Friday, October 29, 2010

Return of the Links, Muck Fichigan Edition

Penn State hosts Michigan tomorrow night in Happy Valley. I hate Michigan. I hate Michigan so very much. And heading into the season, I took solace in the fact that for the third year in a row, Penn State would defeat a struggling Michigan program, even in a rebuilding year.

Two years ago, Penn State blew Michigan away in the second half to win 46-17, and last year the Nittany Lions dominated the Wolverines in a 35-10 victory. There's nothing better than beating Michigan. Sadly, my thoughts of Penn State toppling Michigan for a third straight time seem far-fetched at best right about now.

Denard Robinson has been one of the most electrifying players in college football this season. It's terrifying to imagine what he's going to do against this uncharacteristically poor Penn State defense, a defense that has been unimpressive and unathletic in its front seven. Add on top of that Penn State's struggling offense that is now being led by walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin with Robert Bolden out after suffering a concussion and it looks like Penn State is in for a long night.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope Michigan's terrible defense allows Penn State's running game to take the burden off McGloin, letting the inexperienced QB to get more comfortable, and I hope the defense can surprise everyone. But I highly doubt it. This Penn State team just isn't very good. The offensive line sucks. Evan Royster is a shell of his former self — though he should break the school rushing record this week — and the coaches don't use their best playmakers enough. The defensive line gets no pressure. The linebackers look nothing like the Jack Hams, Shane Conlans, Brandon Shorts, LaVar Arringtons, Paul Poslusznys, Dan Connors and Navorro Bowmans we've come to expect over the years. And pretty much no one has done a good job tackling on any consistent basis. That spells doom against Michigan and Denard Robinson.

I don't expect Penn State to win. Even at home for a prime time game. But it certainly would make my weekend if they did.

Links …

-College basketball begins in a couple weeks, and the Big 5 has two representatives in the AP preseason top 25. Villanova checks in at 6th, and Temple starts off at 22nd.

In case you were wondering, Temple takes on Nova on Dec. 30 at the Pavilion. And yes, I do plan on being there most likely with silver fox — me rooting for Temple and silver fox pulling for Nova.

-My good friend Kenny dares to ask: Could you date someone who's a fan of your rival?

-And yesterday, Ed shared with us all the light skinned coalition all-stars of the NBA, yet somehow managed to exclude Derrick Rose, Tim Duncan, Danny Granger and Delonte West, among others. Personally, I would have bended the rules to include Randy Moss and Jason Williams as one entry.

Pretty funny list though.

-Here's an in-depth look at Matt McGloin's drives last week against Minnesota. The verdict? He stinks. Awesome.

-How have the Eagles fared in free agency and trades the past couple of seasons? Not good. Not good at all.

-Paul Milsap, meet Philadelphia's own Hakim Warrick.

-Deron Williams is filthy.

Honestly, did anyone think this guy would be this awesome in the NBA when he was at Illinois? Don't get me wrong, he was really good and the guy who usually made the big plays in crunch time for the Illini, but I didn't see this coming. And even saw him play in person at Penn State. The man is amazing.

-I saw a friend of mine in high school do this in a game.

That's Oak Hill's Jordan Adams, by the way.

-Deuce Bello.

-The top 6 players at the Converse open gym in Philly: Mario Moody, Lucky Jones, Jerrell Wright, Tyshoyn McBride, Naquil Jones and Tyreek Peeples.

-Courtesy of Lavar's Love Child, freshman linebacker Khairi Fortt has been working out as a standup defensive end, a la Jerome Hayes.

Also in the same post, Penn State has wisely decided to shut down West Catholic's Curtis Drake, redshirting the sophomore so he will be sophomore eligible next season. No reason to burn a year of eligibility at this point.

-Chris Cooley provides tremendous wedding message to Unsilent Majority.

"Treat her good. Enjoy it. Bang her. Hard."

-Andre Iguodala made Dime's top 5 dunkers on the planet list, coming in at No. 5 behind 4. James White, 3. Josh Smith, 2. Terrell Cournoyea and 1. Justin Darlington.

-More on the dance docket, with Tyrus Thomas dancing to some Dance, Dance Revolution.

Which reminds me of this scene in Grandma's Boy.

And because it's Friday and Halloween and this song is awesome, here's another appropriate dance number, Monster.

Flyers take on Pittsburgh out in the stupid half of the state tonight, then take on the Islanders back home tomorrow. The Sixers host Atlanta tonight, then travel to Indiana tomorrow. And of course Penn State hosts Michigan at 8 p.m. tomorrow. Eagles on a bye.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

As you know, the NBA season began this week. And Sunday is Halloween. So in the spirit of both the NBA, enjoy Ron Artest's new rap song, because: a) Ron Artest is in the NBA; b) Ron Artest is scary; and c) Ron Artest rapping is scary.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

First Impressions: The 2010-11 76ers Debut

The 2010-11 Philadelphia 76ers' season began last night with a shot clock violation on the very first possession. In the opening minutes, new starting small forward Jason Kapono (what?) was blocked twice by Dwyane Wade. Something tells me Kapono won't (and most definitely shouldn't) be a starter for very long.

However, as bad as that start was and as awful as the third quarter went — the Sixers were outscored 31-13 in the 3rd — there were a few, and I stress a few, encouraging signs in last night's opening season 97-87 loss to the Miami Heat. Unfortunately, none of those encouraging signs came from the starting five.

That starting five comprised Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand and Jason Kapono. Not a single one of those players finished with a plus rating in the game. That quintet was embarrassing. How embarrassing, you ask? Elton Brand was the best of the bunch. That embarrassing.

All summer long, we heard new Sixers coach Doug Collins talk about how he wants Andre Iguodala to attack the basket more, get to the free throw line and cut down on his outside shots — essentially become a more efficient offensive player. In just a shade under 39 minutes last night, Iguodala got to the line exactly zero times, instead hoisting jumper after jumper. He went 5-12 from the field and scored a measly 10 points, finishing the night as a -19. He sucked, largely because he failed to do a single thing that Doug Collins wanted him to do. Awesome.

