The baseball dropped Friday night in front of Vince Velasquez as the go-ahead run rounded third base. Velasquez, a pitcher, was in the outfield in the 15th inning while Roman Quinn, an outfielder, was on the mound because baseball tends to get weird when the game bleeds into the early morning.
An inning earlier, Velasquez threw a runner out at home. He last played left field when as a kid in the Junior Olympics. But it all seemed to come back to him. And if the Phillies were to avoid a 4-3 loss to the White Sox, they would need Velasquez to do it again.
Instead, Leury Garcia slid just past the tag. Velasquez watched the scoreboard show a replay of his fastball from left field while the umpires upheld the call with a review. A weird night was finally nearing a finish.
“I saw Segura put his hands up to go to second base,” Velasquez said as he recalled throwing out Jose Abreu in the 14th inning. “I was like, ‘No, no, no, I'm going to try to get this guy at the plate and help the team.’”
The Phillies, in the midst of a wild-card race, were forced to use a position-player to pitch and a pitcher to play a position because manager Gabe Kapler had exhausted his bullpen and emptied his bench.
The team was already a man down as Hector Neris’ served the second-game of his three-game suspension. Ranger Suarez was unavailable, Kapler said, after pitching Thursday. They used all five position players as pinch-hitters. The Phillies had no one left.
Zach Eflin needed just 28 pitches to retire the six batters he faced in the 12th and 13th inning but Kapler used Velasquez to pinch-run for Eflin with two outs in the bottom of the 13th. Kapler said he asked Eflin how he felt when the pitcher was on-deck that inning.
Eflin said his right triceps was sore, but could keep pitching. Kapler said he then decided that he would not push Eflin any further, but he did not remove him until he reached second base. Eflin reached base on a failed sacrifice bunt and moved to second on a walk. Eflin said after the game that his triceps soreness was from his transition to being a reliever. It’s something he needs to get used to, Eflin said.
“We didn't feel it was necessary to make that decision until he got to second base,” Kapler said. “At that point, we felt like we had to have someone who could score on a base hit.”
The base hit never came as Rhys Hoskins ended the inning with a pop up. Eflin was the final Phillies pitcher left. Velasquez started on Wednesday night and threw a bullpen session Friday afternoon. He was unavailable. So Kapler asked Quinn to handle the 14th. Two innings later, it was over.
“It was frustrating. Certainly,” Kapler said. “I really thought the team stepped up in a major way, with everything on the line. They played their (butts) off. They fought and clawed for every last inch. They never quit even under the circumstances. Look, I'm most proud of that ...It was a (garbage) situation. It sucked. But the boys fought, all the way through to the end.”
Perhaps it all could have been avoided had the heart of the lineup - Hoskins, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Scott Kingery - combined to go better than 2 for 24. Quinn would not have had to pitch had Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio managed to finish the ninth inning. Vince Velasquez likely would not have had to borrow Brad Miller’s glove to play left field had the offense came through in one of their bases-loaded chances. They had the bases loaded in the first, seventh, and eighth and failed to score each time.
“The players were fighting for each other. They never quit,” Kapler said. “That was exactly what you ask for out of your players. You can't predict the results. You can't say, ‘You have to get more hits or make more plays.’ But you can say, ‘Damn it, give us the most effort you possibly have. Dig deep in these really difficult moments.' And they did. So I'm going to walk away proud of the work that they did. Disappointed that we lost the game. Disappointed the way we lost the game. But, dammit, I'm proud of those guys. Right now, I'm very proud of those guys.”
But those big hits never came. The Phillies went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position. They left 15 runners on base. So Kapler asked Velasquez to run in the 13th inning, fully knowing that he would have a position player pitching if Velasquez did not score. Quinn homered and had two steals. Now he was being used as a reliever with a dirty uniform.
He walked leadoff batter Jose Abreu on five pitches before retiring Eloy Jimenez with a lineout. The next batter - James McCann - dropped a single into left field. Velasquez threw Abreu out at home with a perfect throw. Quinn picked up the final out with a groundout from the opposing pitcher.
The ones who stayed past midnight started a “Let’s-Go-Roman” chant. The night was already weird, but it seemed than it would be just weird enough for the Phillies to win it.
“I think that you feel like things are going your way at that point,” said Jason Vargas, who pitched into the seventh inning in his first start since being traded from the Mets. “But at the same time you realize you’ve got a pitcher in left and an outfielder on the mound and those just aren’t normal circumstances. So I think that the effort that was being given was pretty extraordinary as far as guys willing to do what they had to keep the game going and give the offense a chance to end the game with one swing. It was a really crazy night as far as a first game with a team. I can’t say that I’ve seen a better effort given to try to win a ball game.”