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Phillies trade Carlos Ruiz to Dodgers

Sal Agostinelli still remembers that day in 1998. It was hot. He flew to Panama City, drove to another airport, hopped a second flight, and arrived at a field in a small town named Boquerón to see a 19-year-old Panamanian second baseman who would one day catch the final strike of a World Series.

Before he was traded Thursday to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carlos Ruiz had spent half of his life with the Phillies. There are so many ways to remember him. A dive in 2008 to tag Jason Bartlett. A barehanded grab to complete a postseason no-hitter. A Sports Illustrated cover. An infield squibber in Game 3. An endearing nickname that sounded like an insult. An indelible hug with Brad Lidge.

But Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting director, was there from the moment it started. The day scout Allan Lewis suggested Ruiz catch after Agostinelli hit grounders at him. The day Ruiz threw from home to second in under 1.9 seconds. The day Ruiz sprayed line drives across the field as Agostinelli threw batting practice. The day Ruiz wanted $10,000 but settled for an $8,000 signing bonus.

"I'm just really going to miss him," Agostinelli said. "It was a good run."

It was hard to measure what happened Thursday, when Ruiz was dealt to the Dodgers for veteran catcher A.J. Ellis, a pitching prospect from Haverford College, and a player to be named. Ruiz, 37, is gifted another chance at the postseason. The rebuilding Phillies, reduced to one final vestige from the 2008 World Series (Ryan Howard), were nostalgic yet again.

"Ultimately," general manager Matt Klentak said, "this was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz because he has meant so much to this organization."

Ruiz had full no-trade rights. He had expressed his desire to play for a contender. He cleared waivers last week, spoke to Phillies officials during the weekend, and mulled a possible trade. On Wednesday, he told Klentak he would accept a deal. On Thursday, when Dodgers officials called Ruiz with excitement about what he could add to their first-place team, Ruiz felt at ease.

Then he drove from New York, where the Phillies had a day off, to Philadelphia. Ruiz blossomed from a shy foreigner to become the backbone of some of the best teams in Phillies history. He is the franchise's greatest success from the international amateur pool. He caught three no-hitters and a perfect game. No Phillies catcher has ever started in more postseason games.

The emotions were complicated.

"I am sad and happy at the same time," Ruiz said by phone. "I really love Philadelphia and all of the fans, my teammates, the front office, the organization, everybody. I know I'm going to miss them. I really appreciate everything we did together. On the other side, I am happy because I have a chance to go to the playoffs. Another opportunity, maybe, to go to the World Series."

Ruiz said he had started the process of saying goodbye to his teammates.

"I'm trying to call them one at a time," he said. He will join old friends in Los Angeles, with Chase Utley at second base and Joe Blanton in the bullpen.

The stocky man dubbed "Chooch" said it was a hard decision to make. He posted a .745 OPS in 11 seasons, made an all-star team in 2012, and overcame the stain of a suspension for Adderall. He was one of the most popular teammates in a Phillies clubhouse through multiple eras.

"Carlos was such an important part to my growth as a pitcher," Texas Rangers lefthander Cole Hamels said. " ...  He will leave behind a legacy for the catchers that come up through the Phillies system on how to play `the Phillie way.' "

"I hope," former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, "he gets another chance at October baseball."

"There's not enough for me to say that would ever make up for what you've taught me," catcher Cameron Rupp tweeted.

On the other side of the country, the emotions were just as raw. The Dodgers' Ellis was discarded by his employer of 13 years. Ellis, like Ruiz, was regarded as a strong leader. He will fill that same role with the Phillies; Ellis, 35, is a free agent at the end of the season.

Tommy Bergjans, 23, had a 4.98 ERA for single-A Rancho Cucamonga in 24 games (21 starts). But he struck out 133 batters in 130 innings with just 29 walks. He was an eighth-round pick in the 2015 draft from Haverford College. The Phillies also sent cash to the Dodgers.

"I'm real happy to be with that team," Ruiz said. "I can't wait to go there and see what happens."

For Agostinelli, there was sadness. It is part of the game, now familiar here, when a franchise and city break up with their faded heroes. Ruiz will wear blue, maybe deep into October. Agostinelli will have another vision.

"When it's all said and done," Agostinelli said, "Carlos Ruiz will be back as a Phillie."