Roy Oswalt leaving behind the quiet life
Former teammate Brad Lidge thinks righty will have no trouble adjusting to Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA -- Roy Oswalt grew up in tiny Weir, Miss., so there's a perception that Philadelphia might be a little fast-paced for his tastes.
This is probably true. Even the Mississippi version of Philadelphia (population 39,350) is a little city-fied for Oswalt.
Arizona reliever Chad Qualls, a former teammate of Oswalt's in Houston, joked Thursday that he never talks to Oswalt in the offseason because "I don't think he gets cell phone reception at his house."
But when it's late July and a pennant race beckons, a man puts aside his personal comfort zone and goes where the competition is.
If Oswalt had any concerns about uprooting his family and coming to Philadelphia to play in a hitter's park in one of the game's more demanding markets, they were alleviated by former Houston teammate Brad Lidge. The two spoke by phone for about 20 minutes Wednesday night, and Lidge did his best sales job. He told Oswalt about the sellout crowds at Citizen's Bank Park, the city's fervor for baseball and the organization's steadfast commitment to winning.
The Philadelphia skyline might be a departure for Oswalt after 9½ seasons in Houston, but Lidge can testify that the view looks pretty sweet from the back of a parade float.
"Roy's been with one franchise his whole career, so he wanted to know a little bit about Philadelphia and the city," Lidge said. "I told him that since I've been here, it's been one of the most unbelievable things I've ever seen. It doesn't take a genius to see what we've done and what we're doing here. This is where you want to be if you want a ring.
"He wants to win. And Philadelphia pretty much sells itself right now."
The Phillies, who've appeared in two straight World Series and sold out 91 consecutive home games, threw another bouquet to their fans when they acquired Oswalt for pitcher J.A. Happ and minor leaguers Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar. The prospect of facing Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Oswalt might be daunting to Philadelphia's potential postseason opponents, but Thursday's move sent a jolt through the Phillies' clubhouse and the Citizen's Bank Park press box, where scouts gathered for the Phillies-Diamondbacks series finale.
"It's like a meat grinder facing that rotation right now," said a National League scout.
It's often said that deadline trades can be valuable for the message they send as well as the talent they bring, and the Oswalt trade is no exception. This hasn't been the smoothest season in Philadelphia, with all the injuries and unexpected offensive issues. But general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., with the approval of ownership, sent a signal that the organization is going to make every effort to give the team a chance to play deep into October.
In recent years, the Phillies have been a monument to activity at the non-waiver trade deadline. They've acquired Cliff Lee, Kyle Lohse, Joe Blanton and Jamie Moyer in July over the past four summers. And now there's Oswalt, whose 3.24 career ERA is second-best to Johan Santana among active big league starters. Oswalt's .635 winning percentage is seventh-best behind Santana, Tim Hudson, Halladay, Lee, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte.
"To me that's the biggest thing, coming from a team [in Toronto] where we weren't able to do things like this," Halladay said. "To get to this point in the season and get one of the best pitchers out there -- it says a lot. Obviously this team is dedicated to winning and they're not going to rest.''
Oswalt is quiet by nature and physically unimposing at 6-0, 190 pounds, but he likes the big stage. He overcame the "short right-hander" stigma in Houston and developed into an All-Star after being chosen out of Holmes Community College in the 23rd round of the 1996 draft. He pitched for a gold medal-winning U.S. squad in the 2000 Olympic Summer Games, and posted a 4-0 record with a 3.66 ERA in eight postseason appearances with the Astros in 2004 and 2005.
"We're getting a big-game pitcher. That's what I keep telling people," Lidge said. "I played with him for a while in Houston, and he was at his best in the most important games."
It doesn't take a genius to see what we've done and what we're doing here. This is where you want to be if you want a ring.” -- Phillies closer Brad Lidge
Houston owner Drayton McLane promised to buy Oswalt a bulldozer if he beat St. Louis in Game 6 of the 2005 National League Championship Series. After Oswalt threw seven effective innings to defeat the Cardinals in the pennant clincher, McLane shelled out $200,000 for a Caterpillar D6N XL, and had it delivered to Minute Maid Park with a red bow on top. Now Oswalt uses the bulldozer to build roads on his 1,000-acre ranch in Weir.
In recent years, the Phillies have fared better than most National League opponents against Oswalt. Ryan Howard (8-for-22, .364) and Jimmy Rollins (10-for-34. 294) both hit him well, and Placido Polanco has teed off on him to the tune of 10-for-23, .435. Of the Phillies' main lineup cogs, Chase Utley (4-for-23, .174) is the only laggard against Oswalt.
There are some concerns about Oswalt's back, and it's prompted front-office people and those close to him to wonder how many years he'll continue to pitch. But as long as there's a lineup to be faced and a game on the line, it doesn't matter how many stoplights and paved roads there are in his hometown.
"Philly is a big city and Roy is kind of a country boy, so he might not fit in that way," Qualls said. "But as far as the baseball aspect, that's going to outweigh everything. He's kind of quiet, but when you want somebody to step up in a big game and go out there and compete and be a gamer, he's definitely a guy you want on the mound with the ball in his hand."
Just a few years ago, people in Philadelphia poked fun at Charlie Manuel's Southern-fried diction and called him "Elmer Befuddled." That was right before he brought a world championship to the city and ascended to civic treasure status.
"You say he comes from a small town?" Manuel said of Oswalt. "Well, then him and I will get along pretty good, won't we?"
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