Straight, No-hit Chaser

Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, Cristian Javier, Christian Vásquez, Ryan Pressly

The Cristian Javier Quintet—Javier (center) flanked (from left) by Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, Christian Vázquez, and Ryan Pressly—played music Philadelphia didn’t want to hear (never mind see) in World Series Game Four.

This year’s Phillies weren’t exactly strangers to being no-hit collectively. Five Mets—Tylor Megill, Drew Smith, Joely Rodriguez, Seth Lugo, and Edwin Díaz—did just that to them on April’s next-to-last day. Nine of the Phillies in that day’s lineup, including their starting pitcher Aaron Nola, just so happened to be on the receiving end of that quintet’s performance.

But the night after the Phillies bludgeoned the Astros to take a 2-1 World Series lead, the Cristian Javier Quintet—starter Cristian Javier; relievers Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly, with Christian Vázquez drumming for them behind the plate—played “Straight, No-Hit Chaser” in Citizens Bank Park.

This was baseball’s version of a classic Miles Davis Quintet. With Javier blowing transcendently through the first six innings, a pitching Miles delivering deceptively simple things that had more to say across bars than more exhibitionistic soloists say compressed into half a bar.

Then it was Abreu, Montero, and Pressly taking the final solos knowing full well they might keep the Phillies pinned to their seats without reaching quite for Javier’s heights.

The 5-0 Astro win provided only the second World Series no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect Game Five in 1956, tied the Series at two each, and guaranteed a return trip to Houston for one Series game at least.

“God willing,” Javier’s parents reportedly told him before Game Four began, knowing the Astros were handed their heads on plates in Game Three, and knowing what a thrill it was for their son to have them in Citizens Bank Park for the occasion, “you’ll throw a no-hitter.” Those folks should be buying lottery tickets before they return home.

The 25-year-old Dominican threw six no-hit innings before turning it over to his bullpen. Javier threw fastballs that didn’t carry heat so much as they carried movement and deceptive facial appearances away from Phillie bat arcs, occasional sliders that slid around those bats, and looked as though he was amusing himself making the Game Three thumpers resemble paper tigers.

“I remember being on the other end of that,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, who’d managed the Reds team no-hit by the late Roy Halladay in the 2010 National League division series. “It was the seventh inning and it seemed like it was the second inning, and I looked up on the board and it’s the seventh inning already. Then you’re trying not to be no-hit and then you’re trying to win the ballgame and—yeah, that’s pretty remarkable.”

“Remarkable” would be a polite way to put Wednesday night.

“He’s got good extension, good ride, things like that,” said Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who went 0-for-3 with Javier in the game but worked Pressly for a proven-futile one-out walk in the bottom of the ninth. “When it says ’92’ up on the board, it’s playing a little bit harder than that.”

Javier was far from alone, of course. The Astros lineup pushed, shoved, bumped, and prodded through the first four against Nola, but had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it. They’d already played fifteen straight Series innings without scoring and must have begun wondering how they could buy a run or two on the black market if it came to that.

Then they loaded the pads on Nola to open the top of the fifth. Center fielder Chas McCormick opened with a grounder into the left-side hole that Phillies shortstop Bryson Stott backhanded breathlessly but couldn’t throw in time to stop McCormick. Jose Altuve lined one over Stott’s stretch for a quick base hit.

As Jose Alvarado got up and throwing in the Phillies bullpen, rookie Astro shortstop Jeremy Peña lined one so hard through short for a hit that there was no way McCormick could score.


Even more so than earlier in the Series, Peña continued making the Astros feeling less regret about losing shortstop mainstay Carlos Correa to free agency last winter. And while he batted against Nola, Phillies manager Rob Thomson took no chances and got Jose Alvarado up and throwing in the bullpen. As soon as Peña stopped at first, Thomson reached for Alvarado, the stout lefthander, with lefthanded Astros bomber Yordan Alvarez due to hit.

Alvarado wanted to tie Alvarez up on the first pitch, going inside. The pitch sailed all the way into Alvarado’s ribs to send McCormick strolling home with the first Astros run. Some dare call it poking the bears.

Almost immediately, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman lined one the other way to deep right for a two-run double and Kyle Tucker sent Alvarez home on a sacrifice fly. Then Yuli Gurriel, the ancient Astros first baseman who’s still a tough strikeout, grounded an 0-2 service through shortstop to score Bregman.

“I was focused on the target,” Alvarado said postgame. “The same Alvarado as always. The last thing I want to do there is hit him.”

From there the two bullpens kept each other quiet enough, with only Phillies reliever Brad Hand surrendering a ninth-inning hit to Peña before stranding him on a pair of fly outs. But the Astros pen finishing what Javier started so brilliantly finished the real Game Four story.

