No Sitting Still Throwing an impressive combination of pitching and muscle at the hapless Cubs, the Phillies showed why they might soon blossom into a contender

July 11, 1999

Rico Brogna, the Philadelphia Phillies' first baseman, was at
his workstation, minding his own business. One of the Chicago
Cubs, third baseman Tyler Houston, had reached first. Another
batter stepped in. The pitcher peered in to his catcher. The din
of Wrigley Field filled Brogna's ears. Suddenly he heard the
runner standing beside him speak. "Tell you what," Houston said.
"You guys got a good club."

The numbers the game produces are ruthlessly truthful, but
baseball conversation is often false or fulsome. What is honest
stands out, and Houston was telling the truth. He had no
motivation to do otherwise. And Brogna had confirmation of
something he had suspected but didn't know for sure: The
Phillies were finally getting some respect.

That was in late June, when the Phillies took two out of three
from Chicago. Over Independence Day weekend the Cubs came to
sweltering Philadelphia for three games at Veterans Stadium, the
cement-and-turf relic from the '70s. (The locals are hoping to
get a smaller, grass field, retro ballpark in 2002 or 2003.) By
the end of the series on Sunday, three wins and 41 home team
runs later, the word was out. The Phillies' hangover--which
began in October 1993, when the club, led by a bunch of burping,
beer-loving, well-seasoned pros, lost the World Series to the
Toronto Blue Jays in six games--is over. The new Phillies have
arrived. They are quiet and earnest and modest and good. They
command respect.

Last Friday night the house was packed, 50,498 announced, lured
mostly by Sammy Sosa and the promise of postgame fireworks. Sosa
took some big whacks but had no homers. The fireworks were
spectacular, lighting up South Philadelphia on an otherwise limp
and muggy night. To Philly's baseball buffs, the important stuff
was in the box score. The home team scored 14 runs on 17 hits,
while their starter, 22-year-old rookie lefthander Randy Wolf,
who was called up from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 9,
pitched eight innings and gave up a lone run, lowering his ERA
to 3.13 and improving his record to 4-0. Right about then the
guys in the Philadelphia scouting department were looking like
geniuses. Wolf had been their second pick in the 1997 draft.

Last Saturday night the Vet was bursting again, 58,086
announced, lured once more by Sosa and another round of
fireworks. Sosa homered for the 31st time this year. The
postgame pyrotechnics shook the windows of the row houses on
Broad and Oregon and South 26th streets. But the explosions
during the game were even more impressive. The Phils scored
eight runs in the first and seven in the fourth and tacked on a
few more here and there on their way to a 21-8 win. The
Philadelphia starter, righthander Paul Byrd, didn't have his
good stuff and didn't need it. He gave up seven runs in five
innings but still improved his record to 11-4. Even after a bad
outing his ERA was a respectable 3.72. Right about then Ed Wade,
the Phillies' 43-year-old general manager, was looking like a
genius. Wade had claimed Byrd from the Atlanta Braves off the
waiver wire last year.

On Sunday afternoon, the Fourth of July, the Vet was a sweatbox.
A meat thermometer stuck in the turf measured 160[degrees]. Ace
righthander Curt Schilling was on the mound for the Phils. Sosa
was in the lineup for the Cubs. But there were no postgame
fireworks scheduled, and the announced crowd was 20,097. By the
seventh-inning sing-along, it appeared that half those fans had
departed. Take me out ... just take me out, period. In this
baseball inferno, Schilling was spectacular. Over seven sweaty
innings he struck out 13, showed pitch speeds that nearly
matched the temperature readings and gave up two solo homers,
one of which was a Sosa smash, his 32nd. Schilling improved his
record to 12-4 while his ERA fell to 3.20 and his strikeout
total reached 128, second in the league at week's end.

