Tag Archives: Pedro Feliz

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

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’jUhS_snSRWNG03HrSsfAfA’,sig:’eBNSpEc7kJlsjEsq6vwOxKoij93FybbDAcuQuuzESWE=’,w:’594px’,h:’457px’,items:’83435556′,caption: true ,tld:’ca’,is360: false })});//embed-cdn.gettyimages.com/widgets.js

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 XII: 2008 World Series Game Five

The Philadelphia Phillies franchise was founded for the 1883 season in the National League, and is the oldest continuous same name, same city franchise in all of North American pro sports.

However, for all of their history, the Fightin’ Phils had won the World Series, the championship of American professional baseball, just once, in 1980.

The 2008 Phillies had won the National League East Division crown for a second straight season, then fought past the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers to reach the World Series for the sixth time.

They were underdogs to a young, talented Tampa Bay Rays club. But after taking the opener and escaping Florida with a split of the first two games, the Phillies captured a dramatic Game Three in walkoff fashion, then punished the Rays by pounding their way to a blowout win in Game Four.

On Monday night, October 27th, the Phillies took the field in front of a jam-packed, rally towel waving, frenzied crowd of 45,940 at Citizens Bank Park hoping to clinch a second world championship.

The Rays were just trying to win Game Five of the 1980 World Series to stay alive. A victory would take away the Phillies momentum, cut the Phils’ lead down to 3-2, and send the World Series back to Tampa.

 

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had his ace lefty, Cole Hamels, primed and ready for this start. Hamels had been the MVP of the NLCS.

The 24-year old lefty was in his third big league season. He went 14-10 during the regular season with a 3.09 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, and a 141 ERA+ mark. He allowed 193 hits over 227.1 innings in 33 starts, with a 196/53 K:BB ratio.

During the postseason, Hamels had stepped his game up another notch. Coming into Game Five he had won all four of his playoff starts, allowing just 18 hits over 29 innings.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon would try to slow down the hot Phillies bats with his own 24-year old lefty, Scott Kazmir, who had gone 12-8 with a 3.49 ERA and 166 strikeouts over 152.1 innings.

The game began under the looming threat of rain, but the Phillies ignored the elements, intent on capturing the crown this very night.

In the bottom of the 1st inning, Kazmir was wild, something that happened at times with the young southpaw.

In that opening frame, Kazmir walked both Jayson Werth and Pat Burrell, and hit Chase Utley with a pitch, all around recording a pair of outs.

With two down and the sacks jammed with Phils base runners, up stepped ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’, center fielder Shane Victorino.

Victorino worked his way into a 2-1 hitter’s count, the ripped a liner down the left field line for a base hit. Werth and Utley came home on the base knock, and the Phillies had an early 2-0 lead.

 

Hamels was dealing early, shutting the Rays down over the first 3.1 innings. But with one out in the top of the 4th, Carlos Pena pulled a double to right, and Even Longoria knocked him in with a base hit to center field, cutting the Phillies lead in half.

The Phillies loaded the bases off Kazmir in their half of the 4th, but the lefty got Utley on a grounder to second to end the threat and keep the game at a 2-1 score.

As the game moved into the middle innings, Kazmir stayed wild. When he walked both Ryan Howard and Burrell to lead off the bottom of the 5th inning, Maddon had seen enough.

The Rays manager went to his bullpen for right-hander Grant Balfour, who had been phenomenal out of the pen for Tampa all year.

During the regular season that year, Balfour, a native of Australia, had gone 6-2 with four Saves. He registered a 1.54 ERA, 0.891 WHIP, and had allowed just 28 hits over 58.1 innings with an 82/24 K:BB ratio.

The 30-year old rewarded Maddon’s faith by putting out the fire, retiring Victorino, Pedro Feliz, and Carlos Ruiz in order to get out of the jam with the Phillies on top by just that slim 2-1 margin.

As the game moved to the top of the 6th inning, the rain was getting torrential and puddles had formed in various places around the infield, despite the yeoman work of the grounds crew to try to stay ahead of the elements.

Rays
Apr 6, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) had just turned 23 years old two weeks prior to the 2008 World Series. He would be named the AL Rookie of the Year that season. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hamels maintained his concentration, retiring the first two batters. Then up to the plate stepped 24-year old center fielder “B.J.” Melvin Upton.

