Coming into this season, the Philadelphia Phillies had the most question marks surrounding their team. Not only are they decimated by injuries to key players, but there were still juries out on several new—and even some old ones too—players as well. In short, Opening Day was extremely important in setting the tone for the 2012 season.
The 1-0 win over Pittsburgh, albeit a below-average squad, was just what the Philly faithful needed. An 0-2 start by Miami was pretty pleasing as well.
In my mind, there were five players in yesterday's game who solidified their position on this team, not only playing well, but also sending messages to the fans and the rest of the MLB.
Read more of my work here.
Halladay deals in the 3rd inning against the Pirates.
Coming into the season, there were plenty of reports about Roy Halladay having "lost MPH" on his fastball, or that he was slightly injured due to his poor spring training numbers. Doc continually said "he was fine," but the doubters continued to be skeptical.
And what does the two-time Cy Young winner do? Come out and stymie the Pirates in eight innings of two-hit ball, just like the unflappable ace he is.
He didn't walk anybody, and went on runs of 13 straight and nine straight retired. Even after giving up hits to the first two batters, Doc coaxed a double play out of Pirates star CF Andrew McCutcheon and got Neil Walker to fly out to left.
He looked extremely sharp today, throwing his fastball in good spots and using his curve and change-up effectively late in counts.
Whatever doubts people had about him coming in were all extinguished after seeing him dominate Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Unlike some of the other guys on this list, Jimmy Rollins didn't necessarily have anything to prove. He just shocked the entire state of Pennsylvania when he laid that bunt down the third-base line to reach base. On his first at-bat on Opening Day.
With the Phils lacking the home run power they had in 2008, when Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth combined for 138 home runs, playing small ball is a quality they need to get accustomed to quickly.
Seeing the free-swinging Rollins, who's made no bones about swinging for the fences, lay a bunt to simply get on base was quite the spirit-raiser.
Often called this team's "captain," the way Rollins plays will certainly trickle down to the other members of the Phillies, which is why it is so important that Rollins sent this message early in the season.
Coming into the 2012 season, Mayberry had his fair share of doubters.
"He can't hit the ball consistently" was a common thread. "He still hasn't proven anything!" was just another. People felt giving Mayberry the starting left field/first base job early in spring training, without any real competition, was simply a bad decision by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
He silenced most of those critics with an excellent Opening Day performance.
Not only did John account for the only extra-base hit of the game, but he made two excellent plays in left field, one of which was a leaping grab at the wall that robbed the Pirates of their own two-bagger.
His double moved Ty Wiggington over to third, from where he would score the game's only run on a sacrifice fly. He was the only player besides Carlos Ruiz to get on base multiple times, proving to Philadelphia fans that he deserves the everyday starting job in left field.
Let's not even get started on the public perception of JPaps coming into 2012. I even seriously disliked the guy, because I thought his fastball had become hittable and balked at the idea of him eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the bullpen.
But all of that is behind Jonathan Papelbon, and he expertly shut down the Pirates 1-2-3 to record his first save as a Phillie, striking out leadoff hitter Alex Presley and then coaxing ground balls out of Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutcheon to finish Pittsburgh off.
His fastball looked lively, and he used it on nine out of the 10 pitches he threw. It may have only hovered around 93 and 94 miles per hour, but it had decent movement and the Pirates hitters weren't able to pick it up. The one slider he threw was effective, however, and seems like a decent out pitch for the righty.
With what he did on Opening Day, Papelbon sent a clear message to the rest of the league: He's still among the best closers in the MLB until someone proves otherwise.
Chooch puts wood on the bat, driving home the only run of the day with a sacrifice fly.
The only word that can be used to describe Carlos Ruiz's performance yesterday? Enthralling.
Not only did he call an excellent game, but his bat was lively as he went 3-3 with an additional sacrifice fly, accounting for the only scoring in the game.
Ruiz has always been known as one of the best defensive catchers, so his performance behind the plate didn't really send much of a message. But the last two seasons, spring training and now Opening Day have clearly shown that he is ready to excel with a bat in his hands as well.
Carlos hit .302 and then .283 in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and then had an excellent spring, hitting .500 as he turned heads around the league.
If he can continue to hit the ball consistently, the Phillies offensive struggles might not be as bad as we might have imagined earlier in the year. Any offense that has strong production from the end of the order will succeed to a degree, and with 5-7 combined stats from Mayberry and Ruiz (hitting sixth and seventh), that seems to be the case.
Chooch's performance can only remind Phillies fans why the man is so adored around here: He plays with heart and excels in every facet of the game. Let's just hope this kind of production is a regular feature here in 2012.