In the early part of this season, before anyone was saying that
the new Phillies had arrived, Schilling, a Hall of Fame talker,
took on the brass, going a few rounds with Wade and team
president Dave Montgomery, who are determined to take a
long-term approach in their rebuilding program. Schilling is 32,
the only holdover from the '93 team. He wanted his bosses to
make trades, spend money, make the team good now. By late Sunday
afternoon--suppertime approaching, sitting at his locker with
his four-year-old son, Gehrig--Schilling did not sound
satisfied. After all, his team was in third place in the
National League East; by day's end the 43-37 Phils would be six
games behind the first-place Braves and two behind the New York
Mets. How Schilling sounded was hopeful.

"I feel good about the 25 people in this clubhouse," Schilling
said. "The guys on this team score runs, run the bases hard,
play great defense. This weekend showed that when our starting
pitching is good, we're good enough to play meaningful games in
September. But a lot of teams can say that."

Three dependable starters is one or two more than most teams
have. Schilling, who has been a Phillie since '92, has been a
quality starter for a long time. Byrd is 28, and he began this
season with a career 12-8 record. He was signed by the Cleveland
Indians, reached the majors as a Met, was traded to Atlanta and
wore a gleeful smile on the August day last year when he learned
he was being placed on waivers. "There was no place for me to
pitch in Atlanta," the righthander says. "Anyplace was bound to
be better." The Phillies are the first team to give him the
chance to be a regular starter. His fastball looks like a
Schilling changeup, but his location has been superb. He's more
than willing to work the inside of the plate. "When your
fastball tops out at 86 miles per hour, you better work inside,"
he says.

Wolf works the whole plate, too. Bill Conlin, the sublime
baseball columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, compared
Wolf to Whitey Ford as a rookie. Wolf has much in common with
the young Ford: Not a big man, he is a lefty with a buzz cut and
great control and tremendous movement on all his pitches. But
Ford was cocky, even as a rookie with the Yankees in 1950. Wolf
is like nearly all of his teammates not named Schilling--quiet
and unassuming. He was asked about the comparison to Ford. "It's
a very nice compliment but undeserved," Wolf said. "He's one of
the best lefthanders of all time, and I've been here for three
weeks."

Schilling, Byrd, Wolf. That's three. There are nine other
pitchers on the Phillies' 25-man roster. Righthander Chad Ogea
(4-7, 5.28 ERA through Sunday), who follows Schilling in the
rotation, has been wildly inconsistent. After Ogea, there's no
one resembling an established pitcher among the other eight. The
fifth starter is ever changing. The relievers, most of them, are
minor league call-ups without enough experience to have any kind
of reputation, good or bad. The closer--replacing righthander
Jeff Brantley, who is out for the season with a torn labrum--is
third-year righthander Wayne Gomes (1-1, 3.65, 11 saves), who
routinely allows a hit or a walk or both before settling in and
securing the save.

They try hard, you can say that for the relievers, the starters,
the bench, the whole club. It may sound hackneyed, but that's
the thing the Philadelphia manager, Terry Francona, insists
upon. In a 10-year career with five big league clubs, Francona
was a utility player, and he manages his bench well. But his
team was six games over .500 because he's been trotting out the
same eight guys pretty much daily, and they can all very much
hit. Four of the regulars--catcher Mike Lieberthal (chart, page
45), rightfielder Bobby Abreu, centerfielder Doug Glanville and
shortstop Alex Arias, filling in for the injured Desi
Relaford--were hitting better than .300 at week's end.
Leftfielder Ron Gant, batting in the number 2 spot (.259, nine
homers, 37 RBIs), just keeps moving guys over, then smiles when
he gets back to a bunch of raised arms in the dugout. The
nominal offensive star of the team, third baseman Scott Rolen,
has been in an offensive funk for much of the season, but last
weekend he feasted on the Cubs' dismal pitching, going 5 for 12
in the series with three homers and 10 RBIs. The Phils, who were
hitting .280 as a team and averaging almost 5.5 runs per game,
have pop. That should keep them in half their remaining games.