Upton slapped a 2-2 pitch right at shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but the combination of the hard hit ball and the slick conditions made it impossible for “JRoll” to handle, and Upton was on at first base.

The speedy Upton then immediately took off for second when Hamels kicked to deliver the first pitch to the next batter, Carlos Pena.

Pena battled Hamels to a 2-2 count, and then sliced a base hit to left field. Upton rolled around ahead of the throw home with the game-tying run, making it a 2-2 score.

A passed ball by Ruiz allowed Pena to move up to 2nd base. But Hamels got Rays’ star Evan Longoria to sky out to center field to end the inning.

At that point, Major League Baseball stepped in, having the grounds crew come out and cover the infield with tarp as the rain poured down. Few realized at the time that the tarp would remain down for two days.

With weather reports calling for the rains to continue overnight, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig made the smart decision, albeit possibly a couple of innings late, to suspend the game at that point.

“Obviously the conditions deteriorated. The grounds crew has done a phenomenal job to keep the game going,” said Bob Dupuy, MLB’s Chief Operating Officer, from down on the field. “But with all the puddling and the wetness, the Commissioner and the (umpire) crew chief Tim Welke decided that the playing conditions were such that we ought to call time and get the tarp on the field.”

 

The following day, Tuesday, October 28th, the rains continued all day long and into the night, and MLB announced fairly early on that the game would remain suspended for yet another day.

The game resumed with both skippers planning on a bullpen battle. Things would pick up with the Phillies coming to bat in the bottom of the 6th in a 2-2 game.

Maddon sent Balfour back out, hoping for his shutdown reliever to shut down the Phillies bats and move the game into the 7th inning still tied.

Hamels spot was due to lead off for the Phils, and after pitching six innings just two days earlier, he was obviously not an option.

Instead, Manuel sent up lefty Geoff Jenkins to pinch-hit. Jenkins worked the count full, then ripped a one-hop liner off the wall in right-center field for his first hit of the postseason.

 

Rollins then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, moving Jenkins over the 3rd base with one out, and bringing Werth to the plate.

On a 2-2 pitch, Werth popped a ball into shallow center field. Rays’ 2nd baseman Akinori Iwamura went out on it, trying to make a basket catch as he ran into center field. The ball dropped from Iwamura’s glove, and Jenkins scampered home with the go ahead run.

The Phillies took that 3-2 lead into the top of the 7th, and Manuel sent hard-throwing Ryan Madson into the game, trying to set up his usual “Bridge to Lidge” bullpen.

After striking out the leadoff man, Madson faced Rays’ veteran Rocco Baldelli. The 27-year old right fielder had been Tampa’s 1st round pick in the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft as the 6th overall pick, but had a largely disappointing, injury plagued career.

Baldelli wasted no time in making up for that disappointment, blasting Madson’s first pitch, a letter-high fastball, over the wall in left-center field for a game-tying home run.
Jason Bartlett, the Rays shortstop, followed with a base hit, and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt, putting the go ahead run in scoring position.

The lefty-hitting Iwamura now stepped in, and Manuel made the move to bring in lefty reliever J.C. Romero.

Iwamura grounded a ball up the middle as Bartlett came racing around third base with a run that would put Tampa up. And then one of the most important defensive plays in Phillies history unfolded.

Utley ranged up the middle deep, fielding Iwamura’s grounder. He turned as if to throw Iwamura out at 1st, which would have been a near impossible play.

Instead, the Phillies’ 2nd baseman pumped a fake throw to first, wheeled around, and fired the ball home as Bartlett sprinted for the plate.

Utley’s throw bounced to catcher Carlos Ruiz, and “Chooch” fielded the ball up the third base line. As Bartlett dove head first for the front of home plate, Ruiz dove at him, and got Bartlett just before he reached home for the third out.

 

The bang-bang play, now known in Phillies lore as “Utley’s Deke”, was typical of the type of hustling, heads-up style that had resulted in Utley receiving the nickname “The Man” from broadcaster Harry Kalas a few years earlier.

The game was now back to a 3-3 tie as the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning. Leading off for the Phils would be left fielder Pat Burrell.

“Pat the Bat” had been the Phillies selection as the #1 overall pick way back in the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft. Having turned 32 years of age just over two weeks earlier, Burrell was a pending free agent, and was likely in his final days with the team.

