Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Some September call-ups can open eyes

Back when Terry Francona was managing the Philadelphia Phillies, the team promoted a 21-year-old switch-hitter once rosters expanded in September. The Phillies were well on their way to another sub-.500 season. Francona, as it turned out, would be fired shortly after the end of the season. There was nothing to lose and not much more to gain.

Still, though, they didn't play the kid right away. He'd hit .274 with 28 home runs, 11 triples and 12 home runs for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he'd drawn almost as many walks (49) as he'd absorbed strikeouts (55). But the Phillies had veterans Tomas Perez and Desi Relaford playing the kid's position, and Francona wasn't about to shove them aside out of respect for the way they'd endured such a miserable season.

Both Perez and Relaford were 26 years old, too, so the Phillies had some interest in seeing them get at-bats and some development time, too. It wasn't as if they were 37-year-old journeymen on the way out. The kid, on the other hand, was ticketed for the Arizona Fall League's Maryvale Saguaros and would get plenty of at-bats there.

But Jimmy Rollins just wouldn't let Francona leave him on the bench.

Rollins had two hits, including a triple, and stole a base and scored two runs in his first game in the major leagues. He drew a walk in his first at-bat and scored when Bobby Abreu hit a home run. He then tripled down the right-field line in his second at-bat. (True for form for that Philadelphia team, the next three hitters struck out and stranded him at third.)

He then sparked a three-run inning in the seventh, singling to center field on the first pitch of the inning and stealing second base during Abreu's at-bat. He eventually scored on Pat Burrell's single to center field, and the Phllies scored three runs to put the game out of reach of its shaky bullpen.

(The Marlins still rallied late. A third baseman by the name of Mike Lowell hit an RBI single in the ninth inning, even. But Francona's final reliever of the game struck out right fielder Mark Kotsay with runners on first and second to end the game and secure a win in Rollins' debut.)

Rollins finished his two-week stint with a .321 batting average and five runs scored in 53 at-bats. A year later, he hit 14 home runs and stole 46 bases and finished third behind Albert Pujols in the National League's Rookie of the Year voting.

"Jimmy got called up, and he wasn't supposed to play much," Francona said. "But when we called him up, it was like, 'Holy (smokes), this guy is good,' so we played him a little bit more than we probably were supposed to just because he looked so good."

Don't expect any of the Red Sox call-ups to make the same type of impact this month. Teams always will be less inclined to give extra playing time to rookies when they're in a pennant race.

But if someone like Joey Gathright or Josh Reddick comes up and gets hot with the bat, don't be surprised if Francona finds a few extra at-bats for him.

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