Tag Archives: Eric Bruntlett

If the Phillies want to contend in 2019 then improvements to their bench will be needed

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Nick Williams and the Phillies 2019 bench have not produced early

This is no “woe is us” tale, nor will it be a “the sky is falling” story about how it is all going to come crashing down on the National League East Division-leading Philadelphia Phillies.

But as I pointed out in my Monday piece on three looming lineup and roster issues, the team’s bench players have not been producing to this point.
Over the first nine games, manager Gabe Kapler has used the exact same starting lineup of position players seven times. He gave catcher J.T. Realmuto a rest last Saturday with Andrew Knapp getting the start behind the plate. Then in Monday’s series opener against the Nationals, Kapler started Scott Kingery over Cesar Hernandez at second base.
Nick Williams has been the primary left-handed bat off the bench. He has appeared in eight of the nine games, all as a pinch-hitter. Williams is just 1-8 with the lone hit an RBI single during last Wednesday’s loss in Washington.
Aaron Altherr has appeared in six games, with all of his appearances also as a pinch-hitter. Altherr is off to a 1-6 start and contributed an RBI single during last Friday’s victory over Minnesota.
Kingery registered his first two hits of the season in Monday’s starting opportunity. Prior to that he was 1-4 while coming off the bench with a walk and a run scored. Three of his four previous appearances had come as a pinch-hitter. He also came in as part of a double-switch, replacing Hernandez during the loss in D.C. last week.

Andrew Knapp received one start behind the plate and is going to be counted on to spell J.T. Realmuto a couple of dozen times.
Knapp was just 0-2 in a pair of pinch-hitting appearances prior to his lone start in which he went 1-2 this past weekend. In that game, Realmuto came on as a pinch-hitter and stayed in to catch, going 0-2. Hernandez did not see action in Monday’s game.
So with the single starts for both Kingery and Knapp out of the equation and Realmuto’s relief effort factored in, the Phillies bench has been a collective 3-22 for a collective .136 batting average, two RBI, and one run scored. They have no extra-base hits to this point.
There is hope that the dynamic Roman Quinn will be able to return from his latest injury in the coming days. But even with his addition the bench may require some upgrading if the Phillies truly hope to extend their hot start over a full season of contention.
Having an experienced bench group can be extremely important to a team with deep October aspirations. Think back to the players who came off the bench for Charlie Manuel in 2008. 33-year-old outfielder Geoff Jenkins in his 11th big-league season. 30-year-old Greg Dobbs in his fifth season. 30-year-old Eric Bruntlett in his 6th season.
When that club needed even more help later in the year they reached out and brought in 40-year-old, 16-year veteran slugger Matt Stairs for some extra pop down the stretch during the crucible of September baseball and then through the postseason.
The backup catcher that year was the famous “33-year-old rookie”, Chris Coste. He was then 35 and in his third season. Together these five leading members of the bench group provided 31 homers and 125 RBI to that team.
The Phillies current starting lineup matches up well when compared to the 2008 World Series champion Phillies. But in a comparison of the two bench groups, there is no comparison.
Williams is a talented ballplayer who could still prove to be a big-league regular. At just age 25, he is probably best served, both for himself and his value to the team should an injury strike a starter, by playing everyday with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. That is the move which I recommended the club make when Quinn does return.

No matter what general manager Matt Klentak and the rest of the Phillies brain trust decides to do with the Williams, Altherr, and Quinn decision that is looming, the broader issue of an unproductive and largely inexperienced bench could end up determing just how far this 2019 Phillies team can go.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as The bench has been cold during hot Phillies start” 

Remembering Eric Bruntlett, unsung hero of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies

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Bruntlett dashes home as the winning run in Game 3 of the 1980 World Series

It seems somewhat hard to believe, but it has been a full decade now since the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in five games to capture the 2008 World Series championship.

There were many popular, homegrown heroes on that Phillies ball club. The names and faces jump immediately to mind for every fan who was around to enjoy that incredible team: Jimmy RollinsRyan HowardChase UtleyCole HamelsBrett MyersRyan MadsonCarlos Ruiz.
But even with all of those great players, the Phillies don’t win the World Series that year without the contributions of those brought in from the outside. Many of those acquired from other organizations became extremely popular and are easily recalled by fans as well: Jamie MoyerJayson WerthShane Victorino, and Brad Lidge would quickly come to mind.
But there were lesser contributors, players who didn’t get on the field or up to bat as often but who played a pivotal role in much of the drama that unfolded during that season and in that Fall Classic. One such contributor was utility player Eric Bruntlett.

