To say the Phillies are struggling after a terrible road trip where they went 3-10 in their last 10 games would be an understatement. After getting swept by the Toronto Blue Jays, the Phillies will be trying to get back on the winning side Tuesday night, June 19 when they face the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. Cole Hamels (9-3, 3.34 ERA), who has been the Phillies best pitcher this season, will step on the rubber. Hamels will go up against Josh Outman (0-2, 8.44 ERA) of the Rockies.
The Phillies have a 31-37 record and are firmly in last place in the National League East, nine games out of first place in the standings. They’re five games out in the race for the two NL Wild Card spots. The San Francisco Giants (37-30) and Atlanta Braves (35-31) are the top two teams in the standings for those playoff berths.
Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Fame relief pitcher and baseball analyst for TBS, feels the Phillies still have a chance to get back into the playoff race and land a spot in the postseason. Eckersley knows the Phillies are trying to tread water until they can hopefully get second baseman Chase Utley and possibly first baseman Ryan Howard back in the lineup. Utley has been suffering from chronic knee problems. Howard has a torn left Achilles. He realizes the Phillies have to climb out of a big hole with the injuries to Howard and Utley as well as pitching ace Roy Halladay (right shoulder injury).
“When you really think about it thank goodness for the extra Wild Card for a lot of people and then particular with the Phillies,” Eckersley said. “Will they overcome those injuries? I would assume I don’t know. I’m not close enough. Like Halladay, what’s going on with him and the Howard-Utley situation? But they had a hard time last year offensively with those guys and the pitching was there. They’ve been good for so long and everything went well for them. They were good, but you have to have the right things happen. This year, it seems like everything is not clicking. Right down to (Cliff) Lee hasn’t won a game yet. That’s hard to do. I mean he’s so good. Sometimes things just don’t happen and let alone have all these injuries like they’ve had.”
The NL East is one of the best divisions in baseball. The Washington Nationals (38-26) and Atlanta Braves are the two top teams respectively in the division. The Phillies would have to leap frog over them as well as the New York Mets (35-31) and Miami Marlins (33-33) who are both ahead of them. But with Major League Baseball adding the second Wild Card, that keeps the Phillies season alive.
“The problem is too many teams in that division who have gotten better,” Eckersley said. “So, it’s going to be difficult even if they’re full force. I think more than the Phillies being right this year. You have to be happy with the extra Wild Card. It gives you a chance.”
The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last year. The Cardinals got hot at the right time and got into the postseason as the Wild Card. In fact, St. Louis defeated the Phillies, who had won 102 games last year. So, anything is possible.
“When you have Halladay, Lee and Hamels, you can beat anybody,” Eckersley said. “Last year, I was shocked when St. Louis beat them. I really was. It took a 1-0 game to beat them. I’m sure that Phillies fans think that any way they can get there. They got a shot to win it. That’s a great example in St. Louis.”
The Phillies have a big home stand with Colorado, Tampa Rays and Pittsburgh Pirates this week. There’s 94 games left in the season. That’s a lot of baseball yet to be played. Nevertheless, the Phillies are going to have to start winning some series in order to turn this season around.
For the first time since Jimmy Rollins declared the Philadelphia Phillies were the team to beat in the division before they even won anything, they'll open spring training with something to prove.
The Phillies' streak of five consecutive NL East titles that began with Rollins' bold declaration in 2007 ended last year when they finished 81-81 and in third place behind Washington and Atlanta.
Since winning the franchise's second World Series championship in 2008, the Phillies have taken one step backward each season. They lost the 2009 World Series, the 2010 NLCS, and were eliminated in the NLDS in 2011.
After missing out on the postseason in 2012, the Phillies hope to make another run. The quest begins Wednesday when pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Fla.
Here are five top questions facing the Phillies this spring:
1. Are the injured stars healthy?
Injuries to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay were a major reason why the Phillies slumped last year. Utley and Howard, the team's Nos. 3-4 hitters, combined to miss 160 games to start the season. Halladay, the No. 1 starter, missed a two-month stretch in the middle.
Utley hasn't played a Grapefruit League game since 2010 because of chronic knee problems. He was more active this offseason and is expected to be ready for Opening Day, barring any setbacks. But, Utley's production began to decline before the injuries. His batting average has dropped every year since he hit a career-high .332 in 2007. His power numbers also are trending downward.
