Beaning adds new layer to Phillies, Giants rivalry

The San Francisco Giants are looking for a good, old-fashioned Philadelphia beating. Their arrogance and stupidity has reached the point of no return now, the point where it’s not just about baseball anymore.

Last Friday night, in the midst of another thrashing by the Phillies, Giants thug Ramon Ramirez decided to throw a ball directly at Shane Victorino. The replay is undeniable. Ramirez rears back and fires a fastball right at Victorino’s rear end, smacking him with a glancing blow above the right hip.

Why? Oh, no reason. The Giants were losing, 8-2, and it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

After absorbing the blow, Victorino took a couple of steps toward the mound — with no menace in his eyes — and hothead Ramirez saw the gesture as a call to arms. The ensuing melee was a typical bench-clearing brawl – players racing in from all directions and creating a scrum in the middle of the diamond, but inflicting no physical harm.

The incident left a mark, however, both on Victorino’s back and on the relationship between two increasingly bitter rivals. The scars that began forming last year in the playoffs are growing deeper with each indignity provided by a classless Giants team that desperately needs to be put in its place. Second place, that is. Far behind the Phillies.

Remember, it was San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy who cast aside all baseball etiquette in the All-Star game, burning the two top Phillies pitchers, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, while preserving two of his own aces, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, for the regular season. On a team of largely nondescript players, Bochy has become the focus of our rage.

In fact, Bochy was once described as a “two-by-four” when required to speak publicly. And this wooden persona was evident again after the incident last Friday night.

“It’s baseball and things happen fast,” Bochy said. “Tempers flare. It’s part of the game. It’s competition. Things aren’t going well for us. . . I thought it was fairly clean out there.”

Clean? Since when is an unprovoked beanball clean? And in what world is it acceptable for a pitcher to throw at someone just because “things aren’t going well for us”?

Considering the disappointment of last October, a little payback was already on the 2011 agenda. But now that Bochy and his one-year wonders have resorted to schoolyard antics, they would do well to watch their backs.

Because when you act like that around here, there’s a very good chance you’re going to catch a beating.

Pence a perfect fit for this Phils team

Hunter Pence. The name sounds like something out of a bad baseball novel. But what Pence has done in his first 10 days as a Phillie is very real, and very impressive. He has filled the greatest need on the team with a flair that has given him instant adulation in our sports-crazed city.

The black hole that was the No. 5 spot in the batting order is filled now with a quirky overachiever who crushes left-handed pitching and provides protection for the best slugger in baseball, Ryan Howard. The sudden power surge by Howard in the past week is no coincidence.

But the story of Pence’s explosion in popularity is not just about the runs he’s accounting for and the nine straight wins he helped to provide. It was also about playing the game the right way, a reminder several Phillies players need. Yet again last week, Jimmy Rollins tried jogging home from second on a two-out base hit and nearly got thrown out at the plate. Rollins needs to watch Pence play.

The other refreshing element Pence has brought in his first days here is his appreciation for what many of us may be taking for granted — a gifted team capable of 100 wins and a world championship. Through Pence’s eyes, we can see again the joy of 2008, the sense of awe at having arguably the best ballclub in the game.

Lurie evolves as Eagles do

Things are going so well for the Eagles right now that even owner Jeff Lurie is starting to make sense. During his annual state of the team address last week, there were moments when Lurie actually sounded more like an Eagles fan than like his snooty billionaire pals.

Lurie was still his old smug self when he compared the NFL to the “EPL,” as if anyone outside of his cricket club knew he meant the English Premier (soccer) League. And he lost a few credibility points when he feigned shock at the suggestion that the new aggressiveness of his team was tied to the stunning success of the Phillies.

But something has happened to Lurie since his infamous “gold standard” days of a decade ago. He may finally realize now that nothing less than a championship is acceptable, as he proved while discounting the recent “Dream Team” label for his Eagles.

“The only dream team I know about is the Green Bay Packers,” Lurie said. “We dream to hold that trophy. We’re consciously trying to play catch-up in an aggressive way.”

Playing catch-up? Holding the Lombardi Trophy? Either a very talented public-relations expert sat Lurie down and finally explained how things run here, or the 135-day lockout gave the owner time to figure it out for himself.

– Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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