ARLINGTON, Texas — It began Thursday where it ended four months ago, give or take about 250 miles up the road. Same state, though. Against a team from the American League West, too.
And the outcome?
Let’s be clear: On a scale of mildly disappointing to utterly soul-crushing, the Phillies’ fall-from-ahead 11-7 loss to the Rangers on the 141st opening day in franchise history barely registered as a blip. Sure, it may linger for a bit, especially with a day off Friday. But before long, it will blend in with the 161 games that are about to follow.
The flashbacks were brought on more by how it happened almost as much as where. Because the Phillies’ last trip to Texas, 145 days earlier in Houston, culminated with a vanquishing in a World Series that they led after the third game. But they were outscored 12-3 by the Astros in the last three contests, 4-1 in the decisive Game 6.
Remember the feeling? Sure you do.
And so it was — after former President George W. Bush delivered the ball for a ceremonial first pitch to the mound, where Nolan Ryan was standing, and a sellout crowd of 38,387 stood and sang “Texas, Our Texas” — that the Phillies jumped to a 5-0 lead, spoiling the Rangers debut of indomitable ace Jacob deGrom. They notched six extra-base hits in 3⅔ innings against deGrom, who had never allowed more than five in 209 previous major league starts. Aaron Nola, meanwhile, hadn’t given up a hit.
It was shaping up to be a, well, Texas-sized walloping.
Until it wasn’t. Until 12 Rangers came to the plate and nine scored runs in the bottom of the fourth. Until Nola gave up two singles, a two-run double to Jonah Heim, and a game-tying three-run homer to Robbie Grossman — on pitch No. 68, an infamous number for Nola in opening-day starts.
The Rangers took a 6-5 lead on Nathaniel Lowe’s 35-foot squibber up the third-base line against reliever Gregory Soto and kept right on going.
An auspicious start, a disappointing finish.
Too familiar for the Phillies.
Nola’s outing was especially troubling. The co-ace took time to adapt to the pitch clock in spring training. Last weekend, Nola’s agents and the Phillies agreed to suspend talks on a contract extension, the sides too far apart on the numbers to find common ground before the season opened.
But Nola has come to occupy a certain stature among all-time Phillies pitchers. Drafted in the first round in 2014, developed in the farm system, and the longest-tenured player on the active roster, he was making his sixth consecutive opening-day start, the third-largest streak in club history behind Robin Roberts (12 in a row) and Steve Carlton (10), both Hall of Famers.
It’s rarified air.
Nola and Zack Wheeler represent the best reasons to believe the Phillies can repeat as National League champions. If they’re able to combine to make 60 starts, they’ll give the Phillies a top-of-the-rotation tandem to rival any team, especially with new Mets co-ace Justin Verlander dealing with a muscle strain that will sideline him at the outset of the season. Braves ace Max Fried bowed out of his opening-day start with a hamstring injury, too.
Surely, the Phillies figure they can put a ‘W’ next to games when they have a five-run lead and one of their aces on the mound.
The Phillies blitzed deGrom, a nemesis from his years with the rival Mets. Alec Bohm blasted a two-run homer on an elevated 99 mph fastball in the second inning. In the third, $300 million shortstop Trea Turner punctuated his hotly anticipated Phillies debut by following Brandon Marsh’s leadoff triple with a triple of his own.
Bohm doubled and scored on Marsh’s RBI double in the fourth inning, and just like that, it seemed the Phillies had left their Texas torment in Houston.
It seems that it hasn’t gone away yet. Nick Castellanos, who made the final out of the World Series, even struck out on a full-count pitch with two runners aboard against Rangers closer Jose Leclerc to cap opening day.
Another reminder of how things left off.