Admit it, even though you were kind of giddy when Ruben Amaro picked Roy Oswalt from Ed Wade’s pocket at the trade deadline, you still weren’t sure that the Phillies' new No. 2 starter belonged in any discussions of the league’s top pitchers. After all, discussions of baseball’s top arms usually include names like Sabathia, Halladay, Wainwright, and of course, Lee.
You read about Oswalt’s propensity to shut down the opposition in August, September, and even October when he was an Astro, but you tempered your expectations after realizing that those impressive playoff numbers were from 2004 and 2005. Those were the days when Cole Hamels was dominating hitters by day and breaking bones (in his own valuable left hand, unfortunately) at night in Clearwater, Florida.
Nonetheless, it was hard not to be excited. After all, in the eyes of every baseball analyst, the Phillies' starting rotation (or at least the three arms at the top) was the best in baseball.
Then came Oswalt’s first start as a Phillie, and even though it was less than twenty-four hours after his arrival from the deep south, and with a catcher he had just met, his 8-1 loss to the last place Nationals still gave you that unsatisfied feeling. The kind of feeling you get when you go to a Panera with a huge appetite.
What’s happened since, however, has made you forget those bitter Cliff Lee thoughts and envision another season with Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels beginning or prolonging the offensive slumps of National League opponents.
In his first month as a Phillie, Oswalt is 4-1 with an ERA of 1.89. Take away that hurried first start against the Nationals, and those numbers go to 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA.
Maybe those late season statistics from years past weren’t a myth after all. With nearly 200 innings under his belt in 2010, Oswalt seems to be surging when it matters the most.
Isn’t it amazing what a pennant race can do for a terrific player freed from a losing atmosphere? The Phillies have now seen this phenomenon in two straight years with Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt.
With Oswalt, the move to a contender has already proven that this undersized, 33-year-old Mississippian plays to win.
In a crucial stretch of August baseball, we have seen him win with or without his best stuff. At times, his location has been Halladay-esque, but there have also been days like this week’s start against the Dodgers, when Oswalt simply dug deep and competed when the strike zone seemed to elude him. Firing a 95-mph fastball for a strikeout on his 90th pitch of the afternoon was something you see $15 million pitchers do.
What you don’t often see $15 million pitchers do are things like pinch hitting at crucial spots in late-season games, and substituting as a surprisingly slick left fielder. Oswalt is leaving little doubt that he is motivated to win.
And the best part is that he will be wearing a Phillies uniform for at least another full season, and possibly two.
Maybe this Ruben Amaro, Jr. guy learned a thing or two during those three years under Pat Gillick. After all, have you heard anyone describe former Phillie J.A. Happ using the word “untouchable” since Roy Oswalt arrived in town?