Jrue Holiday, one of the lone bright spots late last season, was dreadful last night. He shot just 2-9, scoring six points while turning the ball over five times. Ugly. The 7'1 Spencer Hawes played just 14 minutes, not scoring a single point and grabbing just three rebounds. Inspiring. Kapono made one bucket, not a three, and played just 13 minutes. Why did he start again? And Brand was the stalwart of the starters, scoring 12 points on 6-11 from the field, grabbing 9 boards and notching three steals and two blocks. He also managed to get to the line zero times. In fact, not a single starter for the Sixers shot a free throw. I didn't even know that was possible.

The Sixers' best group of five they played all night was actually the first incarnation of the second string that went in and briefly took the lead in the 2nd quarter before James Jones went the hell off from three.

That five was made up of Lou Williams, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Andres Nocioni and Darius Songaila. In said 2nd quarter, it was Thad doing the heavy lifting, running the floor like a deer and playing the way he did a couple seasons ago. He had one particularly nice reverse and-1, not to mention a sick dunk on LeBron after deflecting a pass and getting out in transition.

Thad finished with 15 points on 6-8 shooting, had a team-high four foul shots and looked very energetic. He was probably the second best player for the Sixers last night. Who was the best? Well, it wasn't Lou Williams, though Lou did have 15 points, made three threes and dished out 7 assists. Not a bad game. It wasn't Nocioni, who played hard in 20 minutes of action and chipped with with 10 points, five boards and three assists, including two threes. It wasn't Songaila, who managed just 5 minutes of action. And it sure as shit wasn't any of the starters.

No, the best player on the court for the Philadelphia 76ers was the guy everyone seemed to panic over due to a horrific summer league and reports of Doug Collins and the rest of the NBA being underwhelmed with him. That's right, No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner was without question the Sixers' best player in the season opener, particularly asserting himself in the second half.

Turner led the Sixers with 16 points. He was 7-10 from the field, 2-3 from the line, and he added 7 boards, 4 assists and a block. More importantly than those numbers, Turner looked confident and much more athletic than he was being given credit for prior to the season. There was his impressive first NBA bucket on an and-1 putback.

There was his quick spin move in the lane. And of course, there was his ankle-breaking crossover on Dwyane Wade.

The kid looked legitimately good. There's no two ways about it. It was just one game, but the rumors of Evan Turner's demise were possibly exaggerated, at least if last night was any indication.

Of course, there was plenty of bad going on out there too, which is entirely what everyone expected. Dwyane Wade continued to completely terrorize the Sixers, as he's done to just about every team in his NBA career, scoring a game-high 30 points on 10-20 from the floor, 1-2 from three and 9-12 from the line, not to mention adding 7 boards, 4 assists, 3 steals and the two aforementioned blocks on Jason Kapono. He was way better than any other player on the court, LeBron and Bosh included. In fact, LeBron and Bosh were both pretty quiet last night, scoring 16 and 15 points respectively. Bosh did have 7 boards, and LeBron had 6 boards and 7 assists, but the artist formerly known as king also turned the ball over 9 times all by himself. I was less than impressed with those two.

The man who actually played sidekick to Wade was James Jones, who scored 20 points by going 6-9 from three and completely demoralizing the Sixers. Jones hit a big bucket after the Sixers took their brief lead, and it was the spark that ignited Miami to finish the first half and completely dominate the third quarter. Every time he touched the ball, he seemed to nail a three, yet on just about every possession, the Sixers would help off of Jones, resulting in his barrage of threes. Looks like it's going to be the same old Sixers when it comes to defending the perimeter. At least we're used it.

The nice thing about the game was that even after getting blitzed in the third quarter 31-13, the Sixers didn't give up, something that became the norm last season. They kept fighting, actually turning that score around in the fourth by outscoring the Heat 33-17 in the final 12 minutes and making it a respectable 10-point final. Actually, thanks to some late threes by Lou Williams and Jrue, not to mention Turner's aggressive play, the Sixers had a chance to really get back into it in the final two minutes. Turnovers and miscues cost them, but they clawed back into it. That was encouraging. A whole lot more encouraging than anything the starters did.

Yesterday, silver fox came back from the dead and gave some reasons to watch the Sixers, asking a few questions along the way. None of them can be definitively answered after one 10-point loss to the mega Heat, but I figured I'd touch on the topics as they pertained to game 1 of 82.

As for the development of Jrue, that's still a work in progress. I think he's going to be a very good player, but he wasn't one last night. At all. In fact, he was terrible.

As for Speights, we have absolutely no clue what kind of player he really is, and we got no answers last night. Speights played just 3 minutes and 39 seconds of garbage time last night, not getting a single tic of run before the end of the game. Either Doug Collins hates him or he's still getting over his hamstring injury. Let's hope it's the latter, because Speights has shown tremendous upside the past two seasons. I'd hate for him to be in the doghouse all year.

Lou Will fit in nicely in the role he should be playing: bench scorer. His shot was off last night (just 5-14 from the field), but he scored 15 points and had 7 assists. That's what you want from him as the leader of the second unit.

The real Thad stood up and looked good last night. Hopefully that's a sign of more to come, working his way into the starting lineup or being the 6th/7th man with Lou. Improved rebounding and defense would be nice.

Can Kapono contribute? I don't know, but he sure as hell didn't last night. He didn't even have one three-point attempt, and if he's not making threes, he's not worth a damn thing.

As for botching the pick of Evan Turner, the jury's still out. But if you had to answer that question after one game, it would certainly be no. Turner was the best Sixer last night, hands down. Let's hope he keeps it up and supplants Kapono in the starting lineup … like tomorrow.

One last note on the game. Last night was Eric Snow's debut as the color analyst for the 76ers. The same Eric Snow that helped Allen Iverson and company reach the NBA Finals in 2001, making one of the greatest faces ever after hitting a big bucket in the Sixers' awesome overtime upset in game 1.

