THE PHILLIES needed a righthanded hitter. Everybody agreed it was true. So general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. backed up the truck to the minor league system one more time and, next thing anybody knew, Hunter Pence was putting on a red-pinstriped jersey and talking about the dizzying leap from the worst record in baseball with the Houston Astros to the best with his new teammates.
So here we are, less than 3 weeks later, and doggone if it doesn't look like the days when manager Charlie Manuel would grumble that teams would all but grab lefthanded pitchers off the nearest street corner to face them have been tucked safely into the past.
That's obviously a pretty important fix for a team that has its sights set on nothing less than another world championship. But nothing in baseball ever seems to run in a straight line except the basepaths. So as big an addition as Pence has been, another part of the solution has been standing in the wings for a while now.
Pence was on base four times and scored three runs in last night's 9-2 win over the Diamondbacks, a game lefthander Joe Saunders started for Arizona.
But it was John Mayberry Jr., batting behind him, who drove Pence in once and had three hits, scoring twice himself.
This being the era of instant communication, even before the last out was recorded, the tweets began chirping and the chat rooms buzzed with speculation that Mayberry could or should replace Raul Ibanez as the regular leftfielder for the rest of the season.
Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen.
Look, there has never been any question that Mayberry has physical tools. And since the early days of spring training, Manuel has talked him up, praised his improved approach at the plate, hinted that he could be a late-bloomer like Jayson Werth if he ever got the chance.
He has had an up-and-down season in the most literal sense. He has been up in the majors after being down at Triple A Lehigh Valley three times already. Since his most recent promotion on July 5, though, he's 22-for-71 with eight doubles, six homers and 20 RBI. That includes his dramatic, game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth against Rockies closer Huston Street at Coors Field on Aug. 1.
At another place and time, the organization might have been content to simply let him play rightfield for the remainder of the season, an extended audition to try to figure out exactly what they had. But the Phillies are in a unique spot, a win-now situation. They needed a proven commodity. Hence, Pence.
That didn't mean Mayberry got shoved to the far end of the bench and ignored, though. It's an all-or-nothing world, but Manuel doesn't roll that way. So he picked his spots. Mayberry has started six of the last seven times the Phillies have faced a lefty starter. Not all have been in place of Ibanez. He started in place of Domonic Brown in right. He started at first base, giving Ryan Howard a rest.
As long as Mayberry produces, he'll continue to get opportunities. Manuel unabashedly admits he likes to play the hot hand. But he's also aware that the hot hand might eventually cool off.
It wasn't that long ago that Wilson Valdez played so infrequently that there was some loose talk about him being released, off base as it turned out because of the lingering physical problems of Placido Polanco. But for nearly a month, from July 10 through Aug. 8, Valdez was virtually invisible. He made four starts and had 12 at-bats.
During that same period, Michael Martinez took a star turn, getting 16 starts and some big hits.
Valdez, however, has now started four of the last six games . . . and helped break the game open last night with a two-run double to dead center in the seventh.
Which is why the Phillies aren't going to bury Ibanez. For one thing, Manuel has too much respect for him. For another, it's not how he operates. Most importantly, there's no real reason to. I mean, he has driven in 30 runs in his last 32 games.
It's all right for fans to react, and overreact, to a game or two. Managers have to have a wider focus. So Manuel will do everything he can to try to win games each night, but he also will keep an eye on the ultimate goal, which is to win 11 games in October. And he fully understands that Ibanez could be a big part of that.
So could Mayberry. So as long as he's productive, as long as Mayberry's having good at-bats, Manuel will find spots to get him some playing time. It will be a bit of a balancing act, but that's one way the manager earns his check.