From the moment the previous season ends, you're waiting for the first pitch of the first game of the next season. There's such a buildup. You go through the depression of the season ending horribly, followed by the annoyance of the hot stove period, and then the pointlessness of the winter meetings. Once you get to January, there's six weeks until pitchers and catchers report. Of course, that's just a Trojan horse, because nothing happens when pitchers and catchers report except...that. They report. And work outzzzzzzz...
Beyond the buildup to the first game, there are the expectations. I'm pretty sure that until the postseason, there isn't a single other game for which there are such high expectations. And it's unfair and unrealistic. The players have been playing full games for barely two weeks. They've been playing in warm, sunny, lovely weather. The "games" they played meant literally nothing, so there was no pressure. There's something perverse about expecting these guys to be at top form their first time out.
But I'd been waiting a long time to see this game. For Christmas 2010, my mother bought me and my dad tickets to opening day. It would be the first opening day we'd ever attend together. Three to four times a week after that, I'd send an email to my dad with the number of days until opening day (I had a countdown on my whiteboard at work) and links to Phillies blog posts. We were so excited that when the day finally came, not even giant snowflakes and biting cold could dampen our excitement. We arrived at the ballpark early to do some breakfast tailgating, freeze our tails off, and pray that the weather would improve (it did).
The game that we got on April 1, 2011 still defies explanation, at least in my mind. Halladay allowed just one run, but struggled. He only went six innings and allowed 5 hits on 101 pitches. Compare that to the Astros starting pitcher, former Phillie Brett Myers, who through six innings had thrown only 58 pitches and allowed only 2 hits and no runs. The offense seemed completely baffled by their former teammate, and it was pretty painful to watch. It was unreasonable to expect them to be an offensive powerhouse right away, but I don't think it was unreasonable to expect them to, you know, get more then 2 hits.
The crowd started to leave once J.C. Romero came in to pitch the seventh. He allowed one hit to the only batter he faced and was replaced by David Herndon. I'll give the (very drunk) people sitting around me and my dad a little credit, though. They didn't leave until Herndon allowed a two run triple hit by Michael Bourn. Surprisingly, I didn't see a ton of other people run for the exits when Danys Baez pitched the ninth. Though it's conceivable they could have forgotten who he was.
The Phillies had two productive offensive innings: the seventh and the ninth. In the seventh they scored two runs, but neither of them were scored on a hit. One scored on a Ryan Howard sac fly, and the other on a ground out hit by Raul Ibanez. The inning also contained a single, two walks, and a passed ball. The ninth, however, is where everything got interesting.
Astros closer Brandon Lyon entered the game, trying to help his team hold on to their 4-2 lead. Lyon finished 2010 with a 3.12 ERA and 20 saves, so he wasn't anything to sneeze at. After his first game of 2011, his ERA would be an even 81.00. (I love early season stats!) Jimmy Rollins led off the ninth with a single. Howard followed with another single. Rollins then stole third base, so when Ben Francisco singled he was able to score easily. Carlos Ruiz singled to load the bases after fouling a ball to deep left field. Wilson Valdez, who I assumed would hit into a double play, tied the game with yet another single. Then John Mayberry Jr stepped to the plate for his first appearance of 2011. Watching the scenario play out, it's clear that Lyon knows he's screwed about halfway through the at-bat. After pocketing a floating food wrapper, Mayberry (on an opening day roster for the first time ever) hit a single to center that scored Francisco.
The Phillies won the game 5-4. They had four hits before the ninth inning, and six hits in the ninth inning. I'd never been to a game that ended like that. I remember trying to high-five my dad and missing, accidentally hitting his face, before we started hugging and yelling and jumping up and down. Besides a massive blowout, there isn't a better way to win the first game of a new season.
-- Brett Myers, who was sporting the hair of a troll doll on his chin, was booed when he stepped up to bat. Of course, he got the first hit of the game.
-- Until they showed Brad Mills with his name and title on the screen, I had no idea who managed the Astros.
-- I think Hunter Pence looks better in a Phillies uniform. It's hard to judge, though, since the Astros unis are really, really ugly.
-- I still really hate Bill Hall. He can demand respect from pitchers once his stats head north of really-effing-terrible. (Bill Hall's 2011 slash line: .211/.261/.314)
-- Larry Anderson Regrettable Quote of the Game: "I think Francisco is capable of doing what Werth did in the 5-hole. Francisco will hold his own."