An alligator, a flying helmet and a playoff spot: What a week for the Phillies
By Victor Mather
The Philadelphia Phillies’ week began with three straight victories and the team clinching a playoff berth. So far, so good.
But if fans assumed the remaining games on the schedule would be pro forma, they were mistaken.
]An alligator was denied admission to the park. The team’s star hurled his helmet into the stands in fury. And now the Phillies are due to finish their season with three games in New York against the Mets, who already endured a long rain delay Thursday night that had players and coaches fuming. (The first of these, scheduled for Friday night, was postponed as heavy rain brought flash flooding to New York and the surrounding region.)
The weirdness for the Phillies began last Wednesday when a fan named Joie Henney turned up at Citizens Bank Park. He was not alone. Accompanying him was WallyGator, his emotional support alligator.
But Henney was turned away, as the policy at the park is that service dogs are permitted, but other animals are prohibited.
Wally’s moment of fame (possibly not unwelcome to his owner, as the reptile has a significant social media presence) was overshadowed by an even more talked-about incident in the third inning of a home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday night.
With a full count, the Phillies’ star, Bryce Harper, took what appeared to be ball four and went so far as to remove his shin guard as he prepared for what he was certain would be a trip to first base. But the third-base umpire, Angel Hernandez, ruled that Harper had swung at the pitch, calling him out. Replays seemed to show that Harper had checked his swing, and even commentators unfriendly to the Phillies said it was a bad call.
The fiery Harper naturally took exception and charged toward Hernandez, who ejected him from the game before he even got there.
The incident was magnified because Hernandez has developed a reputation among players and fans as an umpire who makes more than his share of questionable calls.
“It’s bad all around,” Harper said after the game. “Every year, it’s the same story, the same thing.
“I’m going to get fined for being right,” he added. “Again.”
Harper’s rough-and-tumble style is revered by the rough-and-tumble Philadelphia sports fans, and his final gesture is only likely to endear him to them more: As he left the field, he hurled his helmet into the stands, getting impressive altitude on the toss.
Several fans scuffled for the souvenir, and the child who wound up with it, Hayden Dorfman, 10, became as one-day famous as WallyGator had been the night before, with interviewers clamoring for his story.
“There were, like, three or four dads diving in,” he told NBC Sports Philadelphia in an interview, while wearing the helmet in the stands. But one or two of those dads developed a quick conscience, and it was agreed to “give it to the kid,” Hayden said. Harper later signed the helmet for Hayden.
Next up for the Phillies is the Mets. Maybe. Flooding in New York and a forecast calling for more rain forced a postponement of the game Friday night at Citi Field. They will try to get a doubleheader in Saturday and one more game Sunday.
The Mets had a memorable Thursday night of their own. They were trailing the Miami Marlins 2-1 in the top of the ninth inning when the umpires called a rain delay. The players on both teams, as well as those hardy fans who stuck around, ended up waiting out a baseball-less 3 hours, 17 minutes before everyone was sent home at 12:58 a.m. Friday. Neither team was happy about the long, ultimately fruitless delay.
As for the Phillies, who lost in the World Series last season, a return to the playoffs and a chance to go one better is welcome. Should they get there, Citizens Bank Park will have a typical raucous Philly atmosphere.
Bryce Harper will be there. Wally will not.