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Imagining life without Carlos Ruiz on the Phillies

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That's our Chooch. Always good for a fake laugh and an awkward smile.

He's gone now, and all that's left is some red catching gear with no owner and probably a filthy, yellowed July 2011 Sports Illustrated lying outside Citizens Bank, its pages fluttering as the car carrying Chooch drives by on its way to the airport.

"The Ace Receiver" the cover reads; one of many roles the 37-year-old Panamanian catcher played as a Phillies backstop for 11 years. Some of the others included:

  • Roy Halladay-befriender.

  • Perfect game-caller. (As well as four no-hitters, the most of anyone in the NL)
  • "X-Factor Player of the Year" and "Pride of Philadelphia" Awards winner
  • Eternal Phil Collins supporter

And then, yes, there was the ace receiving. The 2011 Phillies rotation came together in the shadows, culminating in one restless night in which we all sacrificed sleep in favor of Cliff Lee news. Lee was celebrated for the move, the Phillies were celebrated for the move; hell, Ruben Amaro was celebrated for the move that put Lee, Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels in the same room. But what got overlooked was that somebody was going to have to catch for these guys.

It's not in the rules that, as a pitcher, you're assigned a battery mate who understands the flow of your game and extent of your arsenal well enough that you can just hand over control to them. But that's exactly what Halladay did, and why wouldn't you heap on the praise when your catcher helps you throw the first no-hitter in the playoffs since 1956 and even gets the last out while dodging a flying bat.

Early in Wednesday's game, Halladay said, Ruiz recognized his changeup would be especially effective, and called for it at just the right moments. Halladay shook off Ruiz only once, on the second-to-last pitch.

Halladay wasn't the only ace comfortable letting Ruiz hold their fate in his hands like a baby bird. Cliff Lee, who is often more likely to be hiding in the bushes or farting during an interview than handing out compliments, offered his own Chooch-praise.

"You don't shake him off very often. Even if it is something that you normally wouldn't do or expect, you have a lot of faith in him and that he sees something you don't."

Oswalt said he connected with Ruiz immediately; Hamels lavished Chooch's desire to get to know pitchers personally and understand how to get a pitcher to relax whether next to each other in the dugout or sixty and a half feet apart. Nobody didn't like Chooch, no matter how far away he was.

Some say that getting offense from a catcher is a bonus if he can call a solid game. Ruiz eventually decided, screw it, he would just be both. He didn't immediately work himself in as a hugely valuable member of the offense, hitting .219 for all of 2008, until about 2010, when he slashed .302/.400/.447 in 121 games. In 2011, he not only had the league's best catcher ERA (3.06) but hit .283 as well. But then 2012 rolled around and the 33-year-old catcher had the best season of his career.

Many of his teammates from the division title-winning days referred to Chooch as the "heart and soul" of the team, so it makes sense that he would be one of the last of that generation to leave (along with the muscles); a friendly reminder of a time when we were all younger and baseball season in Philadelphia meant that every so often we got to riot in celebration. Jimmy left, Chase left, Jayson, Shane, Brad, Hunter, Roy, Cliff, 'Lil Roy, and Cole were all gone, but the heart kept beating, even as he got older and lost playing time to Cameron Rupp.

Now, he gets to play out his career in at least one other place, impress another pitching staff, endear himself to other fans, reunite with Chase, and finally, maybe somebody outside of Philadelphia will understand what we mean when we say: