After hitting the 100th home run of his career in the sixth inning Sunday, J.T. Realmuto circled the bases and returned to the Phillies’ dugout only to see the milestone posted on Phanavision in left field. A curtain call seemed appropriate, so the star catcher stepped back on the field and, without a shred of self-consciousness, doffed ... a Panama hat?
It wasn’t one of the five strangest things that happened over 4 1/2 hours Sunday at Citizens Bank Park.
What mattered most to the Phillies, considering how much water-treading they have done lately, was that they won, 12-6, their second victory in a row over the Washington Nationals after dropping the series opener Friday night. Never mind that they took advantage of at least a half-dozen gifts in the fourth inning -- a popup that went off the second baseman’s glove, two bases-loaded walks, a fielder’s choice that didn’t yield even one out, and a run-scoring wild pitch -- and scored seven runs without hitting a ball hard.
But what we will remember, now and probably forever, was the 20-minute, 21-second delay in the eighth inning when the protective netting behind home plate collapsed. The grounds crew scrambled like a team of MacGyvers. Players milled about the field. The umpires conferred. The announced crowd of 15,108 cheered.
And just as the “William Tell Overture” finished playing over the ballpark speakers, the net was hoisted by a rope that was tied to a railing on the stairs in a section of seats behind home plate.
So, yeah, Realmuto’s “home-run hat,” as the Phillies are calling it, could take a number.
“Our grounds crew did a really good job of getting [the net] back up,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s just something to add to that day, I guess. It was quite a long day. But it’s worth it when you win.”
The Phillies have quietly won three of the last four games, scoring 35 runs in the process. After a lifeless Memorial Day loss in Cincinnati, first baseman Rhys Hoskins predicted the offense would come alive as the weather warms. Lo and behold, the Phillies scored 17 runs Tuesday night in Cincinnati, five on Saturday night against the Nationals, and finished the weekend with 12.
Just a good week, or a sign of something bigger?
“I think the pieces are there,” Realmuto said. “Guys are starting to click a little bit more. I came back slow after the [bruised hand]. Just starting to get into a groove. We’ve got guys starting to click at the right time.”
Indeed, after cashing in on the Nationals’ mistakes in the ugly fourth inning and matching their highest-scoring inning so far this season, the Phillies tacked on a two-run homer by Brad Miller in the fifth and Realmuto’s three-run shot in the sixth.
And thus the “home-run hat” was born.
Realmuto, who wore the hat in his postgame video conference, explained that reliever Archie Bradley bought it recently and wore it in the clubhouse. Hilarity ensued. And now it’s a thing.
“We all loved it, thought it was funny,” Realmuto said, “so we ordered a couple more and decided to make it the ‘home-run hat.’”
So, how does it work? Does every player who hits a home run get to keep a hat?
“No, no, no,” Realmuto said. “Unless Archie wants to buy a few more, I think we’ve only got a couple so we’ve got to share. We haven’t actually set the rules down yet. For now, you just put it on when you get back to the dugout. I think I’m actually the first one wearing it in a press conerence. I don’t know if that’ll be a thing or not. We’ll see how that goes.”
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A six-run lead in the eighth inning was the perfect situation for Phillies left-hander Cristopher Sánchez to make his major league debut. He recorded two quick outs, gave up a single to Josh Harrison, and ran a 2-1 count on Trea Turner when the netting fell.
Attempts at a repair job included nine members of the grounds crew pulling on a rope, tug-of-war style. They also appeared to use a tractor (an idea floated by Realmuto and Bradley, apparently) to hoist the netting before rigging up a pulley system to find a temporary solution.
At least Sánchez won’t forget his first major league game.
“I was honestly in shock,” Realmuto said. “I’ve never seen that happen before. I didn’t think there was any way we were going to continue to play in the game. I didn’t think they were going to be able to get it back up in time. I thought the game was going to get suspended. Great job by our crew getting the net back up so we could finish the game.”
And focus on the home-run hat instead. Maybe it will become the Phillies’ version of the Nationals’ home-run dances in 2019 or the Boston Red Sox’s laundry-cart race in the dugout after home runs this year. But for the hat to catch on as a fun-loving tradition, the Phillies must keep slugging. They were built to mash, but even after last week’s run-scoring binge, they’re averaging 4.2 runs per game, a steep decline from last year’s average of 5.1.
It’s as big a reason as any that the Phillies will lug a 28-30 record into this week’s pivotal three-game series against the Atlanta Braves.
“We just have to get rolling,” Realmuto said. “We have to add on when we have the chance to like we did tonight, and that’s how it carries on to the next game. Hopefully, good things ahead for our offense.”