You know it’s been a rough season when your team is 45-54 and you’re as optimistic as you’ve been at any point since the season-opening 1-0 victory.
Three wins against the Milwaukee Brewers, all coming in their last at bat, two by walkoffs, one in extra innings.
Can you create a more dramatic trio of victories for a team that desperately needs victories to convince itself, its fan base, and most importantly, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr, that it has what it takes to push for a late postseason berth?
After all, the July 31st trade deadline is in six days. That gives the Phillies five more games for Amaro to decide whether his team should be buyers or sellers for the season’s final two months.
Personally, I’m a fan of keeping this team together, and I think most would agree. Injuries really hampered this team early in the season, notably to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay, and the team is just now hitting their groove with all three playing regularly.
However, over the past three games, a new hero has emerged for the Phillies. Your average fan probably learned the name in one of those games. And even your bigger fans would have likely had difficulty remembering at any given point this season whether he was in the major leagues or Lehigh Valley Triple-A.
After all, this is a player who has been up and down between the major leagues and the minor leagues so many times that they should invent a word for it, like reporters did when the New England Patriots kept releasing and re-signing safety Ross Ventrone (he got Kratz’d doesn’t quite have the same ring as he got Ventrone’d).
He’s not quite at 21 transactions though, and with the way he’s played over the past few games, it’s going to be difficult for manager Charlie Manuel to send him back to the minor leagues.
That would be third string catcher Erik Kratz, who is only in the major leagues for one reason, and that is because backup Brian Schneider is on the disabled list with an ankle sprain, which he suffered four weeks ago.
But lately, the unassuming career minor leaguer has been making himself known.
In the first game of the Phillies’ series against the Milwaukee Brewers, Kratz was inserted into the game at third base as a pinch-runner for Ryan Howard with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Kratz scored the winning run on a headfirst slide into home plate after Ty Wigginton lined a ball to left field.
The next day, Kratz belted a two-run pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning of a game the Phillies trailed 6-1. The blast woke up his teammates’ bats, and when the inning ended, the Phillies had rallied to take a dramatic 7-6 lead. They held on to win, their third straight in their final at bat of the game.
And on Wednesday’s series finale day game, Kratz started in place of Carlos Ruiz. He banged out three hits, including two doubles. The second came against hated closer Francisco Rodriguez, as the Phillies trailed 6-5 with one out in the bottom of the tenth and John Mayberry Jr on first. After his double, Kratz was pinch-run for by Mike Fontenot, who scored the winning run on a two-out line drive single by Jimmy Rollins.
That makes three straight games that Kratz has played a major, major role in the team’s victory. I’d argue, and I think most would agree, that his role in the victories has increased in each of the past three games.
There’s no way to research this (I wish) but find me the last time the 25th man on a team contributed so much to three consecutive victories. Make them three consecutive victories in the team’s final at bat, and I wonder if any third-string catcher has ever equaled Kratz’s heroics.
It appears that the Phillies are a different team now. It really does.
The games on Monday and Tuesday may have changed the course of the entire season. No longer are we watching the first-half 2012 Phillies where the game was as good as over if the Phillies trailed after six innings (or even if the score was tied after six innings).
We’re watching the 2007 and 2008 Phillies, with Erik Kratz playing the role of Chris Coste, another veteran catcher who took forever to reach the major leagues.
It’s the little things that change the course of the season for a losing baseball team. One play, one bounce, one hit.
And if–I repeat, IF–the Phillies make the playoffs this season, and that’s still highly unlikely, everything started with Kratz’s pinch-hit home run on Tuesday.
Only time will tell how it will end. But I’d like it to end with Kratz and the Phillies taking a victory parade down Broad Street.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.