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Tom Verducci
September 15, 2003
There's playoff fever in Philadelphia, where the combustible manager has his disgruntled Phils headed for a wild-card berth—or a colossal flameout
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September 15, 2003

Larry Bowa Sees Red

There's playoff fever in Philadelphia, where the combustible manager has his disgruntled Phils headed for a wild-card berth—or a colossal flameout

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In between outbursts of joy and rage, manager Larry Bowa typically watches his Philadelphia Phillies from a standing position, with his arms folded and his head tilted back, chin up, the brim of his cap pointing at the dugout roof. It's as if he must peer over a thick wall, or something even more insurmountable than that: his out-sized reputation for combustibility. He knows the ESPN cameras love him and admits that a quarter of his own players loathe him because of his dugout histrionics. (The Phillies' broadcast network, Comcast SportsNet, bowing to a request from the club, has curtailed the use of its Bowa-cam.) "It's getting to the point that I've got to know when we're in an ESPN game," Bowa says. "Their camera's on me more than on the hitter or pitcher. So I try to just sit there, and when some big part of the game happens and I'm caught up in the emotions, I've got to walk up the runway, because I don't want people to see what I'm doing.

"If a guy pops up with the bases loaded and I go, 'Goddam,' I'm not mad at him" Bowa continues. "I'm mad because the Phillies didn't score three runs. Some people take it personally, no question."

You have to go back to Ben Franklin's kite to find a more obvious lightning rod in Philadelphia than the 57-year-old Bowa. Depending on whom you talked to, it was either because of Bowa or in spite of him that at week's end, the Phillies held the National League wild-card lead by one game over the Florida Marlins with 19 games to play.

Just when it appeared as if the near-mutinous players might implode following two contentious meetings, a public snubbing of Bowa by one player, a public scolding of Bowa by another and a 1-9 funk, they suddenly ripped off a 9-1 run, including Sunday night's 5-4, 11-inning win over the New York Mets.

"Like sands through the hourglass, so go the days of our lives... and us," cracked pitcher Randy Wolf during the better part of Philadelphia's soap-operatic swing. "Every day it's been something else. But you know what? When you lose, everyone's got a memory like an elephant, and when you win, everybody develops Alzheimer's. And there's a lot of Alzheimer's now."

In that 9-1 run the Phillies wrote a primer on the restorative powers of starting pitching as Wolf, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Brett Myers—the franchise's first quartet of 13-game winners in 30 years—and Amaury Telemaco combined for nine quality starts. The rotation covered for a lineup that was missing infielders David Bell (bulging disc in his back) and Placido Polanco (tight left quadriceps) and for a bullpen in such flux that during the first five games of a six-game winning streak, Bowa used five different relievers to start the ninth inning, each time with a lead.

After Philadelphia beat the Mets on Saturday night, 9-6, for the fifth of those wins, the clubhouse dry-erase board read YES WE CAN and rightfielder Bobby Abreu gushed, "We're playing so great right now. The clubhouse...everyone is so happy. You can feel the winning feeling."

Only nine days earlier the clubhouse had the feel of a Jerry Springer set. After a 4-0 loss in Montreal, the Phillies' ninth defeat in 10 games, Bowa ripped into his team for its poor play and and lackadaisical approach. His shouting could be heard through the closed doors. "If anybody here is not embarrassed by the way we're playing," Bowa told the players, "then you should get up now and leave and go get another job."

"People make a big deal out of this," Bowa says. "What a joke. But obviously because of me and my personality, it's got to go worldwide. First of all, I haven't thrown anything all year. Anything. I have not tipped over a spread. I had that one clubhouse meeting."

After the players boarded their bus to the Montreal airport for a flight to New York—Bowa, his coaches and support personnel rode on a different bus—they held a meeting of their own. Three days later Tyler Houston, the team's best pinch hitter, told the Cherry Hill, N.J., Courier-Post, "Bo's meeting was the last straw with Bo. We had to have a players' meeting because of him. A lot of guys felt like he was giving up on them. So the players decided we have to win for ourselves."

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