So far, most of that pop has come from Abreu, the number 3
hitter, and Lieberthal, who often bats sixth. Abreu, a
25-year-old from Venezuela with a cannon arm and only one error
through Sunday, was among the top 10 in the league in batting
average (.331), on-base percentage (.418) and runs scored (59).
The 27-year-old Lieberthal, Philadelphia's first pick in the
1990 draft, not only has been calling games with quiet assurance
but also had thrown out a commendable 35% of attempted base
stealers and had a .998 fielding percentage. At the plate he's
been looking like Mike Piazza. As the Phillies improve, people
are asking, Who is their leader? Lieberthal would be a natural
answer, just as catcher Darren Daulton was the leader of the '93
pennant winners. But this is a different time, and this is a
different team.

"We're a young team, but there's a core of us who have been
together for two or three years," Lieberthal says. "We know what
we can do, and we're playing the game right, so it's hard to
pick a leader. If somebody stood up and shouted, 'Let's go,'
they'd get a laugh." Which is another way of saying the Phils
are pros, young ones.

This team is taking the George Bush route to improvement,
practicing prudence at every turn. "We're not trying to gear up
for the wild-card race," Francona says. "We're trying to become
the next Atlanta Braves." The view is to the 21st century and a
new ballpark. All of Philadelphia's farm teams are playing
better than .500 ball, and first baseman Pat Burrell, the first
pick in last year's draft, is devouring Double A pitching at
Reading.

For years the Phillies were led by amiable chairman Bill Giles,
who was essentially a fan turned loose. Two years ago Giles
handed the reins over to Montgomery, who quickly installed Wade
as general manager. They've made good decisions at every turn,
not all of them popular. Maybe that's why, through Sunday, the
team was drawing an average of just 23,142 fans at the Vet. But
maybe that's also why the team is improving.

When Wade became acting G.M. in December 1997, his first major
transaction was to trade Mickey Morandini--Schilling's best
friend and a well-liked second baseman from the '93 team--to the
Cubs for Glanville. Wade knew that centerfielder and leadoff
hitter Lenny Dykstra's career was over, even though Dykstra, a
beloved core member of the '93 team, did not yet know it
himself. A few months later he released Dykstra. Since then
Glanville has become a graceful fielder and dependable leadoff
hitter.

Early last Friday night, before all the fireworks, offensive and
otherwise, Wade, wearing a dark suit on a sultry evening, was
walking behind the cage during batting practice. Morandini was
loosening up. "Man, Eddie," the Cubs infielder said, "are you
ever turning gray." Improvement comes at a price. The Phils are
getting better. Nobody said it would be easy.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AL TIELEMANS By the seat of his pants Rolen was down, but Cubs runner Henry Rodriguez was out--nailed at second by the Phils' third baseman last Friday. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON HAPPY LANDING Byrd is one player who'd rather be in Philadelphia.

Multiple Mike

Sixth-year catcher Mike Lieberthal (above) is in the midst of
the finest all-around season of any Phillies backstop in
history. At week's end he was among the National League leaders
in batting (10th), home runs (tied for ninth), RBIs (11th) and
slugging percentage (ninth), and he had the best fielding
percentage among league receivers. Shown in red below are
Philadelphia's single-season team records among regular catchers
who played at least 65 games. Lieberthal is on pace to approach
or surpass most of the marks--all in the same season. --David
Sabino
SLUG FIELD
CATCHER, SEASON DOUBLES HR RBI BA PCT. ERRORS PCT.


Mike Lieberthal, 1999 15 18 59 .316 .594 1 .998
Darren Daulton, 1994 17 15 56 .300 .549 3 .994
Darren Daulton, 1993 35 24 105 .257 .482 9 .991
Darren Daulton, 1992 32 27 109 .270 .524 11 .987
Stan Lopata, 1956 33 32 95 .267 .535 16 .983
Smoky Burgess, 1954 27 4 46 .368 .510 10 .975
Spud Davis, 1939 8 0 23 .307 .356 0 1.000

"We're not trying to gear up for the wild-card race," Francona
says. "We're trying to become the next Atlanta Braves."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)