Now, if you think Larry Andersen is homer — or Stan Walters back in the day for the Eagles, Gary Dornhoefer for the Flyers, or even Marc Zumoff for the Sixers — then you have to watch a Sixers game and listen to Eric Snow. For starters, he talks about the Sixers using "we," as if he still plays for the team. We need to stop Wade. We like to see that. We will be fine. It's really bad, really unprofessional, and hysterical.

Then there were moments in last night's game where he was openly cheering during plays. He let out a loud, "YES!!!!" on Turner's first bucket and routinely made comments like he was a Sixers fan. It was really something. Clearly Snow isn't concerned about any sort of objectivity. It was pretty bad. You know something's wrong when Zumoff sounds like the objective, level-headed one.

But hey, welcome back, Eric Snow. Here's a highlight video of you, which I'm stunned even exists, not to mention Allen Iverson and Larry Brown saying some kind words about you.

The NBA, where Eric Snow getting a highlight video (and broadcasting job) happens.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Trying to Find Reasons to Watch the Sixers

Apparently the Sixers open their season tonight against some guy named Lebron. It's going to be a long, unexciting season. The only consolation is that we in Philadelphia are not alone in our basketball irrelevance. Unless you live in Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, Oklahoma City, or Orlando, there isn't much reason to watch basketball this year. The NBA sucks and I find myself daydreaming of the '90's NBA of young Shaq, KG and Steph, Barkley, Shawn Kemp and G Payton, The Dream, Penny, C-Webb, Knicks-Heat playoff rumbles, and the Allen Iverson era here in Philly.

Unfortunately those days are long gone, but I love basketball and so I search for reasons to follow my irrelevant favorite team and the NBA in general. Here's what I got.

The development of Jrue Holiday.

The 20 year old second year point guard will be handed the reigns of the Sixers. He averaged 8 points, 3.8 assists, and 1.08 steals in 24.2 minutes last season as a rookie. He showed some real good signs. As he takes over the starting role at pg, will he take steps forward and progress, or will he regress? Hopefully it will be the former and I'll be watching to see if the Sixers have a solid piece in place as the point guard of the future.

What kind of player is Marreese Speights?

Another young player with upside, the 6-10 forward has struggled at times. He has the size to be a presence in the paint and provide scoring and rebounding down low, but needs to show that he won't be a liability defensively. Much like with Holiday, I'll be looking to see if he progresses or regresses and assessing his legitimacy as a future staple in this lineup.

Where does Lou Williams fit in?

Coach Doug Collins has said that Lou has been his best player this preseason. Because Holiday will be starting at the point, the Sixers will look for Williams to provide a spark off the bench, which I think he can do. Lou has been around for 5 years, so Sixers fans have watched his (slow) development. He did some good things last year, averaging 14 points and 4 assists in close to 30 minutes. But this is all about the future so hopefully this season will bring some clarity on how he fits into the future plans because despite being in the league for 5 years he is only 24 years old. I like Lou Williams and I hope to see him build on last season and cement a role on this team in the years to come.

Can/Will the Sixers move Andre Iguodala?

Iguodala is a nice player. He can do a little bit of everything, score, pass, and rebound. He is a stopper on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately the Sixers decided it would be a good idea to pay him like a superstar, face-of-the-franchise type player, which he is not. He would be a fantastic addition to a lot of teams with a strong core already in place, and could bring solid value in return for the Sixers.

Will the real Thaddeus Young please stand up?

I think this is a make or break year for Thad, at least as far as his future as a Sixer is concerned. He showed great upside his rookie year, and then has gotten worse his following two. Athletic and with decent size he has the potential to be a real nice hybrid type player, a little on the wing, a little in the post, who can also get out and run. I had high hopes for him after the rookie campaign, but now I'm not so sure. I think this season will decide whether or not he will join (hopefully) Jrue and Marreese in a young and promising core.

Will Jason Kapono really contribute?

This goes against the appraisal-for-the-future theme of the Sixers season and of this post, but I like Jason Kapono, and his headbands, and I like watching him shoot the ball. He will start at the 3 spot to start the year and I'm curious to see how he responds.

Did the Sixers botch the #2 pick?

They took Evan Turner, a 6-7 wingman. He won college player of the year at Ohio State. I haven't really seen him play, but from what I hear it's not looking good. Hopefully he gets his footing and becomes the player the Sixers think he can be, because if not its another setback that the Sixers can't really afford.

So that's what I'll be looking at as I watch our Sixers lose game after game. As far as the rest of the NBA, I'll be rooting against the Heat, which I fear will end up meaning rooting for Kobe, which goes against everything I believe in. And I'll be watching Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant, because they have a young, exciting team (with a superstar in place which separates them from the Sixers), and Kevin Durant is the man. Hopefully the Eagles and Flyers will provide some winning to get us through the winter. Oh, and the college basketball scene is looking real promising, with both Villanova and Temple in the preseason top 25.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Now It's Time to Root for Cliff Lee

That's what I was telling myself after the Phillies unceremoniously ended their season, again failing to produce the requisite offense it takes to get to the World Series.

For a few brief moments, I thought the Phillies would pull this thing off, get to a game 7 and maybe even overcome their offensive ineptitude and get back to a third straight World Series. I felt that way when they scored twice in the first on a Chase Utley RBI double and Jayson Werth sacrifice fly. I felt that way in the bottom of the third, when right after his team had tied the game, Jonathan Sanchez blew up, walking Placido Polanco to start the inning, then plunking Utley and losing his mind when Chase had the audacity to toss the ball back to him. It wasn't the first time those two had at it.

I felt that way in the fifth when the Phils had the bases loaded. And I felt that way in the sixth when Raul Ibanez led things off with a double, then was sacrificed to third on a perfect bunt by Carlos Ruiz. I even felt that way with Ryan Howard up and the season on the line.

But as has been the case the entire NLCS, the Phillies came up small in each and every one of those situations. And I think that's why I wasn't in an absolute murderous rage when the season ended. It was almost as if you could see this coming with the way the series had been going. Through all six games, the Giants were simply better. They out-pitched the Phils. They out-hit the Phils. They out-played the Phils, in every conceivable way.

