August 26, 2016
The Carlos Ruiz Era is not exactly off to a great start in La La Land, as the Dodgers needed a blooper with two outs in the ninth to avoid a no-hitter last night against the Giants.
The Carlos Ruiz Era in Philadelphia, though? That was good stuff, at least up until the last few years. Chooch was never the star on any of the Phillies teams that won five straight National League East titles, but he sure was a mainstay that everyone in the clubhouse had extremely high praise for.
“His positive clubhouse personality was infectious and he had great respect for the Phillies organization and the fans,” Cole Hamels said. “He will leave behind a legacy for the catchers that come up through the Phillies system on how to play 'the Phillie way.’"
Let’s take a look at some of the greatest moments during Ruiz’s decade in Philadelphia.
Joe Maddon got creative and went to a five-man infield, but Ruiz hit the ball in a perfect spot, ending a soggy Game 3 of the World Series at 1:47 a.m. It was lucky, but Chooch wasn’t apologizing after the game. From Todd Zolecki’s story:
“I was excited,” Ruiz said. “No matter if it’s an infield hit or whatever, I’ll take it. I’ll take the win.”
This, from Jim Salisbury, perfectly sums up the play that won Philadelphia’s only major sports title in the last 33 years:
After catching the pitcher all season, he knew how good Lidge’s slider was. He also knew that Lidge threw three versions of the pitch, a get-me-over offering that he used to get a first-pitch strike, a backdoor bender that he used against lefty hitters, and The Good One, a sharp, downward-breaking dagger that left hitters flailing at air as it cork-screwed toward the dirt.
On that spectacular October night nearly eight years ago, Ruiz looked into Lidge’s eyes and issued a directive: Give me the good one. Lidge complied. Hinske swung over the vicious slider.
When Jimmy Rollins hit this ball into the right-center gap, everyone in the ballpark knew that the Phillies were going to tie the game. The question on all of our minds (and clearly play-by-play broadcaster Chip Caray’s) was if the catcher was going to score all the way from first.
Chooch was motoring. From Jayson Stark’s account that night:
But right behind him came Ruiz, a man in no danger of being voted the World's Fastest Human, or even one of the World's Fastest 1 Billion Humans. This time, though, he was chugging. He had to chug. There was no alternative but to chug.
"He was motoring," Ryan Howard said. "He knew, man. He knew what he had to do. He had to get going. Fastest I've seen him move since Clearwater, in rookie ball."
On a night when the Flyers opened the Stanley Cup Finals in Chicago, Roy Halladay made history. He only shook off Ruiz once that night. From Matt Gelb’s story:
Later that night, Ruiz called his mother in Panama to talk about what happened and how proud he was of the moment. He stayed up well into the night with his brother, Sammy, reliving the game at the team hotel.
"Still today, I don't believe it," Ruiz said Sunday. "It was special for me."
One of the greatest games ever called!! I shook of Chooch one time that game! The last pitch! Congrats Chooch on your 5th Anniversary!!!— Roy Halladay (@RoyHalladay) May 30, 2016
Man, the Phillies owned poor Jonathan Broxton. And in this August game, Ruiz capped off an incredible comeback that saw the Phillies enter the bottom of the eighth inning facing a 9-2 deficit. Ruiz just missed a homer, but his double gave the Phils a 10-9 win with no outs recorded in the ninth.
"That's the only Chooch I know," Ben Francisco told Gelb:
When Ruiz and Halladay were in sync, there was nothing that opposing hitters could do about it. Luckily for Chooch, he had experience with this sort of thing before. From Rich Hofmann’s (wait, that’s my name?) column:
"We tried to be relaxed the whole game," Ruiz said. "When I saw the scoreboard and it said no hits, I said,'OK, you've got to do this the same way you did it in Florida - have fun, relax.' I did the routine, I talked to Danny [Baez] almost the whole game - the kinds of things that don't make you think about the game."
Ruiz not only called a great game; he also made a very tricky play to throw Brandon Phillips out at first for the 27th out:
Gary Smith wrote an incredible feature in Sports Illustrated on Ruiz, specifically his background in Panama and how he meshed perfectly with the Phillies pitching staff. The glory years were long over in 2015, but on a sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field, he tied an MLB record with the fourth no-hitter caught of his career. From MLB.com:
"We get into habits where we don't even need to call signs," Hamels said. "I think that's something special. I think anybody who's been able to have a combination like that kind of has that understanding.
"When you're able to get that, it's special. That's tough to develop. He's a tremendous catcher and it just shows. If he wasn't, he wouldn't be catching that many no-hitters or perfect games."
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann