About 15 minutes before the first pitch, a sudden cheer went up from the stands. And it wasn't for the guy who threw out the first pitch or the high school choir getting ready to sing the national anthem.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, missing in these parts since he popped his right calf muscle moments before the home opener more than a month ago, materialized out of the home dugout and then ran from foul territory into centerfield, limbering up to start against the Pirates. Rollins also got a standing ovation when he came to the plate for the first time in the bottom of the first.
J-Roll didn't disappoint.
In the top of the first he ranged to his right to track down a grounder, planted on his injured leg and fired a strike to nip the speedy Andrew McCutcheon by a step. In the bottom of the inning he drove in the tying run with a grounder. He ended up going 2-for-4, walking and scoring twice in the Phillies' 12-2 win over the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park.
"Crazy," he said with a grin. "I was lost for a little bit. After that first ground ball I got, it started coming back. The speed of the game is always the first thing that comes back to you. It was great. I got a lot of cheers. That felt good."
So that answers the question of whether Rollins could pick up where he left off (.391 with a .516 on-base percentage) when he was hurt.
It also demonstrates that his sense of showmanship, of rising to the occasion, is just as sharp as ever, too.
"We've had energy, but any time you get Jimmy back, he definitely brings a lot to the table," said manager Charlie Manuel.
Added first baseman Ryan Howard: "It definitely brings a spark."
This was supposed to be the night that the Phillies lineup became whole again. Not only Rollins, but catcher Carlos Ruiz, were to return from injuries.
And while the team remained comfortably in first place without them, due in part to admirable fill-in work by shortstops Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez as well as catcher Paul Hoover, there's nothing like having the band back together. Except that, since this is the 2010 Phillies, it didn't quite work out that way.
Second baseman Chase Utley was sent home with flu-like symptoms yesterday afternoon, forcing Manuel to improvise once again.
Placido Polanco moved from third to second. Shane Victorino remained in the leadoff spot and Rollins, instead of reclaiming his accustomed spot at the top of the order, batted in the No. 3 slot usually occupied by Utley. Greg Dobbs played third and batted seventh.
Manuel said Utley's absence wasn't entirely unexpected. "He hasn't said anything about it, but he's been feeling pretty rough the last couple nights," Manuel explained.
While it had been anticipated that Victorino would move back to the bottom of the order when Rollins was activated, the Flyin' Hawaiian has been on a roll. He came into last night hitting .321 in his last 18 games and .435 on the five-game road trip that ended Sunday night in Milwaukee.
What happens next remains up in the air. Manuel likes to go with the hot hand and Victorino went 2-for-4 last night and scored three runs. The manager was noncommittal when asked who would lead off tonight.
Rollins said he doesn't care, at least for now. "I thought I might be seventh or something," he said. "Put me behind the curtain and I'll poke my head out and see what I can do. But he threw me right into the fire.
"Obviously, when I get well, I'm going to be the leadoff hitter. That's my job."
In his first game of 2010 in front of the home fans, he gave the crowd plenty to cheer about.