You know it’s a different era of Phillies baseball when it’s a bad week because we lost our first series in a month. Ryan Howard struck out seven times. Shane Victorino was sidelined by injury. After Cliff Lee’s miraculous debut, for some reason, disenchantment seemed to be hanging in the air over AT&T Park.
The moment from the hard-to-watch weekend that stuck out to me the most was on Saturday, when Joe Blanton was firing away at the Giants and Paul Bako sat behind the plate.
After a sac fly, Giants CF Aaron Rowand came Aaron Rowand-ing his way around third just as Bako got the ball, and from my perspective, 3000 miles away in my living room, it sure as [hell seemed like he had time to make the tag. It was just a matter of stepping forward and getting in Rowand’s way.
Rowand cruised on by and laid a casual tumble into home plate, giving the Giants one of the two runs that cost us the game. There were a lot of people involved in this play on our end: Joe Blanton threw the pitch, Matt Stairs made the throw, but I felt pretty strongly that it was one person in particular’s fault, which was why the original headline for this column was “Paul Bako: I Guess He’s Trying.”
It’s not like I can judge the guy for not having the more traditional catcher’s frame. I was a big Chris Coste fan and he looked more like a utility outfielder or a flooring inspector than a professional catcher. Yet, time and time again, he proved his usefulness, knocking in runs and saving the day when he could.
Saturday, Tim Lincecum through on his butcher’s apron and started turning the Phillies lineup into mincemeat. Morale was plummeting as everybody who can usually be relied on for some heroism tipped their cap to the NL Cy Young winner and hopped into the grinder.
On the other side, Joe Blanton wasn’t going to be outpitched without a fight, or, from the determination he was showing, at all. The guy throws strikes. It’s what he does, like how you put your shoes on in the morning or blink. Blanton’s performance didn’t warrant the addition of two runs to his name, but there one of them was, dashing across home plate, while Bako, ball-in-hand, could do nothing but try a half-ass stab after Rowand was already four feet away and then walk slowly toward the mound.
We’ll never know what was going on inside Blanton’s head as he left the field at the end of the fifth inning, but his face was a pretty good indicator of how violent it must have been in there. Things got a little less cryptic when he started throwing stuff in the dugout.
Aaron Rowand, as everyone knows, is a talented fellow whose mind fervently refuses to utilize the phrases “look out,” “watch it,” and “careful, here comes the wall.” If he’s the one hurdling towards you at home plate, the only thought in your head should be “BRACE FOR IMPACT.” A man perfectly willing to sacrifice his own face bones for the sake of a baseball is not to be trifled with, and a high speed collision with him is going to be both painful and imminent.
Bako had to know this.
But he is the catcher. A good chunk of his job description involves high-velocity objects and persons coming at him at unsafe speeds. That’s why he’s the only player on the field wearing a suit of armor. When Rowand trotted by with the go-ahead run, it was Bako’s hesitation that seemed the most jarring, and that was after seeing human truck Matt Stairs run faster than lightning to catch the ball.
When Bako hit the walkoff single a few weeks back to get an extra innings win, I breathed a sigh of relief. The skinny guy with the goofy smile was carrying some weight.
Think about how easy it would be to market him to Phillies fans. He’s a thin catcher, just like Coste (a former fan favorite), he’s had a “hero” moment for the Phils, and you can so easily see a bunch of guys standing in the 400 section of Citizens Bank Park during home games, using some weird rhyme or pun to show their enthusiasm for him. Maybe they’d be in giant tortilla shell costumes with a big “BAKO’S TACOS” banner hanging behind them. I don’t know, I’m not the guy who comes up with those.
Saturday, my dream of men dressed like Mexican food seemed to get a little further away.
I watched the replay three times; Tom McCarthy and Wheels weren’t saying anything (God forbid they criticize the Phillies for once) , and the Giants announcer claimed Rowand “slid around the tag,” which, if you were watching, simply isn’t what happened.
Nothing personal against Paul, but watch that replay if you can, and tell me it’s not even a little evident that he had time to make the tag. The way we couldn’t get our bats going cost us a lot, but I’m seeing that clip in my sleep.
I guess, in the face of a speeding freight train, Bako blinked. I would’ve done the same. Then again, I don’t play for the Phillies.
At 3-4 on the road trip, it’s clear that the west wasn’t too kind to us this time around. Finally, on Tuesday we’ll be back at home, where winning consistently just isn’t an issue.