Burrell was 0-13 to that point in the World Series, and was looking to make a mark in some way. Facing lefty reliever Jay Howell, Burrell worked the count to 1-1.

Howell then tried to loop a curveball over the plate, and Burrell looked as if he knew exactly what was coming. He teed off on the pitch, driving it deep to dead center field, to the deepest part of the park.

The ball banged high off the top of the center field fencing, just a couple of feet from being a home run. Burrell rolled into second base with a double, and the Phillies had that go ahead run in scoring position with nobody out.

 

Manuel then pushed another button, bringing in Eric Bruntlett to run for the slow-footed Burrell. Maddon countered, bringing in submarining righty reliever Chad Bradford.

Victorino tried to bunt Bruntlett over to second base but failed. But then on a 1-2 pitch, he pulled a grounder to second base.
Though thrown out on the play, it acted like a sacrifice, moving Bruntlett over to now just 90 feet from home.
Now up to the plate stepped Feliz. Known as one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, he was not known for his bat.
Feliz had hit just .249 on the season, and had just 10 hits in 45 plate appearances in the postseason to that point.
He fouled the first pitch off, and then Bradford came up with a fastball. Feliz was right on the pitch, ripping a base hit up the middle to score Bruntlett with the run that put the Phillies back on top by a 4-3 score.

 

The game moved into the top of the 8th, and Manuel left Romero out there. The 32-year old lefty from Puerto Rico reward the skipper, retiring the Rays in order to hold that 4-3 lead.
Maddon brought in his talented rookie left-hander, David Price, who got through the bottom of the inning with the score unchanged, and the Phillies went to the top of the 9th needing three outs to win the World Series.
Manuel surprised no one by bringing in his closer, Brad Lidge, who had earned the nickname “Lights Out” that season by going a perfect 48-48 in Save opportunities.
In the postseason leading to this point, Lidge had added on six more Saves. He had allowed just one run, in his first appearance during the NLDS opener against Milwaukee on October 1st, and since then had seven straight scoreless outings.
Lidge got the leadoff man, Longoria, to pop out to Utley. But then catcher Dioner Navarro looped a base hit to right field.
Maddon moved to send speedy Fernando Perez in as a pinch-runner as the tying run, and Perez took off, swiping second base to put the tying run into scoring position.
The versatile Ben Zobrist then ripped a line drive, but right at Werth for the second out. The Rays were now down to their final out, the Phillies one out from a title.
Maddon made the move to bring in powerful lefty hitter Eric Hinske to face Lidge. A two-run homer would put Tampa ahead. More importantly, a base hit would tie the game.
Lidge worked ahead, getting to 0-2 when Hinske was ruled to have gone around trying to check swing at a tough Lidge slider away.
The Phillies were now just one strike away from a World Series crown. The crowd was in a frenzy, frantically waving their rally towels, trying to will their team to victory.
On the 0-2 pitch, Lidge came back once again with his signature pitch, the slider away from the lefty hitter, Hinske flailed and missed. Strike three swinging.

 

 

Ruiz caught the third strike, and rushed the mound as Lidge dropped to his knees and the crowd roared. The two embraced, and were quickly mobbed by their joyous teammates.
The Philadelphia Phillies were world champions for the second time in franchise history. The party would last night most of the night in the City of Brotherly Love, and would continue with a massive parade down Broad Street on Halloween day.

 

 

The Phils would return to the World Series the following season, and would continue to add to this “Phillies Fall Classics” series, which will come to a conclusion over the next couple of days with the final two wins from that 2009 World Series.

Philography: Placido Polanco

Embed from Getty Images

Polanco was the Phillies starting 2B and 3B at various points

 

An important cog in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup for 7 of the 11 seasons between 2002-2012, Placido Polanco can nonetheless be considered the hard-luck player in the Phillies decade of winning excellence to open the 21st century.

His two stints as a starter with the ball club, first in the early part of the decade when he was mostly used as the starting 2nd baseman, and then at the end as the starting 3rd baseman, sandwiched the 2008 World Series victory, of which he was not a part.

But Polanco’s excellent play for the team in that long stretch cannot be overlooked. He brought steady professionalism, along with both winning play and a positive attitude. In the beginning, he helped the team realize it could compete with anyone. In the end,
he was a big part of a record-setting Phils season.