“This,” Javier said postgame, “is the best gift I could have ever given my family, my parents. To me, it’s even more special knowing that they were able to see that in person.” It wasn’t exactly the worst gift he could have given his teammates, either.

“Just going into today’s game, we had so much confidence in him,” said McCormick. “Even coaches, I had a feeling—Javier’s going to shove today. And he’s been shoving.”

That’s a polite way to put it. Almost completely hidden all year long, at least until Wednesday night, according to the invaluable Jayson Stark, was Javier keeping opposing batters to a .170 average against him foe the season. For his last six starts including Game Four, Javier surrendered as many hits as Nola surrendered in Game Four alone. Batters across the six hit .067 against him.

Not even Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, or Randy Johnson ever had a six-start, five-plus-innings, seven-hit string of starts like that, Stark exhumed. No pitcher ever did something like that until Javier.

So the righthander with the throwing-upstairs look in his delivery wasn’t exactly coming into Game Four unarmed. Now he manhandled a Phillies team that averaged seven runs a game this postseason coming in. And his bullpen finished what he started with near-similar manhandling.

“You get slapped in the face [in Game Three] and go back today and make a statement,” Pressly said. “You try to have the mind of the goldfish in this game. You try not to think about anything. You just want to go out there and try to produce and put a ‘W’ in the column.”

Never mind that Larsen, the Yankee righthander who kept the Dodgers hitless, runless, and runnerless in 1956, remains in his own postseason no-hit class for doing it all by his lonesome. This game takes its own place of singularity. Eighteen combined no-hitters have been thrown in Show history, but this was the first to happen in a World Series.

Astros catcher Martín Maldonado, who yielded in favour of Vásquez for Game Four, didn’t mind that Javier wouldn’t get the chance to go the distance with it.

“It’s about winning the game. That’s all. As long as we win the game, the result doesn’t matter. It’s about winning. The World Series is about winning. It’s not about a player or an achievement, or about player recognition or anything like that. The World Series is about winning. It’s about, ‘Give me as many innings as you can. Give us a chance to win’.”

And if a little history is made doing so, Maldonado won’t really complain. Especially since it guaranteed the Series getting back to Houston at all. They wouldn’t mind going there with a 3-2 Series lead and the upstart Phillies knocking on death’s door.

But the Phillies abused Justin Verlander in Game One and get another crack at the future Hall of Famer in Game Five. It’s not impossible that being no-hit the night after they flew the bombers down the Astros’ throats might give these Phillies—planning a bullpen game to be opened by Noah Syndergaard—the same kind of incentive the Astros took into Game Four.

Prick these Phillies and they’ll pounce back. Slap them, and they’ll shove back. “Confident as ever,” said third baseman Alec Bohm about the team mood after shaking off the no-hitter. “I don’t think anybody’s worried. Tonight stays here. Tomorrow’s a new day.”

“It’s just a loss,” said Schwarber. “Now it’s a race to two. See what happens.”

Now we’ll find out what these Phillies will or won’t do the day after their bats were tied behind their backs. But we’ll also find out whether the Astros can win a game, if not a World Series, of “Can You Top This?”

We’re in for one hell of a World Series ride

J.T. Realmuto

Realmuto’s leadoff launch in the top of the tenth held up for the Phillies to win opening this World Series. But he almost didn’t make it that far . . .

Listen up, you sore-losing Met, Dodger, and Yankee fans. At least, those among you who think that there’s nothing more worth watching until hot stove season since your heroes (anti-heroes?) got pushed, shoved, and slugged out of the postseason.

Yours aren’t the only heroes (anti-heroes?) who got turned aside. So you can just boil yourselves alive in your harrumphing that the World Series means nothing to you. Because if Game One was any indication, the rest of us—including this Met fan since the day they were born—are in for one hell of a Series ride.

For those of us who put aside our personal rooting disappointments and watched, we got to see a script flipped Friday night.

We went in knowing that assorted polls pretty much sketched the Phillies as America’s team this time around. We also went in knowing numerous oddsmakings sketched the Astros as liable to grind the brave little Philsies into hamburger, one way or the other.

But we came away from the Phillies’s 6-5 Game One upending knowing we’d seen a dogfight turned strategic bombing turned bullfight all in the space of ten must-see innings. And, with just a few little shruggings un-shrugged along the way.

Until Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto hit an opposite-field home run leading off the top of the tenth, and Phillies reliever David Robertson shook off a one-out double and a two-out walk to make it stick, that is. And that’s when it might have hit, good and hard:

The ogres of the American League might have swept their way here in the first place, but they’re not exactly impenetrable or invincible. Last year’s Braves sure proved it, but some things need proving all over again. Come Friday night, the Phillies finally proved it. But it did take a little early survival to do so.

