The electricity is back and these Phillies can't wait to feel it

The electricity is back and these Phillies can't wait to feel it

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There's a mural on the wall outside the Phillies' spring training clubhouse, a giant picture taken a few seconds after Carlos Ruiz and Brad Lidge embraced and the Phillies won the World Series on that magical October night in 2008. Citizens Bank Park is packed to the rafters and the crowd is in a state of euphoria.

Rhys Hoskins was standing near the mural Friday morning, less than 24 hours after the Phillies landed slugging free agent Bryce Harper with the largest deal in American sports history — $330 million.

"You know, everybody talks about this picture behind us," Hoskins said. "There's rally towels waving around, you can't see an empty seat, you can't see anywhere where people can stand. I don't want to hear about it anymore. I want to feel it. So I think we're on our way and I think Bryce gives us a chance to be there."

With that quote, Hoskins captured the mood of an entire franchise Friday morning. The clubhouse buzzed with excitement. The folks in the front office, after walking on eggshells for several days awaiting Harper's decision, had a spring in their step. The phone lines at Spectrum Field, the Phillies' spring home, rang with people looking to buy tickets and back home in Philadelphia it was more of the same — times a thousand.

The Phillies' great run of Jimmy, Chase and Ryan ended on that October 2011 night when Ryan Howard fell to the ground in pain, his ruptured Achilles tendon forever a symbol of a powerful dynasty coming to an end. The Phillies haven't had a winning season since, haven't been back to the playoffs since. They embarked on a long rebuild. There were hirings and firings, a lot of losses and a lot of empty seats as the electricity of 2007 to 2011 vanished.

The electricity is back now. Sure, it will take victories to sustain it because that's what it's always about. But the team's front office and ownership group has ignited the electricity again with an offseason that has seen them land a handful of decorated players — former MVP Andrew McCutchen, hit machine Jean Segura, stud catcher J.T. Realmuto, all-star reliever David Robertson — topped off by the addition of Harper, another former MVP, who at 26, should have more in his future.

"We got a lot better before this offseason," Hoskins said. "Even before this move, there was an excitement and a buzz around camp with the guys we'd previously brought in. But you bring in a guy like this and I think now it becomes, 'We think and we know that we can kind of take the next step from last season to now. This is ours.'

"We're a confident bunch and you add a player like this — it makes everyone else better.

"The whole offseason, the front office and ownership has instilled a lot of confidence in us. Getting a guy like this can put us over the top."

Harper wanted a lengthy deal and a no-trade clause because he does not want to move around. He wants to play until he's 40. He got that long-term deal — 13 years — with the Phillies. He did not request an opt-out clause like so many other free agents these days. He did not want a test drive and an off-ramp. He wants to stay in one place, dig in literally and figuratively, and produce.

"The money and the no-trade are huge," Hoskins said. "But that he specifically asked for the no opt-out — obviously that's a commitment and it's really cool to be a part of the city and on a team where a player like that is committing the bulk of his career to that city. I think that says a lot about his character and the competitor he is and obviously, we're really excited to have him on the team."

Hoskins has the same agent (Scott Boras) as Harper and the two are friends. The Phillies' slugging first baseman learned of his new teammate in a phone call from his new teammate.

"Hey, man, I'm coming," Harper told Hoskins on Thursday afternoon.

Hoskins was thrilled. He'd actually stopped following the drama of where Harper would go a few days earlier.

"Quite honestly, I had lost the energy to follow it," Hoskins said. "I think with everything that came out and all the guesses that were going on, it was pretty apparent that not a lot of people knew what was going on and at that point, it's time for us to get ready for the season and focus on camp to be ready to go."

Harper is expected to travel to Florida for a physical Friday. A news conference will follow Saturday. Then it's a month of preparation and game-on. Harper will be in right field March 28 when the Phillies open the season at home against Atlanta.

Aaron Nola — a budding star in his own right — will be on the mound.

And the electricity will be back.

