Senior Writer

Comeback win in opener proves Phillies have what it takes


PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies didn't need a reminder that they can win without Chase Utley and Jayson Werth.

But maybe the rest of us did.

Maybe the guy who told me on Twitter midway through Friday's opener that the Phillies lineup is "dreadful" needed that reminder. Maybe the fans sitting behind the Phillies dugout needed that reminder.

"They were talking about American Legion ball, about how they could do better," Jimmy Rollins said. "Maybe it inspired us, because in the next inning we only made one out."

One out, six singles and a 5-4 opening day win over the Astros that served as one big reminder that the Phillies didn't lose their toughness when they lost their second baseman and allowed their right fielder to walk away.

One game isn't enough to prove that the Phillies are going back to the playoffs for a fifth straight year. But one inning was enough to prove that the Phillies haven't lost everything that made them what they've been for the last four years.

For one inning -- the one inning that really mattered -- they looked like the Phillies.

They even had Jimmy Rollins leading off.

Funny that it worked that way, since manager Charlie Manuel reacted to the loss of Utley and Werth by dropping Rollins into the third spot in his batting order (at least for now). But with a two-run deficit on opening day, with three outs to go, the Phillies had their best leadoff man leading off.

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Did Charlie plan it this way?

You wonder these things when you watch the Phillies, because these innings and these games always seem to turn out this way. It's not that easy, but there is something to the theory that this team is so conditioned to winning that players who step in for injured stars take on the same persona.

It's no mistake that the hits that tied and then won Friday's game -- the fifth and sixth singles in that ninth inning -- came from Wilson Valdez (the guy taking Utley's place at second base) and John Mayberry Jr. (one of the guys who will fill in where Werth once played in right field).

"When I crossed the plate [with the tying run], I saw Mayberry and he looked like he wanted to be in that situation," Howard said. "Those at-bats don't take place when you're standing at the plate. They take place before you get there, in the on-deck circle."

They take place a lot more frequently when you're part of a team that has this winning thing figured out.

"Until that 27th out is made, you've still got a breath," Howard said. "Take it."

The Phillies weren't perfect on Friday, even though starter Roy Halladay looked early on like he was headed for perfection. The Phillies hitters made it far too easy for Brett Myers to cruise through the first six innings, Halladay eventually gave up a run in the sixth, and the middle of the Brad Lidge-less bullpen allowed the deficit to balloon to 4-0 in the seventh.

Had it ended that way, the stories today would no doubt have been different, even if they shouldn't have been. Everyone would have overlooked the fact that the Phils were shut out 10 times last year, that they were shut out in one entire three-game series in New York, that they were one-hit by Hiroshi Kuroda and the Dodger bullpen last August, with Utley and Werth in the lineup.

An opening day shutout might not have caused panic, but it certainly would have had people talking.

No, in Philadelphia, an opening day shutout would have caused panic, justified or not.

Now, instead of panicking, Phillies fans can debate whether how many bases Howard will steal this year.

He had one last year. He has 11 in 876 major-league games.

But if Rollins is going to bat third, then he's going to bat right in front of Howard, and there are going to be a lot more times that he's standing on first base and Rollins is on second, just as they were after their back-to-back singles began Friday's ninth inning.

And a lot more times that Rollins is going to take off for third and expect Howard to follow him. Friday, Howard (who was carrying the tying run) didn't follow, and Rollins admitted later he had never actually let Howard know he expected him to do so.

"He's got to give me a memo or something," Howard said with a smile. "We need something."

"I'll take care of him," Rollins said.

They'll get it figured out. They almost always do, just as they almost always seem to do what they did in the ninth inning on opening day.

Give them an opening, and the Phillies take it.

"That was just desire to win," Rollins said.

That was just what we've come to expect from the Phillies. And that was just a reminder that when they lost their second baseman and their right fielder, they didn't lose what makes them so good.


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