Astros right fielder Kyle Tucker got to within about a foot above several fans of pulling Realmuto’s drive back for what would have been a jaw-dropping out. He leaped, reached back, extended, everything short of a net springing from his gloves’ fingertips, but the ball eluded his reach by about a full visible foot.

“Honestly, I thought I got enough of it, but I kind of had flashbacks of the play that Tucker made on (Aaron) Judge’s ball [in the American League Championship Series],” Realmuto said postgame. “And once I saw him running back to the wall, I was thinking in my head, oh, please just don’t catch it, just don’t catch it. I knew it was going to be close.”

Nobody going in expected Game One itself to be that close.

I mean, admit it. Didn’t we think it was all but game over when Tucker took it upon himself to provide four-fifths of the Astros’ early scoring, staking future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander to a 5-0 lead after three innings?

Didn’t we think the Phillies might be a little demoralised after Aaron Nola—who’d pitched six and two-thirds perfect innings against the Astros to pull the Phillies towards their postseason berth clinch in the first place—got thumped by Tucker’s solo bomb halfway up the lower right field seats in the second and, when the game was still a manageable 2-0 Astro lead an inning later, his three-run blast a little further up those seatxs in the third?

Sure we did. We thought that, no matter how strong and deep would be the bullpen bulls for whom Phillies manager Rob Thomson would reach soon enough, the Astro machinery would either make that five-zip lead hold or pile another couple more on before the game was finally over.

We might even have thought Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper singling to set first and third up in the fourth, Nick Castellanos singling Harper home, then Alec Bohm lining a two-run double to left was just Verlander’s and the Astros’ way of toying with the Phillies, tossing them a couple of cookies before burying them alive.


We just didn’t quite bargain for Realmuto sending a two-run double of his own to the back of left center to tie it at five the very next inning. (For those to whom such things matter, in Minute Maid Park’s dimensions Realmuto’s double traveled 42 feet more than his tenth-inning bomb would.)

“No excuses,” Verlander said postgame. “I felt like I had some guys in good situations and just wasn’t able to quite make the pitches that I wanted to. A lot of credit to them as a lineup. They laid off some good pitches, and they were able to, when I did execute pitches, they were able to foul it off or put it in play and find a couple hits that way. Then when I did make a mistake, they hit it hard.”

“We knew they could hit when they came in here,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “They’re known for that. They just took it from us tonight.”

We didn’t quite bargain for five Phillies relief pitchers—including their scheduled Game Three starter Ranger Suarez—and four Astros relief pitchers keeping both sides scoreless, with a few hiccups along the way on both side.

We sure didn’t bargain for Castellanos, defying the Phillies’ season-long reputation as a defense-challenged team, running for his life in from deep right—where he’d positioned respecting Astros rookie Jeremy Peña’s power—to send the game to extras in the first place, taking it from Peña and the Astros with a past-textbook sliding, one-handed catch just short of the line.

“I felt like I read the swing pretty well,” Castellanos said postgame, “and as soon as I saw the direction of the ball I felt like I got a good jump on it. I just thought he had a better chance of trying to bloop something in there than torching something over my head. So that was kind of my thought process there, just thought of it on the fly.” Good thinking.

We didn’t quite bargain for Realmuto, either, squaring up Luis (Rock-a-Bye*) Garcia, usually a starter but pressed into relief duty this postseason—and a man Realmuto had never before faced in his life.

The count ran full. Then Garcia threw Realmuto a fastball reaching the outer edge of the strike zone. Realmuto reached, connected, and sent it on its way. Yet, for a few brief, shuddering moments four innings earlier, it was lucky for the Phillies he got that far in the first place.

Astros center fielder Chas McCormick foul-tipped a hard one straight back and straight into blasting Realmuto’s old school-style catcher’s mask right off his head. It also knocked the husky catcher backward and down. Those watching on the Fox Sports 1 telecast could hear plate umpire James Hoye say, “You all right? Stay there a minute.”

“Honestly, my head wasn’t the problem,” Realmuto said. “It just smoked my jaw pretty good. It’s probably not going to be very easy for me to eat dinner tonight, but as long as my head’s OK, I’ll be good to go.”

“I didn’t move,” said Phillies backup catcher Garrett Stubbs postgame. “That guy’s not coming out for anything.” He was right. He didn’t even move his pinkie as Thomson and Phillies trainer Paul Buchheit tended the temporarily fallen Realmuto.

