Way Too Early to Panic

By Chris Murray
Updated: March 31, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Last season, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said his squad was the team to beat in the National League East. The Phillies backed up Rollins bold pronouncement by winning the East on the last day of the season while the New York Mets choked their way out of postseason consideration.

Meanwhile Rollins had an MVP performance through all the team’s struggles with pitching and injuries while climbing out of a bad start.

Now that we are into 2008, the Phillies (0-1) are going to be hard pressed to not only win the division, but to back up another Rollins prognostication — winning 100 games.

After their opening day performance, you wonder how that’s going to happen for the Phillies, but then again we do have about 161 of these games left. This ain’t the BCS — one loss and your season is screwed.

The Phillies 2008 season opener against the Washington Nationals was a bizarre microcosm of their struggles form last season — suspect starting pitcher that allowed the Nationals to build a 6-3 lead going into the seventh inning.

Then you had a gallant comeback by the always potent Phillies offense-who came back with three runs in the seventh to tie the game — thanks to a two-homerun by J-Roll.

Unfortunately for the “Phightin Phils” all of Rollins efforts were wasted by a problem that plagued them last season, namely the bullpen’s inability to get teams out when they are ahead or the game is tied.

In the ninth inning, 40-year-old Tom “Flash” Gordon got shelled for five runs and four hits and a game that was a 6-6 tie turned into an 11-6 rout for the Nationals.

Of course, the boo birds here in Philly were boisterous when Gordon came walking into the Phils dugout. Fans headed for the exits at Citizen’s Bank Park just as fast as Gordon wanted to hit the clubhouse.

Monay’s loss when you consider that there are 161 of these games left is really quite meaningless, but that won’t stop all the radio talk show nerds from proclaiming the Phillies season to be in trouble right off the bat.

Your more cynical Phillies fans are raising their hands saying here comes yet another slow start. Some fatalistic Philly fans (and they’re lots of them) might be ready to jump in the Schuykill or the Delaware River saying woe is Philly.

Perhaps buoyed by their experience from last season where they led the majors in come-from behind wins, the Phillies are not in panic mode nor are they ready to throw Gordon under the bus just yet — though if he keeps coming up with performances like Monday’s season opener on a regular basis, they may reconsider.

“Flash is a veteran pitcher and you’re going to have games that are going to get away from you and you’re going to have games that you’re going to close out 1-2-3,” Rollins said.

“Today (the Nationals) definitely had his number. They got up there and they put some good swings on the ball and that’s the way it goes especially in the back end of the bullpen. If it happens on the first day and let’s say he goes out there, the next 10 times and it’s light’s out, he’s 10-1.”

“I’ll take my chances with a guy like that.”

Both Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and Gordon, who spent much of last season on the disabled list with a torn right rotator cuff, insisted that it’s a matter of time before he gets back to being consistent.

With closer Brad Lidge on the disabled list, Gordon will no doubt get other chances to find his “mojo” on the mound. “The more you get out there, the more reps you get into it, it happens, it seems to come the more chances you get the more chances you get,” Gordon said.

“I feel good, I feel healthy. I just want to continue to go out there and get stronger every time I go out there. It’s not something I haven’t been through before.”

“I’m definitely going to keep pressing until I get the feel that I like to have. My velocity is back, my shoulder feels good, my body feels good. I’m just going to have to find that rhythm.”

If Gordon or any of the Phillies relievers are still having issues say in June or at the All-Star Break, especially if they’re trailing the division leader by double digits, okay send out the distress signal by all means.

Remember the Mets had a great start in ’07 and watched the playoffs on TV. However, if the Phillies bullpen has performances like this on a regular basis, they’ll be lucky to win 60 games.

Stay tuned, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.