What’s next for Luke Williams?
A walk on the moon?
Seriously. Have you seen what this kid has been up to the past few weeks?
First, he lights up the stats sheet for the Lehigh Valley Phillies Triple A squad, then he joins the USA squad and runs that club in hitting while helping them qualify for the Games. Olympic Games in Tokyo, then he gets the call every baseball player dreams of, the one telling him he’s going to the big leagues.
And the next thing you know, he’s standing in the field at Citizens Bank Park on a hot and humid night, hugging his mom and dad and brother and sister.
“You can’t make it up,” said the 24-year-old Californian, eyes cloudy from the moment. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Yes it was.
The Phillies were on their last game Wednesday night when Williams, on his second day in the majors, went to plate and scored a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to take his team to a spectacular 2 victory. -1. on the Atlanta Braves.
Williams’ first major league home run came the same night he hit his first major league brace and one night after missing his first major league hit.
Prior to the home run, which came on a 0-1 slider from closest southpaw Will Smith, the Phillies hadn’t had a hit since the fourth inning. This shot was a double by Williams.
Williams’ jaw-dropping home run on the left came two hitters after Andrew McCutchen worked an eight-pitch goal with a full count to give the Phillies some hope.
Williams turned hope into victory – a victory that pitchers Zach Eflin (six innings, one run) and Ranger Suarez (three scoreless innings) more than deserved – and a personal dream come true.
What a way to cap off your first big league start – with a boisterous home plate celebration.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever have words to describe this moment,” said Williams, who was a 2015 Phillies third-round pick. “I’m still trying to figure it all out.”
With years of experience and perspective, manager Joe Girardi could figure that out.
“There are tons of emotions out there,” he said. “This game is so much fun and can be heartbreaking at the same time because of times like this.”
Williams reached .444 (8 for 18) with a double, triple, homerun and six RBI in four games to help the U.S. team qualify for the Olympics last week. He won’t be going to Tokyo because the Phillies needed him in the big leagues, but that’s okay.
“It has always been something I dreamed of,” he said of his participation in major tournaments.
Eflin was out of the game, watching the ninth inning in the coaching hall with a few other pitchers, when Williams went home.
“It was electric, absolutely electric,” Eflin said. “We were in the coaches room. We made it exist. We said, ‘Captain America is going to end it here.’ We said it and he clubbed him. We were panicking.
“I think the boys needed that, needed to see that passion and that fire. So it came down to two outs in the ninth and Luke had a two-run homer. Absolutely, it can be a change of momentum towards tomorrow. We are excited. It could very easily be one of those moments in a season.
The Phillies have struggled to get things done consistently this season. After 60 games, they are 29-31, four games behind the Mets, leaders in the East of the NL and half a game behind the Braves, second.
The fans haven’t fully supported this team. Citizens Bank Park is open at full capacity, but the crowd on Wednesday night (13,552) was the third smallest in stadium history. The Tuesday night crowd (13,125) was the smallest.
Perhaps Williams’ heroism will draw a few more fans on Thursday afternoon when the Phils have a shot at winning the series behind their top pitcher, Zack Wheeler.
During his post-game Zoom conference with reporters, Williams racked his brains trying to think of the last time he hit a home run. Finally, he remembers doing it as a teenager during a travel ball tournament.
“To do it in the big leagues is pretty indescribable,” he said. “I thought my phone blew up with texting the other day. I can’t imagine tonight.
Moments after the home run that sealed the victory, Williams was joined on the field in front of the dugout by his parents, Mark and Jeannine, his brother Ike and his sister Samantha. The scene was both tender and triumphant. Mom and dad were in Florida for the Olympic qualifying tournament last weekend, returned home to Southern California on Monday, then returned to east Philadelphia when their son was called up on Tuesday. Samantha came from Iowa, where she plays softball, and from Iowa State, and Ike from Utah, where he is a student at the University of Utah. Older brother Jake was unable to enter because he was out of the country and had to go through COVID protocols.
“It’s pretty amazing to have them here to witness this in person,” said Williams. “It’s not just me who got here. I had a lot of people to help me, family, friends, coaches.
“It hasn’t been the easiest trip. It’s pretty awesome.
Yes it was.