When the Giants needed a big hit, there was Cody Fucking Ross, or Juan Uribe, or Aubrey Huff, or Buster Posey. When the Phillies needed a big hit, hell just a decent at-bat or some contact, they popped up, struck out or weakly grounded out. It was the story of the series, and the story of Saturday night.

The biggest moments of the game weren't Utley's double or Huff's single or Polanco's throwing error or even Juan Uribe's home run. OK, maybe Uribe's home run. But just as big were the moments the Phillies came up small. In that tumultuous third inning, the Phillies had two on and nobody out, had just chased the Giants' starter after just two innings and two batters and had Citizens Bank Park rocking. Then Ryan Howard struck out, Werth flied out and Victorino grounded, no runs. Another missed opportunity.

The three biggest at-bats of the game were three of the worst at-bats in the history of baseball. The first came courtesy of Shane Victorino. In the fifth inning, with the game tied, Jayson Werth was intentionally walked with two outs to load the bases. In stepped Victorino in a dream spot. All the pressure was on Giants rookie Madison Bumgarner. All Shane had to do was wait for his pitch, a pitch to hit hard somewhere, maybe even a pitch to drive out of the ballpark or into a gap and give his team the lead. Instead, on a 1-0 pitch with the bases loaded in a tie game, Shane hit what equated to a swinging bunt right back to Bumgarner, hitting it about as softly as a human being can and killing the rally. It was devastating.

The next big spot came just an inning later. Raul Ibanez led things off with a double. Ruiz moved him along to third with a tremendous sacrifice bunt, putting Raul on third with one out. In came Ben Francisco to pinch-hit, and his sole objective was to get his bat on the ball and hit it out of the infield. Instead, he did neither of those, striking out looking on a pitch that was no doubt about it a strike. The only thing he really couldn't do there was strike out, yet he not only struck out, but struck out with the bat on his shoulder. It's the type at-bat that is inexcusable, especially considering the moment. Ben Francisco should be forced to give his playoff pay back for such a horrible at-bat. My roommate made a really good point too. Why, after an entire postseason of anemia, wouldn't Charlie have gotten Mike Sweeney a couple more at-bats so he could have used him in that spot?

I know Francisco has been this team's main right-handed bench bat, and he had played well down the stretch and had a decent game earlier in the series. But Ben Francisco has been known to strike out. Mike Sweeney is much more of a contact hitter. He would have been perfect for that spot. Admittedly, I didn't even think of it at the time until my roommate said it. I don't necessarily blame Charlie for that. Francisco has to get the job done. But it's something think about.

Of course, after Francisco struck out in embarrassing fashion, Jimmy Rollins flied out to end the inning, completely wasting a leadoff double by Ibanez.

And then there was that final at-bat of the season, the one that put an end to Philadelphia's postseason. With an entire year's worth of work on the line, the Phillies' $25 million man struck out looking with two on and two out and his team down by a run. I don't care if you thought it was a ball, hated the call or what. With the season on the line, you absolutely can't go down with the bat on your shoulder. You're taught from the moment you first step in the box as a little kid that the cardinal sin in baseball is to get caught looking. You swing at anything close with two strikes, and no matter how you look at it, that final pitch sure as shit was close. Ryan Howard should be completely ashamed of himself.

It was his third strikeout of the game, 12th strikeout of the series and 17th of the postseason. He struck out at least once in all nine playoff games, striking out three times in three separate games, including the final two games of the season. The same Ryan Howard who has averaged 136 RBIs in his five full big league seasons, the same guy who carried this team with 17 RBIs last October did not drive in a single run in this playoffs. You're not going to win many games if you're cleanup hitter isn't driving in any runs. And the Phillies didn't.

They lost this NLCS because they deserved to lose. The Phillies were better than the Giants on paper, but the Giants were better on field, and that's all that really matters. Now it's time to root for Cliff Lee to get the World Series ring he rightfully deserves.

Besides a 5-2 win by the Flyers, there wasn't much to help cheer anyone up either over the weekend. Sure, Penn State beat Minnesota 33-21, but beating Minnesota is nothing to write home about, especially when you lose your starting quarterback to a concussion while doing it.

First, the highlights. Robert looked really good before getting injured, completing 11 of 13 passes for 130 yards and a score. It was nice to see him look confident and competent once again, two things that were completely absent against Illinois. Silas Redd gained 71 yards on 9 carries, and it's pretty clear he's the best running back on the team right now. Plus, he looks eerily similar to Ki-Jana Carter without his helmet on. Though Evan Royster did finish with some nice numbers, gaining 62 yards on 10 carries, but he had one long run that skewed his average.

Derek Moye scored two touchdowns and had 81 yards receiving. Brett Bracket looked pretty good early on. And Anthony Fera was booming punts and dropping them inside the 20 like it was his job. Which it is. So well done, Fera.

Defensively, only two players showed me anything out there, and they were both in the secondary. D'Anton Lynn is a stud, and he had an interception to prove it. I really like that guy. And Malcolm Willis got a ton of PT with Nick Sukay out, and in my opinion the redshirt freshman was the best defender for Penn State all game long.

He just seemed to be making plays left and right.

Now for the bad. The offensive line still completely sucks, and I'm beginning to think that Stefen Wisniewski is actually the worst of the bunch. I don't know how this guy was once considered really good, because he is absolutely awful. Evan Royster, while averaging 6.2 yards a carry on Saturday, still looks slow and plodding and absolutely nothing like the player he once was. I think I kind of hate him now. Justin Brown also didn't get the ball enough once again, which makes me so mad because I know that guy is going to be awesome once these idiot coaches stop rotating receivers every damn play. Oh, and Matt McGloin showed precisely why he was a walk-on, his first pass notwithstanding. He's terrible. And so is Kevin Newsome. Let's hope Bolden's head isn't mush.

Defensively, I'm completely unimpressed with the entire front 7. All of them. The defensive line gets no pressure whatsoever and very little penetration on run plays. The linebackers don't even look like football players most days, most especially Bani Gbadyu and Chris Colasanti. And the secondary is very talented, but Stephon Morris had a rough go of it Saturday, routinely missing tackles, something this entire team does way too often.

