Jun 6, 2022

The Vegas Boys Come Through

Sunday, June 5, 2022
Results: Phillies defeated Angels9-7

This may be the best ballgame I've ever seen in person, and in a roundabout way, I have the pandemic to thank for it.  Here's what happened:  Dad and I originally had tickets to the Phillies game on July 18th, 2020.  The Angels were coming to town that day, and we were both looking forward to seeing Mike Trout come back home to Philadelphia, if only for one series.  Covid put a stop not only to this game, but also to more than half of the season and to any fans being allowed in to see the games that they did manage to play.

Because we missed out on seeing Trout in 2020, we made it a point to get tickets for when the Angels came to town this season.  My dad prefers Sunday afternoon games, so that sealed the deal - we got tickets to the final game of a three game series with the Angels.  Still, I sort of had it in the back of my head that something would go wrong - either Trout would get injured before the game, or the Angels would pick that day to give him some rest, or the game would be rained out or something.  However, the baseball gods were on our side, and in a big way!

On Friday before the start of this series with the Angels, the Phillies fired manager Joe Girardi.  It's a pretty safe bet that no one in Philadelphia was sorry to see him go.  He was horrendous at managing the bullpen, and his stubborn insistence on giving playing time to mediocre veterans over young talent like Bohm, Stott and Moniak was not only hurting the team's chances this season, but he was also a risk to set the Phillies back for years to come by standing in the way of three of our top prospects being given regular playing time and the chance to develop into key contributors in the big leagues.

Bench coach Rob Thomson was named interim manager, and he's been a breath of fresh air so far.  He seems to be of the mindset that they need to let the kids play, and I couldn't agree more.  Since taking over as manager, the Phillies won their first two games in the series with the Angels, and they were going for the sweep yesterday.

We had lunch at Bull's Barbecue before the game, but I noticed a sign for a bizarre concoction at a different restaurant while we were eating, so I had to go back to give it a try.  It's called the PB&J Bacon Burger, which is a bacon burger topped with peanut butter and jalapeno jelly, but I'll write more about that later.

One thing I hadn't even considered about this game is that we were getting to see the 2021 AL MVP, Shohei Ohtani going head-to-head with the 2021 NL MVP, Bryce Harper.  The occasion was commemorated by this awesome pin which I had to pick up as a souvenir.

Seeing the two reigning MVPs go head to head was not the only story of the day.  Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have been compared to each other throughout their careers.  It's been a very friendly rivalry, sort of like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, but without the steroids.

Between Harper, Trout and Ohtani, we got to see three of the greatest players of our generation on the field.  If I live long enough to be an old man at the ballpark, it's the kind of experience that I'll probably be talking about to anyone who will listen.

Our tickets were for the fifth row of Section 314, which is a part of the ballpark that doesn't see any shade at all during a summer afternoon.  It was also over 80 degrees with barely a cloud in the sky, so the sun was beating down pretty hard on us.  By the bottom of the 4th, we've both had enough of the heat, so we moved up to the right field corner of the ballpark in Section 412 V.  It's pretty close to the general area where we used to sit for all of the West Palm Beach Expos games that we went to in the early 90's.

There's a roof that covers a part of the 400 level, so these seats were in the shade and felt about 10 degrees cooler than where we were originally sitting...or least they did for a little while.  By the 8th inning, the sun had shifted and our shade was gone, so we decided to head down to ground level and catch the last two innings standing at the bar area behind the first base side.

You've got to like the Phillies chances with a 9,003 run lead

Despite the scoreboard which inexplicably had the home team winning by a score of 9,009 to 6, the Phillies were having a pretty rough time for the first seven innings of the game.  The Angels did most of their damage in the top of the 4th.  Kyle Gibson gave up a single to Matt Duffy who led off the inning, followed by a Shohei Ohtani double.  Mike Trout was up next, and he drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.  Jared Walsh hit a single to shallow right to score two runs, and Jo Adell reached on an infield single that scored Mike Trout to put the Angels up 3-0 with runners on first and second with still nobody out.  Brandon Marsh hit into a fielders choice which allowed the Phillies to finally record an out in the inning, but then Kurt Suzuki hit an RBI single, and Tyler Wade reached base on a Rhys Hoskins throwing error that allowed Brandon Marsh to score and put the Angels up 5-0.  That closed the book on Kyle Gibson, and Nick Nelson was brought in from the bullpen to get the Phillies out of the inning.

The Phillies middle relievers kept the damage contained to the 4th inning for the most part.  Nick Nelson pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings.  Next came Cristopher Sanchez who pitched a clean 1 1/3.  The Angels didn't score again until Brandon Marsh singled off of Jeurys Familia in the top of the 8th to score Jared Walsh, but Walsh only reached base as a result of a Bryson Stott error.

During the top of the 8th, we headed down to the 100 level to stand in the shade to watch the end of the game.  The Phillies were down 6-2 at the time, with our only runs having come in the bottom of the 5th when Nick Castellanos hit a sacrifice fly to score Rhys Hoskins, and a JT Realmuto ground out allowed Bryce Harper to score.  

