The Bench Guys: There in a "Pinch"

For many teams, the bench is likely an afterthought. Those are the guys who are looked at simply to fill out a roster. For the Phillies, the 'bench dawgs' as they're called, have been a key ingredient to the Phillies team that currently leads the National League East. In Philadelphia, the bench is no longer an afterthought.

The one Harry Kalas calls "big man" comes up to the plate and the anticipation of a homerun fills the air. He's Jim Thome and you expect that. And Pat Burrell's nickname isn't "Pat the Bat" for nothing. Though he is prone to getting spooked at the plate he has contributed 14 homeruns this season so far and 53 RBI, helping propel this team to its current first place status in the National League East.

But then, there are the guys who play a different kind of role and, probably, a much tougher one. They are the guys like Chase Utley, Jason Michaels, and that old standby catcher Todd Pratt, who patiently sit by and wait to be brought in to play when needed. So far this year they have done that job with fantastic results.

Upon Placido Polanco's entrance onto the DL Chase Utley was brought up from the AAA Scranton Red Barons to fill in for the injured second baseman. During that time he impressed Phillies fans and Phillies skipper Larry Bowa with his great instincts at bat leading him to launch seven homeruns and hit .248 so far this year. Another surprise of Utley's game was his defensive play at second. He looked like a guy who belonged exactly where he was. But the reality is he wasn't going to be staying where he was at, not just yet. Utley fulfilled his duty like a champ then stepped down when Polanco made his return. But it was said that Utley felt crushed when he was sent back. Hopefully what is obvious to us is obvious to him and that is that he is the future on this team. His time will come. Until then he does things like, let's see, hitting a three run homerun in his first pinch hit in the majors.

And when centerfielder Marlon Byrd was optioned to AAA after too many poor at bats it seemed a given that Doug Glanville would cover. But Jason Michaels impressed Larry Bowa enough that he decided to give him a shot. His talents as an athlete are no secret to former Miami Hurricanes teammate Pat Burrell, but Phillies fans are now getting a chance to see if he has the stuff to play every day. As Byrd tries to rediscover his swing with the Red Barons, Michaels has played consistent ball, hitting .307 and contributed to two laugher games the Phils won in their four game series against the Expos. It remains to be seen how long Byrd will be gone, but you can bet Michaels will play his hardest and his best and when the time comes that he must step aside he can do so with his head held high. It seems unlikely and, frankly, too risky that the Phillies will bring Marlon Byrd back any time soon.

It is a crucial point for the Phillies, a time when they are expected to make history and save the franchise from its long woeful history of disappointments. You can believe Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu will all bask in more glory and possibly get us to that point. But don't forget to tip your hat to those guys who work as hard that you don't see every day.

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