Philadelphia -- Perhaps, before the surprising Philadelphia Phillies get too far ahead of the pack in the National League East, it might be wise to make one thing clear about major-league baseball's winningest team.
This is not the spitting image of the 1993 National League championship club.
OK, so Lenny Dykstra still can drool with the best of them, but the new Phillies are a far more genteel bunch than the street gang that won the pennant two years ago. John Kruk left after 1994 and recently signed with the Chicago White Sox. Pete Incaviglia is playing in Japan. Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams is doing setup work for the California Angels.
The old Phillies had more characters. The new Phillies have more character.
"That was a whole different thing," manager Jim Fregosi said, referring to the 1993 club. "That was a braggadocio type of atmosphere that team needed at that time because they were unsure about how good they could be or were. The majority of the guys on that club had never won, so they did create an image for themselves.
"This is basically a quiet, confident club. They are all experienced guys. It's a veteran team . . . a solid group of people."
Fregosi will get no argument from the rest of the league. The Phillies did not come into the season as a strong divisional favorite -- largely because they slipped below .500 last year -- but they have spent the first month of the strike-delayed 1995 season storing up victories for the long summer ahead.
They have won 21 of their first 29 games to streak to the front of the NL East race, and have done it mostly on the road. Their 12-3 record away from Veterans Stadium is the kind of jump-start that could make them difficult to overtake.
It's early, of course. The season is just a few weeks old, and the preseason NL East favorites -- the pitching-heavy Atlanta Braves -- have not allowed the Phillies to get away, but the chemistry of the division race has changed right along with the chemistry in the Phillies clubhouse.
"It's the best I've ever had on a club," Fregosi said of the team's chemistry. "It is a very professional team. This team really gets along well. There are no so-called cliques on this club, or at least none that the manager can detect."
That wasn't the case in 1993, when the team's macho men -- Dykstra, Kruk, Incaviglia, Williams and catcher Darren Daulton -- provided on-field leadership, but holed up at one end of the clubhouse and seemed unapproachable to some of the younger members of the club.
"This team is much tighter," said ace Curt Schilling, who is 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA. "Everybody blends well here. The young guys aren't shunned or stabbed at like they were by some guys in '93."
Now, the young guys are right in the middle of it. Reliever $H Heathcliff Slocumb has stepped up from a setup role to take over as full-time closer. He is leading the major leagues with 12 saves. Converted reliever Paul Quantrill, who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox last season, has moved into the rotation this year. The Phillies are 5-1 in the games he has started.
The club has gotten some big performances from left-handed starter Mike Mimbs (3-1), who was taken from the Montreal Expos in last year's Rule V draft, and rookie right-hander Tyler Green (3-3), who was the club's top draft choice in 1991.
The starting lineup also has undergone some significant changes. Kruk has been replaced by Dave Hollins at first base, and Charlie Hayes was signed as a free agent to replace Hollins at third. Incaviglia was replaced in left field by free-agent outfielder Gregg Jefferies, who signed a four-year contract in December. The result is a more balanced offense that ranked third in the National League in hitting before yesterday's games.
Fregosi points to the upgraded bench as still another important factor in the Phillies' fantastic first month. It's hard to find anyone on the major-league roster who hasn't made some kind of contribution.
"It's a different type of chemistry," Schilling said. "This is a much deeper team, offensively, but probably not as deep in the starting rotation. I think we are [better] because we are winning with fundamental baseball. We're doing the little things. We're not winning the improbable games. We're winning the games that good teams win. We're beating people with good baseball instead of getting those unbelievable wins."
That evolution was inevitable, according to Daulton, who said that the club's success in 1993 has helped shape the 1995 team -- even if its outward appearance seems drastically different.
"I think that's safe to say," Daulton said. "Once you go through 162 games and go to the final dance, you learn how to get there and how you don't get there. That's helpful in the long run. You go through periods where you're not doing it as an individual or a team, and you realize that you are going to come out of it. You learn how to win."
The three-game series against the San Francisco Giants last week provided a good illustration. The Phillies, forced to play without an injured Dykstra, staged a ninth-inning rally against closer Rod Beck in the opener Tuesday night and came back late again Wednesday to wipe out a strong pitching performance by starter Trevor Wilson.
In one short series, the club displayed its confidence, resilience and depth without resorting to any of the extraneous trappings that turned a group of young millionaires into working-class heroes in 1993.
"I think a lot of times, a lot of strutting around is just false confidence," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "Maybe they learned something from 1993. It's basically the same team, but they are more mature. Two years can be a lot of maturity in the life of a baseball player. That might be 20 or 30 percent of your career.
"In order to sustain yourself, you have to have genuine, deep confidence. I'd rather face the crazy guys than the quiet, confident guys on a daily basis. They ['95 Phillies] aren't intimidating. They just find a way to win, and the objective is to win."
The Phillies are winning at an amazing rate, which can lead only to the conclusion that the club has improved greatly over 1994 because the front office had the courage to reconfigure the roster so soon after winning a pennant. It was a painful process, but it apparently was necessary to get the team to where it is today.
"Sure, you miss those guys," Daulton said. "We had a real close-knit team in '93. You miss that, being together and winning together, but we have a real good group now. Only time will tell how good a team we can be."
GONE AND FORGOTTEN
'93 star (role)......... Where is he now? ......... Who's there in '95
John Kruk (1B).......... Chicago White Sox ........ Dave Hollins*
Pete Incaviglia (LF).... Japan .................... Gregg Jefferies
Mitch Williams (closer). California Angels ........ Heathcliff Slocumb
Danny Jackson (SP) ..... St. Louis Cardinals ...... Mike Mimbs
Terry Mulholland (SP) .. San Francisco Giants ..... Tyler Green
Larry Andersen (RP) .... Signed Triple-A contract.. Gene Harris
*-Hollins was in the starting lineup of the 1993 team, but played third base. Free agent Charlie Hayes was signed in December to replace him at third.