Phillips keeps plugging along in field, at plate for Reds
CINCINNATI — It was Brandon Phillips being Brandon Phillips — making a high-degree-of-difficulty defensive play at second base look like something a guy off the street could do.
Ho-hum, another double play, another run saved, another pitcher leaving the mound with a smile on his face. It was the ninth inning of Monday’s Cincinnati Reds game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and closer Aroldis Chapman was on the mound to protect a two-run lead. The leadoff batter singled to right — no outs, tying run at the plate. Arizona catcher Wil Nieves trickled a grounder to shortstop Zack Cozart. He charged and flipped the ball across his body to Phillips at second base as the runner bore down on him. Phillips calmly leaped in the air, split his legs to permit the runner to slide between them and fired to first for the double play. The crowd went wild, jaws dropped in the press box, Reds in the dugout were on their feet applauding. “I don’t know how I did it, I don’t describe ‘em,” he said. “I just did it and I didn’t go crazy because I thought it was pretty routine.”
Routine for for Houdini. Routine for Mandrake the Magician. Routine for David Copperfield. And, yes, maybe routine for Phillips, a magician at second base.
But when somebody mentions how easy Phillips makes it appear, he smiled broadly and said, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. I tell ‘em, ‘If it looks that easy, come and do my job for one day and you’ll think totally different.'" Defense is all in a day’s work as he makes spectacular play after spectacular play at second base. And there is nothing wrong with his bat work, either. He is second in the National League in RBI. He leads the majors with 17 game-winning RBI. He is second in the majors behind Miguel Cabrera with 31 go-ahead RBI. He is hitting .625 (10 for 16) with the bases loaded, including a grand slam home run.
Phillips went on record the first week of the season when he became the team’s clean-up hitter. After preparing himself all spring to bat second in the order, Phillips was moved into the clean-up spot on the second day of the season when clean-up hitter Ryan Ludwick wrecked his shoulder on a head-first slide into third base.
“My goal is to drive in as many runs as possible, just forget about my average and drive in runs,” he said. “My goal is 100.”
With 37 games remaining, Phillips is only eight shy of his goal, and his 92 RBI are the second most in the National League while hitting .267.
“Once I do it, then I’ll tell people how I feel about it,” he said with grin.
OK, how about leading the league in game-winning RBI, go-ahead RBI and bases-loaded average? “I never thought about that stuff but I know if it happens I’m doing my job,” he said. “That’s good stuff to know, but I don’t worry about doing that stuff or thinking about that stuff. I just try to come through when the team needs it.” There is, though, some correlation. “I love being in moments when the game is on the line,” he said. “When I was a little kid in the backyard all you did was say, ‘Full count, bases loaded, two outs, World Series on the line. . .home run!' That’s the stuff you look forward to doing.”
Unlike most people, though, Phillips was able to take it out of his backyard and onto the highest level, a major league playing field.
Less than two weeks ago the Reds were seven games out of first place and fans were carrying picks and shovels to cover the team with dirt. But when the Reds began play Tuesday night they were just 2½ behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I laugh at that stuff,” said Phillips. “That’s all you can do is laugh about it — let everybody think what they want to think. As long as you go out there and do your job, that’s all you can do.”
Phillips is from a school that says, “Do your job as best as you can and don’t worry about anybody else and things will work out.” He pays little attention to what other teams are doing and wasn’t aware the team was only 2½ back before Tuesday’s game.
And he wasn’t even aware of the task ahead. When told the Reds still had seven games remaining with the second place Cardinals and six with the first place Pirates, he said, “Really? And we’re only 2½ out again? All we can do is keep on winning.”
The Reds are six games ahead of the Diamondbacks for the No. 2 wild card spot, a spot Reds manager Dusty Baker calls, “A consolation prize. You want to win the division, but the wild card is there for you as a consolation prize.”
Phillips, though, does know what is at stake as to where his Reds finish in the standings.
“The last thing we want to do is go to that one-game wild-card playoff game,” he said. “It’s good for baseball, I like it, but I don’t want our team to be involved in it.”