John Mayberry Jr. wanted nothing more than to be here last October, to feel the energy that the postseason produces, to be that guy whose name gets called when the stakes can't get bigger.
The dream ended in Atlanta, on the last day of the regular season, as the Phillies prepared for their second straight NL title defense. Mayberry had made a late case for inclusion, going 4-for-10 with a couple of home runs as a a September call-up. But the Phillies opted to keep left-handed-hitting rookie Domonic Brown, dispatching the right-handed Mayberry to the Arizona Fall League.
"I definitely wanted to be part of the playoff roster," Mayberry said. "That's what you play for, to have a chance to paly in the postseason. Hopefully things work out where I can be in that situation this year."
This year, they might not have a choice. Last night Mayberry made his latest statement in a big-time spot, following Hunter Pence's second-inning solo home run with one of his own, providing Cliff Lee with a 2-0 lead that he would never relinquish. It came two nights after the biggest hit of his career, a game-tying two-run shot off Rockies closer Huston Street with two out in the top of the ninth that put the Phillies in position for a come-from-behind win.
Mayberry has always been something of a mystery, so much so that the Phillies did not even seem to know what to make of him earlier this season, when they sent him back to Triple-A under the auspices of wanting him to keep playing every day. He has always had the physical tools that cause an organization to dream, as the Rangers did when they selected him in the first round in 2005. But by 2009, that dream had been replaced by what they thought was reality: his swing was too long, his eye indiscriminate, his on base percentage low.
Even this season, his final one with minor league options, the 27-year-old slugger has hit just .265 with a .287 on base percentage in 28 games at Triple-A. That type of production is not going to convince many general managers to take a chance on playing you everyday.
But Charlie Manuel has always seemed to have a soft spot in his heart for Mayberry. And, more importantly, he has always seemed to have a knack for when to put him into a game. Which is why Mayberry's is a name you might want to file away for postseason play.
While the Phillies may not see evidence that Mayberry should be part of their everyday plans, it is getting hard to ignore the two huge offensive tools he brings to the table: immense power, and a curious ability to hit when it counts. After last night's blast he has 14 home runs in 229career at-bats, an average of one every 16.4. Even more impressive is the list of names he has hit them against: veteran righthander Tim Hudson, veteran lefthander Andy Pettitte, young lefty David Price, young righty Anibal Sanchez, tough veteran lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez, tough young lefty reliever Michael Dunn. And, after this week, Huston Street and Madison Bumgarner.
Of his 14 career home runs, seven have either tied the game or give the Phillies the lead, including four of eight this season.
Three of his home runs have come as a pinch-hitter, where he is 11-for-38 (.289) with eight RBI and six walks in his career.
Mayberry has the type of tools that can complement a well-rounded team like the one the Phillies became with the addition of Pence. And he has the type of power that can turn even the greatest pitchers' mistakes into postseason-turning runs.
This weekend will likely require the Phillies to committ to Mayberry as that type of player. When Roy Oswalt is activated for his Sunday start, they will need to free up a roster spot. They could continue to play with 11 pitchers, but Manuel has expressed some hesitancy at doing so. They could part with one of their two utility infielders, but indicated yesterday that wasn't his preferred option.
The other choice is to part with a player who has been on the team since the day the Phillies acquired him and Cliff Lee from the Indians in July of 2009. Ben Francisco has not started a game since July 22, and has started just four since the end of June. He has one hit in his last 14 at-bats, and is hitting just .185 with a .587 OPS in 144 plate appearances since the end of April.
Yesterday, Manuel said the Phillies were still discussing their options. It's hard to imagine them invoking Mayberry's name after his last few weeks.
This season, the dream might not die.
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