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Was the Phillies Home Opener a “must-win” game?

On Episode 185 of Hittin’ Season, host John Stolnis talks to former Phillies beat writer Kevin Cooney on the home opener and why it wasn’t a must-win, but it sure felt like it was.

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It is ridiculous to think that Game No. 6 of a 162-game season is a “must-win” game. So right away, I must acknowledge that my headline for this piece was a bit of click-bait.

And for that, I apologize.

But while the Phils’ home opening 5-0 win over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park wasn’t a “must-win” according to the standings, emotionally, for the fanbase, the players, and probably the manager, it sure felt like this team needed a victory in the worst way.

This was one of the most awful opening weeks in team history. Even though they were only 1-4 heading into Thursday’s contest, it felt like they were 0-5 and that the world was caving around them.

Before the game, Jon Heyman of Fanrag Sports quoted an anonymous Phillies player as saying Gabe Kapler “needs to get out of the way,” implying that the first-year skipper overmanaged the Phils into a series of losses in Atlanta and New York. Kapler was the victim of either an incredible run of bad luck, an overly strict or inappropriate application of data, or both, but whatever the case, he came into Philadelphia with a bulls-eye on his back.

The fans booed. We knew they would. Heyman’s piece showed there was at least one player unhappy with Kapler, and last week, Odubel Herrera bristled at not being in the Opening Day lineup. It was a mess.

So when the Phils came home for their first game of the season at Citizens Bank Park, against the lowly Marlins, it sure felt like everyone needed a victory. While falling to 1-5 on the season would far from cripple their chances of being a playoff contender, it sure would have piled on the negative feelings.

The game felt like even more of a must-win when the game reached the sixth inning. With two outs, a runner on first and the Phillies leading 3-0, Nick Pivetta was pulled from the game by Kapler. Pivetta was nearing 100 pitches and Kapler decided to bring in left-handed reliever Adam Morgan to face the Marlins’ lone power threat, Justin Bour, a sensible move.

Unlike Opening Day (which is not a fair comparison because Aaron Nola should not have been taken out of that game for different reasons), Morgan struck out Bour on three pitches and then blitzed through the Miami lineup in the 7th. Had the Marlins staged a comeback after Pivetta was pulled, I’m not sure what would have happened. It’s likely the skies would have darkened and frogs would have fallen from the sky.

Ugly. It would have been ugly.

Happily, Kapler received the good fortune that had eluded him during the previous five games, and the Phillies got a win. No one needed it more than Kapler, although his players and the fans certainly welcomed an easy victory with open arms.

Pivetta dealt, Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco were offensive heroes, and the relievers did their jobs.

It wasn’t a must-win, but it sure felt like one.

Joining the podcast this week is former Phillies beat writer Kevin Cooney, who hosts the podcast “Workin’ the Beat,” along with Mike Kern on Wildfire Radio. Kevin joins the show to talk about the home opener, the importance of winning, why booing Kapler is OK and Kapler’s first week as manager.

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