Jimmy Rollins was heading back to first base after his record-breaking single had landed safely in the right-field grass when he caught a glimpse of Mike Schmidt jogging up the first base line behind him with his bat in hand.
If there was a moment to remember for Rollins in setting the Phillies’ all-time hits record during Saturday’s 7-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park, it was Schmidt coming onto the field to greet him after he broke the Hall of Famer’s club record.
“Mike Schmidt coming down the line shocked me,” Rollins said. “I knew he was going to be here, but I didn’t know he was going to have a part in it. I hit first base and he was halfway down the line, charging with my bat. I was like, ‘Whoa!’ That was pretty nice. That was a surprise.”
Schmidt, a few fireworks and a short celebration at first base with his teammates was all the hoopla Rollins needed to acknowledge a record 14 years in the making. After all, Rollins explained after the game, winning championships is what he’s after. Yes, the records are nice and can be a special motivator.
But when it comes down to it, another ring would be better.
“The truth is, if your team is winning, you feel better about everything. And if you’re not winning, you look at yourself and say what can I do better?” said Rollins, who has a .344 on-base percentage with eight homers and 11 stolen bases in 2014. “I am having a better season this year than I did last year in certain aspects, but we’re not winning. So, it’s great, but winning helps everything.”
At 29-37 and with wins in four of their last five games, the Phillies are six games out in the NL East.
“We could get on a roll here and get ourselves in contention. The division hasn’t gotten away from us at all yet, which is very fortunate,” Rollins said. “Unfortunately we’ve been here before but when we were, we found a way to win despite all the odds. Hopefully we have a little bit of that magic left. We could start a new run and we could be the guys steering the ship.”
To that end, Rollins’ record-breaking hit played a big role in Saturday’s game. So too did Schmidt’s appearance on the field and in the team dugout. Opening off the fifth inning with the Phillies clinging to a one-run lead, Rollins played his traditional role of team igniter. But after Chase Utley and Ryan Howard made outs, it appeared as if it was going to be another potential rally to bite the dust.
However, Rollins stole second base (he’s already the modern day franchise leader in steals) a couple pitches before Marlon Byrd worked a six-pitch walk. That set the table for Domonic Brown, who stole a quick minute with Schmidt as the celebration was breaking up.
The result? A game-breaking three-run homer, kind of like how Schmidt used to do it.
“Domonic Brown asked me for a batting lesson,” Schmidt said.
“I suggested, he is left-handed thrower so a natural lefty, a lot of times left-handed hitters are right-handed throwers so their pull side, the bottom hand is their strong hand so they tend to uppercut a lot. I used to be a left-handed hitter [in college] and I couldn’t hit anything because I swung up on the ball. I said, ‘Domonic just use your strong hand and let your top hand get out there through the ball.’ I don’t know if it actually looked that way when he hit the home run, but it worked. We were going crazy. I was in dugout after he hit the home run and got a big hug.”
The day certainly belonged to Rollins and eclipsing Schmidt’s record. It was also a reminder of a rarity in baseball these days in that Rollins has stuck around for 14 years with the Phillies. Actually, drafted in the second round in 1996, it goes back nearly 20 years for Rollins and the Phillies.
Schmidt was also a second-round pick, spent 18 years playing in the big leagues after just 205 minor-league games and has never ended his association with the Phillies.
With so much invested in the organization, the records are merely byproducts of all those decades. Rollins knew how many hits he needed to break Schmidt’s record, but there was a larger motive in all of it.
Yes, it always comes back to winning.
“I was hoping to get back to my old-school, 30-hits-a-month program, more like 25,” Rollins said. “So I was hoping maybe the first week of June, that puts me on track to what I wanted to do and that’s at least 180 hits. I picked up the pace, but winning helps. The more hits I get, the more hits we get, the better chance we have of winning.”
Rollins never lost sight of the mission after the celebration at first base. And even if he had, there was one guy there to remind him.
Utley, the last player to greet Rollins at first base, passed along a focus-inducing message to his teammate for the last decade-plus…
“Chase was one of the last guys I shook hands with, and he said, ‘Now score a run,’” Rollins said.
Schmidt, the franchise record-holder in runs, still leads Rollins by 225.