Ask Mets manager Buck Showalter about Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson, and he goes way back to 1989, when Thomson, then with the London Tigers in the Double-A Eastern League, caught the eye of Showalter, who ran the Albany-Colonie Yankees, for the way he conducted himself as a young coach.
But ask Thomson about Showalter, and he goes back even further, to the Class A Florida State League in 1987. Thomson was in Lakeland near the end of a playing career that never got any farther; Showalter had just been promoted by the Yankees to Fort Lauderdale, the start of his ascent up the minor-league ladder.
“Even as a player, you could tell he was good at what he was doing,” Thomson recalled Friday. “I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Really. The way he handled himself, the way he handled his pitching staff, the way he ran a game. He’s been doing it for a long time and he’s been very successful. He’s very good at it.”
Showalter said: “I wish [the Phillies] hired someone other than Robbie. Just from a competitive standpoint, knew he would be a good fit there. He’s humble but he also remembers how hard the game is to play and remembers how bad we all have been on a given night, but he also doesn’t suffer foolishness well. He’s a good one. They’ve got a good one. Robbie’s got a good heart.”
That mutual respect is on display at Citi Field this weekend, with Showalter and Thomson managing against each other for the first time. Their intertwined histories include some overlap with the Yankees, including what Showalter described as his recommendation of Thomson when he came aboard in the early 1990s in a tenure that lasted through 2017. But they haven’t actually talked managing all that much through the years, according to Thomson.
Thomson is a baseball lifer who received his first shot at a major-league managing job at age 58. That came when the Phillies fired Joe Girardi on June 3 after a 22-29 start despite a franchise-record payroll.
But since then? The Phillies went 40-20 under Thomson heading into the Mets series, a run that included 12 wins in their previous 14 games. They have been significantly better in all areas — hitting, fielding, starting pitching, relief pitching — during that stretch. Entering the weekend, they held a NL wild-card spot, ahead of the Padres, Brewers and others.
In other words, this is a different Phillies team than the one the Mets toyed with on the way to nine wins in 12 games, when they played what felt like every week in April and May.
“Their starting pitching has been really consistent and healthy,” Showalter said. “They run a good pitcher out there every night. Their bullpen has settled in and now they’ve added [David] Robertson. They make leads matter and they’re catching the ball well. A lot of positives and it’s reflected in their record.”
After Max Scherzer and Ranger Suarez faced off in the series opener, the schedule called for Jacob deGrom against Aaron Nola on Saturday and Chris Bassitt versus Zack Wheeler on Sunday.
“There are six really good starters going in this series,” Thomson said. “So if you’re a baseball fan, this is what you’re looking for.”
Add it to the list of reasons why this makes for a good test for a Phillies team that fancies itself as a contender.
“I’m excited for this series for a lot of different reasons,” Thomson said. “To see how especially our young guys are going to react to this. I think they’ll be fine, but I think they’ll do well.”