It started innocently enough. It was even a bit tense! Aaron Nola made his first start of the year, returning to the mound after injury derailed the second half of his 2016 season. Trea Turner reached on an infield single and stole second, and then Adam Eaton walked. After Bryce Harper flew out after shaving a good Nola curveball, Daniel Murphy singled to load the bases. Sure, fine, there’s probably some rust and trepidation on Nola’s part. Wouldn’t you be tentative?
Then Ryan Zimmerman hit into a 5-3 double play - thanks in part to a stellar display of arm strength by Maikel Franco - and the beast was unleashed.
In the greatest display of offense in a first inning this franchise has ever produced, the Phillies positively erupted. All told, they scored 12 runs on nine hits and four walks, chasing Nationals starter Jeremy Guthrie after just two outs and making an immediate laugher out of their second home game.
That first inning will go down as one of the more memorable ones in recent team history. Only one of the three outs (the last one, naturally) was unproductive. No homers were hit; instead, it was just a parade of good at-bat after good at-bat, yielding runs left and right.
1st inning recap: Double, single, BB, SF, single, single, BB, SF, BB, BB, triple, single, double, double, single, strikeout.— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) April 9, 2017
And that would have been fine. The Phils could have swung at every pitch, popped out and struck out and stumbled their way to the finish having scored those 12 runs, and we’d have all still been dealing with the shockwave cackles left over from that amazing first inning.
They didn’t stop, though! In fact, they kept at it, scoring five more runs after that - which, in a vacuum, is kind of a lot for this team - to drop a titanic 17 on the Nats and blow them away to a final score tune of 17-3.
The cherry on this five-scoop sundae was Aaron Nola, who looked free and easy with the enormous cushion of run support he had to work with. His curveball looked the best of all his pitches, and his fastball sat 93-94 with life. He finished his outing with six completed innings pitched, having allowed three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. It was, more or less, exactly what you were hoping for in Nola’s season debut: Velocity, good-not-great command but still swing-and-miss quality and a manageable workload.
But that’s all accessory. Let’s take a closer look at that first inning, shall we?
- The Phillies scored all 12 runs without the benefit of a home run
- Guthrie threw 47 pitches to record two outs before being lifted for Enny Romero, who threw 21 more
- Tommy Joseph recorded two RBI singles, his first of the year. Michael Saunders also recorded two RBI hits in the inning
- Aaron Nola walked and later scored
- As mentioned above, only one out was unproductive: Cameron Rupp’s inning-ending strikeout. Franco and Freddy Galvis had sacrifice flies
Maybe we hit the season’s peak early, maybe we didn’t. Who cares? They annihilated the Nats, 17-3, and supplied (duh) the most entertaining game of the year. I spent most of the half inning’s 40 or so minutes just kind of laughing like a stupid idiot, amazed at what I saw. It was nice to just get lost in the moment, and it was an inning you never wanted to end.
Lost in the shadow of that amazement, though, is that this was a well-rounded, well-played effort by the Phils. There was good defense - Franco’s double play, Odubel’s assist on a not-hustling Jayson Werth at second base - good pitching and...well yeah the offense showed up, too.
This was the uber-realization of the potential intrigue we’re being teased with with this Phillies squad. Working deep counts, striking out talented hitters and making a night at the ballpark a ton of fun; all of that is a glimpse into what should become a more regular occurrence sooner than later.
For tonight, it was magic. For those who were at the park, you certainly got your money’s worth. Even at home, the entertainment value was through the roof. Tomorrow stands little chance of measuring up as the series finale pits Jeremy Hellickson against Stephen Strasburg, who is slightly better than 38-year-old Jeremy Guthrie. But what does it matter? Tonight’s game will easily rank among the best of the entire season, and it was a joy, through and through.