Why We Loved Carlos Ruiz So Much

The Phillies traded Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers yesterday. We look back at why he was such a fan favorite in Philadelphia.

Photo | Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports

Photo | Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports

The ball bounced in front of the plate, and it looked like Roy Halladay’s no-hitter was over.

It was the first game of the 2010 playoffs. The Phillies, riding high off consecutive World Series trips, were looking to make another run. The Phillies grabbed a 4-0 lead after two innings — including an RBI and a run from Halladay — and the game was pretty much over. As Halladay mowed down batter after batter, things got even more special. He was going for only the second no-hitter in postseason baseball.

Of course it looked like it might end on a dribbler in front of the plate. But the batter, Brandon Phillips, dropped his bat in front of the plate. Carlos Ruiz was blocked for a half second. Phillips sprinted toward first. The Phillies were probably still going to win the game if Phillips got on, but the incredible moment of a playoff no-hitter would be wrecked.

Friends and I watched the game upstairs at Jose Pistola’s. The whole bar held its breath when that ball bounced in front of the plate. It seemed to take forever. We shouldn’t have been that worried: Ruiz waited for a beat, scooped up the ball and tossed it to Ryan Howard at first. The no-hitter had been preserved.

“I was lucky,” Ruiz said afterward. “It was hard. He’s a fast runner. I had to throw it hard.”

That’s my favorite Carlos Ruiz memory — a ball bouncing in front of the plate, a simple play made complicated by the bat in his way, and a cute quote afterward about how he didn’t really do all that much. But that might not be yours. Ruiz played in 1,069 games with the Phillies. He was behind the plate for four no-hitters. He hit .353 with a pair of home runs in his two World Series’ appearances. Before Matt Stairs ripped one into the night in 2008, Carlos Ruiz singled in front of him. He scored the winning run in the greatest moment in Phillies history, Jimmy Rollinswalkoff double in 2009.

The Phillies traded Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers yesterday. They received catcher A.J. Ellis, Haverford grad Tommy Bergjans, a pitching prospect, and a player to be named later (or cash considerations) in return. GM Matt Klentak said it was a chance to do something right for Chooch. Though he will be Los Angeles’ backup catcher, he’ll get at least one more shot to catch for a playoff team.

“My heart and everything was in Philly,” Ruiz told MLB.com. “I’m definitely going to miss the fans, the city, my teammates, the organization. It was tough to make that decision. It’s sad to leave, but another part of me is happy, because I’ve got an opportunity to go to the postseason and the playoffs and have a chance to go back to the World Series.”

Upon hearing of the Ruiz trade, Phillies fans reacted as if they were Bernadette seeing an apparition of Mary. And why not? Ruiz is one of the most popular players from the Phillies’ run, both by fans and teammates. Carlos Ruiz is pretty much universally beloved. Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard — people you could say were all more important to the Phillies’ five-year run of success than Ruiz — got way more shit. If you were a big fan of one of those three guys, you would eventually hear someone who didn’t like them. Nobody bashed Ruiz, a player who twice tested positive for speed and served a suspension for it in 2012. (He later received an exemption to use amphetamines, as many MLB players have done.)

Carlos Ruiz was the prototypical Philly athlete fans loved. He didn’t say much. Even when he was at the top of his game, he wasn’t really a star — the Phillies originally signed him for $8,000, and he was only named to an All-Star Game once. He happily played sidekick to the series of great pitchers the Phillies had during their run of success. He was the kind of guy who people in the stands could pretend they were, almost. He’s the kind of success story you can really rally behind.

It’s sad to see him go. But it’s good, really: He gets to move on, and the Phillies continue their attempts at rebuilding. The only player that remains from the 2008 World Series champions is Ryan Howard. Phillies fans should savor these moments with him. Who knows when the next time we’ll get to celebrate a World Series is?

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