NEW YORK — Rhys Hoskins didn’t flip his bat. He didn’t stand and stare or hoot and holler as the 1-1 pitch from Jacob Rhame sailed over the left-field fence. He just ambled around the bases, savoring the two-run shot that put the Philadelphia Phillies up 6-0 in Wednesday night’s win over the New York Mets. And I mean, really, really savoring it.
“You get thrown at a couple times and you take the guy deep? Do what you need to do,” Jake Arrieta said of Hoskins’ lengthy, luxurious trip around the bases.
It took the Phillies’ solicitous, baby-faced first basemen 34.23 seconds to touch ’em all — the longest home run trot of the Statcast era. Revenge, apparently, is a dish best served slow.
Tensions were running high in Mets-Phillies series
It felt like a brawl was brewing in Queens. Two games into the series between the NL East rivals and tensions were running high as the Phillies’ lineup struggled to score. The spark that had fueled them to a 4-1 start to the season was sputtering. And then, on Tuesday, in the ninth inning of a game that the Phillies were about to lose 9-0, slogging through a 14-inning scoreless streak, Rhame threw a 96 mph fastball over Hoskins head.
The Phillies made it only as far as the dirt just beyond the dugout but make no mistake about it: They thought it was intentional, they were not happy, and ahead of Wednesday’s game it didn’t seem like they were ready to forgive or forget.
“I’m still fairly upset about the way last night’s game ended,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.
“They’re throwing at him for sure,” outfielder Aaron Altherr said. “These things work themselves out.”
“If you can’t make the pitch you’re trying to make, then don’t throw that pitch ’cause you’re putting people’s careers in jeopardy,” catcher Andrew Knapp said. “It’s one of those things where it’s too close to call anyway and we’re going to defend our guy no matter what. There’s going to be scuffles, that’s the way it is. People are competitive.”
The Phillies would have to make their point without plunkings after Kapler insisted, “We don’t retaliate and we never throw intentionally at anybody.” (Everyone in the ballpark seemed to believe that extended to cover Vince Velasquez hitting Todd Frazier with a pitch in what was then a one-run game.) And so they went out and won behind a combined shutout from Velasquez and the bullpen, with a couple of smart bunts and a bit of aggressive baserunning, and with Hoskins holding the game hostage for half a minute after it became clear Mets fans were going to leave disappointed to make sure the victory didn’t go unremarked upon.
They’ll tell you it was all about just getting a win, stopping the skid, reversing the momentum. Hoskins insists that he doesn’t know what you’re talking about if you want to know whether he worries that the Mets might take offense to it. And come September or even next week, the win really will be all that matters. This is going to be a tight NL East race and each one counts — even if it comes in April. But the Phillies were going to win again no matter what. In fact, they were going to win on Wednesday regardless of whether or not Hoskins homered off the guy who had nearly beaned him twice not 24 hours before.
But at a moment when all of baseball is talking about retaliation and escalation and how to keep the competitive spirit of the game alive and well without hurting anybody, Hoskins pulled off the perfect troll. He showed up the Mets with his actions — his first career triple kicked off a three-run eighth in addition to his two-run dinger in the ninth — and then stoked the rivalry with his inaction.
Here's Jacob Rhame on Rhys Hoskins' slow trot. "He got me. If I make a better pitch, he doesn't get to run the bases." pic.twitter.com/27PiOjyDZy— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) April 25, 2019
Nothing for Rhame to do but wear it. “He got me,” he said after the game. “Make a better pitch, he doesn’t get to run the bases.”
‘Don’t poke the sleeping bear’
The 2019 Phillies, you may have heard, are a playoff-caliber team with playoff aspirations. And early this season they proved they can thrive in a playoff-like atmosphere. One of the biggest buyers in an almost suspiciously sluggish offseason, they debuted a new-and-improved lineup to the tune of a 4-1 start in the first two series in front of sold-out crowds at home and a swarm of national media and busloads of hyper-dedicated fans when they brought Bryce Harper back to Washington, D.C.
But baseball, you may have heard, is an awfully long season and it’ll feel longer still if you’re hungover from an early high even before April is over. In order to make it to October, the Phillies will have to win when guys are hurt and the umpire’s calls aren’t going their way and the grind of the real regular season sets in.
“With all the hype coming out of spring, it was really easy to come into Philly with crazy momentum,” Knapp said before Wednesday’s game. “And obviously there’s going to be a lull after that. That’s not sustainable for an entire year.”
After that hot start and away from the spotlight of those first two series, the Phillies went on an 8-10 stretch before Wednesday’s win. Not awful, but not enough to take the NL East, either. Earlier in the series, Arrieta complained to reporters that the play felt “flat,” and it looked it, too. Ahead of the game, Kapler talked about the need for a spark.
The Mets may have taken two of three from the Phillies, but Rhame’s misfired fastball could prove to be fuel on the fire for a team that thrives on drama.
“A couple guys said the phrase, ‘Don’t poke the sleeping bear,’” Hoskins said following the win. “And the last couple innings seem to be a pretty good indication that may have happened.”
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