In same game he starts triple play, torrid HR pace continues
By Ben Harris
PHILADELPHIA -- He had been on the other end of a curtain call before. Quite a few. But for the first time in his life, Rhys Hoskins was the one whom a stadium of nearly 29,000 fans were begging, pleading to emerge at the top step of the dugout so they could shower him with the immense admiration they'd stored inside, walled off over nearly five seasons of losing baseball.
The impetus for Hoskins' inaugural curtain call was his 11th homer, a 3-2 fastball cracked to left in Sunday's 6-3 victory over the Cubs, that so emboldened the soft-spoken, yet confident, young man that his first step out of the batter's box came not in his normal gait, but an excited skip.
The homer came three innings after Hoskins started a 7-4-3 triple play with a sliding shoestring catch in left that flipped the game on its head and kindled a Phillies comeback and series win over the defending-champion Cubs.
"Their guy who's going to the Hall of Fame next week makes another play," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He beats you with the bat, he beats you with the glove."
Hoskins' 11th homer came in the 18th Major League game of his career, an MLB record dating back to at least 1913. No player had ever hit 11 in even their first 22 games, let alone their first 18. According to Elias, he'd reached the 11-homer threshhold in 17 fewer at-bats than any player in history. Hoskins is lapping the competition with all of two weeks' experience facing big league pitching.
It was Hoskins' fifth straight game with a homer, tying a Phillies franchise record last accomplished by Chase Utley in 2008, and shared by just six players total in the team's 134-year history. Including Tuesday's doubleheader, when he homered in one of two games against Miami, Hoskins has now homered on the past eight Phils gamedays.
The twilight zone had descended on Philadelphia.
"Is anyone having deja vu?" Hoskins asked reporters.
The night before, his manager, Pete Mackanin, joked he'd be mad if Hoskins went a day without going yard.
"He heard what I said postgame last night," Mackanin said. "He came in [the dugout after the homer] and said, 'Well, I didn't want you to be mad at me, so I hit a home run.'"
Eleven homers into his career on a pace never before seen, it's Hoskins' approach that continues to impress. The homers don't come if he deviates from his approach, but you're not supposed to have such a polished approach shy of 20 games into your big league career in the first place. Most never get there at all.
"I don't think I've ever seen a young guy look that profound at home plate," Maddon said. "Look at his walk to strikeouts. That's the part that tells me he can sustain, not necessarily this pace, but he can sustain, because he doesn't strike out. He will accept his walks. He doesn't expand the strike zone. He uses the whole field. He's a big guy with short movements to the ball. Pretty impressive."
Hoskins has 11 walks and 13 strikeouts on the season -- eight of those strikeouts have taken at least five pitches.
This two-strike homer was his seventh, tying team-leader Aaron Altherr, who has taken 238 more at-bats this season. Hoskins still leads baseball in two-strike OPS.
When Cubs reliever Koji Uehara began nibbling at the outside corner in the eighth inning, Hoskins' plate prowess was put on full display yet again.
Hoskins' 11th homer was another example of his superb discipline. See him wait for Uehara to bring the pitch just inches closer? Then BAM. pic.twitter.com/e5XcSb1PrF
Uehara threw four straight pitches out of the zone, although one was called a strike. At 3-1, Uehara nicked the outside corner with another fastball -- Hoskins fought it off. Next pitch, another fastball found the strike zone, just inches closer to Hoskins than the previous pitch. It was more than enough to get his barrel on it.
"The approach the whole time was fastball away," Hoskins said. "That's what he was doing. The one 3-1 was a good pitch. The 3-2 just leaked out over the plate a little bit. In this league, guys are too good, you can't miss that pitch."
A player with 64 career big league at-bats isn't ever held to the standards of the rest of the league. They're too young, too inexperienced. They're supposed to struggle. But Hoskins is doing anything but. Instead of being exempt from expectations, he's rewriting them.
Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia who covered the Phillies on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.