It was the top of the 7th inning in Monday night’s Interleague series opener between the visiting Phillies and the host Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
The score was knotted at 4-4 between the two clubs, but the Phillies were threatening thanks to some shoddy Detroit defense.
Leadoff man Peter Bourjos had reached 1st base thanks to an error by Tigers’ 3rd baseman Nick Castellanos.
That brought the Phils’ hot leadoff hitter, center fielder Odubel Herrera, to the plate. Bourjos then advanced to 2nd base thanks to a wild pitch thrown by Tigers’ relief pitcher Justin Wilson.
So the Phillies had the go-ahead runner at 2nd base with nobody out. On a 1-2 pitch, “El Torito’ bounced a grounder weakly back at Wilson.
Herrera started down the line towards 1st base, but clearly frustrated at his inability to produce in the clutch situation, he shut it down, half-heartedly plodding the rest of the way to the bag.
As Herrera did so, it turns out that Wilson double-clutched his throw to 1st base. Herrera would have almost certainly have been safe as a result, had he only ran the ball out at normal full speed.
The lack of hustle meant that instead of runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out, the Phils had the runner at 2nd with one out.
On his return to the dugout, Herrera was approached by veteran Ryan Howard regarding that failure to hustle. Manager Pete Mackanin also got involved in calling out his 24-year old center fielder.
The Phillies would fail to score in the inning, and when the team took the field for the bottom of the 7th, Herrera was no longer in the lineup.
Immediately there was speculation ringing out from the radio waves, where announcer Scott Franzke mentioned an incident earlier in the game where Herrera might have been signaling to 3rd base coach Juan Samuel that he had suffered some type of injury to his back.
Across social media the reaction was swift: Herrera had clearly dogged it. If it was a lack of hustle and nothing more, that was one thing. If it turned out to be an injury, and the team knew he was hurt, then why was he still in the game? The Tigers would win the game by a single run, 5-4.
Quickly following the game, Mackanin dispelled any though of an injury. “He didn’t run, said the skipper per MLB.com’s Kyle Beery.
“One of the ingredients to our success, to this point, is the fact that these guys play with energy, they play hard. We’re training them, basically, to play the game the right way, and not running is not the right way.” ~ Mackanin
Mackanin went on to point out that he has seen this from Herrera on other occasions: “I’ve seen it in the past, and it’s been trickling in, and I just didn’t like it, and I just made the decision,” he said per Beery.
So at Twitter, I chose to poll the Phillies fans who are TBOH followers, asking whether those fans supported the pulling of Herrera from the lineup in such a public way as a disciplinary measure.
The results have proven conclusive. After more than 2,500 “impressions”, 120 total “engagements”, and 95 actual votes as of 5:25pm on Tuesday, 75% of the fans voting supported the disciplinary benching.
Mackanin has a young team on his hands, and even younger players on the way as the Phillies rebuilding program continues.
Earlier in the game, starting pitcher Vincent Velasquez had exhibited his own petulant attitude. Mackanin has to drill it into his young charges heads that they have to play the game not only with passion, but also with hustle and pride, never taking anything for granted.
“You’ve got to keep going. I know it’s not the at-bat he wanted, or whatever, but look at me, I’m still grinding,” Howard said per Beery. “You never know on a ball like that, he might mess up because you’re running hard.“
Wilson did indeed mess up, and Herrera’s failure to hustle may have cost the Phillies a key game at the start of what looks to be a difficult road trip.
Even if you don’t buy into that play being a game decider, you have to agree that a lackadaisical attitude is nothing that Mackanin can allow to continue. Three out of four of our voting followers would then agree with you.
Herrera knows he was wrong. As quoted at CSN Philly:
“I was frustrated. I respect his decision. I know that I did wrong. I have to learn from my mistakes, and it won’t happen again. I didn’t think he was going to bench me. I understand why. I can’t argue.“
Mackanin believes the message is sent, and Herrera will be back in the Phillies’ starting lineup on Wednesday night.