Elliott on baseball column

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

MIAMI -- Ah, yes, September, the best baseball month of all. When games turn on an at-bat, when drama builds, when half-a-game up becomes half-a-game down ...

And when the Florida Marlins make the Bad News Bears II look good.

Lefty Dontrelle Willis, hitting eighth in the batting order with the same number of hits this season as wins (21), tossed eight scoreless innings and then poof, it was gone.

If Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis was watching yesterday, he might have had a post-game meeting. The Marlins didn't flop, they were the waitress bringing the six bowls of hot tomato soup and the jugs of wine to the table ... tripping and making sure everyone was soaked equally.

The Philadelphia Phillies have been playing for 123 years, and never before have they scored 10 runs in the top of the ninth.

But then they had some help. They had more aid tossed their way than some Third World countries.

The first 10 Phillies reached base and they all scored. For the sake of history we provide a gaffe-by-gaffe blow of the ninth, which saw the Marlins drop their fourth consecutive game to fall two games back in the wild-card race, with the Houston Astros still to play last night.

Jimmy Rollins hit a high chopper off Willis and off the cement-like infield, which bounced into left. Willis walked Jason Michaels and Bobby Abreu hit a hard smash to second baseman Luis Castillo.

Castillo, in a rush to turn two, looked like a matador in training for a bull-fighting card. The ball went into right field, Rollins scored and Michaels raced to third.

Manager Jack McKeon replaced Willis with closer Todd Jones to face Pat Burrell, who hit a ball so high to centre that former Dolphins kick returner Mercury Morris would have signalled for a fair catch. Not-so-lucky Marlins centre fielder Juan Pierre broke back on the ball, switched gears racing in, was too late to make the catch and then overran the ball, missing the easy force play at second.

"I haven't seen an inning like that before. There's no explanation," Pierre said. "We looked like we had the game in hand. Then all the wheels fell off. It's tough to swallow, especially at this time of season."

Chase Utley then bunted to the left of the mound, Jones fielded the ball, spun and threw a ball closer to the direction of West Palm Beach than first base.

Another Phillie scored, running the bases to the circus music playing in the background while Utley wound up on third.

"If you want to play in the post-season, you can't do what we did," Jones said. "When you don't pitch, don't play defence, you won't win."

David Bell then lofted a pitch into the south Florida afternoon. Pierre raced in, Castillo went out, then pulled up and Bell's blooper fell for a Florida State League single. McKeon said that the Burrell and Bell bloopers should have both been caught.

So six batters in, the only well-hit ball was Abreu's two-hopper which should have been a double-play ball. And still no one out.

Mike Lieberthal then lined a single to left and Ryan Howard reached off Jeff Conine's error, as the 27,203 fans booed this Marlins meltdown.

Michael Tucker and Rollins -- remember him? He led off the inning -- each singled before plate ump Brian O'Nora rung up Michaels looking at a called strike three.

For Jones, it was his first blown save in his past 28 chances and as John Candy used to say: "He blowed up good, real good." Jones faced five batters, made onlt nine pitches, gave up five runs and committed a throwing error.

How bad was it? Well picture the final game of the day at the plant co-ed lob-ball tourney as the final keg is drained.

McKeon knew, saying: "It's tough to give it all away and play like the Bad News Bears in that one inning."

The bottom line on the inning: 10 runs on eight hits and a record four Marlins errors, including a bad throw by Pierre.

As good as Willis was over the first eight innings -- three hits, a season-high seven strikeouts and zero walks -- the Marlins were worse, and then some, in the ninth.

As for the Phillies, on Sept. 7, they took a 6-5 lead into the top of the ninth at home against the Astros with automatic closer Billy Wagner on the mound.

Houston's Jose Vizcaino hit a grounder to third that Bell kicked for an error. Next, Willy Taveras hit a grounder to short and beat the throw from Rollins. The third batter, Craig Biggio, homered.

That completed an Astros win to leave the Phillies 2 1/2 games out with their next 13 against the Marlins and Atlanta Braves.

They beat the Marlins two out of three, then took three in a row from the Braves -- with redoubtables Eude Brito and Gavin Floyd starting the first two games -- and haven't lost a series since Wagner served up that walkoff homer.

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

When did those wild-card races turn into division races? Will the New York Yankees catch the Boston Red Sox? Will White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen play Gene Mauch in a remake of the Philadelphia collapse of 41 years ago as the Cleveland Indians continue their run? Will the Oakland A's catch the Angels? ... Why doesn't baseball pass a rule that if a division leader doesn't have a winning record (see San Diego Padres), then the the wild-card runnerup makes the post-season instead ... Which A's manager will run the Pittsburgh Pirates next season? Art Howe or Ken Macha?

ALL IN THE DELIVERY

The other night, when the Red Sox were at Rogers Centre, Boston first baseman John Olerud asked about outfielder Adam Stern, who played centre for Team Canada in the Athens Olympics.

"He played, but he didn't get any hits against Team USA," we answered.

Olerud stared back blankly, as Stern smiled. We had to explain how Cuba and Canada won the two qualifying berths, while Mexico eliminated Team USA.

"Oh, I get it," said Olerud, "Canadian humour. I remember one night years ago, Ed Sprague and I went to a Yuk-Yuk's. The comedian starts out: 'So this guy from Saskatchewan and Manitoba walk into a bar ... We had zero points of reference."

As for Stern, of London, manager Terry Francona said that they weren't hiding Stern on the disabled list due to his Rule V status. Stern injured ligaments in his thumb sliding during spring training.

"Then, he pulled a quad muscle," Francona said. "We'd like him to be playing now in September, but his shoulder is bothering him."


Videos

Photos