Phillies

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Steve Carlton, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay. There are certain eras of Phillies baseball over the last 40 years when you knew who was going to have the honor of being named opening day starter before spring training even started. This year, Aaron Nola was poised to take the ball for his third straight opening-day start. 

Since Carlton’s incredible run of starting 14 out of 15 openers, there have been 15 pitchers tabbed to start the season off for the Phillies but not all were household names. Here’s a look back at some of the pitchers you may have forgotten got the nod in Game 1 of 162.

2005-06: Jon Lieber

Lieber had a couple of pretty good seasons with the Cubs early in the 2000s, was an All-Star in ’01 when he won 20 games and started three straight Opening Days for them. But after having Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Yankees, missed all of ’03 and then bounced back with a solid 2004, good enough for the Phillies to sign him.

He won that '05 opener for the Phillies and had a pretty good campaign, winning 17 games and leading the NL in starts. He pitched another two unremarkable years for the Phils, going 12-17 with a 4.87 ERA.

2001/02: Omar Daal/Robert Person

Lumping these two together because it was a transition time for the Phillies. In the midst of their seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the Phillies traded ace Curt Schilling in July of 2000 to Arizona for four players, one of which was Daal. The lefty ended up losing 19 games in 2000, one game short of becoming the first pitcher in 20 years to lose 20. But that was good enough to earn (?) him the opening day start in 2001, the first with Larry Bowa as manager. Daal had a better year, going 13-7, but did have a 4.46 ERA.

Person also had a very solid season, going 15-7 with a 4.19 ERA. That got him the start in the 2002 opener, but he never found the same success on the mound as he did in ’01. At the plate, however, he had one of the more memorable days for a Phillies pitcher this century in a June game vs. Montreal. He hit a grand slam and a 3-run homer, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI.

2000: Andy Ashby

Ashby had come up in the Phillies system in the late '80s and actually made his MLB debut for the club in 1991. He was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft and ended up in San Diego, where he flourished. He was a two-time all-star, started a couple of openers and helped lead the Padres to the NL title in 1998.

When the Phillies traded three prospects for Ashby before 2000, they thought it gave them a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation to go along with Schilling (who missed the beginning of 2000 due to injury). However, that didn’t work out. After going 4-7 with a 5.68 ERA, Ashby was traded during the All-Star break to the Braves for Bruce Chen.

1996: Sid Fernandez

Did you even remember Sid Fernandez was a Phillie? From 1994 through 1999, Schilling started five of six opening days for the Phils. When he started ’96 on the DL, in stepped Fernandez for the opening day honor. “El Sid” had some really good seasons with the vaunted Mets staff of the '80s, making a couple of All-Star games and helping them win a World Series.

Almost a decade later, he signed with the Phillies for the second half of the ’95 season and did well, posting a 3.34 ERA and going 6-1. He wasn’t as effective in ’96, which basically ended his career (he pitched one game for Houston the next season).

1990: Bruce Ruffin

Remembered more for his Chris Berman-given nickname, Bruce “Two Minutes For” Ruffin’s career started with a bang. He went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Phillies in 1986. But it kind of went downhill from there. Over the next five years with the club, he never finished above .500 and had only one year with an ERA below 4.00. But he got the opening day start in 1990 because someone had to. Partly because…

1989: Floyd Youmans

Maybe the original “new guy” that got the nod for the Phillies, Floyd Youmans had a promising start to his career in Montreal. He started the opener in ’87 at the age of 23, but injuries and a suspension derailed his time there. Before the 1989 season, the Phillies got him in a trade for Kevin Gross. Youmans started only 10 games for the Phillies in what was his final MLB season.

1987-1988: Shane Rawley

Rawley actually had a few good years with the Phils. He made the All-Star team in 1986 and won 17 games with a 3.54 ERA. In ’85, he won 13 with a 3.31. So when it came time to replace Carlton for Opening Day, the torch was passed to Rawley.

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Kid Cole becomes The Man — '07 lessons Cole Hamels carried into '08

Kid Cole becomes The Man — '07 lessons Cole Hamels carried into '08

On Monday night, NBC Sports Philadelphia will begin re-airing the Phillies’ magical 2008 postseason run, all 14 games, culminating with the club’s World Series clincher against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Grab a chair. Find the remote. It’s going to be great.

Before our trip down Memory Lane commences, it’s fair to remind everyone that none of this happens without a 24-year-old kid named Cole Hamels.

Yeah, Jimmy, Chase and Ryan were vital cogs in Charlie Manuel’s victory machine from 2007 to 2011. And guys named Lidge, Madson, Victorino, Werth, Ruiz, Burrell and Stairs — oh, yeah, that Stairs guy — were crucial to the cause, as well.

But Kid Cole was The Man during that October run. The Phillies received some outstanding pitching up and down the staff that month, but Hamels was a cut above. He started five games and the Phillies won all of them. In 35 innings of work, he allowed just seven runs for a glistening ERA of 1.80. He was named MVP of the National League Championship Series and World Series.

Hamels benefited from confidence and momentum in that postseason. 

“I had that belief that I was very good and each and every game I was pitching, I felt better and better and better and everything worked out,” he told us a few weeks ago.

