Coming up to bat in the sixth inning of a 4-4 game, Andrew McCutchen entered the game with a batting average below the Mendoza line and an fWAR well below replacement value. Expectations were high, possibly too high, for the 33-year-old coming off a torn ACL in his left knee.
All of his early-season struggles were put past him when he jumped on a hanging slider from Rick Porcello, who dominated the Phillies offense prior to the bottom of the sixth. He and his teammates in the home dugout immediately knew the ball was long gone and McCutchen celebrated with a bat flip that even Uncle Larry could be proud of:
“To say it felt great is an understatement,” McCutchen said after the game.
McCutchen jokingly admitted that the expectations he had for himself were low heading into the at-bat. He usually finds humor in tough situations.
It must have been difficult to make light of what he went through in June of last year. The now-retired San Diego second baseman Ian Kinsler purposefully dropped an innocent pop-up with the intention of doubling up both McCutchen and Jean Segura. McCutchen was stuck in a run-down between first and second and after the tag to get McCutchen out was applied, he immediately grabbed his left knee.
The results of an MRI indicated that he suffered a torn ACL. After what looked to be a promising start to his first campaign in a Phillies uniform, months of excruciating rehab followed.
443 days since his last home run in a big-league game, McCutchen finally came through with what will probably go down as one of the biggest morale-boosting hits in the entire Phillies season. It was a culmination of a year’s worth of perseverance and determination paying off.
“I’ve been putting the work in every single day,” McCutchen said in his postgame interview. “Showing up to the field early, doing everything that I need to do to get myself feeling like myself. Sometimes it takes a little longer for that to translate to the game.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t click right away. For me, it’s just a matter of mentally being prepared and staying ready knowing that the work that I put in will translate over to the games. It was good to have a moment like today.”
For McCutchen, recovery was both mental and physical. Reps are key not just for the health of his knee, but for him to regain belief in his ability to do things on the baseball field that he could normally do without second thought. This occurred to him on a simple pickoff play to first earlier in the season.
“I went back to first standing up and I looked at Paco (Figueroa) and I (said) ‘That’s the first time I’ve done it.'”
Sunday could be the start of better things for McCutchen and the Phillies, who have both gotten out to slow starts. He thinks it’s a step in the right direction, but he also has to keep in mind that as one journey ends, another continues. He’s gotten a taste of post-injury success but to sustain it, even more work needs to be done.
“I know it’s a matter of time,” McCutchen said. “For me, I want to rush through it. I want to be better than what I’ve been. But I also have to respect the fact that I am coming back from an injury.”
“Hopefully an event like that is something that could really get me going and I can get hot from here on out.”
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