Daulton most painful loss for down-on-luck Phillies


PHILADELPHIA -- They've had to do without their leadoff batter, their third baseman, their first baseman, their shortstop, their opening-day starter, their No. 1 setup man and a guy who once pitched a no-hitter.

But the Phillies can't survive this. Can they?

How can they get along without Darren Daulton -- iron man, cleanup hitter, zookeeper?

This is a man who is more than just an all-star catcher and run-production machine. He is the Phillies' Lion King. He doesn't just lead. He rules.

"Losing all those other guys -- that was like having tornado warnings," Larry Andersen said Wednesday. "But having Bubba go down, that's like having the tornado hit."

The tornado hit Tuesday night -- a Jeff Conine foul tip that fractured Daulton's right collarbone. It will be a month and a half before he can return -- if there's even a season to return to then, if a baseball strike hasn't shut everything down.

Even the relentlessly upbeat manager, Jim Fregosi, called this development "a devastating blow." And Fregosi is a man who would have called the Titanic catastrophe "a little mix-up." So you know that losing Daulton has to qualify as a certifiable disaster.

It has left the players with no rational explanation. They can speak only of omens and curses.

They'd already fallen so far from the heights of the 1993 championship season. Lenny Dykstra went down. Dave Hollins went down. John Kruk went down.

And still the Phils somehow have managed to play .500 baseball, to win as often as they lost.

As the lightning bolts crashed to earth around the Phils, Darren Daulton was in the lineup every night. The zookeeper always found ways to keep what was left of the Phillies from turning into the Mets or the Padres.

Wednesday, though, Daulton became the 11th Phillie to visit Philadelphia's most popular baseball attraction this year -- the disabled list.

And, as hard as his teammates have tried to put their best spin on all of the other blows they have taken, they had a tough time bearing up under the weight of this one.

"It seems like somebody put a curse on our team," Pete Incaviglia said.

"This doesn't look like a baseball team," Mariano Duncan said. "It looks like a hospital now."

"If somebody had said, 'This year you're gonna lose all these guys,' everybody'd have laughed," Dykstra said. "It's . . . unbelievable."

Last year, the Phils seemed to float up there on some magical cloud, impervious to all of this stuff. Now, it seems, if anything bad can happen, it happens to them.

"It's like we sold our souls to the devil last year," Kruk said. "We had too much fun. And now we're getting paid back.

"Only thing is, we sold our souls to the devil, and he didn't even let us win the World Series. You'd think if he didn't follow through on his deal and let us win, he could at least have taken it easy on us this year."

That's the devil for you.

Dykstra talked Wednesday about trying to make it back by late next week. Andersen talked about being activated by Sunday. Curt Schilling and Dave Hollins each will make the West Coast trip that started yesterday.

But this team already has shown that it can stay afloat -- somehow -- without all of those guys. The Phillies are seven games over .500 (22-15) since Schilling hit the deck. They are three games over .500 without Dykstra (7-4) and Hollins (18-15). They are one game over .500 for the season.

That might not scare the Atlanta Braves or the Montreal Expos. But, when you consider where the Toronto Blue Jays and San Francisco Giants are, at least the survivors on this team can look themselves in the mirror in the morning.

"But now," Andersen said, "is the test. When you lose somebody like Bubba, that's when you find out how resilient you are.

"He's an integral part of what happens around here," Andersen said. "When things need to be taken care of in this clubhouse, he's the guy we look at to take care of them."

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