Thursday, May 26, 2011
Posted: 1:20 a.m. Updated: 3:10 a.m.
By John R. Finger
Wilson Valdez, five strikes. J.C. Romero, four strikes.
The numbers speak loud and clear.
Better yet, when the Phillies score more than three runs in a game, they usually win. Its really as simple as that, isnt it? Heading into Wednesday nightThursday mornings barnburner at the Bank, the Phillies were 18-2 this season when scoring more than three runs.
So with a four-spot hanging on the scoreboard it was just a matter of time until the Phils wrapped it up. Granted, it took 19 innings, and Wilson Valdez was the winning pitcher, but the Phillies got it done, 5-4.
Oh yes, it was a wild one at the Bank. Forget that it went 19 innings and lasted 6 hours, 11 minutes, or that Danys Baez pitched five innings and threw more than 70 pitches. Forget all that for a second and think of how weird it is that Valdez was the winning pitcher in a game started by Roy Halladay.
You know, because it happens all the time.
Actually, Valdez became the first player to start a game in the field and then earn the win as a pitcher in 90 years. The last guy to do it?
Try Babe Ruth on Oct. 1, 1921.
"It was fun. I think it's something I'll never forget," Valdez said. "I'm glad that it went 1-2-3."
As were the remaining fans, who chanted "Let's go Wilson! throughout the inning and roared after each out.
"I feel happy because they were cheering for me and I'm glad I was able to throw one inning," said Valdez, who according to STATS LLC. became the first position player since Rockies catcher Brent Mayne in 2000 to record a win (Mayne pitched an inning and beat the Braves in 12).
But that wasnt even the oddest part of an evening that slowly crept to morning as the zeroes piled up in a long line on the scoreboard. To begin, Valdez now has more wins this season than the Rockies Cy Young Award contender Ubaldo Jimenez and has as many victories as teammate Joe Blanton.
In the 19th inning after five strong from Baez in the longest outing of his career, Valdez came in to face the heart of the Reds batting order. The first hitter was reigning National League MVP Joey Votto, who popped to center on a 3-1 changeup.
It was at that point when catcher Dane Sardinha went to the mound for a conference with his pitcher and was told to mix it up with the signals.
He said he was going to shake me off, Sardinha laughed. He said he wanted to throw his other pitches.
Valdez needed 10 pitches to get through the 19th, including a slider that plunked Scott Rolen. That wasnt the absurd part, though. Instead, that was just the idea of Valdez, a utility infielder, shaking off the catcher because he wanted to throw a slider from the mound in an actual major league game.
The fact that manager Charlie Manuel actually turned to a position player to pitch in a game is evidence enough of how odd things turned out. Manuel says he really dislikes the idea of using a using a non-pitcher on the mound, but he knew he couldnt use a starter with no off days on the schedule until next week.
So with Valdez on the mound, Manuel pulled Carlos Ruiz from behind the plate and put him at third base and shifted Placido Polanco from third to second. Moments later, Manuel watched Ruiz chase after a foul ball and dive into the tarp.
At least that arrangement lasted only one inning. But it could have been more. Manuel actually said he wanted to use Valdez earlier than the 19th, but Baez talked him out of it.
When I threw the third inning, they told me youre done, were going to use Valdez there, Baez said. I said no. Give me a chance to hit again. Because I knew the top of the lineup wed have to face the top of the lineup the next inning, and I didnt want Valdez to face anybody. I wanted to give the team a chance to win the ball game.
After talking his way into an at-bat, Baez caused a slight delay when he went to the plate with the wrong well, everything.
I put on the wrong helmet. I put on Chase Utleys helmet first. I was looking for any helmet, and I put on a helmet to hit left-handed. I was like, something is wrong here, Baez joked. The bat boy showed up with my helmet and batting gloves, and I forgot to put the pine tar on the bat. Just so many things.
Still, Manuel says its the first time he ever used a position player to pitch and settled on the games starting second baseman simply because it looks like he throws hard.
We decided because he has a good arm. We figured he was the guy, Manuel said.
Yep, Valdez was the guy for Votto, Rolen and Jay Bruce.
We put him right down the middle of the order, Manuel said. Lets see what hes got.
Obviously, he showed just that. Of his 10 pitches, Valdez threw four fastballs that routinely hit 88 to 89 mph on the stadium radar gun. He also threw five changeups and the slider that drilled Rolen. Pitching from the stretch, Valdez got the leagues hottest hitter, Bruce, to pop out on two pitches. Earlier in the game, Bruce was in position to be the hero for the second straight night. He tied the game at 3 with a two-run single off Halladay before clubbing a homer off Antonio Bastardo in the 10th (Bruce's bases-clearing double off Ryan Madson won Tuesday night's game for the Reds).
But Ryan Howard led off the bottom of the 10th with a game-tying homer, setting it up so the Reds and Phillies could trade goose eggs for the next nine innings. Finally, with Reds pitcher Carlos Fisher badly tiring and approaching his sixth inning (and 100th pitch), the Phillies won it when Raul Ibanez hit a sacrifice fly with one out and the bases loaded.
It seemed like nobody was ever going to get a hit, Manuel said.
Valdez said he pitched in a game around 2002, but that wasnt any type of league game.
They asked me if I could pitch and I said, Yeah, why not? We didnt have anybody, Valdez said with remnants of the shaving cream pie hanging from his blonde Mohawk and goatee. I told myself, You better go to the mound and throw strikes.
Interestingly, Valdez was able to throw strikes but Romero was not. When the lefty came into the game with one out in the 11th inning, he promptly walked all three hitters he faced. That was the inning in which the Reds failed to score despite having four straight hitters reach base. Before the three walks, Brandon Phillips was hit by a pitch and picked off second base.
He was tagged out by Valdez.
Nearly nine innings later, it was up to Valdez to nail it down.
I could have gone out there for three or four more, Valdez said. I like to win. I like to win and if I have to pitch to do it, thats what Ill do. I like to win and I dont want to go home with a loss.
Yes, easier said than done.
E-mail John R. Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org