Results tagged ‘ Bobby Cox ’

Saying goodbye to Kalas

As we sat in the visiting manager’s office at Citizens Bank Park last Wednesday, Harry Kalas entered and said, “Hey Coxxy” with that same distinctive and distinguished voice that sports fans have recognized for so many years. 

Walking and talking a little slower than he had in the past, Kalas beemed with excitement as he talked to Braves manager Bobby Cox about the dawn of a new season.  A few hours later, he’d throw out the ceremonial first pitch and receive his 2008 World Series ring with the rest of the Phillies family that justifiably viewed him as a father figure. 

During their short exchange, Cox asked Kalas how much he’d enjoyed this most recent Phillies world championship.  With a youthful excitement that didn’t necessarily coordinate with his 73-year-old soul, the long-time broadcaster spoke about how this World Series title was actually much more enjoyable than the first one he’d experienced in Philadelphia in 1980.

Kalas talked about how the 1980 team had simply accomplished what they’d originally envisioned would have occurred in 1978 or ’79.  Then he spoke about the delight he experienced while watching Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels make their surprising dominant run through this most recent October. 

Many of us who weren’t raised in Philadelphia knew him as the owner of that voice that only improved the quality of the video supplied by NFL Films.  The players, broadcasters, coaches, front office employees and fans who had the opportunity to recognize him as more than simply a broadcaster, knew him as man who definitely improved the game of baseball.

When I spoke to Pete Van Wieren and Chip Caray this afternoon, it was obvious that that they’d lost much more than a colleague. 

“He was not only a great broadcaster, but also a dear friend,” Van Wieren said. “We had the opportunity to spend many years broadcasting together and enjoying other activities away from the broadcast booth.  This is very sad news.   There are certain broadcasters that are much more than just voices for their team.  Some of them are iconic figures for the game and Harry was one of those broadcasters.

“I don’t know anybody who didn’t like him.  He was much more than just a broadcaster for the team.  We often sat together for dinner in the press room, whether we were in Philadelphia or Atlanta.  He was just a great guy.  He always had great questions to ask about our team and insight to provide about his own. He’ll definitely be missed.”

Caray recognized Kalas as an inspiration and one of the many dear friends who showed genuine support when his father, Skip Caray, passed away last year. 

“The thing that makes broadcasters unique is the richness of their voice and their passion for the game,” Chip Caray said. “Harry had both of those qualities.   When you think of the greatest ambassadors of the game, Harry was certainly one of those guys.  The  passion he had while calling games for Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and so many other great Phillies players was a real inspiration for young broadcasters, like myself.

“When I think of Harry, I think of friendliness and class.   When my dad died, he gave me a hug and a handshake that I’ll never forget.  He was truly a treasure.   He was a mentor and a friend.  People will say that the game won’t be the same without him and it won’t.”

Personally, I’ll always remember Kalas as a man who always provided a friendly “hello” while displaying a seemingly eternal smile. 

The last time I saw Kalas was after the Phillies had claimed their comeback win over the Braves last Wednesday.  As I exited the elevator, he was standing there in the hallway displaying that same old smile.

We’ve talked a lot about the ridiculous events that led to the Braves blowing a seven-run lead that afternoon.  But it was that ugly eight-run seventh inning endured by the Atlanta bullpen that allowed a true Philadelphia icon to enjoy his final day in his home ballpark.  

The Braves won the final game that Skip called at Turner Field last year and the Phillies allowed Kalas to enjoy the epic comeback during his final hours in Philadelphia.

In some ways, you have to wonder if baseball gods truly do take care of those who have served the game so admirably.   

 

  

Lowe set the tone

While enjoying some idle time in Philadelphia yesterday, one of the Braves coaches asked me, “what was the most important thing that happened last night?”  Thinking it might be a trick question, I initially thought about Jordan Schafer’s homer, Jeff Francoeur’s homer and Mike Gonzalez’s ability to escape the ugly ninth-inning mess that he created.

Another comical bystander said, “I think it was McCann’s monstrous first-inning homer.  That just intimidated everybody.”

But while the homers hit by Francoeur and Schafer created nice story lines, Derek Lowe’s masterful performance undoubtedly was the most important Opening Night development.  He allowed just two Phillies to reach base over the course of eight innings. SI.com’s Tom Verducci reported that no pitcher had previously allowed two baserunners or fewer while throwing at least eight innings at Citizens Bank Park.

Whether or not you want to call Lowe an ace, you can’t dispute the fact that his performance trumped any other produced by any other pitcher so far this season.   With that being said, Felix Hernandez’s effort with a bum ankle yesterday was certainly masterful. 

During Spring Training, one veteran observer told me that Hernandez was the best young pitcher he’d ever seen and that Tommy Hanson ranked right behind King Felix.  Hanson and the Triple-A Gwinnett team will get things started on Thursday morning in Charlotte.  First pitch is set for 11:15 a.m and you’ll be able to follow the game via the Gameday feature provided on Milb.com.

Enough about the future ace.  Let’s turn our attention back to Lowe, who undoubtedly set the tone for the Opening Night victory that allowed the Braves to truly enjoy yesterday’s rain-filled offday in Philly. 

If McCann hadn’t drilled his first-inning two-run homer into the second deck, there’s a chance that Lowe could have once again been undone by the emotions that had felled him during his previous two Opening Day starts. 

But straying away from the “if my aunt had a beard” line of thinking, Lowe didn’t and consequently allowed the Braves to begin the season in a near-perfect manner.   While evaluating that game, critics could only point toward the stress-filled ninth-inning that Gonzalez experienced while attempting to protect a four-run lead.

After the game, manager Bobby Cox talked to Gonzalez about the need to bounce his breaking pitches when ahead in the count.  The two singles surrendered by the left-handed closers came on sliders that were thrown during at-bats that began with first-pitch strikes.  

When pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett fell behind with a 1-2 count and then laced a single into left field, it was impossible to forget about last year, when the Phillies claimed four of their 14 wins over the Braves in games that they were once trailing by at least three runs.

But after Chase Utley drew a five-pitch walk to bring Ryan Howard to the plate as the potential tying run, Gonzalez began pitching like he did during the 2006 season, when he successfully converted each of his 24 save opportunities, despite allowing opponents to produce a .325 on-base percentage.

With runners at first and second and the Braves holding a two-run lead, Gonzalez recorded game-ending conseuctive strikeouts of Howard and Raul Ibanez.  He utilized nine sliders (including five of six pitches to Howard) during this 12-pitch sequence and recorded both strikeouts with fastballs that registered 93 mph.

That was the best velocity we’ve seen from Gonzalez at any point this year.  But I think it’s becoming more apparent that his success will be better dictated by his control and ability to efffectively throw his breaking balls. One positive he can draw from Sunday is the fact that his slider certainly improved as the inning progressed. 

By the way, during the 2006 season with runners on first and second base, Gonzalez limited opponents to four hits in 24 plate appearances, recorded eight strikeouts and issued one walk.   There’s no doubt that he has the abilty to thrive under pressure. 

But for the sake of Cox’s blood pressure, let’s hope that some of his ninth innings prove to be a little less stressful. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,649 other followers