Utley averaged .301 with 29 homers and 101 RBIs between 2005-09 and made five straight All-Star teams. Since 2010, he's averaged .264, 13 and 51. The 34-year-old Utley is entering the final year of his contract, so he needs a solid year to get another lucrative deal.
Howard returned to the lineup right before the All-Star break last season after recovering from surgery on a torn Achilles' tendon. He hit just .219 and struck out 99 times in 260 at-bats. But the three-time All-Star first baseman also had 14 homers and drove in 56 runs in only 71 games.
Howard is entering the second season of a $125 million, five-year extension. The Phillies need the former NL MVP to be the player who averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs between 2006-11.
Halladay, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star, was plagued by a shoulder problem last year. He'll be 36 in May and has thrown nearly 2,700 innings. So, his days as a dominant pitcher may be over.
Halladay won 40 games, and threw a perfect game and a postseason no-hitter in his first two seasons with the Phillies in 2010-11. He was 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA in 25 starts last year.
There may be no player in the majors with a stronger work ethic and more dedication to his craft than Halladay. He's determined to regain his old form, and those who know Halladay wouldn't bet against him.
2. Who plays the outfield?
The Phillies used to be loaded in the outfield with former All-Stars Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Hunter Pence. They also had slugger Pat Burrell in '07 and '08. Now they'll have at least two and possibly three new starters.
Ben Revere was acquired from Minnesota to play center field. Delmon Young was signed as a free agent to play right field, though he hasn't played there regularly since 2007. Left field will be up for grabs between rookie Darin Ruf, former top prospect Domonic Brown and John Mayberry, Jr.
Ruf, the minor-league home run champion in 2012, is making the transition to the outfield after playing first base. He hit 38 homers in Double-A and Triple-A last season, and has potential to be a legitimate slugger in the big leagues.
Revere is a singles hitter, but his speed is an asset. Young could provide much-needed balance to a left-handed heavy lineup if he stays in shape and out of trouble. He hit .267 with 18 homers and 74 RBIs for Detroit last season, and was MVP of the ALCS against the New York Yankees.
3. Will Michael Young be a solution at third base?
The Phillies acquired the seven-time All-Star infielder from Texas to replace Placido Polanco at third base. Young, a former Gold Glove winner at shortstop, hasn't played third regularly since 2010. He's also coming off a down year at the plate by his standards (.277, 8, 67).
The team expects the 36-year-old Young to benefit from being able to concentrate on playing one position after filling a utility role the last two seasons. The peace of mind could not only help his defense, but his offense. From 2003-11, Young hit at least .300 seven times and averaged 17 homers and 90 RBIs.
4. Can pitching get the Phillies over the top?
The Phillies slugged their way to the postseason in 2007-09 and then relied on their aces and a strong bullpen in 2010-11. Their lineup clearly lacks the punch it once had, so the Phillies have to do it with pitching. Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, if they're all healthy, are still as formidable as any top 3 on any staff. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan round out the rotation, which has dropped off since Roy Oswalt was the No. 4 starter.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon is coming off an All-Star season in his first year in Philadelphia. Giving Papelbon leads to protect was the problem. The Phillies improved their late-inning situation by signing Mike Adams. The righty has been one of the best setup men for several years. If Antonio Bastardo pitches the way he did in 2011 and some of the young arms step up, the bullpen could be the team's biggest strength.
5. How will Charlie Manuel handle lame-duck status?
Manuel enters his ninth season as the team's manager. He's first on the franchise's all-time list in wins and is one of only two managers — Dallas Green was the other in 1980 — to lead the Phillies to a World Series title in 130 seasons. But Manuel is in the final year of his contract and his potential heir apparent — Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg — will be in the dugout this year.
The Phillies promoted Sandberg from Triple-A manager to third-base coach. Manuel's success gives him some leeway, but there certainly will be plenty of speculation about his job if the Phillies struggle early or endure a long losing streak. — (AP)
CLEARWATER, Fla. — An older, wiser Jimmy Rollins has ditched his annual rite of spring: Trading trash talk with National League East counterparts.
But as the new-look Philadelphia Phillies prepare for the season after seeing their five-year reign atop the division end in 2012, Rollins isn't conceding anything either. The longtime shortstop remains confident in the talented nucleus assembled here.
"Everybody is in the right mind frame," Rollins said. "We're a complete team. We're not going out there with role players. We're going out there with everyday players, every game."
Rollins, 34, was drafted by the Phillies out of high school in 1996 in the midst of the organization's 13-year playoff drought. But prior to the 2007 season, Rollins famously declared a young-and-upcoming Phillies squad "the team to beat."
