One year ago, the first pitch from Jon Lieber hadn’t even been thrown and the Phillies were already in bad graces.
It's always a strange, surreal sensation to finally see what I've been writing about for months actually come to fruition. Today, I reluctantly hand over my baby to the less-than-tender masses.
Last season, wild dingos ate my baby. In Charlie Manuel's first decision of a long 162 game season, he chose to start Placido Polanco at second base over Chase Utley, contradicting offseason statements that Utley would begin the season as the starting second baseman.
In response, when the players were introduced, certain fans booed Polanco. For being a steady hitter, versatile fielder, excellent second baseman, and a productive man out of the No. 2 hole, they let him have it. And for deciding to start him over Utley, still inexperienced, lesser defensively than Polanco, playing on a day when dead ground-ball pitcher got the start and Kenny Lofton still wasn't 100 percent to assume the No. 2 spot in the lineup, they let Manuel have it, too.
Manuel defended the move by saying Polanco had a better track record against the Expos/Nationals. He reiterated that both players would see plenty of action, at least until the Phillies could move Polanco, whose last minute decision to except arbitration was egg on the face of GM Ed Wade.
It bothered me all season, and bothers me to this day. That’s why I’m hoping for a win this afternoon, for unpopular players like Mike Lieberthal and David Bell to have big games, and for every decision Manuel makes to be perfect, and perfect PR at the same time. I don’t want controversy. I’m already a little bothered that Lieberthal and not Sal Fasano will catch Lieber. It's already been decided that Fasano will serve as Lieber's personal catcher, so I'm bothered that our No. 1 starter will not be completely comfortable.
Small potatoes compared to last season, and few people will have issue. Despite all the poor decision making last opening day, the Phillies barely managed to play exceptional baseball, and only won 8-4. Lieber lived up to every expectation as a pitcher that didn't give hitters an inch. Though he tired early, he jammed hitter after hitter, and sure-handed shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Polanco gobbled them up one after another.
It was hard to forgive Polanco for the sweet double play he helped turn, and for going 2-5 at the plate.
He went on to have the second-highest batting average in baseball in combined seasons between the Phillies and Tigers.
As for Utley, his season wasn't too shabby, either.