Born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, Bruntlett played shortstop at Stanford University. He was chosen in the ninth round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft by the Houston Astros as the 277th player taken overall that year.
He rose quickly through Houston’s minor league system, reaching Triple-A by the following summer. In late June of 2003, Bruntlett was called up for the first time and would spend most of the season with the Astros from that point as a pinch-hitter and infield backup.
That would prove to be Bruntlett’s primary big-league role over the entirety of what became a five-year stint with Houston. In each of his first four seasons, the Astros finished in second place in the National League Central Division.
He was part of the close-but-no-cigar Houston teams that tried to win the first world championship in Astros franchise history during that run. The team lost a heart-breaking NLCS in seven games to the Saint Louis Cardinals in 2004, and then were swept by the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series.
On November 7, 2007 newly hired Astros GM Ed Wade, the former Phillies general manager, packaged Bruntlett with Lidge in a trade, sending both to the Phillies. In exchange, Houston received relief pitcher Geoff Geary and a pair of prospects, infielder Mike Costanzo and outfielder Michael Bourn.
It would prove to be a coup for Pat Gillick, who had been hired as the Phillies GM to succeed Wade almost exactly two years to the day earlier. In fact, it would end up as one of the most important deals in Phillies history.
Lidge would go a perfect 41-for-41 in Save situations for the 2008 Phillies, then register another seven without blowing one during the magical postseason run. He would strike out Eric Hinske of Tampa Bay to clinch the World Series, dropping famously to his knees before being engulfed by his teammates.
The contributions of Bruntlett were perhaps not as memorable but remained vital all the same.
During the regular season in 2008, Bruntlett joined infielder Greg Dobbs and outfielder Geoff Jenkins as manager Charlie Manuel‘s most frequently utilized and important bench pieces. His numbers were nothing to write home about, slashing just .217/.297/.297 with a dozen extra-base hits across 238 plate appearances.
However, Bruntlett held down the shortstop position for much of the early portion of the schedule as Rollins recovered from injury. Given a chance to play some in the outfield as the summer wore on, he became so trusted by Manuel that the skipper used Bruntlett as his primary choice to close out games in left field as a defensive sub for Burrell over the final month.
That role as defensive sub in left field would continue throughout the 2008 playoffs. Bruntlett did provide a base hit during Game 1 of the NLDS, a 3-1 Phillies victory over Milwaukee. He then went 0-1 in each of the last two games of the NLCS victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was ten years ago today that Bruntlett provided the first of his two most important direct conributions to that title run. In Game 3 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies and Rays had split the first two games. This game would decide which team took the lead in the series.
The Phillies took a 4-1 lead into the late innings. But the usually reliable ‘Bridge to Lidge’ bullpen blew it, surrendering three runs over the 7th and 8th innings. The Phillies and Rays thus battled into the bottom of the 9th inning tied at 4-4 in this pivotal contest.

Bruntlett had, typically by that point, replaced Burrell in left field for the top of the 7th inning. He would now get his first appearance at the plate to lead off the bottom of the 9th inning.

Working the count to 2-1 against Rays reliever J.P. Howell, Bruntlett was hit by a pitch. Taking his place at first base, he was the winning run if the Phillies could get him around.
Rays manager Joe Maddon made another pitching change, bringing on Aussie native Grant Balfour to face Victorino. On his second pitch, Balfour uncorked a wild one. Bruntlett took off immediately, and as the ball got behind Rays catcher Dioner Navarro, he bolted all the way around to third base.
As the Citizens Bank Park crowd roared, Bruntlett now stood just 90 feet away as the winning run at third base with nobody out. Resorting to his last-gasp strategy in such situations, Maddon had Balfour intentionally walk both ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’ and Werth to load the bases.
Bases loaded with Phillies. Nobody out. Rays players and fans praying for a ground ball that their club could turn into a force-out at home plate, maybe even then into a double play. Phillies fans hoping for a base hit, a deep fly ball, anything to get that winning run home.
Up to the plate stepped the hugely popular Ruiz. As the crowd roared, waving white rally towels in the air above their heads in unison, ‘Chooch’ battled the count to 2-2 against Balfour.
What happened next seemed in the first instant to be exactly what Tampa Bay wanted. Ruiz topped a slow-roller towards third base. If a Rays fielder got it and threw home, they could force out the runner, and maybe even have time to throw the slow-footed Ruiz out at first base for that double play.
However, the ball bounced much more slowly than anyone at first realized it would. Third baseman Evan Longoria charged towards it, bare-handing the ball and firing it home. Bruntlett had taken off as soon as the ball left the bat and was racing towards home.
As Longoria’s hurried throw blew high past Navarro, Bruntlett slid in safely with the winning run. The Phillies had the 5-4 victory and the lead in the World Series. Teammates mobbed both he and Ruiz, and the Phillies were on their way to the first championship for the franchise in nearly three decades.

