Since issuing a challenge to teammates, the spirited closer has talked the talk and walked the walk.
It wasn’t long ago – July 2 in fact – that Kenny Lofton called a ridiculous, inappropriate team meeting to chastise Billy Wagner for stating the obvious in a July 1 article by Jim Salisbury.
"No chance," Wagner said bluntly when asked if they had a shot at the postseason. "We ain't got a chance to get there right now."
While some criticized Wagner for bailing on his mates, others - myself included - praised the outspoken veteran for having the guts and honesty to tell it like it was.
Wagner, it seemed, was the only player with a pulse, and perhaps the only man in the organization with a realistic view of the situation.
More than a month later, his words ring loud and clear.
"You've got to know how to win before you can start thinking about playoffs," said Wagner, who went to the post season four times with Houston. "There are a lot of reasons to have faith. This ain't over. But anybody who says we have a clear shot to the playoffs right now is fooling themselves. We've got to win. Adding pieces isn't going to make us any better. If you don't learn to win and show some fight, it doesn't matter."
Since issuing the harsh challenge, Wagner has smacked around the opposition better than any closer in baseball. Since July 3 - a blown save against Atlanta - his ERA has plummeted from 2.41 to 1.77, allowing just two runs during that span. His relief Win Shares put him second behind Chad Cordero and Mariano Rivera.
If baseball was written like boxing, I’d say Wagner was the best pound-for-pound fighter on this team because he's arguably the best at his position in all of baseball.
Lately, his confidence seems to be rubbing off.
"I've noticed something in the last three days," catcher Todd Pratt told the Daily News this morning. "The team is still having fun in the dugout, but it's a lot more intense. I think a lot of people are a lot more focused. I think a lot of personalities are starting to come out. Everybody is really wide-eyed."
Charlie Manuel also told the Daily News strong personalities of players such as Wagner and Ugueth Urbina have helped.
There’s a difference between strong personalities like T.O. and strong personalities like Wagner. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to play for a winner, and that’s Wagner’s wish. But he also said he wanted to win on the Phillies, and that’s the difference.
Confidence, passion, and guts represent what’s been missing these past few seasons, and I'll never criticize a player for displaying too much fire.
Wagner’s spirit, not saves, could be his strongest asset.
Well ... the saves are pretty sweet, too.