The ball was not hard hit, but it was headed into the twilight zone over the second base bag, possibly out of reach of the second baseman and shortstop and ready to roll into center. But there came Brandon Phillips, making a swift move to his right and spearing the ball bare-handed. The throw to first was in time.
Same game. Phillips at the plate. The ball comes hurtling in from the mound at 90-something-mph. And there it goes at something like 500 mph. A rocket to deep center, not stopping until it hit the back wall beyond the fence at Great American Ball Park 418 feet later. In the field or in the batter’s box, the Cincinnati Reds second baseman gets the job done.
This is Brandon Phillips Appreciation Week for me. I see the Reds play pretty often. Phillips isn’t the most dangerous hitter in the Cincinnati lineup. That would be first baseman Joey Votto. Phillips isn’t the fastest runner on the team stealing the most bases. But he does a lot of things well and he seems to do them at important times.
Middle infielders have the image of all being smallish guys. Well, Phillips isn’t a little guy at all. He stands 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds. He can knock the ball over the fences and going in Friday’s action he had 10 homers and 46 RBIs to go with a .289 batting average. He is an indispensable player because he can also bunt and run the bases.
The biggest scare Cincinnati had this week was a collision at second base with Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez that sidelined him Thursday. Phillips was tested for concussion symptoms twice, but when trainers said he scored 100 percent Friday manager Dusty Baker put him back into the lineup.
Not so long ago Baker or the coaches would have simply asked Phillips how he felt, and even if he had a headache throbbing as much as a New Year’s Day headache he would have said he was fine and played Thursday. Might not have been the best idea. With all of the recent attention on concussions in sport, especially in the NFL, the Reds were on the ball in making sure Phillips was OK before allowing him to take the field again.
During that game against the Twins Phillips was not only light on his feet when he bare-handed the grounder, he was calculating in his mind. Fielders only get a split second to make the decision to try and bare-hand a ball.
“Honestly,” Phillips said, “you’ve got to know who’s running. You’ve got to know whether it’s someone fast or not before it happens. I felt that was the only play I really had.”
When Phillips stroked the homer off Brian Duensing he felt it was a no-doubter, headed for the stratosphere from the crack of the bat.
“I knew it was gone when I hit it,” Phillips said. “I learned from my first at-bat getting jammed and I was ready when he threw the same pitch again. He made a mistake and I hit it.”
The Reds won that game 6-0 and there were a lot of heroes, but not only did those two plays by Phillips stand out his explanations of how they came about added to the pleasure of watching them. They were both thinking-man plays.
That’s why Phillips was a National League All-Star in 2010 and 2011 and why he should be again this summer.