The Phillies’ series finale against the Washington Nationals Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park was a hot, sticky mess that was screaming to be stopped and, apparently, the black protective netting that extends from the left-field corner to the right agreed.
An instant after Washington’s Trea Turner took a called strike from the Phillies’ Cristopher Sánchez with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, the support rope to the right of home plate gave way and the netting collapsed onto the field and into both dugouts.
It had seen enough to know it did not want to see any more.
This, however, was something that Mike DiMuzio, the team’s director of ballpark operations since 1982, had never seen before.
“I’ve been around the ballpark for 50 years and I’m still seeing things I’ve never seen before,” DiMuzio said. “That’s why if I write a book I’m going to save some chapters for the end because something is going to happen that you’ve never seen. This, for me, was a first.”
It was also somewhat inexplicable.
“The tension that is on [the netting] now is obviously greater than it ever was before [in past years] because it is so big, but this wasn’t caused by a foul ball or a bat hitting the net or anything else that hit it,” DiMuzio said. “It just somehow disconnected itself.”
Long before the netting gave way, the sparse crowd of 15,108 had witnessed a bunch of other things you don’t typically see at the ballpark.
The eventual 12-6 victory was good for the Phillies, but not necessarily the game itself.
Home-plate umpire Brian O’Nora took a foul ball off his mask in the top of the first inning and had to leave in the bottom of the first.
“I was pretty sure it wasn’t good just because I saw him kind of stumble,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “He played it off pretty well. He tried to stay in the game, but I could tell he just wasn’t right even talking to him after that. And then I guess he felt like he needed to throw up there in the next inning. I think he’s doing all right now from what I’ve heard, but that was a pretty tough one to see.”
More gruesome scenes followed.
The Phillies chased Washington starter Austin Voth from the game in the third, but not in a conventional way. After Phillies starter Vince Velasquez opened the inning by hitting Victor Robles with a pitch as the outfielder attempted to bunt, he did the same to Voth as he attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt. The pitch appeared to hit the rim of Voth’s helmet before striking him in the face, but the Nats’ starter had to leave the game.
The next two batters – Trea Turner and Juan Soto – singled, but Velasquez escaped that inning by allowing just one run. He allowed two more in the fourth, but the Phillies answered with seven runs in the bottom of the inning despite getting just three hits.
For the most part, there was a lot of bad baseball going on, although the Phillies did pad their lead with a couple of home runs by Brad Miller and Realmuto.
Still, there was no denying that the best performance of the day came from the crew that enabled the game to go on after the net came tumbling down.
“I was honestly in shock,” Realmuto said. “I’ve never seen that happen before. I don’t know if the rope snapped or what. I just saw out of the corner of my eye right after that pitch that the net was going down. I didn’t think there was any way we were going to be able to continue to play the game.”
Director of field operations Mike Boekholder was charged with organizing the grounds crew to formulate a plan to restore the netting.
“He was the hero,” DiMuzio said. “There were different factions of the grounds crew and ballpark operations people that came together. Facility management was there and they all just got together and said, ‘All right, let’s do this.’ You let one guy take control, which Mike Boekholder did, and I went and talked to the umpires and did the administrative stuff.”
» READ MORE: Phillies send infielder Nick Maton to triple A
Boekholder said umpire crew chief Fielden Culbreth, who had moved behind home plate to call balls and strikes after O’Nora departed, asked Boekholder how long he thought the repairs would take.
“Give me 10 minutes and we’ll see what we can do,” Boekholder told Culbreth.
Remarkably, it only took 20 minutes during which somebody had the brilliant idea to cue the William Tell Overture.
“He was nice enough to give us an extra 10,” Boekholder said.
The number of people who contributed to the cause was a lot more than 20.
“I’ve got to give my guys credit,” Boekholder said. “They were on it. They did a great job. It’s all hands on deck when you have something like that. The whole crew was out there. Ballpark ops. Aramark guys were out there. Kevin Tedesco [the Aramark general manager] was down there helping us. Everybody came down.”
And the net went back up. It was by far the best performance of the day.