Sure, it was good to get back on the winning side of things. But you know things are bad when a 33-21 victory over an atrocious team is something to look at as a building block. It's been that kind of year.

Then there was the Eagles on Sunday. Not good. Yes, the Eagles were winning 19-10 in the fourth quarter, but then they gave up 27 straight points to lose going away.

Kevin Kolb did not look very good against Tennessee, which made Andy Reid's decision to name Michael Vick the starter after next week's bye pretty easy. Kolb was just 26 of 48 and threw two picks. Truthfully, it probably should have been three picks or more, had it not been for this insane catch by Riley Cooper.

It was a far cry from his offensive player of the week performance against Atlanta. There were several occasions where Kolb badly underthrew the deep ball, whether it was due to a lack of arm strength or simply making a bad pass. And the two picks were killers, but the game really turned on the fumbled handoff between him and LeSean McCoy at the Tennessee 1. From there, the Eagles never scored another touchdown, and the momentum swung in the Titans' favor.

That momentum stayed there because of Kenny Britt. Holy hell did that guy have a huge game: 7 catches for 225 yards and three scores.

All game long, Britt was completely abusing the combination of Ellis Hobbs and Nate Allen. Neither guy could do anything to slow the Rutgers product down. Yet time and time again, there was Hobbs lined up opposite Britt, and time and time again there was Allen left with the task of manning Britt in some sort of zone defense. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Britt was dominating on a Randy Moss in his prime level, yet Sean McDermott never once did a damn thing about it.

This is why Sean McDermott is a terrible defensive coordinator. I know the Eagles don't like to flip-flop their cornerbacks. Asante Samuel plays on the left side, and Ellis Hobbs on the right. And that's all well and good, especially in the days of Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard, and Sheldon and Asante. Those guys were essentially interchangeable, because they all were good corners. Here's the thing though: Ellis Hobb is no Sheldon Brown or Bobby Taylor or Lito Sheppard. He's an average at best starting cornerback. And on Sunday he was getting torched.

If ever there was a moment to say, you know, this shit isn't working, Sunday was it. With Britt literally controlling the outcome of the game, it was McDermott's job to say screw this and have Asante follow Britt around wherever he went, left corner/right corner be damned. If you're not willing to do that, or Asante's not willing or able to man up the other team's best receiver, then what the hell did you pay the guy so much money for? Certainly not his tackling. And all the interceptions in the world don't mean dick if quarterbacks don't throw your way, and why would they if you aren't even covering the best receiver?

It was an absolutely atrocious coaching job by McDermott. He never made an adjustment, so the Titans just kept going to Britt and kept scoring touchdowns. It was awful. Truly awful. Just like the Phillies during those three at-bats and the entire NLCS, and just like Penn State this season.

Now really it really is time to root for Cliff Lee.

Oh, and the Flyers lost last night with an embarrassing effort. I hate 2010.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Jon Runyan in a Chicken Hat

I was busy as hell at work all day today. I'll get to everything that happened over the weekend tomorrow, even though I'd really rather not. In the meantime, enjoy this picture of former Philadelphia Eagle Pro Bowl right tackle and South Jersey congressional candidate Jon Runyan in a chicken hat, courtesy of Paul "lil' Jon" Runyan.

"you gotta post this pic of Runyan in the chicken hat at some point.  RP took it at a bar in Wildwood I think."

There you have it. I think.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Pulled gROYn Game

Through six innings of baseball, I was growing increasingly annoyed at Roy Halladay. The man who had given up just 30 walks in 33 starts during the regular season walked the leadoff batter Andres Torres, a player who has not hit whatsoever in these playoffs. It was the first time Halladay had walked the leadoff batter of a game all season long. What a horrible time to finally do it. Of course that asshole scored, and Roy never quite looked right.

He managed to go just 6 innings, an anomaly for the man who led the majors in innings pitched, having to throw well over a hundred pitches and fighting his command all night. He walked two batters, something he rarely ever does. He was missing his spots left and right, especially in the strike zone, resulting in six hits and some really, really poor pitches. It was so uncharacteristic of Roy. He's made a habit of hitting Carlos Ruiz's glove with such regularity that seeing Curbball having to reach and move his glove on almost every pitch was startling. Doc just didn't look good, and I was really disappointed.

Then this morning I find out the guy was pitching with a freakin pulled groin, an injury he sustained in the second inning, and still managed to gut it out and get the win, keeping the Phils alive while staring down the competition.

It wasn't perfect game Roy Halladay or no-hitter Roy Halladay. It was tough, fearless, badass Roy Halladay. He managed to ever-so-slightly outduel Tim Lincecum, the way Lincecum had slightly outpitched Halladay in game 1. And finally, it was the Phillies who took advantage of the mistakes the Giants made, and not vice versa.

Down 1-0 after two and the first six batters looking helpless against Lincecum, Raul Ibanez finally decided to join the series by leading off the third with a bloop single to right. Ruiz followed by getting hit by a pitch, and suddenly the Phillies had life. And then for what feels like the first time this series, the Phils caught a break. With two on and no out, Roy Halladay went to the plate with the sole objective of advancing the runners on a bunt. Halladay, pulled groin and all, tried to lay one down. It bounced off the plate and never went out in front of it, but Buster Posey quickly snatched it, fired to third … and the morbidly obese Pablo Sandoval couldn't find the bag, reaching around with his foot but finding nothing but dirt, as Raul Ibanez slid in safely, with Ruiz following to second. Halladay, seeing that the ball hit the plate, never moved. He assumed it was foul because, well, it was. But home plate umpire Jeff Nelson called it fair. Sandoval, after failing to get the out at third, did throw out Halladay at first, but the sacrifice was successful, job accomplished. Even if he did get some help from the umpire. It turned out to be the foul sacrifice bunt that helped save the season.

