Cameron Rupp walked back to the dugout after ending the first inning of a 17-3 win over the Nationals on Saturday night and was greeted with a standing ovation.
A Phillies batter was cheered at Citizens Bank Park after striking out. This really was a historic night.
The Phillies scored a franchise-record 12 runs in the first inning as a week of offensive frustrations reached a boiling point. There was much to cheer as the team's best first inning sent 16 batters to the plate, and eight of the Phillies' nine hitters reached base.
Seven players drove in runs in the first, and even Aaron Nola, who pitched six strong innings, drew a two-out walk. Their 12 first-inning runs equaled the amount of points the 76ers scored in the third quarter across the street. And it was just two runs fewer than the Phillies combined for in their first four games, three of which were losses.
"It's one of those games where you love to be on our side," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're going to have some where we're on the other side, and it's no fun. I'm enjoying it tonight."
Michael Saunders, Tommy Joseph, and Maikel Franco - all of whom had slow starts to the season - each drove in two runs in the first inning. The inning lasted 53 minutes, and the Phillies hope the onslaught proves to be a breakthrough for the middle of their lineup. The Phillies jumped all over Nationals fill-in starter Jeremy Guthrie, who did not pitch in the big leagues last year and whose season ERA rose to 135.00 when he was removed after recording just two outs.
Howie Kendrick highlighted the first inning with a pair of hits, including a three-run triple. Joseph slapped a pair of RBI singles for his first hits of the season. Saunders had an RBI single and an RBI double.
The Phillies had already scored eight runs in the first when the rally appeared to end. Odubel Herrera slapped a grounder to the shortstop, which would surely be the final out. But Herrera blazed down the line and beat the throw at first to keep the inning alive. The Phillies scored four more runs. It was the first time they started a game with a 10-run inning since July 6, 2009. The next day marked the beginning of the team's 257-game sellout streak.
"It was kind of incredible," Joseph said. "Just one of those things that kept going and going and escalated. It was really fun to be a part of. Even Nola was a part of it, too, which was pretty awesome. It was a lot of fun to see what we were able to do."
The outburst overshadowed Nola, who turned in an outing that should instill confidence after a season that ended with him on the disabled list. The righthander struck out seven, walked two, and allowed three runs on seven hits. He was finished after throwing 89 pitches, 57 of them strikes. The Phillies had an 11-run lead, and there was no reason to push Nola in his first start of the season.
Joseph entered Saturday without a hit in his first 13 at-bats. He had struck out six times in the first four games. Mackanin said before the game that Joseph needed to level his swing and was missing hittable pitches. Saturday night proved to be a breakthrough. He drove in two runs in the first inning and then another in the sixth on a sacrifice fly that Joseph crushed deep to center field.
It was the same for Saunders, who had one hit and one RBI in the season's first four games. He tripled in the sixth inning and finished a homer shy of the cycle as he showed promise that he could live up to the $9 million contract to which the Phillies signed him in January. His triple appeared to hit a fan in right field, but a replay review ruled that it was not a homer. Mackanin said Saunders hit for the cycle because the manager was counting the hit as a triple and a homer. Saunders shaved his beard earlier in the day. Perhaps that was the secret to the team's surge.
"I think so. I think I take responsibility for what happened today," Saunders said. "No. It was time. It was time. The older guy that was in right field the last couple games wasn't getting the job done. Bring on a younger prospect, a new face around here to try and get the job done."
Franco had just two hits before going 2 for 4 Saturday. Mackanin said a day earlier that all three were better than the way they started the season. And Rupp, who ended that first inning, provided his own rally in the eighth. He slammed a 365-foot homer to right to provide the 17th run, the most the Phillies have scored in seven seasons. Rupp dropped his bat as soon as he made contact and slapped his fists as he reached home. And another ovation awaited him as he returned to the dugout on a historic night.