I love Odubel Herrera. I think, as he embodies the player traits some people are trying to suffocate out of the game, he is both a bat-flipping ambassador to the team’s future and a wall-smashing reminder of its recent past.
And yet, I understand how his exuberant demeanor, while endlessly entertaining and enjoyed by me, might be a disadvantage in a certain context. When he tosses his bat, it could be for anything from a clutch home run to a line out to a walk to a bird startling him, who knows.
But with some hitters, there’s only one reason to stop and stare.
A Piece pimp is a beautiful thing pic.twitter.com/nmBxVvwDWD— Drew Davis (@drewdavis71) August 13, 2016
There’s nothing like an honest slugger.
Years ago, when the Phillies were playing in their last playoff game for a while, the vibe was a little off. Future bathroom sheriff Lance Berkman had tagged Roy Halladay in the first inning with a three-run home run and the Phillies had been trying to play catch-up all night. A Shane Victorino RBI single got one back, but the Phillies entered the bottom of the sixth having been playing from behind and not looking particularly inspiring while they were doing it.
So Howard stepped up with two runners on and everybody was thinking the same thing: Wouldn’t it just be grand if he got a hold of one here - this is Kyle Lohse, after all, who is perfectly capable of dangling a meatball out there in the playoffs - and the Phillies took the lead with one cut of the October air? While one thing we were in Philadelphia at that time was endlessly supportive of Ryan Howard [Looks around for any who would deny this claim], this felt like a thought we had often, only to watch him bounce a ground ball into the shift.
Howard dragged out that at-bat until we had all aged about three or four years, and then, finally, got his meatball.
Not feeling optimistic about the Phillies run-scoring that night, to me, the ball looked off the bat to be too high and not hit solidly enough to go out. I thought cameras were about to cut to a Cardinals outfielder settling under it. But Piece’s body language calmly informed me that it was gone.
Bars exploded. People high-fived on the street. Cars sitting in highway gridlock sang with car horns. A man in the middle of brushing his teeth ran and stumbled out of the bathroom to the TV and let out a garbled hoot. That Ryan Howard home run served as a clean energy source for the Delaware Valley over the next four months.
Tom McCarthy called it a "titanic home run," an ominous reference to a highly touted large, slow-moving body that was destroyed after a few nights.
There’s no wrong way to pimp a homer, but Howard had way of his own. He doesn’t throw his bat; he lets it fall out of his hand. He doesn’t stare at the pitcher; he stares at the ball as it departs. He doesn’t jump or scream; he stands and waits patiently for the crowd to catch up with him, a tidal wave of screams crashing as he steps toward first, wondering what all the shocked faces are for. "I mean... I knew I was gonna do that."
There’s been no Phillies player from any era whose post-swing stare is so reliable. If Howard watches a ball leave his bat, you can trust him - it’s gone. He may not hit them as much anymore, but when he does, he lets you know. And last night, well.
Ryan came calling.