The Phillies made good on Rollins words. They chased down the New York Mets in September and won the division on the final day of the regular season. They then went on a tear that resulted in two World Series appearances, and one title.
Rollins, in 2007, won National League MVP, but that was six years ago. Many of the names in the clubhouse have changed since then. And those that remain — Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels — are not in the same point in their careers.
Last season offered proof. The Phillies finished 81-81, to post their first non-winning season in 10 years. But they also didn't play a single game in the first half with Howard, Utley and Roy Halladay healthy at the same time. All three missed large chunks of the season with injuries.
With all three healthy this year — and the additions the Phillies made this winter, too — Rollins thinks the team can once again be a contender.
"We did what we needed to do (in the offseason)," Rollins said. "We just needed to fill a couple of holes and get the other guys back healthy, and we've done that. (Relief pitcher Mike) Adams is going to be huge from what he's done, and being able to continue that, it's going to be great. Mikey Young, he's just a professional hitter. The little man out in center field, Tootsie Pop, Ben Revere, he's going to bring that energy. Shane (Victorino) left, and we've got a guy who can come in and steal bags, so we don't miss a beat there.
"It's different, but it's a great dynamic what we have now. It's a good feeling. As you can see, it's nice and calm. Last year, everybody was uncertain. There's a lot more certainty around here."
Rollins may have retired his panache for making bold statements. But it wasn't all that long ago that he made one worth remembering.
After the Phillies finished the 2012 season in Washington, Rollins said the Nationals, who won the division, would have been a second-place team if the Phillies were healthy. Rollins isn't reliving the past, but he's also hasn't lost faith in his team's ability to return to the top of the division.
"That was last year," Rollins said. "And this year is different. Nothing has changed in our mentality or my mentality about how I feel about where this team should be or will be. The players we have, I like it. I was talking to (manager) Charlie (Manuel), the bullpen is good. The lineup has an opportunity to be real deep.
"Play some good quality baseball on both sides, the mental side of the game, it's going to be a fun team."
NOTES: Utley, a second baseman, will play in Friday's intrasquad game and will also likely start in the Phillies' first Grapefruit League game Saturday, according to Manuel. Utley hasn't played in a spring exhibition game in each of the last two years while battling chronic knee pain. Hamels will start in the opener Saturday against the Houston Astros, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan scheduled to follow in the next week. Halladay will pitch opposite Justin Verlander in Sunday's game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla. If that rotational order holds up through the spring, Hamels could get the start on the regular season's opening day. ... Hall of Fame 3B Mike Schmidt arrived in Phillies camp on Wednesday for his annual work as a hitting instructor. . The Phillies' intrasquad game on Friday will begin at noon at Bright House Field and admission is free to the public. -- (AP)
It’s been a rough week for Philadelphia fans. The St. Louis Cardinals eliminated the Phillies – who were supposed to give us a parade down Broad Street — in five games in the National League Division Series.
The Phillies had the best pitching staff in baseball with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Moreover, they won a historic 102 games with just 60 losses. They finished the regular season with the best record in baseball, but couldn’t even score a run in the final elimination game at Citizens Bank Park, where they played in front of a sold-out crowd all season.
The Eagles are 1-4 coming off another disastrous loss, this time to the Buffalo Bills. The Eagles “Dream Team” is turning into a nightmare, dropping its fourth straight game. Michael Vick, Eagles quarterback, threw four interceptions, but did throw for 315 yards and two touchdowns. He had five carries for 90 yards. He also broke Randall Cunningham’s all-time rushing record with 4,948 yards. Nevertheless, it wasn’t enough. And now the Eagles will face divisional rival Washington on the road Sunday, October 16.
One thing is for sure: the Phillies and Eagles are in for some interesting days ahead. With the Phillies season ending so abruptly, everything comes into question. This team has to wonder what next year is going to be like with first baseman Ryan Howard on the shelf with a rupture of the left Achilles tendon. He sustained the injury on the series’ final out as he tried to run out a ground ball.
Howard cannot have surgery until the swelling resolves. Recovery time won’t be known until after the surgery is complete and there is no guarantee he will be ready for spring training. Howard is a big man in the Phillies batting lineup with his home run and RBI power. He hit .253 with 33 home runs and 116 RBI in 2011. But the Phillies slugger really struggled against the Cardinals, hitting just .105 with one home run and six RBI. If Howard isn’t ready when the season begins in April, the team will have a big hole to fill.
