As promised, I'm putting up a quick recap of the Cards-Phillies game I went to last week, having finally gotten round to getting the photos on the computer. Sadly, the game itself was a slightly disappointing experience, I managed to see one of only two (if memory serves) Cards losses from the 7 days leading up to the game, which lead into the pretty listless form we've seen from the team for the last week or so. It was great to see the team in person for the first time in about 6 or 7 years, and great to see such a fine start from Adam Wainwright, but it was frustrating to see us looking so unlikely to put any runs on the board (despite leaving more ducks on the pond than Philly did), and the Ruiz walk-off homer, hit off Hawksworth, seemed to have an air of inevitability about it after he hit a very loud foul that just died outside the left-field foul pole a couple of pitches before. Just one of the many close battles that slip out of a team's grasp over the longer war of the regular season, I guess.
In retrospect, it would've been nice to get to Pittsburgh this last week to see the last game of that series, but the terrible transport links across Pennsylvania (would you believe it takes nearly EIGHT HOURS to get a train from Philly to the Steel City?) and the fact that my friends in this region were only able to take a day off at the weekend meant that I just didn't make it. Maybe next time.
Anyhow, onto the trip report:
Citizen's Bank Park lies in south Philly, just a mile or two down the road from the best Cheesesteak place in town (Jim's, on South Street) and with decent access from the I-95, to the northeast of the city, which is where we drove in from. It was a pretty shitty job getting parked, given the traffic, but I guess the half hour or so it took to get into the car park probably isn't bad by major sports-venue standards. Parking seemed a bit steep (I think it was 12 or 15 bucks or something to park for the game) but I imagine if you're earlier than we were and don't mind walking you can park on some of the (slightly rough) streets nearby. You can also get the subway to a stop just across the street. I guess that, some nights during the year, home games at CBP will clash with the other sports teams, which could be a pain in the ass - The Eagles literally play across the street, and we parked quite near the Flyers/76ers home at the Wachovia Centre which, stupidly, doesn't seem to open it's parking lot when the Phillies are playing.
The Park seems pretty nicely laid out, if unremarkable, with good site lines pretty much everywhere I could see. We got some 50-buck tickets from stubhub just down the 3rd base line quite near the field, good for seeing the guys rolling on and off the field into the visiting dugout:
The best value, though, has to be the standing room only tickets. Whilst you can pay upwards of $150 to sit behind home plate, and, as I said, our reasonable-enough 3rd base seats go in the 40-70 buck range, for some games you can get in for 15 bucks (though I think the standing room sells out quite quickly, stubhub had some tickets for all the games last week). You can basically walk around the concourse on the bottom tier of the stadium right round into left and right field (not sure if it's possible to get to the higher levels, though), and if you get yourself set-up behind home plate, despite the pretty raucous Philly fans (I guess the standing-room crowd and the bleachers guys have a pretty big intersection in the Phillies-fandom Venn diagram), get a great view with easy access to the beer, pretzel and hotdog vending stands behind you:
This one's from later at night, going into extra innings, showing the ivy wall/garden in centre field. To the right of that, you can see the bullpens - they're split level, with the visiting pen literally right above the home one, which is a neat space-saving trick I don't think I've seen anywhere else. The RF wall carries scores from the other MLB games, which is nice. The image above, from the first-base side of home plate, shows the scoreboard in left field, which shows the usual replays (for non-contentious calls - shame MLB doesn't show strikeouts and pitches from the usual TV view, or indeed at all), and the row of concessions in left field, stretching into Ashburn Alley, where there's also some Phillies historical/memorabilia stuff and more permanent concessions buildings, including a cheesesteak place which sadly isn't run by Rick's steaks any more, but you can still get the Philly "delicacy" at Tony Luke's, I think.
And so - concessions! The food and drink at Citizens Bank is probably fairly unremarkable, there's the usual preponderance of hotdog and pretzel vendors around the concourse, along with more varied options behind left and centre field and slightly outside the mainly open street-level concourse level. Beer is plentiful, and decent value, at 7 bucks a pop the crap that the vendors in the seating area sell (Coors Lite, mainly) isn't worth it, but if you leave your seat and head to the concourse you can get good local microbrews on draft for the same price, which is pretty decent by ballpark standards. They check most smallish bags on the way in but there's no body checks so I guess you could easily smuggle in a few cans of beer in your jacket.
