Polanco forced to watch history with sore back

Polanco forced to watch history with sore back

PHILADELPHIA -- Placido Polanco's sore back kept him out of the Phillies' lineup Wednesday night, but he got to rest it while enjoying a front-row seat for baseball history.

The untimely absence of the Philies' regular third baseman was alleviated by starter Roy Halladay's no-hitter as Philadephia won Game 1 of the National League Division Series, 4-0, over the Reds. And the play of reserve infielder Wilson Valdez helped keep Halladay's masterpiece -- and manager Charlie Manuel's easygoing demeanor -- intact.

"He did the same thing he's been doing all year for us," Manuel said of Valdez, who went 1-for-3 with a run scored and played seamless defense to help preserve the first postseason no-no since Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

Valdez handled both ground balls hit his way -- one in the second inning and one in the seventh -- and finished off his inning's worth of outs on the penultimate play of the game, squeezing Miguel Cairo's foul popup to record the second out of the ninth.

"He's played outstanding for us. He came out of nowhere ... and now Wilson Valdez has had a big year for us. He's a tremendous defensive player, and he can get a big hit for you."

Valdez, who hit .258 with four home runs and 35 RBIs in 333 at-bats this season, started at the hot corner on Wednesday and batted eighth. Manuel had planned to have Shane Victorino hit leadoff and Polanco second, but with Polanco out, Manuel hit Jimmy Rollins leadoff and Victorino second.

The maneuvers seemed to work as well as Halladay's spotless repertoire, as it couldn't have been all that surprising for the Phillies, who have been saved on many occasions by Valdez's presence.

Shortstop Rollins missed nearly half the year because of a strained right calf and hamstring, so Valdez started 50 games there in addition to 35 games at second base and three games at third.

His lack of experience at the hot corner didn't show up Wednesday, which earned props from man of the milestone moment Halladay -- even in the midst of a string of postgame questions about the no-hitter and his place in the annals of the game.

"We did a great job," Halladay said. "Wilson at third did a great job stepping in. I know he hasn't played there as much lately, but all the way around, a very good defensive game."

It is days like this when Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has to feel fortunate that Valdez cleared waivers earlier this season. The Phillies signed infielder Juan Castro to a Major League contract before the season, expecting him to be their utility player. But Castro had trouble staying healthy, fell out of favor with Manuel and Valdez won the utility job.

Valdez, who dyed his goatee red for the postseason, said before the game he was expecting Polanco to play.

"We don't want anybody to get hurt, but if anybody gets hurt, I'm ready to take his spot," Valdez said. "It's nothing different. I have to be ready every day. When I don't play, I work at different positions to get used to it. When I get a chance to play, I'm ready."

Polanco's readiness for Friday's Game 2, meanwhile, remains in question, although after the game the veteran sounded markedly optimistic about his condition.

"I feel a lot better now," said Polanco, who added that he would try hitting in batting practice during Thursday's off-day workout at Citizens Bank Park. "I feel pretty good because I improved a lot today when I came here and got all the treatment."

Amaro said the team never considered leaving Polanco off the NLDS roster, because it expects him to eventually play in the series.

"It wasn't so alarming that we thought it would affect our roster," Amaro said in the dugout before Game 1. "If it was more serious, yeah."

And despite Valdez's play Wednesday, if Polanco continues to sit, it certainly would be a big loss for the Phillies. Polanco hit .298 with six homers and 52 RBIs in 554 at-bats and played solid defense at third this season.

Amaro said Polanco's back has improved since Tuesday, when Polanco first received treatment. Manuel said it got worse since Tuesday. Amaro said Polanco first felt his back tighten getting out of his car Monday, and Polanco confirmed that Wednesday night.

"They asked me how [I got hurt] and I really couldn't say anything," Polanco said. "That's probably the only drastic move I made, getting out of the car. It was raining, and I got out of the car. And that's it. But I didn't slip or anything."

Polanco, who has been bothered this season by a bone spur and tendinitis in his left elbow, received a fourth cortisone injection into the elbow last week and said Tuesday it felt much better.

"Kind of freaky," Amaro said of Polanco's back injury. "He did not fall out of the car. He told me yesterday he doesn't really remember doing anything."

And when it comes to Valdez, Amaro continues to be more than appreciative of his presence on the bench.

"I've thanked my lucky stars quite a few times," Amaro said. "He's done a great job for us."

Todd Zolecki and Doug Miller are reporters for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.