Since debuting in the major leagues a little over two years ago, Rhys Hoskins has played hard, he’s played hurt — remember the broken jaw? — and he’s produced. Seventy-seven homers and 217 RBIs in 332 games, to be exact.
Hoskins is now mired in a terrible slump, one that has dragged his batting average down to .233. He popped up with the bases loaded and the game on the line in the ninth inning Monday night and was booed — loudly — on his way back to the dugout.
Hoskins heard the boos. It was impossible not to. But they did not bother him.
“We won the game,” he said. “We won the game.
“I couldn’t care less about (the boos). We won the game. Yeah, we won the game.”
The Phillies won the game, 6-5, over the Pittsburgh Pirates in 11 innings at Citizens Bank Park because the guy a couple lockers down from Hoskins came through with an absolutely huge walk-off home run.
Pirates reliever Michael Feliz got Sean Rodriguez to swing through a pair of sliders to run the count to 1-2. Feliz, obviously, was feeling pretty good about getting Rodriguez to swing through a third straight slider so he threw the pitch again.
This time, Rodriguez made him pay with a game-winning line drive over the left-field wall.
Rodriguez sprinted around the bases and was mobbed at home plate. After the game, party lights, freshly mounted to the clubhouse walls, shot beams of color around the happy room. The Phillies earned some celebration time because they rallied for three runs in the eighth, all on a pair of homers, survived a blown save from Hector Neris in the ninth, then walked it off with another homer in the 11th.
The victory left the Phils at 68-62, just a game off the pace in the wild-card race, with 32 to play.
“Every game is critically important right now,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Tonight felt like a playoff game and I think our players treated it like a playoff game and gave everything they have and I think that’s going to be the case every night going forward.”
The victory had to have been doubly sweet for Kapler. Over the last month, coinciding with Maikel Franco’s being sent to the minors twice, Kapler has been questioned and criticized for keeping Rodriguez on his bench. The manager has staunchly defended keeping Rodriguez because he likes the player’s versatility in the field and his quality of at-bats as a pinch-hitter.
But lately at the plate — albeit in limited at-bats — Rodriguez has struggled. He was 1 for 20 with 11 strikeouts in the month of August before his game-winning homer.
“He put a pretty good swing on that ball,” Kapler said. “He had a nice at-bat earlier in the game, a big walk for us, as well. He played some good center field for us. I understand some of the criticism and I was really happy for Sean. When he came off the field, it was a pretty happy moment for him. I think he was even taking some heat from his teammates for taking a long time to get in the clubhouse after a long celebration. Our team was as happy for Sean as they could possibly be.”
Rodriguez was also happy.
“It’s always nice to contribute to a ‘W,’ “ he said. "The guys in here want to win."
Rodriguez’ recent struggles leading up to his big moment of triumph were a natural part of the narrative Monday night. But Rodriguez got a little feisty and defensive when reporters mentioned those struggles. He alluded to the difficulty of staying sharp when a hitter gets only limited at-bats. He mentioned the difficulty of facing top relievers late in games.
“I’m just defending that position, not me as a player, per se,” Rodriguez said. “I think that’s the misconception a lot of people make. ‘Well, you can’t struggle. You can’t go that bad.’ Every hitter does it. The only difference is when someone is playing every day, there’s a chance that they’re going to sneak a hit in here and there.”
Rodriguez admitted that he was aware that his spot on the roster had become an issue with fans and critics alike.
“Who’s looking bad and feeling entitled when you hear stuff like that?” he said. “I’m not the one booing. I’m not the one screaming. I’m not the one saying pretty disgusting things at times. That seems pretty entitled. You’re just making yourself look pretty bad as an individual, as a person, as a fan. That’s tough.
"There’s still a lot of good fans, though. Those are the ones I hear and pay attention to. The few that might be behind home plate and say, ‘Hey, Sean, keep doing your thing. Don’t worry about it. Things will come around.’ “
They came around for Rodriguez on Monday night.
Maybe Hoskins, hitting .164 since the All-Star break, will be next.
Rodriguez is pulling for his teammate to turn the boos into cheers.
“The guy has 60-plus homers in three years and you’re booing him,” Rodriguez said. “Explain that to me. That’s entitled fans. I don’t know if it’s them feeling like they’re owed something. There’s nobody in here that doesn't want to win. That’s what sucks. When we hear that, we’ve learned to try and take that and use it like we should. But if I sat here and just buried you every single day verbally, is that helping?”
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