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Maikel Franco a Phillie worth watching

The highly anticipated prospect homers and triples in the team’s fifth straight win, three since his arrival.

Maikel Franco hits a solo home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Maikel Franco hits a solo home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

I DON'T THINK it is overstating things to say that the last year of Phillies baseball has been bad enough to turn God himself into a nihilist. It's a tough sport to watch without something to believe in beyond each night's game.

So, yes, there was something refreshing in the air yesterday at Citizens Bank Park as you watched Maikel Franco in the batter's box. Maybe not refreshing enough to cancel out the pollen and the humidity, but let's not get greedy.

Like a lot of 22-year-olds, Franco is a polarizing prospect. Some see a swing that will struggle to produce the kind of consistency necessary of a bona-fide, middle-of-the-order bat.

Others see Edwin Encarnacion.

But for anybody who has sat through the nine-inning exercise in despair that is Phillies baseball in the year 2015, the allure lies in the finding out.

In Franco, there is at least some dramatic tension tying each game together, a story arc to follow from one episode to the next. Human beings are purpose-driven people, and human beings who support the Phillies now have something to fill the void where the standings and out-of-town scoreboard used to reside.

Where each game was once a chapter in the story of a team's pursuit of a pennant, it is now a chapter in a player's quest to prove himself capable of helping an organization transition to a new era. There is meaning in every pitch that he sees, in his decision to take or to swing, in his execution of that swing, and in everything that follows.

Yesterday, the first of what the Phillies hope will be many major league home runs occurred in the eighth inning, in his 71st career plate appearance, on a hanging curveball from Randall Delgado. Franco recognized a mistake, cocked his arms, and sent his bat flashing through the strike zone. He didn't get all of it, but he got enough and lofted a flyball into the first couple rows of seats in left-centerfield.

In each of his at-bats, you could see the traits that make him such a well-regarded hitter: the recognition of the pitch out of the pitcher's hand and the quick reaction to it - identify, load, swing.

The most crushable ball he saw all day came in his first at-bat, and he just missed it, stranding runners on the corners with a high fly to leftfield. His loudest hit actually came before the home run, on a fastball that he drilled off the wall near the 409-foot sign in dead centerfield, the only part of the park that could hold it.

"I thought it was gone," Franco said.

It bounced off the top half of the wall, and he slid headfirst into third with a triple. Then came the home run, and the shaving-cream pie, along with a 6-0 win that gave the Phillies five in a row. They are 16-23 on the season, but 3-0 with Franco in the lineup.

"I see him settling in," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "It's great to see him swing the bat and connect. Maybe getting the home run out of the way might go a long way with him, not thinking about a home run but getting quality at-bats."

There were other reasons you left the ballpark yesterday feeling you had been entertained. Darin Ruf, Cesar Hernandez, Ben Revere, Cameron Rupp - few project them as anything more than transitional players. But each of them drove in one of the Phillies' other four runs, each of them is under age 29, and each of them seem tickled to have an opportunity to prove somebody wrong.

Ruf hit his third home run of the season off Josh Collmenter after entering the day 7-for-53 with 16 strikeouts against righthanded pitchers. Hernandez had a couple of doubles. Revere went 3-for-4 with a walk and his seventh stolen base. In the absence of faith, there is, at least, the faint hope of the unknown.

With Franco, the hope is something more than faint. Each time he was introduced over the sound system yesterday, you found yourself stopping what you were doing to watch, a curious experience for a Phillies game.

Sometimes different is exciting because it is better, and sometimes it is exciting because it is different. The finding out is exciting, too.