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NL East filled with more love, hate than ever

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Baseball is back, and from Asdrubal Cabrera to Bryce Harper, everybody’s got feelings in Philadelphia.

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a theory circulating a small circle of the internet that Cameron Rupp is the Phillies player who gives the best hugs. Many of us will never be able to confirm this hypothesis, but as the big Texan’s burly frame embraced Asdrubal Cabrera last night, no one looked very comfortable.

It all started when Edubray Ramos hurled a pitch over Cabrera’s head. Well, actually, according to trusted media outlets such as the New York Post and Angelo Cataldi, it all actually started last season, with Ramos’ final pitch of 2016.

We won’t ever know if Ramos’ true intention was "revenge" for last year’s walk-off, but it also doesn’t matter, because plenty of people have determined that it was and already decided to run with that. Ramos told reporters last night that it wasn’t. Cabrera said he didn’t even remember Ramos was the guy off of whom he’d hit the home run. Pete Mackanin said, if Ramos had thrown at Cabrera intentionally, it would be "inappropriate" and "we don’t play that way."

Mackanin himself was ejected, throwing his body onto the gears of madness that overtook the eighth inning of last night’s 4-3 loss. He hosted a pretty agitated press conference afterward to discuss the situation surrounding his first early exit in 160 games. Suffice to say, no one’s going to out Ramos publicly now, but if he were to at any point confess to Mackanin that his pitch was anything more than an accident, Mackanin would likely eat a hole in his desk.

After a full, sleepless night of coming up with more comments to say about the matter today, we’re all returning to our keyboards with even less clarity on the subject. But one thing to note is that seeing the Phillies and Mets get ornery is a sign that it’s still early in the season and people’s emotions aren’t deadened by the humidity and crushing weight of this sport’s later months, with the players awake enough to reach for the table legs and bats with nails in them that they keep under the bench in case of a scrap. But it’s also a sign that we may once more have seen life breathed into the Phillies and Mets’ relationship of hate that has existed in only several precious, fleeting forms over the years.

It’s always more fun to beat a team you hate, and always much, much worse to lose to them. While the Phillies play the Mets 19 times every season regardless of how bad they are, everyone knows the best time for this antagonistic relationship is when both are more respectable squads. Am I saying the Phillies are "respectable" after going 3-4 in their first seven games? No, the legal period for conclusion-drawing hasn’t really started yet, but in that blessed ignorance of the future lies the ambiguity I can use to get out of bed in the morning: Maybe they will be, and thus far, they’ve certainly been more interesting to look at than their predecessors of the last few years. I consider this team more likely to be a pain for any rivals on the fringe of the playoffs coming down the home stretch - which again is so very, very far away. Any hint of the rivalry that dissipates when one of the team’s is horrible - which again is so very often - is enough to make you nostalgic.

But the anger from last night is jarring, to an extent, given the lovefest into which the NL East has transformed. Just this week during the series win against the Nationals, Bryce Harper was asked about why his powers become so much more potent once he crosses the Philadelphia city limits. Instead of getting in a few pokes at the fans who boo him or the team that once hit him with a pitch on purpose and then admitted it, he instead gushed over our city’s magnificence.

"I just feel really good here. Ever since I came up in 2012, I felt great. It’s a fun place to play, a fun ballpark to play in. You see the ball pretty well here. I just let the rest take care of itself, I guess."

"I feel like every single park we go to [we’re that way], pretty … not liked. I don’t know. I love coming in here and playing in this park, being able to play in front of these fans. I enjoy being in Philly for a few days and playing against great Phillies teams."

The phrase "I love coming in here and playing in this park, being able to play in front of these fans," certainly sounds more like something a player on the Phillies would say, which was sort of the point. On the cusp of getting a half a billion dollars in free agency, rumors are hot that the Phillies are one of the teams that would pursue/could afford Harper. And Harper, it seems, was kicking off negotiations by checking the "yes" box on the "Do you like us?" note the Phillies sent to the Washington dugout.

Perhaps Citizens Bank Park will just be to Bryce Harper what Citi Field was to Chase Utley, or perhaps Matt Klentak’s first mega-million giga-deal will be for one of the best young players in the game. Again, peering ahead through the haze of time, all we can do is speculate wildly about the future.

Right now, though, the Phillies and Mets have two more games to play in South Philly. And Cabrera was notably silent on the quality of Rupp’s hug.