If the Phillies wind up capping off this unexpectedly successful season by making the playoffs, Game 100 — and Win No. 56 — will be particularly memorable, even if many fans didn't actually see it through to the end.
Trevor Plouffe, a journeyman infielder who joined the team only two weeks ago, hit a three-run homer off a Dodgers position player in the 16th inning — at 1:14 a.m. Wednesday — to give the Phillies a 7-4 win in a game in which they once trailed, 4-2. The Phillies used 21 players. Relievers Victor Arano, Luis Garcia and Austin Davis each tossed two scoreless innings. Starter Vince Velasquez came out of the bullpen and threw a scoreless 16th. And once again, the Phillies showed their resilience after a tough loss in the series opener Monday night.
Oh, and did we mention that the series finale begins promptly at 12:35 today? Sleep is overrated anyway.
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In a recent discussion about his reluctance to name a closer or define specific roles in the Phillies' young bullpen, manager Gabe Kapler explained his general philosophy of developing versatile players in the minor leagues.
"A guy comes into your system, you constantly send this message," Kapler said. " 'You are not a shortstop. You are not a 2-hole hitter. You are not a 6-hole hitter. You are not a closer. You are not a starter. You are an athlete, and you're going to be asked to do a number of things on the baseball field.' I believe in young players' ability to develop that mindset."
I've been thinking a lot about that comment with the Dodgers in town this week. Kapler spent the past three seasons running the Dodgers farm system. In that role, he became known as a proponent of advanced metrics. But he also stressed the importance of playing multiple positions, an organizational emphasis that has come to characterize the progressive Dodgers under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, general manager Farhan Zaidi and manager Dave Roberts.
Consider how Roberts has used many of his players this season. Max Muncy, for instance, has made 30 starts at third base, 28 at first base and nine at second base. Chris Taylor has started 59 games at shortstop, 26 in center field, two in left field and one at second base. Cody Bellinger is the rare first baseman (69 starts) who moonlights in center field (23 starts), and Austin Barnes is a backup catcher (34 starts) who also plays second base (six starts). And then there's Kike Hernandez, who has made at least two starts this season at every position other than catcher and pitcher.
"The model of having guys that are versatile, I know that Andrew and our [front-office] guys are really big on players that you can sort of move around the diamond," Roberts said. "And I think the players enjoy that, too. You start at short, then you go to the outfield. Or you might not start but you can finish a game playing, and vice-versa. To have the guys like Kike, Austin, Chris Taylor, all these different guys, to have that flexibility, it's almost a necessity for us."
In time, Kapler would love to mold the Phillies roster in a similar fashion. It's one reason he exposed rookie Scott Kingery to multiple infield and outfield positions early in the season. J.P. Crawford, regarded mostly as a shortstop, got some time at third base before breaking his hand last month. Rookie infielder Jesmuel Valentin has made 10 career starts at five positions.
It also explains why the Phillies have been linked to Kansas City Royals utilityman Whit Merrifield in advance of next week's trade deadline. Merrifield doesn't explicitly solve the Phillies' need for an upgrade at shortstop or in right field, but he has made starts at four positions this season (second base, center field, right field, first base) and previously played third base, too.
That's the kind of player the Dodgers have in abundance — and the type Kapler clearly values.
A 16-inning marathon ended with Trevor Plouffe's three-run homer. But it was Jorge Alfaro's two-run homer in the seventh inning and sensational work by the bullpen that enabled the Phillies to record one of their best victories of the season.
The Phillies haven't had a lefthanded starting pitcher since Adam Morgan on Sept. 28, 2016. That streak will end Thursday night in Cincinnati when prospect Ranger Suarez gets called up to make his major-league debut against the Reds.
A few days ago in this space, our Matt Breen wondered rhetorically about the reaction at Citizens Bank Park if Chase Utley hit a grand slam this week against the Phillies. Well, it wasn't a grand slam, but Utley sliced a big pinch-hit single in the 12th inning Tuesday night — and received a standing ovation that was reprised when the Dodgers left him stranded.
Today: Chase Utley plays his last regular-season game in Philly, 12:35 p.m.
Tomorrow: Ranger Suarez makes his big-league debut in Cincinnati, 7:10 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies conclude their four-game series against the Reds, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Aaron Nola Day! Phillies open a two-game series in Boston, 7:10 p.m.
Tuesday: Nonwaiver trade deadline, 4 p.m.
Excuse us for nearly forgetting, after 16 innings and almost six hours, that Phillies ace Aaron Nola actually started Tuesday night's game. He wasn't his sharpest, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks in five innings of his first start since the all-star break.
Nola also continued a strange trend in an otherwise stellar season: rocky first innings. He has allowed more earned runs in the first inning (13) than in the second, third and fourth innings combined (11). His first-inning ERA is 5.57. In all other innings, his ERA is 1.83.
And Nola isn't alone, either. Phillies starters have posted a 5.22 ERA in the first inning and a 3.48 ERA thereafter.
Question: What are the odds that Kingery would have been sent back to triple-A by this point, if not for the long-term deal he signed? — Frank M., via e-mail
Answer: Good question, Frank. Kingery had a big spring training, and after signing a six-year, $24 million contract — the most guaranteed money for a drafted player who hadn't previously played in the majors — he made the opening-day roster and carried his hot streak through the season's first few weeks. But of the 100 National League hitters with at least 200 plate appearances since May 1, Kingery ranks 100th in slugging percentage (.311) and 97th in on-base percentage (.285). Long-term contract or not, he has options and can be sent to the minors just like any other player. Instead, he has been allowed to learn on the job as an everyday player in the big leagues.