And now playing left field, hitting cleanup, Roy Oswalt.
Roy Oswalt pitched the day before the Astros arrived to Philadelphia for their four-game set with the Phillies, so everyone naturally assumed that the right-hander would not be playing against his former team this time around.
But after Ryan Howard was called out on a check swing in the 14th inning, and after he went ballistic, and after he was ejected by third base umpire Scott Barry and after he had to be restrained from chasing after Barry, the Phillies found themselves in a bit of a pickle: they were out of position players and had no one to replace Howard at first base.
For several minutes no Phillies players were on the field. They were still in the dugout, and for a split second I thought, are they protesting the Howard ejection? Soon it became pretty apparent that they were waiting for manager Charlie Manuel to decide which of his very limited options would be the best to play defense in the top of the 15th.
About a minute later, a ripple went through the crowd and filtered up to the press box as everyone realized that it was Oswalt emerging from the dugout, and he was headed to left field.
Two things struck me at that moment: 1) this had instantly turned into one of the greatest games I’ve ever witnessed and 2) the ballpark was still nearly three-fourths full of Phillies fans, despite the late hour and length of the game. A thunderous cheer erupted as Oswalt ran to his position in left field, and soon, the crowd was chanting “Let’s Go Oswalt.”
As if truly scripted, the first ball (hit by Jason Castro) went right to Oswalt. He fielded it cleanly, threw it back to the infield and cracked a smile as he received a standing ovation from the crowd. All of the Astros players were pressed up against the railing in their dugout, clearly amused by this strange twist of events involving their former teammate.
Oswalt was inserted into the cleanup spot and was due to hit fifth in the 16th inning. Jeff Fulchino recorded two quick outs, but he walked Placido Polanco, bringing Chase Utley to the plate. Clearly, with two outs and Oswalt on deck, the only option was to put the tying run on base and walk Utley. And even though that made perfect sense, I couldn’t help but wonder if the adrenaline rush Oswalt surely was feeling at that moment was going to give him enough oomph to hit one out of the park.
It wasn’t. Oswalt grounded out, and the Astros won the game, 4-2. It took five hours and 20 minutes, 15 pitchers and 533 pitches, and I have a feeling we’re going to be talking about this one for a long time.
Facts and figures from the win:
It was the longest game of the season for both teams. It was also the longest game at Citizens Bank Park since July 2, 2004, when the Orioles and Phillies played 16 innings.
The last time the Astros played a game this long was July 6, 2008, when they lost to the Braves in Atlanta in 16 innings.
The Astros are 7-4 in extra innings this year.
Wilton Lopez’s career-best scoreless streak ended at 20 innings when he allowed a solo home run to Jimmy Rollins in the ninth inning. Lopez’s streak was the longest active one in the Majors.
Carlos Lee has hit safely in 11 straight games at Citizens Bank Park and is hitting .404 over that span. He also has 23 RBIs in his last 24 games.
Tim Byrdak has pitched eight straight scoreless innings, spanning 10 games.