1998 Philadelphia Phillies
1998 Philadelphia Phillies / Franchise: Philadelphia Phillies / BR Team Page
Managed by Terry Francona
History, Comments, Contributions
If the closing surge over the final two months of the 1997 season had given the Philadelphia Phillies anything, it was hopes of better days ahead. Nobody was confusing the 1998 version of the team with a playoff contender, but at the very least, it appeared as though the Phillies would move up in the standings after two consecutive last-place finishes. Of course, in a National League East that featured the fire sale-stripped Florida Marlins and the perennially woebegone post-strike Montreal Expos, it would've been hard not to improve.
Despite the strong finish to the 1997 season, Lee Thomas was fired as general manager. Ed Wade was at first hired to replace Thomas on an interim basis, but was later given the job full-time. On the field, there were some significant changes. Shortstop Kevin Stocker was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in an expansion-draft night trade for young right fielder Bobby Abreu, a deal at least partially necessitated by the refusal of top 1997 draft pick J.D. Drew to sign with the team. The vacancy at shortstop was to be filled by Desi Relaford, who'd had cups of coffee with the team the previous two seasons, and was now deemed ready to be an everyday Major Leaguer. The other half of the double play combination, second baseman Mickey Morandini was sent to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for center fielder Doug Glanville, who it was hoped would fill the hole at the top of the order and in the field that had existed since back injuries derailed Lenny Dykstra's career two years earlier. Mark Lewis was signed as a stopgap between Morandini and top prospect Marlon Anderson at second base. Infielder Alex Arias, a Phillie-killer during his days as a Marlin, was brought in to strenghten the bench. The starting rotation was similar to the one that ended the previous season, the main exception being veteran Mark Portugal, who was back after spending almost all of 1997 on the disabled list. Mark Leiter was sent to the bullpen after losing a league-high 17 games the previous season.
Speaking of Dykstra, he attempted a comeback in Spring Training, but it quickly became obvious that his days as a player had passed him by. Dykstra would officially retire in October, 29 months after last playing in a Major League game.
Once the season got underway, the Phillies surprised many by playing at or near the .500 mark during the first half. Curt Schilling, after a spectacular 1997 season, was again outstanding, though a lack of run support gave him many hard-luck losses. Portugal missed six weeks after sustaining a knee injury in his first start, but was solid after his return. When Ricky Bottalico went down with an elbow injury in April, Leiter assumed the role of closer and performed quite well. Wayne Gomes and Jerry Spradlin also gave strong performances out of the bullpen. The position players were led by reigning Rookie of the Year Scott Rolen, who was proving there'd be no sophomore jinx. Pleasant surprises included Relaford, who was one of the league's top rookies in the first half; Gregg Jefferies, having his best season as a Phillie; and newcomers Glanville and Abreu, both of whom were playing phenomenally. The deadline to sign Drew came and went, and as expected, no agreement was reached. For the first time ever, the Phillies held the first pick in the draft, and they used it to select Pat Burrell, a slugging third baseman from the University of Miami. With Rolen in place, the organization planned on moving Burrell over to first base or possibly the outfield. Drew, by the way, re-entered the draft and was selected fifth overall by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Thanks to a 15-8 surge, the Phillies sat at 55-50 on July 29, in the thick of the Wild Card race. Inexperience and second-half slumps would take over, however, and they went just 20-37 from that point on. The 75-87 record left the Phils in third place, a spot they occupied for just about the entire season. Despite the losing record, the team did have some memorable wins, particularly of the comeback variety. On five occasions, the Phillies came back to win games in which they trailed by at least five runs. On June 16, they trailed the Pittsburgh Pirates, 7-0, before scoring a single run in the bottom of the eighth and seven in the ninth to win, 8-7. The deciding runs came courtesy of a two-out, pinch-hit, three-run home run by Mike Lieberthal. On July 26, the Phillies again rallied from a 7-0 deficit, this time defeating Florida, 10-9. One game in which no comeback was necessary occurred on September 8. On that night, the Phils blasted seven home runs (two each by Rico Brogna, Bobby Estalella, and Kevin Sefcik, while Marlon Anderson hit one in his first Major League at-bat) and trounced the New York Mets, 16-4.
At the plate, Rolen led the Phils with 31 homers and 110 RBI while scoring 120 runs and batting .290. He also won his first Gold Glove. Abreu's batting average was never below .300 at any point of the season, and he ended up at .312 while he swatted 17 home runs. Glanville slumped a bit late, but still collected 189 hits while batting .279. Jefferies hit .294 before being traded to the Anaheim Angels in August, the team's only trade over the course of the season. Rico Brogna hit 20 homers, knocked in 104, and played his usual outstanding first base. Lieberthal was starting to heat up after a slow start when a pelvic injury ended his season in late July. Sefcik hit .314 off the bench, while Arias and Kevin Jordan also performed well in part-time duty. Anderson hit .326 in a September callup. Relaford slumped to .245 after batting nearly .300 in the first half. Lewis's only season as a Phillie was a mediocre one at the plate (.249 with nine homers) and in the field (16 errors). Estalella hit a disappointing .188 while filling in for an injured Lieberthal. Utilityman Rex Hudler provided a lot of enthusiasm, but an anemic .122 batting average got him released in June. Ruben Amaro, Jr. was also under the Mendoza Line, hitting just .187. Amaro retired after the season in order to become the club's assistant general manager.
Schilling reached the 300-strikeout plateau for the second straight year, fanning 300 even. He also completed a league-high 15 games, though his record was a very deceptive 15-14. Portugal rebounded to 10-5, while Paul Byrd went 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA after being claimed on waivers from the Atlanta Braves in August. In his debut, Byrd tossed a four-hit shutout against the Houston Astros, defeating Randy Johnson in the process. Also making a memorable debut was Carlton Loewer, who went the distance in his first game, a 4-2 win over the Chicago Cubs on June 14. Though Loewer ended up 7-8 with a 6.09 ERA, the Phillies remained bullish on his future. One-time prospects Matt Beech, Mike Grace, and Tyler Green all suffered through disappointing seasons, however. Of those three, only Grace (who lasted one more season) pitched in the Majors after 1998. After a strong rookie campaign, injuries limited Garrett Stephenson to just six starts, where he went 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA.
In the bullpen, Leiter saved 23 games, but struggled down the stretch and would be traded to the Seattle Mariners for Paul Spoljaric after the season. Gomes went 9-6 in relief, while Spradlin and Yorkis Perez performed passably. Bottalico struggled before and after his lengthy DL stint, going 1-5 with a 6.44 ERA, saving only six games. After the season, Bottalico and Stephenson were sent to the Cardinals for Ron Gant, Jeff Brantley, and Cliff Politte. Spradlin was also sent packing, as he went to the Cleveland Indians for Chad Ogea.
Though a sluggish finish doomed the Phillies to a fifth consecutive losing season, they were generally perceived as headed in the right direction. It was the first time since the pennant-winning 1993 season one could honestly make such an observation.
Awards and Honors