Featured Cards: 2009 Topps Heritage #222, Charlie Manuel; 1978 SSPC #0050, Danny Ozark; 2001 Topps #347, Terry Francona; 1964 Topps #157, Gene Mauch; 2011 Topps #524, Michael Martinez
I stayed up until the conclusion of the Yankees-Rays last night and just soaked up what was the greatest night of regular season baseball in my lifetime. As I type this, I still cannot believe everything that I saw last night. I don’t know if I will actually write all my thoughts about last night’s games into this post, but I will certainly give it my best shot.
1. Charlie Manuel’s Historic Night
Throughout the day yesterday, the press played up how a Phillies win would give Manuel the franchise record for most victories by a manager. I found this interesting because Baseball-Reference.com — which I used in my post about Manuel back in July, when I stated he needed 103 wins this season to set a new record — lists Gene Mauch as winning 646 games as Phillies manager, not 645 as reported by most in the mainstream press. I still haven’t seen an explanation for the discrepancy, so I’m not entirely convinced that Manuel has sole possession of the record just yet. Nonetheless, at a minimum he co-holds the mark, which means that Manuel now has the franchise marks for most wins, most wins in a season (breaking Danny Ozark’s mark of 101 from 1976 & 1977), highest winning percentage and most first place finishes. He is also the only manager to lead the Phillies to multiple World Series appearances. At this stage, the argument over who is the greatest Phillies manager ever is as settled as who is the greatest Phillies third baseman ever. (Quick aside: to this day, I still can’t figure out why Manuel’s card in the 2009 Topps Heritage set uses the 1960 Phillies logo while the rest of the Phillies card use the current logo.)
2. The Other Games
Although the ghost of the 1964 Phillies has long since been excised, their end-of-season performance that year still ranks as one of the greatest collapses in history. So, it seems fitting that a former Phillies manager, Terry Francona, was leading the Boston team that may very well be the worst collapse in history. Currently, there are a lot of rumors swirling about this collapse may ultimately cost Francona his job. However, it should be noted that Mauch stayed on with the Phillies into the 1968 season, and the Mets, for example, didn’t fire Willie Randolph after their collapse in 2007. On the other hand, the Red Sox were quick in firing Grady Little after their postseason collapse in 2003. Those are just examples off of the top of my head — it would be interesting to research all the team frequently mentioned in the lists of historic collapses to see how managers, on average, fair after such season-ending performances.
However, if it wasn’t for the Red Sox, everyone would be spending far more time discussing the Braves collapse, which for just a mere 25 minutes or so was the new mantle-bearer for worst choke in baseball history. I do not hide the fact that I absolutely disdain the Braves for no other reason than the Tomahawk Chop. Aside from being annoying, it feels like it’s a cheap, artificial construct. I’ve never been to a game in Atlanta, but every time I see an Atlanta home gome on TV, it sounds like the chant is actually pumped through the stadium sound system. Of course, that’s insignificant compared to the fact that it’s disgustingly racist in a manner matched only by the Indians’ use of the Chief Wahoo logo. But, I digress. This was Fredi Gonzalez’s first year as Braves manager and the baseball culture in Atlanta is far different from that in Boston, so he will probably be back for next season. Having said that, how the hell do you pitch to Hunter Pence in that situation in the 13th inning when Michael Martinez is batting behind him? Seriously, how do you justify not issuing the intentional walk in order to pitch Martinez, who sports a .258 OBP and an OPS+ of just 48?
As for that game in Tampa… just, wow. If that had been a Hollywood movie, I would have been yelling, “Bull shit!” at the screen the moment the Rays tie the game. That ending was so improbable that I still cannot believe that happened. Seriously, the only thing that competes with this is the mind-numbingly difficult-to-comprehend decision to pitch to Pence instead of walking him to get to Martinez. However, I would like to point out that while Citizen’s Bank Park is often derided for being a bandbox, at least the corners of the field are fair. In most parks in baseball, both the game-tying and the game-winning home runs in the Rays game last night would have stayed in the park — the corners in Tropicana Field are 315 and 322 feet, and both home runs were line drives that just barely sailed over the fence. In a park with normal corners, the Yankees might have actually won that game.
At the end of the night, I was admittedly just a bit disappointed that there wouldn’t be any sudden-death playoff games today. However, the excitement and drama from what unfolded in Atlanta, Baltimore and Tampa more than compensated for that. Here’s to hoping that this year’s playoffs are just as exciting as the end of the regular season (and that the Phillies win it all, of course).