2011 Key Moment: The Arrival of the Vanimal

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All this week Philthy Stuff will be looking back on some of the key moments in one of the best Phillies regular seasons ever.

On almost any other Major League team, rookie Vance Worley, he with the 11-3 record and a 3.01 ERA, would be a guaranteed starter in the postseason. But when you’re on a roster with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt in the starting rotation, you instead gear up to play a vital role in the bullpen (which Worley certainly will). Considering Worley entered the 2011 season with as many big league starts – two – as Roy Halladay had Cy Young Awards, that’s quite the emergence.

Almost all of the pre-season Phillies World Series predictions hinged on the strength of the starting pitching, but with Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton starting only 31 games combined due to injuries, it was the emergence of Worley as a reliable man in the rotation that really kept the team humming.

The Phillies’ third-round-draft pick in 2008, he shut out the Mets in his April season debut as a spot starter. He was sent back to the minor leagues, but after being recalled permanently on June 18, developed into one of the best starters in the NL.

In June, the Long Beach State product went 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA against American League teams, topped off by a dominating seven-inning outing against the Boston Red Sox. Dubbed "the Vanimal" by Phillies faithful, Worley further validated his re-call from Triple-A by posting a 4-0 record in July with a stellar 2.04 ERA.

He has the second-most strikeouts looking in all of the major leagues (behind only Justin Verlander, the likely AL CY Young Winner), didn’t lose a start from May until mid-September, and was as big a player in the Phils reaching 102 wins as anyone on the team. If not for Craig Kimbrel emerging as a shut-down closer in Atlanta (except for Wednesday night of course), Worley would be the likely choice for National League Rookie of the Year.

For Worley, his fame in the City of Brotherly Love extends far beyond what his performance on the mound has been. With a colorful personality, unique appearance and heavy interaction with fans that includes an inside look at life as a Major Leaguer via Twitter (he’s at @Vanimal_49), Phillies fans have truly grown to love their new hurler.

But what role will Worley play in October? With the late-season struggles of Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes (who were spectacular early), look for Worley and Brad Lidge to do a lot of the heavy lifting this postseason in the set-up roles for closer Ryan Madson. As good as Bastardo was, and despite being the only lefty in the bullpen, Worley held left-handed hitters to a .202 average during the season and will likely play a key role in getting out big lefty hitters in the postseason.

Regardless, the Phillies have a new star in their rotation.

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