10 Years Ago Today, Aaron Rowand Ran Into a Wall in South Philly
“I didn’t want to go into the wall for nothing.”
That was Aaron Rowand, three days after he broke several bones in his face making a catch in center field in Citizens Bank Park. Still heavily bruised, Rowand held a press conference and was explaining his action immediately after running into the wall while making that catch. He held his glove up in the air — to show the umpires he’d caught the ball.
Rowand was in just his 33rd game in a Phillies uniform when he made the catch that broke his nose. He’d been acquired in the offseason for Jim Thome, who’d become expendable after Ryan Howard‘s breakout rookie year. He’d looked good so far: Rowand was hitting over .300, he’d hit six homers already and the Phillies were 18-15.
It was in the top of the first inning in a game against the Mets, and it was raining. Forecasters said it was going to rain harder later in the night, and there was a possibility the game would be shortened. (Games in Baltimore and Pittsburgh had already been rained out that day.) Then the Mets loaded the bases against Gavin Floyd in the top of the first. When Xavier Nady drove a two-out, 3-2 pitch to center field, it looked like the Phillies would be down 3-0 in what very well could have been a five-inning game.
Then Rowand made his catch, smashing into the center field wall immediately afterwards. His knee dented the ‘M’ in the W.B. Mason ad. He broke his nose and suffered fractures around his left eye. He landed on the disabled list. But he saved three runs in a game the Phillies won, 2-0, in a rain-shortened five innings.
Even the Mets heaped praise onto him. “You see great catches all the time, but to see a guy sacrifice his body like that made it even greater,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “The greatest play I’ve ever seen live,” Mets pitcher Steve Trachsel said.
“I’ve seen a lot of great catches,” Charlie Manuel told reporters later. “To say that was the greatest catch — don’t know. That would be tough. … I think it becomes the greatest catch because of the effort, the determination, the want-to. The way he caught the ball — he knew he was definitely going to hit the fence. With all the things that happened, I think it definitely might be the best catch I’ve ever seen.” (This is a prototypical Charlie Manuel quote. That guy is great.)
Rowand left the game immediately and was taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. “He’s hurt pretty bad,” Manuel told reporters postgame. Rowand had surgery and was placed on the 15-day disabled list. He told reporters at a press conference a few days later he wouldn’t shy away from walls anytime in the future.
“I play hard,” Rowand said. “That’s how I played as a kid. My coaches and my father taught me to play like that. … People can call me stupid. It doesn’t bother me.” It wasn’t a lie. Five years earlier, while with the White Sox, Rowand sprained his shoulder while crashing into the wall in an attempt to save Dan Wright‘s no-hit bid. Wright eventually lost the no-hitter, but Rowand held on to the ball and made the catch.
That kind of play, of course, immediately endeared him to Phillies fans — or at least the ones who weren’t grumbling about his 15-day absence and the Phillies’ 5-9 stretch without him. He would literally run into a wall to help the Phillies win. And although Rowand only spent two seasons with the team — he’d sign a 5-year, $60 million contract with the Giants after the 2007 season and win a World Series with them in 2010 — one play 10 years ago today firmly cemented him in Phillies lore.
Rowand was asked about a famous quote by Ricky Watters: “For who? For what?” He said that after short-arming a ball late in a game the Eagles were going to lose. Rowand had a response to that question: “For who? My teammates. For what? To win. That’s what it’s all about.” A Philadelphia legend was made.
“My job is to go out and catch balls hit in my direction,” Rowand said when he nearly ran into the wall again not long after returning to the lineup. “I don’t put any more into it than that. They hit some balls over my head toward the walls, and I went out just like I always do, just trying to catch them. I’m glad they had enough air under them where I could run them down.”
And Rowand’s injury did lead to one permanent change at Citizens Bank Park: The centerfield wall is now more heavily padded. If Odubel Herrera ever crashes into the wall face-first, perhaps he won’t break his nose.
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