I had surgery on my ruptured Achilles’ tendon at the end of March, so I missed about of month of work. I ended up back at work right at one of our busiest times, so I have been digging out of the absence for a couple weeks now and just was not back into the BSB mindset…and, then it happened. And, to steal a line from just about every baseball writer who ever lived (and the title of a fantastic book by the perpetually likeable Tim Kurkjian), Is This a Great Game of What?
Baseball. There is no other sport like it. Its rich statistical and anecdotal history beautifully colors its fascinating present adding layers of intrigue and complexity to every game, every inning, and every at-bat from April to October. Don’t miss a game or you just might miss something that you will never forget.
And, that was Wednesday night. A seemingly benign regular-season game in the middle of a 4-game series sitting with still over 100 games left until any legitimate talk of the postseason suddenly and without warning became a moment that will live on with us for, well, forever.
Wednesday night is why baseball is great. Every night is a stage on which there is the potential for something that will last in our minds forever. And, we never know when, where, or how it will play out. And, even more intriguing, we never know who will play the defining roles. So, let us take a moment to honor those that gave us that incredible Wednesday night.
If we are talking memorable moments, there is nowhere else to start but with Wilson Valdez. Prior to Wednesday, Valdez was known (and mostly beloved) by Phillies fans as the 32-year old utility guy who stepped in amidst injuries to play over 150 games for the Phils since the beginning of 2010. I never jumped on the Valdez love train because I always saw him as a AAAA player that we were unfortunately stuck using. But, everyone’s view of Valdez changed in the 19th inning on Wednesday when he took the mound, threw some strikes, hit 90 on the gun (even shook off Dane Sardinha as if he had a whole array of pitches from which to choose), and got through a hitless, scoreless inning that included facing the reigning NL MVP, one of the best hitters (and biggest wusses) of a generation, and arguably the league’s hottest hitter. After the game, the DelCo Times beat reporter, Ryan Lawrence, asked him (tongue-in-cheek, presumably) how many pitches he had, and Valdez replied, dead serious, something to the effect of “I’m not sure, I haven’t counted them.” My favorite part, other than him shaking off the catcher, was the array of various camera shots of Valdez in the dugout in the bottom of the 19th with a serious look on his face and an icepack on his arm, like a starting pitcher, trying to make sure he has enough left for the 8th inning. My other favorite part was Valdez becoming the first guy since Babe Ruth to get the win in a game he started as a position player. Any sentence with “Wilson Valdez became the first player since Babe Ruth to _____” is a great sentence – and why baseball is so fantastic.
Howard’s 10th inning home run to tie the game and keep it going (a blown save by Reds closer Francisco Cordero that cost his team the game and his bullpen-mates NINE MORE INNINGS) seemed like just an exciting clutch hit. But, in the end, it opened the door for memories. But, Howard has plenty of nights to shine. This night was for the little guys.
Not exactly the greatest Phillie to ever wear pinstripes, Danys Baez was probably on his way to the waiver wire and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs when he inevitably clears waivers. And, he was left as the last man in the bullpen and took the proverbial “one for the team.” Baez, a short reliever his whole career, threw SEVENTY-THREE pitches over 5 one-hit, scoreless innings against one of the best offenses in baseball. In fact, the whole bullpen combined for this line: 12.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 10 K. Oh, and that does include Wilson Valdez…
On May 8, the Phillies placed catcher Carlos Ruiz on the disabled list with an inflammation in his lower back. On Wednesday – 17 days later – Ruiz crouched down and received 298 pitches over the course of his 18 innings. Now, I don’t know if any of you have ever caught – or even gotten into the catcher’s position – but, to put it bluntly, it sucks. It is painful just about everywhere, but particularly your knees and your back. And, after these 18 innings behind the dish, what did Chooch do? Well, since the nine remaining Phillies in the game included backup catcher Dane Sardinha, Chooch grabbed a tiny little infielder’s glove and made his way to his new position – third base – for the 19th innings, as his good buddy (the starting secondbaseman) took the mound for his first ever pitching appearance in a game with an umpire. The first pitch that Valdez threw to NL MVP Joey Votto was a foul pop up down the thirdbase line. All you see as the cameras scroll to the ball is the back of the #51 jersey as Ruiz is high-tailing after the popup. He even dove into the stands, like a graceful infielder, as the ball landed harmlessly three rows deep. This is the stuff this new era Phillies team is built on. And, it is amazing.
Brandon Phillips (via Jimmy Rollins)
Gotta give a shoutout here to one of the most underrated players of our generation, who doesn’t get enough positive attention paid to his ability and production and doesn’t get enough negative attention paid to the lackluster effort with which he seems to approach the game (maybe on is the reason for the other…). In the 11th inning, four Reds hitters, in succession, went HBP-walk-walk-walk, and yet they did not score because Phillips was picked off second base by J.C. Romero. In an unconfirmed observation, many people think that Jimmy Rollins (who is friends with Phillips off the field) knew the pickoff play was on and started talking to Phillips right before Romero wheeled and fired. You can definitely see Phillips turn toward Rollins (away from the base) just as Romero is turning – and Phillips is out by a mile. Pure Jimmy, pure awesomeness.
And, finally, I have to give one small bit of recognition to Phillies play-by-play guy Scott Frantzke, who was spectacular (as always) over the entire 19 innings. Frantzke has such a natural ease to him when calling a game. He seems to just intuitively know when to be serious and when to add levity, when to be brief to let the pictures tell the story and when to be detailed and thorough, and particularly, when to elicit a listener’s emotions and when to elicit his intellect. He really shined during those 19 innings. He appreciated the moment without trying to be a part of it whatsoever. He made all of us that were still awake in the wee hours of the morning on a “school night” feel glad that we fought off the yawns to witness history on this random Wednesday in May.
And, that is what it was – history. That is what we saw that night – the kind of history that forges memories. And, in the end, the only thing that truly lives forever is our collection of memories. Well, friends, we added one this week.