This week we’re counting down the top 10 moments of the 2016 Phillies season.
Here is No. 7.
7. Such a night
There once was a time when everything was possible.
It was May 17, and the Phillies were hosting Miami in the second game of a three-game series. And they were coming into the game with a 22-17 record, good for second place in the National League East. The lineup that evening pointed toward a brighter future:
Besides the ageless Ruiz and veteran Bourjos, the lineup was filled with fresh faces. Velasquez – still riding high after a 16-strikeout performance one month before – was the flavor of the moment. And Pete Mackanin was hitting Bourjos in the nine-hole. For once, the Phillies were being progressive! Smart things!
The Phils would win the game that Tuesday night, with only Jeanmar Gomez surrendering a run in the ninth inning. Velasquez went just five innings – working deep in the count throughout the game – but gave up only five baserunners and struck out 10. The bullpen – a collection of Gomez, Hector Neris, David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey and Elvis Araujo – was on point for four innings, striking out seven.
Remember, there was a time the Phillies pitching staff was striking out everything in sight.
Those were the halcyon days of the 2016 Phillies; in fact, the team nearly reached its performance peak at this point. Just one day later, in a red-jersey Businessperson’s Special, the Phils would advance to 24-17, just a half-game out of first place and the early talk of baseball. Was this team real? Could the kids keep it going?
Not really, and no, not at all.
But everything was possible on May 17. For in the second inning, Joseph led off and slashed his first major league home run off Wei-Yin Chen. The slugger, promoted to the big-league club after Darin Ruf didn’t cut it, had now gotten that out of his system.
Joseph would single in the fourth, then again in the sixth, this time with Hernandez on base. And because of a Marcell Ozuna error, Hernandez would score.
This was a charmed moment for the Phillies, who wouldn’t ever be this good in 2016. They’d fall backwards, and hard, finishing with a 71-91 record. By year’s end they’d be playing Roman Quinn, Jorge Alfaro and Aaron Altherr. Velasquez would be shut down; instead, we’d see the early flashes of Jake Thompson, and a returning Alec Asher.
But Joseph would still be there. He’d hit 20 more homers in 2016, 20 homers that nobody thought he’d hit in the major leagues in 2016, let alone any time in the future. He was removed from the prospect lists, discarded from the 40-man roster, a forgotten entity that was nearly eliminated completely. Once a highly touted catcher traded for Hunter Pence, Joseph languished and suffered injury after injury. Pence won two world championships in San Francisco. We got a can of beans.
But here we are, and baseball remains funny. After May 17 the Phillies played out the string to the tune of 48-74. But after May 17 Tommy Joseph became a true blue major leaguer.