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.  

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.