Cliff Lee's first CBP start as a Phillie was a successful one, as he permitted only a single run in seven innings, on Thursday afternoon. Lee has allowed four runners to advance past first base, in his two starts, but only a pair have successfully completed the full circuit. Jimmy Rollins was batting .205 on July 1st, but with his 3 for 4 effort, his average had climbed to a relatively lofty .245. Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge pitched the final two innings, shutting down the Rockies, as they had so many teams in 2008. There was another hero, however, who deserves a considerable amount of credit for the Phils' 3-1 win.
When the Phillies signed journeyman catcher Paul Bako in mid-March, any Phillies' fans who had an awareness of his immemorable career, hoped Bako would never actually wear the Phils' stylish alternate game jersey. Perhaps he would play in the minors for awhile, before starting a career as a coach. He would give the Phillies another alternative in their system, should Lakewood coach Tim Gradoville need to be activated as a player, leaving the low-A squad short a coach. As for AA, AAA, and MLB, the Phillies had superior, replacement-level (or better), backstop options. Only under the unlikeliest circumstances, would Bako's presence have any more than a minimal impact on the organization.
Bako was, inexplicably, recalled in mid-June. It was surmised that he would serve as the third catcher, freeing up backup catcher Chris Coste to serve as a much-needed, non-Bruntlett, right-handed pinch-hitter. Coste would cover starter Carlos Ruiz' days off, and Bako could just borrow a bat from a pitcher, in the unlikely event that the weak-hitting veteran ever needed to make a plate appearance. Not the most efficacious use of a roster spot, but certainly preferable to having Eric Bruntlett and his .400 OPS, as the first the first man off the bench.
In mid-July, the Phillies needed a roster spot, with All-Star outfielder Raul Ibanez returning from the DL. The obvious, necessary solution was to remove one of the two backup catchers. Considering Coste's ability to also play 1B, as well as his far superior OPS, the Phillies made the obvious choice and... designated Coste for assignment. Bako's, alleged, defensive prowess was lauded as one of the reasons behind the decision. Whether ANY catcher is strong enough defensively, to overcome such a chasm of offensive inferiority, seems unlikely. If such a backstop exists, he's certainly not named Gabor Paul Bako.
After consistently providing with the Phillies with a black hole at the bottom of the lineup, Bako performed like a MLB catcher on Thursday. He helped Cliff Lee determine the approach that was used to control the Colorado offense. Offensively, Bako started the bottom of the third inning with a single. Then, leading off the fifth inning, the catcher shocked the world, depositing an 85 MPH changeup over the wall in center. It was Bako's first home run, in two-hundred and twenty-three at bats. Without Bako's contributions on Thursday, the game could have had a very different result.
With the trading deadline passed, no catching upgrades seemingly available, and fellow journeyman Paul Hoover starting for AAA Lehigh Valley, it looks like Bako will be joining the Phillies for the length of their postseason run. The best we can hope for is a few more games like Thursday's. And that Bako's Phillies' career won't be long enough to include another two-hundred and twenty-three at bats.