That was the first break, and the second came right afterward. Shane Victorino hit a grounder right to Aubrey Huff at first, but Huff misplayed it so badly that it bounced off his hand, then his knee and ricocheted into the outfield, allowing Raul and Ruiz to score, and allowing Shane to end up on second, 2-1 Phils. Polanco followed with an RBI single, and suddenly the Phillies had a two-run cushion. When Utley followed with another single to put runners on first and third with one out, it looked like the Phils were going to bust it open. But then LIncecum struck out Howard, and Werth flied out. Another run would have been nice, but still, the damage had been done. The Phils finally capitalized on a good break and two huge San Francisco mistakes.

Of course, this wouldn't be an NLCS game without Cody Fucking Ross driving in a run, which he did in the 4th to make it a 3-2 game, following up Pat Burrell's one-out double with a double of his own to plate the former Phillie. The good news is that was it for the Giants. Pitching four-plus innings with a pulled groin, Halladay surrendered just one run, two overall. He got through six innings on one leg, leaving with a one-run lead.

This time, facing elimination, the bullpen did what it could not the night before. Jose Contreras, who has done his job and done it well all postseason, and J.C. Romero worked through a scoreless 7th, with Contreras giving up a hit in his two-thirds and Romero retiring his only batter. Then it was on to how Charlie Manuel would like to draw it up, the Phils leading heading into the 8th for Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge.

Madson was literally perfect in the 8th, striking out all three batters he faced. Then the Phils added an insurance run on an opposite-field laser home run by Jayson Werth, a guy who already had a huge play earlier in the game when he threw out Cody Fucking Ross, who was trying to tag up and get to third.

Then Lidge came in and had a perfect night, punctuated by striking out Travis Ishikawa to end the game and force a game 6 back in Philadelphia.

Now the Phils come back home with their two other aces slated to start, both of them looking to redeem themselves after being tagged with losses. Oswalt was brilliant in game 2, picking up the win, but then lost game 4 in relief. Hamels was slightly off but really just got no runs support, nothing new for Cole, in game 3. Now it's time for both of them to make sure neither loses two in a row.

It may have come one game too late, but Doc did his job. He got the Phils to their second win of the series. Got them to a game 6. And he did it all on basically one leg. It wasn't pretty, but it sure as shit was effective. Hopefully the pulled gROYn game will ignite this team and propel the Phils to six more victories.


It's Friday, Time to Dance

The Phils staved off elimination and now the NLCS is going back to Philly, with the Phils down 3-2, needing two wins at home from Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Worst Managed Game of All Time

Charlie Manuel has won a lot of games as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. He's been at the helm for four straight NL East titles, two straight NL pennants and World Series appearances and was the man who wrote the lineup card for the World Fucking Champions. He's the best Phillies manager of my lifetime.

He also was as big a reason as any that the Phillies lost last night, and as big a reason as any that they face a 3-1 hole in the NLCS with an out-of-whack pitching situation. It's his job as the manager to put his team in the best position to win each and every night, and the fact of the matter is that Charlie simply didn't do that last night. Not in the slightest.

It began with the decision to start Joe Blanton over Roy Halladay. The majority of people not only in Philadelphia but across the nation wondered why, down 2-1, Manuel and Rich Dubee wouldn't go with their horse, the clear-cut favorite for the NL Cy Young, their ace on short rest. This was the exact reason the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay, the reason he was Ruben Amaro's white whale. The difference, or so we were led to believe, between Halladay and Cliff Lee was that Halladay had a proven track record of pitching and pitching well on short rest. This was the moment Roy Halladay was made for. Throw him three times in a seven-game series because that's what he can do for you.

But Manuel and Dubee didn't see it that way. They chose to go with Joe Blanton instead, a guy who hadn't pitched in weeks, with the rationale that win or lose, they at least would have Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels working on normal rest for the final three games.

Here's what that logic failed to mention: the Giants also have their three horses lined up for games 5, 6 and 7 on normal rest, guys in Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain that have stifled the Phillies hitters. Throwing Roy Halladay against rookie Madison Bumgarner gave the Phillies the best chance to win and even the series, not Joe Blanton. Everyone could see it, except for the two men that matter most, Manuel and Dubee.

And that decision backfired, as Blanton failed to make it out of the 5th inning, handing the game over to a Phillies bullpen that has been shaky all season and that had been seldom used in October.

Then Charlie compounded his error over and over again. In the 6th, with the Phillies clinging to a one-run lead, Chad Durbin came in and promptly walked Pat Burrell and surrendered a double to Cody Fucking Ross. He didn't have it. It was clear as day. That should have been all for Durbin, but it wasn't. Because Charlie had gone to his bullpen so early, already used up Jose Contreras and didn't trust Kyle Kendrick, so he left Durbin in. Durbin promptly gave up a double to Pablo Sandoval, allowing the Giants to take the lead. And Charlie just sat there, watching.

Sure, Durbin worked out of it after that, but he had relinquished the lead, all without so much as a glance by Manuel. It was clear as day that from the decision to start Blanton, the decision to stay with a struggling Durbin, the decision to follow that up with unproven Antonio Bastardo over proven if struggling J.C. Romero after that that Manuel was managing for a game 7. What he seemed to be forgetting is that he needed to get to a game 6 first.

But as baffling and as stupid as the move was to start Blanton, and as horrifying as it was to watch him give Durbin more rope to hang himself with, none of that is as terrible as what he did in the 9th inning. After the Phillis had tied the game up on back-to-back doubles by Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, and after Ryan Madson had gotten through an inning and two-thirds before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the 9th, Manuel all the sudden realized that, oh shit, if the Phillies don't win tonight, it would take a hell of a lot to get to a game 7. So he did the unthinkable. He started to get Roy Oswalt loosened up in the bullpen.

I was beside myself. He wasn't actually going to bring Oswalt into the game, was he? If so, why the hell wouldn't he have just started Halladay on short rest, instead of bringing in Oswalt in relief on two days' rest, then screwing up the entire rotation the rest of the way? Yet there was Manuel, not only loosening Oswalt up, but bringing him into a tie game in the 9th.