These Phillies won’t come out for anything, either. Unless it’s for Game Two. And, maybe, another few steps toward their own October/November surprise. Listen up one more time, sore-losing Met/Dodger/Yankee fans. (Maybe even you, too, Padres fans.) You may end up missin’ a great Series.


* Just why is Luis Garcia’s rocking-the-baby motion while he does that little back-and-forth, samba-like step before delivering home just fine, while the Guardians’ Josh Naylor’s rocking-the-baby routine as he rounds the bases after hitting a home run is a capital crime

I don’t have an issue with either one, frankly. I’m still a big believer in letting the kids play and, if you want to see baseball played like Serious Business, find yourself a league where they play the game in three-piece suits.

But why isn’t Garcia accused of taunting the batters he faces with it while Naylor took heat for doing it to pitchers against whom he’s just gone the distance?

Oh, brothers!

Austin Nola

With this swing and NLCS Game Two base hit, Austin Nola became the first ever to nail a hit off his brother in postseason play. Pending the NLCS outcome, it gives Austin bragging rights over Aaron for just about eternity, for now . . .

For the first time in postseason history, siblings faced each other as pitcher and hitter. Little brother Aaron Nola, pitching for the Phillies, against big brother Austin Nola, catching for the Padres. Bottom of the second in Petco Park, two out, and an early/often 4-0 Phillies lead was cut in half a few minutes earlier.

Little brother was something of a star entry from almost the moment he arrived in the Show. Big brother got to the Show the hard way, even switching from his original shortstop position to the tools of ignorance behind the plate. Little brother had five years in Show before big brother got anything close to a clean shot.

Now, little brother lured big brother into an inning-ending bounce out to third base. Three innings later, though, Austin let Aaron know big brother was watching him carefully enough. With one out, and after several throws by little brother to first to keep Padres shortstop Ha-Seong Kim (leadoff single) from thinking too much about theft, big brother struck.

Few things in life satisfy quite so much as getting little brother back after he got you good the first time. Fewer times than that does big brother get little brother good and start what shoves little brother to one side for the day.

Kim took off with the pitch and without looking back while Austin slashed a line single the other way to right, starting a five-run Padres uprising that ultimately put paid both to Aaron’s afternoon and the game, an 8-5 Padres win that sends the National League Championship Series to Philadelphia even-up at one game each.

All that while the Nola boys’ parents A.J. and Stacie Nola sat in the stands, A.J. doing his level best to avoid favouritism by sitting with a Phillies jersey (Aaron’s, of course) over a Padres jersey (Austin’s, of course) around his torso. They must have been thinking of tireless backyard Wiffle ball contests between the two that seeded tireless travel-ball jaunts in an RV to get the brothers from game to game.

They must also have been thinking they’d sooner have seen the inside of the House of the Rising Sun in the boys’ native Louisiana than to see them squaring off against each other with the National League pennant at stake.

“Of course you always root for your brother and want him to do well,” Austin told a reporter after Game Two ended. “It has been strange. But we talked about this beforehand. It was understood between us that this is competitive. There’s no empathy here. We both want to win . . . Now that it’s the postseason, and it’s all-out—bottom line, I hope you do well next year, you know?”

Easy for him to say.

Six pairs of siblings squared off against each other in postseason play before Wednesday: Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar (1996, 1997), Dane Iorg and Garth Iorg (1985), Clete Boyer and Ken Boyer (1964), Irish Meusel and Bob Meusel (1921, 1922, 1923), and Doc Johnston and Jimmy Johnston (1920). The Boyers, the Meusels, and the Johnstons did it in World Series play.

Not one of them was a pitcher facing the other at the plate.

“That’s crazy, that it hasn’t happened ever,” observed Padres pitcher Mike Clevinger postgame. “You’d think that somehow, sometime, it would line up. That is crazy. Crazy. Amazing. That’s just wild. It’s awesome. Romantic. It’s like a storybook. Always. And you never know. If it took 100 years for this to happen, you think about how, 100 years from now, that could still be the only time that it happened. That is crazy.”

After Kim dove across the plate with the third San Diego run, Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar smacked Aaron’s first pitch to right to set first and third up with a single out. Juan Soto—the Padres’ spotlight trade deadline acquisition, who struggled somewhat to rediscover his well-regarded mojo after the deal, and the only Padre who’s had a taste of World Series triumph (as a 2019 National)—pulled a high, hard liner deep into the right field corner, sending the elder Nola brother home with the game-tying run.

Aaron nailed Manny Machado after ball one with three straight strikes including a big swinger for strike three. Phillies manager Rob Thomson lifted Aaron for lefthander Brad Hand with lefthanded Padres second baseman Jake Cronenworth due to hit. But a Hand curve ball sailing inside caught Cronenworth in the back as he turned trying to avoid it, and the Padre ducks were on the pond.

