It was a wild and frenzied finish for several teams as the regular season wound down. While some clubs faltered, seeing their seasons come to an end, others triumphed and advanced to the playoffs. Whether it was a collapse or a significant comeback, countless states of mind resulted from the memorable final weeks of the season. Exhilaration, disappointment, confusion, hysteria and disgust could all be used to detail how players and fans all around baseball felt.
For one young player, that list of feelings varies a bit but is likely just as long when describing his big league debut and the subsequent two weeks.
Rookie hurler Justin De Fratus, who just two years ago was a member of the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws South Atlantic League championship team, pitched a scoreless 12th inning to not only notch his very first big league victory, but to put his name in the history books, as the Phillies won their franchise record 102nd game.
De Fratus found himself the pitcher of record and an inevitable trivia answer on Wednesday night, thanks in part to some good luck. According to the 6-foot-4-inch 220-pounder, the achievement was something that he long hoped to accomplish, but he can hardly comprehend it now that it has occurred.
"The timing of everything that's happened for me, it's been unbelievable," De Fratus said. "Especially, my first day in the big leagues we clinched the NL East and then my first win happens to be this historic win. I just can't believe the timing of everything that's happened to me. It's just crazy. I feel lucky."
Ranked by The Reading Eagle as the Phillies' number 7 prospect, De Fratus helped lead Lehigh Valley into the Governor's Cup Finals in International League. After losing in the championship round to the Columbus Clippers, De Fratus received word that he was being promoted to the big league Phillies. Before he could make the call that he had long dreamed of making, delivering the tremendous news to his father Terry, word of the promotion had been posted to Twitter by members of the media. The right-hander was truly heartbroken over the fact that he wasn't able to phone home with the news, on his own, and would ideally like to see teams give players an opportunity to have that information well before the media gets a hold of it.
"To be completely honest I was (very upset) about it," De Fratus exclaimed. "You would figure...I know people have news to break and all that, but you would think that they would at least give you the common courtesy to hold onto that news for a little bit and let the players-- this is something that we dream about for our whole lives. That goes through our minds, 'How am I going to break this to my parents when this actually happens? What kind of words am I going to use to express what just happened?' And then, all of a sudden, I call my dad and he already knows.
"To me, I thought it was a lack of courtesy. And I don't think that anyone did it maliciously. I understand they have a story to put out, but it would have been nice for me to be the one to tell my parents."
Despite the levels of annoyance, De Fratus bounced back quickly, being joined by four IronPigs teammates as Phillies September call ups and celebrating the team's fifth consecutive division title one night later. The 23-year-old asserted that making the trip to Philadelphia with Triple-A standouts Erik Kratz, Brandon Moss, Joe Savery, Domonic Brown and manager Ryne Sandberg made the move more special.
"We all had high hopes. You're just hoping for it, and when the dream actually does come true, you just look at everyone's face and see the genuine joy. It was a good situation to be in and everybody deserved it and they're all good people."
De Fratus, a California native, was excellent in the minors this season. Combined at two levels for the Double-A Reading Phillies and the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, De Fratus posted a 6-3 record with 15 saves and a 2.99 ERA while striking out 99 batters in 75 1/3 innings pitched.
During his brief stint with the Phillies, De Fratus was assigned the distinction of sporting the famed pink bullpen backpack. Typically a task given to the youngest or newest member of a team's relief corps, the girls' bag contains snacks for the entire bullpen, but must be transported there for each game, so a rookie generally does so, as part of a ribbing.
There's no way De Fratus was going to be embarrassed by something like that though. In fact, it was the complete opposite.
"It means you're there. It's an initiation type of thing," De Fratus explained. "It's just like dressing up on one of the road trips like we had to do. It's almost- you don't want to call it this- but it's almost like a frat. It's a baseball brotherhood and you have to go through some stuff to be accepted. So, I took that backpack and I was proud to wear it. I don't find it embarrassing at all. People can say what they want, I'm in the Major Leagues!"
APPRECIATIVE & EQUIPPED
With the postseason ready to get rolling, the Phils had to trim their active roster to 25 players once again. De Fratus is among a trio of players (Joe Savery and Domonic Brown are the others) that have been sent to the Fall Instructional League to stay sharp in case the big league club finds itself in need of a replacement for any reason.
De Fratus, who pitched extensively last year, spending time with Team USA at the Pan-Am qualifiers and pitching in the Arizona Fall League, feels like the lengthy 2010 campaign helped stretch him out a bit and kept him fresh for a long season this year. The 11th round pick from the 2007 draft says he's ready to go, if needed, and takes it as a great compliment to be held in high enough regard to get such an assignment, while the Phillies head into the playoffs.
"I still feel that I'm strong right now," De Fratus stated. "I don't feel my body is worn down any more than normal and I feel that last year, the length of my season, played a big part in that.
"Hopefully, I stay (in Clearwater) for the whole playoffs and that nobody gets hurt. I never want to wish an injury on anybody. But that's what I'm here for, it's sort of a little insurance policy. You know, I'm honored to be a guy that (the Phillies) look at like that- somebody that if one of their guys isn't able to stay healthy that I'm a guy that they can bring up to get the job done."
With the openness to share his multitude of emotions, De Fratus is easily one of the most interesting players in the Philadelphia organization. Here's hoping the list of mental and physical statuses continues to grow while he dons red pinstripes.
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