Don't hate me only because I'm beautiful. Like all of us poetic procrastinators, sweating over tax forms in vain attempts to find poetry, I didn't really have the time to go to yesterday's game. And yet, there I was, sitting along the first base line in section 113, courtesy of my friend Leo, a season ticket holder and longtime Phillies fan who, in the offseason, gritted his teeth, re-upped, and managed to move over four sections in the bargain.
Somewhere around the fifth inning, this lovely thought occurred:
I am watching Velasquez down the first base line today and it's just groovy sunny goodness.— Wet Luzinski (@Wet_Luzinski) April 14, 2016
That may not look all that profound, except for us long-time Phillies fans, it was truly an oasis in a dry and cool patch of baseball, and remarkable for its lack of stress, despite the pitching masterpiece that unfolded, windup after windup, by Vince Velasquez. Gone were the pressures of having to, well, win, to be the favorite, to smite the sorry sots in the other dugout. It was all here, in mid-April, and this horizon of improvement stretched out in front of us under a brilliantly blue sky, with white puffy clouds floating by ever so nicely just beyond the steel girders supporting the impressive, OBP-less MegaUltraPhanaVision.
Do you remember when, not so long ago, the Phillies would overreach for free agents to get them over the top, and part with lovely prospects? And then those prospects would do something amazing? Do you remember how we would scourge ourselves, our GM, our city, each other? Do you remember how this felt? Well, forget about it.
A young, healthy tomato plant,
out in the brilliant mid-April sunshine
rewards the gardener with the scent of August's ripeness
in the whisper of a clean, cool breeze
It was clinical, and so rare to see an effective pitcher just squeeze the very life out of another team; you could almost see the win expectancy graph click, click, click upwards with every pitch.
Velasquez was the star yesterday, but Ryan Howard was the still only effective hitter up there yesterday. And yet! He is still an effective hitter, and against lefties, no less. We can ignore, for this bright sunny day, that Drew Pomeranz was an absolute dope to throw him anything to hit at all for his second RBI – should have just given in to him and gone after Rupp and kept the double play in order. This is how loser pitchers pitch. Good Lord, we've seen it a lot too. Yesterday was a day to shelve all of that, declare email bankruptcy, and think about tomorrow.
It's still not always easy to watch. Hernandez's caught stealing play made me scratch my head, a lot. I don’t know if this was ordered from the bench or not -either way, really dumb situationally, as with Howard coming up you want to mitigate the effect of the shift (glaringly effective today on one ball Howard hit to right field. He is so painfully slow. So. Painfully. Slow.; again, a metaphor:
My elderly dog, with two bad back legs (one surgically rebuilt).
it pains her to walk, but walks are what dogs love best
as with the squirrels she longs to chase
she is still trying to teach me about life.
Note to self: rub her belly every day you have left of her.
But as for baseball, someone is making tactical mistakes (either Mackanin or Hernandez) on a team that really should husband its scoring chances. That better stop. And it better not be coming from Larry Bowa.
No matter. Back to this sunny day. My favorite current player, Odubel "El Torito" Herrera, is just, well, fun. He emotes. He has tools! Baseball tools! He gets them out! Herrera’s continued plate discipline (three walks!) is very, very encouraging. Maikel Franco had a lousy day at the plate, but otherwise was decent in the field; if the two of them stitch things together a bit more, the offense could percolate just enough with this pitching. As it stands, the lack of Altherr just punishes the back-middle part of the lineup. They need a four or five hitter in there, every day. It is waiting for you, Nick Williams.
Velasquez is still young – and I won't expect this every time out. He'll get wild, and when he does, it will be when he goes to the stretch. There weren’t a lot of times he needed the stretch yesterday though, and he has a good pickoff move, so that will aid him in some harder games.
We can dream a little, this mid-April, and remember teams that came from nowhere, like 1993. This is not that team, perhaps, and while their skills are not there, resilience may yet remain. The cycle of improvement may be spinning faster than we've allowed ourselves to believe, when we put away all our playoff foppery all those years ago.
Time to sunbathe on the barricades by the beaches, and tan ourselves again while the experts drown.