PITTSBURGH — When Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker was asked about the health and well-being of star second baseman Brandon Phillips, he smiled broadly and said, “I saw him yesterday and he ain’t limpin’, he was pimpin’.”
It was Baker’s way of saying Phillips has shaken off the foul ball that left an egg-shaped lump on his shin and that Phillips is back to strutting like the peacock-proud player he is.
Phillips was told what Baker said and replied with, “Hey, man, I’m always pimpin’.”
As he spoke, Phillips was wearing a red hoodie with a message on the front: “Postseason Baseball, Cincinnati Reds, 2013.”
Phillips hopes he gets to wear the pullover more than once because if the Reds lose the wild card game Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates their season is over and Phillips can use that hoodie to shine his car.
Phillips fouled a ball off his shin Saturday in Cincinnati against the Pirates and a large lump immediately made its presence known under his red sock. He didn’t play Sunday and took treatment most of the day.
So will Phillips play Tuesday? Said Baker, “We haven’t quite finalized our roster because we have a couple of guys hurting. But Phillips isn’t one of them.”
The incident caused general manager Walt Jocketty a few moments of breath holding.
“I saw that welt and I thought, ‘My God,’ I thought he had a can of Copenhagen in his sock,” he said. “But I know he doesn’t chew. I didn’t realize it was that bad until they put the TV camera on it. But it was gone by Sunday.”
Phillips said he thought he had broken his leg, “Because I’ve never seen crap like that. I fouled the ball and thought, ‘OK, just another foul ball.’ Then I got on my toes and thought, ‘Oh my God, something ain’t right.’ I looked down and the knot was growing.”
Phillips said Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin looked at it and said, “What in the hell is that?”
But Phillips took infield practice and batting practice Monday evening and everything was functioning properly and he is ready to defend the honor of Cincinnati.
“Once I get in the game the leg is the last thing I’ll think about,” he said. “When you have a crucial game going on an injury is the last thing you worry about. I’ve been playing hurt all year since I got hit in the forearm.”
That happened in Pittsburgh earlier in the season, a pitch that thunked him in the forearms and Phillips said, “It still bothers me and I’m going to get an MRI on it after the season. But you want to be on the field now, no excuses, you want to perform and be there for your team. You have one career, man, and you better enjoy it as long as you can.”
Phillips is thankful for this year’s new two wild card teams having a playoff, especially since the third-place Reds wouldn’t have been here in the past.
“It’s good for the fans, good for baseball,” he said. “If you don’t win your division, I feel you have to fight for a wild card spot and one game is definitely a fight.
“We shouldn’t be in this position because we should have won the division,” he said. “But this is our way to get out. We let our city down by not winning our division because we have too much talent on this team not to have won it. We’re still in a position to achieve a goal. Our first goal was to win the division and the other is to win the World Series and we can still do that.”
But Pittsburgh and one game stands in the way.
The Reds lost five straight games to end the season, but those losses are now meaningless.
“Those losses don’t mean anything because now it is a new season,” said Baker. “That’s what new means. New means you get rid of the old. This is an elimination game. You win or you go home.”
The five-game losing streak was mentioned and it was said the Reds limped home, but Baker jumped on it by saying, “Limped is not the word. The word is that there are only 10 of us left standing and we’re proud to be one of the 10, no matter how we got there. When somebody says we limped in, that’s a very negative connotation and I don’t deal in negatives.”
And it is positively certain on Tuesday: Winner plays in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the loser goes home.