Bamboo-zled: Brad Miller Ignites Phillies With a Potted Plant
On Sunday, the Phillies world could not have felt any worse. After losing seven games in a row, including sweeps by the National League East division leaders the Atlanta Braves and by the National League East cellar-dwelling Miami Marlins, the atmosphere surrounding the Phillies was one of pessimism. Enter Brad Miller.
Miller, who once was a 30-home run hitter for the Tampa Bay Rays and was twice released this season and playing for the Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre Rail Riders, seemed to find the perfect spark.
The Phillies defeated the Mets on Monday by a score of 13-7. Granted, part of the situation was that the Phillies lineup had mostly returned to the one that had early success. But the bamboo became a rallying figure. It was good enough.
The potted plant soon would anthropomorphize into Twitter accounts tweeting. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler had a personal bamboo plant for his office sitting on his desk. And, one plant will be heading to Miami with the Phillies this weekend. After all, the plant led to four straight wins, including two walkoff wins in a row, right?
Baseball players have traditionally been very superstitious. Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game. All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra would do a toe-tap and adjust his batting gloves before each pitch. So what is a little plant that originated in China?
Miller may have been in the minor leagues when the Phillies acquired him, but he is a veteran player. The 29 year-old began his career in Seattle in 2013. He joined the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016 after a trade and hit 30 home runs for the club. By 2018, he was a trade deadline acquisition for the Milwaukee Brewers.
After passing through the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees organizations, Miller joined the Phillies. A bench player, he would be tasked with providing some left-handed at bats on occasion. But what he has brought the club also is a veteran approach. One that knew that the Phillies were much better than the seven-game losing streak they endured.
Enter a silly little plant.
Baseball has plenty of sabermetrics to help identify numerical trends on major league teams. But the game is a very human game played by human players with real concerns. The Phillies are a team who lost Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera, David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Adam Haseley, Victor Arano and Pat Neshek, and who for a time also lost Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos.
That can mentally bring the mood down significantly. The team was struggling to score runs. The team was struggling to get outs in the bullpen without their relief aces. Starters felt extra pressure and did not give the team enough innings.
Miller's bamboo plant brought the locker room back into focus and helped tune out all the nonsense. Something as simple as a plant - something easy for anyone to acquire - has quickly become a rallying point. It helps the team forget all of the adversity they are facing and relax. It helped re-ignite a fan base that had bought into the season, only to be disappointed.
It brought back the fun Phillies t-shirt market with bamboo t-shirts.
Yes, the Phillies defeated a New York Mets team in all kinds of disarray. But the same Phillies team could not even win a single game from the rebuilding Miami Marlins, the consensus last place team. A four-game sweep is rare, no matter who a team is playing.
After losing seven straight, getting four right back is just what the Phillies needed. If they can carry that momentum into Miami and have success there, they have the potential to keep moving forward and be a legitimate threat in the National League East after all. With 13 games left against the Braves, there is plenty of time to make up a few games.
Last season the Phillies slumped down the stretch. In 2019, if the club can look back to this series as the turnaround point, it will be hard to look at it and not think of one thing: a bamboo plant.