PHILADELPHIA -- Rarely does the darkest moment of a baseball career unfold as publicly as it did with Alec Bohm. To commit three errors in as many innings and be caught on camera muttering “I hate this place,” as Bohm was at Citizens Bank Park last season during an April 11 game against the Mets, can be scarring. In an exacting town such as Philadelphia, forgiveness is never guaranteed.
But Bohm did what others might not have that infamous evening 18 months ago, owning his mistake and apologizing for it. Phillies fans largely absolved him. And the relationship has since evolved in remarkable ways. No one has since personified the club’s defensive renaissance more fully than Bohm, who made three slick plays Tuesday night in Philadelphia’s 10-0 drubbing of the D-backs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
“He has really played well defensively lately and for a while now,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.
The gem of Bohm’s night was a second-inning highlight that saw him dive to his right, snare a 104-mph Gabriel Moreno one-hopper, then climb to a knee and throw a strike across the diamond for the out.
More was to come before the Phillies broke the game open. In the fourth inning, Bohm ranged to his left to make a sliding grab of a Tommy Pham grounder, then fired again from one knee to secure the lead out at second. In the sixth, he ranged to his right and backhanded another Pham ground ball, this time throwing on the run to strand Ketel Marte in scoring position.
“He’s made some plays that I don’t know if a lot of people make, because he’s so tall and his reach is long,” teammate Bryson Stott said. “He’s been good over there. To stop momentum before it even happens has been huge.”
It isn’t only Bohm who’s been achieving that ideal. As a team, the Phillies ranked 16th in the Majors during the regular season with -1 outs above average, a catch-all statistic designed to catalog the number of plays made and the difficulty of those efforts. While that was still technically below average, it represented a marked improvement from last season, when Philadelphia ranked 29th in the Majors with -34 OAA.
Such success has carried into October. Outside of Trea Turner, who has four errors this postseason, the Phillies have committed just one miscue in eight games. Bryce Harper has made a series of slick plays at his adopted position of first base. Rookie Johan Rojas and Stott, a second-year player, have transformed the Phils up the middle. Catcher J.T. Realmuto and the pitching staff have neutralized Arizona’s vaunted running game.
“We’ve played phenomenal defense,” Realmuto said. “There’s been a ton of plays made in the infield and outfield that weren’t easy plays, and we’ve turned them all into outs.”
Then there is Bohm, who came away from his three-error game last April understanding the urgency to improve his defense. A bat-first prospect when the Phillies selected him third overall out of Wichita State in 2018, Bohm carried defensive questions with him throughout his Minor League career and did little to satisfy them during his early days in the Majors.
But 2022 appears to have been his nadir. Since that time, Bohm has worked regularly with infield coach Bobby Dickerson to clean up his defense, logging long hours on a half-field in Spring Training “whether we feel good or not, or want to or don’t want to.” That’s resulted in modest improvements on his bottom line, including a jump from -6 to -4 OAA.
Bohm is unlikely to be considered a standout defender. But these days, he is helping the Phillies far more than he is hurting them, doing enough at third base to keep his potent bat -- Bohm hit a two-run double Tuesday as part of Philadelphia’s game-sealing four-run rally in the seventh -- in the lineup on a constant basis.
“As much as we have a lot of really great hitters, games are won on defense,” Bohm said. “Whether we’re hitting the ball around the yard or not, we can always play defense.”
Early Wednesday morning, Bohm spoke those words easily, freely, with the confidence of someone who has been making difficult plays look routine for some time. But he hasn’t forgotten his past. Asked if he could have achieved this sort of defensive game two years ago, Bohm hesitated.
“I can’t answer that,” he said, smiling. “Maybe I would have, maybe I wouldn’t have. The difference is just confidence and trust in all the work.”