CD's Connect The Dots... Innocence Is Bliss

All the while, the good sports fans of Philadelphia whistle while they work. They go about their daily lives counting the days until football season. Supposedly, baseball season ended nearly a month ago, when the Phillies threw in the towel on the season by trading a quarter of the roster for what appeared to be peanuts. Perhaps he knew better. Perhaps he knew that in life...innocence is bliss.

Indeed, it is often judged as good fortune when a person becomes so preoccupied with the daily rigors of life as to allow to unnoticed some very significant things. For the long frustrated Philadelphia Phillie phan, this has apparently happened, and with vigor. So caught up in the confusion of a trading frenzy that seemingly left the Phils dazed, dizzy and defeated, said phan has probably failed to notice a single overlying fact, that this team as presently constructed is better than the one the team fielded in early July.

Call it addition by subtraction, call it a gift from the baseball gods, call it the alignment of Mercury with Saturn, call it anything you wish. But certainly call it entertaining, dramatic and successful. And now with the arrival of veteran lefty Jamie Moyer in a waiver wire deal from the Seattle Mariners, this team seems poised for a September run at the playoffs, even as a victory starved city awaits the coming of football. Innocence, it would appear, is bliss.

Yes, it is still true enough. For the most part, many of the Phillie followers have still not forgiven the team for jettisoning such favorites as Bobby Abreu, David Bell Rheal Cormier and Cory Lidle. It seemed too much like a mere salary dump or even worse, throwing in the towel on the season. At the press conference announcing the Abreu deal, Gillick even alluded to the fact that the team was probably going to have to go some struggles before once again becoming contenders in the National League. For this, the phans unhappily agreed with him.

Yet, a closer study of Gillick reveals a man who rarely shows all his cards, for fear that he might soon find one quite invaluable. Make no mistake, this is a Texas type poker player and any one from Texas will tell you that a good poker player never shows his hand. It now seems that Gillick probably knew exactly what he was doing and what he hoped to accomplish. At 68 years of age, he is immune to the criticism and focused on the job at hand. If the past three weeks have been any indication, his focus is strong and the job is being handled first rate.

It is clear now that he felt a combination of David Dellucci and Shane Victorino in the outfield would be at least as productive offensively as Abreu was, and probably better defensively. In fact, this is exactly what has occurred and while Abreu has been properly sensational in Yankee pinstripes, this is neither surprising nor relevant. Most baseball people always felt the talented Abreu would function best in an atmosphere where he could just blend his talents with his teammates instead of having to lead them with his skills. Of course, this is precisely what is happening in New York and, in all honesty, good for Bobby!

There were few more classy or skilled players in recent Philadelphia lore than Bobby Abreu and history will undoubtedly show this to be true. But, if a trade is judged on the success of a team after the deal, then the Phils most assuredly have to be counted successful in their trades, regardless of how well the players they moved are performing. After all, baseball is still a team game and in the end, that team will be judged by its wins and losses. Since the deadline deals the Phils are winning at almost a .667 pace, a huge leap forward from the pre-trades pace.

It is also clear that Gillick was intent on fulfilling his promise to third baseman Abraham Nunez, who he signed as a free agent last winter. Nunez had been a very capable third baseman with the division winning St. Louis Cardinals last season and offered not only an opportunity to return to the Cards, but was even tempted with at least one and possibly two starting positions elsewhere. Yet, in the end he chose to come to Philadelphia and it seems beyond dispute that this decision was based on the belief that Gillick intended to eventually turn the third base position over to Nunez.

Of course, this happened when incumbent David Bell was traded to Milwaukee and since installing Nunez at third, the team has not only played better defensively, but performed better offensively. This is in no small part due to the efforts of Nunez, who understands the subtle and seemingly unnoticed "little things" that contribute to winning in a "big way." Since replacing Bell at the hot corner, Nunez has hit close to .300 and contributed many key hits during the team's surge.

