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. 47.
THE DATE: April 14, 2016
THE GAME: Phillies vs. San Diego Padres, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, Pa.
THE STAKES: Just an early-season afternoon delight
THE GREAT: On April 9, my wife and I traveled to Citi Field for our first baseball game of the season. The Phillies had yet to win a game, 0-4 after being swept in Cincinnati and losing the Mets’ home opener. But whatever: the new kid was on the mound. Vince Velasquez, on a tired, cold Saturday night in Flushing, Queens, displayed a hot fastball, a dipping slider and a battler’s guile in a 1-0 win over the Mets.
Five days later, finally at home after a few more wins, the Phillies were set to host the Padres in a businessperson’s special. They were attempting to win three of four against San Diego while sporting their new alternate red tops for the first time ever. And there was Velasquez, hoping to build off a solid first start in facing a paltry Padres lineup.
And he did build.
It started with a flourish. Velasquez threw 16 pitches in the first inning, striking out all three batters he faced. But then he settled in with a mix of groundouts, flyouts and strikeouts. After five innings he had seven strikeouts – a good total, but nothing otherworldly. More impressively, he had thrown just 63 pitches. A longer outing was likely.
Then came the sixth. With the Phils up 1-0 – thanks to a Ryan Howard home run in the second – Velasquez turned it up. His fastball popped even harder. His slider became more devastating. Padres hitters couldn’t get anything.
First was John Jay, then Wil Myers, both in the sixth. Nine strikeouts.
Then came the seventh. Melvin Upton Jr. and Jabari Blash. Both gone on swings. Eleven strikeouts. The crowd stood in admiration. Velasquez had thrown 85 pitches. Sure it was possible Pete Mackanin would pull him for a reliever, but the right-hander was improving with each hitter – his fastball showing more life, his breaking pitches simply baffling everyone. Why not keep him in? Why not see what Velasquez can do?
With a 3-0 lead, Velasquez came back out for the eighth. Alexi Amarista battled with him, but Velasquez threw him a fastball on the extreme low and outside corner – strikeout looking. Alexei Ramirez completely bit at a dirt-high slider – strikeout swinging. And with the crowd on their feet, Brett Wallace swung right through a beautiful arching slider – strikeout swinging. Fourteen strikeouts. What else could he do? How good was this kid?
In the ninth, it was no question that Velasquez would see this one out. Three more strikeouts would tie him for the most in a game in franchise history. At this point, anything more would be astounding.
His first obstacle was John Jay, who swung past his 95 mph fastball. Fifteen strikeouts. His second obstacle, Corey Spangenberg, wasted little time and lined out to left field. But the third and final obstacle, Myers, made sure we had a photo to remember.
With a 1-2 count, Velasquez pumped a 96 mph heater past Myers’ swinging bat. He raised his arms in the air, pumped his fist and hugged Cameron Rupp.
And a new hope was born.
Velasquez’s performance – no runs, three hits, no walks, 16 strikeouts – rates as one of the greatest pitching performances in Phillies history. The 16 punchouts are the second-most in a single game in franchise history, tied with Steve Carlton and Curt Schilling, and trailing Art Mahaffey by one.
Most impressively, it was Velasquez’s second start as a Phillie.
“I don’t know when I’ll have one of those games,” Velasquez told Phillies Nation. “You just have to let it happen.”
Who knows if the 24-year-old will have another outing like that again; even if he never again comes close, his dazzling performance against San Diego will stand as a one-of-a-kind afternoon.