There was, however, that one time. That one time when Burrell – whether it was by accident or to deliver a message – may have let his guard down. It was after a homerun against the Mets and Burrell took a scenic, less traveled route to the dugout to get his congratulations from his teammates, completely bypassing Mr.Bowa's Neighborhood. That short trip on the Shea Stadium grass may have gotten Burrell his seat on the bench when the Phillies seemingly need him the most and at the time that he wants most to be in the lineup, hoping to contribute. We know that the little detour helped to send Tyler Houston to parts unknown and now, it appears to have helped make Burrell somewhat of an unknown in the Phillies scheme of things.
In the weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds, Burrell sat for two out of the three games. Key pinch-hitting spots came and went and Burrell sat and watched. In both games, the Reds rolled out lefty Phil Norton in relief and Burrell sat and watched. If we dusted his bats for finger prints, there wouldn't be any of his to be found. If we tested the Phillies bench for butt prints, his would be all over the pine. As Sunday's game ended, Burrell sat silently and lonely in the Phillies clubhouse. He wouldn't comment on what was going through his mind, but whatever it was, it didn't look good.
As the all-star break approached, Bowa was steadfastly behind his young outfielder. He talked of how the break was likely just what Burrell needed. He talked of how it looked like Burrell was swinging the bat better and that he was oh, so close to breaking out of his slump. When the break hit, Burrell was hitting .192 with 12 homeruns in 317 at bats. It was awful, it was pitiful. Still, Burrell had 317 at bats and seemed to have his teammates, the fans and most importantly, his manager, behind him. In fact, the fans went out of their way to cheer Burrell and he went out of his way to express how grateful he was for the support that he was getting.
After the break, Burrell did appear to have some slight rejuvenation. He wasn't the Burrell of old, but he was swinging the bat better and the numbers were starting to climb. They were baby steps, but they were steps in the right direction. In August, Burrell hit 7 homeruns and for the first time since April, hit over .200 at .225 for the month. It seemed that Burrell would be back to his old form at any time. As the month of August came to a close, there was the Larry Bowa eruption and the players only team meeting that drew an us against them line in the sand between the players and coaches – or at least, the manager. Rookie Brett Myers had a "discussion" with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Vicente Padilla was in the manager's office for a little educational math meeting on the percentage of fastballs thrown in one game.
As September opened, Burrell was coming around and hit New York City, a place where he has always performed well. On cue, Burrell went deep only to end it with his now famous snubbing of Bowa. Everyone said all the right things at first, until Bowa and the coaches hastened the exit of Houston, who had become Burrell's best friend on the team. The theory was that it was Houston who was corrupting Burrell and perhaps, other members of the Phillies. As the days rolled by, Burrell's numbers were climbing. Overall, he has hit .269 in September, but with just 1 homerun. Still, Burrell was contributing.
Burrell's numbers were all on an upward trip after the all-star break. Surprisingly though, there was one number that has lagged way behind his pre-break numbers. Pat Burrell's slow turnaround didn't translate into more at bats. Instead, his 317 at bats prior to the mid-summer classic turned into 182 at bats since the all-star game. The decrease in plate appearances coincides with Burrell's mounting friendship with Houston and while September has seen Burrell start to swing the bat better than he has all season, he will finish the month well shy of the number of at bats that he got in any month this season.
What is Larry Bowa thinking? If Burrell was good enough to average 82 at bats per month over May, June and July when he hit .187 (46-246), why has he gotten just 52 September at bats when he has hit .269? Again, the power numbers are down, but keep in mind that in June, Burrell hit just .190 with 1 homerun and 4 RBI, but came to the plate 84 times. If you project Burrell's post all-star game numbers to the number of at bats that he got before the all-star game, Burrell would have out-homered his first-half numbers 16-12, would have driven in 52 runs compared to 34 and would have struck out 71 times compared to 100. Add to that the fact that he has hit 50 points higher and you have a player who is coming around. Instead, he finds himself on the bench for a key series against the Reds when the Phillies offense consisted of just Jim Thome.
It's likely that Burrell will be back in the lineup Tuesday night in Miami when the Phillies and Marlins battle for the wild card lead since the Marlins will have lefty Dontrelle Willis on the mound. Never mind the fact that Burrell has hit 10 points lower against lefties than he has against right-handers this season. With right-handers going on Wednesday and Thursday, will Bowa continue his grudge against Burrell or will he put Burrell back in the lineup where he needs to be? Don't bet on Bowa changing course now. It's likely that Burrell will be back on the bench and may also get passed over in key pinch-hitting roles.
Bowa has blown it. If it's not a grudge against Burrell, than what is it? Why was Burrell's .192 average good enough before, but not now. Games are more important? Sure, but Burrell has driven in key runs of late and isn't that .192 hitter that we saw early in the season. The Phillies need Pat Burrell to contribute. The final week of the season is as good of a time as any to get it done and Burrell's numbers, while not truly impressive, are strong enough for him to play a big part in the Phillies failing offense. Bowa stood at a post-game press conference Monday and bemoaned the fact that his team scored just 3 runs in 18 innings. Somehow, Bowa forgot to mention the fact that there was an unused weapon wilting on the Phillies bench that might have looked good against that Reds lefty that was putting away hitter after hitter. Luckily for the Phillies, Burrell signed a long-term deal last season because with Bowa around, it's unlikely that he - or perhaps, other free agents - would have signed that deal now.