'Netting down': Wild collapse, fix in Philly

June 7th, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies broadcaster John Kruk delivered the news in the eighth inning with the gravitas of an old-time radio reporter.

“Uh oh,” he said. “Netting down. Netting down.”

“That’s not good,” broadcaster Tom McCarthy said.

In one of the more bizarre moments in any game in recent memory, the netting behind home plate at Citizens Bank Park fell onto the field and into both dugouts with two outs in the top of the eighth inning on Sunday in the Phillies’ 12-6 victory over the Nationals. The Phillies’ grounds crew scrambled like an Indianapolis 500 pit crew to fix it. They eventually did. It took 20 minutes, 21 seconds from the time the netting hit the warning track to the time Phillies left-hander Cristopher Sánchez threw a 2-1 pitch to Trea Turner to resume play.

Kruk, McCarthy and Mike Schmidt offered play-by-play of the entire thing.

“Are we still on the air?” Kruk asked at one point.

There was a failure at the attachment point at the top of the backstop behind home plate. The entire netting system is 100 percent Kevlar-reinforced rope, which has a strength greater than cabling. The strength is important as the system has been extended down the left-field and right-field lines for fan safety.

“Nothing broke,” Phillies director of field operations Mike Boekholder said. “It just came apart.”

The engineering company that built the system will be in Philadelphia on Monday morning to figure out what went wrong.

But when it happened, Boekholder and his crew knew they needed to act fast. Crew chief Fieldin Culbreth could have decided at any moment to suspend the game and finish it next month, when the Nationals return to Philadelphia.

“Can you give me 10 minutes to see if we can figure this out and try to get it back in the air?” Boekholder asked.

“Sure, but we can’t take too long,” Culbreth said.

“The only thing I kept thinking about was, if I was on a sailboat how do I get a sail back in the air?” Boekholder said. “I’ve never been on a sailboat in my life.”

The group initially decided to try to pull up the netting from the field and tie it to the base of the backstop wall. Grounds crew member Caleb Robinson sprinted from the right-field corner with a large spool of rope tucked under his arm. It is the same rope the Phillies use to rope off the warning track during events like photo day.

“It looks like the Freeze carrying the big spool,” Kruk said. “You’ve got the Freeze in Atlanta. We’ve got the Spool Man.”

But the grounds crew could not pull up the net far enough, even with 10 people pulling on the rope. J.T. Realmuto and Archie Bradley recommended they attach it to the John Deere tractor on the field. It started to work, but then it didn’t.

(Boekholder got a text afterward from his John Deere dealer saying he wished the tractor method had succeeded.)

The Phillies had to find another way. They ultimately decided to pull the rope from the stands and tie the end to one of the handrails.

So, they pulled again. The net started to rise.

“What kind of knot do you want on this thing?” Schmidt wondered.

Whatever knot they used, it held.

“We were hoping, yeah,” Boekholder said.

The Phanavision crew blasted “William Tell Overture” as the grounds crew worked. Fans chanted “Pull! Pull! Pull!” as they pulled on the rope.

They cheered when they got it up.

Of course, they also booed when their first couple attempts failed.

“What a day,” McCarthy said.

“I've never seen that happen,” Nationals third baseman Starlin Castro said.

“It’s just something to add to that day, I guess,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “It was quite a long day, but it’s worth it when you win.”