Smoking-hot Phillies making some history at home

Phillies players mob Aaron Altherr (23) after his walk-off hit against the Pirates.

This team that was supposed to take us into the future keeps making us look back at the past. First, we had to go to the 1981 record book to find the last time the Phillies won eight of their first nine games at home. Sunday, after a grind-it-out, 3-2, 11-inning win that completed a four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, we had to flip back to that infamous season of 1964 to find the last Phillies team to begin 9-1 at home.

Win Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks and these Phillies will make history. No team in franchise history has ever started a season 10-1 at home.

It’s the kind of thing that can make a manager giddy.

“This is the proudest day that I’ve had of our men,” Gabe Kapler said. “I just think there were so many standout performances up and down the lineup and across our roster. Getting Tommy [Hunter] back and there were so many positive things that happened, it can’t help but instill confidence.”

Confidence is sky-high in the home clubhouse. You can tell by the green lasers, the smoke machine and the loud music that filled the room after the latest “W” at Citizens Bank Park. Club Gabe has a pingpong table and an atmosphere so relaxed that old-school baseball men must be rolling over in their graves.

Camera icon JOSE F. MORENO
Scond baseman Cesar Hernandez says there is a different vibe in the Phillies’ clubhouse this season. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

The young men playing the game – aren’t they the ones that matter? – love it.

“I feel really good about our confidence levels right now,” Kapler said. “We’re having a lot of fun. I think having fun in baseball is really important. It’s a long season. Keeping it light, we laugh in the dugout and I hope you guys are seeing that. A lot of smiles and a lot of laughter and after the game we’re having a great time in there. We take it seriously and we prepare like animals, but we also enjoy each other’s company, and we’re laughing a lot and having a lot of fun, and that leads to confidence.”

Not sure how the fun factor fits into the analytics age or whether every Sabermetrician-driven manager agrees that laughter equals confidence, but I can tell you the guy who has spent the most time in the Phillies’ clubhouse is having the time of his life right now.

“Yeah, there is a different vibe in the clubhouse now, and it is because of a couple of things,” second baseman Cesar Hernandez said through a team interpreter. “One is because we’re a young group of players, and the second thing is we’re all on the same page. We all try to help each other. If someone doesn’t do something well, we always try to pick them up, and we always try to encourage players and cheer for each other. We know we are in this together, and we are trying to make something good happen.”

Hernandez, who has been around since 2013 but never played on a winning big-league club, credited the manager and the coaches for the new attitude.

“They let you be yourself,” he said. “They want you to feel comfortable, and they’re not on top of you all the time. They understand that sometimes you need to be told some things, but at the same time you need to be yourself.”

There is no way to know, of course, whether this great start, which has the Phillies just a half-game behind the New York Mets in the National League East, will continue. This is a young team, and the sweep of the Pirates marked the first time they won a series against a team with a winning record.

“It proved we are doing something good,” Hernandez said. “The starting pitchers did a great job. The relievers did a great job. We didn’t make too many mistakes and the results are showing, so that is really fun.”

Camera icon JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Phillies’ manager Gabe Kapler watches from the dugout during extra innings of the Phillies-Pirates game on Sunday.

The pitching has been off-the-charts good, posting a major-league best 1.89 ERA at home and a 3.01 ERA overall. The hitters have not been great – the Phillies are 21st with a .230 team batting average – but they have been grinders willing to take pitches and work walks, which explains the team’s .325 on-base percentage that ranks 11th in baseball and the 106 runs that rank eighth in baseball and second in the National League.

“We’ve been putting really quality at-bats together,” catcher Andrew Knapp said after reaching on a one-out triple and scoring the winning run on Aaron Altherr’s 11th-inning single. “I know the average isn’t there, but we’re making pitchers really work. We’re seeing a ton of pitches, and that’s a big deal.”

An even bigger deal is all the victories. Win again Tuesday and the Phillies will make some history. Cue the music, the lasers, and the smoke machine. It has been a long, long time since the Phillies started this hot at home.