Friday, October 9, 2009

Twin Killings

5-4, you whore. First, the Phillies lose game two of the NLDS to the Rockies 5-4, and to add insult to injury, the Flyers lose to the hated defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins by the exact same score, 5-4. Talk about a kick in the nuts.

All season long, we've waited for Cole Hamels to arrive. And all season long, we kept hearing the same old thing: "I'll turn it one once the postseason rolls around, when the juices start flowing." It was the same chorus we heard from the Flyers last season, when they stumbled down the stretch. And that didn't work out too well for them, if I recall correctly. You just can't flip the switch. It doesn't work that way. And yesterday, Cole Hamels proved that: 5 innings pitched, 7 hits, 4 earned runs. He simply didn't get the job done.

After surrendering a first-inning run, Cole seemed to lose all confidence. Three innings later, he served up a fat pitch, leaving a hanging curveball right over the plate, to Yorvit Torrealba, and the Colorado catcher put it in the leftfield seats. Then he gave up one more in the fifth, and before you know it, Cole had spotted the Rockies four runs.

Maybe the 2:37 start time was in his head. Or maybe, understandably so, he was a little preoccupied with his wife going into labor. Word spread that shortly after he was pulled from the game, Hamels left to join his wife, who went into labor. So maybe his head wasn't completely into it, maybe his focus was off. And yes, that's understandable, but it's not excusable. Hamels pitched poorly, simple as that. Just as he has pitched poorly most of the season.

The numbers tell the story: 10-11, 4.32 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 206 hits surrendered in 193.2 innings, .273 batting average against. Those are the numbers of a fourth starter, not an NLCS and World Series MVP. Oftentimes, Hamels seemed to lack focus, lack command, lack confidence. But over and over and over, we were told he'd turn things around, he'd get righted, he'd return to form, especially come playoff time. For a little while, I thought he had, but just as the Phillies went into a September swoon of their own, so did Hamels — and really the rest of the starting staff.

You'd like to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but this is the playoffs. There is no room for error, no room for a lack of focus. No room for excuses, even one as good as your wife going into labor. Cole simply didn't get it done.

Not that he got a ton of help, at least when he was in the game. Aaron Cook, not known as a strikeout pitcher by a long shot, sat down four Phillies on strikes in six innings. Nothing surprising given the Phillies' penchant for swinging and missing, but the alarming thing is many of their strikeouts — including the two off relievers — came looking, getting called out on strikes. A couple with runners on. To me, in the playoffs against a guy who doesn't strike people out or walk many, that's inexcusable. Get the bat off your shoulder and swing. That's what guys like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez get paid to do. Yet there they were, taking called third strikes against a very hittable pitcher, leaving runners stranded and failing to produce runs until they're trailing 4-0.

As he's proven time and again, Charlie Manuel certainly knows what he's doing, so criticizing him — especially after winning a World Series — is a risky endeavor. But I have to admit that I don't really understand what he was doing yesterday once he pulled Cole. Was it really necessary to bring in both Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, effectively scratching either from any chance of starting tomorrow? I especially don't understand the Blanton move. For starters, Blanton has been the most consistent starting pitcher for the Phillies this season. Sure, his numbers aren't spectacular, but you know what you're getting, and the guy proved last year he can come up big in the postseason. Second, he hasn't been used out of the bullpen once all year. Hell, he hasn't been used out of the bullpen once in his tenure in Philadelphia. What makes you think he could do it?

Yesterday, he didn't. He came in for an inning and gave up a run, a run that turned out to be crucial. And to rub some salt in the wound, J.A. Happ followed up by throwing to one batter and getting hit with a line drive that injured his shin, forcing him to leave the game. X-rays were negative, but now it looks like the Phillies are going to have to go with Pedro Martinez tomorrow, though Manuel has not named a starter and may still consider using Blanton or Happ.

Of course Charlie knows his team better than I do, but it just seems like he put himself in a bad situation for game 3 now, unless he planned to go with Pedro all along. But if not, who knows how Blanton will come back two days later after appearing in a relief role for the first time. Who know if Happ is healthy. And who knows how Pedro, who has struggled mightily in the first inning and had some nagging injury problems himself, will fair in Colorado with the temperature in the 30s and potential snow falling from the sky. There are questions galore. It would have been nice to have a guy like Tyler Walker or Clay Condrey available yesterday, or the injured Chan Ho Park. But Charlie had to sleep in the bed he made, and it came back to bite him, at least for one game.

