Andrew McCutchen homered in his first at-bat as a Phillie, Maikel Franco slugged a three-run homer in the sixth inning, and Rhys Hoskins hit his first career grand slam in the seventh. That power surge combined with a second straight impressive opening-day start by Aaron Nola led the Phillies to a 10-4 win over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday in front of a sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
It was a great way to start the Bryce Harper era in Philadelphia, and the ballpark atmosphere was electric. Harper’s biggest contribution was an intentional walk ahead of Hoskins’ slam.
Perhaps the most undervalued performance of the day came from new catcher J.T. Realmuto. Atlanta scored its only run off Nola in the second inning when Nick Markakis singled home Ronald Acuna Jr., who had walked and stolen second base. Harper tried to gun down Acuna with a strong throw from right field, but his attempt was a little late.
Realmuto, however, cut down Markakis at second base with a perfect throw to shortstop Jean Segura. Without that play, Nola’s three-walk second inning could have been a lot worse.
With the score tied at 1 in the top of the fourth, Segura got his first of two infield singles and advanced to second on a throwing error. Segura made it to third on a wild pitch, but it looked like he might be stranded there when Harper and Hoskins struck out. Realmuto, however, drew a two-out walk, setting up consecutive RBI singles from Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez.
Realmuto’s final underrated contribution came in the top of the sixth inning when Freddie Freeman reached on a one-out walk, but was gunned down trying to steal second base on a perfect throw by Realmuto. It was a quietly impressive debut by the Phillies catcher.
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the Phillies season. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @brookob. Thank you for reading.
— Bob Brookover (email@example.com)
I wrote a lengthy story on Bryce Harper’s mystical baseball journey from Las Vegas to Washington before his arrival in Philadelphia this season as a $330 million free agent. Look for it online at philly.com early next week and in the Tuesday editions of the Inquirer and Daily News.
The story is filled with great anecdotes from Sam Thomas, Harper’s head coach at Las Vegas High School, and Sean Larimer, a graduate assistant when the Phillies’ new slugger was a catcher at the College of Southern Nevada.
Here’s one high school story from Thomas that did not make the cut but I still found more than worthy of telling.
“We were playing another team in a tight game that was pretty heated,” Thomas said. “They were the only other team in our division that was any good, and they had a pretty good athlete in right field. He was a football and a baseball star.
"It was a close game and then we went up by three or four runs and Bryce came up with the bases loaded. He pulls a ball into the right-field corner for a triple, and the kid from the other team runs over, picks it up and throws it in. The second he lets go of the ball, you can just hear him shout, ‘When are we going to stop pitching to him?' ”
Thomas and Larimer have a ton of great stories about Harper, and Jayson Werth offers some terrific insight into his former teammate with the Washington Nationals, too.
The sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park came to see Bryce Harper in his Phillies debut Thursday, and the fans were not pleased when Braves manager Brian Snitker ordered an intentional walk to the left-handed-hitting slugger in the seventh inning. As our Matt Breen wrote, however, it led to the climatic moment of the Phillies’ 10-4 win, a grand slam into the left-field seats by Rhys Hoskins.
It was a terrific day for newcomers Andrew McCutchen, who led off the game with a home run, and Jean Segura who wreaked havoc with a couple of infield hits. But our Scott Lauber noted that it was a great day for returning Phillies, too. Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning with consecutive RBI singles, and Maikel Franco answered a two-run Atlanta rally in the top of the sixth with a three-run home run in the bottom of the inning.
Speaking of Odubel Herrera, a scout called him “a clown and a dog” in a Sports Illustrated story. Herrera shrugged off the criticism and manager Gabe Kapler came to his center fielder’s defense, noting that he works hard at playing the game even if he does have occasional lapses in concentration.
He didn’t hit the ball beyond the infield, but Bryce Harper was a star just the same in his Phillies debut, columnist Mike Sielski writes.
One year after being removed by manager Gabe Kapler in the sixth inning during an opening-day start against Atlanta, Aaron Nola got through the sixth in his second opening-day start against the Braves. I wrote about how a strong start is nothing new for Nola. He walked a career-high five batters, including three in the second inning, but was held Atlanta to a single run on two hits.
Our Oona Goodin-Smith and Katie McInerney did a lap around Citizens Bank Park during the season opener and found a festive crowd thrilled by Bryce Harper’s debut and the Phillies’ potent offense.
Today: Off day. Enjoy the NCAA Tournament.
Saturday: Nick Pivetta faces Atlanta’s Bryse Wilson, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta faces Kyle Wright in series finale with Braves, 7:08 p.m.
Monday: Off day.
Tuesday: Bryce Harper returns to Nationals Park, 7:05 p.m.
The Phillies improved to 15-14-1 all-time against the Braves on opening day and won for the first time in six games against Atlanta on opening day in this century.
Before Thursday’s 10-4 victory, the last time the Phillies had beaten the Braves on opening day was April 5, 1999, when Curt Schilling beat Atlanta’s Tom Glavine. That would be the last of five opening-day starts Schilling made for the Phillies.
The Phillies improved to 3-5 in opening-day games at Citizens Bank Park and 61-74-2 overall on opening day.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Really love what you guys do! As a suggestion is there anyway you could track/write a little piece about Manny Machado vs Bryce Harper and all the things that Scott Boras tried to sell teams on (tv ratings, jersey sales, ticket sales, etc.) I think it would be interesting to see how the Padres vs Phillies compare after signing the two biggest free agents and the effect they had on their respective teams monetarily.
— Michael, via email
Answer: I like the idea, Michael, and let’s start with opening day.
Harper, as you probably know, was 0-for-3 with an intentional walk and scored on Rhys Hoskins’ home run. He struck out once on a slider by Julio Teheran. Machado went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his debut with San Diego. The Padres still won, 2-0, against Madison Bumgarner and San Francisco.