Tommy Joseph had just etched his name into Philadelphia Phillies history, however light the slice. He had knocked in two runs with a single, slammed his first career home run, and to cap it off, niftily dove to spur a 3-1 groundout, the final out of a game Wednesday night against the Miami Marlins.
With the win in the books, Joseph slapped hands with his teammates. And right behind him a voice berated him.
“I’m Tommy Joseph! I’m the hero of the game! Yay!”
The voice was that of Andres Blanco. He turned and slapped hands with Joseph, who cracked a rookie’s smile.
The next day, against those same Marlins and down two runs, Blanco slashed a hit down the right field line. A double, which scored David Lough and brought the Phillies within a run with nobody out. Two batters later the Phils would take the lead and keep it en route to a 4-2 win, their 24th of the season in just 41 games. It was Blanco’s sixth double, eighth extra-base hit and 14th hit of the season. Out of just 52 plate appearances.
And – just like last season – it seems as if every one of those 14 hits has come at a crucial moment. Blanco is hitting .364 with a .417 on-base percentage and .545 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position. And nine of those 14 hits have come with men on base. Simply put: The guy is doing things most of these Phillies haven’t been able to do: get big hits in big spots.
But that doesn’t reveal the essence of Andres Blanco, world destroyer and perfect model leader for these overachieving, awesome Phillies.
Go back to Vince Velasquez’s 16-strikeout performance, the tour de force that introduced the fastball-slinging righty to the baseball universe. As Velasquez discussed his outing with Gregg Murphy, Blanco crept behind the pitcher with a bucket of water, pouring it over him with the help of Freddy Galvis. And that’s not the first or last time – Blanco is typically the guy showering teammates with water, slamming shaving-cream pies in faces and barrelling into teammates while celebrating a big moment.
“I like to win baseball games,” Blanco told Andrew Astleford of the News Journal back in March. “To be a winner, you have to get everybody the same way and teach them how you prepare to be good everyday, how you can train that teammate how you can be a better person on and off the field. Just little things where I can make them comfortable in the clubhouse [I’ll do them], because that’s where we spend most of our time. If they see me that way, that’s pretty good.”
He’s aware of his spot. He could play everyday but has instead been branded the “extra man,” the utility guy who can plug in at second, shortstop or third, sometimes at first and even – in a pinch – in the outfield and at catcher. For a Phillies team playing well despite scoring little, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Give Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco more time. Let guys like Tyler Goeddel and Odubel Herrera play regular innings. Blanco’s 32, not that old – trust me, we were born the same year – but in baseball years, people know exactly who he is. Then again, maybe they don’t. Since Blanco joined the Phillies in 2014 he’s a .291 hitter with a .500 slugging percentage. In short, he’s been fantastic. But his defense has limits. He’s playing on a team with kids who need development time. It’s cool. He gets it.
“And to be honest with you, to be an everyday player, you don’t have time to pay attention to the other [younger teammates],” he said in that News Journal report. “But in my case, it’s kind of different. I don’t play everyday. I have to be able to see the game, how they’re doing. If I have something to say, if it will make him better, I’ll say it.”
For many players that may not be so clear. Pride gets in the way. Individual achievement sometimes trumps being a team player, sitting on the bench for half the games. But not here. Not Andres Blanco, world destroyer and perfect model leader for these overachieving Phillies. He’ll root for his younger teammates, push them when their down, and when they’re up … he’ll be the first one out to shower them with ice cold water.
Whatever happens this oddly special season, the Phillies should hold on tight to Blanco. There are very few like him; the Phils are lucky to be in possession of such a unique prize.