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Ruf stretch: Remembering Darin Ruf’s legendary 33-game on-base streak

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Only true fans will know this, but Odubel Herrera isn’t the first Phillies player to get on base a lot.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Folks, last night Odubel Herrera hit a single during the Phillies’ 8-4 non-rebound non-win, and people couldn’t have been more excited.

That’s right, Herrera is making history. But as Todd Zolecki noted, the road to the top of the on-base heap in Phillies country goes through Darin Ruf-ville (What?).

We all knew this day would come; when Herrera’s spastic base-reaching prowess would have him rubbing shoulders with Phillies (and Samsung Lions) legends. That process has begun, and we can only hope the Phillies lose in such a way tonight that still allows Herrera to get on. Or that they just win, I guess. But that seems less likely of late.

But before we move forward, let us dwell here, in the past. It’s nice here, in September 2012; hey, look at that—Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively just got married. They’re so in love, according to the images to which the public was allowed access. And what’s this in the news? Armenia was crowned the champions of the World Chess Federation’s 40th annual Olympiad? Oh boy. Get ready for another chess-dominated news cycle, everyone!

And here in Philadelphia, Darin Ruf is quietly becoming the on-base machine we always knew he’d be. Come, sit near me and I’ll tell you the story of each one of his base-reachings.

I said come sit near me, not pretend to look at your phone and shuffle away. Hey I’m talking to you HEY WE’RE HAVING FUN HERE

September 25, 2012

Late September. The Phillies are, naturally, out of it. Darin Ruf is set to make his first MLB start.

All right, kid, you tore up the Eastern League, and now you’re facing big league pitching. It’s been three games since your debut so you have exactly nine more innings before Philadelphia turns on you and you wake up on a garbage barge headed for open waters.

What do you got.

Bob Horner is a man who once hit four home runs in a single game. Ruf had to settle for just the one home run and a single (also known as a “Slugger’s Bunt”), but by making his first big league hit a homer, he put himself forever alongside players like Horner and Chase Utley.

Ruf helped the Phillies beat up Ross Detweiler of the Nationals in a 6-3 win that ultimately meant nothing—but that no one realized was the start of something.

September 26, 2012

Unable to keep pace with the Washington offense for more than a couple of hours in a week, the Phillies tried the age-old trick of scoring one run at a time against John Lannan. The Nationals countered with a strategy of their own: Scoring multiple runs in a single inning. While the Phillies were left scratching their heads, the Nationals circled the bases for an 8-4 victory that seemed way more realistic than that weird non-loss the 2012 Phillies had pulled off the day before. Bryce Harper smashed a dinger right in Kyle Kendrick’s face in the first inning, the gods looked down and smiled upon this righting of the universe, and everybody pretty much went home.

The Phillies only had three hits on the day—John Lannan was on the mound for the Nats, I mean; what can you do??—but Darin Ruf had one of them. After grounding into a weak double play when the Phillies needed him most, Ruf came to the plate in the eighth with the intention of keeping a late rally alive. Chase Utley had doubled himself on base, reached third on a wild pitch, and scored on a sac fly. The Nationals’ lead was now a single run, and Ruf faced Tyler Clippard with two outs. His banged a line drive to right field and was quickly replaced by Juan Pierre on the base paths. Pierre then had a great view of Kevin Frandsen’s inning-ending strikeout.

September 27, 2012

The Phillies dispatched Tyler Cloyd for the series win, and boy; did they not get it. Things seemed to be going their way in the bottom of the first, when Ruf’s first at-bat of the game resulted in a bases-clearing double. Things did not seem to be going their way in the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings, in which the Nationals built their 7-3 victory.

September 28, 2012

Miami in September! I challenge you to find a more well-renown season and location. What’s that? “Autumn in New York?” Never heard of it. In any case, the Phillies entered the brightly colored thunderdome in which the Marlins started playing baseball in 2012, under the watchful gaze of the mysterious monolith that appeared in their outfield overnight and that people were too horrified to remove or talk about.

But Darin Ruf wasn’t intimidated by the home run sculpture. No sir. He stared down that polychromatic structure behind the fence and had himself a 1-for-3 day at the plate with a strikeout. Take that, towering sculpture from the beyond!

[Terrifying sculpture from the beyond lights up, plays music]

Oh my god, what does it want?

