By Andrew Nagel
As the Cincinnati Reds head into the final two weeks of the season, they currently sit in third place behind the St. Louis Cardinals by 2.5 games, and with the Washington Nationals hot on their heels for the final Wild Card spot, one could understand if the Reds dugout could be characterized as tense. It’s a good thing the Reds have Brandon Phillips to keep things loose. Last Saturday in the Reds 7-3 victory at Milwaukee, Phillips provided yet another chance to break that playoff tension.
Shin-Soo Choo led off Saturday’s game with a double. Having been moved back to the second spot in the lineup, Phillips was called upon to move Choo over to third with a sacrifice bunt. Phillips can bunt, one of the few on the Reds that can consistently get the bunt down, and he executed this sacrifice. As Brewer first baseman Yuniesky Betancourt fielded the bunt, Phillips did not initially run into Betancourt’s tag. Instead Phillips turned and headed towards the Reds dugout. When Betancourt didn’t follow Phillips, Brandon turned back around and with a smile on his face, jogged up to Betancourt and high-fived his glove hand, in essence, tagging himself out. It was a laugh the Reds needed to loosen them up having entered the Brewer series losing two of three games to the last place Chicago Cubs and dropping the opening game to the Brewers the night before.
The high-five to Betancourt was funny, but it was nothing compared to what happened to Phillips on Tuesday night in Houston vs. the Astros. Houston’s Jonathan Villar led off the home half of the first inning with a single and when he tried to stretch it into a double, that’s when the highlight goes viral. With Phillips straddling second base and facing left-center, the throw from Reds center fielder Shin-Soo Choo beats Villar to the bag. Villar begins a head first slide into second as Phillips reaches backward between his legs to tag out Villar as Villar’s slide takes him into Phillips’ backside. Its been called anything from “The Butt Slide” to baseball’s version of the “Buttfumble”, a reference to Jet quarterback Mark Sanchez’s sack and fumble as he ran into the backside of offensive lineman Brandon Moore in last year’s Thanksgiving’s game vs. the New England Patriots.
Phillips definitely enjoys a good time. Follow him on Twitter @DatDudeBP or listen to him on 700WLW with Seg Dennison around 5:25PM on days when the Reds are home and you will laugh at his antics. As you watch Brandon Phillips play defense, you will also chuckle. Not because his play is funny in a Bad News Bears way. Rather, the amazing things he does with his glove in the field has opposing hitters shaking their heads laughing because that’s all they can do when he makes one of his spectacular plays.
Some have described Brandon Phillips’ defensive plays as “ridiculous.” “Freakish” is another adjective that has described the defensive play of Phillips. “Unbelievable” seems to be the word most often associated with Phillips’ play in the field.
Whatever adjective others use to describe his play on the field, to Phillips its just “routine.” He makes these amazing plays look so natural. In this year’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, Fox Sports announcer Tim McCarver said that Brandon Phillips is a magician at second base. McCarver has a point as Phillips made two memorable plays in the same inning of that game. The first, Phillips goes up the middle, fields the ball and flips it under his left arm to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies to force the runner out at second. Later in the inning with a runner on first and one out, a ground ball is hit to Tulowitzki. He throws to Phillips at second who catches it barehanded and throws on to first to complete the double play. All McCarver could do was laugh as he was watching the play unfold.
On any given night Phillips is usually ranging to his left making a diving stop and throwing out a runner from his knees. Or ranging to his right, fielding it up the middle and throwing across his body to get the out at first. Or racing back to the outfield with his back turned away from the infield and making an over the shoulder basket catch a la Willie Mays. Whether it’s behind the back, through the legs, bare-handed or over the shoulder, Phillips takes away potential hits like no other player in the game right now.
But the Play of the Year? The bare-handed, unassisted double play from one knee. On May 10th of this year the Milwaukee Brewers traveled to Cincinnati to take on the Reds. There is a runner on first and Ryan Braun at the plate. Braun hits a bouncing ball up the middle heading right towards second base. Phillips gets a good break on the ball and fields it bare-handed with his left knee on second base to force the runner at second and throws to first while still on his knee to complete the double play.
Once again, Brandon Phillips makes all who witness the play, including Braun smile and chuckle.