Apr 21, 2024

Sweeps Week At Citizens Bank Park

There were a few different things that went into my decision to pick today's game against the White Sox as our first for the 2024 season.  It's a Sunday afternoon game, so I wouldn't have to use up any PTO at work, and it's being played before the drive-in opens for the 2024 season.  However, at the top of the list is the fact that I hadn't seen the White Sox play in person before.  It's become a personal goal to see every MLB team at least once.  Checking them off of my list leaves just five teams that I have yet to see: the Baltimore Orioles, the Detroit Tigers, the Texas Rangers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Colorado Rockies.

The fact that there was a reasonably good chance that I would get to see a Phillies victory was not a major factor in my picking this game, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't think about it when I clicked the purchase button.  The Chicago White Sox looked to be a pretty terrible team on paper in the winter when I bought these tickets, but there's no way I would have guessed that they'd be this awful.  They went into today's game with a record of 3-17.  Three wins.  That's the worst record in baseball by a comfortable margin.  Just to put this in perspective, the Oakland Athletics, whose owner has gone full Rachel Phelps in his attempts to sabotage the team to make it easier to move to a different city, entered today with a record of 8-13.

There's no such thing as a sure thing in baseball, and the 2023 NLCS reminded us that the Phillies are a team with a talent of snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, but I felt pretty good about this one.  Before I get into any further details, I've got to touch on the food and the pregame show.

Our first stop at the ballpark was to the concession stands at Coca-Cola Corner to try the Schwarburger 2.0.  This is a bacon cheeseburger that's topped with a fried egg, crispy onions, and a mildly spicy orange sauce.  It's on the expensive side even for ballpark food, but a portion of the sales of this burger go towards Schwarber's Neighborhood Heroes, which is a non-profit organization that supports first responders and their families.  It's also a pretty damn tasty burger!

Today was also the annual celebration of the Phillie Phanatic's birthday, and they went all out for this one.  They introduced over two dozen mascots from across college and pro sports before the game to celebrate and play softball with the Phanatic that was filled with funny skits and gags.

The complete list of mascots in attendance for the pregame festivities were, to the best of my recollection:

Mascot Team
Iggy the Land Iguana Philadelphia Phillies (Galapagos Gang)
Bessie the Blue-Footed Booby Philadelphia Phillies (Galapagos Gang)
Sid the Sea Lion Philadelphia Phillies (Galapagos Gang)
Calvin the Giant Tortoise Philadelphia Phillies (Galapagos Gang)
Phoebe Phanatic Philadelphia Phillies (the Phillie Phanatic's mom)
Screwball Reading Fightin' Phils
Gritty Philadelphia Flyers
Swoop Philadelphia Eagles
Franklin the Dog Philadelphia 76ers
Phang Philadelphia Union
Wingston Philadelphia Wings
Hawk St. Joseph's University
Drexel Dragon Drexel University
Will D. Cat Villanova University
Hooter The Owl Temple University
The 17th Century Explorer La Salle University
The Quaker University of Pennsylvania
Southpaw Chicago White Sox
The Swinging Friar San Diego Padres
Paws Detroit Tigers
The Oriole Bird Baltimore Orioles
Bernie Brewer Milwaukee Brewers
Raymond Tampa Bay Rays
Wally the Green Monster Boston Red Sox

The group of them had a fun pregame show.  One of the more memorable moments was when a guy in a black t-shirt and a Yankees cap took the field to represent their team... you know, because they don't have a mascot.  He played the heel on the field for a little while until he was eaten by Iggy the Land Iguana.  Iggy is the round, yellow Pac-Man looking creature on the right hand side of the group photo.  That costume is built in such a way that a second person can crawl into its mouth as if he's being consumed by the creature, and then the "victim" and the person playing the mascot walk together in the suit until they're off of the field.

I tend to really enjoy the performance art of a sports mascot.  When it's done well, it's kind of a combination of Three Stooges slapstick and prat falls, mixed together with prop comedy and Sunday Funny Pages humor, with a smidgen of pro wrestling mixed in for the way that they use body language to get a spot over to a large audience.  It's one of those things that can bring a smile to just about anyone's face, regardless of their age or background.

The Phillies wore red and blue Phanatic caps for the game in honor of their fuzzy green mascot.  Although the cap is probably the best part of the team's god awful City Connect jerseys, I'd still take these Phanatic caps over those any day of the week.

After having swept the Rockies and taking the first two games of the series against the White Sox, the Phillies entered this game on a five game winning streak.  Aaron Nola took the mound for the Phillies against rookie Nick Nastrini in his second career start in the big leagues.  I don't know much about him other than his name reminds me of the jobbers that would work on a Saturday morning WWF Wrestling show in the early 90's.

Spencer Turnbull opened up the first game of the series carrying a no-hitter into the 7th inning, and Zack Wheeler followed it up last night by keeping a no-hitter into the 8th inning, but the White Sox lineup wasted little time in taking that possibility off the table.  After retiring the leadoff batter, Aaron Nola gave up a single to Robbie Grossman which was immediately followed by a two run homer off the bat of Eloy Jimenez to give Chicago an early 2-0 lead.  It was the first time in the series that the White Sox had a lead over the Phillies, and it didn't last long.

Nick Nastrini walked both Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner to lead off the bottom of the first.  With runners on first and second, Bryce Harper hit an RBI single to score Schwarber and advance Turner to 3rd.  This set up a situation that shows why Harper is so loved in this city.

Bryce Harper had been taking long leads and generally messing with the Nastrini throughout JT Realmuto's at bat.  He ran on what ended up being strike three to Realmuto, but he wasn't even close to second base.  This should have been the first clue to the White Sox that they were being set up.

Martín Maldonado threw to second base to seemingly get Harper caught in a rundown, but Bryce backpedaled to distract second baseman Lenyn Sosa long enough to allow Trea Turner to score from third base to tie the game.  Trea caught Sosa off guard causing his throw to home plate flew past the catcher, so Harper was able to take second base on the play and then come around to score on a Brandon Marsh RBI single to give the Phillies the lead before the inning was over.  It was a lead that they wouldn't lose throughout the rest of the ballgame.

Aaron Nola was dominant for the rest of the game.  He went 8 innings and threw 81 pitches with 8 strikeouts.  Only three batters reached first base for the Sox after the first inning; a Kevin Pillar walk in the 2nd inning, a Gavin Sheets double in the 4th, and a Nicky Lopez single in the 5th.

The Phillies offense exploded in the bottom of the 4th.  Johan Rojas led off with a single.  He stole second, and Kyle Schwarber walked to put runners on first and second with no outs.  Trea Turner hit an RBI single to bring the score to 4-2 and knock Nastrini out of the game.  He was replaced by Tanner Banks, who gave up a sac fly to Harper that scored Schwarber from third base, and an RBI double to Alec Bohm that includes the Phillies lead to 6-2.  Kyle Schwarber led off the bottom of the 6th with a bomb to deep right field (his sixth home run of the season).  Schwarber tacked on the Phillies final run of the game in the bottom of the 7th with a sac fly that scored Bryson Stott from third.

Yunior Marte came in to pitch the bottom of the 9th.  He walked Gavin Sheets, but retired Eloy Jiménez, Andrew Benintendi and Kevin Pillar to end the game and finish off the Phillies second consecutive sweep and their 14th win of the season.

Overall, things are looking pretty good for the Phils in 2024.  The starting rotation has been the best in baseball through the first three weeks of the season.  There are a few bats in the lineup that haven't hit their stride yet, but they've been picked up by hot streaks from Turner and Marsh.  There's a lot of baseball left to play, but this might be our year.