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Phillies finally show it's OK to think ahead

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Ryne Sandberg resisted the urge to focus on the now and, in last night's game in San Diego, decided to let the future have a crack at it.

Darin Ruf got a hit here, but not in the 8th inning of last night's loss.
Darin Ruf got a hit here, but not in the 8th inning of last night's loss.
Denis Poroy

In baseball, some stories are better than others. And unless you stayed up until the very early hours of Friday morning, you likely missed the one I'm about to tell you.

It was the top of the eighth inning, with the Phillies down 4-1 to the Padres, and right-handed reliever Dale Thayer came in to pitch for San Diego. He allowed a single to Ben Revere, who stole his 47th base. Freddy Galvis then hit a bunt single down the first base line, putting runners on 1st and 3rd with no out.

Marlon Byrd followed with a strikeout, which brought up Darin Ruf, a right-handed hitter who was playing in place of Ryan Howard last night.

Manager Ryne Sandberg had a decision to make. Would he pull Ruf and replace him with the left-handed hitting Howard, in an obvious RBI situation? Remember, the team has been trying to get Howard to 100 RBI, and the Big Piece is stuck on 92.

Had this game meant something in the standings, it's a certainty that Sandberg would have pulled the inexperienced right-handed hitter and substituted Howard in a run-producing spot. After all, Thayer is one of the Padres' best relievers, with a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings this season, and in 210 career innings, right-handers have hit just .239/.282/.366 against him.

Of course, this game was totally meaningless, so Sandberg did something he wouldn't have done even a couple weeks ago.

Sandberg let Ruf hit.

He let the young guy with a career .813 OPS in 428 career plate appearances take a shot at a tough right-hander, in a late-game situation, with a chance to draw the Phils to within two, or tie the game up with a homer.

This story would have ended a whole lot better if Ruf would have jacked a dinger. Or gotten an extra base hit. Or a single. Or heck, even a walk.

Unfortunately, Ruf struck out.

But that was not the end of the youth experiment. With two outs, Maikel Franco, another young right-hander, got a shot at Thayer, but he struck out as well. After the game, Sandberg admitted he wanted to see what the young guys could do.

"...It was a chance to see these guys (Ruf and Franco) in that situation. We were just looking for some contact."

And while the manager didn't get the contact he was looking for, it was encouraging to see the manager finally give the young guys a chance to do something.

Howard sat for the second game in a row last night, with Sandberg saying after the game he wanted to let Ruf get a few more at bats. Ruf had a double, a single and two runs scored in Wednesday night's win, and also had a double and a run scored early in last night's 7-3 loss.

Last night, Ruf wasn't able to come through. Neither was Franco. But allowing them the opportunity to try gives them a better chance of coming through the next time a similar situation arises.

The future. The Phils are begrudgingly accepting it.