Up stepped Brandon Drury, who’d started cutting the early 4-0 Phillie lead in half with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the second. Up the pipe went his full-count line single with the runners in motion, home came Profar and Soto, and into the 6-4 lead the Padres went. Then Josh Bell—who followed Drury in the second by hitting Aaron’s first pitch right past the foul pole for a home run—lined one the other way through first and into right to send Cronenworth home and Drury to third.

Having broken the Hand, the Padres now faced righthanded Phillies reliever Andrew Bellatti. Kim returned to work himself into a bases-reloading walk, but Trent Grisham fought to a full count before lining two foul down the first base line and then looking at a nasty third strike on the inside corner.

Machado would add a little extra insurance in the bottom of the seventh against another Phillies reliever, David Robertson, freshly re-installed off the injured list, when he hit a 2-2 service about 424 feet over the center field fence. Except for Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins hitting Padres reliever Robert Suarez’s first pitch into the left field seats to open the top of the eighth, that was all the Phillies had to say for having their early swat-and-slash 4-0 lead eviscerated for keeps.

That lead began against Padres starter Blake Snell, who’d retired them in order in the top of the first, with designated hitter Bryce Harper lining a single over the middle and just above Kim’s upstretched glove. Right fielder Nick Castellanos followed to fight a jam pitch off the other way to right and falling in front of Soto, who struggled with the afternoon sun most of the time before the shadows began crossing the park.

Then it was Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm sending a line bloop into center to score Harper, second baseman Jean Segura swinging a strikeout, and center fielder Matt Vierling flying a long one the other way to right which Soto clearly lost in the sun despite trying to shield his eyes from the glare, scoring Castellanos. Then, it was shortstop Edmundo Sosa blooping one into short left to score Bohm, and left fielder Kyle Schwarber grounding one to first.

Drury knocked the ball down unable to handle it for a double play but able to step on the first base pad to get Schwarber for the second out—with Vierling scoring the fourth Phillie run. Hoskins then sent one high to right. Soto shaded his eyes again. This time, he had it for the side retired. From there he was hell bent on atonement. He finally got it when he sent Big Brother Nola home in that five-run fifth.

“I wish I could have taken a snapshot and just held the moment for like a day, you know, because that’s how fun it is,” said big brother after the game. “And I’m sure he would say the same thing, that stepping in the box and you get your brother in a situation, you know . . . just facing him in a big-league game is enough to just hold the moment.”

“I want to beat him,” little brother said. “I want to go to the next round and let him go home.”

Well, now. Until or unless Aaron gets Austin out later in this NLCS, especially in a moment where one false pitch might otherwise equal a game starting to upend and break open again, big brother has bragging rights on kid brother for . . . well, eternity may or may not be quite enough. Yet.

Opening Day: Snow fooling

There was nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. The snow took control of the transmission when Miguel Cabrera hit this Opening Day home run . . .

Just because the expected Opening Day marquee battle between Jacob deGrom (Mets) and Max Scherzer (Nationals) had to be postponed (COVID-positive Nats players and a team staffer to quarantine), that didn’t mean Wednesday was going to lack for the good, the bad, and the bizarre. This is baseball. Where anything can happen—and usually does.

Especially if Opening Day is also April Fool’s Day. The part that wasn’t a gag—fans in the stands again, at long enough last. The sound was glorious, even if reduced from most normal capacities thanks to the continuing if only slightly receding pan-damn-ic.

Comerica Park should have been playing “Winter Wonderland” Wednesday. The Tigers’ aging star Miguel Cabrera shouldn’t be blamed if he was singing “Let it Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.” Especially when he more than a little hard on the Bieber, turning on the Indian ace’s rising snowball, hitting a two-run homer, and . . . sliding into second base, unable to tell through the snow that the ball flew out.

I don’t know if the Coors Field public address people had it cued up, but they could and should have sounded “Don’t Pass Me By” after Dodger first baseman Cody Bellinger hit an RBI single . . . off Rockies left fielder Raimel Tapia’s glove and over the left field fence. The problem: Justin (Who Was That Unmasked Man) Turner not seeing the ball reach the seats and retreating to first, compelling Bellinger to pass him on the basepath.

Oops. On a day the Rockies thumped Clayton Kershaw and managed to squeeze a win out after doing what Rockies usually do in the off-season—in this case, unloading their franchise player and all but reveling in front office dissembly and mission abandonment—Turner was the gift that . . . added insult to injury for the defending World Series winners.