Gillick probably also understood that if and when veterans Randy Wolf, Jon Lieber and Mike Lieberthal regained their health, this would be as advantageous as the acquisition of three veterans at the deadline, and in fact, this is exactly what has occurred. Wolf and Lieber have both performed well in their recent starting roles while Lieberthal has combined with 33 year old rookie Chris Coste to provide solid backstop service, both with the bat and with the glove.

Still, it was the recent acquisition of the veteran lefty hurler, Jamie Moyer, that for the first time revealed a bit more of the hand that Gillick intends to play; a hand that he probably thinks he can win with. Oh, the nabobs of negativism, as many Phillie phans might be called, were quick to assail the deal as another foolish move by Gillick and, truth be told, the deal does come with some risk. After all, Moyer is 43 years old and has struggled somewhat with a 6-12 record this year. But a closer look at the reasons for the deal might just reveal that ace of spades that Gillick has so far refused to admit he possesses in his hand.

On the same day that the Moyer deal was being announced in Philadelphia, a few hours away in New York came the news from Metland that their Moyer clone, lefty Tom Glavine, was suffering from a hand injury that threatened to end his season prematurely. Although the final results were better than originally feared, the reports are not encouraging for Met fans and with their other ace hurler Pedro Martinez now appearing quite human in recent appearances this team looks quite vulnerable come playoff time.

It also does not take a rocket scientist to venture the guess that had the Phils not moved on Moyer, the Mets certainly would have, and for obvious reasons. Who better to replace the crafty veteran lefty Glavine than another crafty veteran lefty, Jamie Moyer? Quite literally, the Phils threw down a full house immediately proceeding the Mets tossing to the table a three of a kind. For perhaps the first time all season, the Phils had outsmarted the Mets.

Even more interesting is the possibility that Moyer might just be the missing and final piece to a rotation that now appears as strong five hurler wise as any since the fabled fivesome of 1993. Surely the word IF is a BIG one but if Brett Myers regains his ace like form, and if Cole Hamels continues to look like the best lefty in Philadelphia since Lefty [Steve Carlton] and if Lieber, Wolf and Moyer pitch as the wily veterans that they are, this staff might just be pitching until mid-October. Impossible, you say? Let's take a closer look at the possibilities.

Right now, it looks like a six horse race, with only four horses guaranteed to race another day. Certainly the Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers appear likely winners in the NL East and West, while the Cards, Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros battle it out for the final two spots. Along with the heretofore forgotten Philadelphia Phillies. It says here that the Cards will eventually win the Central Division, simply because they appear to be the team most suited for the marathon race that is the long and arduous baseball season.

If - and there is that word again - the Phils continue to hit as they have and if the revamped and deep starting rotation performs as they can, this team seems poised to overtake the Reds and hold off the Astros. The former possibility seems predictable, the later not quite so obvious. In fact, no less an authority than ESPN baseball analyst and former Phillie, John Kruk recently stated that the Phils would not win the NL Wild Card because they could not beat the Astros head to head. He was no doubt referring to the ‘stro's 6-0 record against the Phils last season and the fact that the teams must still face each other six times in September.

Ah, and here is where the acquisition of Moyer might once again come into play. When the Phils eventually go toe-to-toe against the Astros with possible playoff ramifications on the line, the odds are great that the Phightins will see the likes of veteran greats like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt. Gillick rightly concluded that he would prefer the veteran presence of Moyer opposing these legends than the rookie, Scott Mathieson. Certainly this is no indictment of the talented youngster, who will soon take his place as a regular starter at Citizens Bank Park.

Still, it seems that Moyer is likely to be unfazed by the pressure, as he has performed in playoff atmosphere settings with the Mariners for years. Gillick is gambling that Moyer might just win one game that Mathieson would lose, and for no other reason than the number of clutch games they have been involved in. This certainly seems a gamble worth taking.

Gillick is undoubtedly pointing to the Astros with the deal for Moyer and should he be correct in his assessment, the Phils will win the wild card and proceed to the NL playoffs. All the while, the sporting city of Philadelphia will still be fuming over bad deals made and a season lost. They will likely have been unaware of the turnaround and unconvinced of its reality. Yes, indeed, innocence is bliss.