September 29, 2012

You’d think having a three-strikeout day at the plate would go a long way in ending someone’s on-base streak, but Ruf powered through for a double in the top of the ninth against the Marlins, grateful to be on the base where his back could be toward the menacing sculpture lurking in the outfield.

Why did it come here? Why has it chosen us?

September 30, 2012

Ruf started the day with a single off Nathan Eovaldi—it’s as good as a cup of coffee, they say—and ended it with a series of demoralizing ground-outs. The Phillies were able to hold onto a 4-1 win and escaped Miami. They quickly returned to their hotel, wordlessly packed their bags, and boarded a plane to Washington, an unsaid team-wide agreement in place to never discuss what they’d seen in Marlins Park.

No one realized that Jeremy Horst remained on a Miami street corner, drooling into a gutter, his mind shattered after the Marlins Home Run Sculpture had entered his dreams and showed him the face of God (Yes, that’s what happened to him).

October 1, 2012

October! A time of year when a better team would have been gearing up for the playoffs! Instead, Philadelphia had already checked out of baseball and into another sexy season of Eagles football with Andy Reid. “This 3-1 start is all I need for the utmost level of confidence,” very sane Eagles fans would say back and forth to each other, verbatim. “I definitely don’t think the team will now go 1-11 and miss the playoffs.”

But Darin Ruf wasn’t concerned with such frivolous matters. He had to face his old nemesis, John Lannan, once more, and the tension could not have been higher. Ruf won the battle in the top of the second with the only triple of his MLB career, which knocked in the only two runs of the game. Ruf had now reached base in every game since his first big league start, and people were starting to notice!

Nah, they weren’t; they were screaming at stray cats about what they would say if they could fire Juan Castillo.

October 2, 2012

Having scored a total of two runs the previous night, the Phillies tried the same strategy in game two of this series, only for the Nationals to thwart them by scoring four.

I mean, what do you guys want from Darin Ruf, at this point? He hit two home runs in this game, a pair of solo shots off Tom Gorzelanny and Tyler Clippard, and was the engine of the Phillies’ offense. He can’t do it alone. Who’s going to pick up the weight?

[Looks around at Domonic Brown, Michael Martinez, Ty Wigginton]

Oh, so; nobody. Nobody is going to help.

October 3, 2012

With this 5-1 loss, the Phillies dropped to 81-81, and—hey, the season’s over! The Phillies missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Everyone cleaned out their lockers and the lights faded on the Phillies, but in a post-credit sequence, a diligent journalist discovers after sifting through a mound of papers that, despite going 0-for-2 at the plate, by drawing a walk on the season’s final day, Darin Ruf kept his on-base streak alive through the end of the season!

The journalist rushes to a phone but is taken out by a sniper’s bullet. On top of a skyscraper across the street, the Marlins Home Run Sculpture disassembles its rifle, descends the stairs, and disappears into the crowd.

July 6, 2013

We jump ahead, through a swirling time warp into the following summer. Things are different now. Casper Wells is here.

Darin Ruf wasn’t with the 2013 Phillies when they started the season, but everything had proceeded typically: Major League Baseball had conducted its opening ceremonies in which the events of the previous year are sealed in the archives and never spoken of again, and the Phillies got off to a bad start that by July 6 had become a bad season. But never fear, 42-46 Phillies of 2013! Darin Ruf is here to clean things up.

Just look at that way his ground ball single in the bottom of the eighth against the Braves when the Phillies were already down 11-1 inspires hope. That’s not Darin Ruf standing on first base. That’s the future.

The future would later strike out to end the game, which was a 13-4 loss.

July 7, 2013

Ruf got back in the groove in his second game of the season, backing a Jonathan Pettibone start with a both a double and a walk. Take that, [checks box score] Kris Medlen!

July 8, 2013

That kind of heat doesn’t just die down. John Lannan, now pitching for the Phillies and making he and Ruf’s legendary rivalry a little more awkward by putting them in the same clubhouse, gave the Phillies eight solid innings against his former team, the first-place Nationals (What?!). The Phillies launched an offensive assault in the first against Dan Haren, and with the might of both a Dom Brown infield single and a Darin Ruf bases loaded walk, they took a lead they would not relinquish all afternoon, thanks, again, to a dominant start from Lannan (Seriously, what?).

July 9, 2013

The Phillies strung together a pair of singles in the bottom of the fifth, putting speedsters Michael Young and Darin Ruf on base. Carlos Ruiz then chopped directly into a double play, neutralizing Ruf—but he’d touched the base, and his on-base streak gasped for life once more.

