They turned the electricity back on at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday. On opening day 2019, the place rocked like it did in 2008. Or 2009. Or 2010. Or 2011. Take your pick.
“It felt weird,” said Maikel Franco, survivor of five straight losing seasons with the Phillies. “Everything was loud. It was a huge difference. I’ve been here five years and I’ve never seen people go crazy like that. It was a beautiful thing.”
Indeed, it was.
Time (and the next 161 games) will ultimately tell, but the Phillies looked like a rebuilt team capable of contending in their rousing 10-4 win over the Atlanta Braves in front of a sellout crowd of 44,469 (see observations). Aaron Nola showed no panic on a day when his control was unusually spotty and he was supported by three home runs that accounted for eight runs. Who knows if it will have staying power, but the Phils believe they made a little statement against the reigning NL East champs.
“It's really important for us,” said Franco, who clubbed a three-run homer in the sixth. “Everyone we're facing, they have to know and they have to understand that we have a pretty good team.”
Odubel Herrera seconded that.
“We wanted to show them that we’re here to be on top of the division,” he said. “I feel that we did a pretty good job today and we’re going to play really hard every game.
“And with today’s game, hopefully they got a little intimidated. You know, we want to scare teams. It’s fun.”
The Phillies’ lineup does have the potential to be scary. Consider, Franco led the team in hitting last year (.270), was second in OPS (.780) and third in homers (22) and is now hitting eighth because the Phils added four All-Star bats (Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto) to the top of the lineup. Herrera and Cesar Hernandez preceded Franco in the lineup Thursday. That threesome combined to drive in five runs.
“It’s just devastating for an opposing team,” Realmuto said. “I know as a catcher that when you have 6, 7, 8 like those three, that’s tough. Those are middle-of-the-lineup guys and they're hitting in the bottom of the order. It gets on you as an opposing staff. There’s really no hole in the lineup. They can’t just walk us or pitch around us to get to those guys because those guys hit just as well. It’s good to have a lineup like that.”
Speaking of pitching around guys, the Braves walked Harper with two men on base and first base open in the seventh. Hoskins made the Braves pay with a booming grand slam that brought the house down (see story). Hoskins' big blow stood like a bookend with McCutchen’s leadoff solo homer in the first.
“It was a pretty big shot in the arm,” manager Gabe Kapler said of McCutchen’s homer. “It created a lot of confidence in the dugout.”
Much of the focus of this offseason was placed, justifiably, on the players the Phillies acquired, like McCutchen. But on Day 1 of the season, Franco, Herrera, Hernandez, Nola and Hoskins, all members of the old guard, stood out. It was particularly sweet for Franco. Imagine this: If the Phillies had been successful in signing Manny Machado around the holidays, Franco would not have been here Thursday nor would have Harper. There was no way the Phillies were signing two $300 million men.
So it all worked out pretty nicely for everyone on Day 1 of this new era of Phillies baseball.
“I know, it’s crazy,” Franco said, referring to his uncertain winter. “The important thing right now is I’m here and I’m going to do everything I can to help my team win.
“I’m so happy. It’s going to be fun this year.”
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