This week we’re counting down the top 10 moments of the 2016 Phillies season.
Here is No. 8.
8. Tommy, we can hear you
Upon his promotion to Philadelphia, surprise slugger Tommy Joseph made an immediate impact, but his presence came with a condition: Joseph sat against righties while Ryan Howard got plate appearances.
Later in the season it grew to more of an issue, as Howard expressed disappointment when Joseph was named starter, then got more starts. Awkward, yes, but ultimately inconsequential.
Back in July it wasn’t such a problem. For one, Joseph was struggling. But after a brief bench spell in the early part of the month, Joseph received three consecutive starts against Atlanta and responded with five hits – including a home run and a double – in a three-game sweep. Entering a three-game pre-all-star set in Denver on July 8, Joseph seemed primed to continue his solid run.
One problem: the Phils faced Colorado righty Jon Gray. Joseph was back to the bench.
Games like July 8, however, would help stoke the fire. Starting against Gray, the righty with a career ERA around 5.00, Howard struck out, grounded out and struck out. Joseph couldn’t have done any worse, right?
The Phillies as a team weren’t faring well against Gray, either. Entering the seventh inning they were down 2-0 to Colorado, mustering only a Freddy Galvis single, a Peter Bourjos double, a walk and a hit batsman. A shame, too, as Vince Velasquez had toughed it out to that point, striking out six Rockies despite surrendering a menagerie of hits and walks.
Howard struck out his second time with Cameron Rupp at second. But before the inning could be declared a disappointment, Galvis struck a single that pushed Rupp to third. With the switch-hitting Cesar Hernandez at the plate, the Rockies opted for lefty Jake McGee. That didn’t start well, as Hernandez greeted him with a single to score Rupp.
Down 2-1 and Velasquez’ spot at bat, Pete Mackanin opted for the hot-hitting Joseph. For some reason the Rockies didn’t counter with a righty.
Joseph struck a pinch-hit, three-run home run to left field to grab the lead.
They wouldn’t let go, though it got close. Andrew Bailey and Nector Neris worked around two walks and two singles in the bottom of the seventh to keep the game 4-3. Neris and Jeanmar Gomez wiggled out of the eighth. And thanks to a Rockies’ error, the Phils grabbed an insurance run in the ninth, leading to Gomez’s 24th save of the season.
It was certainly one of the Phils’ most feel-good wins of the year, but Joseph’s home run signaled a turn in his season. The slugger would continue to impress in Denver, going 4-for-4 with a homer the next day. He’d finish the year with a solid .257/.308/.505 mark, plus 21 home runs and 47 runs batted in. A player who was once a non-entity in the pipeline had become a potential puzzle piece for a future contender.