Phelps makes strong impression to appreciative fans

It has been an eventful few weeks for David Phelps, the Yankees’ lone bright spot Saturday in a lifeless, 7-1 loss to the Angels. He became a father for the first time during spring training. Thursday night at the Welcome Home Dinner, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who gave the invocation, asked general manager Brian Cashman, “Which one is Phelps? I’d like to meet him.”

“That was awesome,” Phelps said. “My wife has two priests in her family. It is always an honor to meet people who devote their lives that way.”

The Dolan-Phelps connection was based on their shared hometown of St. Louis and Phelps’ background as a Notre Dame student. Saturday, there was another type of Cardinal who was in Phelps’ path, a former Cardinal, that is, by the name of Albert Pujols.

The three-time National League Most Valuable Player in his first year with a new team, the Angels, and in a new league, American, was the first batter Phelps faced Saturday after coming to the rescue of Phil Hughes, who was blasted for six runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps faced Pujols three times in the game and retired him on each occasion.

Yeah, that’s the kind of streak Phelps is on.

“I’ve rooted for him pretty much my whole life,” Phelps said of Pujols, who doubled in a run off Hughes but remains homerless eight games and 32 at-bats into the season. “He is intimidating. I’ve never met him. We worked out in the same facility in St. Louis but not at the same time. I just left it in Russell’s [catcher Martin’s] hands. I wasn’t going to shake him off.”

Phelps’ mixture of fastballs, curves, sliders and changeups combined to hold Albert in check after he had gotten two hits off Hughes. Phelps lasted for 78 pitches over 5 1/3 innings, a worthy performance from a bullpen long man, which is the righthander’s role for the present.

Phelps opened plenty of eyes this spring when he earned the James P. Dawson Award as the top rookie in Yankees camp and has continued to do so in the regular season. In three appearances covering 8 1/3 innings, Phelps has allowed only one hit, the home run Vernon Wells hit Saturday off a wayward slider in the fifth. Phelps has walked two batters and struck out nine.

The Yankee Stadium crowd treated Phelps to a standing ovation when he came out of the game after retiring the first two batters in the ninth.

“That was awesome,” he said, “especially in a game when we were down. That tells you something about how great Yankees fans are.”

Fans especially like to feel they are recognizing quality in a young player on the rise. There has been a sense in watching Phelps pitch so far this year that he could turn out to be someone very special. Yankees manager Joe Girardi didn’t want to speculate about whether Phelps would be a starter someday but acknowledged that “he has been a starter his whole career.”

Right now, the Yankees are up to their elbows in starters. They have the current rotation plus Michael Pineda on the disabled list and Andy Pettitte working his legs back into shape. The manager contends the rotation will consist of the five best starters at a particular moment, so there is likelihood for change if a pitcher falters too often.

Girardi was not ready to suggest Hughes is in trouble, but he is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA. Unlike a year ago, arm strength is not an issue with Hughes. His fastball was in the 91-94-mph range much of the game, but his pitches were up and he fell into a lot of deep counts, pushing his pitch count to 84 one out into the fourth inning when he was relieved after giving up a bomb of a three-run homer to Howie Kendrick.

“Phil got strikeouts [six] up in the zone, but he also got hurt up in the zone.” Girardi said. “They either missed it or got hits. I’m not getting too concerned yet. The arm strength is there. With the spring he had, I expected him to pitch well at the beginning.”

The skipper was delighted to get length and quality from Phelps.

“He hasn’t been phased at all by the situations we’ve put him in,” Girardi said. “He has come into games with men on base, and this time the first batter he sees is Albert Pujols.”

Right, but did Albert know that Phelps had another Cardinal on his side?


Doesn’t the Cardinal Himself have better things to do than hang around Yankee Stadium and play to the crowd? God has more to do than manipulate baseball games.

Cardinal Dolan was not hanging around Yankee Stadium and playing to the crowd. He gave the invocation at the Yankees’ Welcome Home Dinner and spoke privately with general manager Brian Cashman and pitcher David Phelps.

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