MILWAUKEE — At around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday inside the Phillies clubhouse, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski walked into a media scrum, placed his hand on Matt Vierling’s shoulder, and said to the flyer, “Good job.
Just seven hours earlier, Vierling arrived at American Family Field after waking up in Nebraska expecting to play in a Triple-A game. Later Tuesday morning, he flew to Chicago. From there he drove just under two hours to Milwaukee. Now he stood in the clubhouse, answering questions from amused reporters and earning props from Dombrowski for hitting a game-winning home run against baseball’s best player, Josh Hader.
Said Vierling: “It’s been a whirlwind.”
You do not say.
Vierling’s home run gave the Phillies a 3-2 win over the Brewers. It was Philadelphia’s fifth straight win, four of them coming under interim manager Rob Thomson, who has yet to oversee a loss after Joe Girardi was fired. Meanwhile, the Brewers have lost four in a row. For each club, both streaks are season highs. Does what happened on Tuesday still go the way it did if the two teams are in different places, one not soaring and the other not staggering? Yes? Maybe? Most likely? It never really feels like that, does it?
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If Joe Maddon, who was fired as Angels manager on Tuesday, was right when he said Athleticism‘s Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday that the industry has gone too far in terms of analysis, then consider what happened at American Family Field as the antidote to that theory.
Because none of it added up. It made no sense. Anomalies, galore.
And that’s what made it fun (at least, for everyone but the brewers and their fans).
On the mound was Hader with his shared MLB record of 40 consecutive scoreless appearances and one extra hit allowed this season against 64 batters faced.
At home plate, first, there was Alec Bohm, who hadn’t had an extra hit in two weeks.
Hader’s third pitch to Bohm was supposed to be a low fastball. He stayed high where Bohm likes him. As soon as Bohm made contact, a Brewers fan started shouting, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.”
At plate, a batter later, was Vierling, who in 54 plate appearances with the Phillies was hitting .213 with two extra hits (both doubles). It was his first plate appearance in the majors since May 10.
Hader threw five pitches at Vierling. The first two were sliders. Then Hader noticed Vierling getting into the batter’s box. Hader then threw two fastballs, Vierling taking one and fouling another. Looking back, Hader said he thinks Vierling may have been sitting on a slider. On the fifth pitch, that’s exactly what Vierling got.
With Hader, a left-hander, pitching in the ninth, it made sense to pinch Vierling, a right-handed hitter, for center fielder Mickey Moniak, a left-handed hitter. Thomson could have made a similar move in the sixth inning, but Moniak was ahead with two outs and a runner at first against left-handed reliever Hoby Milner. During that at-bat, Moniak failed, but still: Thomson thought a better opportunity would present itself. He was right.
A tough place to stick someone fresh out of Triple A, sure, but that was why Vierling was there — to fill a role, not necessarily to hit a home run against Hader.
“I didn’t come here with expectations of trying to do this,” Vierling said with a laugh.
Of course he didn’t.
Did he come home with some kind of shrewd attack plan against Hader, who hadn’t allowed a run in a regular season game since July 28, 2021, when the Pirates’ Rodolfo Castro hit a home run?
Of course, Vierling did not.
“Get up there and punch,” Vierling said.
When Vierling arrived at the Phillies clubhouse before the game on Tuesday, he did so with Scott Kingery, with whom he traveled from Chicago. The Phillies recalled Vierling and selected Kingery after placing Johan Camargo (sprained knee) on the 10-day injured list and Zack Wheeler on the paternity list. Ahead of the game, reporters peppered Kingery, the former prospect, with questions about his comeback. Vierling, not so much.
During spring training, the Phillies presented Vierling as a possible solution in center field, possibly as part of a platoon. Vierling hit the ball hard in 2021, but has struggled in the past to elevate it for extra hits. Still, the Phillies were high on his adjustments. Tuesday’s heroics aside, things haven’t worked out well. Vierling was banned to Triple A, and the Phillies’ collective fWAR to center field is 0.1, seventh-worst in the majors at a high-ranking position. They still don’t seem to have much response for this place.
It’s funny how even big questions can sometimes seem smaller when things finally start to go well for a team. Vierling said he was swinging the bat well in Triple A and got into a rhythm with consistent playing time. On Tuesday, he felt comfortable and locked in.
As for Hader and the Brewers (33-24), it is assumed here that they will be fine. Hader said, “By tomorrow it will be over.” He will replay at-bats, spot his mistakes, learn and move on. Maybe he’ll even start another streak. Milwaukee needs to pick things up offensively (one of the main reasons for the loss was that the Brewers continued to struggle to hit when it mattered most, and they were only held to five hard-hit balls). They charged the bases with two outs in the ninth, but Pablo Reyes hit to end it. Again, does the rally continue if the Brewers are at a rolling point in the season? Probably not? Maybe not? It’s fun to wonder. But at least Milwaukee has seen the return of Hunter Renfroe, and Willy Adames is due Wednesday.
And the Phillies (26-29)?
“We think they’re a good club, and the pieces are there to win games,” Thomson said. “We just didn’t play consistently early on. Maybe we’re starting to roll here.
(Photo by Matt Vierling: Aaron Gash/Associated Press)