May 01, 2005

May 1 going on October 1

Larry's last laugh: Scouts said the Phillies played tight under Larry Bowa, but this season they're laboring even more.

The hardcore award for yesterday goes to the 50 or so phans that stuck around CBP after the final two-hour delay. They must have been bloggers.

I wasn't quite as rugged, dry and at home in bed, falling asleep through the UPN-57 filler programming, including reruns of "Martin" and the "Tim McCarver Show." The game was called around midnight, ending with a 2-1 loss. In between, I flipped on "SportsCenter," watching highlights of this new and exciting baseball achievement they're calling a "home run." It's really something.

Six innings was enough to make Dontrelle Willis (5-0) baseball's first five-game winner. He hasn't given the Phils an inch this season.

Meanwhile, Vicente Padilla (0-3) had his best outing of 2005, but still looks far from the strikeout pitcher of the past, wracking up seven Ks in three starts.

So it wasn't your classic night of baseball. Even more miserable than the rain was news that Jim Thome left the game with back spasms. There's a chance he could go on the DL with rookie Ryan Howard called up to replace him. Any way you spin it, losing Thome can only mean tougher odds of winning ballgames.

One month of play feels like six. The Phils are five games back in a division that's showing early separation. Today they have their hands full when they face Josh Beckett and have a great chance to go six down before the day is over.

The challenge now, as a writer, is balancing rational thinking with impatience and emotion. Yes, the season is early, but they've done this to us before.

One reason not to panic is knowing slow starts are nothing new to many of the key players – Thome, Bobby Abreu and David Bell.

But there's something a little different this season. The excuses have been thoroughly exhausted. Larry Bowa, the most convenient excuse for underachieving, is gone, and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is gone.

One central theme I wanted to carry forth in 2005 was the idea that winning rests squarely on the shoulders of the players. This is basically the same team picked to win the division last year, and picked by some to win it this season.

No matter what critics say about the job GM Ed Wade has done assembling the parts, the Phils are fielding a core group that should compete, one that should average more than three runs a game, playing under the field boss they wanted. While Wade is sure to be gone if they fail to reach the postseason, 2005 is all about Thome, Abreu, Burrell, Rollins, Lieberthal and Bell.

I've been wrong on a number of preseason statements, but none more than this one: Under Charlie Manuel, the Phillies will stay loose all season.

With fans taking no prisoners, they’re even tighter, and playing even worse, and not even Charlie can save them.


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