It wouldn’t be Bruntlett’s last big moment in that Fall Classic. In fact, in the clinching Game 5, it would be Bruntlett who would score the World Series-winning run.
Burrell led off the bottom of the 7th inning of that game with a booming double high off the center field wall in what would prove to be his final appearance in a Phillies uniform. Manuel then sent Bruntlett in to run for Burrell.
The pinch-runner moved up to third base on a ground out, then scored when Pedro Feliz delivered a line-drive base hit up the middle. That run gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead, and Bruntlett was in left field as Lidge closed things out two innings later.

Bruntlett returned to the Phillies for the 2009 season, which would prove to be his swan song in Major League Baseball. He tried to catch on with the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, playing with the Triple-A affiliates for both clubs during the 2010 season, but was unable to get back to the bigs. After that season he decided to hang up his cleats and become a stay-at-home dad.
Before leaving Philadelphia and Major League Baseball, Bruntlett would have one more memorable moment in the sun. In August 2009 he became just the second player in MLB history to record a game-ending unassisted triple play.
Trailing by 9-7 but with runners at first and second and nobody out at Citi Field the host New York Mets were trying to tie and possibly even rally for a comeback victory over the Phillies.
As the Mets tried a hit-and-run, Bruntlett snared a line drive off the bat of future popular Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur for the first out. He then stepped on second base to force out Luis Castillo, and in the same moment tagged out Daniel Murphy running from first.
Bruntlett returned to South Philly this summer, taking part in the festivities as the Phillies honored the 2008 World Series champions on the 10th anniversary of their glorious achievement.
This was just the first of these types of reunions sure to take place in the coming years and decades, so fans of the team should have many more opportunities to thank him and his teammates for those great memories.

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “2008 Phillies Flashback: Eric Bruntlett, unsung hero

Phillies Fall Classics X: 2008 World Series Game Three

After the Philadelphia Phillies had gotten off to a good start by taking the opener of the 2008 World Series against the host Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in a tight 3-2 decision, the host Rays evened things up, holding off the Phils for a 4-2 win in Game Two.
With their backs to the wall in that 2nd game, Tampa had scratched out four early runs off Phillies’ starter Brett Myers
Holding a 4-0 lead, Rays’ manager Joe Maddon turned to rookie lefty David Price with two outs in the top of the 7th.
Just a year earlier, Tampa had made Price the top overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft. He quickly rose to become the best pitching prospect in the game, and made his big league debut that year on September 14th, pitching in five games down the stretch as Tampa held off the Boston Red Sox to win their first AL East crown by two games.
In the ALCS, Price had pitched in three games. He got the win in Game Two with a clutch 11th inning performance as Tampa tied that series with the Red Sox. 
Then in the decisive 7th game, Price pitched 1.1 innings to get the Save in a dramatic 3-1 win that moved the 1998 expansion franchise into their first-ever World Series appearance.
The Phils would get to the talented rookie with a two-out solo home run by Eric Bruntlett to cut the lead to 4-1, and then put two of the first three runners on in the 9th, scoring another run on a Tampa error to make it 4-2. 
But Price had toughened up, striking out Chase Utley swinging and getting Ryan Howard on an easy grounder to 2nd to tie up the World Series at a game apiece.

