Until March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years. This is 50 of 50.
And this is No. 23.
THE DATE: May 25, 2011
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
THE STAKES: The Phillies are trying to maintain their 1-game lead in the National League East over the Marlins
THE GREAT: Part of what makes baseball so great and so deeply American is that it allows us not only to believe in heroes, but to give us heroes that are, in most ways, such ordinary people. They’re like us, only talented. Sometimes, even an otherwise unexceptional player can be called a hero.
On May 25, 2011, a game was unfolding that called for someone (and, after a certain length of time, anyone) to rise to the occasion.
The first sign that something unusual might happen came when the Reds climbed out of a 3-0 deficit against Roy Halladay, who would finish the season with his career-best 2.35 ERA and a second-place finish in Cy Young voting. That score would stand long enough to send the game into extra innings.
Jay Bruce opened the 10th inning with a solo shot to right, giving the Reds their first lead of the game. To keep the game alive, Ryan Howard did the same in the bottom of the inning.
For eight more innings, the game stumbled along. It wasn’t until well into the sixth hour of the game that something truly memorable happened: utility infielder Wilson Valdez took the mound for the first time in his career.
He would be up against the heart of the Reds’ order.
By that point in the night, onlookers had to believe they were seeing things, especially when Valdez started the inning by retiring slugger Joey Votto and hitting 90 mph on the radar gun. After Valdez plunked Scott Rolen with a breaking pitch, Jay Bruce also flied out in the middle of a series in which he tallied nine runs batted in. Carlos Fisher, a relief pitcher, popped up to second to end the inning with the game still tied.
Many fans had tuned out for the night well before the excitement of Valdez pitching; others were too sleep-deprived to submit the game to long-term memory. Fortunately, video footage remains to tell the story.
Valdez holding on brought the Phillies back to life. Rollins got on base to start the bottom of the 19th. Eventually, a Raul Ibanez sacrifice fly would bring him home to win the game for the Phils.
That same day two years later, Valdez signed with the Camden Riversharks, his time in the majors finished. The Phillies were 24-25 and 6.5 games back in the division.