Rhys Hoskins does not miss fastballs. He entered Tuesday night a .301 hitter with a prodigious .771 slugging percentage against fastballs. He stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of a tie game and opposed a pitcher, Pedro Baez, who chose to throw nothing but fastballs.
So, for nine pitches in an eventual 6-2 Phillies win over the Dodgers, they wrestled. Baez fired 98-mph heaters. Hoskins, blessed with quick hands, fouled four of them. Their confrontation was ridiculous yet, somehow, certain with Hoskins in the box.
“The longer I’m in there, the more pitches I see, the more comfortable I start to feel,” Hoskins said. “I’m able to hone in on the timing.”
“I mean,” Phillies starter Aaron Nola said, “he was fouling balls off at his neck.”
Baez, on the 10th pitch, threw Hoskins a 97-mph fastball in the strike zone. Hoskins clobbered it to the wall in left-center field for a double. The bases cleared.
Hoskins has mashed 18 homers and assaulted countless power records, but now he stood on second base having authored one of his signature moments — and the ball did not even travel over the wall. He clapped his hands four times and turned to face the Phillies dugout. He raised both of his hands and pointed at his teammates.
It was about as much emotion as he has revealed in his 39-game party.
“I think the 10-pitch at-bat probably had something to do with it,” Hoskins said.
These are good times for the young Phillies, standings be damned. The Phillies, in consecutive nights, slayed Los Angeles with Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish on the mound. These two teams were separated by 38 games before this series. The gap has not appeared that vast at Citizens Bank Park.
That is but a silver lining. The Dodgers will play into October while the Phillies watch from home. Two September victories do not dull the summertime pain. But those who watched inside this half-filled ballpark sensed something.
“The guys have come alive,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
“It’s just good, quality baseball all around these last couple of nights from both teams,” Hoskins said. “That experience, in itself, is pretty invaluable for some of us young guys. They’re still trying to clinch their division. It’s just good baseball.”
There was Aaron Nola, keeping his now-potent offense close with seven strong innings. There was Odubel Herrera, matched against another slow-paced man in Baez, drawing a four-pitch walk in 2 minutes and 39 seconds to tie the game. There was J.P. Crawford, beginning the rally with a triple. There was Aaron Altherr, atoning for an inning-ending double play in the sixth inning with a solo homer in the eighth.
Nola’s ERA is 3.56, which ranks 11th in the National League. He has thrown 162 innings. It is difficult to overstate how impressive that is, considering Nola entered the season as nothing more than a question mark because of the elbow injury that robbed half of his 2016 season. Consider this: Just 15 pitchers in the National League have posted an ERA below 4.00 with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this season. Nola is one of them. If healthy, he is a rotation mainstay.
There are no more superlatives for Hoskins. Before his decisive double in the seventh inning, he fought Darvish for eight pitches in the sixth inning. Hoskins lashed a single to left that plated the Phillies’ first run of the night. It chased Darvish from the game.
“I always think he’s going to do something special,” Mackanin said, “the deeper he goes into the count.”
Hoskins batted four times Tuesday night. He forced Dodgers pitchers to throw 30 pitches to him. He became the first major-league player to reach 40 RBIs in 40 or fewer career games since Albert Pujols in 2001.
Every new tidbit or number is more astounding than the previous, but this is the essence of Hoskins: He has reached base in 42.8 percent of his first 166 plate appearances. The rookie has proved to be a difficult out, so early in his career, and the Dodgers can attest to that after Tuesday night.