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Philadelphia Phillies say they're a better team without Tampa Bay Rays' Pat Burrell

PHILADELPHIA — The first, second and third basemen are all the same, as is the shortstop. So are the catcher and the right- and centerfielders.

It's only in leftfield the Phillies made a change from the team that won last year's World Series and the one that will try to do so again starting Wednesday.

Pat Burrell is with the Rays now, replaced by Raul Ibanez.

And the Phillies say they are better for it.

"It's worked out for us," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the most veteran Phillie. "Definitely. It has definitely worked out for us."

At the time, Phillies officials said it was a difficult decision to part ways with Burrell, who'd become something of the face of the franchise after 11 years.

And a somewhat curious one to replace him with Ibanez, who was 4 years older (36 at the time), who was left-handed when they really wanted a right-handed bat to balance their lineup, who had never played in a major market or the National League and who wasn't any kind of bargain, getting a three-year, $31.5 million deal.

Now, it looks like a brilliant move, as Ibanez delivered a spectacular season, hitting .272 with 34 homers and 93 RBIs, carrying the team early and making his first All-Star appearance.

"He's one of the reasons why we're in the postseason. He's one of the reasons why we won our division," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's been tremendous. … He's had a big year for us. He's definitely made us better. He's made us a better team."

And that's without factoring in how much smarter they look given how poorly Burrell played for the Rays.

After getting a two-year, $16 million deal from the Rays, a significant cut from the $14 million he made in Philadelphia in 2008, Burrell had a .221 average (lowest among all American Leaguers with at least 475 plate appearance), 14 homers (all against right-handed pitching) and 63 RBIs.

Phillies officials say politely that they are surprised Burrell did so poorly, that they in no way foresaw such a dropoff. They attribute it to the same things the Rays did: the change in leagues and in jobs (from playing leftfield every day to DH), maybe to the neck problem that bothered him in May.

"I thought he'd do fine down there," senior adviser Pat Gillick said. "Guys switch leagues, you never know. Some guys it doesn't affect, other guys get a little psyched out about it — they don't know the pitchers, etc. … I thought he'd have a better year."

"There's some adjustments to be made there, but I think he'll be back to play well," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said. "Hopefully he'll get it going again for him, for his sake."

Between the difference in their offensive production, and the improvement in defense and baserunning — "Raul's a better athlete," Manuel said — Phillies officials feel the decisions accomplished their goal.

"We just felt like we were going to get a little better," Amaro said.

Burrell's former teammates don't want to say whether it was as right of a move as it appears.

"I can't say it's the right move," Rollins said. "It's not a wrong move. It was really just a business decision."

"That's probably not a fair question," rightfielder Jayson Werth said. "Pat always will be missed around here, but, that said, we made a great addition with Raul Ibanez. He filled a great void not only in leftfield but in the clubhouse."

Though Burrell is gone from the roster, his presence persists in the Phillies clubhouse. At least three players, Werth, catcher Carlos Ruiz and reserve Greg Dobbs, have small posters of Burrell hung at their lockers and speak glowingly of the impact he had.

"I have a great amount of respect for him as a person — he gave me solid advice and was a great role model and example for me," Dobbs said. "It's my way to honor him."

"I think he's left his mark on this town and this team and he'll be forever missed," Werth said. "He's one of a kind. There's nobody else out there like Pat Burrell — in a good sense."

"Everyone knows what Pat meant to this team," Rollins said.

The Phillies honored Burrell when the Rays came to Philadelphia for preseason exhibitions, showing a video tribute soundtracked to I Want to Know What Love Is and giving out the souvenir cards. He was also invited back for their World Series ring ceremony and got a huge ovation.

But that hospitality has its bounds, as Burrell hasn't been — and likely won't be — part of their official postseason pomp and circumstance. They've had ceremonial first pitches thrown out by other former stars such as Darren Daulton, Geoff Jenkins, John Kruk and Mickey Morandini. Burrell, playing in a charity golf tournament this weekend in Arizona, declined through the Rays to comment.

"He'll be missed around here, especially in the clubhouse and in the dugout," Werth said. "But, hey, we've got to go with what we've got, and Raul's been a big part of this team this year. I actually can't see this team without him really."

In Philadelphia, that's something they used to say about Burrell. Around Tampa Bay, not so much.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Philadelphia Phillies say they're a better team without Tampa Bay Rays' Pat Burrell 10/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 24, 2009 10:57pm]
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