Phillies Time Machine: 1998

Perhaps, opening day of the 1998 season was a pre-cursor as to what was to come. The Phillies and Mets battled in the longest opening day contest in National League history, only to see the Phillies lose in the 14th inning. Curt Schilling, the ace of the staff, handled the first eight innings, but there wasn't much after that. Such was the story of the '98 Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies came into 1998 with a lot of question marks. Looking back, the starting lineup consisted of a few too many journeyman types like Mark Lewis and Desi Relaford. The starting rotation was young and it showed. Schilling (15 wins) and Mark Portugal (10 wins) were the only starters that sniffed the rare air of double-digit win totals. Like the lineup, the bullpen was a patchwork of castoffs and young, unproven arms. In fact, you get a gold star if you can name the closer on the Phillies '98 team. We'll tackle that issue later.

The Phillies spent most of the season on a roller coaster that would dip below .500 only to climb a slow, steep hill and go north of the .500 mark. From there, they would look like world beaters, but only for a short time as the roller coaster would again plunge deep and pull the Phillies, screaming, back below the mark of "average". Their last view from the .500 pinnacle would come on August 3rd when they lost their fifth game of what would become a seven game losing skid that pushed them under for the final time.

The highlight of the season may have come in June and it happened nowhere near a playing field. On June 2nd, the Phillies selected outfielder Pat Burrell in the June Draft, giving fans something to look forward to. Burrell's arrival couldn't come fast enough for Phillies fans. Just as a matter of interest, J.D. Drew, who the Phillies had drafted the year before, but were unable to sign, was drafted fifth by the St.Louis Cardinals.

Schilling was strong. He finished with a 15-14 record, but his 3.25 ERA was impressive. Since his arrival in Philadelphia in time for the '92 season, Schilling had quickly vaulted himself to the level of ace. Prior to coming to Philly, Schilling had a career mark of 4-11, 4.16 and wasn't highly regarded. That all changed when he arrived in Philadelphia and the Phillies decided he was better suited to work as a starter. After the '98 season, Schilling's Philadelphia record was 80-66, 3.27. Little did Phillies fans know that 1998 would be Schilling's penultimate full season in Phillies red and white.

Terry Francona, who came to the Phillies with an impressive record as a minor league manager, was in his second season as Phillies skipper in 1998. The Phillies had seemed to respond to Francona in '97 and those who had been with the team for a while saw him as a welcome change from the rough and tumble Jim Fregosi. The '97 Phillies flirted with the .500 mark, but were dealt a tough blow when Mike Lieberthal went down with a hip injury in July.

The Phillies had added Mark Portugal to help in the rotation. Portugal suffered through a rough '97 season, but was basically what the Phillies expected in '98. By the end of the season, Portugal was 10-5, 4.44 and at least added a veteran presence in the starting rotation. Matt Beech was entering his third season with the Phillies, Tyler Green was seemingly always injured and rookie Carlton Loewer were the other main components of the rotation. Loewer made his major league debut in June, with a complete game five-hitter against the Cubs in a 4-2 Phillies win. Together though, the trio went a combined 16-29. Mike Grace helped out some and the Phillies added Paul Byrd from Atlanta.

Did you come up with the name of the Phillies '98 closer? 1998 was the first season in Philadelphia for Mark Leiter. The Phillies three main free agent signings prior to the season were the "Mark Brothers" – Mark Portugal, Mark Leiter and Mark Parent. Leiter wasn't the worst closer in Phillies history, going 7-5, 3.55 with 23 saves. Unfortunately, all three Marks would be gone after the '98 season. Leiter wound up being traded to Seattle for Paul Spoljaric in November.

Offensively, the Phillies were better than some thought they would be. A young Scott Rolen set career highs in homeruns (31), RBI (110), average (.290) and OBP (.391). Rico Brogna was more than a great defensive first baseman, hitting 20 homeruns and driving in 104 runs for the Phillies. Another young player, Bobby Abreu, chipped in with 17 homeruns and hit .312 on the season. Youth was the catch-phrase for the Phillies as they looked to having young players that would develop with the organization, helping the Phillies to become strong in years down the road.

The Phillies finished the '98 season at 75-87, good enough for third place in the National League East. The young players did continue to develop, but with a few hiccups. The chronicles with Rolen and Schilling are well chronicled. Other young players like Marlon Anderson eventually wound up in the Phillies starting lineup. Players like Jimmy Rollins were still toiling in the minors. Meanwhile, Abreu and Lieberthal have stuck around and are key parts of not just the Phillies future, but their present.

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