Phillies

Cole Irvin gets the South Philly treatment in first home start — and no, we don't mean boos

Cole Irvin gets the South Philly treatment in first home start — and no, we don't mean boos

Cole Irvin got an accurate taste of Philly Friday night in his first career start at Citizens Bank Park.

No, he did not get booed. Go somewhere else with that.

Rather, in his first career plate appearance in The Show, the southpaw Irvin worked a 10-pitch walk and got the loudest ovation of the week at CBP. 

Dating back to the Brett Myers walk off CC Sabathia in the 2008 NLDS, South Philadelphia has just always shown an appreciation for pitcher at-bats that you don't see or hear elsewhere.

"That was awesome. That was really cool," Irvin said of the crowd getting louder and louder as he worked his walk, which was followed by a two-run homer from Andrew McCutchen.

"A unique experience for sure, first time hitting in a big-league ballpark. Man, I wanted to get a base hit there, but I guess a walk works too. But Cutch coming up with the two-out home run there, on a 3-2 count, I think that really transcends us into the next time we had two outs and we scored some more runs. It was a quality team win, and you can't look past that. It was a lot of fun to be a part of."

McCutchen's two-run homer after Irvin's walk tied the game and was the first of three two-out rallies in consecutive innings for the Phillies. 

Irvin, meanwhile, showed some cojones for the second straight start, working his way out of potential disaster in both the second and third innings when the Phillies' infield defense failed him. The Phillies nearly flubbed four consecutive plays in the second inning of their 5-4 win, with every infielder except Maikel Franco partially to blame. Irvin himself took some blame as well. More on that second inning here

The contact-oriented Irvin weaved his way out of those jams in a way that makes you think he can stick at this level. It's merely a two-game sample, but this is a good Rockies team and at no point did Irvin lose his composure, even when he couldn't record outs on two comebackers that he fielded cleanly.

"Poise is huge here, right?" manager Gabe Kapler said. "We've seen what happens when the game gets a little fast on you. It can spin out of control rapidly. I don't think Cole is going to allow that to happen very often. If he keeps his wits about him, more times than not he's going to be athletic off the mound and play good defense. You can see that in him. Even though he wasn't able to execute on defense today, you can see he has the athletic ability to do so. You can see he will put himself in positions to make plays.

"Cole had every opportunity to unravel there in the second. We talked about what some of his strengths are. I think the first one is poise. He's so aware of what's going on around him. He never has that wide-eyed look. He comes into the dugout fully focused. He knows where he missed the mark in the previous inning. He knows where he has to make improvements."

Of the 18 outs Irvin recorded, 13 came on three pitches or fewer. Who cares that he struck out two batters? Not every pitcher across baseball needs to miss bats to succeed. There are exceptions to every rule. The whole league is obsessed with missing bats. It doesn't mean you have to zig along with everyone else. Zagging works sometimes too.

"You've got to trust your defense. Unfortunately, I was the guy that I didn't trust that much," Irvin said. "Just having Rhys (Hoskins) and a couple guys saying, 'Hey, get another ground ball and just work through it.' Having guys behind me, that's what I needed. That's kind of what I relied on the rest of the start, is knowing that the team was behind me."

Irvin has a refreshing brand of self-awareness. When asked whether the game has slowed down for him yet, he provided an answer more honest than you'd get from many pitchers.

"Depends on the situation," he said with a grin. "Baseball's gonna be baseball. It's going to speed up on you, it's going to slow down on you. You've just got to stay consistent. I think the biggest thing is trust J.T. (Realmuto)."

Many tests await Irvin, but the early results are promising. Maybe the left-handed starting pitcher who helps the Phillies' rotation in 2019 mustn't come from outside the organization.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman break down potential compromises between MLB players and owners to get a deal done and baseball back on our screens.

• Gut-feelings/educated guesses: Will there be a 2020 MLB season?

• How can these sides stop circling around each other and find a compromise?

• Ideas for a pay structure.

• What would a 50-game or 60-game season look like schedule-wise?

• Phillies and other clubs hemorrhaging money right now.

• Memories from next week's classic Phillies-Dodgers NLCS re-air.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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