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Fish Stories: Marlins at Phillies, April 21-23, 2006

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April 21: Marlins 4, Phillies 3 WP: Olsen (1-1) LP: Lieber (0-4) S: Borowski (2)
April 22, 7:05pm: POSTPONED--rescheduled day/night DH July 30
April 23: Phillies 4, Marlins 2 WP: Myers (2-0) LP: Mitre (1-2) S: Gordon (5)

Once upon a time--let's say, a year ago--no big league ballclub had the power to churn a Phillies phan's stomach like the Florida Marlins. Just the words "Juan Pierre" had talismanic power to reduce some Philadelphians to tears; "Jeff Conine" prompted others to curl into fetal balls. The pain actually continued through early 2005, as Florida took six of the first eight games they played against the Phillies. One especially painful contest, a 4-3 Marlins win on May 24, seemed to perfectly capture the unholy power Jack McKeon's club held over the Phils: after Brett Myers tossed seven innings of shutout, two-hit ball and left with a 3-0 lead, Rheal Cormier allowed two runs without recording an out; Billy Wagner surrendered the game-tying homer to Damian freakin' Easley with two outs in the ninth; and Amaury Telemaco (remember him?) lost it in the 10th. Until September 7, we thought that was as bad as it could get.


But the Phils bounced back the next night to claim an 8-5 win, then won three of four from Florida in the first series after the all-star break. In all, they took 8 of the teams' final 11 games last year--capped by the delightful and utterly improbable 10-2 win on Sept. 17--to claim the season series. The Phils stayed in contention through the last day of the season, while Florida imploded late... and then turned on itself with a vengeance after the end of the season, trading off every veteran player of value except for ace Dontrelle Willis and emerging superstar bat Miguel Cabrera. In perhaps the ultimate middle-finger gesture to fans ownership deems insufficiently attentive, Florida's 2006 payroll is $14.3 million, dead last in the majors and well less than half that of the next lowest (Tampa Bay, at $35.4 million).

How's it working out for them? The Marlins begin the weekend in last place with a 4-10 record, including a 2-6 road mark (still better than the Phils' atrocious home record of 2-7). But the individual performances suggest that underrated GM Larry Beinfast did okay return-wise in his winter of self-immolation: Hanley Ramirez, the tools-happy shortstop who came back from Boston in the Josh Beckett deal, is hitting .367 and has scored 16 runs, tied for third in the league. Sergio Mitre, who came over in the Pierre deal, has a 1-1 record with 14 strikeouts in 17 innings.  Mike Jacobs, acquired from the Mets in the Carlos Delgado trade, has only nine hits, but three are home runs, and he's averaging a walk per eight at-bats. Holdovers Willis (1-0, 2.92, and happily not slated to pitch this weekend) and Cabrera (.346, 1.077 OPS, and baseball's most undercompensated performer at $472,000 per year) are doing what you'd expect, though reportedly neither is thrilled with being crammed into the elder statesman role at ages 24 and 23 respectively.

Given Florida's youth, road woes and very questionable pitching, this might seem like a good time to take them on. But there's talent onhand here, and unless the Phils can bring their team ERA down from the current 5.78, this April tilt could be the first chapter in a whole new series of horrifying Fish stories.