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September 17, 2017

West Chester product Joey Wendle's 'surreal' moment sinks Phillies

Joey Wendle turned 14-years old the same month Citizens Bank Park opened its doors in South Philadelphia.

The kid from Avon Grove High School who would go on to play baseball at West Chester University would practice his swing in his backyard as a kid. He’d take a healthy cut, close his eyes, and imagine he was wearing red pinstripes, circling the bases after hitting a home run for the Phillies.

On Sunday, Wendle, a 27-year-old rookie infielder for the Oakland Athletics, got to live out that dream. Only an hour or so after the moment he mimicked as a kid happened, he was still a little bit in shock.

“Did I run around the bases?” he asked inside the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. “I don't even remember that. … It was pretty surreal.”

Wendle, a September call-up for the second straight season, hit a grand slam in the sixth inning of what was just his second major league start of the 2017 season to erase a deficit and lead the A’s to a 6-3 victory over the Phillies.

“It’s one thing to hit a grand slam to put your team ahead,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s another thing to do it at home. This is a pretty close-knit group of guys, a lot of them have come up together, so they were really happy for him. Everybody knows there’s some sentiment involved when you play at home, so everyone was pulling for him.”

Wendle, who grounded out in a pinch-hitting appearance on Saturday night, said he played about a half dozen times or so at Citizens Bank Park as a budding prospect, first during the Carpenter Cup while in high school and then during the Bill Giles Invitational while at West Chester.

So he was perfectly fine, with no butterflies or anything, when he saw his name penciled into the seventh spot of Melvin's lineup on Sunday and more than comfortable performing in front of more than a couple dozen friends and family who found seats along the third base line Sunday afternoon right?

“Not at all,” he said later with a laugh.

Wendle even had a fan across the way on the Phillies side. Phillies bullpen catcher Bob Stumpo, a Wilmington native, played together on West Chester’s team in 2010.

“Yeah I'm not happy with him at the moment,” Stumpo said with a straight face. “Good for him. It's awesome for him that he's getting a chance to play in the big leagues. Great kid. Awesome dude.”

Two years after Stumpo graduated from West Chester (and drafted in the 33rd round by the Phillies), Wendle was enjoying a breakout senior year. He hit .399 with 12 home runs, 12 stolen bases, and a 1.247 OPS in 56 games with West Chester.

The Cleveland Indians selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft (the same round the Phillies drafted outfielder Cameron Perkins). But three winters ago, Wendle was on the move to the A’s as a prospect traded straight-up for veteran first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss.

Wendle spent the first five months of the 2017 season in the same place he’s been each of the last two years, at Triple-A Nashville. His numbers have been startling consistent in each of those three years: he batted .285 with a .327 OBP, eight home runs, and 29 doubles in 118 games this season.

“We’ve really liked Joey,” Melvin said. “Now there are some people in his way, certainly (veteran Jed) Lowrie and we love (top infield prospect Franklin) Barreto, but Joey, since he's been, here, has done a nice job for us. It’s good that we rewarded him with a call-up because he deserved it. And he was good for us as a call-up last year. He plays good defense, obviously can swing the bat. Since he came over in the Moss trade he’s done a nice job for us, he’s just been blocked by the guys ahead of him.”

Just like the Athletics rewarded Wendle with a call-up for the second straight September, Melvin rewarded the rookie with a start at home before Oakland packed their things and continued their road trip to Detroit. Wendle’s first two at-bats Sunday were uneventful. But he flipped the script on the afternoon when he dug into the batters’ box in the sixth, with the bases loaded, two outs, and right-hander Edubray Ramos on the mound for his hometown team.

“That guy has more than a strikeout-per-inning, so I was looking for something up in the zone because I knew what he could do if I got buried in the count,” he said. “I just got a slider, it backed up a little bit, and I was able to drive it out.”

The visiting dugout erupted. The large contingent of green-clad Wendle friends and family were on their feet, too.

“It’s awesome,” said Wendle, who recently bought a house with his wife in Kennett Square. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of fun baseball opportunities but, yeah, this one is certainly up there. … I’ve done that about a hundred times in my backyard, so it was certainly really fun today.”

The home run was the second in 104 major league at-bats for Wendle. The first came exactly a year earlier, on Sept. 17 in Arlington, Texas, against Yu Darvish.

If Wendle is still with the A’s in 2018, Melvin might want to make sure he’s in the lineup against on Sept. 17.

“Remind me that,” Melvin told a reporter. “I’ll give you my email.”

Henderson Alvarez, a former All-Star with the Marlins who once threw a no-hitter on the last day of the regular season, returned to a major league mound for the first time since May 22, 2015, on Sunday afternoon, a journey that included two separate shoulder surgeries. His results were what most would probably expect for a guy 2 1/2 years removed from the big leagues: four earned runs in five innings, including two home runs.

But the most interesting part of his performance, at least from this seat, was the 18th pitch he threw on Sunday, the first pitch to A's infielder Matt Chapman in the second inning. It arrived in Cameron Rupp's glove so slowly, a noticeable gasp was heard from the 28,054 at Citizens Bank Park.

Alvarez unleashed an eephus pitch, one of two he threw on the day, at 53.6 miles-per-hour. His second such pitch came in the fifth inning and was clocked at 55.8 MPH.

Surprisingly, it was not the slowest of the 661,176 pitchers major leaguers had thrown in 5 1/2 months of the 2017 season entering play on Sunday. According to Statcast data, Colorado rookie Antonio Senzatela threw a pitch that registered at 40.4 MPH (!!) on June 11. 

Before Sunday, there have been 36 pitches thrown slower than Alvarez's first eephus pitch on Sunday. National League Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke even threw one slower earlier this month (52.7 MPH). 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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