Harper hitless in debut, but Phils roll past Braves

PHILADELPHIA -- Near the heel of Bryce Harper's fluorescent-green shoes were two small black ovals inside of two larger white ones. A red brow and stringy, haphazard blue wisps was above them. In front of a group of Philly fanatics that had awaited this day for a month, Harper's footwear paid homage to the Phillie Phanatic.

For the next 13 years, the little things will help endear Harper to his new city, the tiny touches that forge emotional bonds. Forget that his debut in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform ended with an 0-for-3 showing. On Opening Day 2019, Harper showcased his style, unleashed an I'm-not-worthy bow toward the crowd, drew an intentional walk that set up a massive grand slam and capped the Phillies' 10-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves with an outfield celebration that can use a little work.

What Harper lacked in hits, he made up for in memorable moments befitting his debut after signing a $330 million deal with the Phillies. There were no heroics, no signature swings, nothing but good vibes among the 44,469 at Citizens Bank Park hungry for the first Phillies playoff appearance since 2011. And as Harper reminded in the afterglow of his first Opening Day in Philadelphia: "Guess I got 12 more."

Difficult though it might be to fathom that, the 26-year-old Harper could well still be wearing a Phillies uniform a dozen years from now. By that time, all of the hopes will be realized or shattered, the prognostications adjudicated, the decision made by Harper and the Phillies when they agreed to a record-setting free agent deal judged. Thursday was more about the launch of a new era, with Philadelphia's top three hitters all fresh faces for a team prepared to slog through a meat grinder of a division. You don't always get everything right the first try.

Going 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts didn't exactly engender the best faith from a fickle fan base. At the same time, when Atlanta manager Brian Snitker walked Harper in the seventh inning to load the bases, the crowd booed. Then cleanup hitter Rhys Hoskins pummeled a 96 mph Luke Jackson fastball deep over the left-field wall for his first grand slam and the insurance runs Philadelphia needed.

Harper probably savored his trot around the bases, kicking up dirt with his custom cleats. The city certainly has taken to him already. From Reading Terminal Market to South Philly and beyond, fans wore Harper's No. 3 jersey, which Major League Baseball earlier in the day announced has been the sport's best seller despite Harper spending less than a month as a Phillie. They chanted his name -- "Har-per, Har-per, Har-per" -- and itched to see him hit his sixth career Opening Day home run.

In his first at-bat, Harper rolled over a Julio Teheran slider for a groundout to first base. Despite incredible success against Teheran -- Harper entered the game with more home runs and a higher OPS against him than any other pitcher in baseball -- he swung through an 84 mph slider to end the second at-bat, and a 91 mph fastball to conclude the third. Most of the offense came from a leadoff Andrew McCutchen home run, a sixth-inning Maikel Franco home run and finally Hoskins' grand slam.

Not until that fourth time up did Harper contribute anything of substance -- and even then it was far from storybook. Harper simply admired the no-doubt shot by Hoskins as well as the contributions of the other new additions to Philadelphia who surrounded him in the lineup: McCutchen, No. 2 hitter Jean Segura (who went 2-for-4 and scored a pair of runs) and all-world catcher J.T. Realmuto, who, like Harper, walked and scored once.

"The one thing we saw today is that no one player has to carry this team," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "Bryce doesn't have to come out and hit two home runs every night. He can hit right in the middle of the lineup, and he's gonna win a lot of games for us with home runs and doubles -- but he doesn't have to do it every night. Because one night it's gonna be Rhys and Maikel Franco and Andrew McCutchen, and the next it's gonna be Segura, Harper and Realmuto. And that speaks to the depth of our lineup."

Once Harper does go off, the embrace of Phillies fans will only grow. Small gestures like tossing a ball into the stands for a fan or going Phull Phanatic -- "The Phanatic's always happy and smiling," Harper said, "so why not?" -- will be compounded by home runs and runs batted in and all the things that made Harper, at least for a couple of weeks, the highest-paid player in baseball history.

Now he's doing his best to show Philadelphia he's worth every penny. This was just one of 162 this year, one of 13 Opening Days, and it ended with him, McCutchen and center fielder Odubel Herrera meeting in the middle of the outfield's grassy expanse to put a bow on the win. They did some sort of basketball celebration. It was rather inelegant and needs serious refining, which is a fair microcosm of Bryce Harper's day.

No hits are fine so long as they accompany a win. No home run is fine because hitting home runs is difficult. It was a day, as Opening Days often are, filled with pomp and circumstance. It was, it turns out, pretty perfect.