We all know what happened next. The Phillies lost, and now they're facing the most uphill of battles, one that was made exponentially worse by the manager. Manuel and Dubee didn't start Halladay because they wanted to keep the rotation in its normal routine and working on normal rest. Then they threw the whole thing out the window by bringing in Oswalt in the 9th, after pitching on Sunday. It made no sense whatsoever. Now the rotation is all screwed up. Even if Roy Halladay manages to outduel Tim Lincecum tonight, someone has to pitch on short rest Saturday. It's either going to be Cole Hamels, a guy who has never pitched on short rest in his career and seems to be incredibly hesitant to do so, or Roy Oswalt working on just two days' rest, after pitching an inning after just two days' rest before that.

Now, perhaps pitching one inning isn't that big of a deal for Oswalt and he'll be ready to go Saturday, but why take that chance if you weren't willing to take the chance on moving everyone a day up beforehand? Why not go with Brad Lidge or J.C. Romero? Don't get me wrong, I don't have a great deal of faith in Romero this year, and I hate seeing Lidge come into a non-save situation as much as anyone. But Charlie is a man who sticks with his guys, puts his faith in his guys, is confident in his guys. He's notorious for his unwavering confidence. Well last night, that confidence wavered. He showed none in Lidge. Or Romero. Or even Kyle Kendrick.

If he doesn't have confidence in his closer in that spot, or his top left-handed specialist who also has a history of doing well against righties, well, then what the hell are they even doing on the roster?

I don't want to take the sky-is-falling approach, but the fact remains that the Phillies are now facing elimination and have to face three really good pitchers to pull this thing off. The old adage goes that good pitching beats good hitting. Well, the Phillies don't have good hitting right now. They have bad hitting. Really bad hitting. Imagine what good pitching can do to that. Actually, just take a look at the first three games of this series.

Yes, the Phillies put up 5 runs last night — more than enough to win most nights in the playoffs, and certainly more than enough to win had Halladay been on the mound. But they scored four of those runs in one inning, and in their lone win, they scored six of their 8 runs in one inning. Essentially, this team has only hit in two innings in four games. It's no wonder they're down 3-1.

And when you look at even last night's game, when they did manage to score 5 runs and at one point take the lead, you see bad at-bat after bad at-bat. Mistake after mistake. Shane Victorino got a big hit to get the Phils on the board — then failed to get to second as Carlos Ruiz was being thrown out at the plate. It was some of the worst baserunning ever. Chase Utley followed with a single, a single that would have scored Victorino and tied and the game, but instead he only got to second because of his stupid baserunning. It became moot when Placido Polanco doubled to score Victorino and Utley and give the Phils the lead, but it was the type of dumb play that can make a difference, the type of bad baseball that we've grown accustomed to the Phils' opponents making in the postseason, not them.

But they've been all too prevalent this series. In that same inning, after Ryan Howard was intentionally walked and Jayson Werth hit by a pitch to load the bases, up came Jimmy Rollins with a chance to break the game open. A wild pitch even scored a run, making it 4-2 Phils, giving Rollins a the opportunity to make it 6-2 with a hit. Instead, he struck out by chasing ball four, ending the inning and leaving two important runs on base.

It was just one of several errors by Rollins. He booted a dead double play ball in the 7th, luckily bailed out by a double play by Pablo Sandoval the very next at-bat. Then he pulled a Jimmy in the 8th with Werth on 2nd after Jayson had doubled in Howard to tie the game, popping up weakly to the left fucking side, when all he really needed to do was pull the ball and get Werth to third with less than two outs. He didn't. Because he is playing like complete shit right now.

If Wilson Valdez was in the game, he would have bunted Werth to third, advancing the runner like you're supposed to. But Jimmy doesn't bunt, and Charlie doesn't ask him to bunt even in a clear bunting situation, because, well, just fucking because. So at the very least, Jimmy had to pull the ball. He didn't. He fucking sucks.

Not that it mattered, because Ben Francisco followed by striking out swinging, swinging fastball yet getting three straight sliders. Then Carlos Ruiz followed with an identical at-bat, the worst I've ever seen. Sergio Romo had not thrown anything but sliders to Werth, Rollins and Francisco. Carlos swung like he was getting a first-ball fastball. He did not. It was a slider, and he missed it, strike one. Then he watched a fat, hit-me slider right down the middle of the plate, the type of pitch that's just begging to be crushed, taking it for strike 2. And like Francisco, he then whiffed on a slider about a foot outside, ending the inning. It was the type of at-bat, especially after seeing what Romo did to Francisco, that should get a player fined. That's how egregious it was.

Really, it was a microcosm for this series. The Phillies putting together horrible at-bats, chasing bad pitches and missing the mistake pitches while the Giants bide their time and attack any mistake the Phils pitchers make.

On paper, the Phillies are the better team, the one with all the all-stars and MVPs. But right now, the Giants simply are better. They're capitalizing on the mistakes, not beating themselves, not getting themselves out. The Phillies are doing the complete opposite.

And last night, it was all triggered by the manager. After witnessing firsthand what can happen when you don't let your horse carry you in last season's World Series, refusing to pitch Cliff Lee on short rest despite his brilliance and dominance, you'd think Manuel would have learned his lesson. Lee was the only Phillies pitcher to beat the Yankees, was making a mockery of hitters all October, but he only got two chances to do it as the Phils lost in 6. Instead of learning from that and trusting his ace, and his other two aces, to go on short rest, he went with a man who hadn't pitched in a month, and he couldn't get out of the fifth inning. That set off a chain of events that led to another loss, and put the Phillies in a position to scramble.

They still have a chance in this thing. Roy Halladay is going tonight, and you can bet he wants to make up for his game 1 performance. And after that, there is still Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt if this thing comes back to Philadelphia, though now one or both will definitely be working on what can only be considered an abnormal routine.

The talent is there, but the play simply has not been. It's one thing when your players lose. It's another thing when your manager puts them in a position to lose. Last night was the single worst managed baseball game I've ever seen, and it came from the best Phillies manager of my liftetime.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wake Up (in) San Francisco

Yesterday, I went into work an hour early. I even drove in instead of taking public transportation. All so I could rush home in time for game 3 between the Phillies and Giants, or at the very least have my car so I could listen to the beginning before I got home. As 4 p.m. approached, I finished up what I had to do at work, rushed to my car, and furiously drove home, listening to the first inning on the radio, then sprinting into my house to watch the rest of the game.

