For the first time since September 29, 2019, there will be fans at a regular season Philadelphia Phillies baseball game. And not just any game, it’s MLB Opening Day. After a pandemic shortened season, we sit just one day away from the beginning of the 162 game marathon we all know and love. So, it feels appropriate to take a look back at some of the best of Phillies opening day over the last 20 years. In this time period from 2001-2020, the Phillies record in the first game of the season is 9-11, and they’ve won just two out of their last five. This will be the fifth time playing the Braves in the season opener, with the last being in 2019, which coincidentally starts our trip down memory lane.
The Rhys Hoskins grand slam, Bryce Harper debut (2019)
It feels like so long ago and just like yesterday all at the same time. 2019 opening day saw the Phillies debut of Bryce Harper, and what we hoped was going to be the beginning of the Phillies first playoff season since 2011. Harper was the biggest free agent the Phillies had signed since Cliff Lee, and the biggest hitter free agent signing since Jim Thome. But going back to those playoff aspirations, boy did the Phillies only further those on this day. After a scoreless top of the first inning by Aaron Nola, Andrew McCutchen also making his Phillies debut, hit a leadoff home run.
But the moment that stands out for everyone of this game, was Rhys Hoskins putting the game away with a towering grand slam off Luke Jackson. At this moment, every Phillies fan you asked thought we were destined for at the very least a playoff berth, and probably more. We all know how that turned out, but for one day, the feel that baseball in Philadelphia was back was alive and well with 44,000 strong at Citizens Bank Park.
Jimmy Rollins grand slam vs. Texas (2014)
The 2014 Phillies were largely forgettable, but the season opener was anything but. It was the first full season for Ryne Sandberg as Phillies manager, and thankfully the last full season of Sandberg as manager. For the first time in their history, due to the new interleague schedule, the Phillies would play an American League team to start the season. To commemorate the occasion, they indulged themselves in a good ol’ fashioned AL slugfest. They scored 14 runs on the day with 17 hits with Cliff Lee on the mound, should be an easy win, right? Wrong. Lee allowed eight runs in five innings of work allowing 11 hits. The pitcher for the Rangers was ... wait who? Tanner Scheppers made an opening day start for the Texas Rangers? Keep in mind this is the Rangers team three years removed from a World Series berth, and one that won 91 games the year prior.
The Phillies offense took advantage of the situation and hit three home runs on the day coming from Marlon Byrd who was signed in the offseason, and Cody Asche who was beginning his first full season as third baseman of the Phils. But the most memorable bomb of the day came from the leadoff man, Jimmy Rollins. Later this year, J-Roll would break the Phillies all-time hit record set by Mike Schmidt, but on opening day, he touched them all for a grand slam in the second inning that put the Phillies up 6-0. Not only was it a defining home run in the game, it was a defining home run in the Phils’ shortstop’s career. It was his 200th dinger a tremendous milestone for a guy who was never expected to hit for much power.
John Mayberry walks us off (2011)
The 2011 Phillies were one of the most hotly anticipated teams in team history. Cliff Lee had re-signed with the team after a brief stint in Seattle and Texas in 2010, joining a rotation already consisting of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. The Four Aces had been created, and the World Series hype was in full force. After losing to the Giants in the NLCS the year prior, it seemed the Phillies had created the best pitching rotation possibly ever seen, and were destined for the fall classic. We won’t talk about what happened later that season.
On opening day strangely enough the Phillies found themselves trailing the Houston Astros, a team that would go on to lose 106 games that season, 4-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then, the fightin Phils showed up. The powerful Phillies lineup hit six singles in the ninth to come back and beat the Astros 5-4, with the winner coming from John Mayberry Jr., off the bench.
Roy Halladay’s Phillies debut (2010)
Much like 2011, 2010 was another year where the Phillies were expected to go back to the World Series. They had just won back-to-back pennants, and just signed the league’s best pitcher in Roy Halladay. Doc would be everything the Phillies expected and yet so much more in 2010, winning 21 games, posting a 2.44 ERA, and winning his second Cy Young Award. Oh yeah, he also threw a perfect game in Florida in May, and a postseason no-hitter in his very first postseason start. The guy was pretty good. On opening day, Halladay went seven strong innings, allowed one run on six hits, walked two, struck out nine.
The Phillies offense backed up their ace with an 11 run outburst backed by a two run bomb from Ryan Howard, and a grand slam from the returning Placido Polanco. Roy Halladay’s career in Philadelphia was shorter than we ever would have imagined, but on opening day in 2010, we marveled at the man named Doc who would dazzle us night in and night out.
Jim Thome brings about a new era of Phillies baseball (2003)
The 2002 Phillies were a major disappointment from a surprisingly successful 2001. The 2001 team finished just two games out of first place in National League East, and it looked like under new manager Larry Bowa, the team was finally about to crawl out of the cellar. Then 2002 happened. Scott Rolen, the franchise player, was not satisfied with what the Phillies were doing or in this case not doing. Ed Wade did virtually nothing to improve the team and help them take the next step in the 2001 offseason, and Rolen’s contract was up at the end of the year. The Phils wanted to bring him back, but Rolen wanted a commitment to spend money and sign big free agents.
We all know what happens next, Rolen is traded at the 2002 deadline, and the Phillies now need to fill the void. Luckily for them, another big name player was expected to hit the market in the offseason, first baseman Jim Thome. The slugger had spent his entire career so far with Cleveland, and was one of the most prolific home run hitters in all of baseball. The fact he chose to sign in Philadelphia is still remarkable to this day. The Phillies filled the void of Rolen offensively and then some. But it wasn’t just Thome, Kevin Millwood and David Bell were brought in to bolster the team, as the Phillies entered their final season at Veterans Stadium.
Although they would not open the season at the Vet, they started the season with a bang. Thome went 3-4 in his debut with a double, in what would be a fantastic first year as a Phillie hitting a league leading 47 home runs, one shy of the franchise single-season record. They would go on to win 8-5 with Millwood going six strong in his debut. Although the 2003 Phillies did not make the postseason, they rejuvenated baseball in Philadelphia. Thome was must see TV, and with the team going into a new ballpark the following year, there were so many reasons to be excited about the sport again. Thome’s signing was a culture change.