Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hey Mr. Wilson!

Uh, yeah, that just happened. For real. Utility infielder/most time second baseman this season Wilson Valdez came in to pitch in the 19th inning, set down the heart of the incredibly explosive Cincinnati Reds' offense and picked up a win thanks to some small ball from Jimmy Rollins, Domonic Brown, Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez. Seriously. That happened.

Of course it brought back memories of Tomas Perez, the original Phillies pie-in-the-face gansta, taking the mound in relief back in the day during another insanely long game. Except Wilson got the win. Awesome.

Games like last night are what make baseball so great. No clock. No time limit. The chance to see something you've absolutely never seen before. And something you'd never expect in a million years.

In fact, the last thing my friends and I expected as we left the house to grab some drinks with the Phillies up 2-0 and Roy Halladay on the mound was an extra-inning game, let alone a 19-inning marathon that forced a position player onto the mound. Yet that's exactly what happened.

Shortly after Ben Francisco smoked his two-run home run to left, we set off to the bar down the street, certain the game was all but over, even though it was just the first inning. I mean, Roy Halladay was on the mound, the same Roy Halladay who threw a freakin no-hitter against these very same Reds in his first career playoff start. And when John Mayberry singled home Carlos Ruiz in the 2nd, we knew the game was over.

Still, we wanted to watch, so we headed down to Druid's Keep to get a little projector action out back. And we watched as Roy, who was getting slapped around but had only surrendered one run through 6, did a very un-Roy like thing. With a two-run lead in the 7th, he gave up back-to-back hits to start the inning, kick-started by Miguel freakin Cairo of all people. A sacrifice bunt by Brandon Phillips put runners on 2nd and 3rd with just one out, bringing up Joey Votto. Walking him was a no-brainer, and it looked even more genius when Halladay struck out Scott Rolen for out number 2.

But he couldn't get Jay Bruce, who is just torching pitchers right now, as Bruce singled to center to plate Cairo and Drew Stubbs, tying the game. Roy did strike out Hernandez to end the inning, but the damage was done. So was Halladay, who was far from his no-hit self. In fact, he gave up 11 hits in 7 innings and a walk — way more baserunners than we're accustomed to seeing from him.

Michael Stutes came in and did a fine job in the 8th, as did Ryan Madson in the 9th, but the Phillies couldn't score themselves, blowing a huge opportunity in the 9th to end the game and go home at a reasonable hour. Mayberry led off with a single. Valdez bunted him to second. Chase Utley came in to pinch-hit for Madson and was promptly intentionally walked. Then Mayberry and Utley advanced on a wild pitch, prompting an intentional walk to Jimmy Rollins to load the bases with one out. All the Phils needed was a ball hit out of the infield and the game would most likely be over. What they got was a pathetic foul out by Dom Brown and a ground out by Polanco to end the inning and send this thing to extras.

As frustrating as it was, at least it was a nice night out, we were downing some beers and enjoying the outdoor viewing. But that enjoyment didn't last long, as Antonio Bastardo came in to start the 10th and immediately gave up a homer to Bruce. He did recover to get the next two batters, but he already surrendered the crushing blow, and after he yielded a double to the ageless Edgar Renteria, that was it for Bastardo. Not his best outing to say the least.

But a funny thing happened from there. Kyle Kendrick entered and struck out the next batter. And taking a cue from Bruce, Ryan Howard greeted the newly entered Francisco Cordero with a leadoff home run, crushing one to deep center to tie the game right back up. We were pumped, and the few folks outside let out some pretty emphatic cheers. After Cordero settled down and got the next three Phils, we knew it was now a battle of attrition. We just didn't realize how much attrition was about to take place.

Kendrick struck out Stubbs to start the 11th, unbelievably facing two batters and striking them both out. I have no idea how this happened, but it did. But after Kendrick hit Brandon Phillips, that was it for him. J.C. Romero entered, walked Joey Votto, and all I could envision was either Scott Rolen playing hero or Jay Bruce killing the Phillies yet again.

Something even stranger happened. Romero picked off Phillips at 2nd. For real. I'm not making this up. Of course, then he walked Rolen and Bruce to load the bases, because J.C. has no fucking clue where his pitches are going.

That was it for him. Unfortunately, all the Phillies had left in the bullpen were David Herndon and Danys Baez, a lose-lose situation. It was simply a matter of who Charlie wanted to get pinned with the loss. He opted for Herndon, and I fully expected him to either walk Ramon Hernandez or give up a hit to him. Shockingly, he did not. He got Hernandez to harmlessly ground out right back to him, keeping the score tied. I was stunned.

And I was even more stunned when he got a 1-2-3 inning in the 12th, then another 1-2-3 inning in the 13th. That's right, David Herndon pitched 2 and 1/3 of perfect baseball. I'm as stunned as you are.

