Published March 31, 2011
PHILADELPHIA – For Roy Halladay, opening day means it's just one day closer to the postseason.
Halladay and the rest of the Philadelphia Phillies are ready to get the most anticipated season in franchise history started. Expectations are high this year. So high, in fact, that anything less than a World Series title won't be considered a success.
But the Phillies have to play 162 games first, starting with Friday's opener against the Houston Astros.
"I think we're all anxious, more so to get back to the postseason," Halladay said. "That being the goal and having another quality team to put on the field, I think we're all anxious. Opening day is just the start of it."
The four-time NL East champions became instant favorites to win their second World Series in four years after signing Cliff Lee to a $120 million, five-year deal. The addition of Lee to go along with Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels gives the Phillies a starting rotation that's the envy of baseball.
Injuries to five-time All-Star Chase Utley and closer Brad Lidge have brought Philadelphia back closer to the pack. Still, the Phillies won't be satisfied unless they are riding down Broad Street for a championship parade in October.
"Crazy things happen in baseball. It obviously takes a lot, and just because you have certain names on paper doesn't guarantee anything," Halladay said. "We're very well aware of that. If we all go out and do our jobs the way we're supposed to and we're able to stay healthy, then we like our chances. But we all know what we're up against. I don't think teams are going to go running from us just because of the guys that we have on our roster."
Halladay is the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. He won 21 games in his first season with the Phillies, including a perfect game. He then tossed a no-hitter in his first career postseason start.
How does he top that?
"Personal accomplishments are nice, but the reason I'm playing now is to try to win a championship," he said. "That's still there, still in the forefront, so for me that's the biggest driving factor. Really, it's going to be a lot of the same from last year."
Halladay will be making his second opening-day start for the Phillies, and his first at Citizens Bank Park. The starter for the Astros, Brett Myers, is quite familiar with the hype and hoopla surrounding opening day. Myers started three straight openers for Philadelphia from 2007-09.
A first-round pick by the Phillies in 1999, Myers had 73 wins and 21 saves in eight seasons in Philadelphia. He was 2-1 during the 2008 postseason, helping the Phillies win the World Series.
"If I read too much into it, it's like one of those things where you get too amped up for something and then you have to control your emotions and be able to pitch," said Myers, who was 14-8 with a 3.14 ERA in his first season with Houston. "It is Opening day and it's kind of like a playoff game, but you're starting the season. So you have to control your emotions and try to make pitches and don't get too hyped up."
Myers is one of five former Phillies, including three starting pitchers, on the Astros. Houston general manager Ed Wade previously held the same position in Philadelphia.
The Astros finished just 76-86 last season, but they were 59-52 after an awful 17-34 start.
"We finished strong. We didn't give up on the season, we played hard every day," said center fielder Michael Bourn, another one of the former Phillies. "That helped us out a lot, and hopefully it'll carry over to this year. I know it's a different year and every (team) makes different moves.
"You try to say the year before can help you, but you're in a different year."
The Phillies will feature a different lineup from the one they used the last few years. Missing from the middle of the order will be their Nos. 3 and 5 hitters. Utley is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Jayson Werth departed for Washington.
Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, moves down from the leadoff spot to hit third instead of Utley. Raul Ibanez, who batted fifth at times during the 2009 season, will start the season in that spot behind Ryan Howard.
"I'm never satisfied from an offensive standpoint. I think we can always do better," manager Charlie Manuel said. "If we stick to how we usually play, we'll be fine because the talent is there. We come to the ballpark every day to win. People say we were down on runs last year, but we won 97 games, which is the most we've won in a long time.
"The first time in baseball that the Phillies had the most wins. We hit good enough, but we can do better. We can pitch better and play better and win more games. Going to the World Series is our ultimate goal, and if we don't get there, we'll be very disappointed in ourselves."