The Phillies could have a big hole at shortstop, too. Jimmy Rollins is a free agent. Rollins hit .268 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI during the regular season. He had great year with the glove and was the Phillies best player position player in the postseason. Although he went 0-for-4 in the last game, he did hit .450 for the series.
Rollins, the 5-foot-8, 170-pounder, led the Phillies to the 2008 World Series championship. He has been the team’s catalyst and is reportedly seeking a long-term contract. The Phillies need him, but will they give Rollins what he wants? This makes for a very unsettling offseason.
The Eagles situation appears to be shaky as well. There are only five teams who have started 1-4 and made the playoffs. The Eagles will have to go 9-2 the rest of the way to more than likely secure a playoff spot. With the way the way the Eagles have been playing defense, this seems very unlikely.
If the Eagles don’t make the playoffs, head coach Andy Reid should be on thin ice. He has been here for 13 years, been to a Super Bowl and has won a lot of games. But it’s time for a change. He has to take weight for this debacle. This is one of the most talented teams in the NFL. In spite of that, they have an offensive line that can’t protect the quarterback, a defense that struggles tackling and play calling that has been questionable. The coaching staff has been unable to make the right adjustments.
This was supposed to be an exciting time for the Philly fans. It’s been anything but.
PITTSBURGH — If only Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies had gotten this 1-0 win last October.
Halladay was nearly flawless for eight innings Thursday and the Phillies showed off their pitching from the start, opening a new season by edging the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Missing injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phillies scored the lone run they needed on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Ruiz in the seventh. New closer Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth for his first National League save.
"It was a good game for us," Halladay said. "It went the way we wanted and Papelbon came in and got his feet wet and got that out of the way. All in all I think it was a good way to do it."
For Halladay and his teammates, it was a familiar score with a different winner. Their season ended last year when Halladay lost a 1-0 decision to Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals in the deciding Game 5 in the first round of the NL playoffs.
The Phillies start this season as the favorites to win their sixth straight NL East title.
Making his 10th opening day start, Halladay didn't argue when manager Charlie Manuel opted to bring in Papelbon.
"I understand at this point," Halladay said. "A couple weeks from now I'm going to fight him."
The two-time Cy Young winner sparkled, giving up just two first-inning singles while striking out five without issuing a walk.
Halladay was pulled three outs before getting a chance at his 21st shutout.
"We just didn't get many pitches to hit," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates are hardly the Cardinals — who went on to win the World Series last year — yet starter Erik Bedard nearly matched Halladay pitch for pitch, giving up only one run in seven innings. He struck out four and walked one, though it wasn't enough to keep Pittsburgh from losing its first season opener since 2006.
"I've done it before so it wasn't a big deal but it was nice to get the chance to do it with a new team and it was nice to pitch well in front of the fans," Bedard said. "Anytime you lose, though, you wind up disappointed. I wish I wouldn't have been able to hold them off the board but they got one across and that made the difference."
Ty Wigginton, filling in while Howard continues to rehab his left Achilles, singled with one out in the seventh and John Mayberry followed with a double to right.
Ruiz, who had three hits, sent a fading liner to right and Jose Tabata made the catch, but Wigginton slid under catcher Rod Barajas' tag to give Philadelphia the lead.
It was just a run, but it was plenty for Halladay.
Hurdle has preached the word "finish" as Pittsburgh's mantra for 2012 after the Pirates collapsed following a brief flirtation with first place last July. Pittsburgh could never get started, however, against Halladay.
Baseball's best pitcher over the last decade gave up singles to Alex Presley and Jose Tabata to start the game, eerily similar to the two hits he allowed against St. Louis in that Game 5 last fall. The Cardinals, however, turned those hits into the game's only run.
Pittsburgh — which brought in veterans Clint Barmes and Barajas to help kick-start one of baseball's weakest offenses last season — didn't get that close.
Andrew McCutchen, who signed a $51 million deal last month as the linchpin of the Pirates' rebuilding project, grounded into a double play and Neil Walker flied out to end the first-inning threat.
That was the only chance the Pirates got against Halladay. Pittsburgh's only two baserunners over the final eight innings came on hit batters.
"Nobody solves Roy Halladay," Presley said. "I don't need to tell anyone how good he is. He pitched a great game. He shut us down after the first inning."
And Papelbon took care of the ninth. Manuel never hesitated to bring in the former Boston reliever despite Halladay's dominance.
