The Dodgers ran out of relievers, and that was just fine with Trevor Plouffe. “I’m going to win the game right here,” Plouffe said to himself as he walked to the plate in the bottom of the 16th, set to face Dodgers outfielder Kiké Hernandez, whose appearance on the mound was somewhat inexplicable, given that Rich Hill—an actual pitcher—was warmed up and ready. The Dodgers punted this game, while the Phillies played it like they know the season could end up coming down to one game, and that’s why Philadelphia walked off after midnight with one of its biggest and best wins of the year.
The 7-4 win started the previous evening, and went the Dodgers’ way early. But three runs in the seventh tied the game, while the Philly bullpen went to work, putting up 10 straight scoreless innings. When Plouffe realized Hernandez was going to start the 16th, he asked Gabe Kapler for any advice he might have on facing a position player, perhaps firsthand experience. That was not a fruitful request; Kapler told Plouffe about the time in 2009 he struck out against Nick Swisher. But after Hernandez walked two of the first three batters, Plouffe sent the fans home happy. Late—the game lasted 5:55—but happy.
It is serendipitous timing that just yesterday evening Chris wrote about MLB setting a record for the most position players pitching, and how it takes away from the specialness of the thing. That trend is a function of smart baseball; it makes sense for teams to give up on a game they can’t win rather than tax their bullpen with even one extra inning of work. But that’s not at all what the Dodgers did last night.
Rich Hill, who is scheduled to start Thursday, was throwing in the bullpen, but rather than turn to him or another starter, Dave Roberts went with Hernandez. Why? Roberts said afterward that he was only going to bring in Hill for a save situation, and since the Dodgers were on the road and tied, that would’ve meant throwing more than one inning. Well, what’s wrong with that? It’s hard to conceive of bullpen usage that doesn’t, once a game enters extras, save a long man to go as many innings as needed. Or at least a starter on his throw day.
Meanwhile, starter Vince Velasquez pitched the 16th for the Phillies, two days after throwing seven innings, and picked up the win. The Phillies used 22 of 25 players on their roster. Gabe Kapler talked about going to the mattresses to win this game, because once you’ve had a stirring comeback and have a chance to come out on top after midnight, a win can count more in motivation than even just its effect in the standings.
“We felt like that game was worth going all-in for,” Kapler said. “Every game is, but certainly when you come back like we did, you reward your guys by fighting with them by saying, ‘This game means everything to us.’ So, that’s how we approached it.”
The Phillies are now all alone in first, a game up on the Braves. The Dodgers fell to just a half-game clear of the Diamondbacks. When a season ends, and teams that missed out on the playoffs or even just the division by a game or two are counting up the what-ifs and if-onlys, there are always a few that stand out. Winnable losses. They sting, badly. The Phillies played this one game like their season could ultimately depend on it, which it could. The Dodgers didn’t play to win, and so they didn’t. We’ll see if it matters.