Thursday, October 23, 2008

Attention MLB Fans: Please Help Stop the Insanity

I'm gonna try to stop this as it's happening rather than point it out afterwards: Chase Utley is being robbed by the supposedly-objective media.

Let's go over this while Game One of the World Series is fresh in our minds.

All of a sudden, the Tampa Bay Rays sport a big, fat bull's-eye on their collective back.

Vegas picked them to win. Experts across the Land pointed to the American League's dominance in picking the Rays. Analysts shook their heads sadly as they pointed to the six-day, groove-killing rest Philly got and tabbed Tampa Bay. They are at home. They just took Boston's best shot. They bumped the Yankees out of the postseason before it even began.

And most of it made sense (except two of the most important Phillies weren't in grooves so that six-day rest thing was over-hyped). Tampa Bay was and is rightly the favorite.

As Game One got started, things were looking pretty good. Although Jayson Werth walked, Jimmy Rollins had already continued his slump and Scott Kazmir (arguably the Rays' weakest pitching link) had jumped out to an 0-2 lead on Chase, Philadelphia's most potent hitter. He had evoked a swing through on a fastball that made Chase look overmatched. He threw a beautiful breaking ball that could have been called strike three. He wasted a curve in the dirt; another good pitch and the Trop was still rocking, still feelin' good.

Then came that awful, uh-oh fastball; a 2-2 pitch at the knees and over the inside half of the plate to a dangerous lefty. A hit-me fastball right to a lefty's happy zone in a count that dictated the hitter be looking fastball in defense.

Maybe it was the 0-1 swing through that gave Kazmir too much confidence. Maybe he was still too pumped up on adrenaline that would be expected when making the first World Series start in franchise history.

Whatever it was, Utley deposited the ball in the rightfield stands and totally changed the complexion of the game. Possibly the entire Series.

With one swing, Chase took the confidence and momentum out of the Rays' dugout. He gave it to Philadelphia and left the Rays with doubt. Doubt and the pressure of expectation, something new to such a young team at this very late juncture.

Utley gave Cole Hamels a two-run lead before Hamels ever took the mound. Hamels got to pitch with a lead, not to mention a cushion. That meant more room for error, which meant more first-pitch fastballs and strikes. It meant more breaking balls on three ball counts. It meant more freedom to pitch backwards (fastballs in breaking ball counts and vice versa). It meant pitching for double plays in situations that would otherwise require a strikeout.

It is something the importance of which is impossible to overstate considering the Rays formidable lineup and the fact that Hamels was a young guy making his first World Series start.

Impossible to overstate when you consider that Hamels explored his cushion to its fullest extent - giving up two runs, five hits, and two walks in his seven innings of work.

Impossible to overstate when you consider the Phils spent the rest of the evening flailing helplessly with ducks on the pond. They went 0-13 with runners in scoring position.

Impossible to overstate when you consider the Phils' other superstars combined to go 0-12 with two walks while leaving 10 runners on base.

And yet all the headlines tout Hamels' performance. It is Hamels' who pitched the Phillies to a 1-0 Series lead. It is Hamels' who reversed Tampa's momentum. It is Hamels' who is the media darling.

Chase Utley hit the two-run homerun that was the biggest play of the game and set its tone. He went 2-4 and stole two bases for good measure. He was one of the few Phillies to do his job with a runner in scoring position, advancing the runner from second to third by making the first out of the inning in a close ballgame. His first steal allowed him to move to third on a subsequent wild pitch. Both runs were stranded at third despite needing only a sac-fly from a guy with an MVP award and over 140 RBI in the regular season.

Meanwhile, Cole Hamels took his cue from Chase and pitched well.

But he certainly didn't dominate. He did strike out five batters and lasted seven innings. However, if not for Pedro Feliz' astonishing grab of B.J. Upton's scalding one-hopper with the bases loaded that started an inning-ending double play, Hamels' night would have ended much differently.

Feliz had no business making that play. He had even less business turning it into a double play. That frozen rope should have plated two runs and kept the inning alive. And it was all Pedro; Hamels would tell you the same thing.

Just like in the NLCS, Hamels' is getting Utley's credit and it's ridiculous. For almost the exact same reasons.

Just like in the NLCS, it was Chase who struck the first and most important blow for the Phillies.

Just like in the NLCS, it was Chase who enable the Fightin' Phils to turn the tide.

And just like the NLCS, he is getting screwed. Royally.

Only this time, it could be for the World Series MVP. If Philadelphia wins, the media has positioned Cole Hamels for that honor.

An honor much more significant than NLCS MVP.

An honor that makes your Hall-of-Fame resume sparkle.

So if Philly continues to prove the sageness of popular wisdom, watch Number 26. Because he'll be the Most Valuable Player.

And if that happens, let's just hope the media finally wakes up and joins the party.

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