Halladay never threw more than 88 pitches during spring training and had 92 in eight innings. That was enough for Manuel.
"He hadn't been stretched out," Manuel said. "I figure if he went into the ninth and they took some pitches he was going to go to 105-112 somewhere in there. By three or four starts he'll be wound up to go 115-120."
Bedard tried to his best to keep pace. Mixing speeds and locating his curveball expertly, the lefthander who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career worked quickly. His only bobble came in the seventh, but it was enough to prevent the Pirates from staying unbeaten all-time in opening day games against the Phillies.
NOTES: Pittsburgh starter A.J. Burnett, on the 15-day DL, joined the Pirates for opening day festivities but is expected to start for Class A Bradenton on Friday. He is eligible to return on April 10 ... Halladay's 10 opening day starts are tied for the fourth-most in baseball history ... The two teams are off Friday and meet again Saturday. Jeff Karstens will start for the Pirates while Cliff Lee gets the nod for Philadelphia. -- (AP)
The Phillies will open the season with two of their major stars, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, on the sideline. Howard, Phillies first baseman, is still nursing a postseason Achilles injury while Utley, Phillies second baseman, has been dealing with chronic knee problems.
Howard and Utley are two key players who helped bring the Phillies a World Series championship in 2008. They were also part of the team’s fifth consecutive National League East championship in 2011.
With these two players out for some time, the Phillies will need some timely hitting, good fielding and great pitching. In addition, they’re going to need leadership. That’s where shortstop Jimmy Rollins comes into the picture. Rollins, 33, has had a way of giving the Phillies a lift with his confidence, swagger and style of play over the years.
If you remember, he was the player who said “we are the team to beat,” a few years ago. Nobody is expecting Rollins to make that statement this year. However, the Phillies could use somebody to set a tone at the beginning of the season. Rollins has a way of stepping up and making big plays. The Phillies organization has seen that over his major league career, which goes back to 2000. That’s how long he’s been in Philly.
Rollins has the credentials. He’s a 2007 National League MVP and three-time Gold Glove winner. He’s played in three all-star games. He was a key player on the World Series championship team. He has a career .272 batting average with 170 home runs, 725 RBIs and 373 stolen bases.
In 2011 the Phillies had a historic year, winning 102 regular season games. They won more games than any team in the majors. The team really stumbled in the playoffs losing in the first round in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals, the eventual World Series champion.
Rollins hit .268 with 87 runs scored, to go with 63 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 2011. That’s nice, but when the lights came on in the playoffs, Rollins took his game to the next level. He hit .450 with nine hits and six runs scored against the Cardinals.
The Phillies have acquired some veterans in the offseason like reliever Jonathan Papelbon, Jim Thome (first baseman), Ty Wigginton (utility player) and outfielder Juan Pierre. The Phillies have rookie infielder Freddy Galvis, who could receive some playing time with the injury to Utley. Of course, the Phillies have a great player in outfielder Hunter Pence along with a tremendous pitching staff that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley.
But Rollins is the glue. He makes them go. If he gets off to a good start, the Phillies should be able to tread water until Howard and Utley return.
A year ago, Rollins was a big story. He was a free agent. There was some talk about whether or not the Phillies would re-sign him. That question was answered when he signed a reported three-year $33 million deal which includes an option for a fourth year.
It’s a good thing the Phillies made this deal. They need experience and leadership that only Jimmy Rollins can provide.
When the Philadelphia Phillies host the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series (best of five) at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, the Phillies will begin their postseason journey.
The Phillies have great pitching with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and although pitching is the key to success, it’s not the only important aspect.
There are other factors like experience, talent and confidence. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies shortstop, has all those ingredients. Rollins will be one of the keys in the Phillies playoff run that could bring the city another world championship.
Rollins, 32, has been here through thick and thin. This is his 11th season with the Phillies. When he started playing with the Phillies, he was wearing braids. In fact, Rollins and former Sixers all-star guard Allen Iverson were the city’s pro athletes with that style. The Phillies were still trying to get better. The team wasn’t selling out when he started his career in Philly.
A few years ago, he was the player who labeled the Phillies as “the team to beat.” He helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series title. He played a huge role in getting them back to the 2009 World Series before losing to the New York Yankees. In 2010, he carried the Phillies to the National League championship series where they lost to the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies were eliminated by the Yankees and Giants; both teams won the World Series.
“I’ve been around here through transition,” said Rollins, 32, who this season batted .268 with 16 home runs and 63 RBI. “It’s been for the better obviously.
