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Band of brothers thrive in Phils' bullpen

Band of brothers thrive in Phils' bullpen

PHILADELPHIA -- Scott Eyre stroked his goatee and furrowed his brow in serious contemplation. Briefly, his eyes lit up like someone realizing he had the answer.

It vanished.

"What would we call ourselves?" the Phillies lefty reliever said of the group of vagabond personalities that make up the National League's best bullpen. "I can't come up with anything."

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Then, in the same manner that a situational lefty yields to a righty to face Manny Ramirez, Eyre passes the responsibility to one of his teammates.

"The Grateful Pickups," said reliever Clay Condrey, throwing a strike. "We're grateful we were picked up."

"Wait," Condrey said. "The Ugly Sticks."

The Phillies just call them effective, and why not? The bullpen enters the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers with the lowest ERA (3.19) in the league. The team went 65-9 when leading after seven innings and 78-0 when ahead after eight.

Most of that is credited to Brad Lidge, the NL Comeback Player of the Year who went 41-for-41 in save chances and compiled a 1.95 ERA.

Setting him up is an interesting supporting cast consisting of cutups Ryan Madson and Eyre, who never run out of one-liners. In one game, the group made Madson stay in the bathroom because they believed a mid-inning trip there spurred a rally. It's possible, of course, that they just needed a Madson break.

Madson loves to do impressions of Lidge's booming voice and will share off-color remarks. His bullpen name contribution was unprintable.

"It's just me," he said. "What am I supposed to do?"

Chad Durbin runs a recruiting Web site for high school athletes, making him the entrepreneur of the group. J.C. Romero is a former collegiate outfielder, prone to chest-pounding after emotional inning-ending strikeouts. He never did that as a hitter.

"I pimped a home run once, and got drilled the next two times up," Romero said.


"Everyone has stepped up and performed at a higher level than people were expecting. These guys are legitimate pitchers, and all can pitch in clutch situations. As a whole, it's the best bullpen I've ever been a part of."
-- Brad Lidge

Clay Condrey often jokes that English is his second language, and will often ask, "What are you fixin' to be doin'?'" His wardrobe is largely camouflage, and he's currently enjoying his last few weeks chewing tobacco before giving it up.

The heavily tattooed Rudy Seanez has aspirations of ultimate fighting. The 17-year veteran, who's likely not on the NLCS roster, is called "The Godfather" because, Lidge said, "nobody wants to let him down."

Lidge has been called "the analytical one," who enjoys the art of pontification, whether it's about baseball strategy or an insect on the wall.

"We're 'The Goof Troupe,'" Lidge said, throwing in his suggested group name.

In any given season, relievers become close friends. Always together -- in the bullpen, on the plane, in the clubhouse, at the restaurant -- they become a family.

This family, after clinching the NL East in Game 161, gathered in the bullpen for a toast of a cold beverage. During an already raucous celebration, the relievers shared the moment with fans at Citizens Bank Park who remained.

"We're 300 feet from everybody, and we're own family," said Eyre, who brought the tradition over from San Francisco. "Guys always help each other. When someone goes to warm up, someone goes to get water for them."

Durbin is that someone.

"You have to make sure guys are hydrated," Durbin said. "I'm from Louisiana. I'm Bobby Boucher [Adam Sandler's character from "The Waterboy."] We're a family. We spend a lot of time together. You can't help it. Hitters are hitters and pitchers are pitchers, and even the pitchers are segregated. You have starters and relievers. You can get more specific, in-laws and outlaws. We're outlaws."

Durbin may be one of the bigger outlaws. An overlooked free-agent signing in December, Durbin posted a 2.87 ERA in a career-high 71 appearances. He's been used in almost every relief capacity and has flourished.

He's also credited by bullpen catcher Mick Billmeyer with the one-liner of the season. On a hot July day, the Phillie Phanatic was launching hot dogs to fans, and one flew out of the stadium. Durbin turned to his fellow relievers and said, "Even the hot dogs are flying out of here. Better keep the ball down."

"They can be a bunch of nitwits, but they're a great bunch of guys," said Billmeyer. "It seems like they really care for each other and they're pretty good at shaking off a bad day. They have short memories, like Jack Nicklaus never missed a putt to lose on the 18th [hole], or at least he doesn't remember."

They don't remember the good days, either. They just focus on the next day, and being the best bullpen.

"Everyone has stepped up and performed at a higher level than people were expecting," Lidge said. "These guys are legitimate pitchers, and all can pitch in clutch situations. As a whole, it's the best bullpen I've ever been a part of."

Even if they can't agree on a name.

"The quiet assassins," Romero said. "We don't talk much, but we get the job done."

"We haven't named ourselves up to the point," Durbin said. "Why start now?"

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

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