Placido Polanco‘s career began in the Saint Louis Cardinals organization at the tail end of the 20th century. Born and raised in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, he was selected by the Cards in the 19th round of the 1994 amateur draft out of Miami-Dade College.

He began his pro career that summer playing shortstop with the Cardinals rookie league affiliate at age 18, and remained at short when assigned to A-level Peoria in 1995. Then in 1996, Polanco was moved over to 2nd base. He would play mostly that position in both ’96 at High-A and then again for the Cardinals AA-level affiliate at Arkansas in 1997.

Though he did swipe 19 bags in ’97, Polanco was a light-hitter known for his ability to make contact. He was also proving highly skilled with the glove, and he graded outstanding in overall baseball smarts. Many in the organization, as well as outside evaluators, were pegging him as a future utility infielder who would definitely reach the Major Leagues as the 90’s were drawing to a close.

He finally achieved the Big League dream with a call-up to the Cardinals in July of 1998. In his 2nd game, his first start, Polanco was installed as the leadoff hitter playing 2nd base in a game vs the Reds at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. In the bottom of the first inning, Polanco lined a clean base hit to short rightfield off Reds’ lefty Brett Tomko for the first hit of his career.

Later in that 1998 season, in a game at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis vs the Florida Marlins, Polanco was given a start at shortstop by manager Tony LaRussa. With one-out in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Polanco drove a ball deep down the leftfield line against Rafael Medina for his first career homerun.

It was just a first taste of life in the Big Leagues for Polanco, who would split time from 1998-2000 between the Majors and AAA. Each year his time with the Cardinals increased, and finally by the end of August 2000 he was the regular starting 2nd baseman in Saint Louis as the Cards won the N.L. Central crown. He saw regular action that year during the team’s first post-season appearance in 13 years, a tough NLDS loss to Atlanta.

Over the course of that first full 2000 season, Polanco had been bounced around the infield from 2nd to short to 3rd. His versatility fully established, he was finally given a chance in 2001 to settle at a spot. He saw 103 games, 92 starts, at 2nd base that season, while also seeing a career-high 42 games at shortstop.

Saint Louis again reached the postseason, this time as a Wildcard, and again took the NLDS to a decisive game. But again, Polanco and the Cards fell short, losing in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to the Arizona Diamondbacks. A pattern of postseason frustration was being established that would see a World Series crown always just beyond Polanco’s grasp.

In 2002, Polanco was moved over to 3rd base by the Cardinals as the regular starter, seeing 131 games at the position. But then just before the non-waiver trade deadline, on July 29th, a stunner. Polanco was included in a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils were looking to move disgruntled 3rd baseman Scott Rolen, and found a match in Saint Louis.

Now beginning a new chapter of his career in Philadelphia, Polanco finished out the 2002 season with a Phils club that had come in 2nd place in the NL East, just 2 games back, during the 2001 season. The ’02 team struggled through a losing September to finish a disappointing 80-81. It would prove to be the team’s last losing season for a decade.

In 2003 the Phillies were closing Veteran’s Stadium, and wanted to open the new Citizens Bank Park on an upswing. The club brought in free agents Jim Thome, David Bell, and Dan Plesac to upgrade the overall roster. The team responded by battling into late September in a dogfight with Florida and Houston for the NL Wildcard spot. However, 6 straight losses in a season-closing 1-7 stretch dropped them out of playoff contention. They finished 10 games over .500, but finished 5 games behind the Florida Marlins.

Polanco was the regular 2nd baseman in both that final 2003 season at The Vet, and in the inaugural 2004 season at Citizens Bank Park. In ’04, the team again finished 10 games over .500, but they finished 10 behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown and 6 games behind Houston for the Wildcard. They were obviously close, but not quite a championship contender.

That fall of 2004, Polanco became a free agent for the first time. In the end, liking his place with the team and the direction in which they seemed headed, he chose to sign a 5-year deal with the Phillies. His future was secure financially, and it appeared that he had a pivotal role on a team that looked to be a consistent contender into the future on the field as well.

His on-field production was also improving as he moved into his prime years and gained more consistent playing time. In 2003 he hit .289 with 14 homers and 14 steals, had 30 doubles, and scored 87 runs. In 2004, at age 28, he upped his average to .298 and his homers to 17.

