It might seem like an extended dream sequence to onlookers, and Rhys Hoskins’ initial response as the media mob approached Sunday afternoon might suggest it feels that way to the Phillies’ rookie, too.
“Is anybody having déjà vu?” he asked.
Understand, however, that Hoskins, in the majors not quite three weeks, has eyes wide open. That he has a workmanlike approach to his craft that figures to serve him well over the long haul — that will carry him through the lulls that are sure to come.
He allowed that it has been “not so hard” to keep his wits about him as he has humbled a humbling game, however temporarily — as he has smoked 11 homers in his first 18 major league games, the latest a solo shot off reliever Koji Uehara in the eighth inning of Sunday’s 6-3 victory over Chicago. Part of a day’s work that also saw him start the 14th triple play in club history (see Instant Replay).
“You give yourself a little bit of time to appreciate each day,” Hoskins said. “We have lives outside of the baseball stadium, so I try to focus on my home life when I go home. And when I come to the stadium it’s a new challenge that day.”
A challenge he is meeting, and then some. According to Elias, his 11 homers have come faster than anyone in modern major-league history (64 at-bats). The previous best was 81 trips, by Shane Spencer (1998-99) and Gary Sanchez (2015-16), both with the Yankees.
Sanchez’s career is, like Hoskins’, very much a work in progress, but Spencer’s seven-year tenure offers evidence that all of us might want to pump the brakes on Hoskins-mania. After that promising start, he managed just 48 more homers.
So yeah, there is some heartache to come. There will be adjustments by opposing pitchers, and Hoskins will have to adjust to the adjustments.
But for now, he is defying the imagination. He has homered in five straight games, something that has only happened five previous times in franchise history, and Sunday’s blast established a club rookie record for homers in a month — even though he was called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Aug. 10.
While doing all that he has given life to the major league’s worst team. He has left the Cubs’ erudite manager, Joe Maddon, joking that Hoskins is “going to the Hall of Fame next week.”
More seriously, though, Maddon sees things in Hoskins that should stand the test of time.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young guy look that profound at home plate,” he said of the 24-year-old Hoskins.
The evidence, Maddon said, comes in his 13:11 strikeout/walk ratio.
“That’s the part that tells me he can sustain, not necessarily this pace, but he can sustain because he doesn’t strike out,” Maddon said. “He will accept his walks. He doesn’t expand the strike zone. He uses the whole field. He’s a big guy with short movements to the ball. Pretty impressive.”
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin again called Hoskins “a professional hitter” and said the rookie approached him after Sunday’s game, having heard the manager joke the previous night that he almost expects him to go deep every day now.
“He came in and he said, ‘Well, I didn’t want you to be mad at me, so I hit a home run,’ ” Mackanin said. “All’s well in Philly today.”
Fellow rookie Nick Williams said as much, after a day in which his two-run homer, part of a five-run fifth, put the Phils ahead to stay.
Watching Hoskins, Williams said, makes him “feel like a kid in Little League again.”
“I kept saying today that it’s not real,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to be a part of and watch it live. Whenever you watch it, it feels like you are watching records daily. It’s just been awesome.”
It’s no different for Nick Pivetta, Sunday’s starting pitcher.
“It’s a special thing to watch, the way he keeps his composure, the way that he sticks to who he is and the way he handles (things),” he said of Hoskins. “He’s a true professional.”
Lost in all this is that Hoskins, a natural first baseman, has made the transition to left field this season. And in that guise, he made a game-turning play Sunday.
The NL Central-leading Cubs had scored three times in the first against Pivetta and seemed poised for more when Anthony Rizzo walked and Tommy LaStella singled to start the fifth.
But Hoskins snagged Javier Baez’s sinking liner and threw to Cesar Hernandez at second to double off Rizzo, who had been running with the pitch. Hernandez fired to Tommy Joseph at first to nab LaStella, who had also strayed.
The Cubs challenged whether Hoskins caught the ball, but the play was upheld on replay.
“I did know I caught it,” he said. “I was just hoping that because it was kind of an awkward angle, especially on the replay, that they weren’t going to have enough to overturn it.”
And they did not.
“Anytime something like that happens,” Mackanin said, “it kind of gets everybody’s energy up. It got the players’ energy up.”
Right on cue, the Phillies scored those five runs in the bottom of the inning, with Galvis’ game-tying two-run single and Williams’ homer the key blows.
The triple play was the first by the Phils since Aug. 7, 2016, at San Diego. It was also the first Hoskins had been a part of, much less seen life, and left Pivetta in disbelief.
“If there’s one way I was getting out of that inning, that’s what was going to happen,” he said. “Sometimes the baseball gods are just in your favor, and that’s the way it goes.”
All that was left was for Hoskin to homer, and he obliged on a 3-2 fastball from Uehara, the seventh time he has gone deep with two strikes.
He was accorded a curtain call afterward, something that left him with “goosebumps” as he thought about it later, he said.
But if everyone else felt compelled to rise to their feet, let the record show that he is firmly planted, with eyes wide open. That by all appearances, he is built to last.
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