Phillies take roller-coaster ride in 2006

Phillies take roller-coaster ride in 2006

PHILADELPHIA -- General manager Pat Gillick came to Philadelphia with a track record of successful stints in Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle. He spoke of adding five more wins to the ledger and securing a postseason berth.

Instead, the team recorded three more losses and just missed the postseason for the second straight year. A slow April and a worse June put the Phillies in a hole that forced a July sell off that shed the team of veterans Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Rheal Cormier, Cory Lidle, Ryan Franklin and Sal Fasano.

Gillick mentioned 2008 as the next time the Phillies might compete, but the players thought otherwise. Those who remained fought their way back into the Wild Card race, largely on the back of first baseman Ryan Howard, who would eventually be voted the National League Most Valuable Player.

Though a hot August and September couldn't repair the damage caused by the slow start, the team showed enough to keep the focus on contending, rather than building -- and creating optimism for 2007.

The year in review:

Hoping to add the final pieces to the pitching staff, Gillick signs right-hander Ryan Franklin for a possible rotation spot and deals outfielder Jason Michaels for lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes.

Meanwhile, two of Gillick's acquisitions, closer Tom Gordon and center fielder Aaron Rowand spread optimism for the season at various Winter Tour stops.

Just before players report to Clearwater, Fla., the team signs veteran infielder Alex S. Gonzalez, and longtime organist Paul Richardson announces his retirement.

Jimmy Rollins arrived in camp and discussed resuming his pursuit of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, set in 1941. Rollins finished the previous season with a 36-game streak and had eyed April 26 as the day he could pass the Hall of Famer.

Abreu's arrival was also a media event, as many wanted to hear his reaction to the speculation that the Phillies attempted to deal him all winter. Fellow longtime Phillie Mike Lieberthal waxes about how this could be his final season in Philadelphia, while Randy Wolf targeted July to make his return from Tommy John elbow surgery.

Ten Phillies left camp to compete in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, including Abreu (Venezuela), Chase Utley (USA) and Cormier (Canada). None of the three squads advanced to the quarterfinals, though the Canadians earned some bragging rights with a thrilling win over the United States.

Back in camp, Howard homered twice in an 11-10 win over the Yankees, the first of his 11 Spring Training long balls, and Ryan Madson prepared to transition to being a starter. He and Gavin Floyd would earn spots with Franklin shifting to the bullpen.

Manager Charlie Manuel was stricken with some sad news when Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett passed away. Manuel began his coaching career in the Twins organization and helped guide Puckett through the Minors. Manuel often referred to the broad-shouldered, barrel-chested Puckett as his favorite player.

launch the 2006 year in review

On the eve of Opening Day, Gillick added the left-handed outfield bat he'd been seeking in David Dellucci. Rollins extended his hitting streak in an Opening Day loss to St. Louis, and makes it 38 on the next day. But Jason Marquis and Josh Hancock hold Rollins hitless in Game 3, ending it there and dropping the Phillies to 0-3.

Inconsistent starting pitching, particularly by Floyd, Jon Lieber and Madson, causes an opening month stumble that leaves the Phillies at 10-14.

Help is on the way, however, as phenom Cole Hamels is finally healthy and blowing away Minor League competition.

Closer Gordon tosses his fourth straight perfect outing to start the month, on his way to converting his first 10 save opportunities with the Phillies. He allowed a run in a loss on April 5, then didn't allow another until May 9. His effective pitching helped the team reel off nine straight wins from April 30-May 9.

Lieberthal made the first of three trips to the disabled list when he was hit on the left knee by a pitch from Atlanta's John Thomson. Rowand places himself in Phillies lore when he crashes into the center-field wall making a spectacular catch on May 11. He breaks his nose and spends 15 days on the DL.

The Hamels era began in Philadelphia when the prized left-hander was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and the kid got an immediate thrill when he faced one of his idols (Ken Griffey Jr.) in his Major League debut. Hamels fanned him twice.

Career Minor Leaguer Chris Coste gets his break when Gonzalez retires, and winds up making a good deal of starts at catcher.

While Lieberthal returned, Jon Lieber strained his groin and headed to the disabled list.

The Floyd experiment ends after 11 starts, as the right-hander -- with a 7.29 ERA -- was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Hamels secured his first big-league win in his third career start.

Earlier in the month, the Phillies selected Kyle Drabek (son of Doug Drabek) with their first selection in the First-Year Player draft.

