HOUSTON — In between the two biggest swings of his life, J.T. Realmuto got drilled in the face.
Fortunately, the Phillies catcher was, you know, wearing a mask at the time. But when that sixth-inning foul ball ricocheted off Chas McCormick‘s bat, it clocked Realmuto’s jaw so squarely that the front part of his two-piece helmet detached itself and fell to the dirt behind home plate.
Realmuto, whose fifth-inning two-RBI double had just tied the game, completing Philly’s boisterous five-run comeback, took a moment to collect himself. As he hung his head toward his chest to catch his breath, the umpire strolled out to the mound to give Realmuto a breather. But almost immediately, skipper Rob Thomson and the club’s athletic trainer bounced out of the visitors’ dugout to check on their backstop. At that point, bench coach Mike Calitri hollered down toward backup catcher Garrett Stubbs, letting Stubbs know that he might need to get ready.
But while Calitri and thousands of Philadelphians feared the worst, Stubbs didn’t move a muscle.
“Yeah, I knew J.T. wasn’t coming out of that game.” Stubbs said postgame. “That guy’s arms would have to fall off for him to come out of that game”
Thankfully, it turned out that Realmuto’s stinger was “just” a rough blow to the chin and not a potential concussion situation. After being evaluated by the medical staff, he remained in the game.
Two hours later, he launched a 10th-inning opposite-field laser-beam homer to give the Phillies a 6-5 lead and perhaps the most remarkable victory of their improbable October run.
“That ball got me pretty good in the jaw.” Realmuto admitted postgame. “It’s probably not gonna be very easy for me to eat dinner tonight.”
“That’s a Phillies win right there.”
Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto breaks down his game-winning home run in the 10th inning of Game 1 of the World Series.
While those bumps and bruises and knocks to the chin are normal for any backstop, what’s not normal is Realmuto’s ability at the plate. No other catcher that good defensively bops like Realmuto bops. And Game 1 showcased the spectrum of his talents — 10 innings caught, three runs driven in, a revolving door of relievers expertly handled.
Such is the life of the best catcher on earth.
Mere minutes after the last out Friday night, Realmuto made his way to the visitor’s weight room at Minute Maid Park. And as is the case after every game he plays, home or away, win or lose, April or October, Realmuto worked out. Three sets of three different exercises. About 15 to 20 minutes total. Sometimes upper body, sometimes lower body, but always something, no exceptions.
While his teammates are cracking open cold beverages or addressing the media or hitting the showers, the 31-year-old catcher is in the gym, making sure that his body can handle another nine innings of squatting the next day.
The postgame scene after Game 1 was no different. Those four-and-a-half hours of high-stress, toll-taking baseball were in the rearview mirror, old news. The preparation for Game 2 had to begin, and begin right away.
The glory of a moment like his go-ahead shot in Game 1 starts hours, weeks, months earlier. Way before the lights are on, and the cameras are rolling.
“He’s an absolute specimen.” Stubbs said about his compatriot. “But he’s in the weight room every day, in the training room getting treatment every day, to make sure he’s ready to go.”
Realmuto himself offers a much humbler, more realistic assessment of his situation.
“I’m running on so much adrenaline right now that I feel pretty great every night.”
Catching is a weird job; it’s part-coach, part-advanced-scout, part-therapist, part-three-hour-yoga-class, oh and you also have to hit. But for Realmuto, who so far this postseason has caught every single inning for the Phils, it’s even more important.
As a group, big-league catchers hit .226/.295/.367 in 2022.
Realmuto, on the other hand, hit .276/.342/.478 while also leading all catchers in games started and innings behind the dish. The man is a unicorn, an anomaly, an athletic specimen. He squats for three hours and then hits like an All-Star. It’s why he’s such a crucial, unheralded part of this Phillies team. It’s why they’ve become so reliant on his reliability.
David Robertson, right, and J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies celebrate after their Game 1 win in Houston. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
And even though he hadn’t collected a signature moment before his Game 1 performance, Realmuto has been lurking in the shadows. Without his leadoff single in NLCS Game 5, Harper’s historic go-ahead homer would have been of the solo variety. But sooner or later the October spotlight comes for everyone, and on Friday night, Realmuto was the reluctant star.
And come the early hours of Saturday morning, as his peers bantered about, listening to crude music in the locker room, Realmuto was back where he feels most comfortable, the weight room, preparing for the eventual discomfort of tomorrow.
That’s life as a catcher, and none, as he proved in Game 1, are better than Realmuto.
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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