They’re not in Kansas. But when the Phillies click their red pinstriped heels together they have the same feeling as Dorothy being separated from Auntie Em.
There’s no place like home for them, too.
Heading into this week’s mini-series with the best-in-baseball Boston Red Sox, no one in the National League was enjoying home cooking more than Gabe Kapler’s team.
At Citizens Bank Park, they’ve feasted on the opposition all season with a record of 38-18. But their sorry 27-34 record away from the home confines—4-8 since the all-star break– has knocked them behind the surging Atlanta Braves into second place in the N.L. East.
With 25 of their final 45 games at home (including Sunday’s five-game series finale with the New York Mets at Williamsport, PA, home of the Little League World Series), the Phils figure to stay in the race to the end.
That’s assuming they can maintain any semblance of the pace they’ve established so far and maybe even win a few more on the road.
There’s no tangible difference that the Phillies can point to on why they play better at home, but they still know it’s there.
“Just the comfort of home, I think,” said Rhys Hopkins, who came off a 1-for-21 western road trip, then promptly slammed his 23rd homer for the Phils’ only run in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Sox.
“You get to sleep in your own bed. You know your routine at home. What you do before the game that makes you feel most comfortable,” he said.
Along with the routine, Hoskins credits the fans for coming out to the ballpark and showing their support.
“I think the fans of late have really shown up for us and brought energy. As players, you feed off that extra adrenaline, which kicks in with a close game. The fans have been awesome with that.”
Visiting players also notice the impact that Phillies fans have at home games.
Two weeks ago, Justin Bour was a firsthand observer when the Phils swept his Miami Marlins, despite Bour crushing three home runs.
Now a Phillie, he says this place definitely makes its presence felt.
“Obviously it’s tough to come here as an opposing team,” said Bour, who’d been playing in a park filled with empty seats in Miami.
“I think a lot of places are very home friendly. Citizens Bank Park is one of those. It’s a place that has very supportive fans who are engaged in the game, understand what’s going on and are very passionate about the city and the team,” he explained.
“I’m very excited to be here and be a member of the Phillies.”
Make no mistake; they say hearing cheers and encouragement rather than jeers matters.
“Anytime you have people in attendance pulling for you it’s going to provide motivation, for sure,” said Jake Arrieta, who came to the Phillies after spending five years with the Chicago Cubs and their rabid fan base.
“There is an advantage playing in front of your home fans. That’s been pretty evident by the way we’ve played at home this year.”
In theory, the only real advantage of being the home team is hitting last.
In a close game that can prove to be crucial, as the Phils have witnessed being victimized by five walk-off homers on the road this season (Atlanta’s Nick Markakis, Chicago’s Jason Heyward, New York’s Wilmer Flores and Brandon Nimmo and most recently Arizona’s David Peralta).
Based on their track record with just 12 of their next 32 games on the road, the Phillies should be able to solidify their record, whether it’s in the N.L. East or as a consolation prize wild card spot.
But down the stretch, they have seven of their last 11 against the Braves—four in Atlanta—with four in Colorado stuck in between.
However, they remain confident that not only will home cooking serve up more wins, but eventually, they can succeed on foreign turf.
“I don’t think when we’re on the road it’s the fans that are beating us,” said Arrieta, whose ERA is 3.02 at home but only 3.62 on the road. “We just haven’t played as well.”
There’s time to correct that, while at the same time continuing to fatten up at home against lesser teams like the Mets (8 games), Marlins (3), along with six against the struggling Nats.
“We don’t have to just think we’ll win because we’re home,” said Maikel Franco.
“We have to play good ball there. Keep doing it and play with the same mentality to try to get better on the road.”
And if it all breaks right, these Phillies just might find themselves playing October baseball.