The sleeper star in waiting in Blue Jays silks might have thought about singing an ancient  T. Rex number called “The Slider.” Gerrit Cole’s was just too juicy for Teoscar Hernandez to resist in the sixth. He sent it into earth orbit or 437 feet and into the left field bleachers at Yankee Stadium—whichever came first. Who needed Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.?

Just one thing was wrong. Hernandez needs to work on his bat flips. He didn’t have one. A blast like that was just begging for him to go Willson Contreras. Hernandez just ambled up the base line carrying his bat, then kind of nudged it away to the grass. He’s young, with plenty of time to learn, though. And his blast tied the game the Jays went on to win, 3-2.

Which is the score by which the Phillies beat the Braves in ten innings—after Bryce Harper began the inning as the free cookie on second base, took third on J.T. (Nothing Is) Realmuto’s ground out, waited patiently as Didi Gregorius was handed first on the house, then came home with the winner when Jean Segura sliced a single to left.

The game got to the tenth in the first place because Phillies manager Joe Girardi decided he wasn’t quite ready to trust the National League’s leading arsonists with taking over from certified innings-eater Aaron Nola with a 2-0 lead in the seventh. The Braves were far more ready to trust Pablo Sandoval—erstwhile Giant, one-time World Series hero, all-time poster child for Slim Slow—to pinch hit for Max Fried’s relief Tyler Matzek with a man on.

. . . and slid into second unable to tell at first whether the ball or the snow cleared the fence.

Kung Fu Panda turned out to be more than ready to hit Nola’s 0-2, slightly down and slightly in fastball into the right field seats. Girardi is many things but a crystal ball operator isn’t one of them. If he had been, he could have lifted Nola safe and sound because the Phillies’ bullpen apparently forgot to refill the gasoline cans for a change. Not even a bases-loaded jam in the eighth could keep Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, Hector Neris and Conner Brogdon from keeping the Braves scoreless over the final three and a third.

Does Philadelphia believe in miracles? Don’t ask too quickly, folks. Remember: this is the baseball town in which a typical wedding concludes with the minister pronouncing the newly-married couple husband and wife—then addressing the gathering with, “You may now boo the bride.” As much as I hate to drop a cliche so worn you see more holes there than in an oil field, the Phillies have 161 games left to play. Ruh-roh.

That was last year’s pan-damn-ically irregular season: Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, who sometimes evokes Willie Mays when he’s not on the injured list, walked twice all year long. This was Opening Day: Buxton should have had “Cadillac Walk” as his entrance music—he walked twice. He also blasted a two-run homer to the rear end of American Family Field in the seventh and had his arm calibrated so well that the Brewers didn’t dare to even think about running wild on him.

Buxton’s blast made it 5-3, Twins. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, the Twins undid their own sweet selves with a badly timed error, making room for a ninth-inning, three-run, game-tying comeback that turned into a 6-5 Brewers win on—wait for it!—a chopped ground out that left just enough room for Lorenzo Cain to score the winner from third. (A transplanted Minnesotan of my acquaintance thinks, only, “That’s so Twins!”)

The Twins were saved from Opening April Fool’s Day ignominy by the Reds, alas. The Cardinals spotted Jack Flaherty a six-run lead in the first—abusing Reds starter Luis Castillo with an RBI infield hit, a bad error by Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez playing shortstop, and Dylan Carlson ringing a three-run homer off the foul pole—before he had to throw a single competitive pitch in the game.

Flaherty didn’t quite have his A game. A C+ might be more like it. Lucky for him and the bullpen that the Cardinals felt in the mood to abuse the Reds the rest of the way: An RBI single and a run home on a wild pitch plus a two-run homer in the fifth, and it didn’t matter if the Cardinal arms let the Reds have all six of those first-inning runs back. Let the Cardinals’ song for the day be “The Eleven,” as in the 11-6 final.

The bad news for the Angels opening at home against the White Sox: the lineup struck out ten times. The good news: only four of them came in the final six innings. Meanwhile, they beat the White Sox 4-3 like pests instead of power drivers: walking here, working counts there, game-tying single here (Justin Upton), solo homer (Max Stassi) there, RBI single (Mike Trout) and RBI ground out (Albert Pujols) yonder, the bullpen keeping the White Sox quiet the final three.

Not to mention the Still Best Player in the Game ending his Opening Day with a .750 on-base percentage: that RBI single plus a pair of well-worked walks in four plate appearances. Trout could also point proudly to something not usually associated with the Angels the last couple of years: they didn’t let the game get away early, and they nailed it late with a two-run eighth and a shutdown ninth by reliever Raisel Iglesias.

