This Is How A Team Pleads For Mercy
12:06 PM EDT on October 18, 2023
We came so very, very close to a position player pitching in a pennant series. In Game 2 on Tuesday night, the Phillies walloped their way to an early lead with a couple solo home runs against the Diamondbacks, then piled on a bunch of doubles until they got to play out the last few innings with a 10-0 score. Only one non-pitcher ever has taken the mound in an LCS or later—Cliff Pennington of the Jays in 2015—but since then the practice has been restricted to eight-run deficits or worse, making the possibility even slimmer.
The Phillies fulfilled the stated conditions when Alec Bohm doubled home a pair in the seventh, but even then D-Backs kept the hook away from Ryne Nelson. Perhaps if there weren't an off-day before Game 3, they would have eeny-meeny-miney-mo'ed their infield to pick a new pitcher, but instead Nelson soldiered on through part two of the cutest back-to-back hitters in the league. Bryson Stott swung and missed at strike one, and he didn't do much with the second pitch as it shoved its way inside and hit his bat near the hands.
Stott's pop-up was the easiest play the defense could have requested to stanch the bleeding, if only someone had decided it was their job to haul it in. Young catcher Gabriel Moreno had a look. Veteran third baseman Evan Longoria wandered over. But Nelson entering the area seemed to confuse them both. While the trio stood still, the hit (not an error!) dropped onto the grass.
Sending out a positional player to pitch is a white flag, signaling that a manager is saving his arms for a competitive game because he believes this one no longer is. This somehow-not-an-error doesn’t appear on the box score as a similarly blatant request for mercy, but it was just as effective at announcing the end of the Arizona Diamondbacks as a going concern in Game 2. It doesn’t matter what happened later. In this moment, the score was 8-0, Phillies fans were inventing new obscenities to shout in celebration, and nobody on the other team could catch a harmless pop fly. You know how when dogs are playing and it gets too intense, one will roll over and bear its throat to signal I don’t want to play anymore, you win? This was so over.
"We have to play better baseball," manager Torey Lovullo said after the game. "Everybody has to be better. You can start with the manager and then trickle all the way down through the entire team. We've got to play Diamondback baseball."
Elaborating on what that means, Lovullo gave a definition that included both advanced tactics and tee-ball basics. “Diamondback baseball is grinding out at-bats, having mature at-bats, driving up pitch counts, catching pop-ups, picking up the baseball.”
That those last few are agenda items for fixing is not good, but it is a window into how lopsided the series feels as the Phillies hold a 2-0 lead. On the one end is a team that feels invincible, with a pumped and jacked fan base going feral for every at-bat. On the other side is a team that feels broken, adrift, and lucky to even be present. Nowhere was that more apparent than when Stott reached base on a freebie. I guess nobody on the D-Backs shouted "I got it" because none of them do.