Roy Oswalt plays left field in extra-innings loss to Astros

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Who said Roy Oswalt wasn’t going to appear against his former team this week?

Yes, we’ll all remember this one for Oswalt becoming the first Phillies’ pitcher to play a position in the field since Bill Wilson on August 6, 1971, but the game was actually plenty entertaining before that. Cole Hamels and Bud Norris provided quite the duel early on while Jimmy Rollins sent the game into extras in dramatic fashion, slugging a solo home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Braves were busy losing in Colorado again, so the Phillies had a golden opportunity to pull to within 1 1/2 games in the National League East. With the momentum in their favor and a raucous home crowd behind them, this seemed like the sort of game the Phillies were destined to win. They were well on their way to doing so until Ryan Howard struck out on a check swing with two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the 14th inning.

Frustration boiled over for Howard, who was still fuming from another check-swing call earlier in the at-bat. After throwing his bat to the ground, he was ejected by third base umpire Scott Barry. Howard then ran down the third base line to give him a piece of his mind. From what I saw, it looked like he swung on neither pitch, but of more importance, it actually seemed like Barry egged him on a bit. While Howard had every right to be upset, his ejection meant that the Phillies were out of position players.

In turn, Raul Ibanez was forced to play first base for the first time since 2005, which meant that Oswalt went out to play left field. It was a truly bizarre sight. And wouldn’t you know it, the ball found him right away. Jason Castro flied out to left for the first out of the 15th inning and Oswalt received a standing ovation from the Citizens Bank faithful. He couldn’t help but smile, but neither could most of us. It’s worth noting that Ibanez had a gem of his own for the final out of the 15th, diving to tag the first base bag to retire the speedy Michael Bourn.

The game entered the 16th at the same 2-2 score, but the Astros finally pulled ahead on two groundballs that didn’t even leave the infield. Facing a 4-2 deficit in the bottom of the inning, the Phillies did their best to stage a late rally. Placido Polanco drew a walk, but it ultimately set-up an intentional walk to Chase Utley which, of course, brought Oswalt to the plate with two outs. The Phillies’ fans tried to will him into a hit, but it was not to be. He was retired on a weak grounder to third base to end it.

The 16-inning affair checked in as the second-longest game of the season, only topped by the 20-inning thriller between the Mets and Cardinals on April 17. Without any rooting interest in last night’s game, I found it endlessly more entertaining.  

Justin Verlander named ALCS MVP

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Following the Astros’ decisive 4-0 shutout over the Yankees on Saturday night, Justin Verlander was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series. Hall of Fame outfielder and former MLB manager Frank Robinson handed the award to Verlander, who was beaming as he thanked his teammates and members of the Astros’ organization.

“I’ve got to say, it came down to the wire, and one thing kept going off in my head was Dallas,” Verlander told the crowd gathered at Minute Maid Park. “When he called me, he said that I won’t regret my decision to join the Houston Astros. And here we are right now, it’s the best feeling in the world. We’ve got four more wins to win a World Series, and I do not regret my decision to come here. This is the best feeling a player can have. So, thank you.”

Among a cast that boasted the likes of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel, among others, Verlander was spectacular. He locked down a complete game win in Game 2, holding the Yankees to one run on five hits and a walk and striking out a postseason-high 13 batters. In Game 6, he saved the Astros from elimination with seven scoreless innings, helping propel the club to their eventual 7-1 finish that set up their series-clinching finale on Saturday.

The 34-year-old righty also took his place among some postseason greats. Thanks to an eight-strikeout outing on Friday night, his collective 136 postseason strikeouts are good for sixth-most in MLB playoff history, just a smidgen shy of Tom Glavine (143), Mike Mussina (145), Roger Clemens (173), Andy Pettitte (183) and John Smoltz (199). He also joined Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Sandy Koufax as one of just four hurlers to strike out 20+ Yankees in a postseason series.