2005 would be a near-miss for the Phillies playoff fortunes. The club won a couple more games, finishing 14 over the .500 mark, but still fell 2 games short of the Braves in the division. Perhaps more excruciating, they missed the Wildcard by just a single game. Polanco, however, was not around for the near-miss. That contract he signed did not have full no-trade protection.

On June 8th of 2005, the Phillies dealt Polanco away in an effort to bolster their pitching staff for the 2nd half. He was sent off to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Ramon Martinez and Ugueth Urbina. The Phillies felt Polanco was expandable now that Chase Utley was ready to fully take over at 2nd base.

In the American League for the first time in his career, Polanco was also given a steady position for the first time. He would be the Tigers starting 2nd baseman for the next 4+ seasons. In the best portion of the prime of his career, from ages 29-33, Polanco hit a combined .311, and in 2006 he helped lead the Tigers to a Wildcard playoff berth.

In the 2006 playoffs, the Tigers would roll through the Yankees and A’s, winning 7 of 8 games to take the American League Pennant for the first time in 22 seasons. Polanco was integral. The Detroit 2nd baseman hit .413 in the ALDS vs the Yanks, and then .529 in the 4-game sweep of Oakland in the ALCS for which he was named the Most Valuable Player.

Moving on to the World Series for what would be the only time in his career, the Tigers were taking on his former team, the Saint Louis Cardinals. Polanco would also be squaring off with Rolen, the player for whom he was traded to Philly four years earlier. The two teams split the first two games in Detroit, and headed to St. Louis for the next 3 games.

The Tigers knew they needed to win just once in order to ensure at least a return trip to Detroit. It would never come. In Saint Louis, the Cardinals swept all three games to win the World Series. For his part, Polanco was almost non-existent. In his only Fall Classic he didn’t register a single hit, going 0-17 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Rolen was strong, hitting .421 with a homer and 5 runs scored in winning his lone career championship.

In 2007, Polanco would show that his previous postseason failures were not indicative of any erosion in his talent. At age 31, Polanco hit .341 with a .388 on-base percentage, he produced a career-high 67 rbi, scored 105 runs, reached 200 hits for the only time in his career, including a career-best 36 doubles. The result was his first-ever All-Star Game, as well as receiving the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards.

In both 2007 and in 2009, the Tigers would finish 2nd in the A.L. Central Division but were unable to secure a playoff spot. Polanco continued to be solid, hitting .307 for a losing Detroit team in 2008, and then winning his 2nd Gold Glove while driving in a knew career-high 72 runs in 2009.  Also in 2008, Polanco had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, taking his oath before a game right on the field at Comerica Park.

Following the 2009 season, the 5-year deal that he had originally signed with Philadelphia was now up, and he was again a free agent. The Tigers were ready to move on from their 2nd baseman, who would be turning 34-years old in 2010.

Meanwhile, back in Philly, the team had won the 2008 World Series and returned there in 2009. Their 3rd baseman, Pedro Feliz, was turning 35 years old in 2010 and had his contract expiring. Despite his not having played 3rd base since leaving Philly in 2005, the Phils approached Polanco about the possibility of moving back to the hot corner. Polanco jumped at a reunion.

Signing a 3-year deal to become the Phillies new 3rd baseman, the man who had become known as “Polly” set out to show that he could still produce at a high level. In his first season back in 2010, he played a strong 3rd base, and the Phillies reached the NLCS before losing in six games to San Francisco.

The following year of 2011, both the team and Polanco upped their games. The Phillies set a franchise record with 102 victories in rolling to their 5th consecutive National League East Division crown. Polanco made his 2nd All-Star team, his first in the National League, and would win the Gold Glove. In doing so, Placido Polanco became the first player to win a Gold Glove at two different positions.

With all of the 2011 success, the ending would prove disastrous for the team, and would signal the beginning of the end of Polanco’s time in Philly and his career as a whole. The Phils were edged out by his old Cardinals team in the NLDS thanks to a 1-0 loss in the decisive game. As in the 2006 World Series, Polanco again did not produce against them, going 2-19.

In 2012, Polanco and the Phillies suffered from injuries and began to fall apart. The team struggled to a .500 finish, missing the postseason for the first time since 2006. Polanco’s season would be ended by injury just as September began. But before it happened he had one more moment of glory. On May 14th he cracked a homerun off Houston Astros reliever David Carpenter for the 2,000th hit of this Major League career.

