NEW YORK -- As the calendar has changed to September and the playoff race pressure continues to increase, the Fightin' Phils are taking their unofficial moniker to another level.
Three days after Larry Bowa's animated post-game locker room tirade and two days after the team surprisingly cut utility man Tyler Houston, the manager and player exchanged angry barbs through the media.
Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer, citing a telephone interview that Houston conducted with the Courier-Post over the weekend, reported that Houston believes Philadelphia's weekend sweep of the Mets was due to a players' meeting on the bus ride to Montreal's airport Thursday, rather than to Bowa's explosion. Houston also said that the team is fed up with Bowa as its manager.
"Everybody feels the same way about Bo," Houston told the Courier-Post, a newspaper in southern New Jersey, about Bowa. "He doesn't give a crap about anybody in there. He doesn't give a crap about his players. Bo only cares about himself. You see it in the negativity and disrespect that he has for his players, the way he speaks to his players. He's the first one to slam you, embarrass you, throw stuff in the dugout, throw his hands up in the air.
"I've read that the team is winning because of Bo's meeting. It's not winning because of Bo's meeting, it's winning because of the players' meeting. Bo's meeting was just the last straw with Bo. We had to have a players' meeting, because of him. In our meeting, everybody on that bus felt the same way about Bowa."
Houston also suggested that he had become a fall guy for a perceived predetermined snub of Bowa by Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell after he hit a two-run home run against the Mets. According to the Inquirer, Bowa moved to the front of the dugout to greet Burrell after the homer, only to have the player head to the middle dugout entrance and engage his teammates, bypassing Bowa altogether.
Bowa, when apprised of Houston's comments, became enraged.
"He's a loser," Bowa said to the Inquirer. "That was not the reason [he was cut]. He was an extra guy who causes problems. I had 15 guys [players] doing backflips when we let him go."
Bowa then suggested that reporters ask first baseman Jim Thome whether there was any truth to Houston's assertion that the players dislike their manager. Thome, however, refused to endorse Bowa.
"Let's talk about the game," Thome said to the Inquirer.
When asked a second question along the same lines, Thome replied "We won the game ... We're in the wild-card race. That's what it's all about."
Bowa and general manager Ed Wade explained the surprising release of Houston, one of the top pinch-hitters in the majors, by saying that Houston was unhappy with his role on the team.
Houston told the paper that the Phillies were "covering up" the real reason he was let go.
"I fully accepted my role as a pinch-hitter," he said to the Inquirer. "I was trying to be the best pinch-hitter in the league. This is the way they want to say it went down, because they can't run their own clubhouse."
The Phillies designated Houston for assignment on Saturday. Because of the timing of his release, Houston cannot sign with another team for eight more days, and will be ineligible for postseason play. He still told the paper that he wants his former teammates to succeed in his absence.
"I love this group of guys," Houston said. "I want them to win everything. If they do, it's because they were able to overcome the negativity, because they couldn't care less about Bowa. I just hope they win for themselves."
Bowa remained indignant when asked about Houston and his current situation without a team.
"He'd better hope no manager calls me and asks about him," Bowa said. "There's a reason he's with a different team every year."