As Philadelphia Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski paraded through the festive Phillies’ clubhouse Wednesday night, following newly-acquired Michael Lorenzen’s no-hitter in Philadelphia’s 7-0 win over the Washington Nationals, a chorus of voices rose up amid the celebratory postgame cheers and music.
“Great trade, Dave!”, one Phillies player after another shouted out their general manager.
That it is too soon to properly evaluate the trade that sent minor league infielder Hao-Yu Lee to the Detroit Tigers for Lorenzen is a reasonable perspective. The 1987 Detroit Tigers were celebrating their acquisition of Doyle Alexander, who pitched to a 1.53 ERA while running a 9-0 record for them down the stretch of the 1987 season, only to rue the pitcher they gave up in the deal — John Smoltz — for nearly two decades afterward.
But what has already happened provides tangible proof that the architect of the 2022 National League champions, and so many other winning teams in major league history, has once again utilized his signature executive vision to make the Phillies better.
“The one thing that I can say about Dave, and also him from the time that he drafted me, is that he's all about winning,” Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos, who signed with the Phillies for this reason and hit two home runs in the win Wednesday, told reporters at his locker after the game. “And he's always going to find the people that he believes in the most that can get him across that finish line.”
Baseball is a game of forever weighing now and later — the Alexander-for-Smoltz deal is an extreme example, and there are people who will, reasonably, believe that getting the performance Detroit did was worth any cost in future production, just as there are baseball folks who will insist the limits of a single season make the trading away of a future Hall of Famer unforgivable.
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Dombrowski has long drawn criticism in some quarters for focusing on the now over the later. The fan bases at every stop, though, they’ll be celebrating the championships, and rehashing them with their children and their children’s children, long after Dombrowski has left the scene.
Dombrowski emphasizes the now, but he is not reckless. He has been after Michael Lorenzen for a long time, he told us following the trade deadline on a Zoom call. But he wasn’t going to make promises he couldn’t keep.
“He was even a guy we inquired about in the wintertime,” Dombrowski said. “But he was in a position where he really wanted a commitment to be a starting pitcher at that point. And we could not give him that commitment... he's been a guy who's been pitched in the All Star game, has good stuff. A high draft choice in the past. So he's always been someone that's been a quality major league pitcher.”
Lorenzen was off to Detroit to begin the 2023 season, where he found that his rediscovered slider was as potent a weapon as ever. And always tinkering, he found his changeup recently as well, during a period that’s been as satisfying as any in his career. And the Phillies acquired him to start, yes, but as insurance as well, creating a six-man rotation. Dombrowski has been around enough winning teams, squads he’s created, to know it is always necessary to have more than enough pitching.
By the time he joined the Phillies, Lorenzen began allowing himself to think that after so many years of struggles, of intermittent effectiveness dulled by endless injuries, he might just begin to reap the joy from this game.
“This game has punched me in the face so many times,” an emotional Lorenzen told reporters, standing in front of a Phillies backdrop in the center of the clubhouse after his feat. “I feel like — I’ve played, this my ninth season. I've yet to have a year that I'm happy about. And so I just gotta rely on the work that I put in and trusting and hoping that it's gonna pay off at some point and you know, it's been a it's been a good year. We have a couple months left, though, and and getting into playoffs and have a lot to accomplish left.”
Because beyond even a question of value, or whether Lorenzen is enough to push the Phillies over the tipping point, into the playoffs, lies the basic reasons why so many people live, and play baseball, and put teams together in the first place. The level of sheer joy present at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night isn’t something quantifiable, most appreciably when the final out of the night off the bat of Washington’s Dominic Smith settled into Johan Rojas’ glove, Lorenzen pointed skyward as his teammates scrambled en masse toward him, and Harry Kalas’ voice began to sing “High Hopes” as 30,406 fans screamed and high-fived in delight.
It was present in Lorenzen, in his wife Cassi, mom Cheryl and nine-month-old baby June Elizabeth, all only present because Lorenzen is still living at a hotel and simply looking for a place to live after the trade. Cheryl’s tears of joy played on the scoreboard amid the celebration, a visceral reminder of how much this meant to those closest to the moment.
It was present in the family of Weston Wilson, who got to see him homer in his first at-bat as a major leaguer after logging 2,836 of them in the minors, Wilson looking skyward as he began to round the bases, a moment he said later he couldn’t feel his legs as he ran.
“It's been a long journey,” Wilson said afterwards, tearing up. “And I try not to get emotional. But the relationships helped me get to this. My wife and my family just my grandma, she passed away in spring training. So there's all those all those people, I think there's a moment they've been waiting on for a while as well. And they loved me more than anything. So just being here for it made my night.”
That this is the essence of baseball is something Dombrowski gets, and not enough other people around the game operate this way. It’s both a competitive advantage for Dombrowski and a loss for many other fans, players and teams that this is so.
Even the moment itself would not have been possible without the team that Dombrowski created, regardless of how Lorenzen had pitched. If the Phillies weren’t operating with a six-man rotation and some upcoming off days that manager Rob Thomson had already been able to plan for as a result of his roster, he wouldn’t have allowed Lorenzen to go 124 pitches as a matter of preserving his pitcher’s health.
But as so often happens in Dave Dombrowski’s career, the luck that everyone in that Phillies clubhouse toasted Wednesday night drew directly from Dombrowski’s design. Such moments can be rare.
“The first in my entire college career, minor league career, major league career,” Thomson said afterwards of the no-hitter. “...This is the first one I've ever had on our side. So I have no script.”
And even when they come more frequently than that — as they have for Nick Castellanos and his son, Liam, 10 this month, in the clubhouse after this one, and who’d also been present for Wade Miley’s no-hitter when Castellanos was with the Cincinnati Reds in 2021, the joy from the daily grind of the game is almost indescribable.
“Liam has been a part of has been there for two on the positive side,” Castellanos said with a big smile. “So it's pretty incredible.”
Or as Thomson summarized it: Baseball is is a wonderful game.”
Castellanos has been around enough teams not to ascribe magical consequences to such a game — when asked if this can produce additional bonding between a veteran team and its new acquisition, he was circumspect. But whatever happens next, the acquisition of Michael Lorenzen has produced an indelible memory that can never be taken from everyone who experienced it Wednesday night.
“That's a good question,” Castellanos said. “And I don't know all the answers to that. But what I do know is that today was a fantastic day for Philadelphia.”