Notes: Phils-Pirates rivalry fading

Notes: Phils-Pirates rivalry fading

PITTSBURGH -- After the Phillies and Pirates wrap up their four-game series on Thursday night, they will meet one more time for three games in Philadelphia on Aug. 19-21. A rivalry that was once one of the most heated in baseball has faded away, and fans are left with only memories.

Baseball has placed the two Keystone state franchises in different divisions, and in doing so, it has done away with a great rivalry. Today's players have no concept of the former fierceness of the Bucs-Phils rivalry.

"It's a shame that we don't play more often," Phillies pitcher Jon Lieber, a former Pirate, said. "I'm not a big fan of Interleague Play, and I wish we'd get back to playing more National League teams, but that isn't going to happen."

The last time the clubs met 18 times in one season (1992), the Pirates won the division. The next season, Pittsburgh's last in the National League East, there were only 13 meetings as the division expanded to include Florida. A strike shortened the 1994 season, and, in the 10 years since, the Phillies and Pirates have combined to finish last seven times (the Pirates four times in the NL Central and the Phillies three times in the East), and neither team has won a divisional title.

That's a far cry from the way things used to be. From 1974-80, the Phillies and Pirates won all seven National League East titles (Phillies four, Pirates three). In those seven seasons, they played each other 126 times, and split the games, 63-63.

Pirates broadcaster Bob Walk has first-hand knowledge of both sides of the rivalry -- as a pitcher for the Phillies when he broke into baseball in 1980 and as a pitcher for the Pirates from 1984-93.

"This is a rivalry that I grew up with," Walk said. "My first Major League start was as a Phillie against the Pirates. My last start was as a Pirate against the Phillies. It's something that has always been a little special to me, and I guess with the way the divisions ended up, it's a sad thing that it had to end like this.

"The rivalry was starting to lose a little bit even before they broke up the divisions because of the way baseball was going. Philadelphia is close to being a major market, and in some respects, it is a major market, so their payroll has always been, over the last decade or so, significantly higher than Pittsburgh's.

"So the rivalry was losing some luster just because of that. Now, with the Pirates in the Central Division, for some of us older Pirates and Phillies fans and faithful and players, the rivalry is kind of still there. We talk about it and we think back to it, but as far as the guys on the field right now, I don't think they really care."

It's unfortunate that the rivalry has cooled.

"I know the history of it," Walk said. "Because I was on the other side of it, too. I was riding in the bus from the airport and hearing all the talk, and I've heard guys like Larry Bowa talk about the Pirates and how they had respect for the Pirates. There was respect, but they didn't like the Pirates, and when I became a Pirate, it was the same feeling for the Phillies -- you didn't like the Phillies. Now that's totally gone. We might as well be playing the Marlins tonight. That's a shame, because baseball needs rivalries."

Rollins sits again: Jimmy Rollins, named to the NL All-Star team earlier in the day, was not in the lineup for Thursday night's series finale in Pittsburgh.

He experienced some soreness in his left hand in batting practice before Wednesday night's game and was removed from the starting lineup.

"I'm not playing [Thursday]," Rollins said. "Hopefully, I'll be ready for Friday. I feel better [Thursday] than I did [Wednesday], but I think part of that feeling better is not doing anything [Wednesday] after I felt it. Maybe one more day of rest, and I'll see how I feel. And if it's not good Friday, and if it's not good Saturday, I guess I'll have to call MLB and tell them to send somebody else to the All-Star Game. It's an honor, but I'm not going to hurt myself just to go and miss like the whole second half."

Rollins isn't quite sure what is wrong with the hand.

"When it's something like this, you always worry, because you're not really sure what it is. So you don't know what the cure is, all you know is you feel something. It could be fatigue from just swinging in the cage all the time in my one-hand drills -- I don't know."

Phils shopping: With the July 31 trade deadline looming on the horizon, the Phillies are seeking starting pitching help, but general manager Ed Wade indicated that the two most desirable arms out there, A's lefty Barry Zito and Giants right-hander Jason Schmidt, aren't available. The Phils are looking at other options, including Seattle left-hander Jamie Moyer.

"This is the time of the year where you make those calls and get the lay of the land as to what teams may or may not be looking for," Wade said. "Realistically, it's still a little bit early, because things can change so quickly primarily because of the Wild Card. Teams not only are in a hunt for a division title, but also have a chance to get in with the Wild Card. I think it's going to get stretched out, and I think if there are a lot of deals made, most of them will be made just before the deadline."

Pitching is the prime focus.

"Certainly with Randy Wolf going down -- that was a big hit for us, and Padilla's struggled," Wade said. "So if there was a possibility for us to do something with regards to the rotation, we'd like to try to address that if we could."

On deck: The Phillies open a crucial three-game weekend series at home against the NL East-leading Nationals. Rookie Robinson Tejeda gets the call against Washington right-hander Ryan Drese.

George Von Benko is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.