This was the setup to the pivotal Game Three as the 2008 World Series headed north from the indoor climate-controlled dome of the Trop in sunny Florida to the late October cold of Citizens Bank Park.
For Game Three, Maddon would send out 24-year old righthander Matt Garza. Considered one of the game’s better up-n-coming pitchers, Garza had appeared in the two previous seasons with his original team, the Minnesota Twins.
In late November of 2007, Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett had been dealt to Tampa as part of a 6-player deal, with Delmon Young highlighting the package back to the Twins. In his first full season, Garza had gone 11-9 over 30 starts with the Rays.
At the polar opposite end of the age spectrum, Phillies’ skipper Charlie Manuel was opting for his 45-year old lefty, the apparently ageless Jamie Moyer
A local product who had played his college ball at Saint Joseph’s University in Philly during the 1980’s, Moyer was in his 23rd MLB season, his 3rd with the Phils after coming in a late-season 2006 trade with the Seattle Mariners.
In 2008, Moyer had really seemed to discover the Fountain of Youth. That year he fashioned a 16-7 record over 33 starts in which he tossed 196.1 innings with a solid 3.71 ERA. He was the definition of a grizzled veteran.
Jimmy Rollins got the rally towel-waving crowd whipped up into an early frenzy with a leadoff single in the bottom of the 1st. 
That frenzied crowd let out a roar when Jayson Werth followed with a walk, and then a Garza wild pitch allowed the runners to move up to 2nd and 3rd as the heart of the Phillies’ order was due up.
Garza settled down admirably in the madhouse. Rollins scored when Utley grounded out to 1st base as Werth moved to 3rd base. 
But then Garza struck Howard out swinging and retired Pat Burrell on a fly to center. The Phillies had a 1-0 lead, but Garza and the Rays had dodged a major bullet.
Tampa would even it up right away in the top of the 2nd inning. Carl Crawford led off with a double, then stole 3rd base with one out, and scored when right fielder Gabe Gross followed with a sacrifice fly to center.
Garza quickly retired the first two Phillies’ batters in the bottom of the 2nd, but then catcher Carlos Ruiz ripped a solo homer to put the Phils back on top by 2-1. 
That would remain the score as the veteran Moyer and the young Garza battled into the bottom of the 6th inning.
In that home 6th, the crowd would get not just one, but two opportunities to roar again. Both Utley and Howard, the Phillies’ #3 and 4 hitters in their batting order, slammed solo homers to start the inning, pushing the lead up to 4-1.
Moyer wouldn’t be able to hold that lead fully. In the top of the 7th, the Rays immediately began a rally that would drive him from the game. 
Crawford got it started again, this time with a perfectly placed drag-bunt single between the pitcher’s mound and 1st base. 
Tampa catcher Dioner Navarro then doubled to left field, and Gross followed with an RBI ground out to cut the Phillies lead down to 4-2.
That was all for Moyer, who threw 96 pitches over his 6.1 innings, striking out five and walking one while allowing just five hits. 
Chad Durbin came on in relief. He got Bartlett to ground out to shortstop, but Navarro came in to score on the play, cutting the lead down to a slim 4-3 margin.
With both teams into their bullpens into the top of the 8th, Manuel went to his setup man, righthander Ryan Madson, who allowed a leadoff single to the speedy B.J. Upton. 
The Rays’ 23-year old center fielder, who is now known as ‘Melvin Upton’, had stolen 44 bases during the regular season. With one out, Upton stole 2nd base, then 3rd base, and scored the tying run when Ruiz threw the ball away on the latter.
The Phillies’ late-inning lefty, J.C. Romero, retired Tampa in order in the top of the 9th, and the two teams moved into the bottom of the 9th with the game knotted at 4-4 and the World Series tied at a game apiece.
Maddon had brought in reliever J.P. Howell in the 8th, and the tough righty had struck out two batters surrounding a big pick-off of Werth to keep the Phillies off the board after the Rays had evened the score. 
Still in the game to start the 9th, Howell hit Bruntlett on a 2-1 pitch to put the potential winning run aboard.
That prompted Maddon to make the move to his fiery Australian reliever Grant Balfour
After getting ahead of Shane Victorino with a first strike, Balfour uncorked a wild pitch. Bruntlett took off for 2nd base, and Navarro retrieved and threw to try to nail him. Instead, the throw went wild, allowing Bruntlett to advance all the way to 3rd base.
Now the Phillies had that potential game-winner just 90 feet away with nobody out. Maddon chose to make the strategic decision to intentionally walk Victorino. 
When Manuel sent up lefty Greg Dobbs to pinch-hit for Pedro Feliz, Maddon had him intentionally walked as well to load the bases.
The plan, of course, was to set up a force out at any base, including home plate, as the slow-footed Ruiz came to the plate. Balfour and ‘Chooch’ battled to a 2-2 count. 
Then with the crowd on its feet and roaring with every pitch, Ruiz topped a slow roller towards 3rd baseman Evan Longoria.
The Rays’ star raced in to field the ball as Bruntlett broke well from 3rd base and got a great jump towards the plate. Longoria fielded and threw home as Bruntlett slid in, but the throw went high.
The throw wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Bruntlett’s great jump and the slow speed of the ball off the bat combined to give the Phillies’ baserunner an advantage that the Rays’ 3rd baseman could not overcome. 
As Bruntlett slid in safe with the game-winning run, teammates mobbed both he and Ruiz, and the Phillies had not only a 5-4 walkoff win, but more importantly had pushed ahead by two games to one in the World Series.
The two teams would have to quickly recover from the emotionally draining game, as the next installment in this Fall Classics series would come the following night. That Sunday night in South Philly would contain none of the drama of this one.

