For a baseball fan, everything about April 5, 2010 was perfect. Unlike many Opening Days in recent memory, the weather was beautiful — mid 70s. Across the league, there was nary a rain delay to derail the magic of early April.
We saw Albert Pujols belt two homers, Johan Santana lead the Mets to victory, and the legend of Jason Heyward become even more movie-like, as the Braves’ 20 year-old rightfielder took Carlos Zambrano deep in his very first major league at-bat.
Garrett Jones gave Pirates fans hope — even for a day — and NL West aces Dan Haren and Tim Lincecum silenced the pitiful Padres and Astros.
The Blue Jays’ Shaun Marcum, taking the place of some guy Harry as Toronto’s Opening Day starter, flirted with a no-hitter for 6 1/3 innings before relinquishing a single to Vladimir Guerrero of the Rangers – how odd does the second part of that sentence sound?
The Royals were sloppy as ever, and the Indians managed a mere four hits (all singles) off of the quick-working, April-loving longtime White Sox ace Mark Buehrle.
But these subplots served as merely context for the dominant storyline in Major League Baseball Tuesday – the Philadelphia Phillies.
(Note: This is not a pure Game Recap. This is the experience of being in Nationals Park, mixed with some highlights, further mixed with analysis. I personally hate reading “this happened, then this happened, then this happened.” You can find that stuff anywhere.)
As some of you may know, Phillies Nation’s creator, Brian Michael, organized an absolutely mind-blowing trip to Nationals Park. A seemingly endless array of buses and cars transported droves of elated Phillies fans to the lot at 1620 South Capitol Street, where an impressively orchestated tailgate took place under the Frederick Douglass bridge. Rumor has it, Freddy D. himself was impressed.
Where’s the Infrastructure?
As expected, traffic was ridiculous. Not helping matters was the arrival of Barack Obama, which resulted in the complete barricading of Capitol Street, the de facto Broad Street of the Nationals’ complex. Detours, overwhelmed traffic cops, and enhanced security led to enormous lines at each entrance to the Nationals’ newish, extremely plain-looking stadium.
I’m speaking on behalf of the countless amount of Phillies fans in attendance when I say that once past the mass of humanity that was every single gate to Nationals Park, the stress and confusion of the process subsided completely.
It was Opening Day. Roy Halladay was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Getting to the Great Ones
As is the case with nearly every brilliant pitcher to ever grace the game of baseball, the best way to get to Halladay is to do so early. The Nats took advantage of a Nyjer Morgan infield single and subsequent steal to set up the first run of the team’s 2010 season – which came on a double from, who else, Ryan Zimmerman.
In the second inning, Ivan Rodriguez led off by doubling on a two-strike mistake pitch from Halladay. This was the last time the Nationals would come close to threatening the Good Doctor.
The Phillies scored five in the fourth, two in the sixth, four in the seventh. The innings were glorious. The production of the new-and-improved Phils lineup was staggering.
Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz reached based four times apiece. Placido Polanco got on thrice, and Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez twice each.
On the day, the Phillies reached base in 22 of 48 plate appearances, for a .458 on-base percentage. Digest that number for a second. Twenty-two plate appearances resulted in a Phillie getting on base, twenty-six did not. This is baseball – the sport where failing 7 out of 10 times gets you into the Hall of Fame, right?
The Phils will not score eleven runs per game. Polanco won’t drive in 972 runs, Ruiz won’t walk to first on 486 occurences, and Jimmy won’t finish the season with a .667 on-base percentage.
But this lineup will frighten every single pitcher it faces, and it will exude a level of multifaceted, dynamic ability more often than it won’t.
At the top, you have a table-setter with power and speed in Jimmy Rollins. He defines the phrase “boom-or-bust.” When he is going good, the Phils will roll. When he isn’t, it will become harder to create runs. Nonetheless, he is who he’s always been, a productive hitter in the system and context he is in.
Batting second is Polanco, a wizard with the bat who refuses to go down swinging — or looking for that matter. The Phillies have long struggled with “situational baseball,” i.e. runner on third and less than two outs. But with the addition of Polanco, the Phillies lineup now features just as many strikeout-avoiders (Jimmy, Victorino, Polanco, Chooch,) as it does whiff-prone batters.
Aside from his grand slam – that seemingly carried through the air until reaching an area very close to where my group was sitting – Polanco delivered twice with a runner on third and less than two out. He singled in a run and produced a sacrifice fly.
With Polanco batting second, Victorino hitting out of the seven-hole, and the emergence of Ruiz as a formidable eighth hitter, this Phillies lineup is now almost as productive 7-8 as it is 1-2.
The lineup showed its balance by having the bottom of the order contribute to all three rallies.
- In the five-run fourth, Victorino singled in a run and scored, Ruiz advanced two runners with a deep flyout, and even Halladay got into the act with an RBI single that traveled somewhere between 1 and 9 centimeters.
- In the sixth, Ruiz walked and eventually scored on Jimmy’s triple.
- Finally, in the seventh, the sixth and eighth hitters reached base, turning the lineup over. This allowed Jimmy to work the count and eventually be intentionally walked, and Polanco to hit a grand slam no Phillies fan will ever forget.
He was sharp. He was dominant. He was crafty. He threw strike-after-strike-after-strike-after strike. He induced two double plays. He made Adam Dunn look like a seven-year old girl.
After Pudge led off the second with a double, Halladay retired 10 of the next 12 batters, two of which hit into twin-killings. He threw only 51 pitches between the end of Pudge’s at-bat and the beginning of the seventh inning.
This was literally an example of a man playing with little children. (Wait, what?)
The Phillies are 1-0 with 161 games to play. While Monday was an incredible way to start the season, it represented less than one percent of the regular season.
And, as much as the good people of Washington DC would like to think their team has improved, the Nationals are still an oddly constructed team with weak corner outfielders (why play Willie Harris in right if Jermaine Dye is a free agent?) and shoddy starting pitching.
John Lannan is not an ace. He is a third starter at best and he is probably a number-four in reality. Imagine having J.A. Happ as your ace. He and Lannan are very similar.
As I was exiting the ballpark, I saw a poster that pretty much sums up the Nationals’ futility. It had a large picture of the Nats’ most-prized free agent acquisition this past offseason.
It read – JASON MARQUIS: GAMECHANGER.
You write the punchline.