The Phillies’ opening-day act was impressive. They put up 10 runs in front of a sellout crowd and put on a power display that left the fans and the players wanting more.
Do it again and again and again is the demand for the Phillies this season. Selling out opening day is a so-what moment even if this year’s overflow crowd at Citizens Bank Park had extra buzz. Almost everybody sells out on opening day. It’s one of the few baseball traditions that remain.
It’s the rest of the season that matters the most and it is clear that the people around here believe that the Phillies are finally going to play a season filled with games that matter again.
Nothing that happened in game No. 2 – an 8-6 victory over the Atlanta Braves that included three more home runs – did anything to discourage that notion.
“It’s just a different feel in the ballpark,” Rhys Hoskins said after witnessing J.T. Realmuto’s first home run as Phillie after drawing a two-out walk in the fifth inning and Bryce Harper’s first home run as a Phillie from the on-deck circle in the seventh inning.
Maikel Franco got the Phillies’ second-game slugfest started in the fourth when he followed an RBI triple from Cesar Hernandez with his second home run in as many games just inside the left-field foul pole.
“Even when there’s not much going on, it just feels like people are engaged," Hoskins said. "People are having a ton of fun being here just like we are. It’s a lot of fun to play in front of fans like that. It’s really all you can ask for. Obviously they’ve been really good the first few games and I don’t expect anything less every single night.”
For the first time since 2012, back when the team had won five straight National League East titles, the first two games of the season were sellouts. In fact, the crowd for the second game of the season (44,597) was even slightly bigger than the one that showed up opening day (44,469) and that had not happened since 2011.
It is the offense in general and Harper in particular that has piqued fan curiosity and it is possible that from top to bottom this might be the Phillies’ most powerful collection of hitters in franchise history. At the very least, the 2019 Phillies appear hellbent on setting a big-league record for handshakes.
Harper and Hoskins celebrate home runs with a violent arm twist that is followed by a handshake. Harper and Franco celebrate their home runs with some sort of air archery act.
“We do it and then we say something, but I’ll keep that between me and him,” Harper said.
After a victory, there’s a hoops meeting in center field with the outfield star of the game slamming his glove into a makeshift basket provided by one of his teammates. Andrew McCutchen got to slam home his glove opening day. It was Harper’s turn Saturday night after he slugged a 465-foot home run in the seventh inning.
Harper, sounding like a Little Leaguer about to get ice cream and pizza after the game, gushed about the Phillies’ multitude of congratulatory greetings.
“Awesome,” he said. “I’m so excited and, I don’t know, I’ve got to add about three more too because me and Siggy (Jean Segura) don’t have one yet. I’m trying to think of who else. Anyway, it’s really cool. It’s pretty much the first time I’ve ever had a handshake with every single one of my teammates. Awesome. Just really, really cool. We have a lot of fun. It’s a great group of guys in here. Just a lot of fun.”
For the first time since at least 1908, the Phillies have hit six home runs in their first two games and it was Harper that set the record with a no-doubt-about-it shot that landed in the second deck. The ballpark’s decibel level grew so loud in South Philadelphia that it could probably be heard in South Jersey and North Philadelphia.
Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel used to say that offense creates electricity and no team in franchise history hit more home runs than his 2009 Phillies. Four players – Ryan Howard (45), Jayson Werth (36), Raul Ibanez (34) and Chase Utley (31) – hit more than homers and seven of the eight regulars reached double-digit home runs. Catcher Carlos Ruiz fell one short with nine.
The team total that year was 224 and that would seem to be a reasonable target for manager Gabe Kapler’s 2019 Phillies.
“I think offense definitely created some electricity in the ballpark tonight,” Kapler said. “And I think offense created electricity in the ballpark on opening day. And I think that’s going to be the defining characteristic of our team. We are going to be offensive club that is relentless and gets big hits, scores a lot of runs, and is patient and wears opposing pitchers down.”
The season is only two games old, but the 2019 Phillies believe they are a team that will keep you coming back for more.