Rollins remembers those early days when there were too many empty seats when the Phillies took the field.
“If you sell out, it’s not 13,000 … [it’s] 23,000 on the big board, and everybody likes 23,000,” Rollins said. “That’s a good thing. But it’s the attitude towards us, the Phillies and baseball … the feeling around the city is a lot different.
“I think as far as sports in general football has always had the attention. The season is 16 games as opposed to 162. You can get together once every weekend as opposed to every single day. The excitement of the newness is still there with football.
“(With baseball) Everybody realizes it’s a grind. So, if I miss 10 (home) games. I still have 71 more games. That’s changed because [at] every single home game we have 44,000 (fans). That shows the product on the field along with the marketing and advertising. The most important element is winning.”
The Phillies have certainly done that. The team finished with an amazing 102-60 record. Now, they’re in a really good position to do something special again during this historic season where manager Charlie Manuel became the Phillies’ winningest manager with 646 wins. Rollins has been the catalyst for a lot of those victories.
“The team has evolved tremendously,” Rollins said. “Prior to the season in 2007, I made a firestorm out of a barnstorm (when he said the Phillies were the team to beat). I said it very casually in my response. The point I wanted to make was portrayed. I wanted people to recognize us for who we are. You’re our media covering us. We’re going to be that team. For years, they’ve always talked about the (Atlanta) Braves in spring training or the (New York) Mets. I’m not here to talk about them. I did that for five or six years now. I’m good.”
Rollins has been good throughout his career. He has been selected to three all-star games. He has won three Gold Glove Awards. In 2007, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League.
Rollins grew up in Oakland, Calif., where he was an All-American baseball player at Encinal High School, which happens to be the same high school where Dontrelle Willis attended who pitches for the Cincinnati Reds this season. Rickey Henderson was his favorite baseball player. He watched him play during his career with the Oakland Athletics. Rollins was recruited by Arizona State before he decided to play professional baseball.
Rollins hails from a sports family. His brother, Antwon, played minor league baseball with the Texas Rangers and the Montreal Expos. His sister, Shay, played college basketball at the University of San Francisco. Baseball wasn’t the only sport he played as a youngster. He played football and basketball, too.
“I played Pop Warner football,” Rollins said. “I played all the way up to high school. I played from 9 to 14. I was playing football, basketball and baseball year round. I never had a break. I said to my mother (Gigi) that if we win the championship I wouldn’t play high school football. I was tired. So, low and behold we win the championship.
“I go to practice one day with my dad (James Sr.) at Encinal High School. We were on the baseball field. The football coach, who was the baseball coach, asked me if I was going to play football. I started smelling the grass. I went and got my permission slip. I went to my mother and asked her if I could play football. Then, she sent me to my dad. He sent me back to her. My mother said, ‘Remember, you told me that you would not play football if you won the championship.’ So, that was the end of my football career.
“I was a big (San Francisco) 49ers fan. They had Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Roger Craig, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young. I played quarterback. I played running back, too, but mostly quarterback.
“I was a two guard in basketball. I was a slasher. Some people thought I would stay outside and shoot the jumper all the time. I hit the jump shot. I shot some threes. But I was quicker than a lot of guys. I liked to take it to the basket. I remember watching Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin) with the (Golden State) Warriors. I enjoyed playing football and basketball, but baseball is my best sport.”
Rollins has been playing baseball for a long time. He will be a free agent after the season. According to SI.com, he would like to have a five-year contract with the Phillies. Rollins has been a crucial part of the Phillies’ success. His focus right now is on bringing another championship to Philly, and this could be the year.
“This team is solid,” Rollins said. “It’s definitely the best pitching staff we’ve had. Other than that, everybody is a year older and a year more seasoned.”
That could be enough to be a factor in the postseason.
For a team that finished 17 games out of first place, the Philadelphia Phillies are quite confident they can regain the NL East crown they relinquished to Washington after a five-year run.
"The Nationals had a great year last year, but we had a lot of injuries," slugger Ryan Howard said. "Call us old if you want to. If you want to sweep us under the rug, just don't be surprised."
The Phillies' streak of five consecutive division titles ended in 2012 with an 81-81 finish. Injuries were a major factor for the decline. Howard and Chase Utley, the team's Nos. 3-4 hitters, combined to miss 160 games to start the season. Ace Roy Halladay was out for a two-month stretch in the middle.
While the facts say the Phillies are trending downward — they've taken one step back each season since winning the 2008 World Series — players insist they have plenty left to contend now that they're healthy.
