The day game: Our chance to witness baseball under the blessing of the warm sun. The schedule hides baseball in the nighttime, as though it were an illicit activity to be hidden in darkness, its paying customers looking over their shoulders as they purchase tickets to the show. But every few games, baseball is played in broad daylight, as if to say: We will not be ashamed.
Sadly, the daytime was typically no less shameful a time than any other for the 2013 Phillies.
The Phillies were on their sad, slow way down, like a passed-out drunk drifting further and further from their subway stop. When they would occasionally awaken, it would be in a confused and disoriented state, often with a headache. In May, they’d finish 14-14–their most successful month of the season. And in an afternoon finale against the Reds on May 19, they were the same team they were at night–for eight and a third innings.
Victories for this team were like a subway door; they simply had to walk through them when the opportunity arose. But the 2013 Phillies were occasionally a team incapable of even standing up, having the door slam shut in their faces the previous day in a 10-0 loss. That energy would continue the day after their May 19 matinee in a 5-3 loss to the Marlins in which they’d fail to give Cole Hamels more than a run. In both cases, they’d give the ball to Phillippe Aumont, who in turn would give it to the sky. Months later, Charlie Manuel would walk out of Citizens Bank Park with his stuff in a plastic Wawa bag.
But between the losses, Jay Bruce wrecked a Jonathan Pettibone offering to deep center in the second and Todd Frazier knocked in the unthinkable–an additional run–in the sixth. And that was the looming, unscalable tower of offense against which the Phillies battled all day on May 19: Two runs; only one earned, but both seemingly deserved. Any inning that didn’t go 1-2-3 for their lineup would see rallies smothered by double plays. The Reds brought Jonathan Broxton out of the bullpen at one point as a final test to see if the Phillies were really dead. He got two outs before they replaced him with Sean Marshall, and Chase Utley was able to single in Ben Revere in the eighth to cut the insurmountable two-run lead in half.
The Reds stopped joking around and brought in Aroldis Chapman, who would have an all-star season in their closer’s role, to face the Phillies’ 6-7-8 hitters and be done in time for happy hour. Delmon Young was the first in the box: The fury of a triple-digit flamethrower vs. the rage of a man who once threw a bat at an umpire. And yet, it was a quiet, patient appearance as Chapman finished warming up by walking Young on four pitches.
Witnesses blinked in astonishment of the Phillies getting a lead-off base runner and Charlie Manuel blew his whistle that emitted a sound only Cliff Lee could here. The pitcher was being called to do his favorite thing: Play in a non-pitching situation. The decision to use Lee as a pinch runner with the game on the line was immediately debated, and that debate became even louder when Lee was picked off at first, ending even the idea of the Phillies threatening. Lee returned to the dugout to glower and stew, knowing he had just co-authored the opening paragraph to every recap of this loss with his feet.
And so, with one out and nobody on, things returned to normal. Chapman settled in and Erik Kratz walked up, having entered the game in the third inning after Carlos Ruiz had twanged his hamstring–how else–running the bases.
Kratz’s star was on the rise, not only because Ruiz being injured meant more playing time, but this was the very day his Godschall’s Turkey Bacon commercials debuted on Youtube, in which a cartoon turkey would identify him as “the catcher for Philadelphia,” locking his name into the Delaware Valley cultural sphere for good.
His batting average had recently crossed the .200 mark, and he had begun an invigorating friendship with Chase Utley’s dog. With clouds blocking out the afternoon sun at the time of his ninth inning at-bat, nothing was shining brighter than Erik Kratz. Backed into a two-strike count, Chapman left a heater over the heart of the plate and he bashed it to left field, his short swing transitioning seamlessly into a bat flip.
Victory was now what it always was: Just out of reach, for a stupid reason. Tom McCarthy knew it as well as Cliff Lee did, pointing out how an additional base runner would have meant Kratz’s unlikeliest of blasts would have ended the game. Instead, Lee was left in the dugout, scratching his head and planning to take his frustrations out on the wild hogs of the Arkansas brush.
With the game tied 2-2, it was a fair assumption that while the Phillies had succeeded in making the game longer, they hadn’t necessarily changed the outcome. It was all too easy to imagine the bullpen getting slapped around the next inning and the Philles dragging their bats to the plate for a 1-2-3 response.
But no. It was Freddy Galvis’ turn now. He’d hit .300 in the Venezuelan League over the winter after missing time with a literally broken back. Things had become unideal enough that Manuel had recently mused over putting him in center. Utterly unthreatened, Chapman gave Galvis some high heat, and the shortstop smoked it to left field, where It clattered in the well just out of reach of a fan who was yelled at by a nearby woman for missing it. Galvis had three extra-base hits in 53 at-bats entering this one. It would be his only home run in the month of May.
The Phillies would linger around .500, lose eight in a row in July, pull off four walk-off wins in six games in August, and drop nine of their last eleven games of 2013 to finish 23 games out of first. They’d won the most games in franchise history only two years prior, but that team didn’t exist anymore, and now we had only this: Clouds instead of sun, Ryne Sandberg instead of Charlie Manuel, wins instead of winning streaks. But for a couple of at-bats on a dreary afternoon, the baseball gods looked away for a second and two balls landed in the outfield seats against one of the most powerful relief pitchers of all time. Chapman had five years left as the only MLB pitcher to ever throw 105 mph in a game; Jordan Hicks would match the feat in 2018, something I’m only mentioning here because he did it, of course, in a victory over the Phillies.
But today, their win expectancy had jumped from 10% to 100% in the span of ten pitches. Lee put thoughts of hog slaughter out of his mind to celebrate with his teammates, recaps were scrapped and rewritten, and the fans danced and screamed and jumped up and down as the late afternoon became the early evening; some of them, perhaps, passing out drunk on the subway.