Bradford: Why Brandon Phillips' introduction was no fluke

Rob Bradford
September 05, 2018 - 9:09 pm

USA Today Sports

ATLANTA -- Brandon Phillips scored three runs Wednesday. He hit a 95 mph fastball 432 feet at an exit velocity of 108 mph. He made a very, very good defensive play and ran the bases with the kind of smart aggressiveness good teams thrive on.

How did he do all of this? Because there is still a quality major league baseball player in that 37-year-old body.

But how did it all come out in this burst of productiveness, without a hint of hesitation in his very first go-round? There might be an answer to that question which isn't easily measured but is very real. It's happening too often not to be.

June 29: Steve Pearce plays in his first game in a Red Sox' uniform and notches two hits, including a double, at Yankee Stadium. His first five starts with his new team the results were a .474 batting average and 1.289 OPS.

July 29: Nathan Eovaldi makes his first start for the Red Sox, pitching seven shutout innings. His next outing would result in eight more frames without giving up a run.

July 31: Ian Kinsler finds himself in the Red Sox lineup for the first time, kicking off an initial two games with Alex Cora's team that results in four hits in his first 10 at-bats while making his presence felt defensively at second base.

Now Phillips.

After answering questions about his game-winning home run and everything that surrounded it for about three minutes, the infielder took some time to gather his things in preparation for a trip to his new hotel home in Boston. But he had one last thing to add when asked about the whirlwind that had encompassed just about 24 hours in the Red Sox' clubhouse.

"Let me tell you this, these guys make me feel like I’m home," he told "I love this group. I know I just met them but for them to give me the energy and make me feel like I’ve been here. They make me it easier for me. If I came here and there was a totally different vibe then it would be hard for me to adjust to them. These guys, I see why they’re winning and why they’re gelling and playing the way they’re playing. I love it."

It sounded like something bordering on a cliche considering the relative sample size Phillips had to draw from. But then you start thinking about those aforementioned debuts. Then you start talking to some of those who had lived a similar existence.

Suddenly we can at least talk about some sort of cause and effect.

"I said the same thing. It’s a very easy clubhouse. Everybody is fun. Everybody is accepting. When you get a new piece to the puzzle and you come in we’re just like, ‘Let’s go, baby!’ It’s a really great feeling for a newcomer to be able to walk into a clubhouse and not feel like you have to walk on eggshells," Pearce said. "It’s hard sometimes. When I got over here I was like, ‘This is easy.’ You’re going to the Red Sox and it’s intimidating. You’re going to the best team in baseball and you don’t know how it’s going to be. But then you get in the clubhouse and everybody is playing video game, laughing and having a good time, including you in conversations. It’s just a great feeling. I know exactly where he’s coming from. It’s why he got here and started playing care-free baseball, playing the baseball he knows how to play."

"It’s a lot of fun to step into," Kinsler said. "It’s about winning the game, bottom line. Helping the guys around you. That’s what it’s about. It makes it really easy."

This debate about how important this kind of chemistry might be is always a slippery slope. Did an accepting clubhouse lead to Phillips' hauling off on that A.J. Minter first-pitch fastball? Maybe not. But did the ease of the environment pave the way for a player feeling comfortable to play his brand of baseball without, as Pearce puts it, having to walk on eggshells? Perhaps.

We do know that what the Red Sox have isn't the norm. And it's not just because of the win total. Phillips noticed it. The other new guys did, as well. And it hasn't been lost on even those who have been around for a while.

"It’s not something can be forced," said Red Sox starter Rick Porcello. "The important thing is the culture established by Alex (Cora) and the coaching staff and everybody has fallen into that. I’ve never been in a clubhouse, and it’s easy to say when you’re winning, where you have so many likable guys. Guys are pulling for each other. Guys who are competing at the same position are pulling for each other. It’s a quality group of individuals. I think it starts with Alex and the tone he sets and evolves from there.

"Maybe the fact (Phillips) is comfortable allows him to settle in as quickly as he did. Everybody who has come over has settled in. There’s no nervous energy. Brandon hasn’t been here the whole year but he basically did what the rest of the guys have been doing the whole year. It’s pretty fun."

Dismiss it all if you will. But when big league players who have been around a lot of years and a lot of teams suggest something is different, and that difference has led to these sort of memorable first impressions, it's worth paying attention.

It's becoming too much of a coincidence.

"I’ve played on a lot of teams. When you have team chemistry it’s great. This team has more than team chemistry," Phillips said. "Everybody is getting along with everybody and I’m loving it."