Having said all that, when the Phillies rallied to score three runs in the 6th, I had a good feeling they'd manage to pull it out. I don't know how or why, but I did. That's what this team does to you, gives you confidence they can come back, as they did many times this season. But then Blanton gave one of those runs right back, making it a two-run ball game.

Admittedly, I was a bit down after that, but when Jayson Werth, who's been killing it the first two games, crushed one to right center to make it 5-4, I again thought the Phils would win. When it rolled around to the 9th, after Ben Francisco led off with a ground out, I thought back to Harry's final home run call, a home run by Matt Stairs off Huston Street. I could picture it, but Stairs missed two meaty fastballs that he's made his career hitting home runs on, instead settling for a walk. After Cairo flied out, I still had a good feeling. The top of the order was up, and it's not hard to imagine Jimmy Rollins or Shane Victorino getting a big hit.

Rollins did manage to get a single, but Shane lined out to second to end the game. 5-4, Phils lose. Cole struggles, the rotation gets disoriented, and now we're headed to Colorado. It was a pretty big letdown. A win would have all but sealed Colorado's fate, but now we're all tied up at one apiece, with the Phillies pondering what to do for a starter come tomorrow. Not good.

Speaking of not good, have you seen the Flyers' defensemen lately? Jesus, they pass the puck to the wrong team more than they do their own. On Tuesday, they gave up 5 goals to the Caps largely due to sloppy turnovers. The Flyers duplicated that last night, surrendering five goals to Pittsburgh thanks again to a plethora of giveaways. And while it was Chris Pronger getting assists for the wrong team on Tuesday, last night it was Braydon Coburn, who had an absolutely awful gave, save for his assist on Danny Briere's first goal.

Coburn was directly responsible for three of Pittsburgh's five goals. On one, he was undressed by Jordan Staal. Then, he turned the puck over to Tyler Kennedy, who beat Ray Emery. And later, he literally scored on his own goal, throwing a puck right off the back of Emery's skate and in. It was a disastrous night defensively for the Flyers.

All night long, Evgeni Malkin was cruising through the Philadelphia defense. Sidney Crosby is a notorious Flyer killer, but last night he was silent. It was the other Hart-caliber center that gave the Flyers fits. Malkin was too big, too strong and too fast for the Flyers, who barely manage to even nudge the talented forward. And Malkin controlled the game throughout, scoring a goal and an assist, and giving Philadelphia all kinds of trouble. The Pronger acquisition didn't seem to make one bit of difference last night.

That loss falls squarely on the shoulders of the defense, because the offense did its job yet again, posting four goals. Linemates Jeff Carter and Danny Briere each scored two goals apiece, showing great chemistry on a dangerous line, but it wasn't enough.

Even though the Flyers outshot the Pens 34-25, they were just too sloppy in their own zone. Too many giveaways, too many prime scoring chances. It was an awful lot like the 2008-09 version of the Philadelphia defense. That's not a good sign. And while the Flyers did manage to beat Marc-Andre Fleury four time, the Pittsburgh netminder came up with some huge saves when Pittsburgh needed it. Ray Emery, while left out to dry on almost every one of those goals last night, didn't. Razor certainly didn't get any help in front of him, but the bottom line is, he didn't make any big-time saves to bail out his teammates. And no matter how you slice it, giving up 10 goals in two games is bad, no matter how quality the chances.

And again, as minute of a detail as it may seem to some, the Flyers struggled in the faceoff circle. Pittsburgh won 37 draws, the Flyers just 30. That allowed Pittsburgh to gain much more puck control, and it had the Flyers doing more chasing than they'd care to, especially against the defending champs.

It's these details — taking care of the puck, winning faceoffs, coming up with a big save — that the Flyers have failed to do the last two games. Of course, it's early in the season and the team is still trying to gel, so it's no cause for alarm just yet. But it's definitely something to keep an eye on, because if this team is serious about raising Lord Stanley's Cup, they're going to have to do the little things right.

Last night, they didn't, and they lost, 5-4, just like the Phillies. That score, 5-4, is a dirty, filthy whore.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. No excuses for Cole yesterday, but he wasnt far off. If he doesnt serve up that homer(which Ruiz is partly to blame for calling a "Curbball"), he probably goes 7 giving up 2 runs. He had 5 Ks in 5 innings on 62 strikes and 21 balls. So while we've been holding out hope all season, there isnt much reason to stop now.

  2. He's been striking people out and not walking them all season. His problem hasn't been putting runners on, it's missing his spots in the zone, just like that home run. He hasn't been "far off" all year, but he hasn't been good. Just like he wasn't good yesterday.