1) We were both born on May 20
2) We love baseball.
The big difference between Wilson Valdez and me is that he gets paid to play baseball, about which I can only fantasize. I’d like to think that we share another quality, for which he’ll be talked about in my hometown of Philadelphia for quite some time to come, and that is resilience.
Tonight, or actually last night, the Philadelphia Phillies played the Cincinnati Reds in a game that became an instant classic. With Roy Halladay on the mound the Phils squandered a 3-0 lead, taking the game into extra innings. Jay Bruce, who’s been punishing the Phils at the plate this series, homered in the top of the 10th and then like a good heavyweight match, Ryan Howard brought the Phils off the canvas to tie the game in the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to deep center, into the Reds’ bullpen.
And so the game stood at 4-4 into the 11th, and the 12th, and the 13th — all the way to the bottom of the 18th inning when the Phils sent up their last position player, Dane Sardinha, The Joggin’ Hawaiian, to pinch-hit for reliever Danys Baez who had pitched brilliantly in relief for more innings than was reasonable. The ESPN2 announcers pointed out that no one was warming up in the Phillies bullpen. So if the Phils couldn’t pull it out in the bottom of the 18th, who would come in to pitch?
After Sardinha popped up, Wilson Valdez smoked a double down the left field line over Scott Rolen’s head, his third hit of the game. Michael Martinez came to the plate and lined a ball to left field that had third out written all over it. The Reds’ left fielder raced in to make the catch as Valdez sauntered around third, walking slowly back toward the Phils’ dugout. Unless you were in the Phillies dugout at the time, you’d have no way of knowing what would come next.
Valdez had been playing second base, but he told Manager Charlie Manual that he was ready to pitch if needed. Indeed, it was Valdez to the pitching rubber, never having thrown from the mound in his professional career, which hasn’t been short — a 33 year old journeyman sporting a .240 career batting average.
As Valdez began his warmup pitches, Placido Polanco moved from third to second, and Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz who had caught the entire game moved from behind the plate to third base, The Joggin’ Hawaiian now donning the catcher’s gear in Chooch’s place. Valdez pitched valiantly, unleashing pitches near 90 mph with movement as the remaining crowd, about 7,000 hearty souls, went wild. They cheered mightily for Chooch as he sprinted down the third base line toward left field, vaulting over the rolled up tarp in pursuit of a foul ball that made it just beyond his grasp.
Valdez was resilient, managing to retire the side, with only Scott Rolen getting on base, and that only because he didn’t bother to get out of the way of an inside pitch that he could have easily averted. Rolen, for whom the Philly crowd has no love lost, was taking a doughnut at the plate tonight, and this was the only way he was getting on. As Valdez triumphantly returned to the dugout, leaving Rolen stranded on first, the Phils took one more shot at winning the game in the bottom of the 19th. They did just that, prevailing 5-4 as Raul Ibanez launched a sac fly to deep center to plate J-Roll for the walk-off win. In what rarefied air was Wilson’s feat? He’s the first player to switch from his position to the mound in the same game and win since Babe Ruth did it in 1921!
The ESPN2 crew was giddy over how entertaining this 6 hour 11 minute marathon was, the longest in Citizen Bank Park’s eight year history. Wilson Valdez earned his shaving cream pie-in-the-face at game’s end, becoming the first non-pitcher to win a game since Brent Mayne did it for the Rockies 11 years ago. It is safe to say that this game will be memorable for the great defensive plays by Jimmy Rollins at short; for the resilience that Danys Baez showed in relief, and for the guts that a non-descript Wilson Valdez showed, morphing into the kind of uber-utility player the Phils haven’t seen since the days of Wine and Rojas.