Philadelphia Phillies 8, Chicago White Sox 4

13 06 2007

Yup, I was there.

It looked for most of the game like it was just about to rain—and there was even a chill in the air whenever the sun hid behind clouds—but the Phils and the Sox managed to complete today’s day game. I love ditching work at noon and heading off to the ballpark. I love that a little too much, actually. Or maybe I just need to get a different job. With a baseball team. Who’ll hire me?

I particularly enjoyed today’s game because utility infielder Wes Helms got his first home run of the year. This is a minority viewpoint, to be sure, but I think Helms has been badly treated by the Phillies and their fans this year. Helms was brought in to shore up third base, a perennial soft spot for the Phillies. Abraham Nuñez has been a superb defensive third baseman for the team, but he simply hasn’t provided any offense whatsoever. Last year, for instance, his batting average was .211, and he spent much of the season below .200.

After the horrendous start by the Phillies this year, players like Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, and Helms got some abuse. Notably, Phillies GM Pat Gillick publicly singled those three out as the “cause” of the early inconsistency. As to Helms, though, that was hogwash. At the time, Helms was batting nearly .300, and, anyway, no one ever expected him—unlike, say, Howard—to be the offense’s engine.

After Gillick’s, and others’, harsh words, Helms stumbled. Part of the problem, I think, was that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel started keeping Helms on the bench, bringing him in only for the occasional pinch hit or when Nuñez (or Howard) needed a rest. Meanwhile, Helms started taking it from fans, who frequently booed a strikeout or a pop fly. Philadelphia sports fans can be tough, of course, sometimes frequently unfairly so. It seemed to me, anyway, that Helms had gotten caught up in vicious cycle—and one that was not of his own making.

Helms will never be the defensive third baseman that Nuñez is. That was underscored today when he bobbled what should have been a routine fielding play. But during the off-season, the Phillies decided that they should give up some of Nuñez’s defensive brilliance for offensive power. I think that calculus still makes sense. But to get that offensive power, they need to re-commit to Helms and make sure he plays nearly every day. That’s the only way we’re really going to see what kind of offense Helms can provide the team. It’s the only way Helms is going to get in a groove.

I hope Helms’s long overdue first homer of the season marks a turning point for him. And for his relationship with the team, fans included.

I’m not an optimist, though. No Phillies fan really is.

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