The Angels brought in former Phillie Aaron Loup to pitch in relief in the bottom of the 8th, and that's when everything started to go the Phillies way.  Odubel Herrera led off the inning with a single.  Next up was Johan Camargo, who reached base on Matt Duffy's throwing error, which gave the Phillies runners on first and third with no outs.

Bryson Stott hit into a fielders choice, and Kyle Schwarber walked, which loaded the bases for the Phillies with one out.  This is when Angels manager and Hazleton native Joe Maddon brought in Raisel Iglesias, which was not the smartest decision considering how well the man on deck has hit against him throughout his career.

The Angels closer started off strong by striking out Rhys Hoskins.  However, this brought Bryce Harper up to the plate with bases loaded in the bottom of the 8th with two outs and the Phillies down by four runs.

Then, this happened...

Bryce Harper did what Bryce Harper does best - he hit a second deck blast to deep right field to tie the game.  It was his 13th home run of the season, and his sixth career grand slam.  Nick Castellanos flied out to end the inning in the next at-bat, but it was a brand new ballgame going into the 9th inning.

The Phillies brought in Corey Knebel to pitch in the top of the 9th, and Didi Gregorius came in to play shortstop because Johan Camargo appeared to hurt his knee running the bases in the bottom of the 8th.  Unfortunately, Knebel wasted little time in reminding me how much I miss Hector Neris by allowing the Angels to manufacture a run to take a 7-6 lead going into the bottom of the 9th.

At this point, everyone in the crowd around me was pretty disgusted with Corey Knebel, but I didn't see too many people leave early to try to beat the traffic.  There was a sense that the Phillies could still come back from this.  It didn't start out too well.  JT Realmuto led off with a liner that was hit directly at the third baseman for the first out.  Alec Bohm singled, but Odubel Herrera hit a fly ball for the second out.  This brought up Didi Gregorius, who had just come off of the IL, for his first plate appearance in the Major Leagues in over a month.  Didi singled to put runners on first and second with two outs to bring rookie shortstop Bryson Stott to the plate.

The Angels brought reliever Jimmy Herget in to pitch, and it looked at first like Stott was going to work out a walk.  This is pretty much what I was hoping for, because it would load the bases for Kyle Schwarber, who entered this game as the team leader in home runs (14) and who just missed a home run earlier in the bottom of the 4th when he hit a deep fly ball that was caught by Mike Trout.  However, the count ran to 3-2... with two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the winning run on base.

And then...

Bryson Stott came through and hit his first career walk-off home run.  It was only the second home run of his MLB career, with his first coming just two nights earlier in the first game of the series against the Angels.  The Phillies won 9-7, and the crowd went absolutely ballistic!

This may have been the most exciting end to a game I have ever seen in person.  I've only been in attendance for one walk-off home run before.  It happened ten years ago, and it ended up being Jim Thome's last home run as a Phillie, and the one in which he set the record for most career walk-off home runs with 13 (a record that still stands today).  For as thrilling and historic as that was, this game was even better.  The Phillies were down 6-2 when they entered the bottom of the 8th.  It took a Bryce Harper grand slam to tie it, and then just when we thought the rug had been pulled out from under us, fellow Las Vegas native Bryson Stott came in to save the day.

Standard Speaker - Hazleton, PA  (June 6, 2022)

This was a big win and a huge series for the Phillies.  They were playing without one of their strongest bats of the season with Jean Segura on the IL, and without rookie Nick Maton, who has impressed in his short time in Philadelphia, but they completed a three game sweep of the Angels before entering a big series against Andrew McCutchen and the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers.

The Phillies are still four games under .500 and in third place in the NL East with a record of 25-29, but they're undefeated since Joe Girardi was fired and Rob Thomson was named interim manager.  This may be the moment that the season started to turn around for the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies.

UPDATE: Speaking of fired managers, it was announced two days after the game that the Los Angeles Angels have fired manager Joe Maddon.  I've always been sort of torn on this guy.  He's from my hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and he's a hell of a nice guy by all accounts, so from a personal standpoint, I really like the guy.

When I called Dad and told him the news, he seemed shocked and he said that he wondered if the Phillies would hire him to manage since Rob Thomson has just been named the interim manager.  As cool as it would be to have a guy from Hazleton managing the Phillies, I hope that they don't go in this direction.  I like him as a person, but I really don't think that Joe Maddon is a very good manager, and I think that the Cubs won the 2016 World Series in spite of Maddon's over-managing and his ridiculous use of the bullpen.

I haven't been overly happy with a Phillies manager since Pete Mackanin took over for Ryne Sandberg in 2015Pete did a great job with a very young team.  Frankly, I wish they would have stuck with him instead of hiring Gabe Kapler in 2018.  Obviously it's too soon to tell if Rob Thomson can get the job done, but I like what I've seen so far.  He seems committed to giving the rookies a chance to play and to develop into solid contributors, and he seems less likely to outsmart himself or to wave the white flag in the 6th inning like we've seen from Kapler and Girardi.  I wish Joe Maddon well, but I look forward to seeing him work for any team other than the Philadelphia Phillies.