El Pholdo in Philly
On June 25 the Phillies had a 37-18 record and a five-game lead over the Braves in the National League East, and they were being hailed as one of the most surprising success stories of the season. They were getting little production from the heart of their lineup, but second-line players like Mickey Morandini and Charlie Hayes, along with some unheralded reserves like Dave Gallagher, Tony Longmire and Gary Varsho, were turning in outstanding performances that produced victories.
Then the bubble burst. Over the past three weeks, through Sunday, Philadelphia had lost 15 of 18 games and was six games behind Atlanta. "Every win now is like pulling teeth," says pitcher Curt Schilling. The Phillies had fallen to last in the National League in homers, 13th in steals and "first in a category you don't want to be first in: LOBs," says Philadelphia outfielder Andy Van Slyke. "And we're not talking about tennis."
The little guys and lesser-known players who carried Philly in the first half of the season have tailed off. "It's time," says catcher Darren Daulton, "for the big boys to start doing what they are supposed to do."
Much—indeed, too much—of that burden falls on Daulton, who was hitting only .224 with six home runs and 33 RBIs after last weekend. Daulton offers no excuses; he never does. But he has several. No player in the major leagues is asked to do more for his team than Daulton does for the Phillies. Besides batting fourth or fifth, he catches too many games because the Phils don't have a quality backup catcher. At 33 he is battered from years of foul tips and collisions. He has undergone knee surgery more than half a dozen times. Emotionally he is whipped too, having gone through a trying divorce this year.
Daulton admits he's exhausted. "It's too much for anyone to handle," says Schilling. "I've been wondering for four years how he does everything he does, goes out there every day and remains the best catcher in baseball."
Varsho, in his first year with the Phils, says Daulton called him during the second road trip of the season and invited him to dinner with seven teammates. Daulton picked up an expensive tab, and he led a discussion about baseball that lasted the entire evening. "He's the best at handling any situation," says Varsho. "Win, lose or struggling, he always takes it upon himself to jump-start this club. He's a true leader. When he steps in the clubhouse, he makes sure everyone is as ready as he is. I've never seen anyone but him strike out with the bases loaded and then cheer the next guy on."
Daulton acknowledges that this year has been even more of a grind than usual. "Getting this club on track, trying to get it to the dance, has been taxing," he says. "But night in, night out, having to face your teammates, look 'em in the eye when you know you're letting them down, that hurts the most."
Daulton is not the only Phillie who is struggling, of course. Centerfielder Lenny Dykstra, the runner-up for National League MVP honors in 1993 when he hit .305 with 19 homers and 37 steals, was hitting .269 with no homers and six steals at week's end. He has been slowed by a back injury much of the season and now has a bum right knee that might require surgery after the season. At bat he is unable to drive the ball with any power, and on the base paths he is unable to start and stop quickly without pain in the knee. "I'm doing the best I can," he says.
New leftfielder Gregg Jefferies isn't in much better shape. After hitting .342 in 1993 and .325 last year for the Cardinals, Jefferies signed a four-year, $20 million deal with Philadelphia as a free agent. But at week's end he was batting .269 with live homers and 22 RBIs. An injury to his left thumb has bothered him much of the season ("If I let it heal," he says, "I'd be out all year"). The word around Philly is that he is selfish and cares more about his hits than whether or not the team wins. He denies that. "That reputation is long over," says Jefferies. "It comes from my days with the Mets, when I took outs so hard."