Unfortunately, time will tell if a triumph like that proves an April Fool’s joke that wasn’t half as funny as Miguel Cabrera’s home run slide.

But here’s no joke: There were 222 hits on Opening Day and a mere 35 percent of them went for extra bases, including a measly thirteen percent being home runs, while fifteen percent of the day’s hits were infield hits. The games produced a .311 batting average on balls in play. There were even nineteen tries at grand theft base and 79 percent of them succeeded.

Maybe the rumours of the all-around game’s death are more than slightly exaggerated for now. When there’s a slightly higher percentage of infield hits than home runs on a day, the small ballers should take their victories where they can find them. But you wonder if Cabrera will inspire more than a few players to think it’s time to work on their home run slides.

Wounded cops and battered Cubs

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Bryce Harper gives Rhys Hoskins props after Harper’s first-inning bomb started a Wednesday night Phillies blowout . . . unaware, likely, that six Philly cops were wounded in gunfire with a barricaded suspect.

A self-barricaded narcotics suspect in a home on the north side of Philadelphia. A standoff with police involving over an hour’s worth of gunfire exchanges, maybe more, and six  officers wounded.

The standoff began shortly before the Phillies faced the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park Wednesday night. It was still ongoing after the Phillies delivered a far less fatal kind of gunfire at the Cubs good for ten runs before the third full inning expired. It was still ongoing after Bryce Harper hit his second home run of the night.

And it was still ongoing, apparently, after the Phillies finished what they started, an 11-1 blowout of the National League Central leaders.

None of the six wounded cops was injured gravely, thankfully, though the city’s police commissioner Richard Ross said several of the cops who responded to the barricader and got into the house had to escape by jumping through windows. At one point the standoff that began late in the Philadelphia afternoon had nearby Temple University’s Health Sciences Center on lockdown.

Cole Hamels made his third start since returning from the injured list and his first in Philadelphia since leaving the Phillies in a then non-waiver trade deadline deal with the Rangers four years earlier. The audience cheered him appreciatively when he batted in the top of the third, but it was hard to tell whether it was thanks for the memories past or thanks for the clobbering the Phillies were giving him this night.

While police continued trying to resolve the standoff without any further injury or damage, and word emerged that there was a second narcotics suspect in the house aside from the shooter, the Phillies came to bat after starting pitcher Aaron Nola rid himself of the Cubs in the top of the first with a ground out sandwiching a pair of swinging strikeouts.

They didn’t give Hamels a chance to settle into any groove remotely similar in the bottom of the first. Rhys Hoskins singled with one out and an old nemesis named Bryce Harper stepped up to the plate. It’s not that Harper has that impressive a set of past performance papers against Hamels, it’s that Hamels knocked Harper down notoriously during Harper’s rookie season in Washington.

But this time Harper delivered the knock. After looking at a changeup on the low inside corner for an opening strike, he drove a fastball away into middle of the left center field seats. Just like that the Phillies had a 2-0 advantage. Hamels had no way of knowing what was to follow from there. By the time he learned, he must have been shaking his head in the clubhouse muttering, Wha’happened?

Wha’happened was the opening result of Charlie Manuel, returning to the dugout as the Phillies’ hitting coach for the rest of the season, taking the Phillies by the horns and all but ordering them to lighten up, inhale at the plate. Sort of.

They had all the data they could possibly need to help them. But unless they could relax while measuring the situations and the pitches, they weren’t going to hit anything but the pine after returning to the dugout.

“We have to get back to enjoy playing the game and enjoy situational hitting, do things correct, move the runners, have a lot of fun,” said Manuel, taking over for John Mallee, a hitting coach who knew and delivered the data but couldn’t seem to marry it to the hitters properly.

“I think the environment can be different as far as talking to the guys and letting them talk to me,” Manuel continued. “We need to get better. We have a talented team.”

They’d beaten the Cubs 4-2 on Tuesday night to begin Manuel’s sort of homecoming. But what they did to continue the celebration Wednesday night defied practically everything else attached to the Phillies this year. Logic was only the first victim of that defiance.

Hoskins and Harper wasted no time proving Manuel right in the first. More Phillies saw and raised in the bottom of the second. When Roman Quinn led off taking a full-count walk and Cesar Hernandez hit Hamels’s first service for a double to the back of center field. When Nola himself, following a swinging strikeout, shot an arrow through the left side of the infield to send Quinn home. When Hoskins sent home Hernandez with a sacrifice fly and J.T. Realmuto doubled Nola to third.

The bad news was Harper working out a walk to load the bases but the Phillies stranding the ducks on the pond when Jean Segura struck out. The good news was the Phillies wasting no time atoning for that in the bottom of the third.

