Standing by his locker answering questions Tuesday night, Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds called his teammates chokers after they lost 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park in the NL wild card game. Wearing a sharp suit and sunglasses at night, Phillips backpedaled within the same interview, making sure to point out his own failures — going 0 for 4 at the plate and botching a double-play ball that cost Cincy a run. But if that was his primary message, he buried the news lead:
"We deserve everything. We choked. We did. I don't care how people really feel, or my teammates, how they feel about what I'm saying right now, because it's the truth. Either you win or you go home, and I'm going home, and the last place I want to be is on my couch. I don't want to do that. But it happened today and it sucks, man. I mean, it's terrible."
Phillips wasn't pointing out individuals out by name, though he could have been thinking about right-hander Johnny Cueto, slugger Joey Votto, manager Dusty Baker and anyone else who had a bad game. Perhaps this occurred to him as he tried to walk back his comments in record-breaking time.
"What message am I sending? It's not a message that I'm sending. I mean, I choked. I didn't do nothing today. I mean, what'd I do today? Tell me, what did I do? Did I get any hits, did I get any RBIs? I choked. I didn't do nothing to make the team win. And, like I said, it's on me. It's not the team's fault, it's my fault. I had opportunities to really come through for the team and I didn't do that."
Phillips is known for saying whatever is on his mind at the moment. He sometimes gets emotional and expresses himself in a way he shouldn't. The Reds have learned to take the good with the bad, the funny with the infuriating. It will be interesting if any teammates take part of what Phillips said — "I don't care how people really feel, or my teammates, how they feel about what I'm saying right now... " — and confront him. Because that's really the damning part, the part he should hope they miss, or forget.
As for the figurative choking, it happens, but even so: It's not so hard to give credit to Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano for pitching a great game. Those first three innings especially. Players like Marlon Byrd and Russell Martin should have earned praise for their performances. Maybe Phillips did praise them at some point. He was backtracking so fast, he might have said something nice about the St. Louis Cardinals before it was over. Not that opponents care what Phillips has to say. Phillips' own teammates just might, though.