Any time they play an All-Star Game and John Kruk is hitting cleanup, you know this has become a very crazy world.
And any time they play an All-Star Game and the starting pitcher and the starting catcher are both Phillies -- for the second time in history -- you know this is a different kind of baseball season.
Phillies mania officially has taken over the baseball world.
It must have. Because how else can it be that last night's All-Star Game had three Phillies in the National League lineup? Namely, Terry Mulholland as the starting pitcher (opposing California's Mark Langston); America's favorite Babe Ruth impressionist, John Kruk, as the cleanup hitter; and Darren Daulton as the catcher?
"Boy," Mulholland said, "it's amazing the difference a year makes, isn't it?"
You could say that. A year ago, the Phillies were 16 games under .500 instead of 25 over. And 13 games out of first instead of five games ahead. And they'd just lost nine games in a row on what has fondly become known as the West Coast Trip From Hell.
"Let me tell you," Kruk said Monday, "I'd rather get locked up in a prison cell with Mike Tyson and let him beat the slop out of me than go through what we went through last year again. That wasn't any fun. This year is a lot better. Although, in the last week or so, we've played like last year."
But the last week or so notwithstanding, there was clear proof for Kruk that this was not last year anymore. And that proof was: He was about to head out for the pre-all-star workout wearing his very own uniform. Last year, in San Diego, as millions may recall, it didn't quite work that way.
"Yeah, this is a lot better than last year," Kruk said. "Last year was kinda ugly -- especially when we didn't have no shirts to wear."
The Phillies had accidentally forgotten to pack any for him or Daulton.
"So we went out in the stands and tried to get some souvenir Phillies shirts -- and they said they don't even sell any. That's when you know you really stink -- when that happens."
So last year, Kruk had to take the field wearing the uniform of Leo Mazzone, the Atlanta pitching coach. And Daulton wore a generic all-star shirt.
Now life is so different for them that even they have trouble comprehending it sometimes.
For instance, someone asked Kruk: "Suppose someone had told you before the season that you'd be in first place by five games now. What would you have said?"
"I'd have said, 'You've got a dependency problem,' " Kruk said.
But nowadays, the Phillies have gone downright legit. And the NL starting lineup is all the proof you need.
First off, there's Mulholland, the surprising choice as the Phillies' fourth all-star starting pitcher in history. (The others were Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons.)
Now it may be true that only one National League left-hander, Atlanta's Tom Glavine, has won more games over the last 2 1/2 seasons (50) than Mulholland (38). And it may be true that Mulholland will go into tonight's game ranked first in the league in complete games (six) and third in ERA (2.72).
But a couple of weeks ago, he wasn't even regarded as the best bet "on his own pitching staff" to go to the All-Star Game, let alone the best bet in his own league to start it.
Since then, however, Tommy Greene and Curt Schilling have turned mortal again. And Mulholland has become the only Phillies pitcher to make the NL team.
A few people in San Francisco, where Burkett (13-3) works, might not understand that. But while they're pondering that, let them figure this out:
How the heck can Barry Bonds be hitting second for the NL team while Kruk is hitting fourth?
"The only thing I can figure," quipped Daulton, the No.8 hitter, "is: Bobby must be drinking again."
Cox's explanation was, simply, that Kruk "is one of my favorite players."
But that wasn't enough to satisfy Kruk.
"Maybe Bobby had a premonition, man," he said. "I don't know. Maybe he talked to a psychic. I guess he figured if I screwed up the lineup, maybe we can win."