Wilson Valdez recalls mound glory
Infielder got the victory after pitching an inning of relief last year
From time to time, games stretch into extra innings, putting a strain on 25-man rosters, especially pitching staffs. So when Cincinnati and Philadelphia were locked up in one of those six-hour battles of attrition last May, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel found himself all out of pitchers.
In the top of the 19th inning, Manuel looked around, saw Valdez and said, "You're next."
The Phillies were Valdez's eighth Major League organization. He had played a season in Japan, as well. He had been in a lot of places, played a lot of positions, but never had he stood on a pitcher's mound and faced batters.
"I didn't volunteer," said Valdez, who had pitched some as a youngster growing up in the Dominican Republic, but not since then. "It was so many years since I pitched. They told me, 'Go pitch.' They had run out of pitchers. They had nobody else."
So Valdez marched out to the mound, set to face the heart of the Reds batting order, with sluggers like reigning MVP Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce. Each batter was a long-ball threat. It would be a major challenge, but Valdez shrugged off the problem.
"If they hit a home run, whatever happens, they're not going to say anything to me. It's not on me. I'm a position player," he said.
There is a rich history of position players pressed into pitching action because of an extra-inning emergency or a blowout game. Most recently, Baltimore's Chris Davis, who had gone 0-for-8 with five strikeouts in a game against Boston, took the mound in the 16th inning and threw two scoreless innings to earn a victory. Chili Davis once threw two hitless innings for the Angels against Texas. Cleveland's Mark Whiten, who once hit four home runs in a game, struck out the side in a game against Oakland. Hall of Famer George "High Pockets" Kelly, a first baseman, threw five shutout innings for the New York Giants.
Now, Valdez would take his turn on the mound.
"I was excited, not scared," he said.
Votto was the first batter. Valdez missed badly with one delivery that scooted to the backstop. On another, he shook off catcher Dane Sardinha, suggesting that he actually had more than one pitch from which to choose. He got Votto on a fly ball.
Next up was Rolen, and Valdez nailed him in the shin with a pitch. Bruce, who was leading the league in home runs at the time, was next. Valdez dropped down with a sidearm delivery and Bruce flied out to the warning track. When he retired relief pitcher Carlos Fisher on a fly ball -- the Reds were out of player options, too -- Valdez's inning was over.
There had been 10 pitches, five of them for strikes. The radar gun caught him at between 87 and 89 miles per hour.
"I just threw the ball," Valdez said. "I got the guys out."
In the bottom of the 19th, the Phillies scored a run and Valdez was the winning pitcher. Other position players have done that, but Valdez became the first one since Babe Ruth to start a game in the field and wind up winning it on the mound.
The Reds must have been impressed. They traded for Valdez in the offseason. He has not returned to the mound, but if and when he does, he will at least be well-rested.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.