Sometimes, a player can ingrain himself into the fiber of a team's fans with one spectacular play. Others, become one with the fans thanks to their body of work and consistent effort on the field. Aaron Rowand did both. By playing hard every day on every play, Philadelphia fans came to love him and realized why the White Sox were so slow to give him up even though they were getting Jim Thome in return. With one face crunching play against the fence at Citizens Bank Park, Rowand cemented his place among the fans, who had rarely seen the sort of effort that Rowand gave that day when he sacrificed himself to make a key play as the Phillies worked toward a post-season spot.
|The end result of Aaron Rowand's introduction to the center field fence at Citizens Bank Park.|
With the emergence of Shane Victorino and the return to form of a previously questionable Jayson Werth, the Phillies decided not to meet Rowand's commands as a free agent and allowed him to sign with the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies simply shifted Victorino to center and went out and got Geoff Jenkins to perform in a platoon with Werth in right field and pronounced their outfield ready for 2008. While Victorino's numbers have been at least comparable to what he put up last season and Werth provided even more than hoped, Jenkins has been slightly on the weak side of the production ledger this season and the Phillies have certainly lacked a particular fire that they possessed in 2008. While it was in the back of everybody's minds, manager Charlie Manuel came out and said it this past weekend in Florida. "Sometimes, one guy makes a difference," said Manuel referring to the revamped Phillies offense. That one guy is Aaron Rowand. Manuel had been asked about his sputtering offense and pointed out that things aren't all the same as they were last season when the Phillies offense was simply a juggernaut. "I hear everyone (praise) our lineup, but people don't realize, we've got a different lineup than we had last year," Manuel said. "If you follow our team, we've got different people. Sometimes, one guy makes a difference." That one guy is Aaron Rowand.
Rowand, who hit 27 home runs, drove in 89 and hit .309 for the Phillies last season, is hitting .289 for the Giants with 9 home runs and 51 RBI. He'll fall well short of his numbers last season, but he's doing one thing exactly the same in San Francisco that he did in both Philadelphia and Chicago. He's serving as a respected leader in the clubhouse. In Philadelphia, he was the one with the World Series ring that was there to serve a role much like Pete Rose did when the Phillies brought him in via free agency. While Rowand is nowhere near the boisterous personality that Rose was - and still is - Rowand had that ring and he had the numbers to garner respect from young players who hadn't even come close to getting a World Series ring of their own. In fact, many of them had never been to the post-season. In San Francisco, Rowand is showing other players how you conduct yourself. He's been a silent tutor to young players, working with them away from the public glare and spending time talking quietly to them in the clubhouse to let them know what they've done right and what they've done wrong. The truth is that on the field, Rowand had a career year in 2008 and it could very well have been that he was playing for his big pay day, but there is no denying that he was a key factor on a Phillies team that could use some sort of offensive shot-in-the-arm for the 2009 season.
The Phillies are in the midst of a team-wide offensive slump and Manuel knows the reason. "We can't score," Manuel said. "First of all, we're not hitting. Then, our situational hitting is absolutely terrible. Absolutely off-the-chart, really. Our guys might be trying too hard. It seems like when you remind them and you tell a guy, 'Make sure you get him over,' something like that, all of a sudden they don't do it. It's like they start thinking about it, and it doesn't get done." This is one of those things that Rowand spent time talking with players about in the clubhouse last season and it was all done away from the media. If not for other members of the Phillies crediting Rowand with his leadership, nobody would have even known it was going on. When Rowand is around, he makes it a point to let players know just how good they can be and what they need to do to be even better and he excelled in doing things right. Things like moving a runner and getting the most out of every at bat. The Phillies have lost that edge. "You've got to really concentrate on moving a runner," Manuel said. "You've got to want to move him. Sometimes they feel like we're giving up an at-bat. No, you're not. There's hits all over the field. If you hit behind the runner, you can still get hits. That's just called execution and hitting the ball in the right direction. When we don't do that, I was telling some of our guys around the cage, it's going to be hard for us to win."
Although they still rank second in the National League with 492 runs, the Phils have averaged only 3.97 runs per game and been held to four or fewer runs 20 times in the last 30 games since a 20-run outburst June 13 in St. Louis. The Phillies struggle to advance runners and have trouble scoring if they don't hit home runs. In the last 30 games, they're batting .212 (52-for-245) with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, Aaron Rowand is hitting .337 with runners in scoring position and .368 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Those numbers are magnified greatly when you consider that Victorino, Jenkins and Werth are hitting a combined .244 with runners in scoring position and just .211 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
The attitude and the numbers show that re-signing Rowand would have likely been a better move for the Phillies than realigning their outfield in a cheaper way. The Phillies will tell you that they've also added Pedro Feliz, which they may not have been able to do had they spent the money on Rowand. With Feliz hitting .262 overall and .268 with runners in scoring position to go along with .205 with runners in scoring position and two outs, again, the Phillies would have likely been able to work something else out at third and would have been better to re-sign Rowand. Even at five years and $60 million, Rowand might have been the better value than Feliz at two years and $8.5 million. Had the Phillies been completely serious about revamping their club, keeping Rowand and adding Feliz would have been a quality upgrade rather than putting some cheaper parts - Feliz and Jenkins - into the lineup.
Sometimes, one guy does make a difference. The defending World Champion Chicago White Sox found that out when they traded Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia and the Phillies found it out when they allowed Rowand to walk.