Commentary

Commentary: A new era of Phillies baseball has arrived

J.P. Crawford / Photo by: Lauren McLaughlin

“Go ahead down there. You can watch the Phillies walk off the field.”

The security guard at Citi Field was being funny, a little nudge into the gut of this longtime Phils fan, though let’s be honest, a Mets fan can say anything and it’ll bounce right off me like a pinball. So I walked down the stairs in Section 120 on Monday and found a seat to watch the top of the ninth inning of an inevitable loss.

Things unraveled typically. Cameron Rupp hit a ball relatively far, but with pigeons flapping away from certain death, Juan Lagares settled in to catch yet another meaningless fly ball. Then Andres Blanco singled and, with two outs, put himself in scoring position thanks to defensive indifference. Then Freddy Galvis stepped up. And as he settled in, I checked the on-deck circle; lo and behold, Odubel Herrera appeared and took warmup swings. I became giddy, my hope paying off as Galvis singled into left field to keep the inning alive.

Herrera immediately made the afternoon worth the money. He took pitches, crawled in and out of the box, fouled off more pitches, did it all his way. Mets fans, eager to finish this 11-6 game, stood and clapped. Some yelled “Get in the box!” to Herrera. He heard nothing. He fouled off another pitch, walked out of the box, took some swings, checked the stove, walked the dog, then finally returned to the box and waited on a Hansel Robles pitch. Finally, he squared up and lined a laser into right field. A two-out, ninth inning single in an innocuous 11-7 game never felt so awesome.

That brought up Rhys Hoskins, who delayed the game further by making Mets manager Terry Collins bring in pitcher AJ Ramos, and by working yet another full count. Mets fans continued to stand and clap and get pretty tired of waiting; and on that last pitch, Hoskins crushed one, but it just wasn’t enough.

I walked out of Flushing with a broad smile. This was the Phillies team I’ve been waiting to see – players who exhibit patience at the dish, not giving in to a pitcher’s slop and, instead, locking in on their pitch and striking it on a line. I’ve been waiting to feel the energy of a young, exciting squad, and sitting in Section 120, even for a half-inning in one of the most throwaway games of the season, I felt the energy run through my blood. I felt like a child again while watching Herrera saunter at the batter’s box, and I found myself rooting hard for Hoskins in a way I haven’t done since Ryan Howard’s best days.

And when I returned home and queued up Twitter, the news pierced me like Cupid’s arrow: J.P. Crawford is joining the party.

The new era has arrived.

***

I still remember the seething frustration I felt on Oct. 2, 2011. The St. Louis Cardinals chipped away at Cliff Lee’s 4-0 lead and led the Phillies by the seventh inning. Standing in Ashburn Alley, I felt the wave of complacency crest and wash over Citizens Bank Park. We fans stopped cheering. We stopped fighting. And days later, in the most poetic of ways, the great dynasty collapsed with a Chris Carpenter lullaby and the destruction of Ryan Howard, our own literal and figurative albatross.

That was it. We had no encores, no surprising reprises of the past, no youth to star in the sequel. Domonic Brown dropped like a coddled egg. The Baby Aces were distant photographs faded from the sun. And most anyone else with a pulse is now bleeding and thumping for someone else, whether it’s Domingo Santana solidifying the middle of the Brewers lineup, or JA Happ turning into a top-of-the-rotation stalwart in Toronto. Instead we found a couple tickets that turned into decent placeholders, like the super-gloved Freddy Galvis and the broken-clock-is-right-twice swing of Cameron Rupp, while our team crashed and sunk like a bad summer blockbuster.

If Howard’s fall was the end of the great dynasty, then the ninth inning on Monday felt like the end of the last five seasons. Rupp blasting a ball 400 feet into some flailing pigeons. Galvis keeping it alive just enough to tease us, because we’re so gullible to believe this guy could be a star; but come on, the last six years has been the Freddy Galvis Era, and the Phillies are 413-534. If we truly believed that ridding ourselves of Bobby Abreu in 2006 would signal a new era, then guys, it’s time.

It really is time.

***

Crawford will play out the string in 2017 while dancing around the infield. Manager Pete Mackanin will slot him in however it makes sense, trying to keep a balance with the veterans who deserve to play as well. All of that is well and good. He can play shortstop, third base, center field, catcher. Hell, he can pitch, long as he’s in there, taking snaps, digging his cleats in the dirt and stepping up at the plate three to four times each night. And with him will be Hoskins, the Goliath who can’t help but see six pitches and find his chance to swat something with an arc. There’s Jorge Alfaro, the bouncy backstop with a superb stick who runs like a souped-up Pontiac Aztek and is still learning how to block sliders. There’s “Big Knock” Nick Williams, the Yacht Rock smooth outfielder with the golden grin and extra-base hit power for days. There’s Herrera, the guy you may love to hate to love, but man, isn’t is awesome to watch him when he’s in the groove? You see the pieces coming together. Soon Scott Kingery may join them. Maybe a pitcher or two will work out and help Aaron Nola. Add a couple more things, and you have something entirely new, entirely fresh, entirely not the Freddy Galvis Era.

This is the beginning. Whether we visit Citizens Bank Park before the clouds of Lurie once again blanket South Philadelphia, or we stay tuned and watch from afar, we’re witnessing a new era in Philadelphia. Take a cue from my Monday afternoon finish at Citi Field: smile. Watch this thing unfold and smile. We may still lose a bit. We may still be the butt of jokes from Mets fans who really just want to win something one of these days. Let it go. Just watch this thing unfold and smile.

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