The season's low point team came on June 23, when Brett Myers was arrested in Boston and charged with domestic abuse. A firestorm of criticism followed, including attacks on the team's handling of the matter, and allowing him to make his scheduled start the next afternoon. This incident came as the team was struggled through a 3-14 stretch to end June. They finished the month 9-18. The exclamation point came when they dropped a doubleheader to the Orioles on June 28.

As rumors of Manuel's imminent departure began to surface, Gillick quickly put an end to them. As the month closed, the Phillies acquired lefty Fabio Castro from the Rangers.

The month began with Howard and Utley being named to their first All-Star squads, and Gordon being named for the third time. While there, Howard wins the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby.

Lieber returned from his strained right groin just before the break, and the team got Lieberthal and Myers back at the start of the second half. After taking three weeks to deal with personal issues, Myers rejoined the team in San Francisco and earned a win. Left-hander Wolf made his 2006 debut after missing the past 13 months recovering from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.

With the Phillies fading in the Wild Card race, trailing as many as six teams, the organization opts to retool. Gillick unloads veterans Bell, Abreu, Lidle, Cormier and Franklin, and declared 2006 and 2007 rebuilding years.

Utley kept the fans interested throughout July and finished the month with a 32-game hitting streak. This achievement would earn him Player of the Month honors.

Someone forgot to tell the players that management had begun planning beyond the current season. Led by Howard's 14 homers and 41 RBIs that month, a loose bunch went 18-11 and surged to within a 1/2 game of the Wild Card lead by Sept. 1. The turnaround forced management to change direction, and Gillick brought in veterans Jamie Moyer, Jeff Conine and Jose Hernandez.

One highlight came Aug. 14, when Hamels stifled the Mets on four hits over eight shutout innings in an 11-0 Philadelphia win.

The positive vibe was balanced out somewhat when Gordon missed 2 1/2 weeks with right shoulder inflammation. Then on Aug. 21, Rowand broke his left ankle colliding with Utley on a fly ball.

Howard's glorious season reached an apex on Aug. 31, when he set a club record for homers in a season with his 49th. That eclipsed the 48 clubbed by Mike Schmidt in 1980. Also, Lieberthal set a franchise record for games caught.

Fresh off his being named NL Player for the Month, Howard continued to lead his teammates, clubbing three homers in a Sept. 3 win over Atlanta, on his way to number 58 on Sept. 22. Rollins also surged that month, and his homer on Sept. 23 pulled the Phillies into a Wild Card tie.

Philadelphia's last gasps came during a three-game series against the Nationals. In the opening loss, Utley's three-run home run was called foul by home plate umpire Rob Drake, and replays later showed the ball hit off the foul pole.

The Phillies rebounded with a 14-inning win in the second game -- on a Rollins triple -- but endured another ordeal in the final game. A steady rain forced them to sit through a four hour, 27 minute rain delay, and an exhausted team fell 3-1, tumbling two games back with three to play. They were officially eliminated two days later.

The Phillies make their first changes on the instructional level, replacing coaches Gary Varsho, Marc Bombard and Bill Dancy with Jimy Williams, Davey Lopes and Art Howe. Howe would later leave and was replaced by Steve Smith.

Free agent Moyer liked Philadelphia enough that he re-signed for two years.

The Phillies family was shattered by three deaths: organist Richardson, outfielder Johnny Callison and former pitcher Cory Lidle, who had been traded to the Yankees at the July 31 trade deadline. Lidle's death was toughest to take, as the 34-year-old was piloting a plane that crashed into a New York City apartment building.

Howard pounded his way through Japan, earning the MVP Award for the barnstorming series. Two weeks later, his amazing season was recognized when he was named the NL MVP.

Trying to build for next season, the Phillies added Wes Helms and Adam Eaton, while losing Wolf to the Dodgers.

The acquisition of Freddy Garcia gave the Phillies a top-of-the-rotation starter at no cost to the current Major League squad. In dealing two Minor Leaguers -- including top prospect Gio Gonzalez -- Philadelphia signaled they were serious in their playoff push. Then, trying to add options to the bullpen, the Phillies selected two relievers in the Rule 5 draft and trade for lefty Bobby Livingston.

Off the field, the Phillies signed Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas for three more seasons, continuing a Philadelphia career that began in 1971.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.