Phillies

What was Sean Rodriguez thinking with those comments last night?

What was Sean Rodriguez thinking with those comments last night?

This might be the first walk-off win in Phillies history that made the fanbase dislike the hero more the next day. 

Sean Rodriguez, harshly criticized for a lack of production at the plate — albeit in irregular playing time — chose last night as the time to air his grievances. 

Some of what he said was understandable. The Phillies are six games over .500 amid myriad injuries and are somehow one game out of the second wild-card spot, yet many in this town have viewed the team through a negative lens for months. There tends to be silence or apathy after normal wins and vitriol after any loss. But you can’t exactly blame the fans for that. They’ve waited nearly eight years for a playoff run and thought this team was the one to break that drought. If that’s “entitled,” good luck convincing many fans they’re wrong for feeling it.

The response to Rhys Hoskins lately has shown how antsy this city is for its baseball team to win consistently. The Phillies have not yet gone on a run and the season is more than 80 percent complete. Hoskins’ second-half slump has affected the team’s ability to make a run, and on Monday night he was booed more loudly than ever before. 

Hoskins handled it well, though. He deflected when asked about it and focused more on the team win. 

Rodriguez’ comments did not sit well with the Phillies fanbase. The key word he used was “entitled,” though his message was a bit more nuanced than that. He was trying to make clear how difficult the role of a pinch-hitter is. And that guys struggle, and boos and harsh words don’t help. 

Look, any time a fanbase, and particularly this fanbase, feels like it is being told how to act, it does not go over well. 

Rodriguez did have a useful point about pinch-hitting, though most every baseball fan knows it is a difficult role. Rodriguez scoffed when a reporter asked Monday night whether the walk-off felt even better given his recent struggles. Rodriguez looked at the reporter like he had two heads, didn’t acknowledge the struggles and spoke about almost always facing a tough pitcher because the bulk of his pinch-hit appearances take place late in close games. 

Not really true, though — it’s not as if Rodriguez has been facing Aroldis Chapman the last five weeks. 

The two biggest reasons Rodriguez is here are to play all over the diamond and to hit lefties. Lately, he hasn’t hit lefties. (Monday’s walk-off was Rodriguez’ first home run against a righty since July 22, 2018.)

In his last 15 at-bats against lefties, he is 1 for 15 with 10 strikeouts. And while that list does include tough lefties Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, there are more mediocre or worse arms on the list than aces or relief studs. 

Here is that list: Francisco Liriano, Jarlin Garcia, Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley, Joey Lucchesi twice, Jose Quintana, Connor Menez, Will Smith, Bumgarner twice, Aaron Bummer, T.J. McFarland and Ross Detwiler twice. 

Bumgarner, Smith, Quintana and maybe Lucchesi aside, not exactly a murderer’s row. That sample size of 15 ABs is small, but what matters right now is not the predictive nature of it but rather that those at-bats happened, and they have not helped a team in a playoff push win. Phillies fans have not been wrong to question lately what Rodriguez provides offensively that someone like Maikel Franco or Phil Gosselin cannot. 

Many this morning have gone the route of saying Rodriguez and players in general need a thicker skin. So, too, does the fanbase, because it’s pretty lame to not accept any return fire from the player(s) it buries the most. 

But last night was still such a strange time for Rodriguez to make that the story. It was a moment he could have built genuine goodwill and portrayed himself as accountable and understanding of the criticism while hopeful the fans could alter their approach a bit. He did not effectively convey that message, in large part because he conveyed it in a one-sided way, absolving himself of blame. 

It will be interesting to hear how Rodriguez is received tonight and the rest of the season. Monday night produced an exciting Phillies win, and here we are less than 12 hours later discussing a totally different topic. 

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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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