To Ruben Amaro and Charlie Manuel, this is not the time to goof off.
That seemed to be the message after a team meeting before Sunday’s finale against the Braves. The day before, during a 13-4 loss to Atlanta, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels could be seen pranking rookie starter Jonathan Pettibone during a live interview with Fox during the nationally televised game, throwing sunflower seeds and attaching paper cups and a batting helmet on the rookie’s head while he was on camera.
Apparently, this was not something Amaro wanted to see as the Phillies were in the midst of their most important stretch of baseball games of the season, especially during a blowout loss. And after the meeting, it was apparent Lee was not in a joking mood, either.
“I’m not doing the in-game interview today,” Cliff Lee barked at a Phillies media relations staff member beforehand in front of a MLB.com reporter. “If they’re going to get mad about that, we’re not doing them anymore.”
Asked about the meeting, Amaro said, “I have nothing to say.”
Did it go well?
“Nothing to say,” he repeated.
“I’m not going to comment at all about that,” Lee echoed. – quotes per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki
Of course, playing a prank on a rookie pitcher during the course of a 162-game season is nothing new. And it likely had absolutely no impact on what was happening on the field. The Phillies lost that game because Kyle Kendrick was elevating his pitches and the offense couldn’t hit Tim Hudson.
Noted team leader and spokesman Delmon Young was also not too impressed with management’s closed-door scolding.
“The rah-rah crap only works in the movies,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter what you say. The good clubs are going to go out and win ball games. You play the game. You play to win. That’s maybe for ‘Rudy’ and a bunch of other movies. You could have rah-rahed the 2003 Tigers and they weren’t going to win any more games. And you can rah-rah the ’98 Yankees and they were still going to win the championship regardless because they were just that good.” – quotes per NJ.com’s Jordan Raanan
Heaven help us all when Delmon Young starts to make sense. And if nothing else, the meeting seemed to unite the players in their disdain for the meeting itself.
What really rankled Amaro and Manuel was perception, and what they felt were some players not sharing Amaro’s sense of urgency.
Before the series against Atlanta, Amaro stated quite clearly that if the team did not play well during this homestand, changes would likely be made. It was do-or-die time for the team and, at a time when they were taking a beating at the hands of the team they were chasing, two players seemed to not be overly worried about it.
At least, that was the perception as Amaro saw it.
Of course, there are probably no two greater competitors on the team than Lee and Hamels. Both guys would cut off a finger to win a game (although probably not on their pitching hands).
What Amaro and Manuel likely wanted to make clear to the players was not to take these next few games lightly.
If the Phils don’t do major damage against Washington in these next four games, and finish up the homestand by playing well against the White Sox, the plug could be pulled on the 2013 season. And as Amaro watched the “fun times” happening on Saturday, he likely felt he saw a team that wasn’t taking his challenge seriously.
Keep in mind, Lee could be one of the players shipped out this month.
“They expressed their views about certain things,” Michael Young said before Sunday’s game. “Our responsibility was to listen and apply everything that we do as a team toward getting better. But we definitely know that we’re at a point in the season where it’s important to crank out some wins. There’s really no way around that. It was good. We’re a team. Everything we do is going to be as a team. We talk about things in here. The message is to make everybody better.”
The Phils’ 7-3 victory on Sunday against Atlanta gave them their second series win in a row against a first place team. That is a good start. However, they probably have to win three out of four against the Nationals, and then win their series against Chicago in order to avoid the sell-off.
And heck, even THAT might not be enough.
At issue, of course, is just how much stuff like this impacts play on the field. Should Phillies players, knowing how important this stretch of games is, refrain from a lot of the goofiness that goes on during a long, hot baseball season, especially during a blowout loss? Or should they continue to be loose and have fun, even when they’re getting pounded by a division rival?
One this is for certain. You probably won’t see anymore “sunflower seed incidents” happening again in the Phils’ dugout for a while.