Rays outfielder Brett Phillips brought smiles and laughter when he made his first major league appearance on a pitcher’s mound Friday night, predictably adding a bit of comic relief to an otherwise down moment in Tampa Bay’s season.
His results in a one-sided loss to the Blue Jays were less important; Phillips allowed a run, two hits, two walks and a balk in the eighth inning. The Rays fell 11-1, losing their fourth straight and for the 11th time in 15 games — but Phillips the pitcher reminded them to not take anything too seriously on the baseball field.
“To be expected, but at the end of the day, he picked us up. Appreciative of that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It's never comforting to put a position player out there, but applaud Philly for understanding. He went right at it and you would expect that he was going to have some fun with it.”
Before getting the game-winning hit in Game 4 of the 2020 World Series, Phillips mostly was known for an earnestly easygoing if slightly eccentric personality. He also has the goofiest laugh you’ve ever heard.
When it came to pitching, he went right at it — in his own way.
Phillips warmed up using an exaggerated pseudo-martial arts style and, once he was ready, burst from the bullpen and sprinted to the mound like he was running for his life. Reputed to have a strong throwing arm, his first pitch was a still-astonishing 94-mph fastball, prompting the Jays bench to collectively ask what was up. Phillps’ next pitch was a slow breaker exactly half that speed. Most of his 23 pitches were slowpokes, clocked in the upper 40s, sending nothing faster than 50.4 mph. He delivered these eephus pitches with a unique-looking leg kick that no one else would try, while squaring his shoulders to the batter as he released the ball. It looked like something a baseball-playing flamingo would practice in a mirror.
Highlights included getting Marcus Semien to swing and miss once (before he singled) and keeping Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the ballpark. Guerrero recently made news by avoiding the upcoming All-Star Home Run Derby at Coors Field to help keep himself fresh and on point for the second half. He used a similar approach to batting with Phillips on the mound.
“To be honest with you, I went into that prepared just to make one swing,” Guerrero said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m just going to do one swing, and that’s it. If he walks me, he walks me. If he strikes me out, he strikes me out. But I’m just going to take one swing.’”
Guerrero got his money’s worth, getting ahead 2-0 before taking a huge cut and fouling it off. He took the next two pitches for a walk.
Phillips also set up a nice play by shortstop Wander Franco, who made an athletic throw to first for an out after Reese McGuire hit a comebacker that Phillips deflected.
The balk was a real record-scratcher, though:
Here’s a longer video summary of his performance:
Judging by his attitude, Phillips seemed to have studied the work and philosophy of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, a ‘70s icon with the Tigers whose authentically quirky behavior accentuated his meteoric rise in the majors. The AL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young runner-up in 1976, Fidrych talked to the ball (and might have heard back). He also lovingly petted the mound to show affection and respect, among other “different” activities.
Fidrych was an all-timer. Philips is just a one-timer for now but, as is typical, showed he could have a pretty good time.