Don’t Mess with Dukes

The game last night was quite a pitchers duel. Both offenses were shut down by a solid pitching. Bergmann kept pace with a great young starter in Hamels. In fact, Hamels may be the best lefty in the National League at this moment. Sure, I’d probably rather have Johan, but what lefty is pitching better than him right now other than Cliff Lee? Anyway, the thing that really got my attention that game, other than Bergmann pitching his second consecutive 7 inning, 0 ER game, was Elijah Dukes.

With 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, down by 1 run, it would have been easy for a 24 year old hitter of his size and strength, mired in a 1 for season slump (.032 AVG, but I’m really not counting right now) to come out swinging for the fences. If he hits a home run, he ties the game and is congratulated. If he strikes out, nobody really says a thing. Instead he gets up there and faces Brad Lidge, the Phillies closer who righties are batting .062 against this season. The guy can throw 100 mph, and has already struck out the 2 players he pitched to that inning. And Dukes sits in there, with patience, and works the count, first to 2-0, to 2-1, 3-1, then full. Patience in that situation, from someone that age, shows a very high baseball IQ. He ended up walking, and I have never seen a player glare at a pitcher that way after a walk, but I loved it. It was as if Dukes was saying “you can’t beat me” even though he’s been beaten down all season.

After he got on, he stole 2B, but it wasn’t a reckless or unintelligent steal. He didn’t take off right away, it was actually the 4th pitch of the AB, and he was fast enough that while Carlos Ruiz hoped up to throw, he thought better of it and just ate the ball. 3 pitches later, Dukes stole 3rd on a walk to a left handed batter and still made it easily. Unfortunately the next batter, Felipe, grounded out on the first pitch (FIRST PITCH!?!? LIDGE JUST WALKED THE LAST 2 GUYS!) but Dukes’ approach was something that really impressed me.

He fits into some of those stereotypes that we think about him, not really knowing the guy. He walked and he looked ANGRY. Angry that Lidge would challenge him. Angry that Lidge dared to pitch him at all. When he was standing on 1B talking to Ryan Howard, he still looked pissed, like someone you really don’t want to mess with. But his intensity didn’t for one second take away from his playing the game. He could have tied it with a HR, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen unless he got the right pitch. So instead, he tried to do it by taking what was given to him, while never letting his intensity wane, or, for that matter, get the best of him.

It’s great to see a player with that kind of passion, a burning desire to do well. It is Dukes’ challenge to keep that fire limited to when he plays the game, and continue what he did last night – play with a burning intensity but never lose site of what he needs to do as a player to help his team win.

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