Still, when Danys Baez came in in the 14th, I was all but certain the Philies were going to lose. Mainly because Baez is a terrible pitcher. Only somehow last night he wasn't. No joking. He picked up right where Herndon left off, setting down Rolen, Bruce and Hernandez in order. Of course, the Phillies still couldn't get going.

Somewhere along the way, I believe right after the 14th inning, with Phillies' offense quiet again and the game just going and going and going, we left the bar and I headed home.

When I got there, the game was still going on. In fact, I only missed about a half inning, stunned that Baez survived the 15th without giving up a run. Then I watched and watched, popping on South Park and Workaholics on the top TV as I watched the Phils on the larger bottom TV.

At that point, all I wanted to do was go to bed, but I couldn't. I had to see how this thing would end. Plus, it gave me a good excuse to watch those two aforementioned shows. So I stayed up. And stayed up. And stayed up.

Baez incredibly made it through the 18th, pitching 5 scoreless innings and only yielding two baserunners the entire time, a hit and a walk. He even struck out three guys and struck out himself at the dish. But he couldn't go on any longer, so Manuel pinch-hit for him in the 18th. Still nothing doing. On to the 19th. But, uh, who the hell was going to pitch? Manuel had just used up all his arms in the bullpen, and I didn't see Cole or Cliff or the other Roy out there.

Nope. Because out came Wilson Valdez, a la Tomas Perez back in my high school graduation year of 2002.

To accommodate Valdez on the mound, Polanco moved to second … and Carlos Ruiz went to third. As we all know, it's not the first time Carlos Ruiz has made a cameo at third.

Crazy Curbball even went diving for a foul ball and almost made a spectacular catch. It was unreal. But not as unreal as what was happening on the mound. Wilson Valdez, the infielder, was on the hill in the 19th inning of a tie game to face the heart of the Reds' order. And I mean the heart, the 3-4-5 hitters — reigning NL MVP Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and the scorching hot Jay Bruce.

No way this could go well, right? Wrong. Valdez, out there throwing 86-90 mph, got Votto to fly out to center. Then he freakin tried to throw a breaking ball and hit Scott Rolen. I'm not even sure how he knew how to grip a breaking ball. It was insanity.

Unsurprisingly, that was the last breaking ball Valdez attempted. From then on, it was all 86-89 mph heaters. And it worked. He got Bruce to fly out, and capped it off with another pop out against the opposing pitcher. Wilson Valdez got Joey Votto and Jay Bruce out in a scoreless, hitless inning of pitching. You can't make this kind of stuff up.

As the crowd was going wild and Valdez was pitching his version of a gem, you could just sense something was going to happen. Feeding off that energy, the Phils were determined to reward their newest pitcher for his efforts. Rollins, who had made a habit all night of frustratingly hitting into the Jimmy, led off with a single on a great piece of hitting the other way, shooting it through the hole between third and short. Then Dom Brown, who had failed miserably with bases loaded and one out in the 9th, worked a very patient walk.

Up came Polanco, and my roommate and I debated on whether or not he should bunt right away. Cincinnati pitcher Carlos Fisher had thrown close to 90 pitches over five-plus innings and just walked Brown, struggling to find the strike zone. We agreed that Polanco shouldn't square to bunt until he saw a strike, which I know is crazy because if he bunts it foul, you have to take the bunt off with two strikes. However, Polanco is the team's best hitter, and when it got to 2-0 on him, I thought Manuel should have taken the bunt off. I mean, a 2-0 hitter's count for your best hitter? I say let him swing away.

Of course, bunting is the by-the-book move, and it is the smart, safe thing to do. You never know what could happen if you let Placido swing. He could get a hit and be the hero, or he could ground into a devastating double play, pop out or even strike out, though he rarely does that. So the bunt was on, smartly, and Polanco did the job, getting it down and moving both runners.

Fisher naturally intentionally walked Ryan Howard to set up the force at home and potential double play. But that wouldn't happen. Because Raul Ibanez, who everyone under the sun was killing a month ago and couldn't wait for him to be gone, continued his recent stretch of clutchness, smoking a deep sacrifice fly to center to plate Rollins and mercifully end this epic, epic game.

It was a game of unsung heroes. Ryan Howard with his game-tying home run. Rollins with his two hits and two runs scored. Polanco with his bunt. Ruiz for playing third. Ibanez with his sac fly and game-winning RBI. Franciso with his two-run shot. Everyone in the bullpen, from Stutes and Madson early, to Kendrick and especially Herndon and Baez. I mean, I can't give Herndon and Baez, two pitchers I hate and think suck and don't ever want to really see on the mound again, enough credit. Last night, they were awesome.

And of course, there was the hero of all heroes, Wilson Valdez, who not only pitched, got out the heart of the Cincinnati order and incredibly picked up the freakin win, but also went 3-for-6 at the dish.

(Disclaimer: All images Internet-borrowed from The700Level and The Fightins because they are awesome.)

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