Phillies' bats come alive in time

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Marlon Byrd follows the flight of his sixth-inning home run, one of three the Phillies hit in their Opening Day victory.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Marlon Byrd follows the flight of his sixth-inning home run, one of three the Phillies hit in their Opening Day victory.
Posted: April 02, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas - During the dog days of spring training, after another day in what felt like a month's worth of games when his lineup was dormant, a hopeful Ryne Sandberg was more interested in looking ahead.

The first-year manager said he liked the construction of the lineup, even if it wasn't producing results in exhibition contests. Sandberg used the word "potential" three times in a 30-second span.

The balanced lineup Sandberg saw in his head but not on the field in Clearwater, Fla., showed up at an opportune time, on Opening Day in Texas.

Ben Revere, Chase Utley and Cody Asche had three hits apiece and Jimmy Rollins hit a ballpark-quieting grand slam as the Phillies rolled to a 14-10 victory over the Texas Rangers yesterday afternoon at Globe Life Park.

"[The bats] need to be there when we needed them to be there, and that was today," said Ryan Howard, who went 2-for-5. "We needed them to be there today."

Cliff Lee was the beneficiary of the offense on an afternoon when he was anything but the sharp, near-perfect pitcher he displayed this spring. Then again, the offense wasn't anything like the team that scuffled in the exhibition season, culminating with three straight shutout losses to end the preseason.

"It's Opening Day, and we have two more here, but with all the festivities and everything you don't know what to expect," Sandberg said. "It was great to see maybe the festivities and Opening Day bring some life to our offense. It was good timing for that. It was a day that turned out unexpectedly. We needed it."

Three weeks ago to the day, Rollins was mired in a spring-training slump as he sat outside the indoor batting cage at Bright House Field. He watched teammate Chase Utley hit, waited for his own turn, and calmly said, "Who cares?" when asked about uninspiring exhibition-game statistics.

The Phillies would rank last in baseball in hitting (.222) and OPS (.632) at the conclusion of Grapefruit League play. Among major league teams, only the Dodgers had scored fewer runs or had fewer extra-base hits, but Los Angeles also played in six fewer exhibition games.

After his team's 17-hit offensive onslaught, when the Phillies scored the most runs on Opening Day since a 19-17 win over the Boston Beaneaters on April 19, 1900, Rollins was asked if this confirmed his early comments. More accurately, he was asked whether "spring training didn't mean diddly."

"You said it," Rollins said with a sly smile.

"You can answer that question," Howard said of a similar question. "That's why today is Opening Day. You get your work in in spring training and then come out on Opening Day and get the win. That's what we did."

Howard, Rollins and Utley, the crux of the franchise core that's attempting to fight off father time, all contributed.

Although he struck out in each of his final three at-bats, Howard reached base in each of his first three trips, starting with a leadoff walk to begin a second inning when the Phillies batted around and scored six times. Rollins capped that inning with a grand slam that upped the early lead to 6-0 and Utley went 3-for-6, with a game-tying single after Texas briefly took a 7-6 lead.

But it wasn't just that the holy trinity of Phillies infielders decided to click on the season's first day. The positive vibe in the postgame clubhouse was a result of a teamwide effort, from the top of the lineup to the bottom, on a day when the guy who is arguably their best player, wasn't.

Lee, who allowed six runs in just five of 93 starts with the Phillies in the last three seasons, gave up a total of seven runs in the second and third innings.

"At the end of the day," Howard said, "my man got the win."

Lee was the recipient of the improbable win thanks to Rollins' slam, despite the disappearance of the early lead midway through the game. Lee was credited with a win because everyone in the starting lineup save Tony Gwynn Jr. had at least one hit, and John Mayberry Jr., who hit for Gwynn in the fifth, hit a go-ahead, two-run double.

Lee was a winner because his teammates made him one, from Rollins and Revere up top to Carlos Ruiz and Asche at the bottom of the lineup. Ruiz reached base in three of his first four trips to the plate and Asche, who won the third-base job over top prospect Maikel Franco, went 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and four runs scored.

The Phils' lineup smelled blood in Texas pitcher Tanner Scheppers, summoned to start in place of the injured Yu Darvish despite having no starts among the 115 major league games on his resume.

"There are a lot of guys in this lineup that have a good idea what they want to do in certain situations," Asche said. "And I think each guy is watching each other, seeing how they are attacking it. You pass the reports down the line and you have good at-bats down the line. It makes it easier on everybody."

The Opening Day win was the Phillies' fourth in the last 5 years.

But unlike most of those years, this Phillies team was not expected to contend, according to most pundits and prognosticators. They also weren't supposed to hit, according to anyone who watched them regularly in spring training.

On the first day of the season, the Phillies had their first opportunity to respond to their critics.

"I'll leave that to you guys, I'll leave that to you guys," Howard said when asked if the team made a statement with its win. "There was a lot of stuff being said in the offseason. I'll leave that to you guys."

On Day 1, the Phillies' bats did the talking for them.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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