Yes, Keith, There Is a Place for a Street Fighting Man
Philadelphia sports fans have a special place in the heart of Washington, DC sports fans. The verbal and very physical abuse the former have heaped upon the latter at hockey games in the City of Brotherly Love have been documented in the press and need no further mention. But that is hockey, a blood lust sport from start to finish. Baseball is not a blood sport, at least not very often.
But when you go to Philadelphia for baseball you are in a time machine, going back not just centuries, but ages. You are transported back to a time when men walked with their knuckles dragging the ground. It is like a movie where the museum figures come alive from a diorama of Neanderthals.
And when you are up against that sort of pre-historic mob mentality; when you are wading into the most visceral of street mentality, you first check your electronic rolodex unde “S.” Because what this situation calls for is a “Street Fighting Man.” Yes, summer is here and the time is right. What is needed when you go to Philadelphia is someone practiced in the art of bicycle chain–and not as a tool of the green revolution. You want someone who knows how to use a baseball bat in a special sort of way. And last night we found out that “the Kid” is a street fighting man. And I mean the kind that has your back, has it big time.
This diatribe means no disrespect for Philadelphia baseball teams or players. Mike Schmidt is one of the great class acts of the game. Ryan Howard and company carry forward that tradition proudly. When Jimmy Rollins beat us on a home run in the ninth inning there was no cursing, no epithets hurled from the stands questioning his parentage. Nationals fans just packed their things and went home knowing they had been beaten by a better team.
But when Philadelphia fans descend on Nationals Park in Washington, it is like the sacking of Rome. The mobs come through the door bent on mayhem. They come in buses, cars, and on trains. It matters not what mode of transit they chose, they arrive the same. They chant and yell the ugliest things that are not fit for family fare. I have seen Philly fans get in the face of young fans who were startled at their first glimpse into the face of primordial evil.
And they are at their worst–which is pretty filthy–when they are sitting along the right field foul line where they can hurl the ugliest things that come to their tiny primeval brains at Jayson Werth. Werth had the temerity to leave Philadelphia for the chance to make more money than Hedge Fund managers. And for that he has been the special subject of abuse from the Philly faithful.
It was on display last night in spades. When Werth came to bat in the first inning the fans behind home plate could be seen screaming whatever nastiness they could imagine. One fan’s special taunt about his mother merely inspired the rest. And it was a family affair. Women and children got into the act. The doctor and lawyer crowd that can afford the expensive seats behind home plate were suddenly transformed into Barney Rubble and Bam-Bam in a roid rage.
When Jayson Werth got on base to start the game with a walk, there was a certain “a-hah” moment to it. You knew he must feel good about it. He would have preferred something more, but he settled for what he could get. It was, however, like Eugene McCarthy against Richard Nixon. It wasn’t a good fit. What was called for was someone with a gutty edginess that oozed from the pores.
Bryce Harper came to the plate with his usual plate-squaring ritual. And then he glared out at Kyle Kendrick and you thought for the first time that maybe in all that we have read about his respect for Jayson Werth as a mentor there might be a spark of something. Did “the Kid” have Jayson’s back?
Oh boy did he. He manned up and planted a Kyle Kendrick pitch in the right center field stands just far enough. You knew at that moment what the programmers who work the un-manned drones must feel like when they have a carload of Al-Quaeda warriors in their sights and pull the trigger. It was a sweet feeling. Two-to-nothing Nationals. Yeah, baby. And Ian Desmond and Kurt Suzuki put RPGs into their midst as well and that felt good too. Five-to-nothing Nationals.
But the mob came back. The Phillies rallied and as the game went to the top of the ninth inning the momentum had swung back to Philadelphia. It smelled and tasted like one that was going to get away after Tyler Clippard gave up a run to bring the Phils back to 5-4. Washington fans knew they were going to need more to win this one.
Ian Desmond came through again with a walk; Kurt Suzuki blooped a single. They were the same ones who put some mustard on the bun in the second inning. But there were two outs when Jayson Werth came to bat in the top of the ninth inning. Desmond and Suzuki went to second and third on a wild pitch and they would score on anything.
The crowd was going to have none of it. They went nuts as soon as Werth took his position in the on-deck circle. They were screaming everything they could think of and it was clearly having an effect. When Werth came to bat with two outs and the runners still aboard, he swung and missed badly at two pitches. He was in a deep hole. With the noise deafening, he stepped out of the box to calm himself and one of the game’s great two-strike hitters stood back in and laced a two-run single up the middle.
And that is how a great ballplayer does it. That is how a class act squares the circle. It is how Mike Schmidt would have done it.
I remember watching Jose Guillen after a pitcher threw at him back in 2005 or 2006. He strolled toward the mound in menace and rage. He almost emptied the benches in a brawl. He was coaxed and dragged to first base before any punches were thrown He went to first base where he continued to mouth off at whoever the pitcher was. Nick Johnson then stood in and he hit the first pitch into the upper deck of the right field stands at RFK. Now that is a statement the way the pro’s do it, the way Werth did it last night.
Jayson Werth had put the game safely out of reach. It was 7-4 Nationals, but with the Phillies, you just never know. They were down, but were they really out? And Bryce Harper and every other Nationals player and fan had heard all the abuse heaped upon Werth, so who was going to take up his fight?
Bryce Harper came to bat and just to make sure, he kicked the Philly faithful in the nether parts with a screaming double into the right field corner. Jayson Werth came flying around the bases and there was no third base coach in the world that was going to hold him up. He streaked past Carlos Ruiz, stomped on home plate, and there was grim joy on his face as he high-fived every Nationals player on his way into the dugout.
And that is when I knew for certain that Bryce Harper is a street-fighting man. The Philly fans were not yelling at anyone now. They were heading for the exits in droves, going back to their caves or wherever they come from. We know they will be back. They will come down to DC next week for the last three games of the season and they won’t be nice then either.
But it really won’t matter. They will be losers. The will be wearing the big “L.” And it will fit them nicely and I will look at them and laugh quietly to myself as I remember Werth coming in to score the eighth run in what was the nail in the coffin of Philadelphia’s Wild Card run in 2012.
No, the Phillies won’t be going to the playoffs this year. And there is no satisfaction in beating a fine team and denying THEM. No, the satisfaction is in putting those RPG’s up the whazootie of the fans who have taken baseball and rubbed its face in the dirt. They don’t deserve the playoffs. They don’t deserve Mike Schmidt. They deserve exactly what they got last night: a whuuping. Thank you Bryce. Thank you Jayson. Thank you very much indeed.