by Kevin Franklin
You knew it. You just KNEW it. All the cosmic tumblers were clicking into place. Championship-caliber team? Check. Add arguably the best pitcher in the game? Check. No more Eric Bruntlett? Check. It was all so perfect. Then this: Jimmy Rollins goes on the disabled list (presumably) and Jayson Werth tweaks his hip. Sometimes, when everything is going so smoothly something inevitably goes wrong for Philadelphia sports fans. It’s like bringing home a pretty girl to meet your parents only to later find out she dropped an upper decker in their master bathroom.
This is a resilient bunch, to be sure. On any of the other sports teams in this city, a loss of 4 – 6 weeks to a key player usually means cannonballing yourself into the deep end of a bottle of hooch. Werth’s injury appears to be less severe and it can be debated his right-handed power bat absence in the lineup might be more significant than Rollins’s as long as whomever is leading off doesn’t hit like, well, Eric Bruntlett. In the field, however, this could be huge. I have to admit I do not know much about Juan Castro, Rollins’s apparent substitute, even though he has been in the major leagues since 1995. All I do know is he is not a Cuban dictator and he did not overthrow Kim Batiste. Castro does not have to win games with his bat or glove, just as long as he does not lose any games for the Phillies. He has to be the 2000 baseball version of Trent Dilfer and just manage the position.
I know a number of you out there might have had an immediate flashback to 1991 when Bryce Paup ripped the heart out of the Eagles fan base by crumpling Randall Cunningham’s ACL in the first game of the season. What followed was a mambo line dance of ineffective quarterbacks with weak arms which basically emasculated a team that had the most dominant defense in the history of the organization. This time, roles are reversed. The Phillies have a strong offense, but Rollins is the lynch pin in the field. His range, accuracy and timing will have to be replaced with a steady hand and glove. We’ll worry about the offense less so since it lowers the total All-Star complement from seven players to six, and six is still better than practically any other team out there at the moment.
Maybe a few of you had shades of Eric Lindros being slobberknocked by Darius Kasparaitis or Scott Stevens. The sight of #88 lying on the ice with seven shades of Shinola knocked out of him caused lumps in the throats of Flyers fans the size of a doll’s head. Of course, that team, like these Phillies of today, was awash in leaders, especially during the 1999-2000 season, and they comported themselves remarkably well without him. They were up on the New Jersey Devils, 3 games to 2 in the conference finals when Lindros came back. In fact, upon his return, the rest of the team fell apart and lost the last two games of the series, although it was no fault of Lindros’s play, as he was one of the best players on the ice.
By all accounts, Jimmy Rollins should be back by June. Maybe that is too long for most fans, but to rush him back sooner may result in a re-aggravation of the injury. Who knows, maybe he is a quick healer and will be back before that. Maybe Juan Castro or whomever else sits in for a few songs will knock the ding-dong off the ball and grab everything hit in his zip code. We are fortunate. We don’t need Jimmy Rollins to save this team. Hell, last year was evidence of that. But he does make this team better. With as many leaders as this team boasts, it is more like the United Nations than a locker room. Send them to North Korea today and they’ll be having Up With People festivals in Pyongyang by the end of summer.
The truth is, we Philly fans cling to our pain like old girlfriends after a night of stumbling home from the bar alone. We just cannot kick it to the curb completely because of how familiar it feels. We still know Davey Lopes was out at first base, Leon Stickle robbed us of a Stanley Cup and Kevin Curtis was interfered with on that play. We’ve seen our heroes go down to injury with such consistency we could set our watches to it. But this year – this team – is different. So, we’ll gnash our teeth, curse the Baseball gods and make the necessary adjustments to our Fantasy teams. Then, we’ll crack a cold one, grab a slice and take the phone off the hook once that first pitch is thrown and watch these Phillies not miss a beat, thinking how much better they will be once their shortstop returns.
The Phillies will manage the position and it will help us manage ours.