I had a couple of local brews (Victory Hop Devil, very good, and a not-so-local Sam Adams), a couple of pretzels (pretty tasty and warm, good with the brews and, I think, only $2.50 or so a pop) and a hotdog, which was decidedly mediocre (instead of combining them to order, we got them in foil-wrapped packages from the warming oven, which meant the bread was kinda soggy, but I think they'd be perfectly edible otherwise) for $3.50. You can get bigger dogs (possibly the kosher ones I think) further round the stadium, and, realistically, there are other good options if you want to spend a bit more money. Probably my favourite moment of the night, however, and a possible source of sustenance if you get lucky and catch one before it literally explodes (showering the crowd with shitty meat and bread bits) is the Phillie Phanatic's HOT DOG CANNON, awesome:
Here you can see the concourse, FWIW, which runs round most of the stadium and has replicas of the same 4 or 5 main outlets all the way around it, with the more varied offerings dotted around the outfield:
So, onto the game. Waino pitched very well all night, getting out of one or two minor jams with some fortunately-directed popups and groundballs, although a David Freese error on a fairly routine hard-hit GB down the 3B line didn't help him. Over the course of the game, he seemed to give up fewer hard-hit flyballs than Hamels, and both pitchers were, I felt, helped by what seemed to be a generous strike zone (a lot of stuff at the knees, from my vantage point, was being called. Here's the Wagonmaker's delivery from my seat:
Waino, despite turning in a gem, didn't always seem to have his best stuff, and seemed to rely more on his slider than his curve, at least according to the stadium gun/pitch classification. He was hitting 92 with the fastball pretty much, but you could see even from my vantage point that his curve still had a lot of hard break. It was hard to see where he was throwing a lot of pitches from the side, but he generally seemed to be working down in the zone and got a few called strike-3's on inside sliders. He did a pretty fine job of pitching to Howard and Utley, helped by the fact he wasn't giving up too many baserunners anyhow.
At the other end, Hamels threw an absolute beaut and seemed to have his best stuff going. As you'd expect, he was living off the changeup, but threw quite a few breaking balls as well, and seemed to have his best velocity as he was hitting 93 and 94 on the stadium gun. 8 Ks, and he was generally pretty unhittable (he's pretty popular here and is on a commercial on Philly TV literally ALL THE TIME). As a side note, when he got pulled in the 9th on his way to a possible shutout, blowing it by giving up the tieing run with back-to-back hard hit doubles from Freese and Molina (shame they didn't leave him in as he looked gassed), someone near me yelled "You suck, Cole!". He still got a standing ovation when he came out, though, and, generally, I thought the Phils crowd wasn't as bad as advertised.
Here he is from a higher vantage point with Dave McKay looking on:
Brad Lidge came in to relieve Hamels and, sadly enough, did a pretty awesome job. It was one of the many moments in the game when a timely hit would've got us home, with Yadi on 2nd and (I think) no outs, he retired Skip on a groundball, IBBed Colby (my only chance to see our wunderkind, sadly) and then struck out Boog with the usual heater/slider combo, our shortstop looking sadly overmatched (see below for whistful infield shot...). Jon Jay then got 0-2 down with Yadi on 3rd and it seemed a chance to take the lead was going begging, then Jay hit a towering flyball that I really thought was going out, only for it to be caught at the wall. Shame.
One interesting observation on Lidge, from the side, is that he has a very slow arm, at the start of his delivery at least, and seems to whip it through to generate the 96-mph+ velocity he creates. I wonder if the slightly funky timing on his delivery helps to throw batters off, a little bit (and maybe he's also been a bit lucky with injuries, as it looks "smooth and slow" and then accelerates violently from the vertical). In any case, I was surprised to notice that, as it's not something I've seen on TV particularly.
Other than the 9th, our offense didn't really look like threatening, as we were just unable to string the hits together. A few scattered doubles, including a real boomer from Albert (who was routinely booed, our only player who was) in the 10th inning....
unfortunately, again, we couldn't capitalise with one out and Holliday up, as he struck out for the third time in the game (as an aside, Jose Contreras, who I was all over us to sign in the winter, looked excellent in the pen - he was hitting 95, 96 from what I recall, which is a pretty strong boost from his days as a starter. It's strange that they've not used him to start whilst Happ's been injured, because he's got to be a LOT better than Kyle Kendrick, and I don't see the logic of having your 4th or 5th best starter throwing in the pen. Oh well, tell it to Lou Piniella...). Here's the 120-million man:
The extra innings had a hint of inevitability about them, with Reyes' 4-pitch walk to Howard a particular low-light, and although I thought Hawksworth got out of the 9th pretty well, he was leaving fastballs up and over the plate to Carlos Ruiz. He got lucky once, then repeated the pitch and it was game over. I wonder if, with a rested bullpen, we shouldn't have had someone else up, but really it was just one individual mistake in a very close game. As an aside, on the walkoff win (and, I assume, every home night game win?) the stupid replica "Liberty Bell" in centrefield was lit up, with a loud PA system "BONG" noise being played out to celebrate. More original than fireworks I guess, but, well, it didn't work for me. Perhaps because I was lamenting my first ever live Cardinals loss. Booooooo-urns.
The only moment of relevance was ANOTHER Philly fan (I guess) running onto the field. I was up in the standing-room-only area at the time, and let me say there were a LOT of heckles from the people around me advocating the application of some physical violence from the security staff. No tazering, this time, though...
Anyway, here's a couple more player pics:
And a lonely centre fielder (Mr Bombs):
Right then, thanks for reading, folks. That's just about it for another Cardinals roadtrip, from Citizens Bank Park!