What’s next for Luke Williams?
A walk on the moon?
Seriously. Have you seen what this kid has done the last few weeks?
First, he lights up the stat sheet for the Phillies’ Triple A Lehigh Valley team, then he joins Team USA and leads that club in hitting while helping it qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then he gets the call every ballplayer dreams of, the one telling him he’s headed to the big leagues.
And next thing you know, he’s standing on the field at Citizens Bank Park on a hot, muggy night, hugging his mom and dad and brother and sister.
“You can’t make this up,” said the 24-year-old Californian, his eyes misty from the moment. “It’s pretty incredible.”
Yes, it was.
The Phillies were down to their last out Wednesday night when Williams, on his second day in the majors, stepped to the plate and belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift his team to a dramatic 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.
Williams’ first big-league homer came on the same night he hit his first big-league double and one night after he bunted for his first big-league hit.
Before the game-winning homer, which came on an 0-1 slider from lefty closer Will Smith, the Phillies had not had a hit since the fourth inning. That hit was a double by Williams.
Williams’ heartstopping, line-drive homer to left, came two batters after Andrew McCutchen worked an eight-pitch, full-count walk to give the Phillies a little hope.
Williams turned the hope into a victory -- one that pitchers Zach Eflin (six innings, one run) and Ranger Suarez (three scoreless innings) richly deserved – and a personal dream come true.
What a way to cap your first big-league start – with a raucous celebration at home plate.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever have words to describe this moment,” said Williams, who was a third-round draft pick of the Phillies in 2015. “I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
With years of experience and perspective, manager Joe Girardi could figure it out.
“There’s tons of emotion there,” he said. “This game is so much fun and can be heartbreaking at the same time because of moments like that.”
Williams hit .444 (8 for 18) with a double, a triple, a homer and six RBIs in four games to help Team USA qualify for the Olympics last week. He won’t be going to Tokyo because the Phillies needed him in the big leagues, but that’s OK.
“This has always been something I’ve dreamed of,” he said of making the majors.
Eflin was out of the game, watching the ninth inning in the trainer’s room with a couple of other pitchers, when Williams stepped to the plate.
“It was electric, absolutely electric,” Eflin said. “We were in the trainer’s room. We spoke it into existence. We said, ‘Captain America is going to end it right here.’ We said it and he clubbed it. We were freaking out.
“I think the boys needed this, needed to see that passion and that fire. For it to come down to two outs in the ninth and for Luke to club a two-run homer. Absolutely, it can be a momentum shift heading into tomorrow. We’re fired up. It very easily could be one of those moments in a season.”
The Phillies have had trouble getting anything going consistently this season. After 60 games, they are 29-31, four games behind the NL East-leading Mets and a half-game behind the second-place Braves.
Fans haven't gotten fully behind this team. Citizens Bank Park is open at full capacity, yet the crowd Wednesday night (13,552) was the third-smallest in the ballpark's history. Tuesday night's crowd (13,125) was the smallest.
Maybe Williams’ heroics will bring out a few more fans Thursday afternoon when the Phils will have a chance to win the series behind their best pitcher, Zack Wheeler.
During his postgame Zoom conference with reporters, Williams racked his brain trying to think of the last time he’d hit a walk-off homer. Finally, he recalled doing it as a teenager in a travel ball tournament.
“To do it in the big leagues is pretty indescribable,” he said. “I thought my phone blew up with texts the other day. I can’t imagine tonight.”
Moments after the home run sealed the victory, Williams was joined on the field in front of the dugout by his parents, Mark and Jeannine, brother Ike and sister Samantha. The scene was both tender and triumphant. Mom and dad had been in Florida for the Olympic qualifying tournament last weekend, flew home to southern California on Monday then back east to Philadelphia when their son was called up on Tuesday. Samantha came in from Iowa, where she plays softball and Iowa State, and Ike from Utah, where he’s a student at the University of Utah. Older brother Jake could not make it in because he'd been out of the country and had to go through COVID protocols.
“It’s pretty incredible to have them here to witness this in person,” Williams said. “It wasn’t just me that got here. I had a lot of people help me out, family, friends, coaches.
“It hasn’t been the easiest journey. This is pretty awesome.”
Yeah, it was.