Wells takes one for team on longest of nights

Phils pitcher Casper Wells covers home in the 18th early Sunday as Adam Eaton scores a run. Wells, normally an outfielder, had pitched in high school and college.
Phils pitcher Casper Wells covers home in the 18th early Sunday as Adam Eaton scores a run. Wells, normally an outfielder, had pitched in high school and college. (AP)
Posted: August 27, 2013

There are two kinds of baseball games in which position players are asked to pitch: games in which the score has become so lopsided that it no longer makes sense to waste a pitcher's arm, and games that have gone so long without resolution that all the available pitchers have been used.

Either way, it's a very messed-up game.

The Phillies and the Diamondbacks played one of those on Saturday night, a 7-hour, 6-minute game that was both the longest in Phils franchise history (which only dates back to 1883) and was very, very messed up.

Starter Ethan Martin didn't get out of the first inning, and the Phillies trailed, 7-1, by the middle innings before starting a comeback that was capped by a game-tying, two-run Darin Ruf home run in the eighth.

And then neither team scored in the next nine innings. That was the messed-up part.

The Phils used all of their available bullpen pitchers during that stretch and also used Tyler Cloyd, who had been scheduled to start Sunday, for five innings and 91 pitches. When the game reached the top of the 18th inning, it was time to go to the taxi squad.

In the dugout, manager Ryne Sandberg approached outfielder Casper Wells. "Have you ever pitched before?" Sandberg asked.

There is a difference between having pitched and being a pitcher, and no one knows that better than Wells, but the answer was an easy one. Yes. He had pitched before.

Wells, 28, who has been with six organizations in a relatively unremarkable nine-year professional career, was waived by the Chicago White Sox earlier this month and signed by the depleted Phillies. At the moment Sandberg asked Wells about pitching, things weren't really looking up for him. Since joining the Phils, Wells had one hit in 23 at-bats (.043), including an 0-for-7 effort with four strikeouts in this endless Diamondbacks game.

Most people outside a major-league clubhouse never appreciate just how hard a game it is, or, more succinctly, how good a player has to be to even struggle at this level. Players who make it this far but bounce from team to team looking for the right situation are like military kids stepping tentatively into a new school every year. You want to do something to fit in, to be accepted. More than anything, in a baseball sense, you want to help somehow.

Wells grew up as a pitcher and an outfielder. He was still in both worlds when he played college ball for Towson outside Baltimore. Wells was 6-0 as a starter in his junior year, but when he was selected by the Tigers - the 420th pick of the 2005 draft - it was solely as an outfielder.

"It was surprising, because when their scout came to watch me, I pitched great games," Wells said. "Early in my career in the minors with the Tigers, I would say, 'Hey, I can pitch, too.' "

He never pitched, though, and didn't get onto a mound until earlier this season when he did throw one inning of mop-up for the White Sox in one of those lopsided disasters, a 19-10 loss in the first game of a doubleheader against Cleveland.

"The last time before that was eight years ago in college," Wells said.

By his own account, Wells was not a polished pitcher back then. He hated walks and he threw a lot of fastballs for strikes. Often, way too many strikes. Mixing in a waste pitch now and then didn't interest him all that much.

But, to answer the question, yes. He had pitched.

"Do you want to pitch?" Sandberg said.

"I told him, 'Sure,' " the new kid in school said. "Whatever would help the team out. I didn't find it funny at the time. I just said, 'Yeah.' Ryne told me to just throw strikes. I'm going to go out and compete in any role I'm given, so my mind-set was just to go out there and compete."

It would be nice to report that Wells shut down the Diamondbacks and the Phillies recorded their fourth straight walk-off win in the bottom of the 18th. That's not what happened, however. Wells got two quick outs - throwing fastballs in the low-90s and an occasional change-up - and guys were elbowing each other in the dugout and normally staid pitching coach Rich Dubee was splitting a grin.

Even if they didn't know it before, they could tell Wells knew his way around a mound. They could see the Arizona players snapping back their heads in surprise. What is this? The outfielder can pitch? It was like learning that the new kid in school could whistle just like a police car siren.

And then reality poked through a perfectly nice story. Wells gave up a walk, on very close pitches, and then a run-scoring double, and then, after an intentional walk, a single, a walk, and another single. His arm was shot after 17 innings in the outfield and then 40 pitches on the mound. He did well, really well, but that wasn't enough. Hits went just over gloves, hits went just through the infield hole. The Phillies were down by four runs. Sandberg went to get Wells.

"Casper handled it very well. I watched him warm up, and then when he got the first hitter, we said, 'All right. We've got a shot here,' " Sandberg said.

"He made some great pitches," John McDonald said. "Baseball's just unforgiving sometimes."

McDonald, an infielder who had been pressed into outfield duty for that 18th inning, was waved in to relieve Wells, and this time there was no misunderstanding the situation.

McDonald was not nor had ever been a pitcher, but he could flop slow, sidearm pitches over the plate until some unfortunate Diamondback finally made the last out. Carlos Ruiz didn't even bother to put down a sign. The infielder-turned-outfielder-turned-pitcher allowed one more run, settling what would become the final score at 12-7, and Tuffy Gosewisch suffered the ignominy of having made two outs in the same inning to two pitchers who weren't really pitchers.

"Wells was throwing as hard as a lot of pitchers. He was throwing harder than Cloyd was," Gosewisch said. "He had a good idea what he was doing. Obviously, he had done something before. He could probably be a pitcher."

At one time, Wells thought so, too, but as the man said, the game can be unforgiving. It didn't forgive those five runs charged against him, and the Phillies went quietly and quickly in the bottom of the 18th. The longest game in team history was over, and, barring another very unlikely situation somewhere down a shortening road, so was the big-league pitching career of Casper Wells.

"A lot of people back home still thought I pitched until the last couple of years," Wells said. "They'd ask my family, 'How's he pitching?' And they'd say, 'He doesn't pitch. He plays outfield.' "

He pitched this time, though. He didn't get the win and he didn't get lucky, but everyone shook his hand afterward and looked at him a little differently. He might not stay at this school, either, but if he did, they would all be OK with that.

Bob Ford:

Extra, Extra Innings: By the Numbers

712: Total pitches in Arizona's 12-7 win over the Phillies.

168: Number of at-bats.

7:06: Time of game, the longest in Phillies and Diamondbacks history.

20: Number of pitchers.

18: Number of pitchers who were pitchers.

44: Number of players used.

4: Phillies leftfielders (Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., John McDonald, Darin Ruf).

17 1/3: Total relief innings, a Phillies record.

18: Walks issued to Arizona batters, the most in Major League Baseball since July 2, 2004, when the Phillies walked 18 times against Baltimore.

2: Phillies position players used as pitchers (McDonald and Casper Wells). The last time the Phillies used two position players as pitchers in one game was July 22, 1945, at Wrigley Field (Jimmie Foxx and Rene Monteagudo).

Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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