They came 7,430 strong to FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, NJ tonight, and chances are the majority were there to see Phillies major league center-fielder Shane Victorino make the second of his two rehab starts for their single A affiliate, the Lakewood Blue Claws. You wouldn’t know it by the program cover, printed long in advance of the club knowing Victorino would draw a big crowd by minor league standards. Showing no visible ill effects of his hamstring injury, Victorino went 0-4 with two strikeouts, unlike the previous night when he was in the middle of a rally or two. Yet on this night, the cover illustrating pitching coach Steve Schrenk mentoring last years’ Phils top draft pick, 19 year-old Jesse Biddle, who grew up in Philly as a Phils fan, proved to be the real story. Biddle pitched seven strong innings for his third consecutive victory after opening the season with five consecutive losses, discovering that the secret of pitching lies as much in what you do between starts as during the start. It’s as much in the mind and in the heart as it is in the arm.
But let’s not overlook Victorino, who was wearing # 23 and patrolled center field for the first seven innings. He was, after all, the main attraction for the local fan base of a team that has been plagued by injuries this season yet is managing to stay on top of the NL East. The Blue Claws have been South Atlantic League champions for the past two years, but the Jersey park was overrun with Victorino T’s and jerseys while its own team’s fan shop attracted few passersby. There was even a Wilson Valdez t-shirt sighting, now that he shares a record book stat with Babe Ruth. Here is a photo montage of tonight’s game, featuring Miriam, me, and three of the Goldstein girls, punctuated by fireworks as the exclamation at game’s end, of course.