Praying for a World Series win

Ruiz chopper down the third base line scored Bruntlett with the winning run in Game 3 of the 2008 World Series

 

I don’t think it’s wrong at all, to ask God for a Phillies victory, do you? After all, the Phillies had blown a 4-1 lead in the crucial third game of the 2008 World Series, which was tied at a game apiece.

The young, talented, and resilient Tampa Bay Rays used a blown call by the first base umpire, their speed, and a throwing error by Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz to push across three runs over the last couple of innings to get even.

Now in the bottom of the 9th, super sub Eric Bruntlett is hit by a pitch to leadoff the inning. Rays reliever Grant Balfour then unleashes a fastball tracer right at the legs of Shane Victorino.

As Victorino reflexively dances out of the way, the ball flies past Rays’ catcher Dioner Navarro and heads towards the back wall behind home plate. Bruntlett takes off for 2nd base, which he would normally make easily.

But this time the wild pitch was so hard and fast that it caromed directly off the brick and back to Navarro, who spun and tried to nail Bruntlett at 2nd base. His throw was wild and slid into center field, and Bruntlett moved on to third base, moving the winning run into position just 90 feet away with nobody out.

As the fans in the stands at Citizen’s Bank Park went nuts, twirling their white and red ‘Rally Towels’ above their heads like 45,000 helicopter blades whirling madly through the late-night South Philly air, the Phils appeared to be in great position for the win.

The ‘late night’ part was a story unto itself. The game, the first World Series game here in Philly in 15 years, was delayed at the start by an hour and a half thanks to the end-stretch of a daylong rain spell.

So here we all were at 1:30 am in the morning, the Phillies with the winning run and a 2-1 lead in the World Series now tantalizingly close with no outs.

What for some teams might be an automatic win was far from it for our Phillies. This team had been setting a new record for futility, constantly failing to drive in runners from scoring position during the series.

Rays manager Joe Maddon decided that he was going to walk both Victorino and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, loading the bases and setting up a force-out situation at home plate.

There is not a Phillies fan around who is being honest with themselves if they didn’t fear the very real possibility of the slow-footed Ruiz grounding into a double play, and then the Rays incredibly getting out of the jam and taking it into extra-innings where nothing good would surely happen for the hometown nine.

It was here that I closed my eyes, put my head down, and said a little prayer: “God, I know there are a billion things more important going on in the world right now, but if there is anyway that it doesn’t affect some bigger plan that you have going, could you please, please give me and all the rest of these fans this gift?

I don’t know what some think about asking God, bothering Him with these relatively trivial matters in our prayers. But it is my opinion that God has time for anything that we want to share with Him.

I have never been afraid to pray for things like sporting victories. I just make sure to toss in the caveat and allow for the possibility that God might have some bigger plan involved in a different outcome than that for which I am praying.

And we also have to remember that there is probably more than one person on the other side praying for the exact opposite outcome. In those cases, I have no problem putting the answer in His hands.

Pray to God. Pray that your families stay healthy. Pray that He stays close to you. Pray that you get that job for which you just interviewed last week. Pray that the important loan comes through as approved. Pray for world peace, for justice in a court trial, that your candidate wins the U.S. presidency.

And also feel free to pray that your hometown team wins the World Series.

God is never too busy to listen. The answer will not always be what you wanted, but it will be so much more than if you never prayed at all.

Carlos Ruiz did indeed end up hitting a weak grounder, but it was not for a double play.

His slow dribbler rolled down the third base line on the infield at Citizens Bank Park as Rays’s phenom Evan Longoria charged the ball. Bruntlett sprinted home and slid in ahead of Lonogoria’s shuttle throw. The Phillies had won 5-4 to take a 2-1 lead in the World Series.

Sometimes the answer to our prayers is exactly what we asked for after all.

Thank you, Lord. Go Phillies!