Danys Baez was one of the first players to arrive at the ballpark yesterday. After changing into shorts and a red Phillies T-shirt, he sat down in the black chair in front of his locker and spent most of the next hour staring intently at the iPad on his lap. At one point, he glanced up and saw Jesus Tiamo walking by. The Phillies' bullpen catcher rattled off a few sentences in Spanish, then held his right arm limp at his side. Tiamo laughed. Baez cracked a warm smile. Then, he turned his attention back to the video screen.
"Two days is all I need," Baez said later, less than 12 hours after throwing a career-high 73 pitches out of the bullpen in five crucial innings of relief during the Phillies' 5-4, 19-inning victory over the Reds. "In 2 days, I'm going to be fine."
Told of Baez' proclamation, Charlie Manuel grinned. That, he said, is the reason he urged Ruben Amaro Jr. to sign the righthander two offseasons ago. Ever since he and Baez had parted ways as members of the Indians in 2002, Manuel would watch the veteran reliever pitch whenever he could and tell anybody who would listen, "I want Baez."
He wants the ball, the manager told reporters when the Phillies finally signed him.
As Wednesday turned to Thursday at Citizens Bank Park, that desire radiated throughout the home dugout. Only 2 months into a marathon season, on a night sure to fade as autumn arrives, a collection of players fought and competed as if shades of September already colored the sky.
The veteran shortstop, playing out the final year of his contract, perhaps drawing whispers from amateur talent evaluators who suggested diminishing range - all Jimmy Rollins did was make throws that appeared impossible, snatching ground balls on the infield grass and rocketing them to first base. After one such play in the 13th inning caught Drew Stubbs by half a step, the Reds centerfielder destroyed a Powerade cooler in the visitor's dugout. Two innings earlier, with runners on first and second and one out and lefty J.C. Romero one pitch away from walking the bases loaded, Rollins had inadvertently changed the tide of the game by chatting with Brandon Phillips as the Reds star took a lead off second base. Romero whirled around, and, by the time Phillips knew what was happening, Wilson Valdez was applying the tag.
"I was embarrassed for him," said Rollins, who insisted he was not setting Phillips up. "But, hey, it's an out for us."
Baez did not take the mound for another three innings. When he did, he refused to leave. For most of 2010, he failed to live up to the expectations the Phillies had when they signed him. He finished the year with a 5.48 ERA and was left off the postseason roster; in seven previous innings before Wednesday, he allowed eight runs.
When Manuel finally called his name, he was the only remaining reliever in a game still tied 4-4. Baez cruised through the 14th, then the 15th. After a scoreless 16th, pitching coach Rich Dubee told him he was done. Utility man Wilson Valdez was going to pitch. But Baez, who was due to lead off the bottom of the frame, insisted he stay.
"Can you hit?" Manuel asked him.
"I can stand there," the 33-year-old veteran replied.
Baez struck out. But he pitched a scoreless 17th. Dubee tried again. Baez had thrown 57 pitches, one shy of his career high as a reliever, 15 more than he had thrown in any game since 2005, when he was 27. His teammates watched with pride as he warmed up for the 18th.
"I just got goosebumps thinking about it," veteran leftfielder Raul Ibanez said yesterday.
The 18th inning passed in the same fashion as the previous four, Baez' fastball sitting at 91 on the radar gun, his curveball breaking like a country road.
"His stuff was the best I've seen it since he's been here," catcher Carlos Ruiz said.
Once Baez left the game, 73 pitches and five scoreless innings on his surgically repaired arm, his teammates had no doubt. Valdez, a journeyman from the Dominican Republic whose role with the team had diminished as his offensive production slipped, took the mound in the 19th. Ruiz, who signed with the Phillies as a lightly regarded infielder out of Panama, grabbed his fielding glove and moved to third, so that Placido Polanco could replace Valdez at second.
Joey Votto, the defending NL MVP, took the first pitch for a ball, then lofted a foul pop toward the third-base seats. Ruiz scrambled after it, his stubby legs chugging like a Flintstone behind the wheel. The catcher-turned-third baseman crashed over a rolled-up tarp. He didn't get the ball. But he wanted it. Later, catcher Dane Sardinha called for a sinker away. Valdez shook him off.
"I called a fastball away," Sardinha said. "He wanted a fastball in. He hit his spot, but Votto almost hit it over centerfield."
Votto's fly ball died in the glove of centerfielder Michael Martinez. Valdez hit Scott Rolen with a pitch, then retired the final two batters he faced. Rollins led off the bottom of the frame with a single, moved to second on a walk to Domonic Brown, then to third on a bunt by Polanco. After Ryan Howard was intentionally walked, Ibanez came up. Not long ago, he was mired in a career-worst 0-for-35 slump. Early yesterday morning, he lofted the game-winning sacrifice fly to deep centerfield.
After 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 19 innings, it was over. Together, they swarmed home plate: the veteran shortstop, the once-struggling leftfielder, the catcher-turned-infielder, the infielder-turned-pitcher - and, yes, the veteran reliever whose five innings of work made it all possible.
"Pure guts" were the words Ibanez chose as he stood in the clubhouse yesterday, goosebumps lingering on his arms.
Across the room, Baez straightened his shirt, pushed in his chair and walked through the remnants of another victory. Outside the stadium, in the sticky May air, the team buses sat stoically, their engines idling in anticipation of whatever lay next. *