"We're a complete team now," former NL MVP Jimmy Rollins said. "We're not going out there with role players. We're going out there with everyday players, every game."
Rollins makes a valid point. After Howard and Utley both returned, the Phillies went 44-34. They even made a late run toward a playoff berth, pulling within three games of the second wild-card spot with 11 games left before finishing 4-7.
Howard had an excellent spring and seems fully recovered from his Achilles' injury. Utley, who has battled chronic knee problems, played exhibition games for the first time since 2010 and will start the season in the lineup instead of on the disabled list.
Halladay hasn't been the same dominant pitcher he was for a long stretch, but the Phillies still have a pair of aces in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
"We're very close to being a championship team, but when the time comes and we have to step between the lines, we have to play the best baseball we can for 173 games," Hamels said, adding an 11-win postseason run in his calculations.
"We have to look at it that way. If we don't take that approach then we're selling ourselves short. That's the attitude we're giving and you can feel it in the clubhouse and I can see the work ethic that we have with the type of players that we have," he said.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. didn't make a big splash in the offseason for change. Still, he filled important holes with talented players. Seven-time All-Star Michael Young was acquired from Texas to play third base. Center fielder Ben Revere came over from Minnesota in a trade. Right fielder Delmon Young, setup man Mike Adams and starter John Lannan were free-agent signings.
Manager Charlie Manuel raved about the new guys in the spring.
"Michael Young is going to be a real good player for us," Manuel said. "Not only is he going to hit, he's going to hit for a high average and he's going to show some power in the National League and he has a chance to hit more homers than people think. He's definitely going to be a big offensive player for us and his defense won't be lacking."
Revere replaces former All-Star Shane Victorino, who was traded to Los Angeles last July before signing with Boston in the offseason.
"Ben is a better offensive player than I thought he was," Manuel said. "He can run, he can bunt better than Vic. He doesn't have the pop Victorino had but he's faster than Victorino. Ben is going to play within himself more and he's going to be a big-time team player."
The additions of both Youngs and Revere along with the emergence of former top prospect Domonic Brown gives the Phillies a chance to have a dynamic offense. They'll need Hamels and Lee to be elite starters, especially if Halladay is just average. The bullpen led by closer Jonathan Papelbon is deep. Adams solves the team's eighth-inning woes, and there are several young arms with potential.
"We have talent in our bullpen and as the season goes on, you're going to see guys blossom," Manuel said.
If the Phillies don't win, the rebuilding could start even before the season ends. Manuel, Halladay, Utley and All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz are in the final year of their contracts. Ruiz will miss the first 25 games because of a suspension for violating baseball's substance-abuse policy.
No doubt there's a sense of urgency to win now.
"I don't think there's anybody in there that's thinking 'I got two or three years left to do this, so I got time,'" Halladay said. "I think we all want to do it now. Hopefully that's the goal. I think all the guys that are getting older realize you have less chances to do it. I would think the urgency would still be the same." -- (AP)
PHILADELPHIA — Cliff Lee has lost his October touch.
Albert Pujols hit a go-ahead single in the seventh inning after Lee blew a four-run lead, and the St. Louis Cardinals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4 Sunday night to even their NL playoff matchup at one game each.
The best-of-five series shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 on Tuesday. Cole Hamels will be the third straight All-Star pitcher to face the Cardinals, who'll send Jaime Garcia to the mound.
The wild-card Cardinals, who got into the postseason only after the Phillies beat Atlanta in Game 162, got the split they were looking for on the road against the team that had the best record in the majors.
Lee hardly looked like the guy who used to be so dominant in the postseason. He gave up five runs and 12 hits, striking out nine in six-plus innings, to lose his third straight playoff start.
"I wasn't able to make my pitches, so I take full responsibility," Lee said.
The most sought-after free agent last winter, Lee stunned the baseball world when he spurned the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to return to the Phillies, who traded him away after he helped them win the 2009 NL pennant.
Lee's arrival raised Philadelphia's expectations to all-or-nothing proportions. Anything less than a World Series title won't be considered a success by fans, players and management.
For a while, it seemed the Phillies had this one under control as they took a 4-0 edge.
After all, Lee is one of the best postseason pitchers in history, and he was 17-9 with a 2.40 ERA and a major league-best six shutouts this season.
Lee was 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his first eight playoff starts — 4-0 with the Phillies in 2009 — before losing Games 1 and 5 of the World Series to the San Francisco Giants as a member of the Texas Rangers last year.
