Smith helps Mud Hens to playoff win; Phillips late-game sub

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

“Late-game defensive sub” might not be the role that former Demopolis baseball stars Jason Smith and Andy Phillips envisioned for themselves, but that’s the role that each will play as their respective teams battle in–and in Phillips’ case, into–the postseason.

Smith, a 1995 graduate of Demopolis High, saw action in four games of the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens’ best-of-five-series against the Norfolk Tides. Smith began the series as the Mud Hens’ starting first baseman, going 1-4 with a run scored in game 1 Sept. 7. Toledo took a 6-5 decision to go up 1-0 in the series, thanks in part to Smith’s two-out single in the fourth inning. He would score on an error made by a Tides outfielder.

Smith had less luck in game 2, going 0-3 with a pair of strikeouts as the Tides evened the series at 1. Smith came off the bench for the remainder of the series, entering the game as a late-inning defensive substitute in games 3 and 5, Sept. 9 and 11. The Mud Hens won each of those games, taking the series 3-2. Smith also singled in a pinch-hit performance in game 5, but was stranded as the Mud Hens held on for a one-run win.

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For the series, Smith went 2-for-8 for a .250 batting average. Next up for the Mud Hens will be another five-game series, this time with the Indianapolis Indians for the International League Championship. Game 1 is scheduled for Wednesday night.

Andy Phillips hasn’t had an at-bat for the New York Yankees since Sept. 2, but that hasn’t meant he hasn’t seen plenty of action. Yankees manager Joe Torre praised the former Demopolis Academy star’s defense when he was called up for a sixth time at the beginning of September, and since then his actions have spoken as loud as his words as Phillips has become a regular late-game substitute as the Yankees make their push in the American League East pennant race.

In six of the Yankees’ past seven games, Phillips has replaced starting Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi in the field in either the eighth or ninth inning. Beginning Sept. 3 against the Oakland A’s, Phillips subbed for Giambi on Sept. 4, 6, 7, 9, and 11 although never before the eighth inning and never with Phillips’s spot in the order (either fourth or fifth after the Giambi switch) due up the following inning.

After Phillips’s consistently eye-popping numbers at triple-A Columbus, it may be surprising to see the slugger valued primarily for his defense, and at only one position when Phillips can play three (having consistently started at second and third as well). But it seems to be working: the Yankees won five of the six games Phillips entered and Phillips has yet to make an error. His unassisted putout in the ninth helped seal a 1-0 Yankees win Sunday over the hated Red Sox, a win that pulled the Yankees within three games of the AL East lead and a game and a half of the AL wild card.