Doc Halladay and the Phils are gaining steam.
The first National League pitcher to win 20 games and long entrenched as a league-leader in other measures of performance, Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay moved a stride ahead of the other Cy Young Award contenders.
Now, if only he was the best pitcher on his staff.
Halladay’s body of work makes him a favorite for the NL’s best-pitcher trophy, but it’s the late-season kick from Cole Hamels and newcomer Roy Oswalt that has Philadelphia running away with the National League East. The Phillies opened up a six-game lead on Atlanta with a series sweep of the Braves this week. It was a nice playoff preview for the Phillies as Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt dispatched the Braves on consecutive nights, combining to allow four runs and strike out 17 in 20 innings.
The one member of the trio who didn’t get a win in the series pitched the most impressively in the series. Oswalt threw seven one-hit, shutout innings before the Phillies scored its runs in the eighth.
The righthander had to be convinced to go to Philadelphia at the non-waiver trade deadline. He made it clear to the Houston Astros, with whom he’d become an icon, that he wanted a trade, and his top preference was the Cardinals. The LA Dodgers were also in the hunt, and others shied away when Oswalt made clear his list of preferred teams was short. Phillies closer Brad Lidge was among those that convinced Oswalt that Philadelphia offered what he wanted most — a chance to reach the postseason.
Oswalt gives Philly a chance to win there.
Since Oswalt’s arrival, the Phillies are 10-1 in his 11 starts. In games started by Oswalt, Hamels and Halladay, the Phillies are 24-7 — the very heart of their late-season storm toward the division title. Halladay has been good, going 8-2 with a 3.31 ERA in his 10 starts since Oswalt arrived. Hamels, the lefty who threw the Phillies to the 2008 World Series championship, has been better. The budding ace is 5-3 with a 1.91 ERA and a .200 average against since Oswalt showed up. And Oswalt has been the best. With 11 starts for the Phillies, Oswalt is 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA. In five of those starts, he hasn’t allowed a run.
Oswalt’s presence and Hamel’s resurgence give Phillies the formula to elbow their way through October. It takes three starters to be the favorite in the five- and seven-game postseason series ahead for Philadelphia.
The Phillies have three aces.
Torre steps aside, for now
For the first time since 1996, October will be without Joe Torre, and come April Joe Torre could be without baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers manager resigned from his position this past week, turning the job over to protégée and former MVP Don Mattingly. Torre did not call it a retirement, though it’s unclear whether he intends to field offers for 2011, remain in a new position with the Dodgers, or move onto life with his horses or Hawaii.
“Baseball has been my life, and hopefully (it) will continue to be my life in some capacity," Torre said at a press conference to announce the move. “You have to make some decisions by instinct, and my instinct tells me it’s time to go.”
Torre, 70, has 2,319 wins, behind only Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox among active leaders and fifth all-time in baseball history. Torre, whose four titles with the New York Yankees assured his eventual induction in Cooperstown, stirred news when he returned to New York for ceremonies honoring George Steinbrenner. News outlets in New York quoted Torre saying he’d take a phone call from Mets’ ownership, a comment that irked Jerry Manuel, who to the best of his knowledge is still the Mets’ manager.
“I won’t be managing the Mets,” Torre said.
His peers, Cox and La Russa, both said they believe he’ll manage somewhere.
All Chicago Cubs rookie Tyler Colvin was trying to do was race home from third base Sunday when a shard from a teammate’s maple bat struck him in the chest and sent him to the hospital. Colvin spent three nights in a Miami-hospital being treated for pneumothorax, a puncture of the chest cavity. He was fitted with a chest tube to ward against a collapsed lung.
Colvin’s injury during a game at Florida gave baseball its on-field scare for what’s been a simmering off-field debate: the safety of maple bats.
Atlanta infielder Troy Glaus once called the splinter of a maple bat “a javelin” that threatened third basemen like him nightly. Baseball felt compelled enough about a rash of busted bats to begin collecting the broken shards and studying how, why and how often maple bats were breaking. New rules initiated as a result of the studies are said to have reduced threatening breaks, and the studies continue. Maple bats remain increasingly popular, and they are known for the way they break explosively, often jettisoning a jagged-edged barrel. Fans have been struck, and reportedly one is suing baseball for his injuries.
Colvin was released from the hospital Wednesday.
The concern continues.
“This is like having a 2-pound tomahawk flying through the air,” Oakland A’s pitcher Brad Ziegler told The San Francisco Chronicle. He was sliced in the back by a busted bat in early September. “A little higher and it could have struck him in the throat. …Until they are eliminated, the danger is still there.”
Around the horn
• The Pirates have been able to stave off the inevitable even as they work toward the uncanny. Pittsburgh, already sure of their 18th consecutive losing record, are two losses shy of 100, a first for the team since 2002. Yet, with a sweep of Arizona and two wins this week against the Cardinals, the Pirates are 38-39 at PNC Park. They could finish the season with 100 losses and a winning record at home.
• It’s possible Kevin Towers could have two teams competing in the National League West next season. Towers was hired Wednesday to take over as general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Towers spent 14 years with the Padres, and his fingerprints are all over the club that currently leads the division, from the young pitchers driving the team to the bullpen built through trades Towers made. Among the first moves Towers planned to make, per USA Today, was luring Greg Maddux out of retirement – and into a pitching coach job.
• Torre will depart from his usual tradition of letting a player manage the final game of the season, per reports in LA. With it being his last game in the LA uniform, Torre will manage and managerial candidate Brad Ausmus, who is also retiring, will start behind the plate. Torre will turn the two games before the end over to players, most likely Ausmus and a younger player.
• Cardinals backup catcher Jason LaRue told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the past week that he has been forced into retirement by the concussion he received during a brawl against Cincinnati in mid-August. The cobwebs and disorientation related to post-concussion syndrome have not cleared. LaRue was kicked repeatedly in the head by Reds’ pitcher Johnny Cueto, an attack that merited Cueto a seven-game suspension and cost him one start. It cost LaRue a career. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said most “sparks” on the ball field are eventually forgotten. This one will be difficult, as he’s yet to hear a peep from the Reds.
“It’s upsetting what transpired and how the blame has been spread around,” La Russa told the paper. “Not going to do anything about it. Not going to hold a vendetta. Sparks flew. One guy instigated it. Another guy escalated it. I never did hear anything else …”
• Cincinnati center fielder Jim Edmonds, one of the best at his position during this era, may have hit a home run with his final swing that, quite literally, sends him home. Edmonds, 40 years old and now seven shy of 400 in his career, felt his problematic Achilles “pop” as he rounded second base. He limped around third to complete the homer he hit against Milwaukee, the team he started the year with. Doctors did not find a tear in the Achilles tendon, though Edmonds’ return is uncertain, and so is the eight-time Gold Glove winner’s role in the playoffs. Edmonds has talked openly about retiring (for a second time) at the end of this year. Told he didn’t have a tear, Edmonds surmised: “So, it’s not over yet.”