Game 18: Philadelphia Phillies
For a well-educated guy, Sam can be quite naïve. Kitty and I met him and his whanau in the costly Hyatt Regency hotel on the banks of the rolling Delaware River. As the temperature had again soared into the high 90’s we thought that a cool drink would be the order of the day (put on Sam’s tab) before adjourning to the closest station on the SEPTA (Southern Pennsylvania Transport Authority). Once again the train was congested and we had to stand. Sam believing to be the guru of balance decided that he could stand unsupported. Wrong Sam, that’s what they have the hand rails for. Only some fleet footed work from yours truly saved my mate from an inglorious face plant. Apart from this, it was an uneventful and much more comfortable trip than New York, to the last southbound station on the Broad Street Line, Pattison Street Station and into Citizens Bank Park.
The park, which has been the home to the Phillies since 2004, is amongst an immense sports complex. Not only is there the ballpark, but also a football stadium home of the Eagles plus the homes of the basketball 76ers and the hockey Flyers. I would hate to be here when all stadiums are in use on the same day, as happens when the Phillies make the post season. I don’t think it will be happening in 2012 however as Philadelphia trails the division. This is the fifth venue of the franchise and the shops and restaurants in the park are named for familiar Philadelphia landmarks. The park itself is reminiscent of over modern ball parks, very comfortable with no real stand out features however.
At all the venues, pre-game the ground staff water down the diamond, about 15 minutes prior to the first pitch. They are all dressed in club colours, and it takes six of them to man the hose. Ever observant Sam noticed that at the Mets game the person actually holding the nozzle of the hose wore a different styled club shirt than the other five. He wisely informed me that at every ball park that this was the case and that it was probably the head grounds man. Just one more thing that Sam got wrong. The hose crew always wear the same coloured uniform.
The Braves come to Philadelphia in third place in the NL East, but still within touch of the leaders so will be looking for a win against the hapless Phillies unit.
Atlanta Braves………………….000 000 050 – 5
Philadelphia Phillies….....….000 000 000 – 0
In the previous game (Phillies at Mets) I described how difficult it was to be a batter in this great game. So it transpired again with a real pitcher dominated game in which the poor old Phillies again came out in second place. The only scoring occurred in the top of the seventh innings when the pitcher, the unfortunately named, Antonio Bastardo, turned what had been a smooth start from Kyle Kendrick into yet another loss for the Phillies. The left handed Bastardo had been bought in to face the lefty heavy top of the Braves line-up in the eighth. In two thirds of an innings though, he surrendered five runs, the last four on a two out grand slam off the bat of Brian McCann.
The trouble all started when Matt Diaz singled to left field. Michael Bourne was walked, but then both Martin Prado and Jason Heyward flied out. With the legendary Chipper Jones at bat, Barstardo had got the count to one and two, so was just one strike away from completing the eighth scoreless innings for Philadelphia. Catcher Carlos Ruiz trotted to the mound to pass on some words of wisdom to his pitcher who then slung three straight pitches out of the zone to walk Jones and load the bases. Then Bastardo walked Freddie Freeman on five pitches as Diaz jogged home to give Atlanta the first lead of the game. McCann followed by cracking the game open. With a 0-1 count, the Braves catcher belted the ball over the centre field wall. Shane Victorino climbed the wall; desperate to keep the game tight, but he could only hang from the fence as he watched the ball die in the ivy on the other side. Bastardo was instantly removed from the game and he walked off the mound, shoulders crumpled as the fans serenaded him with jeers.
Although they were scoreless, the Phillies were not hitless. Ryan Howard in fact picked up two hits and was left stranded on second base on both occasions. Sam again showing his wisdom stated that Howard was a young guy playing his first major league game. His evidence of this was that when he came out to bat the scoreboard showed that it was his first bat of the season. Accordingly when he got a hit in his first at bat his average was 1.00. Sam explained that the huge ovation that he got was probably due to the fact that he had been playing well in the minors. Third strike against G. Sam. Howard had in fact been a star of the previous Phillies dynasty but had ruptured is Achilles tendon in 2011 and this was the first game back. Hence the cheering from the crowd – get your facts right Sam before you make grandiose statements in future.
Apart from the aptly named Bastardo, all the other pitchers had little difficulty doing their jobs today. They were of course well supported by the nearby Delaware River. New baseballs are not, of course like new cricket balls. A new cricket ball is exactly that – brand new and shiny. Brand new baseballs would not be fit for use because they would be too slick, shiny and slippery. The pitchers cannot grip them properly and the batters cannot see them well enough. Back in the days when one ball would last an entire game this was not a problem. In 1920 Ray Chapman became the only fatality in MLB to date when he was hit on the head by a pitch, when apparently he could not see the ball. Since then and the effort to keep new balls in play, people have looked for a solution. Players and umpires spent the next 18 years rubbing substances on the ball; from tobacco juice (too sticky) to shoe polish (too greasy) to a combination of dirt and water (too scratchy).
In 1938 an umpire complained to Athletics third base coach Russell Aubrey “Lena” Blackburne about the condition of the balls. He decided to do something about it and discovered the mud along the tributary of the Delaware River near his home in New Jersey was just the stuff. The mud effectively removed the sheen without scuffing the ball or making it look too dark. The exact location where it is dug up and the other added ingredients have remained a secret. Blackburne himself died in 1968, but he passed the business and the secrets on. Current owner Jim Blintoff still keeps the secrets and while he used to go by boat to collect the mud he now takes a truck to the secret spot, and when the tide is low, reaps his harvest of Delaware mud. According to geological studies 90% of the mud is made of finely pulverised quartz. As for the other 10% - don’t ask. The mud is packed in plastic containers and the equipment managers rub it onto all balls used in MLB games.
Because cricket balls lose their shape they often get replaced during a game as well and are then not seen again in play. That is unless you are the West Indies and the umpire is Kiwi, Fred Goddall. In a tumultuous series in 1980, the West Indies came to New Zealand being hailed as world champions, having just thrashed Australia in a series. New Zealand were the typical underdogs, but with a combination of brilliant play, especially by local hero Richard Hadlee, dogged determination and a little help from the umpires they were able to usurp the champions from their throne.
In the second test in Christchurch the West Indies were batting first and after about 50 overs the New Zealand captain, Geoff Howarth, complained that the ball was no good and had gone out of shape. Umpire Goddall concurred, and as the rules of cricket state, he replaced it with a ball in similar condition. He wrote on the ball that New Zealand had been using “this is a f…ed ball” and left it in the umpires changing room. When New Zealand, and Howarth himself, were batting a similar incident occurred in about the 40th over. The West Indian captain, Clive Lloyd, complained to Mr. Goddall that the ball was no good and was out of shape. Again Fred agreed and went into his changing room to find one to replace it with. Looking for a ball in similar condition, the only one he could find was the one that New Zealand had rejected the day before. Quickly, Fred rubbed the ball on the wall to remove the “f…ed” and re-wrote on the ball “this is a 40 over ball”. He handed the ball to Lloyd and Howarth quite rightly asked if he too could check the ball. Fred whispered to him, with a wink “Don’t worry Geoffrey, you’ve already seen it.”
Kitty, Sam and I wandered around the ballpark after the game and dawdled back to the Patterson Street Station. By now the crowd had largely dissipated, in fact a large proportion left after the disaster in the eighth innings, so it was with some relief that Sam found a seat. We returned to the Hyatt and debriefed the game over a well-deserved drink as I explained a few of the intricacies of train travel and baseball to Sam. Kitty and I then departed to our more humble lodgings at the Microtel for just one last refreshment and a good night’s sleep.