Yet it is what might just come next that could leave the somnambulant masses in Philadelphia awakening after a long summer's nap. Should the Phils somehow make it to the Octoberfest known as the National League playoffs, they might just have the depth and talent to win the day and proceed to the World Series, where a showdown with the New York Yankees or Detroit Tigers awaits. Sound absurd? Absolutely impossible, you say? Stay with me a bit longer here as I weave the scenario even further along Gillick's Wonderland Trail to the Promised Land.

It is widely assumed that the New York Mets have already booked a reservation for the Fall Classic and are merely awaiting the month of October to cash their ticket. Perhaps as recently as a month ago, this might have been true but no longer. With the uncertainty of their pitching staff due to injuries to Martinez and Glavine, and the seeming certainly that if the Phils make the playoffs, the Mets will go west to meet the Dodgers, it says here that the Blue Crew will defeat the Mets.

This would eliminate the one team the Phils felt certain they could not defeat. At least they thought that a month ago. Before the deals. Before Moyer joined Phillieland. And before the Mets rotation became poster boys for the Red Cross. And before the Dodgers went on a splurge that at last count was 19 wins in 22 outings and counting. The Dodgers look primed and ready to send the Mets scurrying to the ticket window in hopes that they can redeem their cancelled World Series tickets before the half price window opens for business.

Should this happen, the Phils will be a playoff series win over the St. Louis Cardinals away from a division finals showdown of East vs West, Dodger Blue vs Phillie Red. Yes, the very same Cardinals that these woebegone Phils recently swept in the arch city. And yes, this very well could happen, and if it does, Moyer might well prove his value once again.

Moyer has faced the Dodgers on occasion over the past several seasons, as inter-league play has seen these west coast clubs meet on an almost yearly basis. Throughout his stint with the Mariners, Moyer has displayed solid form against the Dodgers, especially in spacious Dodger Stadium. Now a cynic could say that Gillick was certainly not holding on to his ace this far into the future. A cynic could.

But if Gillick is the fool that many claim, he looks to me like the wily Fool on the Hill from where I sit. My guess is that while many may think he holds the Joker, he has held the Ace since he decided to play the hand. An ace called Moyer. An ace that many good citizens of Philadelphia refuse to believe he has at his disposal. Time will tell.

Yes, a city yet sleeps or vents its anger. Oh, there were crowds of mostly well over 40,000 during many games of the recent homestand, but many of them were Mets fans or prize giveaway recipients. And even the ones who came fairly lamented the lost opportunities with the Reds or the one loss to the Mets. Many fretted over the failures of Brett Myers or the injury to Tom Gordon. Many came to boo erstwhile slugging hero, Pat Burrell, or deride the efforts of Abraham Nunez and Arthur Rhodes.

While the many were busy lamenting paradise lost, the few were noticing the spark of Chase Utley, the new leader of the new Phils, or the mega blast onslaught of Ryan Howard. Few noticed the way that this team now seems bonded in a way that never seemed possible Pre-Trade Deadline Day. Even few noticed the words spoken by the players themselves. Howard talked of his belief that when October came calling, the Phils would be among those called. Utley talked of the excitement of the race, as did many others like Myers, Wolf and Rhodes.

Even more poignant, though, was the good-bye that Moyer bade on his friends and family as he left to join his new teammates in Chicago. He said he was excited to be coming to a contender and mentioned that he would eventually return to the Silver City, but not until late October... and not until after the World Series. A World Series that Moyer hopes to play in. And a World Series few in Philadelphia contemplate as even remotely possible during this lost season. A lost season that may well yet be found.

Count me among the few. Count me among the hopeful. I am hopeful that they will make the playoffs and I would not be surprised that should they make it, Moyer's return home might well be delayed until November. Yes, count me among the few. Count me among the hopeful. After all, in counting me, be reminded that...innocence is bliss.

Columnist's Note: Please send all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net or visit Philliestalk.com and email me there and I will attempt to respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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