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.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jaron B

    September 5, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    While it might take months for the results to be there, the day Hoskins arrived (or perhaps the first games back from the 2017 All-Star Break) will certainly be known as the day the next era of great Phillies baseball began.

  2. Brian

    September 5, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    ok. I got some chills reading it. You mean we might be good again?? Some day?

  3. Lou Possehl

    September 6, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    The Allstar break represented the end of one era, and the beginning of another. The end of what in 2017 was a high-minor league audition show, and the beginning of what was and is now a TEAM. I sensed this with the realization that – with Hernandez, Galvis, Herrera, Altherr and Williams, and occasional contributions from the likes of Joseph, Knapp and Rupp – anticipating a lineup card no longer called for reading tea leaves or divining goat entrails: at long last, win or lose, the Phillies would present a fairly predictable lineup – and one that would score runs. Not always, and with still a long way to go – but a team was nevertheless in the process of coalescing.

    Then two of the new pieces to the puzzle – Altherr and Herrera – got dinged up, but there still was the sense that, finally, something significant was happening, and in a good way. This coalescence occurred and was evident, even before the arrival of Rhys Hoskins. And when he did – stunning fans far beyond the confines of the Phillies faithful – the notion of “it’s a whole new ballgame” became all the more evident, and took on an even fresher and more exciting connotation.

    And Alfaro was brought up, and he’s been hitting ever since. And now Crawford – once almost alone in offering hope for the future; now offering that same hope – but as one among half a dozen bright lights breaking through the gloom of losing Phillies baseball. I remember way-back-when and the arrival of Cey, Russell, Lopes and Garvey – beyond “Black Friday” for us, a cornerstone infield for a decade of winning Dodger baseball. We may be witnessing our own version of such a happy event – right now.

    There will of course be team slumps and individual off days. And the pitching staff is very much a work in progress. All in all, considering the good and the not-so-good, our W-L record post-Allstar break will definitely show improvement. To me, however, the important story is not in that comparative statistic. Instead, it’s about a young group that, finally, represents a TEAM – one that promises a future far better than the dismal past and ushers in a new era of Phillies baseball.

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