The longest silent treatment anyone could remember extended Tuesday to Rob DiClementi, college student by day and Phillies bat boy at night. DiClementi is finishing his sixth season in the dugout and knew what had to be done when Darin Ruf approached him for a fist-pound.
"He didn't even acknowledge me," Ruf said.
For five minutes during a 6-3 Phillies win, Ruf hung his arms over a dugout bench while his teammates rewarded him with cold shoulders. He had smashed a full-count fastball into the stands for his first major-league hit. Finally, when Jimmy Rollins popped out to end the second inning, Ruf was mobbed in the dugout.
"That," Charlie Manuel said, "was a long one. Some guys took two innings before they talked to him."
"That," Ryan Howard said, "has to be some sort of record."
"That," Ruf said, "was very loving of them."
Mathematical elimination is nearing for these Phillies, who still revel in some fun. They blasted three home runs off the postseason-bound Nationals. A victory guaranteed Washington cannot celebrate its first division title in South Philadelphia. That was incentive enough.
The time for experimentation began in earnest Tuesday afternoon when Manuel sauntered through the Phillies clubhouse and found Ruf. "You're in there," Manuel told him, and the minor-league home-run king had his chance.
This night will be remembered for Ruf's swing, his 40th homer in 2012. "I like his swing," said Manuel, who confirmed Ruf will start again Wednesday.
Ruf's bomb off Ross Detwiler ignited chaos. Six of the next seven Phillies reached base, three via walks. Carlos Ruiz provided the exclamation point with a three-run homer, his 16th of the season. Cole Hamels grinded through five innings, and the bullpen was pristine.
The Phillies have an unknown quantity in Ruf, the 26-year-old double-A slugger, and there is no better time for reconnaissance. Before the game, Manuel insisted using Ruf hardly implied surrender, yet he had garnered just three at-bats in 16 days since his recall. The Phillies were apprehensive of using him in left field, where he has played 39 career games and is viewed as a liability because of his inexperience.
Once Ruf circled the bases, he high-fived Kevin Frandsen in the on-deck circle. He fist-pounded Rich Dubee as he descended the steps. Then he realized what was happening and grinned.
He grabbed a cup of water and did not budge from his spot in the dugout while his teammates smiled. Television cameras constantly showed Ruf waiting for his moment. He gained a cult following in the minors, where his teammates took to calling him "Babe Ruf." Manuel called him "Baby Roof" on Tuesday. Close enough.
As he trotted to left field in the next half-inning, Ruf received a standing ovation. He tipped his cap. When he struck out in his next at-bat, fans behind the Phillies dugout applauded him. He singled before being lifted for a defensive replacement in the seventh inning.
The lone fly ball hit his way, a routine one, was handled with ease. When Ryan Zimmerman laced one to left in the fifth inning and Bryce Harper sprinted from second base, Ruf fired it into the infield grass. Rollins cut off the errant throw, and Harper easily scored.
With Ruf's introduction to left field complete, next on the list is Chase Utley trying third base. That remains a strong possibility but probably not until the Phillies are formally eliminated. Any combination of three St. Louis wins and Phillies losses will accomplish that.
"I have some time to do it," Manuel said.
If the final eight games are reduced to experimentation, so be it. An entire dugout enjoyed it for one night.