A little more than a year ago — June 8th, 2006 to be exact — then-Ranger Antonio Alfonseca gave up a 3-run homer to Matt Stairs that led to an embarrassing 16-12 loss in Kansas City. The manager of Texas at the time, Buck Showalter, phoned ‘Seca in his hotel room the following morning and told him bluntly, “Sorry, you’ve got to go.”
“OK, I’ll go home,” Antonio told him, figuring at worst he’d wait around a couple of weeks before catching on with a new team. Sadly, that phone call never came.
The following winter, feeling he was still able to pitch at the Major League level, Alfonseca and his extra appendages packed their bags for the Dominican Winter League to pitch for Azucareros del Este with the hopes that he’d impress scouts enough to warrant another shot at the bigs. The guy he impressed was Charlie Kerfeld, special assistant to GM Pat Gillick. With the Philthies in need of bullpen help, they took a chance and signed Antonio to a one-year, $700,000 contract.
Most Philly fans — myself included — thought the signing was a big joke. A 35-year old [allegedly] who got cut the previous year by one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors isn’t exactly cause for excitement, ya know. But hey, at the very least you could milk out a year’s worth of octopus and fatty jokes. That’s better than signing a sucky young pitcher with 5 fingers any day of the week.
Fast forward to now. Due to the injuries of our original closer Tom Gordon and starter-turned-closer Brett Myers; coupled with horrific play by youngsters Matt Smith and Fabio Castro, Alfonseca has been summoned to return to the closer role (His last save before this year came in 2002 with the Cubs) and has been practically perfect ever since.
In 6 opportunities as the “official” closer, ‘Seca has gone 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 5 saves. Not too shabby. Besides the surprising stat line, Alfonseca has been equally enjoyable to watch. In Wednesday’s thumping of the ChiSox, El Pulpo came into the game in the ninth even though the Phils were up 4 and it wasn’t a save situation. After surrendering a leadoff walk to Juan Uribe, a visually upset ‘Seca threw his arms towards the sky in disgust and his glove went flying off his hand landing outside the pitcher’s mound. He calmly picked up his glove, regained his composure and threw his trademark sinker that turned into a baserunner-erasing double play.
I fully understand that the chances of him keeping up this pace are slim and none, but at a time where the Phil’s could’ve closed up shop and blamed their bad play on injuries and mental errors, Alfonseca has overcompensated for a shoddy back end of the bullpen with a memorable month-long stretch that just might’ve saved the season. Or at least prolonged the upcoming heartache an extra month or two.
Surprisingly, Uncle Cholly Manuel summed it up best, “He’s been kind of a savior to us.”
Well said, Cholly.