Wilson Valdez pitches to Jay Bruce in the 19th inning of the Phils 5-4 win over Cincy. (Photo by John Russo)
The beautiful thing about sports is that you’re never going to know what to expect.
As a player, coach or fan, the game is built on mostly skill. But factored into that equation is a thing called luck. Like it or not, the luck factors into the bizarre and the bizarre factors into the shock value.
For the sold out attendance at Citizens Bank Park on May 25, it was just another game against the Cincinatti Reds. To the few thousand on their feet in the 19th inning nearly five hours later, it was something they will most likely never witness as baseball fans again.
No one is ever lucky enough to witness a 19-inning game — the term luck is used, not for the five hours of baseball that included a 7th and 14th inning stretch, but for how the game ended.
Put aside the fact that the game went 19 innings. Instead, look at the two heroes of that game, heroes in ways they thought unimaginable to fans, and even to those two players themselves.
Danys Baez pitched five innings of shut out baseball in extra innings, allowing only a walk and a hit while striking out three. He threw 73 pitches, the most since 2005.
Beaz didn’t even make it through the season, being waived and released by the Phillies after the All-Star Break.
After Charlie Manuel was done torturing Baez’s throwing arm, he pinch-hit his last bench guy, Dane Sardinha, for his last reliever.
Who was going to pitch for the Phils next? Manuel didn’t want to burn a starter and mess up his rotation’s order less than two months into the season.
So instead, he turned to his second baseman, Wilson Valdez. Sardinhan put on his gear and went to catch for Valdez. Carlos Ruiz, who caught the first 18 innings, grabbed an infielder’s glove and went to third base. Placido Polanco, who played almost his entire career at second base before the Phils signed him to play the hot corner, went back to his old stomping grounds.
Valdez wasn’t exactly throwing heat but he was hitting his fastball between 87-89 MPH.
Due up for the Reds were the reigning NL MVP Joey Votto, former Phils slugger Scott Rolen and the series MVP Jay Bruce, who had homered in the 10th and had three of Cincinnati’s RBIs.
Valdez got Votto to fly out to deep center on an 87-MPH fastball which was batting practice speed for the young left-handed slugger. He then plunked Rolen to the approval of the fans.
The nail-biting began with Bruce at the plate. Bruce hit a towering fly that was snagged by Domonic Brown for the second out. Reds reliever Carlos Fisher followed up with a weak pop up to end the inning.
In the bottom half of the inning and with the bases loaded, Ibanez connected on a game-winning sacrifice fly off Fisher to give the Phillies a 5-4 win.