Sam Donnellon: 2008 Phillies have little in common with 1993 team

Posted: June 10, 2008

A GUY IN his early 20s approached me recently with hope in his eyes.

"This team is for real, huh?" he said of the Phillies. "Just like that '93 team, huh?"

Well . . . He had it half right.

This team is for real. In a way, that 1993 team never was. This team is younger, faster, more complete, with a home-grown core that has matured before your eyes and owns a bright future beyond this season. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Madson - this team was planned for in a way that the 1993 team was not.

The Phillies of 1993 had precious little home-grown talent. They were a collection of castoffs, cheap pickups, and well-traveled veterans with little pedigree, and little connection to the town that now reveres them. They hung together, drank together, spit out vicious insults to each other as if they were sunflower seeds. They were their own community, like a minor league team is.

Few had been to the postseason. Few, if they were honest, expected to be there when the season began.

The 2008 Phillies expect to be there. They are defending National League East champions, a title forged by more than a month's worth of playoff-like baseball. You can see that in the way they play right now, in the way they take big hits and keep coming at you, by the way they close the deal and own ninth innings. You can even see it by the way they talk. Before you can come down from the high they just gave you, they're talking about tomorrow's game.

The '93 team was a hope more than a plan, which is why it dissipated so quickly. You hoped Darren Daulton's surgically repaired knees would handle the grind. You hoped Lenny Dykstra would stay off the disabled list and play more than 85 games. You hoped Danny Jackson's shoulder and elbow would hold up and that Jim Eisenreich could handle big-city pressure and that Pete Incaviglia, after a promising comeback year with Houston, had something left in the tank.

You hoped that Ben Rivera's strong August and September in 1992 was a harbinger for 1993 and that Curt Schilling wouldn't revert back to the pitcher he was before 1992, the pitcher who had already been through three organizations before the Phillies.

People tend to forget all that because of the way the '93 team came out of the gate. They were 17-5 in April and 23-7 after 30 games. Their starters had 16 complete games by late July and 24 over the season. They led by 11 1/2 games by mid-June, and were never really challenged until a late September surge by a young Expos team, which sliced the Phillies lead from 9 1/2 to four games with 15 to play. It never got closer until the final day.

Daulton and Incaviglia tied for the team home run lead. Each had 24, three more than Chase Utley has right now. That wasn't their game. They hit doubles and singles, and walked and walked and walked and walked. For the first time in National League history, three guys - Daulton, Dykstra and John Kruk - had more than 100 walks. On nights like last night, the opposing pitcher would sweat like a cartoon character as guys went station to station and the crooked numbers on the scoreboard kept piling up.

This year's pitching staff has two complete games, both by Cole Hamels. Yet, the starters lead the league in innings pitched. There is a sense, even from Adam Eaton these days, that each has grasped what it takes to pitch for this team, particularly in their home park. Throw strikes, walk few, eat innings, keep it close. It might not have been a foolproof formula when your middle relievers were named Mesa, Alfonseca and Geary, but the group out there now has been good enough to draw comparisons to that Yankees bullpen of the late '90s, the one with Ramiro Mendoza and Mariano Rivera at the end, and guys like Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton covering the sixth and seventh.

Brad Lidge almost blew a save Saturday. He will eventually. But how relaxed do you feel in the final three innings now than you did a year ago? The guy who approached me the other day said that Tom Gordon and Ryan Madson made him jittery, but he never lived through a ninth inning with Mitch Williams on the mound.

There are men walking around in this town right now who look 20 years older than their actual age because they sat through too many of those games.

In 62 innings pitched that season, Williams gave up 56 hits, walked 44 batters and allowed 30 runs.

Try doing the wave amid that.

But he also saved 43 of 49 opportunities and was, in many ways, the face of that team. Gritty, not pretty, the hourglass to his career already bottom heavy. Pitching, at the end at least, on hope more than expectation.

If you lived through it, aged through it - well you already know:

This year doesn't feel anything like that one.

Which ain't all bad. *

Send e-mail to

donnels@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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