Monday, October 19, 2009
When former Phillies lefthander Randy Wolf takes the mound in tonight's Game #4 of the NLCS against his former team he will be trying to duplicate the World Series-winning accomplishments of a number of former teammates, and now of the Phillies themselves.
It's not at all surprising that once he had an opportunity at free agency, that the pitcher affectionately known here as "Wolfie" would choose to move on to southern California. Wolf was born and raised in the Los Angeles area, and became both a high school and collegiate star pitcher there before being drafted in the 25th round by his hometown Dodgers in 1994.
However, Wolf chose not to sign with his childhood dream team and instead went to college. When he was next eligible, Wolf was chosen by the Phillies in the 2nd round of the 1997 draft. Within two years he rose through the ranks of the club's minor league system, and made his Major League debut with the Phils on June 11th, 1999, recording a victory against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Wolf would go on to pitch for 7 more full seasons in Philly, becoming a fan favorite at Veteran's Stadium where a particularly colorful group of patrons began to don wolf masks and show up at his games. The 'Wolf Pack' grew larger and larger over the years, and they would do a little dance in celebration of each strikeout and victory by their hero.
Randy Wolf had much success in town, but would not see ultimate team success during his time in Philly. Though the club was a contender in a number of his seasons, and though he was here long enough to see the first few years at Citizens Bank Park and play with teammates who would become the core of the current title team such as Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, he would leave right before the good times began to roll.
Wolf now finds himself in the position that some other former teammates found themselves in, once heroes for their exploits at the Vet, but left to seek their ultimate World Series fortunes elsewhere before the Citizens Bank Park bunch finally matured into champs. It is the same position, in fact, that outfielder Bobby Abreu finds himself in as he plays in this year's ALCS with the Angels vs. the Yankees.
Abreu was the Phillies main hitting star during Wolf's pitching tenure. He was a regular .300 hitter who swatted 30 homers, drove in 100 runs, and stole 30 bases almost every year. But 2006 was, like Wolf, his final season with the Phils. Both left the year before the Phillies won the first of what has been three straight NL East titles, and of course before the 2008 World Series win. Both continue to chase their own elusive championship on the west coast. Other of their former teammates have already experienced that World Series championship thrill.
Curt Schilling was a teammate with Wolf and Abreu on the 1998 and '99 Phillies. After being traded away to Arizona, Schil shared the '01 World Series MVP Award as he helped lead the Diamondbacks to the title. He then moved on to Boston where his legendary 'bloody sock' pitching effort helped the Bosox break the almost century-old 'Curse of the Bambino' with a World Series win in 2004. He would add another with the Bosox in 2007 before retiring this season due to injuries.
Scott Rolen was supposed to be the 2nd coming of Mike Schmidt, and early in his career he lived up to the hype. Rolen was every bit Schmidt's defensive equal, a human highlight film with the glove. He was a tremendous baserunner. As a teammate of Schilling, Abreu and Wolf in 1998, Rolen hit .290, clubbed 31 homers, and drove in 110 runs in just his 3rd season. He seemed destined for superstardom.
Rolen very nearly led the Phils into the 2001 post-season, banging a pair of memorable homeruns as the Phils beat the Atlanta Braves to tie for first place on the first night back after the devastating attacks of 9/11 had stopped baseball for a week. But ultimately Rolen departed in acrimony, never embracing the town fully. He would finally win his own World Series title, starring for the Saint Louis Cardinals as they took home the 2006 World Series title.
Schilling and Rolen, as well as Schilling's Boston manager Terry Francona who skippered those 2004 and 2007 Red Sox to their World Series titles after managing those late 90's Phillies teams, all followed in the footsteps of another Phils legend who had to leave to get his ring. Longtime catcher and team leader Darren Daulton, who spent every season of his 13+ Major League career in Philly, and who was a teammate of Schilling, Rolen & Abreu before being traded late in 1997, went to Florida in that deal and won a World Series title with those Marlins.
Randy Wolf will finally take the mound at Citizens Bank Park in a National League Championship Series game that is pivotal for the Phillies hopes of advancing to the World Series. But fate has it that he will be trying to thwart the hopes of the Phils and the rowdy fans, who will not be rooting him on. That includes the old 'Wolf Pack' members. I spoke to one just last week and he told me that Wolfie understands, their loyalty lies with the home team.
So tonight when Wolf takes the mound versus the organization that was his home for almost a decade, he will be trying to tie the series and give his hometown Dodgers a shot at getting him what his former teammates Schilling and Rolen, his former manager Francona, and now his former mates Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Burrell all have - a World Series champions ring.