Phillips quick study in impact of speed
BY JOHN ERARDI | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Brandon Phillips' style of play has played a huge role in the Reds' 17-7 start, infusing his new team with more of all the things that have been in too short supply around here the last several years: speed, defense and relentless pressure on the bases that can make the other team just a little bit jumpy.
"I believe in my speed," Phillips says. "As long as I can get a good jump out there, I can create some things."
He did it again in the fourth inning Saturday. He chopped a high-bounder between home and third that Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte fielded and threw away, scoring two runs to put the Reds up 3-2.
Then, after Reds pitcher Aaron Harang singled up the middle to send Phillips to second, Phillips stole third and later scored with a head-first slide across home plate on a wild pitch that barely eluded Astros catcher Brad Ausmus to put the Reds up 4-2.
In the very next inning, Phillips beat out what looked as though it would be a third-to-second-to-first double-play ball off his bat. That speed and hustle allowed Adam Dunn to score, giving Phillips his second RBI of the game and putting the Reds up 6-2.
It was similar to the mayhem Phillips created Friday night.
In fact, when Phillips trotted off the field following Saturday's pre-game batting practice, Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky approached him and shook his hand.
"Nice job (Friday night)," Krivsky told him. "Those were great jumps you got out there on the bases."
Krivsky is a big base-running guy. He believes in anticipation, a quick first step, good secondary leads - meaning that even when you aren't stealing a base you get a running lead to go on contact - and he believes in putting pressure on the other team's defense by taking the extra base whenever possible.
Oh, does Krivsky ever believe in the last of those. And, oh, does Phillips ever do it.
Consider what Phillips did in the fourth inning Friday. See Brandon run: Singled, stole second, took third on a ground ball to shortstop, and then scored on a ground ball to second - even though the infield was drawn in.
"It was the whole run by himself," Krivsky said.
"On base, my instincts take over," Phillips explained. "When I'm on third like that, I'm gone on contact if it goes anywhere but to the pitcher. I believe in my speed. As long as I get a good jump out there, I can create some things."
On his Friday night station-by-station scamper, Phillips' jumps at every base were critical. Plenty of players don't get to third on that grounder to short. Plenty of players don't turn Brandon Claussen's ground ball to second into a no-play at home. It was as though Astros second baseman Craig Biggio was startled by Phillips' quickness and had to go for the easy out at first base.
Phillips' baserunning has affected the entire team.
Why? Because getting on base and pressuring the other team's defense gives you some strut. Even when three-run bombs aren't in your repertoire, you know there are other ways to win.
How often since 1999 has that been the case around here?
Phillips couldn't be happier.
"It's just a matter of coming to a team that is already good, and just trying my best to make the team a little better," Phillips said. "It's a blessing to come over here and get a chance to play."
It's no mystery why he's in the middle of everything. He's perfectly comfortable in that role.
He played point guard in basketball, and running back and wide receiver in football. When he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1999, the former Redan (Ga.) High School star had scholarships to play both football and baseball at the University of Georgia.
"I try to be the main focus," Phillips said. "I like being the centerpiece of a team, but right now I'm just trying to go with the flow and fit in. There are other cats here, other leaders here. I'm just trying to get my name back on the map and play baseball."