Monday, April 5, 2010

Opening Day: Our New Favorite Halladay

Opening day 2010 was one of the most anticipated in recent memory for Phillies fan's; we're coming off a pennant year, have just acquired the most popular pick for Best Pitcher in Baseball, and we wanted to see him herald a year of uninterrupted success by blowing away the perennial losers who play in Washington. The uninterrupted success is yet to be proven, but we did get to see the Nationals very convincingly blown away by an 11-1 tally.

We began with the traditional first pitch from President Obama, wearing a bright red Nationals bench jacket, and no sooner had I mockingly asked "Isn't he a White Sox fan?" did he top it with a White Sox cap pulled from his pocket, grinning broadly while the crowd booed it. Political resonances of Barack Obama grinning while being roundly booed aside, the game began.

The first inning was full of bad omens. In the top half, Jimmy Rollins ended it by trying to stretch a run and getting thrown out at the plate. In the bottom half, the bad signs seemed to come directly from the Phillies' two shiny new acquisitions: Placido Polanco played Nyjer Morgan too close, allowing him a cheap infield hit, and then Ryan Zimmerman doubled off Halladay to drive Morgan in.

After that, though, Washington wouldn't score, and the Phillies would have nothing but glowingly positive signs for the year to come -- those and one early tick in the win column. After the first inning pitches, Roy Halladay settled into excellence. He was extraordinarily efficient, throwing only 88 pitches and combining speed with great control and unpredictable location to keep the Nationals stymied. He struck out nine in seven innings -- many looking -- and could have probably pitched the final two if the Phillies hadn't blown the game open.

About the Phillies blowing the game open -- it started in a very lengthy five-run fourth that blasted Washington starter John Lannan out of the game, then kept building. Highlights included an incredibly distant two-run home run courtesy of Ryan Howard that signaled the power hitter's return as well as anything else could, and an infield RBI hit for Roy Halladay in his debut as a National League pitcher.

Placido Polanco couldn't have had much of a better re-introduction either. After his first-inning fielding misjudgment he redeemed himself with an impressive double play. But it was really his bat that made him stand out. The Phillies new (and old) third baseman took home six RBI on the day, four of which came on a dramatic grand slam to left center in the seventh.

As a matter of fact, no Phillies position player was left out of the party. If we're looking for omen, then everything, both pitching- and hitting-wise was perfect. It can't stay that way forever, but for Phillies fans opening day was really a cause for celebration this year. Not so much for the ever-luckless fans of the Washington Nationals. The loss demoralized the Nationals to the point that, when asked about President Obama's attendance, manager Jim Riggleman could only reply, "That is like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the play."

Tune in on Wednesday when the Phillies will attempt to further dishearten the Nationals behind Cole Hamels.

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