Less than two months ago, Ty Kelly wasn't on the Phillies' roster.
He'd spent his nine seasons in pro baseball with five different organizations. And after the Mets designated him for assignment in early April, Kelly bounced from Queens to Toronto's Triple A team in Buffalo before finally landing in Philadelphia.
So when the same Kelly — who entered Thursday night with just 87 career major-league at-bats under his belt — stepped to the dish in the bottom of the eighth against a lights-out Chris Sale, he was facing one of the hottest arms in baseball, one with a 0.93 WHIP and a 95-plus mph heater.
But it was the career minor leaguer and not the five-time All-Star who delivered, with Kelly slapping a hanging slider from Sale down the left-field line. Phils third base coach Juan Samuel waved Andrew Knapp home for what would wind up being the game-winning run in a 1-0 victory (see game story).
The double was only the seventh hit for Kelly this season. For a guy who has seen little action this year, the moment did not faze him.
"The expectations are kind of tempered a little bit because [Sale's] pitching so well," Kelly said. "You're just going up there trying to do something positive, try to hit a ball hard, and hope it falls ... I'm pretty relaxed going into those kind of at-bats and I don't feel a ton of pressure. If anything, it's less pressure against someone like that."
Sale cruised through the first 7 1/3 frames. The southpaw struck out 10 and had surrendered only two hits before Knapp came up a third time in the eighth and earlier results hadn't been pretty for the first-year catcher against Boston's ace. Yet after striking out and grounding back to the pitcher, Knapp roped one into left to set up Kelly for what would be the crucial point of the night.
Like Thursday's hero, Knapp also has seen limited chances this year. Backing up Cameron Rupp, the Phillies' 2013 second-round selection made just the 27th appearance of his rookie campaign Thursday and entered with only 19 hits in 81 at-bats.
Yet, as Knapp made his way around third, he had nothing on his mind but sending his team on its way to a win, one that ultimately snapped an eight-game skid.
"I knew anything could happen down [in the corner]," Knapp said. "But the mentality you have to have going around the bases is, 'Yes, yes, yes,' and then they stop you. I was going until he stopped me and [Samuel] just kept waving me."
For a struggling lineup, it was another quiet night.
The first seven guys in the Phillies' order mustered only two hits and a walk to go along with eight strikeouts vs. Sale. No one seemed to be able to figure out his side-arm stuff that had already earned him eight wins and a sub-three ERA this season.
So when Pete Mackanin's team needed a lift and Sale made what he called "the worst pitch of the game at the wrong time," a pair of unexpected offensive outlets got the job done.
"It's always huge when you get a pinch hit and it happens to win the game for you," Mackanin said. "It was a good call by Juan Samuel — late in the game, I like to see him be aggressive like that. ... All in all, there's a lot to be said for [Knapp and Kelly]."
The last time Kelly came to bat in as critical a situation as Thursday's against this caliber of a pitcher was last year's wild-card game when he pinch-hit for the Mets against Madison Bumgarner. Although he did turn that eighth-inning chance into a base knock as well, he was stranded on second.
This time, although Kelly found himself on second at the end of the eighth once again, he'd done his duty — and against one of baseball's best arms, adding to the best moments of his still-short major-league career.
"Those are the at-bats that, as a player, you want," Kelly said. "It's way harder to hit down 10 [runs] or up 10 against somebody because there's nothing riding on the at-bat. So when you've got a chance to just put a ball in play and it could move the guy over, there are tons of positives that can come out of an at-bat like that."
So what's different about this one?
"I don't know. Maybe more of my friends will text me tonight," Kelly laughed.