Young Infielders Lead a Revival
Charlie Manuel had
seen enough. On May 1 the manager watched his Phillies slumber through the
first three innings of a game at Florida, just after the club had lost two of
three to the woebegone Pirates to fall to 10--14. In the visitors' dugout at
Dolphin Stadium, the slow-talking, usually mellow Manuel lit into his players
for their lack of effort, yelling, "If you're not going to play the game
right, go home!"
roared back that night, erasing a four-run, seventh-inning deficit to win 8--5.
They added comeback victories the next four days, and by Sunday they had won
eight in a row, their longest streak since 1991. Philadelphia--called "the
best offensive team we've seen this year" by Rockies G.M. Dan O'Dowd--rode
its two rising stars, 26-year-old first baseman Ryan Howard and 27-year-old
second baseman Chase Utley, who combined for six home runs and 18 RBIs during
Named NL Rookie of
the Year last season after hitting 22 homers in 88 games, Howard has picked up
where he left off (.306, eight homers, 21 RBIs at week's end). Utley, who hit
.291 with 28 homers and 105 RBIs in '05, has quietly established himself as the
best second baseman in the game (.325, seven homers, .581 slugging percentage).
A sweet-swinging lefthanded hitter who grew up idolizing Jim Thome--he modeled
his stroke after the former Phillies first baseman-- Utley lost weight during
the course of last season, batting .256 over the final two months as the
Phillies fell short of the playoffs. After taking just one month off last
winter, he began working with a trainer to improve his durability.
stronger," says the 6'1" Utley, who bulked up 15 pounds to 197 by the
time he arrived at camp, "and hopefully I'll feel this way the whole
Three other rookie pitching phenoms from last season have struggled in their
second year in the Show (stats through Sunday).
MATT CAIN, 21,
Giants (1-4, 6.27 ERA)
Dominant in seven starts after a late August call-up (2.33 ERA, 30 strikeouts),
the righthander was in danger of losing his spot in the rotation after allowing
four homers in a four-inning outing at Philadelphia last Friday.
ZACH DUKE (above),
23, Pirates (2-3, 4.00)
Pitching coach Jim Colborn overhauled the lefthander's delivery despite his
8-2, 1.81 performance after a July promotion. So far the results have been
inconsistent: five quality starts, two disasters.
HUSTON STREET, 22,
A's (1-1, 5.19, four saves)
The AL Rookie of the Year (23 saves) returned to action last week after missing
11 games with a strained right pectoral muscle and having struggled badly with
his command early in the season. Manager Ken Macha plans to ease the
righthanded flamethrower back into the closer's role.