When Odubel Herrera met Big Papi at dinner in Philly, a hitting lesson broke out

When Odubel Herrera met Big Papi at dinner in Philly, a hitting lesson broke out

ST. LOUIS -- Imagine this for a second.
 
You're a young baseball player and David Ortiz offers you a private hitting lesson.
 
In the middle of a busy restaurant.
 
In Center City Philadelphia.
 
It happened to Odubel Herrera.
 
"Fogo de Chao en Filadelfia," Herrera said with a laugh over the weekend in St. Louis.
 
Herrera and his agents, Victor Tranquillo and Leo Gomez, dined at the Chestnut Street restaurant after the Phillies' opening-day game in April 2015. It happened to be Herrera's first major-league game. The Phillies lost, 8-0, to the Boston Red Sox that day. Hours later, Herrera looked across the restaurant and saw one of his boyhood idols, Red Sox slugger Ortiz, having dinner.
 
The two gave each other a big wave.
 
After finishing his dinner, Ortiz walked over to the Herrera table, greeted everyone and started talking hitting with the young Phillies rookie.
 
"He gave me some tips," Herrera said with the assistance of Diego Ettedgui, the Phillies' Spanish-language translator. "He noticed I had a high leg kick similar to his. We talked about that."
 
Ortiz warned Herrera that pitchers would try to exploit the leg kick and try to upset his timing at the plate. He offered Herrera advice on how to prevent that from happening.
 
As Ortiz, Big Papi to his friends, spoke to Herrera he got a little animated and started demonstrating the leg kick — right in the middle of Fogo de Chao in Center City.
 
What a sight that must have been.
 
With the Phillies getting set to play Monday and Tuesday nights against Red Sox at Fenway Park, Herrera recalled his encounter with Ortiz two years ago. Ortiz retired (with 541 homers) after last season, his 20th in the majors. Meeting Ortiz that night two years ago was a thrill, Herrera said. It brought him back to his youth in Venezuela and stirred memories of watching the Red Sox and New York Yankees on television, back when their rivalry seemed to dominate the sport.
 
"When I was little, in my town, all you heard about was Yankees-Red Sox, Yankees-Red Sox, Yankees-Red Sox," Herrera said. "It was a huge rivalry and it was always on TV."
 
Herrera's dad — Odubel Sr. — was a Red Sox fan because he liked that they were the underdog, at least for a while, in that old rivalry. So little Odubel became a Sox fan, too.
 
"I liked Johnny Damon, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez," Herrera said.
 
Herrera gushed with excitement as he recalled watching the history-making 2004 American League Championship Series on television.
 
"When the Red Sox went down three-nothing and came back to win it, that was huge," he said. "It was unbelievable.
 
"(Curt) Schilling. Wow! It was crazy to see blood on his sock."
 
Those days of watching the Red Sox-Yankees postseason epics made such an impact on Herrera that he still vividly recalls the first time he stepped foot in Fenway Park and calls it one of his greatest baseball thrills. It was in September 2015, his rookie season.
 
"I remember looking around, seeing the field and all the fans," he said. "When my time came and I stepped foot in Fenway Park — that's when it hit me. I was like, 'Wow, I'm a big-leaguer. Now I know that I've made it.' "
 
Herrera quietly reflected on the moment.
 
"I'm getting goosebumps right now talking about it," he said. "It's my favorite park."
 
Herrera will have to check his emotions at the door when he plays in Fenway Park on Monday night.
 
He says that won't be a problem.
 
"I've been a fan of the Red Sox …" he said in Spanish.
 
"No, no, no," he said, catching himself.
 
He paused, laughed and spoke in English.
 
"I was a fan of the Red Sox."

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Josh Reddick homered and scored four runs, Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez each went deep and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 12-9 on Thursday.

The major league-leading Astros completed a four-game sweep with their 10th straight victory in Oakland and their 15th win in 16 games against the A's overall. They've won 12 of their last 14 road games. Their 27-8 record away from home is the best in the majors.

Reddick also doubled, tripled and drew a walk, and Marisnick and Gonzalez each drove in three runs.

David Paulino (2-0) struck out six and gave up three runs, seven hits and two walks. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander struck out five of his first six batters in his sixth career start.

Astros center fielder George Springer left with a left hand contusion after being struck by a fastball from Jesse Hahn (3-5) leading off the game. The ball also grazed Springer's left shoulder. Springer is tied for second in the AL with 21 home runs. His status is day-to-day (see full recap).

Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks blast Rockies
DENVER -- Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers, Zack Godley threw well into the eighth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Thursday.

Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, tops in the majors.

Arizona took two of three in the NL West matchup and is now tied with Colorado for second place in the division behind the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 14 and are a season-high 19 games above .500.

Godley gave up a home run to Charlie Blackmon to lead off the first inning, but shut down the Rockies from there.

Blackmon drew a walk in the third, then Godley erased him with a double-play ball to end the inning. He didn't allow a hit after Nolan Arenado's one-out single in the first and retired 19 of the next 20 batters before Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika singled and doubled to lead off the eighth.

Godley (3-1) allowed three runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven-plus innings. He also helped himself with an RBI single in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks hit a Colorado rookie pitcher hard for the second straight night. Wednesday they scored 10 runs in the fourth off Jeff Hoffman, and Thursday they battered right-hander Antonio Senzatela (9-3) for nine runs in five innings.

Owings' homer in the third, his ninth, made it 5-1, and Goldschmidt hit his 18th to cap a four-run fourth to make it 9-1 (see full recap).

Knebel sets strikeout mark as Brewers top Pirates
MILWAUKEE -- Corey Knebel broke Arodlis Chapman's modern-era record for most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season's start, fanning a batter for the 38th straight game and closing out the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

Knebel struck out Josh Bell on a foul tip leading off the ninth. The 25-year-old right-hander retired Elias Diaz and Andrew McCutchen on popouts, finishing a four-hitter for his 12th save in 15 chances.

Chapman had set the mark since 1900 as part of a streak of 49 games for Cincinnati that began in August 2013 and ended the following August.

Travis Shaw drove in three runs with a homer and two doubles, and he came within inches of a second home run.

Chase Anderson (6-2) allowed two runs and two hits in six innings (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time (see story)

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the ninth inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco made a veteran play on the base paths, which felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent an errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third and score after the ball got loose in the infield. Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”