Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Curse of the Brand-ino

Seeking their first playoff birth in 12 years, the Phillies lost 2–1 to the Astros Tuesday night.  The defeat was Philadelphia’s 11th straight against Houston.  Let me repeat – 11 IN A ROW!  Something to be expected – if you’re Vanderbilt against Tennessee.  But not from a major league club with postseason aspirations.  Then again, the Phils may be fighting a force more powerful than a Roger Clemens fastball: The Curse of the Brand-ino.


Brandon Duckworth is a right-handed pitcher who came up through the Phillies organization.  He went 15–18 over parts of three seasons in Philadelphia before being packaged with two minor leaguers in a November 2003 trade for Astros closer Billy Wagner.  Wagner has been a great closer for the Phils, so at first glance the deal appears to have benefited the club.  But in reality, Philadelphia may have cost itself dearly by incurring Duckworth’s wrath, calling to mind the old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a marginal major league pitcher scorned.”


Before 2004, the Phillies always got the better of the Astros when it counted.  Bobby Abreu is in Philadelphia’s outfield because Houston left him unprotected in the expansion draft, allowing Tampa Bay to select him and trade him to the Phillies for the legendary Kevin Stocker.  That was Philly’s best trade since 1992, when the Astros wanted Jason Grimsley so much, they gave up Curt Schilling to get him.  Most significantly, there was the 1980 NLCS.  Down 5–2 after 7 innings in the decisive fifth game and facing Nolan Ryan on the mound, the Phils managed to win in 10 innings.  They went on to win their only World Series championship, while the Astros settled for watching themselves on tape in “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.”  Jackie Earle Haley paled in comparison to Tug McGraw’s joyous leap off the mound.


But since Philadelphia dealt Duckworth, the club is 0 for 11 against Houston.  Rumor has it that he put a hex on the Phillies, vowing that they would never defeat the Astros again.  Duckworth apparently hoped that as a pitcher who places a curse on his old team, he would go on to be a record-setting home run hitter.  Or maybe a fat guy who plays with hangovers, I’m not sure.


Although Duckworth has spent more time in AAA than with the big league club since the trade, his shadow looms large over this series.  Taking no chances, Houston recalled him prior to the trip to Philly.  Two one-run victories have resulted, and the Astros even defeated Wagner in Tuesday night’s game.  Duckworth surely put his Billy Wagner voodoo doll to use in the ninth inning.


Most baseball observers agree that a right-handed pitcher acquired after the 2003 season has helped put the Astros into the wild-card lead.  But Philadelphia knows that his name is not Roger Clemens.  Tonight the Phillies have their last chance of the season to overcome the Curse of the Brand-ino.  If they don’t, the losing streak may last 86 years.  Note to security personnel at Citizens Bank Park: if Duckworth shows up with a goat, let the goat in!