Odubel Herrera slid headfirst into third base, helmet covering his eyes, and slapped the bag with his right hand.
For anyone unfamiliar with Herrera’s histrionics, it meant the good times were rolling for the Phillies once again.
Herrera delivered the difference-making hit — a triple in the eighth inning — Friday night in a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. It marked the Phillies’ seventh win in eight games at Citizens Bank Park and matched their best home start since they went 7-1 at Veterans Stadium way back in 1981.
Cue up another Harry Kalas chorus of “High Hopes,” for it has been a while since baseball fans around here have had this much to be optimistic about.
“You can definitely feel a different vibe,” Herrera said through a team translator. “There’s a positive vibe going on. I don’t know what it is, but from spring training we’ve been feeling that way. There’s chemistry in the clubhouse. We all help each other, we support each other, and that’s really what you want in a winning team.”
The Phillies’ latest victory was brought to you by two holdovers from the leanest of seasons and some sage advice from the grandfather of the No. 5 starter.
Three weeks ago in Atlanta, Herrera was excluded from the Phillies’ Opening Day lineup, with rookie manager Gabe Kapler citing matchups as a reason to keep the dynamic centerfielder on the bench. Since then, Herrera has started all but one game, settling in as the No. 3 hitter and developing into a catalyst in an offense that is producing just enough to support a consistently strong starting rotation.
And when Herrera came to the plate against Pirates reliever George Kontos in the eighth inning, his mission was to drive in Cesar Hernandez, another lineup mainstay whose playing time at second base appeared to be in question at the end of spring training when rookie sensation Scott Kingery signed a six-year, $24 million contract and made the Opening Day roster.
“Cesar has been an absolute rock for us,” Kapler said for reasons that go beyond merely a two-hit game and a stellar play on a grounder up the middle in the seventh inning. “One of the things we’ve noticed on the bench is he goes from an 0-2 count to a 3-2 count just like that, and then it’s sort of like waiting for him to walk or to put the solid part of the bat on the ball and for it to jump. He’s been very consistent with that.”
Hernandez led off the eighth inning with a double, went to third on Carlos Santana’s grounder to the right side and scored when Herrera sliced a two-strike pitch down the right-field line.
It was a burst of offense after seven innings in which neither team was able to get much of anything going in a chill that felt more like autumn. And when a ball was hit well in the air, a blustery wind knocked it down into an outfielder’s waiting glove.
The pitchers took advantage of the conditions, as Phillies starter Ben Lively matched zeroes with Pirates counterpart Ivan Nova. Lively turned in his best start in four outings so far this season, but only after a stern text message from his grandfather earlier in the week.
“I got texts all week, even my grandpa was like, ‘Hey, you’re rushing [through his delivery],’” Lively said. “I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to go slow.’ He can barely text, but he will text me often.”
Lively continued a streak of 10 straight games in which Phillies starters have allowed three runs or less. Between them, Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Jake Arrieta and Lively have combined for a 3.05 ERA, the best ERA of any National League rotation.
Raise your hand if you saw that coming. It’s as much of a surprise as the 7-1 mark at home by a Phillies team that hasn’t had a winning record at home since 2013.
“It feels really good to be home,” said Hernandez, the only player left from that team. “It’s a very comfortable feeling to know that you’re home and the fans have your back and they just bring energy to the team, that extra energy that you need sometimes to play.”
These days, there’s plenty of energy to go around.