J.T. Realmuto stepped on home plate, traded celebratory jabs to the gut with Rhys Hoskins, and high-fived other waiting teammates. And all around them, Citizens Bank Park rocked with a two-syllable chant that went straight through your television and into your living room.
The place hadn’t been so loud since, well, since when? At least since the season’s opening weekend, when the Phillies, so full of hope and promise, swept three games from the Atlanta Braves. No, this felt even louder. This felt as loud as the days when Charlie Manuel was here in uniform and Cole Hamels stood atop the mound.
Retro was all the rage Wednesday night, as Manuel returned to the Phillies dugout to begin what amounts to an interim stint as hitting coach and Hamels came back to town to start a game for the first time since he was traded away on July 31, 2015, albeit for the visiting Chicago Cubs.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the Phillies turned back the clock with an offensive outburst that was so common back in those salad days of 2007, 2008, and 2009. Bryce Harper crushed two home runs, Realmuto clocked a grand slam, and the Phillies demolished the Cubs, 11-1, marking the most runs they scored in a game since June 30.
“There was an incredible energy in the ballpark and rightfully so," manager Gabe Kapler said. “Charlie has earned that kind of adulation over a long period of time. He certainly adds to that loose, relaxed vibe. He believes in our hitters. I think he’s going to make sure that our hitters know that. Our hitters looked like they believed in themselves, and it’s no surprise. He’s a great influence on our group.”
Every player in the starting lineup had at least one hit. Hoskins, elevated to the leadoff spot despite his 2-for-28 slump, led off the game with a hit and added a sacrifice fly. The Phillies scored two runs in the first inning and two in the second, then poured it on with six in the third, almost all at the expense of Hamels and all in support of Aaron Nola, his successor as the Phillies ace, who scattered three hits and faced three batters over the minimum in seven innings.
After his second homer, Harper brought Manuel a cup of water. No need for the hitters to cool down, after all.
“He was working so hard and everybody was cheering his name,” Harper said. “I think Charlie has never seen a homer he didn’t like. It’s fun to have him.”
So now the question will be asked: Does Manuel have the magic touch, or what? Never mind simply having him finish out the season’s final 43 games in place of deposed hitting coach John Mallee. The Phillies should just give him a lifetime contract.
Before the game, Manuel predictably downplayed his potential impact on an offense that has underachieved all season but much catch fire if the Phillies have any prayer of ending an eight-year playoff drought.
He said he plans to observe before he intervenes. He would focus on helping each player individually rather than preaching some sort of one-size-fits-all philosophy or approach.
"I don't think I need to jump right in there and start right off," Manuel said. "I can kind of ease into things, talk to the guys, and watch them hit, and if I have anything to ask them, I can. I might say something to some of them. Some of them, I might not. I don’t know. We’ll go from there. Tonight it starts."
Did it ever.
The Phillies hit up Hamels for two runs in the first inning on Hoskins’ single and Harper’s two-run homer. It was Harper’s second multi-homer game in the last six games, a sign that perhaps he’s getting hot. It also came after he added a toe-tap to his approach at the plate, a tweak that he said he made without Manuel’s help.
Quite simply, the Phillies rocked Hamels in his two-plus innings. The exit velocity of Harper’s first homer: 105.2 mph. The second-inning doubles by Scott Kingery, Hernandez, and Realmuto: 100.8, 104.1, 103.8, respectively. Even Nola got a hit off Hamels.
“I have to call Cole about that one," Nola said. “Tell him I’m sorry.”
OK, so Manuel’s familiarity with Hamels couldn’t have hurt. This was Hamels’ 144th career regular-season start at Citizens Bank Park and Manuel was in the Phillies dugout for most of them. It was also Hamels’ shortest start here since July 4, 2006, a rain-interrupted game during his rookie season.
And maybe something really did get through to the Phillies hitters after one batting practice session with Manuel. Or perhaps the firing of Mallee simply got the attention of hitters who realize they haven’t performed to their track records yet this season.
Regardless, the Phillies produced in a way that they haven’t for six weeks.
“Before the game, seeing that Cole Hamels was throwing today, I thought the stadium was pretty excited for that. He did a lot of big things for this organization,” Harper said. “I think all of us were pretty excited to face him, as well. We knew it was going to be a tough at-bat. I thought we did a great job early on to get on him and score six runs in a matter of three innings. If we can do that with Aaron Nola on the mound, then we definitely have a chance.”
A little Manuel magic can’t hurt either.