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May 15, 2016

Cameron Rupp 'holds onto ball for dear life' in dramatic game-ending play

Aaron Nola was in the trainer’s room, going through his post-start routine, when Cincinnati Reds pinch-hitter Jordan Pacheco launched a fly ball to left field.

There was one out in the ninth inning. The game-tying run, in the form of Reds infielder Eugenio Suarez, was on third base.

“Dang,” Nola said he thought to himself, “That’s pretty deep.”

Tyler Goeddel, the 23-year-old Rule 5 pick who had made just seven starts in his first month in the big leagues, knew it was hit pretty deep, too. He broke back.

But after he caught it, Goeddel, a lanky Californian, built like some combination of Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, let loose on the best throw he’s ever made in his life.

“I got everything into that throw, basically, and luckily enough it was right on line,” Goeddel said. “Thank God.”

The game-saving play that ended the Phillies' 4-3 win on Saturday night – their sixth win in their last seven games, their ninth one-run victory in the last 16 days, a win that moved them into second place – was arguably the most entertaining finish to a game at Citizens Bank Park since the golden era of 2007-2011.

And Cameron Rupp, who was on the other end of Goeddel’s perfect throw, played the part of Aaron Rowand. He wasn’t the least bit concerned with a pending collision that could leave him injured; he was only focused on the ball headed his way.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know how I caught it,” said Rupp, who thought it may have tipped off Suarez’s helmet in the nano-second before one of the loudest impacts you’ll see in a baseball game. “But it went right in my glove, and that’s the end of it.”

Well, that was the end of it until a brief replay review. But when a play is that bang-bang, it’s really difficult for anyone to think Rupp was trying to block the plate; if anything, Suarez may have been at fault for not attempting to slide around or behind the catcher in an attempt to score the game-tying run.

“I was so fired up,” Goeddel said. “I thought we got him. I was pretty confident it was going to stay the way it was.”

And it did. And the Phillies, a team some people thought would lose 100 games and most people pegged for at least 90 losses, improved to a season-best seven games over .500.

“I guess we had to make it a one-run game,” manager Pete Mackanin joked of the Reds rallying to draw within a run but his team still prevailing. “Perfect throw to the plate. Great execution. Great way to win a game. Fantastic.”

Rupp was a little dazed and confused afterward. He said he never lost consciousness, but he had a small cut on his forehead, most likely where the helmet jammed into his head upon impact.

“I have a mark on my forehead?” Rupp said. “That’s OK, it’s just dirt.”

A burly Texan, Rupp grew up playing football, like everyone else in his state. He was a linebacker and running back in high school.

“I was usually hitting people,” he said. “I wasn’t getting hit very often. But that was fun.”

“He’s a big man,” Mackanin said. “I wouldn’t want to run into him.”

In the moments after the play, it was honestly tough to figure which was the more impressive part of the game-ending play: Rupp’s fearlessness and dexterity to stand in his place, catch a ball with a base runner not bearing down, but on top of him when the ball arrived … or Goeddel unleashing a ridiculous throw from left field, a throw that didn’t just have the distance but also uncanny accuracy.

Goeddel only began playing the outfield last year in the Tampa Bay Rays minor league system. He was a third baseman before that. And like many a third baseman, he apparently has a pretty strong arm.

“I was like, he’s got one chance, he’s got to let it eat,” Nola said. “He let it eat. That was a perfect throw, it couldn’t get any better than that. … I’m glad Rupp didn’t get hurt.”

Rupp was glad after the fact, too. But he didn’t give it a passing thought when the ball and the base runner arrived at the same time on Saturday night and a win was on the line.

“I was just thinking, ‘Hold onto that ball for dear life, don’t let it go,'” Rupp said. “And whatever happens, happens. I sacrificed everything. It’s my plate. I’m not letting him get to it.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21