PHILADELPHIA — Connor Brogdon is a different pitcher in a different bullpen, which is why the Phillies believe 2021 can be different, too.
He faced Freddie Freeman with Ozzie Albies — the automatic runner to start the 10th inning — on second base in Thursday’s Opening Day game at Citizens Bank Park. Freeman won the National League Most Valuable Player Award last season. He has been a source of Phillies’ nightmares for years. But Brogdon got Freeman to ground out to send Albies to third. Brogdon then got Marcell Ozuna to hit a fly ball to center field. Roman Quinn caught it and threw a 96.3 mph strike to J.T. Realmuto at home plate for an inning-ending double play.
Jean Segura’s single to left field in the bottom of the 10th scored Bryce Harper to give the Phillies a 3-2 victory.
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“Last year was pretty rough,” Brogdon said. “To get off on the right foot like that is definitely a great start.”
It is just one game, but what happened Thursday never seemed to happen last season. Oh, the 2020 Phillies might have ground out a couple of runs against Braves left-hander Max Fried as they did in the opener. Philadelphia was tied for the fifth-highest scoring team in the Majors last season. The offense has not been this club’s problem. But after Phillies right-hander, Aaron Nola allowed a game-tying, pinch-hit two-run home run to Pablo Sandoval with two outs in the seventh inning on an 0-2 fastball, the Phils needed the bullpen to do its job.
It did not do its job last year. It posted a 7.06 ERA, which was the highest ERA of any bullpen in baseball in the past 90 years.
It likely cost former general manager Matt Klentak his job.
But the Phillies’ new-look bullpen threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Last year’s bullpen had just four games in which it finished with three-plus scoreless innings.
“It was a big boost for our club,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It would have been tough to lose a game like that today. Opening Day, the first time we had fans [since 2019], with what we went through last year.”
Newcomer Archie Bradley threw a scoreless one-third of an inning. Newcomer José Alvarado made things interesting in the eighth. He allowed a hit, walked a batter and hit another to load the bases, but he also struck out the side, throwing a couple 100 mph fastballs in the process. Héctor Neris pitched a perfect ninth.
Then came Brogdon.
Brogdon made his big league debut last season. It did not start well. He allowed a three-run home run on the first pitch he threw. But after he got optioned in August, he flat-out dominated in September. He entered this season confident that he could succeed in the big leagues. The Phillies are confident in him, too. It is why Girardi called on Brogdon to pitch the 10th once he got past his closer and setup men in the seventh, eighth and ninth.
“I’ve definitely revamped my mindset,” Brogdon said. “Strengthened it, if you will. I worked on a lot of things during my time at the alternate site. I think when I came back up, that’s more of what you saw today and [will] continue to see throughout the season.”
Quinn helped him, of course. He entered the game because Adam Haseley felt tightness in his left hamstring. He is day today.
“You’ve got to make him throw you out there, and he did,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Albies being retired at the plate. “It’s hard to get a two-out hit in this league. [The throw has] got to be perfect, and it was. [Realmuto] made a good play on the pick and a good tag. A hundred out of a hundred you’ve got to go right there.”
That play is how Segura found himself with a chance to win the game. Harper stood on third with two outs when Braves right-hander Nate Jones intentionally walked Didi Gregorius to get to Segura.
Segura took it personally. He got to home plate almost before Gregorius left the batter’s box.
“They’ve been doing that since last year,” Segura said. “They walked Didi like four or five times to pitch to me. I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’ Every time they do it, I just go right to the plate and hit, because I know they’re going to walk him to pitch to me.”
Actually, it happened only twice last season, but Segura is on to something here. He twice followed Gregorius’ intentional walks last season with run-scoring singles. Couple those with Thursday’s walk-off and Segura is 3-for-3 with four RBIs when teams intentionally walk his friend to face him.
After Segura’s ball reached left field and Harper scored, Segura ran with his arms outstretched like he was an airplane, until he slid safely in the outfield. His teammates mobbed him.
“I just wanted to race them out there and enjoy that,” Segura said. “Sometimes it gets a little boring when you stand there and they hug you. So I wanted to race and run onto the field. Finally, they got me.”