July 10, 2013

It gets a little old, beating the Nationals, so the Phillies took a night off from winning and lost 5-1. But that Darin Ruf—he worked a walk and supplied the Phillies’ only run with a solo shot. This guy is on fire; only like, the kind of fire that doesn’t spread to anyone else in the lineup. This guy is a well-contained fire, perfectly under the control of emergency personnel!

July 11, 2013

Back to their winning ways, Kyle Kendrick led the Phillies to a 3-1 victory over Washington, going seven innings and suppressing Bryce Harper enough that all he could do was hit a triple. After striking out swinging twice, Darin Ruf finally got to Jordan Zimmerman with a double, and was immediately pinch run for with 38-year-old John McDonald. Just when the kid was heating up for the night, they take him out of the game. Unbelievable. [Elbows you] You know, I saw Darin Ruf hit in the Eastern League once. This guy’s the real deal. Trust me. Hey. [Elbows you more aggressively] Trust me.

July 13, 2013

Against the White Sox back in Philly, Charlie Manuel used 19 of his 25 players in one game. But why? Darin Ruf had three hits and a walk, clearly there was no need to use any other players: Singling to center field. Doubling to left field. Homering to deep, deep center field. Almost homering again to right-center. Walking. Whatever John Danks threw at him, Ruf made it work.

Clearly, Ruf was reaching dangerous territory: His power was growing, and it was unknown whether he would be able to control it. What if he took a mighty hack at a breaking pitch and blew up a city block? What if he sneezed while doing some boutique shopping and laid waste to Old City? What if he faced John Danks again at some point and accidentally absorbed the entire sun?

Neither baseball analysts nor astrophysicists were addressing these issues. But clearly, the world had stumbled onto an unlimited source of power in a six foot three, 250-pound kid with an Omaha smile.

What he did next could dictate the tide of civilization.

July 13, 2013 (Game 2)

But before we had a chance to weaponize him, the power was gone. Ruf returned to Citizens Bank Park for the nightcap of a double-header to face the White Sox once more. This time, the bat was heavy in his hands, the pistons in his mind slow to fire; and before we knew it, the heart of the Phillies offense who had reached base safely in 16 straight games had gone down swinging three times.

It looked like the end, before John Mayberry tied the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh and sent it spiraling into extras. Ruf would get another chance at the plate. He strode up there in the bottom of the twelfth, a hack away from ending things.

Fortunately, it was out of his hands. Chicago reliever Simon Castro, quivering with intimidation, beaned Ruf and sent him on a hero’s journey to the first base bag.

The streak was now strong enough to become self-aware, speaking to Ruf in a hoarse whisper only he could hear.

“I don’t want to be alive,” it would say.

“Neat!” Ruf would reply, taking his third trip on a tour bus around Independence Mall.

July 14, 2013

A double-header sweep wasn’t enough for these Phillies. They took the White Sox for all they were worth with a 4-3 victory the following day, too, thanks to eight innings from Cole Hamels and an effective strategy by the White Sox to walk Darin Ruf intentionally and face Delmon Young, who struck out swinging before John Mayberry’s walk-off single. Though the players celebrated around Mayberry, it was Ruf who had intentionally walked even closer to history.

He entered the all-star break knowing what awaited him on the other side: Destiny.

July 19, 2013

The Phillies entered the second half of the season all whipped-up over Domonic Brown’s all-star appearance, which culminated in a pair of dirty innings against the Mets that led to a 13-8 win. They crushed some mannequins the Mets put in “pitching” poses and left on the mound named Jeremy Hefner and Greg Burke, with Ruf joining in on the fun with some of the game’s only base hits that didn’t result in RBI.

They did result in him touching a base though, which is all anyone was talking about at the time. Well, that and the city of Detroit filing of bankruptcy. Ha ha! The country is broken!

July 20, 2013

Hey now, who are these over-.500 Phillies and what have they done with the sub-.500 Phillies who corpse-walked through the early summer? Look at them, knocking seven hits off Zack Wheeler. But once more, Ruf went hitless, saved only by a two-out walk in the fifth as the last batter Wheeler would face. Ruf connected solidly on a line drive in the ninth as the Phillies threatened down 5-2, but Daniel Murphy was able to smother it. The box score showed a 5-4 loss for the Phils and a bad day at the plate for Ruf--But a box score doesn’t show things like “destiny.”

