Was record-setting strikeout Neris' last act with Phils?


Hector Neris’ time with the Phillies was marked by exciting highs and excruciating lows. 

There were times when he walked off the mound pumping his fist in triumph and others when he walked off hanging his head.

He was cheered and booed. He was trusted with ninth innings and banished to the minor leagues.

And whatever the result was, Neris came back smiling the next day.

Neris’ seven-season run with the Phillies may have ended with Sunday’s season finale. He is one of seven prominent players who will become free agents after the World Series, joining Andrew McCutchen, Archie Bradley, Brad Miller, Matt Moore, Ian Kennedy and Freddy Galvis.

During his time with the Phillies, Neris served as a bullpen setup man and a closer. He often walked a tightrope. Sometimes he made it to the other side and recorded a save, others he hung a splitter and walked off the mound with the emptiest of feelings. That’s life as a closer. Only a few inches separate a hearty back pat from a swift kick in the butt.

If Sunday was the last of Neris’ 405 games with the Phillies, it was representative of the highs and lows he experienced with the club. He gave up a two-run homer in the fourth inning as the Miami Marlins broke a 3-3 tie on their way to a 5-4 win over the Phillies. 

Later in the inning, Neris struck out two batters then got another one in the fifth inning. The three strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings left him with 520, the most in a career by a Phillies reliever.

Beloved in the clubhouse for his upbeat nature and team-first attitude, Neris was embraced on the mound after the milestone strikeout and in the dugout by the coaching staff and manager Joe Girardi.

Neris had tears in his eyes as he took in the moment, a record he dearly wanted juxtaposed with the reality that it came on possibly the final pitch he would throw with the only team he’d ever been part of.

“I don’t know how to explain the emotion,” he said afterward. “Everything is together and everything came out.”

Ron Reed, a remarkable athlete who pitched 19 years in the big leagues and played two seasons in the NBA, previously held the Phillies record for strikeouts by a reliever with 519. Reed, who played basketball and baseball at Notre Dame, was a starter for a decade in Atlanta before coming to Philadelphia for eight seasons and helping the Phillies win two National League pennants and a World Series in 1980. He was 57-38 with a 3.06 ERA in 458 games with the Phillies and remains vastly underrated for his impact on some excellent teams. 

Neris’ route to Philadelphia was quite different. The Phillies took a chance on him in 2010, after an agreement with the Kansas City Royals fell through. You can read about Neris’ journey here.

Neris, 32, pitched himself in and out of the closer’s role a couple of times with the Phillies, including this season. After moving to a setup role in July, he pitched to a 2.51 ERA in 40 games and allowed runs in just seven of those games.

The Phillies will need to add relief help this winter. They know Neris well, know what makes him tick, know what he’s all about. Would they bring him back on a free-agent deal this winter, perhaps as a setup man?

Time will tell.

“I’m open to it,” Neris said. “But I have no control of that. It’s my only team. My emotion is here, my heart is here, my family is here. I know everybody here. I’d be open to coming back, but it’s not only me.”

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