There was the time, some 20 years ago, when the Phillies rallied late to win a game as the clock was pushing midnight. Afterwards, first baseman John Kruk explained that since it was too late for get back to the hotel in time for room service, they figured they might as well go ahead and win the game.
That same sort of absurd bonhomie surfaced again last night at Citizens Bank Park. Or, more technically, early this morning.
Long after the starting pitchers had departed, long after most of another sellout crowd had called it a night, the Phillies and Reds played on. And on and on and on.
It finally ended at 1:19 a.m., after 6 hours and 11 minutes, in the 19th inning, after the Phillies loaded the bases against Cincinnati righthander Carlos Fisher, who was in his sixth inning of work and had become the target of jeers. On his 95th pitch, Raul Ibanez lifted a long sacrifice fly to center field and Jimmy Rollins trotted home from third to give the Phillies a 5-4 win.
But that only happened after a series of improbable events that set the stage for one of the most memorable games in recent memory.
Wilson Valdez became the first Phillies position player since Tomas Perez in 2002 to pitch in a game. The diehards still remaining started a Wil-son! Wilson! chant.
That moved catcher Carlos Ruiz to third base where he promptly dove over a tarp and almost into the stands chasing a pop foul.
Valdez hit Scott Rolen with a pitch but otherwise got three pop-ups to retire the Reds. His fastball hit 90 miles an hour. "They asked me if I could pitch and I said, 'Yeah, why not?'" grinned the infielder, who still had traces of the shaving cream pie he was hit with during his postgame interview in his billy goat beard.
"I told myself I had to go to the mound and throw strikes. I guess those guys were just too excited. I just moved the ball outside and they were chasing it.
"It's something I'm never going to forget. I could have gone 3 more innings, 4 more, whatever."
Manager Charlie Manuel admitted that he hates to use position players on the mound. He said he's never done it before. But he really had no choice after using long man Kyle Kendrick to get one out in the 10th and another in the 11th.
The unsung hero of the game was reliever Danys Baez who pitched 5 shutout innings, allowing just one hit and walking one. He threw 73 pitches, pushing himself far beyond his normal workload.
"My arm feels great now. I don't know about tomorrow," Baez said. "But I knew I was the last guy out there (in the bullpen). After I threw my third inning, they said. 'You're done.' But I said, 'No, give me a chance.' I knew I had at least a couple more. There was a lot of adrenaline out there."
When Baez batted in the 16th, he picked up a helmet with a lefthanded earflap, forgot his batting gloves and to put pine tar on his bat. Which was certainly understandable.
Ryan Howard said that the game had seemed like a grind until Valdez came in to pitch. "Then it was kind of like a new spark of life when he went out there," the first baseman said.
Even before all the post-midnight craziness, this game had taken a turn for the weird.
Phillies starter Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter against the Reds the last time he faced them, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series last October. Cincinnati starter Travis Wood took a no-hitter into the ninth the only time he pitched against the Phillies last July.
Halladay gave up a hit to the second batter he faced. Wood's no-hit bid was broken up by the first batter he saw. Halladay ended up allowing a season-high 11 hits.
The Phillies used Chase Utley, who was getting a night off to rest his knee, as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth even though there was a runner on second with one out. Of course, he was walked intentionally. That meant that when Manuel wanted a lefthanded bat to pinch-hit for Ben Francisco after a wild pitch and an intentional walk to Jimmy Rollins, his best option was rookie Domonic Brown, who popped up.
At least, Brown seemed to be the best option assuming that Ross Gload was unavailable because of a sore hip. Except that Gload ended up pinch-hitting in the 13th.
Jay Bruce, whose 2-run single in the seventh tied the score, put Cincinnati ahead with a homer leading off the 10th. Howard countered with his 11th homer of the season to start the bottom half.
In the top of the 11th, four straight Reds reached base on a hit by pitch and three walks and didn't score because Brandon Phillips was picked off second. Valdez singled to start the bottom of the inning. Michael Martinez, trying to sacrifice, bunted into a force play but made it to second anyway on a wild pickoff attempt. And the Phillies again failed to take advantage.
As another former Phillie of that era, Mitch Williams, used to note, this wasn't a game played according to the Spalding Guide. But anybody who witnessed it will remember it for a long time.
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