MLB Opening Day 2021: Phillies' bullpen stands out in win over Braves

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Jim Salisbury
·4 min read
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New year, new season, new vibe as the bullpen boosts Phillies past Braves originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

New year, new season, new vibe. There are fans in the stands, the bullpen is getting outs and the Phillies are walking off with a dramatic win.

At least they did Thursday and, for now, that's all that matters.

One down. One-hundred sixty-one to go. The home team is 1-0.

There are many reasons why the Phillies were able to pull out a 3-2 win in 10 innings over the Atlanta Braves on a frigid opening day, but the one that warmed manager Joe Girardi's heart the most was the one that broke it last year.

The bullpen delivered 3⅓ scoreless innings to backbone the win.

"Really refreshing," Girardi said.

There were other reasons why the Phils pulled this one out, and you can start with Aaron Nola's performance. Yeah, he gave up a two-run lead when a poorly located 0-2 fastball that turned into a two-run, pinch-hit, game-tying homer by Pablo Sandoval with two outs in the top of seventh, but Nola was still pretty darn impressive holding the rugged Braves lineup to two runs over 6⅔ innings. He struck out six and walked none.

The defense, from Alec Bohm to Didi Gregorius, to Roman Quinn and J.T. Realmuto hooking up to cut down the potential go-ahead run at the plate in the top of the 10th, was excellent and difference-making.

And, of course, Realmuto's moving baserunner Bryce Harper to third in the bottom of the 10th, setting up Jean Segura for the game-winning hit after the Braves intentionally walked Gregorius to get him — huge, just huge.

But we can't help but focus on the bullpen, mostly because last year's was so bad.

You know the gory details by now. The Phillies' bullpen had a 7.06 ERA last season, the worst in a single major-league season since 1930. Opposing lineups hit .315 and had a .946 OPS against the Phillies' bullpen last season, both major-league highs.

If Girardi entrusted a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning to last year's bullpen, the Phils lose the game.

Instead, they won this one. And they did it with 8,529 souls in the stands, freezing, but happy.

"This is a big boost for our club," Girardi said. "It would have been tough to lose a game like that today, opening day, the first time we had fans. So this is a big boost for us.

"That's an extremely dangerous lineup. To be able to hold them down like that, that's some really good pitching.

"And I'll tell you what, eighty-eight hundred people make a lot of noise in a ballpark that holds forty-four thousand. It was great to see, great to hear and I look forward to Saturday."

After Nola gave up the game-tying homer to Sandoval, Girardi used Archie Bradley for one out, Jose Alvarado for three, Hector Neris for three and Connor Brogdon for three. Only Neris was part of the team last opening day.

Racking up 3⅓ scoreless innings wasn't easy. Alvarado walked a tightrope, did not throw enough strikes, but threw a big one, a 100-mph sinker, to register a bases-loaded strikeout to get out of the eighth.

Brogdon did not have an easy assignment, not with a runner starting on second base in the top of the 10th and not with Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna, last season's NL MVP and last season's NL home run and RBI champ, respectively, due up.

Brogdon, still a rookie after pitching in nine games last season, retired both of those lethal bats, getting Ozuna on a fly ball to center that turned into double play, thanks to Quinn's cutting down Ozzie Albies at the plate with a strike to Realmuto.

Brogdon was backing up home plate as Realmuto applied a roadblock tag on Albies.

"Great throw, right on the money," Brogdon said. "I had the best seat in the house for it."

Like the Braves, the Phillies quickly advanced the runner to third base in the bottom of the 10th. With two outs, the Braves walked Gregorius intentionally to pitch to Segura with two outs. The move fired up Segura and he stroked the first pitch he saw from Nate Jones into left for the win.

"He was walking to the plate before I saw them announce Didi was being walked and I think he took it as a challenge," Girardi said.

Segura confirmed that much.

"For sure," he said. "I think Didi got walked five times last year so teams could pitch to me. OK, I'm taking it. Every time they do it, I just go right to the plate and hit."

And hit, he did.

Everyone went home happy.

New year, new season, new vibe.

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