Granted free agency once again following that 2012 season, approaching age 37 and wanting to spend more time with his wife and two small children, Polanco considered retirement. He would only play if it could be near them, limiting him to the southeastern clubs. He signed eventually with the Miami Marlins, playing one final season as their 3rd baseman before finally retiring.

In a career that spanned parts of 16 seasons, Placido Polanco fashioned a .297 batting average in nearly 8,000 plate appearances spread across a little over 1,900 games. He appeared at 2nd base in more than 1,000 games and at 3rd in 751, as well as 122 at shortstop. He won the Gold Glove in both the AL and the NL, was an All-Star in both leagues, and had done both while with the Phillies.

Polly also proved to be very reliable. He finished with well over 500 plate appearances in every season for which he was given the opportunity during his prime years, 10 of the 11 seasons between ages 25-34. The lone exception was 2004 in Detroit when he barely missed at 495 thanks to a mid-August to mid-September injury.

A career near-.300 hitter who was a great defender. An All-Star caliber player who proved to be both versatile and dependable. A consummate professional who was well-liked and well-respected by both his peers and by fans. That is how Placido Polanco will be remembered by baseball fans in general, and Phillies fans in particular.

Tampa Bay’s red-hot Rays are Cole’d off in Game One

Embed from Getty Images

Hamels shut down the Rays in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series at Tropicana Field in Tampa

The tall, lanky, mega-talented Phillies lefthander, one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, took the mound for his first-ever appearance in the World Series. He seemed in complete command as his team staked him to a 2-0 lead.

Cole Hamels in last night’s opener of the 2008 World Series between the Phils and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field? Well, yes actually. But the same exact scenario could have been written about Steve Carlton in Game #2 of the 1980 World Series against the Kansas City Royals at Veteran’s Stadium, spotlighted in a story at this blog just two days ago.

Though there are differences, there are also many similarities shared by the two most talented left-handed starting pitchers to ever don Phillies pinstripes.

Carlton mixed in a moving fastball and a solid curveball with his devastating signature slider. Hamels mixes in that same fastball-curveball combo with his own devastating changeup. Both have led the Phillies as the staff pitching ace into the World Series. And now both can say that the team won their start, albeit after overcoming a few bumps in the road during the game.

‘Super Steve’ mowed down those Royals through five shutout innings, but KC got to him for three runs in the 7th. He ultimately went eight innings, allowing 10 hits and six walks, but the Phils won the game 6-4 thanks to their own four-run 8th inning rally.

Hamels had to endure his own rough stretch, but was ultimately in far greater control than Carlton had been. The young lefty mowed through the first two innings without a scratch, usually a sign that the other team is in for a long night.

Tampa Bay loaded the bases in the 3rd before Hamels induced young Rays’ star outfielder B.J. Upton to hit into a doubleplay to end the inning.

In the Phils 4th, Carlos Ruiz knocked in Shane Victorino with a groundout and Hamels had a 3-0 lead. Carl Crawford then touched Hamels for a two-out solo homerun in the bottom of the inning and cut that lead to 3-1.

The Rays then rallied again in the 5th, but Hamels induced another doubleplay to get out of the jam. This time it came courtesy of a nice play by 3rd base glove whiz Pedro Feliz. Hamels then settled down and went through the 7th inning without being challenged further.

Manager Charlie Manuel then turned the ball over to the bullpen combo of setup man Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge. What that has meant for the Phillies this season has been an automatic victory. Madson and Lidge would close it out without incident, and the Phillies had a key victory in this pivotal Fall Classic opening matchup.

Hamels had yet another strong outing to pad his already bulging playoff resume. He won the NLCS MVP award as a pair of his strong starts led the Phils into the Series. He had previously been strong in last season’s NLDS loss to Colorado, and in this year’s NLDS victory over Milwaukee.

Cole Hamels is proving that he may be Carlton’s talent equal, though he still has many years to go before he can think of joining ‘Lefty’ in the Hall of Fame. But his performance last night has the Phils up in this Series.

Now it is Brett Myers turn. Myers, who plays an ’emotions on his sleeves’ ying to Hamels‘ ‘calm and cool’ yang, needs to harness his talent and control those emotions. If he does, he can take the Rays bats that Cole made go cold and put them on some seriously thin ice in this World Series.