Garrett Stubbs was an unlikely hero. At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he doesn’t look like a ballplayer, and is constantly reminded of that by spectators who call him a Little Leaguer and a bat boy and a clubhouse attendant. He says he hears this just about every time he’s on the field but he has gotten used to it by now. He’s always been undersized, but he has always had faith that his ability would shine through, if only he were given the chance.
Wednesday afternoon, he got his chance. With runners on first and second and two outs, Stubbs, batting in the nine-hole, stepped up to the plate. He was the Phillies’ last shot at wiping out a one-run deficit. He worked his at-bat to a 2-2 count, and on the fifth pitch, a 90.2-mph slider, he crushed a three-home run into the right field stands at Citizens Bank Park to give the Phillies a 3-1 win and a series victory over the Miami Marlins.
It was Stubbs’ third career home run, all coming this season, and his first walk-off hit. He insisted afterward that he was n’t going for the fences, but his mammoth swing suggested otherwise. Regardless, even Stubbs, the personification of an underdog, had to take a few seconds to admire his handiwork, before skipping along the first base line with glee.
The 29-year-old backup catcher who appeared in 51 games with Houston over the previous three seasons has always tried to savor the moments he does have. A 2015 eighth-round draft pick out of Southern Cal, Stubbs thought his career was over in 2017. He was coming off a disappointing minor league season, and was unsure if he’d be protected by the Astros in the Rule 5 draft a year later. But he bet on himself, put together a career year in 2018 — slashing .310/.382/.455 at triple-A Fresno — and earned his way onto the Astros’ roster out of sheer will.
“I ended up having my best year after my worst year,” he said a few weeks ago in Los Angeles. “And since then, I have basically held onto that same mindset of no matter what happens, whether it’s my last game or my last year or whatnot, I’ll just enjoy it as much as possible. Because when it is over, it’s over for good.”
In Houston, he was the backup catcher’s backup. He was traded last November to Philadelphia, where he has had much more opportunity, and he has taken advantage of it. Starting catcher JT Realmuto tries to play as much as he can, but he ca n’t play every day. In 12 starts this season, Stubbs has proven to be more than capable, posting a 1,130 OPS over that span, with seven extra-base hits.
It is hard to overestimate how badly the Phillies needed to win on Wednesday. Less than 24 hours earlier, they had suffered a crushing loss to Miami in which they’d squandered a six-RBI performance from Rhys Hoskins. In that game, the bullpen struggled to throw strikes, and the infield defense made costly mistakes.
On Wednesday, it was just the opposite. The bats didn’t show up, and the pitching and defense did. Kyle Gibson put together his best start of the season — perhaps of his time as a Phillie — pitching eight innings of one-run ball, then leaving in the ninth after allowing a leadoff single. Right-hander Connor Brogdon came in after him, allowing no hits, no runs, and no walks with two strikeouts and one wild pitch.
Wednesday was a chance to build some momentum, to show the rest of the NL East, and the league, that Tuesday night was an anomaly, and not the norm. And thanks to Stubbs, an unlikely hero, they did.
“You look at my numbers over my career, and there’s no homers, really in my career, even in the minor leagues, too,” he said. “Surprised? Sure. I’d like to say, no, that I’m not surprised, but based on the numbers, yeah. I just do the best I can put good swings on baseballs, and if they go out, they go out.”
Gibson had struggled in June, posting a 7.71 ERA over his last two starts. But on Wednesday, he overpowered the Marlins, holding them to seven hits with no walks and six strikeouts. The only run he allowed came on Miguel Rojas’ leadoff homer in the fifth inning.
After using five relievers to record nine outs on Tuesday night, the Phillies’ bullpen was taxed entering Wednesday’s game. But Gibson’s performance allowed interim manager Rob Thomson to use only one reliever — Brogdon — which kept the Phillies in the game.
Gibson finished his day at just 89 pitches. It was his longest outing of the season so far.
“Tremendous,” Thomson said of Gibson’s outing. “The bullpen was a little short today. He was pounding the zone, getting weak contact. He really gutted it out for us today.”
The Phillies had three big chances to score earlier in Wednesday’s game, and failed to capitalize on any of them. The first came in the bottom of the third, when Stubbs doubled and Kyle Schwarber walked. From there, the heart of the Phillies’ lineup — Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, and Nick Castellanos — struck out, lined out, and lined out again.
In the sixth, Hoskins hit a leadoff triple to left-center field that hit the wall and rolled along the warning track. If he had tried for home, he might have tied the score at 1. But instead, he stopped at third base. From there, the Phillies’ next three hitters all grounded out.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Phillies were gifted another opportunity. Odùbel Herrera hit a one-out infield single but was erased on Stotts’ fielder’s choice. Stubbs walked to put runners on first and second, but Schwarber struck out to end the inning, meaning Hoskins, the team’s hottest hitter, didn’t get a chance to tie the game.