The momentum and confidence that Hamels enjoyed was rooted in his first start that postseason: On October 1, in front of 45,929 crazies at Citizens Bank Park, Hamels neutralized the heavy-hitting Milwaukee Brewers in a 3-1 victory in Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Hamels pitched eight shutout innings, scattered two hits, walked one and struck out nine. That’s what you call a tone-setter and you can watch it again Monday night.

The gem against the Brewers was Hamels’ second postseason start. He’d lost Game 1 of the NLDS to Colorado the year before. He walked three batters in the second inning of that game and gave up three runs. The Phils were a quick out in that postseason and the Game 1 loss stuck with Hamels for a year, until he took the mound against Milwaukee that day.

“I got my butt kicked the year before against Colorado and I’m like, ‘Gosh, I don’t want to have another one of those,'" Hamels said. “Game 1 is so important to get things going off right. There were a lot of nerves going in because I didn’t want to repeat ’07. But at the same time, I had to trust myself. Throw that first pitch, get that called first strike and (the nerves) go out the window and you, all of a sudden, calm down.

Hamels had faced the Brewers twice that regular season. They had roughed him up early in the season and he came back to beat them in September.

The Brewers thought they had a good scouting report on Hamels coming into the NLDS. Hamels was a lefty who could locate a plus fastball and dazzle with a great changeup — he didn’t add the cutter until later in his career — and everyone knew that. But on this day, Hamels had something extra up his sleeve: a sharp curveball. It was the difference maker that day and the pitch that helped his postseason — and the team’s on the whole — get off on a strong foot.

“He’d been mostly fastball-changeup against us,” Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy said after that game. “He mixed in that curveball for strikes today and that got us off his other two pitches. This was the best I’ve seen him.”

Hamels has always had a love-hate relationship with his curveball.

On that day, he loved it.

And the Brewers, of course, hated it.

“The curveball always has been a pitch that’s either here … or there,” said Hamels, pretending to toss the latter away like an old apple core. “I had the feel of it that day and if I know I have the feel of my curveball I know hands-down I can win because I have three pitches and they’re all plus.”

Hamels threw 101 pitches through eight innings that day and, with a 3-0 lead, could have pursued a shutout.

“Charlie looked at me like, ‘You want to finish?’ “ the pitcher recalled. “I was like, ‘No. We have Lidge.”

Brad Lidge, who had gone 41 for 41 in save chances during the regular season, survived a bumpy ninth for the save as the Phils opened the best-of-five series with a win.

After stumbling in the first round of the postseason the year before, Hamels knew this postseason would be different. That’s why he deferred to Lidge in the ninth.

“I wanted to save myself for the next series because I knew we were going to the next round,” he said.

Confident guy.

See why (once again) Monday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Baseball fans are hoping for the best. 

Everyone that loves the sport is hopeful that the owners and players can iron out their financial differences and come to an agreement that clears the way for a 2020 season. In the meantime, we are left to wonder what a season played in the midst of a pandemic might look like. 

Beyond there being no fans in the ballparks when the season starts, players would also keep their distance from one another, both on and off the field. 

A potentially awkward scene comes to mind. Say the home team wins in walk-off fashion. What would the celebration look like? We're used to seeing the entire team stream out of the dugout and charge whoever delivered the winning hit, mobbing him somewhere along the basepaths and ripping his jersey off.

Or in the case of a walk-off home run, everyone waiting at home plate to dump the Gatorade bucket on the hero and jump around in unison.

We saw Phillies star Bryce Harper in the middle of several such celebrations last season, most notably after his walk-off grand slam against the Cubs. What would that look like in 2020? Harper sprinting around the bases, charging towards home plate where ... no one is waiting for him. Everyone gives him a thumbs-up from a distance and goes their separate ways? It's a weird scenario to think about. But it will likely play out quite a bit should there be a season. 

Former Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur was a guest on the Phillies Talk podcast this week and said that if he were still playing, he'd probably still hug a teammate after a walk-off and just pay the fine.  

Back to the possibility of playing in empty ballparks without fans. At first thought, that doesn't seem like too big of a deal for the players. Baseball is baseball, it's still the same game with or without fans. But not having the energy and electricity that the fans provide could have a big impact on certain players, particularly the Phillies' best player. Francoeur, for example, explained how players sometimes really use the fans' energy to get up for day-games when the fatigue of the season mounts.

No one feeds off the fans more than Harper. He loves playing to the crowd at Citizens Bank Park — pumping up the fans sitting behind him in right field and gesturing to the crowd behind the dugout after a big home run. Harper fires up the fans, and vice versa. 

Harper is equally effective in feeding off negative energy on the road. He's probably been booed in opposing ballparks more than any player in baseball and he's been dealing with it since his teenage years. He was heckled throughout a game in San Francisco last season, with one fan yelling 'overrated' each time Harper stepped into the batter's box (a chant Harper hears in most road cities). He channeled that negativity into a pair of monster home runs and made sure to let the fans know about it afterward.

His first game back in Washington last season is another great example. Nationals fans were all over Harper the entire night. He responded by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run home run into the upper deck.  

Harper is a showman. He relishes his roles of fan-favorite at home and villain on the road. Harper will still be effective playing in an empty ballpark. But it's fair to wonder if the lack of energy could have an adverse impact on him.  

It's one of countless unknowns as we brace for what promises to be a baseball season unlike any we've seen. Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure there will be a season. The clock is ticking. 

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