July 23, 2013

Ruf got to sit out the night before while the Phillies lost 5-0 to the Mets, leaving his precious streak intact while his teammates got positively iced by Matt Harvey. Charlie Manuel hid Ruf in a CBP sub-basement, where Harvey couldn’t find him, forgot he left him down there, and then retrieved him just in time to face the Cardinals the following night. Ruf excitedly tossed aside the hats he’d made out of newspapers and joined in the fun of being shut out by Shelby Miller for six innings. Fortunately, he was able to single off Seth Maness (Who were these people playing baseball in 2013?) and even scored on a John Mayberry double. Oh, that legendary Ruf-Mayberry one-two punch! So rarely effective.

July 24, 2013

The Phillies settled back in below .500, inhaling deeply the moldy scent of the NL East basement. They were pummeled by the Cardinals 11-3, thank in large part to a bottom of the fifth in which J.C. Ramirez was left on the mound to get pecked to shreds by the St. Louis lineup, surrendering five earned runs (three doubles, a triple, a pair of walks) before recording his third out. He returned to the dugout a broken man.

But for Darin Ruf, the night was business as usual: Single somewhere in the middle of the game, come around to score as one of a couple of meaningless runs. It was a winning formula for anyone trying to maintain an on-base streak. But not a winning formula for a team trying to win. Which the Phillies did not.

July 25, 2013

1-for-4 with a single.

July 26, 2013

1-for-4 with a single.

July 27, 2013

The streak was clinging to life, and facing Max Scherzer and the Tigers put it in serious jeopardy.

“Please, Darin,” the streak begged pre-game. “Just let me die.”

“Ha ha ha,” Darin said aloud. “Is no one else hearing that voice?”

“I’m telling you, the kid has lost it,” Ty Wigginton whispered to John Mayberry.

“Are you still on the team?” Mayberry asked. “Good lord, I’ve been using your locker.”

“Ha ha ha,” Darin said again, actually saying the word “ha” each time and not actually laughing.

“Please,” the streak hissed.

Darin hit a double off Scherzer in a 10-0 loss.

July 28, 2013

“For both our sakes,” the streak pleaded between coughing fits, “End my suffering.”

Darin just kept whistling his high school’s fight song while arranging his cleats in just the right fashion. Then he went out and had a 2-for-4 night with a double. The Phillies lost 12-4.

“You are a sadist,” the streak whispered.

“Hot dog!” Darin Run shouted in excitement while looking at a picture of a hot dog.

July 30-August 1, 2013

Despite a combined one hit and four strikeouts over three games, the streak stayed alive, begging for death, thanks to a walk and a pair of HBP’s.

August 2-6, 2013

And just as it appeared to be gasping its final breaths, Ruf powered the streak back to life with six hits and two homers in four games.

Thirty-three games it now stood at, a number quantifiable by math, but immeasurable by logic. Darin Ruf was reaching base more often than anyone else in the lineup, and yet somehow, just because of their limp lineup, burned out pitching staff, and the fact that Ruf was striking out all the time between base-touches, the Phillies were not taking advantage of their offense’s weakly beating heart with some actual wins.

“There is no reason for me to exist,” the streak would say. “Rid the world of my filth.”

“Seriously, does no one else hear that?” Darin asked.

“I sure do!” replied his reflection in the clubhouse mirror.

“Thanks, Darin!”

“You got it, Darin!”

Chase Utley quietly walked out of the room and requested a trade.

August 7, 2013

Sweet release.

It took Travis Wood and the 50-win 2013 Cubs to keep Darin Ruf off the bases. Two strikeouts, and no hits, walks, hit by pitches, dropped third strikes, pinch running, or typos in the official scorebook got Ruf down the baseline. The streak blissfully disappeared; some say it now lives inside the Marlins Park home run sculpture, with the rest of baseball’s forgotten souls.

We may never know the true powers behind Darin Ruf’s 33-game on-base streak of 2012-13. But what we do know is that he’s gone on to have a hell of a career overseas in Korea, being celebrated by the team on Darin Ruf Day, clobbering home runs, and having an adorable son. Meanwhile, Odubel Herrera creeps toward on-base milestone after milestone, easily being the most consistently productive player on the team who is hated by people for no reason. I hope some day Herrera plays somewhere that appreciates him as much as the Samsung Lions appreciate Darin Ruf.