Thursday, October 6, 2011

It Would Be Wise To Bring the Bats

I once wrote a column wherein I challenged readers to think about certain subjects that our culture (in general) refuses to put on the table for discussion. I referred to the latent denial of these topics as the “air of dare,” that seems to surround any suggested debate about them.

“How dare you even discuss such a thing!”

A subject need not be serious, life-threatening, or even life-altering to be considered. Baseball was one example that I mentioned, and surprisingly (or maybe not), it got the most response from readers. And all of them missed the point.

All I did was ask readers to consider—or reconsider—the presumption that good pitching will always overcome good hitting. Well, you would have thought I asked them to sacrifice their first-born.

In essence, all the responders said that I was wrong, that pitching was more important, and that it wasn’t even worth discussing.

Bingo! My argument exactly—you won’t even discuss it. The point of the column wasn’t that hitting was more important than pitching, but that some subjects were exempt from dispute. Now, with the Phillies a scant one game away from possible elimination from the post-season, I’m daring to once again introduce the subject.

Few will argue that they don’t have baseball’s best starting rotation. No one can argue that they didn’t have baseball’s best record. Their season was record-setting, in that for the first time in the club’s 128-year history, they won 102 games.

But during the times that they faltered this season, it was normally because they apparently left their bats in the dugout when they went up to the plate. You see, pitching cannot win ballgames; scoring runs wins ballgames.

The Phillies could have Roy Halladay pitch another perfect game tomorrow, but unless and until a Phillie picks up a bat, gets on base, and manages to come around and score, the best the team can do is come away with a nothing-nothing tie after nine innings.

Unlike football, defense cannot win you the game in baseball. It can only keep you in the game. Unlike football, the defense cannot score in baseball. It can only prevent the other team from scoring. Pitching—being part of the defense—cannot win you the game. A hitter has to do that.

Too often, self-proclaimed (what other kind is there; yours truly included) baseball aficionados look only at the defensive side of the score: “The Giants’ pitching staff shut down the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS.”

In fact, the Phillies’ bats had gone into the doldrums at the end of the regular season last year. They would have had trouble with even a mediocre pitching staff. So this self-proclaimed baseball expert said, “The Phillies almost refused to hit in the 2010 post-season.”

I’ve followed this team since 1957. I remember the day my dad told me the Philadelphia Athletics were leaving for Kansas City. As a kid, my idol was Phillies’ centerfielder Richie Ashburn. The first game I ever attended was not in Connie Mack Stadium, but Shibe Park.

True, as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that many other things rank ahead of baseball in importance—family, health, economics, morality, the transmission in the Chevy…

And I truly want the Phillies to beat the Cardinals in the decisive game five of their series. And it would be nice to see another parade. Hopefully, Chase can act a bit more maturely this time. (Hey, maybe we’re cursed—literally and figuratively—by the 2008 Utley Uh-Oh! But that’s a subject for another column.)

If the Phillies win tomorrow, it won’t be due to Roy Halladay. Unless, of course, he belts one out of the park and the final score is 1-0. The pitcher can help by keeping the Cardinal batters at bay, but the Phillies have to hit the ball.

Back in 1971, the Phillies ace was Rick Wise. Because he got so little hitting support from his teammates, he made the statement that…The only way you can win with this team is by hitting a homerun and pitching a no-hitter.

His prophesy came true in June of that year. Except he hit two home runs while pitching his no-hitter. And later that same season, he retired 32 batters in a row, and then drove in the winning run in extra innings. I watched both those games on TV. I could almost feel his determination every time Wise came to the plate.
Hopefully, the Phillies will take their bats to the plate tomorrow, and Halladay won’t have to duplicate Wise’s feat.
But it would be OK if he did. Think about it.

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