The Phillies had lost seven straight games when Brad Miller left his Center City hotel room Monday morning on a search for a bamboo plant.
Miller, a utility player who joined the Phillies earlier this month, turned the tides of a minor-league losing streak years ago by picking up a bamboo plant at a Mississippi shopping mall. It was worth another shot. He found a store in Chinatown, stashed the small plant in his locker at Citizens Bank Park, and watched the Phillies’ offense come alive for their first win in nine days.
Maybe it was the bamboo. Miller went back to the store Tuesday morning and told the owner he wanted the biggest plant they had. He haggled down the price, left with the lush plant in an ornate pot, and placed it in the center of the team’s clubhouse.
“They probably think I’m crazy,” Miller said.
The Phillies won again on Tuesday night. Miller hit a homer to cap a five-run sixth inning as the team rallied past the Mets, 7-5. The bamboo is here to stay.
“I’m thinking about making a trip to Chinatown myself. Maybe I’ll put some in my house,” Kapler said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see one in everybody’s locker tomorrow.”
They entered Tuesday night with just seven wins in their last 23 games. A once 3 1/2-game lead in the National League East stood Tuesday as a 5 1/2-game deficit. The Phillies were in their worst stretch since last September’s collapse. But with a bamboo plant at the center of it all, the Phillies do not appear to be crumbling.
“Baseball happens and it’s crazy,” Miller said. “It was bound to happen for us to go off and go on a pretty nice run. We have a lot of really good players. A lot of really good players. But anything to take our minds off a little rough stretch definitely helps. Now we have the big boy over there. The granddaddy of ‘em all.”
If the Phillies turn their season around, Miller’s bamboo plant will be regarded with the team’s curveball machine, Gabe Kapler’s faded T-shirt, and a religious pendant he stashed in his back pocket.
They took batting practice for a second straight day off a curveball machine after they scored 13 runs on Monday. Kapler wore his old “Fightin’ Phils” shirt Tuesday after wearing it on Monday to evoke the good feelings he had earlier in the year when he wore it nearly everyday. A season-ticket holder handed him a religious pendant before Tuesday’s game and Kapler stashed it in his pocket. The Phillies might be heavy on analytics, but they are not shying away from a little luck.
Miller keeps bamboo throughout his house in Florida. The plants don’t need much attention, Miller said, which makes it easy to keep in a baseball clubhouse. The Phillies are his fourth organization in the last three months. But Miller and his bamboo may have finally found a home.
“Brad has brought a pretty consistent fire,” Kapler said. “Even when he’s not playing, there’s still a lot of energy in the dugout. A lot of high-fives. A lot of smiles. We talked about playing with a lighter mood the last couple of days and he’s brought that in a pretty consistent fashion. I think our dugout was pretty fired up after that home run. It was a bomb.”
He did not tell the shopkeeper that he played for the Phillies. They just think he’s a big bamboo fan. Right now, he is.
“They’re going to think I’m crazy going back to that place tomorrow for the third-day in a row but I told them I would see them tomorrow,” Miller said. “They’re going to keep hiking the prices up on me. It was worth it.”