He's 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA in the last three outings.
"Anytime I got a 4-0 lead in the first or second, I feel I have the game well in hand," Lee said.
Now the Phillies head to St. Louis with no guarantees of any more home games. If they lose two at Busch Stadium, their season is over.
"Nobody is going to hand us anything. We have to earn it," Lee said.
Pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career, Chris Carpenter struggled for the Cardinals.
But one reliever after another did the job for manager Tony La Russa.
Six Cardinals relievers combined to toss six shutout innings, allowing just one hit. Jason Motte finished for a four-out save.
After chipping away for a few innings, the Cardinals took the lead in the seventh. Allen Craig led off with a triple off center fielder Shane Victorino's glove. A three-time Gold Glove winner, Victorino misplayed the ball. He had to go a long way to make the catch, but overran it and the ball bounced off his glove.
Pujols, who struck out in his previous two at-bats, lined a single over drawn-in shortstop Jimmy Rollins to give St. Louis a 5-4 lead.
Cardinals players jumped up and cheered wildly in the dugout, while Phillies fans sat silently in disbelief. The red-clad faithful had their hearts broken already once Sunday.
Just a few hours earlier, the Eagles blew a 20-point lead and lost 24-23 to the San Francisco 49ers in an NFL game across the street.
Many fans walked over to watch the two-sport doubleheader, and the crowd of 46,575 was the largest in the eight-year history of Citizens Bank Park.
On a chilly night when the gametime temperature was 50 degrees, Lee was the only starter in short sleeves.
Maybe he got cold.
Clinging to a 4-3 lead, Lee got the first two outs in the sixth. Then Ryan Theriot lined a two-out double to left and Jon Jay followed with an opposite-field single to left. Theriot slid home safely ahead of Raul Ibanez's high throw to tie it at 4.
Down 4-0, the Cardinals started their rally in the fourth. Lance Berkman walked and Yadier Molina hit a one-out infield single. Theriot sliced an RBI double down the right-field line and Jay followed with an RBI single to get St. Louis within 4-2.
Jay advanced to second on the throw to the plate, and Carpenter was pulled for pinch-hitter Nick Punto. Lee fired a 92 mph fastball by Punto for the second out.
But Rafael Furcal followed with a line-drive single to left. Theriot scored and Jay came rumbling around the bases. Ibanez made a perfect one-hop throw and the ball arrived along with Jay. He slammed into catcher Carlos Ruiz, his left forearm knocking the stocky catcher backward. But Ruiz held to temporarily prevent the tying run from scoring. Lee, backing up the plate, pumped his fist while Ruiz calmly picked up his mask and jogged to the dugout.
Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, allowed four runs and five hits in three innings. It was the shortest outing of the season for Carpenter, who led the NL with 237 1-3 innings pitched this year.
The bullpen bailed him out.
"We felt real good about ourselves," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We got Carpenter out of the game early, and we were trying to get into their bullpen. The big problem was that their bullpen held us."
Fernando Salas retired all six batters he faced, and Octavio Dotel set down five in a row to earn the win. Marc Rzepczynski gave up a two-out single to Rollins in the seventh, ending a streak of 15 straight batters retired. Rzepczynski left after hitting Chase Utley to start Philadelphia's eighth.
Mitchell Boggs came in and got Hunter Pence to ground into a forceout. Arthur Rhodes replaced him and struck out Ryan Howard. Then it was Motte's turn.
The Phillies, who overcame a 3-0 first-inning deficit in Game 1, took a 3-0 lead in the first in this one.
Rollins lined a double off the right-field fence and Utley and Pence walked to load the bases. Howard, who hit the go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth inning Saturday, then hit a sharp single up the middle to score two runs. His grounder appeared to hit the rubber and took an odd bounce on its way to center field.
Carpenter retired Victorino on a shallow fly, but Ibanez hit an RBI single to left to make it 3-0.
Rollins got things started again in the second with a two-out double off the top of the right-field fence. After Utley walked, Pence lined an RBI single to right for a 4-0 lead.
NOTES: Garcia is 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA in six games, four starts, vs. the Phillies. The lefty has held Philadelphia to a .178 batting average. .... Hamels is 2-3 with a 3.27 ERA in nine career starts vs. St. Louis. ... Miss America Teresa Scanlan sang the national anthem. ... This was the 219th straight sellout in Philadelphia, including postseason play. -- (AP)