Mike Lieberthal spent more games behind the plate than any catcher in Phillies history. Tonight, he sits opposite his old team for the first time.
The Dodgers are cutting Lieberthal a one-year, $1.15 million paycheck with a club option for 2008, but from a baseball standpoint, his career is hobbling down the home stretch. Barely getting time behind All-Star catcher Russell Martin, the Dodgers have given him just 48 plate appearances, which he’s turned into 10 hits, two walks and an RBI. It’s a cheerless, but common swan song for a beaten down veteran catcher, whose career started right out of high school when the Phillies made him a first-round pick in June of 1990. Should he decide to hang up the cleats after ’07, or should the Dodgers deny his option - which is likely - he’ll still finish with at least 150 homers, 600-plus RBIs and over 1,150 hits, virtually all of it in red pinstripes.
By all accounts, he was popular with teammates, and according to the Inquirer, still keeps close tabs on his ex-team. He does this in spite of the ho-hum farewell he received from fans, and the blunt way in which the team announced he was no longer in their plans beyond '06 (the right decision, no matter how it was handled publicly). Lieberthal’s legacy in Philadelphia is that of an offensive-minded catcher, overshadowed somewhat by his perceived laid-back attitude and the fact the team never reached the post-season during his tenure.
Ironically, his worst statistical season could turn into his best chance at a post-season. Same for Randy Wolf, who turned down a multi-year offer from the Phillies in favor of a one-year tryout with his hometown Dodgers. Although he’s been slowed by soreness in his left shoulder and hasn’t been himself since May, the former Phil was on pace to set a career high in strikeouts before a trip to the DL. He’s expected back at the end of the month. Wolf, who pitched for the Phils from 1999-2006, was an all-star in 2003. Unlike Lieberthal, I would have liked to see him stay in Philadelphia.
Tonight’s matchup: Jamie Moyer (7-7, 4.43 ERA) versus Brad Penny (10-1, 2.39 ERA). Penny’s ERA is third lowest in the NL behind San Diego’s Chris Young and Jake Peavy. The Phillies enter the game 46-45, five back of the division-leading Mets and 3 1/2 back of the second-place Braves. The Dodgers are 52-40 and lead the tough NL West by 1 game over the Padres. In spite of everything, the Phillies are still tied for the best record in the NL since April 21.