ON THE DAY the Phillies turned the page on the 2012 season, Charlie Manuel sat Juan Pierre down and told him what it all meant.
The manager told the veteran outfielder that most of the lineups from that point forward would not contain his name, that the organization wanted to give some younger players a chance. Pierre, one of the team's most consistent hitters up to that point, responded with three words that still stick in Manuel's mind.
"I'll be ready," he said.
On Sunday afternoon, Pierre started for just the second time this month. For the first 10 innings, he looked the part, going hitless in his first four at-bats, getting thrown out trying to stretch a two-base error into a three-base error, and overthrowing a cutoff man on what proved to be a big play in the Cardinals' two-run fourth inning. But in the 11th, Pierre came through, legging out an infield single that scored Jimmy Rollins from third base and then leaping into the arms of winning pitcher Jeremy Horst as the Phillies celebrated an 8-7 victory over the Cardinals.
"I'm still playing a kids game," Pierre said. "No matter where you are in the standings, to win a big-league game is always special, and I never want to take that for granted."
When the Phillies traded away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence on July 31 and officially started to rebuild for 2013, they were hoping for games like this. It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was quite the opposite. They committed three fielding errors. They allowed the Cardinals to break a 4-4 tie with three runs in the top of the eighth. They failed to advance the runner after Erik Kratz led off the 11th with a double. But they took a good look at some players who are vying to help the team next season, and they recorded a victory in the process.
Since the July 31 trades, the Phillies have won seven out of 12 games, hardly the pace of a team that can make a late run at a wild-card spot. At this point, though, results are secondary. Manuel and the front office are more interested in seeing how players like Horst respond in pressure situations. On Sunday, the lefthander pitched scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th to record his first major league victory.
"It's something I've been waiting for since I was a kid," said the 26-year-old reliever, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Cincinnati for utility man Wilson Valdez.
Horst has the potential to pitch his way into a prominent role in next year's bullpen. In 15 appearances, he has allowed just two earned runs, striking out 15 while walking six.
Two other players in similar situations had vastly different results in the eighth inning. In the top of the frame, 26-year-old righthander Michael Schwimer allowed three runs while attempting to protect a 4-4 tie. In the bottom of the frame, 32-year-old journeyman catcher Kratz erased the deficit, making his latest case to be next year's backup catcher with a three-run homer off Mitchell Boggs that tied the score, 7-7.
Kratz, Horst and Schwimer all spent time at Triple A this season.
"I think you talk about that when you are in Triple A: You want to be the guy that's called up, and after you get called up you aren't just going to sit there and be complacent," Kratz said. "You are going to give everything you have. You want to get your uniform dirty to win the game. You want to be in that spot because it's still baseball. You want to win the game in Triple A and you want to win the game up here."
Pierre has less to play for, at least from an individual standpoint. The Phillies will be looking to upgrade their power production in the outfield this offseason, and the slap-hitting leftfielder does not fit the mold of the player they will be targeting. When you consider the fact that the Phillies already have Laynce Nix and Nate Schierholtz, two lefthanded-hitting corner outfielders who could fill a bench role, it seems likely that Pierre will spend the 2013 season somewhere else.
"For me, Juan is a tremendous National League player," Manuel said. "If he's not in the lineup, he can definitely be on your bench. He can bunt, he can run, he can steal … He definitely can get a big hit for you."
On Sunday, he did just that.