“The voice rang out – “Hermano!” – with no hint of a Spanish accent. As Placido Polanco turned toward the source of the greeting, his face brightened.
Mike Sweeney seems to have that kind of effect on people. On Wednesday, soon after the Phillies traded for the 37-year-old veteran, former teammate Raul Ibanez labeled him a “force of positivity.” Yesterday, that positivity was on full display as he greeted his new teammates in the visitor’s clubhouse at Sun Life Stadium.
“I’m ready to go,” said Sweeney, who is expected to help fill the void at first base while Ryan Howard recovers from a sprained ankle that will sideline him until at least Aug. 17. “I’m just trying to be a small piece for an already great puzzle and just try to hold down the fort until Big Ryan comes back. Because he’s one of the best players in baseball, and it’ll be a great to share a locker room with these guys.”
Forgive Sweeney if he seems excited: Only two other active players – St. Louis’ Randy Winn and Texas’ Michael Young – have played as many games as his 1,429 without reaching the postseason.
The closest he came was in 2003, when the Royals held a three-game lead in the AL Central on Aug. 17 but lost 22 of their final 40 games to finish in third place, seven games behind the Twins.
Back then, Sweeney was a 29-year-old who hit .293 with an .858 on-base plus slugging percentage, 16 home runs and 83 RBI while splitting time between first base and designated hitter. From 1999-2005, he hit .313 with a .905 OPS, 163 home runs, and was a five-time All-Star (2000-03, ’05) for the Royals. Since then, injuries have limited him to 280 games with the Royals, Athletics and Mariners. During that stretch, he has hit .269 with a .759 OPS and 31 home runs.
But the Phillies, who sacrificed only cash considerations or a player to be named later to acquire him, think he can help them. Sweeney said the 30-day stint on the disabled list that ended his 2-year tenure in Seattle occurred only because the Mariners wanted to keep his rights without using a roster spot.
“I had a back spasm for 1 day,” Sweeney said. “The day they put me on the DL, I was hitting BP. It was kind of a tough blow, but I know those things happen in baseball. It’s not something I would ever complain about. That’s the hand I was dealt.”
Last night, Ross Gload, a lefty who entered hitting .394 with a 1.035 OPS in 10 starts this season, was in the lineup. But manager Charlie Manuel said on Wednesday he expects to use Sweeney regularly at first.
“Speaking with Cliff Lee about his experience last year, he said it was the most fun he ever had,” Sweeney said of the ex-Phils ace, who was with the Mariners for the first half of the season. “Great teammates, great clubhouse . . . To join a team that’s already primed and ready to go, it’s very exciting.””
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