The shock still hadn’t worn off for Luke Williams when he finally sat down last night to speak with reporters. A walk-off home run? In his first major-league start? Four days after helping Team USA clinch a berth in the Olympics?
As Elaine would say to Jerry, “Get out!”
“You just can’t make this up,” Williams said. “It’s pretty incredible.”
Indeed, if it was a movie script, Hollywood would reject it for not being believable. Williams got called up Monday to occupy the Phillies’ righty-hitting utility role that was meant for Scott Kingery. The 24-year-old hit all of 23 homers in 458 minor-league games. His last walk off? The championship game of a travel tournament before his senior year of high school in Dana Point, Calif.
“I thought that was pretty cool, but …,” Williams said, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
And now? “Captain America” — as pitcher Zach Eflin called Williams — is the fourth player in the Phillies’ 139-year history to end a game with his first career homer, joining David Doster in 1996, Rick Joseph in 1967, and John Peters in 1921.
“I’m still trying to figure it all out,” Williams said.
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Phillies need Archie Bradley to regain late-inning role
It really was the least that Archie Bradley could do.
Two months into the season, Bradley hadn’t pitched up to his expectations — or the ones the Phillies had in January when they signed him for $6 million. So when an apparel company recently sent him a wide-brimmed straw hat with a Phillies ‘P’ stuck to the front, the reliever figured he would wear it into the clubhouse. If nothing else, maybe it would give his teammates a few guffaws.
And with that, the “Home Run Hat” — a dugout custom that began Sunday and continued last night with Williams — was conceived.
“I don’t know if I necessarily want to take credit for it,” Bradley said before Williams gave the Phillies their best moment since Bryce Harper’s walk-off grand slam in 2019. “When you’re not playing the baseball that you think you’re capable of, you’re always looking for something to get the team going.”
But Bradley knows he’s here to make other, more meaningful contributions.
The Phillies didn’t anoint Bradley as the closer after signing him as a free agent. But considering he was the top addition to the worst bullpen in baseball last season, it was implicit that he would pitch with the game on the line in the late innings.
It hasn’t worked out that way. At least not since Bradley returned from a monthlong stay on the injured list with a strained muscle in his side. Of his nine appearances, five came with the Phillies trailing and four with them leading by three or more runs. Not exactly high-leverage situations.
“It’s not necessarily a blow to the ego. It’s more, personally, I want those roles. I want that situation,” Bradley said. “I can handle blowing a game and coming back the next day. Not that other guys on this team can’t, but I’m seasoned. I know how to handle losing a game and pitching the next day.”
Bradley didn’t pitch particularly well before he got injured, and after the lengthy absence, he was eased back into the mix by manager Joe Girardi. He hardly inspired confidence, giving up at least one run in three of his first five outings.
But Bradley has allowed one hit in 3⅔ scoreless innings over his last four appearances, trimming his ERA to 4.35. His average fastball velocity is slowly creeping back to the 93- to 94-mph range. And after less-experienced setup men Connor Brogdon and Sam Coonrod combined to allow five runs in the eighth inning Tuesday night, it may be time for the Phillies to reconsider Bradley for those opportunities.
“If Archie continues to pitch better, obviously yeah, we’ll move him back,” Girardi said. “Because that’s why we got him. Archie is more familiar in that area than these younger guys, obviously.”
And the Phillies can use the help. For as much criticism as closer Héctor Neris takes for ninth-inning nail-biters, he’s 9 for 11 in save opportunities with a 1.90 ERA. The team’s ERA in the ninth inning is 2.55. But the Phillies have lost six games when leading after seven innings because they have a 6.28 ERA in the eighth. That was supposed to be Bradley’s time.
“Confidence-wise, I’m for sure ready,” Bradley said. “Physically I’m ready. Mechanically I’m getting there. I hate to call myself a veteran, but I am a veteran. I’ve done this. I’ve struggled, and I’ve gotten better. And that’s what it’s about, man. It’s taking a deep breath, taking a step back, and working hard to get my form back and get back to the guy that the Phillies need me to be.”
It has been a dream week for Luke Williams and his family. His parents, Mark and Jeannine; sister, Sami; and younger brother, Ike, were all in attendance for the big moment. Matt Breen has so much more on an unforgettable finish.
Relive Williams’ big night with Steven Falk’s photo gallery.
The Phillies want Kingery to play every day in triple-A to fix his wayward swing. Said Rhys Hoskins: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s back here sooner than we think.”
Today: Zack Wheeler vs. Braves’ Ian Anderson in series finale, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: A rare Friday off for the Phillies.
Saturday: Here come the Yankees for a two-game series, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Vince Velasquez faces the Yankees, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: Phillies open a three-game series at Dodger Stadium, 10:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
Bryce Harper went into Wednesday night with eight homers and 15 RBIs in 41 games this season. And if those numbers seemed incongruous, well, they mostly are.
Other players have had similar stretches. In 2019, for instance, Mets outfielder Dominic Smith went 41 games with eight homers and only 10 RBIs. But it isn’t overly common, and it speaks to the fact that Harper hasn’t often gotten a chance to drive in runs.
Through Tuesday night, only 39 of Harper’s 176 plate appearances (22.2%) came with runners in scoring position. He came to the plate only 68 times (38.6%) with runners on base at all. All eight of his homers have been solos.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Now that stadiums are allowed to fill at capacity, will the TV and radio announcers be traveling to road games? Thanks.
— Michael W., via email
Answer: Great question, Michael. Broadcasters all across baseball are wondering the same thing!
There are several factors at play. Unlike newspaper reporters, TV and radio announcers travel on the team plane. So, there’s a health component, especially for the eight clubs, including the Phillies, that haven’t reached MLB’s 85% vaccination threshold. But it also comes down to money, with the regional sports TV networks and flagship radio stations having to pay to send broadcasters and crews on the road again.
As someone who has covered quite a few games remotely over the last 11 months, I am awed by the work that broadcasters are doing to bring the games to you. As baseball writers resume traveling, I hope that my TV and radio colleagues can begin to do the same.