Yes, yes, we know it's only one game and there are 161 left, but Opening Day was emblematic of what ails the Phillies.
All during the Fall and Winter everyone throughout the organization spoke of getting off to a good start in April, a failing that not only has plagued the Phils the last few years but directly cost them a chance at the post-season each time. So winning on Opening Day is far more than symbolic, it counts in the standings!
No topic received more scrutiny this past off-season than the questionable debate centering on who bats behind (read: protects) Ryan Howard. No sense repeating the entire debate here; everyone knows the principals. So right out of the chute manager Charlie Manuel neuturalizes the Pat Burrell factor by flipping Howard and normal three hole batter Chase Utley. Voila! Now we know who's going to protect the MVP. If Manuel was out to prove he can adjust or think outside the box, he chose a strange way to show it. Naturally, his move left everyone scratching his head. Why didn't he try this during Spring Training, we wondered? To make matters even more confusing, Utley is as pure a number three hitter as there is in all of baseball and they don't make cleanup hitters any better than Howard. What did Manuel prove with this move? Hard to imagine.
Oh, well, on to pitching.
Brett Myers is a very good pitcher. By all accounts he has the best stuff on this staff. If he has failed to reach his full potential during his career to date it's because he hasn't always had the mental toughness nor physical conditioning to weather tough spots. S0 this Spring he came to camp a lighter man by 30 pounds and seemingly more confident than ever in his abilities. He had by all accounts squarely faced his off-field family problems and made no bones about thanking Phillies fans for giving him a second chance.
Manuel rewarded these changes with an opening day start and Myers pitched decently, holding a 3-2 lead over Atlanta going into the eighth inning. He got the first two outs quickly and next faced Edgar Renteria, who has a history of killing the Phils no matter what uniform he is wearing. When a tired Myers had him 0-2 you hoped in your heart of hearts he wouldn't groove one, instead throwing him some nasty breaking stuff. But Brett grooved it and Renteria turned it around in a hurry and tied the game in a single stroke. "I always look fastball," a grinning Renteria told reporters after the game. It's a macho thing with Brett. He may be a new man on the outside, perhaps, but he's still a dumb one on the inside.
The game was still tied but the Phils had let the Braves and starter John Smoltz off the hook.
Up to that point the game had unfolded more or less according to form. J-Roll showed early impatience but later locked in to homer and double. Wes Helms delivered with his bat as we hoped he would. Ryan Howard had two hits but made an error with his glove that wasn't costly and a base-running one that was. Aaron Rowand again proved he is an overrated outfielder when he allowed a double off his glove because he was playing too shallow. At least two other Phillies outfielders would have tracked it down with ease.
And then there was the bullpen. No other facet of this team received greater scrutiny this off-season and no other group produced more agita. Nearly every scribe, blogger and cab driver around figured the Phils' bullpen was their weakest link and sure enough newly-anointed set-up man Ryan Madson didn't wait long to prove everyone right. Madson served up a two-run homer to Renteria and game one of the 2007 season was in the loss column.