CD's Connect the Dots... Graduation Day

To find a silver lining in this weekend's shipwreck in Florida is a bit difficult. To say that the Phillies have found their Waterloo and is located miles from the shores of Miami Beach, would be an understatement. However, optimism is where you find it and I did find one note worth celebrating.....lets examine it further.

Brandon Duckworth is the most enigmatic of pitchers. Blessed with a powerful right arm and electric stuff, he more often than not short circuits that electric vibe once he steps on the pitchers mound. The cause of his difficulties has been bisected, trisected and dissected.... all without apparent success. None other than Pitching Coach and staff guru Joe Kerrigan has been his greatest supporter, pleading for patience amongst the coming storm of protest.

Manager Larry Bowa, not often known as a man with the patience of Job, has tried to keep the pressure off of Duckworth by offering words of encouragement and understanding. And, to be fair, Duckworth hasn't been the luckiest of creatures. In the early days of Spring Training, he was the talk of camp and visions of 12-15 wins were not considered necessarily idle chatter. Then a bout with tendonitis set him back, and he has been running a marathon race uphill to catch up. Frankly, his race has been more a case of one step forward and two steps backward ever since.

Oh, there have been signs of progress. His first victory of the season was against the San Francisco Giants team that had the best record in baseball at the time. His scintillating six innings of shutout ball was against the Chicago Cubs, including three strikeouts of slugger Sammy Sosa. And his seven inning, four hit performance against the Seattle Mariners was a thing of beauty. But more often than not, these performances were masked by the mediocre to downright abysmal starts that left Bowa baffled, Kerrigan bewildered and the Phillies befuddled.

In fact, a case could be made that this disappointing week for the Phillie bullpen was due in no small part by the inability of Duckworth to pitch deep into his Monday start against the woeful New York Mets. The bullpen, a deep well of strength and skill when not overworked, has had its most difficult week of the year, and overworked and underpaid may soon become the rallying cry of the heretofore Silent Seven.

However, out of the carnage of a weekend that smelled worse than....well, fish, came some words that may have finally cast the light on what had been up to now merely shadows on Brandon Duckworth. You see, if his words, spoken after the defeat on Saturday night really ring true, then we may yet begin to enjoy the fruits of Kerrigan's labors, and a cause thought to have been lost may yet be found.

After tasting defeat in a decently pitched game, Duckworth was met with well wishers who congratulated him on a job fairly well done. However, instead of thanking them and talking pitcher talk about "keeping my team in the game' or "just trying to do my job," he came out with words, golden verses almost, that are music to my ears. Former greats Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton all spoke of the same thing. To the utter astonishment of those around him, Ducky talked in terms of being unhappy with his performance because "he didn't win!" Bull's eye!!! This writer believes that IF Duckworth truly means it, then he has just passed the "Go and can collect 200 dollars" in the Monopoly game of "How to Succeed in Baseball".

You see, pitchers today have been trapped and fooled by the new rules that make them appear better than they are. A quality start is now deemed as six innings and only three runs allowed. What? My friends, any way you twist it, this translates to an ERA of 4.50 and I challenge anyone to find a pennant winning team with a starting staff of 4.50 ERA pitchers. It will never happen. Yet, today's moundsmen believe that if they can just keep their team in the game for five or six innings, they will have done their jobs. This, in my mind, is a meal ticket to mediocrity, and mediocrity is precisely what we now have on most teams pitching staffs.

Yet out of the rubble of Miami Vice comes a voice barely heard above a whisper, and mostly drowned out by the cries of the anguished Phillie faithful. This may yet portend better luck for the Duck, however. For it is all about winning, my friends, and it always has been. Winning is what burned in the souls of Koufax and Drysdale. Winning is what motivated Seaver and Koosman. Winning is what kept Spahn and Carlton coming back, long after their former luster had left their trusty left arms. Winning! Not quality starts, half-baked performances and keeping a team in the game. This writer believes those are the seeds that plant defeat, not winning, in the minds of pitchers.

Several years ago, Manager Joe Torre, a guy who knows a thing or three about winning, was manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. And in one particular season, Torre became aware of the vulnerability of his young staff and the need for them to grow into productive major leaguers. He proceeded to bring in not one, but two pitching coaches. He hired legendary Johnny Sain to teach the hurlers how to pitch.....and even more legendary Bob Gibson, to teach the kids how to WIN!

Yes, Torre understood the difference then, and it has not changed o'er these years. There was no fiercer competitor in all of baseball than Gibson and he cared little for the intricacies of the game. All he cared about is winning. Though baseball has seen many artificial changes to supposedly liven up the game, from designated hitters to lights at Wrigley Field, one fact still remains.....WINNING is still the name of the game.

Brandon Duckworth seems to now understand this. For the first time he is no longer interested in a quality start or trying to keep his team in the game.... he was upset that he didn't win. They say that acknowledging one's ignorance is the first step to intelligence, and if this is true, then Duckworth just passed his thesis in baseball school. Time will tell if he has earned enough credits to finish his master's course this semester, but its possible we will be celebrating his Graduation Day soon.

If this graduation does take place, then - Phillie fans may yet turn from bemoaning their team's fate this past wasted weekend, to offering a toast for the Day Duckworth finally learned his lessons, and well.

Columnist's Note: Suggestions, questions and comments welcome. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD

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