Three straight pitches from Hamels—who got a nice ovation from his former home fans when he batted in the third—and it was a double off the left center field padding by Scott Kingery, Quinn dropping a clumsy looking bunt but still beating it out for a base hit, and Hernandez dumping the proverbial quail into center to score Kingery.

With Adam Haseley at the plate the Phillies got a little more daring, executing a flawless double steal to set up second and third. And Haseley thanked his mates for their derring-do by beating out a grounder to first allowing Quinn to score and Hernandez to third.

Hamels’s Philadelphia homecoming ended almost before it began, and Alec Mills came in for the Cubs with Nola himself coming to the plate.

And despite showing bunt briefly Nola walked on four pitches to load up the pads once again. Hoskins slashed a hard enough grounder that Cubs shortstop Baez could throw home to force Hernandez at the plate for the first out. But there was no defense for Realmuto fouling himself into an 0-2 count before launching a cruise missile into the left field seats, just past the foul pole.

Almost out of nowhere, the Phillies jumped all over the Cubs for ten runs before three full innings were in the books. The Citizens Bank Park crowd began chanting Manuel’s first name gleefully.

If you can’t have fun while you’re dropping ten on the other guys, you’ve got problems even Manuel can’t fix. The Phillies broadcast team was having even more fun after that than they already had stationed behind the Phillies’ dugout for the evening. They even let the Phillie Phanatic plop Village People-like headgear onto their domes as the sides changed for the eighth as “Y.M.C.A.” pounded around the ballpark.

After two comparatively quiet innings during which Nola stayed in cruise control and Mills gamely held fort for the Cubs since Realmuto’s salami, Harper—who’d singled near the end of the third, before being wasted by a followup Area Code 6-4-3—looked at two high and outside pitches before sending a middle low fastball into the second deck behind right field to lead off the bottom of the sixth.

For the most part Nola cruised his way through the first six innings. He blended his breaking balls and his fastball into a cocktail all but guaranteed to send the Cubs into a stupor at the plate. About the only thing close to a real battle came to open the top of the seventh, when Kris Bryant wrestled him to a full count, including three straight foul offs, before sending a slightly hanging breaker to the near rear of the lower left field seats.

Nola could afford to be generous by then if that was his mood. That was only the third Cub hit off him all night long. The first one, a leadoff single by Anthony Rizzo in the top of the second, turned into Javier Baez forcing Rizzo at second and deciding rather futilely that it was worth challenging Realmuto’s throwing arm, Realmuto springing out of his crouch faster than a jack-in-the-box to throw a dead-on tracer, nailing Baez with the reply, “Ain’t worth it, bro.”

You felt sorry for Mills. Mop-up relief? Mills had to clean up a chemical spill, comfortable perhaps only in the thought that it wasn’t his bright idea to have ducks on the pond when Realmuto drilled him in the third. He was a one-man hazmat team for the Cubs otherwise, if you didn’t count Harper’s sixth inning-opening smash, and it went for so little there must have been moments when he felt like the last man standing on the planet.

It was both the tenth time the Phillies scored in double figures on the year and only the second time Hamels didn’t get past three innings on the year. But somehow, some way, it seemed to mean a lot more to both the Phillies and the home audience this time.

Before Juan Nicasio came on to pitch the top of the ninth as rain began hitting the ballpark and the field, the news came that the final two Philadelphia police still inside the north side house were now out of the house alive and reasonably well, considering, extracted by S.W.A.T. team members “with stealth,” Ross told reporters near the scene.

The rain came down a little more firmly as the Cubs’ trade deadline acquisition Nick Castellanos rapped a one-out base hit to right center. But Nicasio struck Bryant out while Castellanos took second on defensive indifference. Castellanos then took third on further defensive indifference as Rizzo looked at ball two. But then Rizzo flied out to the left field corner to put the blowout firmly in the bank.

The six wounded cops, meanwhile, were reported treated and released from a hospital about half an hour after the game ended.

On the assumption that very few if anyone in the ballpark knew what was happening on the north side of town, both the Phillies and their fans were going to walk from a house of pleasure through a not so gentle, not so good gray night, into news about which the most positive thing to say was thank God it wasn’t far worse. So far.

UPDATE: The suspect who stood off and exchanged gunfire with Philadelphia police, identified as Maurice Hill, was finally apprehended around midnight Eastern time. Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross himself took the unusual step of joining Hill’s attorney in trying to negotiate Hill out of the house in which he barricaded himself.

News reports indicated the standoff began at 4:30 Eastern time, when police attempted to serve Hill with an arrest warrant on narcotics related charges. The Phillies and the Cubs were preparing to play Wednesday night’s game at the time.