Phillies trio impresses as NL blanks AL in KC
Ruiz catches knuckeballer, Hamels fires 1-2-3 frame, Papelbon gets final out
KANSAS CITY -- Pitching change. The bullpen door in right field at Kauffman Stadium swung open in the middle of the sixth inning. And out came ...
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz.
Followed by Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. Then they trotted to their positions together.
This unusual tableau came about because this was the All-Star Game and Ruiz isn't accustomed to catching the knuckler. So Ruiz warmed up Dickey to give himself just a little more time to adjust. And by that point of the game, how Ruiz would handle the unpredictable flutter ball was one of the few dramas remaining Tuesday night in an 8-0 National League win over the American League in the 83rd Midsummer Classic.
Ruiz boxed a couple knucklers in the bullpen. He whiffed on one completely during warmups. But in the game, he caught each and every one.
"He did great," Dickey said. "I didn't throw many super-duper ones. It was much more wanting to throw strikes and work quickly. I was able to do that. The one I threw to [Angels outfielder Mark] Trumbo and [Ruiz] handled it like he was catching with chopsticks. It was great."
"I was a little nervous to catch Dickey, but it worked out," Ruiz said with a laugh. "After that first inning, I definitely felt more relaxed."
One reason he was more relaxed was that he was catching teammate Cole Hamels. And then NL manager Tony La Russa brought in Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon with two outs and a runner on third in the bottom of the ninth to nail down the win.
"It wasn't a save, but it sure felt like one," Papelbon said after getting Orioles catcher Matt Wieters to fly out to right. "The crowd was still in full effect there and I didn't approach it any other way. I didn't want to give up that run. I kind of had that in the back of my mind -- I don't want to be the guy who gives up this lone run."
Hamels, wearing bright orange shoes, had a 1-2-3 seventh inning, throwing 11 of his 14 pitches for strikes. His fastball was hitting 96-97 mph.
"It was fun to throw to Chooch. It's incredible to be able to have your own catcher in the All-Star Game," Hamels said. "But it was nerve-wracking. I don't know if I could be a reliever."
Ruiz got one at-bat, flying out to left against Oakland rookie closer Ryan Cook in the seventh. But the national television audience didn't see much of it since Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was being interviewed at the same time.
Now, with the festivities behind them, the Phils' All-Stars will rejoin their teammates, and on Friday in Colorado, begin the daunting task of trying to claw back from last place in the National League East, 13 games under .500 and 14 games behind the first-place Nationals. The hope is that just as a hot team hates to take a day off, a club that lost 10 of its last 11 will benefit from the break.
"We needed this, yeah," Papelbon said. "We needed an oil change. But we're not going to be able to do it by ourselves. We're going to need help from other teams in the division."
The Phillies are also pinning their comeback dreams on the idea that ace right-hander Roy Halladay, out since May 29 with a right shoulder strain, is scheduled to make his first rehab start at Class A Clearwater on Thursday night and could be back in the rotation as early as next week in Los Angeles.
"To have Doc back is going to be outstanding," Hamels said. "Hopefully that will bring more of a competitive fire to the pitching staff. Knowing that we have all our guys, this is what we've got. This is what we have to go do.
"When you put him out on the mound, the other team knows who's pitching and they're not too comfortable. Then you throw out Cliff [Lee]. Then you've got myself and Joe [Blanton] or [Vance] Worley and I think it will start a roll where we might actually be able to sweep a team. Hopefully that will bring some extra confidence because that's what we've been lacking. The confidence that we can get back to being that team that won 102 games [last season]."
Activating second baseman Chase Utley (chronic knee condition) and first baseman Ryan Howard (ruptured Achilles tendon) earlier this month figures to be a boost to the offense in the second half as well.
Hamels also suggested that getting off the treadmill for a few days can only help.
"You can look at yourself in the mirror and go, 'Have I done everything I need to do this season? What can I do more?'" he said. "You're spending time with your family and just being able to be around them can kind of give you another perspective. 'You know what? The season's almost over. What do I need to do?' And I think that's what it takes. You know, we've always been a really good second-half team, so hopefully that will continue."
Added Ruiz: "These four days are going to help, I think. Everybody's going to come into the second half with a different mentality. It's going to be big for us. I hope everything changes from the first half. We need to win several games in a row, start to get that feeling that we can win games."
That was what was on Papelbon's mind as the game ended, hoping that he and his catcher can re-enact that postgame embrace over and over in the second half.
"I even said to Chooch as the game was over there," Papelbon said, "and we were walking to shake hands, I said, 'Let's go back and get this thing started up the way we need to get it started and try to make a run.'"
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.