The Phillies celebrate after Michael Young's walk-off hit in their 4-3 win over the Rockies. (AP)
For the second time in the last four games, Michael Young was the man at the plate for a walk-off win. For Wednesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park, Young actually recorded an RBI with his walk-off piece (see Instant Replay).
But where would Young (or the Phillies) be without some table setters? In the game-winning ninth inning of Wednesday’s victory, it was a pair of catchers doing the heavy lifting.
Erik Kratz and Carlos Ruiz both smacked doubles in the ninth to lead the Phillies’ comeback. Kratz, the starting catcher for the game, led off the inning with the team trailing by a run with a hard double down the left-field line. A groundout by John Mayberry Jr. pushed pinch-runner Casper Wells to third before Ruiz dug in as a pinch hitter.
Three pitches later, Ruiz hit a low liner just inside the third-base line and hustled in to second with the game-tying RBI. An intentional walk to Jimmy Rollins brought up Young, who ended it on the first pitch he saw from Rockies’ closer Rafael Betancourt.
Manager Ryne Sandberg couldn’t have designed a better ending to the game if he tried.
“The ninth inning was big. Kratz with the leadoff double. [Mayberry] got him over and Ruiz with the pinch-hit double,” Sandberg said. “Ruiz has had a good homestand. He’s swinging with more authority and showing more pop in his bat. [That was] a big hit right there.”
Along with three wins in Sandberg’s first six games as manager of the Phillies, perhaps the biggest development as of late has been Ruiz’s reemergence as an offensive threat. Seemingly reeling in a lost season, marred by the 25-game suspension for improperly using the prescription drug Adderall, followed by a long stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Ruiz picked the worst time to struggle.
With a winter of free agency looming and his 35th birthday drawing closer, the likelihood of a return to the Phillies in 2014 seemed remote. Ruiz won’t try to insult anyone’s intelligence by saying his pending free agency wasn’t on his mind.
“If I said no, I’d be lying to you,” Ruiz said. “It’s something I was thinking maybe not every day but once in a while. But who knows, it’s not in my hands. All that’s in my hands is to play hard and see what happens.”
But as it goes so often in baseball, things started to click for Ruiz. He hit his first three homers of the season after the All-Star break and is batting .333 with six extra-base hits in 17 games during August.
For Ruiz, it all started with a 4-for-4 game on Sunday, following by a 2-for-4 showing with a double and homer on Monday. In the last four games, Ruiz is 7 for 12 with three extra-base hits.
“He’s finally just getting his stroke,” Sandberg said. “He’s using the whole field. He’s found a little bit of a hot streak. He had a four-hit game a few days ago. It's a confidence builder there. He's had a nice homestand.”
Still, Ruiz had to wonder if it was ever going to come together for him. That was especially the case when he was batting just .235 in July after having missed 52 games. But Ruiz stuck with it and didn’t let himself get too down over the suspension or the hamstring injury.
Ruiz said it was just a matter of putting in the work before he was off and running.
“With everything that happened, it was tough for me,” Ruiz said. “I came back from the suspension, then I got hurt. It’s not an excuse but it was hard to pick it up. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s in the past, so I’m going to do my best right now and hopefully I’ll do well.”
And if Ruiz can keep hitting as well as continuing to play his high-caliber of defense, the Phillies might not have too many better options at catcher than Ruiz. It certainly hasn’t hurt Ruiz’s cause that minor-league catching prospect Tommy Joseph has struggled with post-concussion symptoms this season. With Joseph’s arrival in the big leagues seemingly delayed, Ruiz could be the only in-house option for the Phillies.
According to Sandberg, there’s a lot Ruiz can do in the final 36 games to help his cause.
“I think these games, he has a chance to be evaluated and have the decision made,” Sandberg said. “From what I see, he's a leader on the team.”
Said Ruiz: “I’ll keep working and hopefully finish strong. We’ll see what happens when the season is over.”
Meanwhile, the Phillies won a game started by Cliff Lee for the first time since July 5, though the left-hander didn’t figure in the decision. In seven innings, Lee scattered nine hits and allowed just a pair of runs. He handed a tie game over to the bullpen in the eighth. That’s where the Rockies pieced together a run off Justin De Fratus.
Red-hot reliever Jake Diekman kept the Rockies in check in the ninth, which set the stage for the dramatics at the end.
For some reason, the Phillies felt like the night was going to end well.
Call it a hunch.
“I see the guys on the bench,” Sandberg said. “I see them at the top rail in the ninth inning. There is a lot of energy in the dugout. There are a lot of guys pulling for each other. That's all good. When you pull out a game like this that pays dividends and goes a long way for the games ahead of us.”
The Phillies and Rockies finish the four-game series on Thursday night when Kyle Kendrick (10-9, 4.48) takes on rookie right-hander Chad Bettis (0-2, 5.30).