The Doctor is In: he didn't get the W, but Roy Halladay's six innings, five hits, one run and six strikeouts made for a healthy start to his Cy Young defense. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The first eight innings of the 2011 opener featured pretty much every expected trigger for a Phillies fan's panic: a great starting pitching performance wasted by a lethargic offense, middle relief that was a notch below "shaky," indications that Jayson Werth's absence might weigh heavy on the team widely favored to take the National League pennant for the third time in four years. Making matters worse, on the other side of the diamond stood the Astros, proud owners of an infuriating and unfathomable 16-7 record at Citizens Bank Park since the place opened in 2004. With a 4-2 lead heading into the ninth, they looked well positioned to run that mark to 17-7--and drop the Phils' Opening Day record since 1969 to a baseball-worst 13-30.
Six singles later, the Bank was roaring and High Hopes blaring over the PA as the Phils celebrated a 5-4 comeback win. John Mayberry Jr. took his postgame interview through a face full of shaving cream, befitting the hero whose bases-loaded single over Michael Bourn plated Ben Francisco and made a loser of Astros closer Brandon Lyon.
The late rally took Roy Halladay off the hook for what would have been a truly undeserved loss. Doc was magnificent early, striking out five of the first eight Astros hitters and not allowing a base runner until opposite number and former Phillie Brett Myers singled with two outs in the third. With the game still scoreless, he worked out of trouble in the fifth when Francisco misjudged a two-out Humberto Quintero fly ball for a two-base error. Myers improbably followed with his second straight single, but Bourn flew out to the track in right to end the threat.
Houston finally dented Halladay an inning later. Angel Sanchez led off with an infield single that Wilson Valdez couldn't quite come up with, and moved to third on a Hunter Pence double off the wall in right-center. Halladay got Carlos Lee on a humpback liner, but Bill Hall's groundout scored Sanchez. With his pitch count over 100, Halladay watched from the dugout as the Astros stretched their advantage to 4-0 in the seventh. Brett Wallace singled off J.C. Romero, Quintero did the same against David Herndon, Myers sacrificed them to second and third, and former Phillie Bourn drove them both in with a triple before scoring on a Sanchez sac fly.
To that point, Myers had held the Phillies in a nightmare of soft contact. His pitch count was under 60 through six innings, he'd issued one walk (to Shane Victorino, who immediately proceeded to get thrown out trying to steal to end the sixth) and struck out nobody. The Phillies hadn't swung and missed; they hadn't fouled anything off; they also hadn't squared anything up, with Ryan Howard and Valdez accounting for their only two hits. But Myers lost it in the seventh, walking Polanco to start the inning and allowing a single to Jimmy Rollins. A passed ball moved both into scoring position, and sacrifices by Howard and Raul Ibanez cut the deficit to 4-2. But after walking Francisco, Myers got Carlos Ruiz on a flyout to deep center.
Ryan Madson and Danys Baez held Houston off the board in the eighth and ninth, and Rollins and Howard greeted Lyon with singles to start the ninth as the Bank began to buzz. Ibanez fell behind in the count and popped up, but with Francisco at the plate, Rollins took off for third and beat Quintero's throw. Howard, however, didn't follow, a lapse that almost loomed large as Francisco singled in Rollins to make it 4-3. Ruiz crushed a pitch to left just foul to fall behind 0-2 and battled back to rap the team's fourth single of the inning--but Howard advanced only to third, loading the bases for Valdez. With visions of game-ending double-play grounders dancing blackly in 42,000 heads, the fill-in second baseman flared another single into left, scoring Howard at last.
That brought up Mayberry, happy to be on his first Opening Day big-league roster. With Lyon nearing 30 pitches, he worked a deep count--then squared up a cutter that centerfielder Bourn leapt for and couldn't come down with. Francisco trotted home with the win, and the 2011 season was well underway.