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Phillies Talk podcast: MLBPA proposal, Roy Halladay documentary and 2008 Phils magic

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Phillies Talk podcast: MLBPA proposal, Roy Halladay documentary and 2008 Phils magic

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman react to the MLBPA's latest proposal, the Roy Halladay documentary and recall some of their favorite moments from the Phillies' opening playoff series in 2008.

• Are players and owners closer to a financial resolution?

• It seems like the two sides are having completely separate conversation.

• What's more likely: 82 games or 114?

• Our takeaways from the Roy Halladay documentary.

• Halladay may have ended up coaching with the Phillies.

• 1-on-1 with Cole Hamels about 2008 playoffs.

• Best moments and memories of that 2008 NLDS vs. Brewers.

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Phillies had 2 massive extra advantages in 2008 NLDS vs. Brewers

Phillies had 2 massive extra advantages in 2008 NLDS vs. Brewers

You need a lot to break right to win a championship in any sport but particularly in baseball, where we routinely see the best team fail to win it all. It doesn't matter how you've performed in the preceding six months and 162 games, any team is susceptible to a bad week in October.

The 2008 Phillies were not the favorite to win the World Series when that postseason began. They had won 92 games with a prolific offense. The Cubs won 97, and in the AL, the Red Sox, Rays and Angels all won 95-plus.

The teams with the two best records in baseball that year (Angels at 100-62, Cubs at 97-64), were dispatched quickly in the playoffs, with the Cubs suffering a sweep to the Dodgers in the NLDS and the Angels going down in four games to the Red Sox in the ALDS.

Who knows how much differently the 2008 playoffs would have gone for the Phillies if they drew the Cubs or Dodgers in the NLDS, or the Red Sox instead of the Rays in the World Series. It obviously doesn't matter because reality > hypotheticals, but that 2008 postseason was a good example of timing being everything.

The 2008 Phillies were a better team than the 2008 Brewers, but they also had two huge benefits in that series beyond home-field advantage. Those benefits were the Brewers' top two starting pitchers.

CC Sabathia was the blockbuster trade acquisition in '08. The Brewers acquired him on July 7, three weeks before the deadline, and he dominated for more than two months. In 17 starts with Milwaukee, Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Ridiculously, he pitched seven complete games with three shutouts in those 17 starts.

But by the time the postseason began, Sabathia was spent. His start against the Phillies in Game 2 of the NLDS was his fifth straight start on short rest. Four days earlier, Sabathia had thrown 122 pitches in a complete game.

It was clear pretty early in that game that Sabathia was not the pitcher he was down the stretch, and Phillies fans will never forget the second inning. (We will explore the famous nine-pitch Brett Myers walk and Shane Victorino grand slam in more depth Tuesday.)

The other advantage the Phillies had was that the Brewers' rock that year, Ben Sheets, found out at the end of the regular season that he needed Tommy John surgery and would be unable to pitch in the playoffs. Sheets, who had a 3.24 ERA in 128 starts from 2004-08 and was a four-time All-Star, never ended up making a postseason start. 

Had he been healthy, Sheets would have started Game 1 for the Brewers ahead of Sabathia. Instead, that Game 1 start went to Yovani Gallardo, who had torn his ACL on May 1 and was unable to return until the final week of the regular season. 

Gallardo went on to have a decent 12-year career but he wasn't ready for that big moment in enemy territory in '08. The Phillies scored three runs off of him (unearned because of a Rickie Weeks error), and that was plenty of run support for Cole Hamels.

The Phillies clearly benefitted from the Brewers' starting pitching situation that October, but that doesn't discredit the business they took care of. In the NLDS, Prince Fielder went 1 for 14 (.071). Ryan Braun, who would go on to become a career Phillie-killer, had just an OK series, reaching base in five of 17 plate appearances and going hitless with runners in scoring position until his final at-bat of the series, an RBI single with the Phillies up five runs in their Game 4 clincher.

The Brewers hit just .206/.271/.254 as a team in that series with one home run against the Phils.

The re-airs of the Phillies' entire 2008 playoff run begin tonight on NBC Sports Philadelphia. The NLDS runs this week from Monday-Thursday, followed by the NLCS next week and the World Series the week after.

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