Ronald Torreyes made five plate appearances in the Phillies’ first 15 games, then tested positive for COVID-19 and spent the next 29 days away from the team. But there he was Tuesday night, walking to the plate with one out and the game tied in the bottom of the eighth inning at Citizens Bank Park.
You’d think Torreyes might pause for a moment, take a breath, see a few pitches, ease his way back.
Considering he was cooped up in a hotel room for 11 days despite being asymptomatic, Torreyes had enough pent-up energy to lift a truck. So, he jumped on the second pitch from Miami Marlins reliever John Curtiss and lined it into left field. Two runs scored, and after seven frustrating innings, the Phillies had their first lead en route to a come-from-behind 8-3 series-opening victory.
“Huge at-bat by Toe,” Bryce Harper said. “I mean, his first at-bat right there. Coming up, big spot, big situation for him to hit that double down the line and kind of break it open right there. That was huge.”
Before we go any further, let’s meet Torreyes. Because in a season that has been characterized by a league-wide injury epidemic (more on that in a moment) after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, players like him are more important than ever.
Torreyes is 28 years old and listed at 5-foot-8. He plays every infield position. He hadn’t picked up an RBI in a major-league game since Sept. 17, 2019, when he got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. His last hit for an RBI: Aug. 29, 2018.
But Torreyes played for Joe Girardi with the New York Yankees in 2016 and 2017 and quickly became one of the manager’s favorites. And he grabbed a spot on the Phillies’ bench in spring training when faded prospect Scott Kingery got optioned to the Lehigh Valley training site.
“He’s always prepared,” Girardi said. “And when you have a guy like that, you never worry about him. He may not play for two weeks and you know he’s going be prepared to play no matter where you put him.”
There’s value in that, especially this year. Entering play Tuesday, 395 players — an average of 13.2 per team — had been placed on the injured list since opening day, according to Spotrac. In all of 2019, 574 players went on the injured list. In 2018, the total was 585.
“You try to look at your own team and be like, ‘Man, we’re banged up,’ but you look around the league and guys are going down left and right on every team,” said Phillies reliever Archie Bradley, who was credited with the win after getting the final out of the eighth inning in his first game back from the injured list. “It’s always true, but [which team] can stay on the field?”
Indeed, 2021 is shaping up to be survival of the fittest. And surviving will mean big hits from replacements such as Torreyes or rookie infielder Nick Maton, who filled in again for injured shortstop Didi Gregorius and followed his first career two-homer game Sunday with a game-tying single in the Phillies’ seven-run eighth inning against Marlins reliever Dylan Floro.
And before Maton’s big moment, Andrew Knapp — who was starting in place of banged-up catcher J.T. Realmuto — came back from an 0-2 count to work an eight-pitch walk.
Organizational depth isn’t the Phillies’ strong suit. But it sure did come up big before a season-high announced crowd of 11,114, including two fans who ran onto the field one inning apart.
“What an at-bat by Knappy right there,” said Harper, who missed Sunday’s game with a sore right shoulder. “Coming back and fighting. Laying off the high stuff, laying off the changeup. Just a great at-bat. Maton, first-pitch changeup into right field. He’s been hot for us. He’s been playing really well for us also.”
The Phillies are built on the arms of their three best starting pitchers, and once again, Zack Wheeler dazzled. He allowed one unearned run in the fourth inning, with his errant pickoff throw at first base standing as his lone mistake, and struck out 10 batters in seven walk-free innings. He has allowed two earned runs in his last 28 innings and has a 1.70 ERA, 40 strikeouts, and five walks in 37 innings over his last five starts.
Trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning, the Phillies tied it on a sacrifice fly by Andrew McCutchen that was made possible only because they won a 2-minute, 50-second replay review to overturn a call that Brad Miller was out while sliding headfirst into first base.
But the Marlins went ahead again, 3-1, on Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s two-run homer against reliever José Alvarado.
With the Phillies down to their final five outs, nine consecutive batters reached base in the eighth inning, beginning with Rhys Hoskins’ one-out single and an RBI double by struggling Alec Bohm and a single by Odúbel Herrera. Then came Knapp’s walk and the hits by Maton and Torreyes.
“I was very, very happy to get the opportunity to help the team,” Torreyes said. “I was happy because the manager trusted me in that situation. I was actually looking for a fastball up and I got the pitch. I was very, very happy to bring the guy from third home. Very, very happy overall.”
Score one for Ronald & The Replacements.
The Phillies are going to need more where that came from.
“We have to have that next-man-up mentality,” Harper said. “When guys get hurt, other guys have to fill in, just like Maton and somebody else. I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to seeing the young guys we do have and the guys really picking it up.”