011. Had Romero hit the open market (the Phillies had two more days to negotiate exclusively with him), he likely would've had several suitors.

Not bad, considering he was unemployed five months ago.

Romero, 30, signed a minor league contract with the Phillies in late June after being released by the Boston Red Sox. In 51 games with the Phils, he posted a 1.24 ERA, limited left-handers to a .125 average (5-for-40), and stabilized a bullpen role that young lefties Matt Smith and Fabio Castro failed to fill earlier in the season.

* * *

J.C. is a good pitcher, no doubt about it. But with some of the other situations that he was in, especially there in Boston, he was just not getting the opportunity. And, let's face it, being in the right place at the right time was big for him last year and pitching very well. Boston didn't have a spot for him, so the Phillies were able to cash in on that. That's how you find guys sometimes. To me, the good managers are good at that. They look at the stronger teams, the teams may have an abundance of talent in an area and have some decisions to make. You could see that J.C. pitches with a lot of heart, a lot of guts, and gets a lot of guys out on pitches that aren't strikes. The fact is, he can get that because he throws early strikes. We've seen him too when he's thrown strikes in a hitting count and come at them with fastballs, and they've been hit and hit hard. But he's smart enough to recognize that isn't the pitch he wants to throw. But, again, being the only lefty there, they really almost had no choice but to bring him back. They're going to have to have a lefty, if not two or maybe even three, in the bullpen. You need to have that. So they had to bring him back, especially with what he did down the stretch. He was an integral part of them making the playoffs.


NOVEMBER 20, 2007

PHILADELPHIA — After being crowned National League MVP last year, Ryan Howard noticed a change in the way people treated him. For one thing, he began getting recognized wherever he went.

Jimmy Rollins doubts that will happen to him.

"Fortunately," Rollins said, "I'm still under 5'7". So I can hide behind a lot of people."

But in 2007 the smallest of the Phillies made the biggest impact. Rollins started every game and played all but 17 innings. He was a Gold Glove shortstop and became the first player with at least 200 hits, 30 doubles, 15 triples, 30 home runs, and 30 stolen bases in a season.

Oh, he also boasted in January that the Phils would be the "team to beat" in the NL East.

Then he delivered.

For all that, Rollins was anointed today as the NL MVP by the Baseball Writers Association of America, receiving 16 of 32 first-place votes and edging Colorado Rockies slugger Matt Holliday by 17 points in the closest balloting since Terry Pendleton defeated Barry Bonds by 15 points in 1991.

"Jimmy Rollins labeled the Phillies the 'team to beat' in the NL East, and then he backed it up," said voter Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News. "He particularly rose to the occasion in head-to-head matchups with the Mets, batting .346. That's what an MVP does."

Rollins, 30, batted .335 with 31 runs, eight home runs, and 22 RBIs over the final 34 games, and in the season finale, he singled, stole two bases, scored in the first inning, and added an RBI triple to help the Phillies clinch the NL East title. Overall, he batted .296 with 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, 94 RBIs, and 41 steals.

"He just overall carried us," right fielder Shane Victorino said. "He said from day one that we were the team to beat, and he led us all the way."

* * *

I'm so happy that he won the MVP because he did just about everything that a guy can do in a season. Not only that, but he put the team on his shoulders when [Ryan] Howard was out, when [Chase] Utley was out. It started in spring training. He said, "We're the team to beat," and then he went out there and backed it up. In talking with him about it, I said, "The statement you made was great. And I don't think it's going to bother you, but it may bother some of your teammates because of the pressure." But he took away all of that with the way that he actually played and acted. In the first game in New York [in April], he made a big error, cost them the game, and then he stood up there and answered all those questions. I think the New York writers gained a lot of respect for Jimmy Rollins last year, and he got a lot of their votes because of what he said, because of the way he played, and because he was a stand-up guy when it came to answering all those questions. They never forgot that. He got a lot of votes with that. They were trying to give it to Holliday, and Holliday had a great year. But those guys knew what this kid here meant to the season and the league, from the triples and the doubles and the home runs to the excellent defensive play. He won a "triple crown" — Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, MVP. You can't do any better than that.

He brings something to the table. Fielding, obviously, he's a Gold Glover. Base running, he's a very smart base runner. It's his whole presence. I've likened him to Willie Mays because it's like everybody feels better when he's on the team. He does so many things to help your team win. I've told him that. He just smiles. When you're talking to a lot of guys one-on-one, you talk about how they could've played in that age. For me, J-Roll obviously has been told his whole life, "You can't do this. You're too small. You shouldn't play shortstop. Go to second base." But he's just a marvelous player. That's why the four [living] Philadelphia Negro Leagues guys [Harold Gould, Mahlon Duckett, Stanley Glenn, and Bill Cash] marvel over this guy because he reminds them of different people they played with. For J-Roll, who's not big in stature, what he does for his team, it just can't be measured. He definitely deserved the MVP because he had a great year. I don't think you could find a guy who was more valuable to his team.


DECEMBER 12, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO — During baseball's annual winter meetings last week in Nashville, general manager Pat Gillick said it was a "long shot" that the Phillies would re-sign Aaron Rowand. Deep down, though, he sensed the market for Rowand had begun receding. Fewer teams, it seemed, were willing to make a five-year offer to a free-agent center fielder whose hard-nosed style leaves him prone to injury.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Phillies Confidential by Gary Matthew, Scott Lauber. Copyright © 2008 Gary Matthews and Scott Lauber. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Prologue,
1. The Off-Season,
2. Spring Training,
3. Opening Day and April,
4. May,
5. June,
6. July,
7. August,
8. September,
9. The Postseason,
Acknowledgments,
About the Authors,

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