I put forth a ton of effort into preparing for this game. It was a whole hell of a lot more effort than the Phils put forth yesterday, I'll tell you that much. Because no matter how you look at it, the Phillies simply didn't come to play yesterday. Not Cole Hamels, not Jimmy Rollins or Ryan Howard or Raul Ibanez. And certainly not Chase Utley. None of them showed up. Sure, they were there in body, but that was about it. Put a slew of high schoolers out there and the only difference would have been three less hits and maybe a few more runs for the Giants. It was an all-around pathetic display, especially considering it's, you know, the NLCS.

First, let me give credit where credit is due. Matt Cain pitched himself one hell of a game — maybe the best pitching performance this side of Cliff Lee in the LCS thus far. In 7 innings of two-hit, shutout ball, Cain only ran into any sort of trouble twice, in the third and fourth innings. In the third, he gave up a one-out single to Carlos Ruiz and hit Shane Victorino in the ribs with two outs, but then got Chase Utley to harmlessly ground out to end the threat. In the third, he gave up a one-out single to Ryan Howard followed by a walk to Jayson Werth, but then forced Rollins to weakly fly out and then struck out Raul Ibanez to escape unscathed yet again.

Beyond that, Cain didn't encounter a hint of trouble, and the only other time the Phillies even got a runner to second base was in the 5th, when Shane Victorino stole second after getting walked. Cain gave up just two hits, struck out five and didn't let the leadoff hitter reach at any point. In fact, the Phillies didn't get their leadoff man aboard once all game, as Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson faced the minimum in their two combined innings to close out the 3-0 win for San Fran, giving the Giants a 2-1 series lead.

It was the same story we saw in game 1. The Phillies had some early chances on Cain, but couldn't capitalize. Meanwhile, the Giants took full advantage of the few opportunities they were presented with — once again led by Cody Fucking Ross.

To say Cole Hamels pitched poorly yesterday would be a misnomer. He didn't blow up or get smacked around. Hell, he only gave up 3 runs on five hits while striking out 8, and one of those "earned" runs was actually not, because no matter what anyone tries to tell you about a bad hop or tricky play, that ball hit by Freddy Sanchez in the 5th was an error by Chase Utley, a play a major league second baseman has to make. For starters, he hesitated and backed up on the ball to let it play him, a no-no that they teach you in little league. Then, he failed to get his body in front of it, regardless of the spin, having it ricochet off him into center to let Aaron Rowand score.

I know everyone loves Chase Utley and finds it hard to criticize a guy who works so hard and hustles all the time, but you have to call a spade a spade. It was a bad play by Utley, an error, no matter if it was "a tough bounce" or not.

The fact that the official scorer changed that thing to a hit is a complete joke. But let's get back to Cole Hamels.

As I was saying, Cole didn't pitch all that poorly or even remotely lose the games for the Phils — you can't win if you don't score any runs. But he had one of those hiccups that have been few and far between this season, something that was prevalent in 2009. And it came at the most inopportune time.

After surrendering a leadoff single to Edgar Renteria in the 4th, Freddy Sanchez sacrificed him to second with Buster Posey coming up. Hamels bore down and struck out the rookie catcher, and it looked as though he was going to get out of it with former teammate Pat Burrell up. With Hamels' devastating changeup accompanying his fastball that had plenty of life and curveball that he was showing more than ever, you'd figure Pat would be at his mercy. But Cole couldn't find the strike zone, walking Burrell on five pitches to bring up … Cody Fucking Ross.

I was so incredibly angry at the two-out walk, and now it brought to the plate a guy who was absolutely destroying the Phillies in this series, and a guy who has tremendous career numbers against Cole. So of course, Cody Fucking Ross gets a two-out single to open the scoring.

The Phillies just can't get this fucking guy out. Then things went from bad to worse, as Aubrey Huff singled to right to score Burrell, making it 2-0 as the ball just went off a diving Chase Utley's glove.

That's when I lost it. Just lost it. I went on a tirade, a very expletive-filled tirade — furious at Cole for that two-out walk to Burrell. Furious at the world for Cody Fucking Ross suddenly becoming the most dangerous hitter on the planet. Furious at everything. I was not taking it well. But still, it was just a two-run game, and the Phillies have had a great track record against Cain. Even when the Phils gave San Francisco another run in the 5th, it was still just at three-run game.

Problem is the bats never showed up, just like they failed to show up in game 1 and were largely absent until the big 7th inning in game 2. They managed just three hits, had just six baserunners all game. Only Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz got hits. The corner outfielders were horrendous yet again, with both Werth and Ibanez striking out twice. No one on this team has done a damn thing at the plate except for Ryan Howard — who is batting .364 through three games — but even Howard has failed to come up big when needed. In the rare instance that Howard has had runners on, he hasn't come through.

Right now, this offense is completely lost. Victorino is 2-for-11 with 3 strikeouts. Utley is 1-for-9 with a K. Polanco is 2-for-11 with a strikeout. Howard is 4-for-11, but he has no RBIs and has struck out five times. Werth is 2-for-9 with 4 K's. Rollins is 3-for-11, and one of those three was a pop-up in the infield that the Giants let drop. He struck out three times in the first game, and with the exception of his bases-loaded, bases-clearing double in game 2, hasn't made solid contact. He's swinging up at everything, resulting in Jimmy out after Jimmy out. Ibanez is 0-for-11 and has struck out five times. He's been so awful that he deserves to be benched, especially considering he dropped a ball in game 1 and has been taking horrible routes to the balls hit his way. With lefty Madison Bumgarner going tonight for San Fran, I'd sit Raul in favor of Ben Fracisco. I really would. He couldn't possibly do any worse. Finally, Carlos Ruiz is 2-for-9.

This team is not hitting at all. They have just six extra-base hits. They're batting just .194 as team in this series — 18-for-93 — with two of those hits coming from their pitchers. With those numbers, it's a miracle they're only down 2 games to 1 and not staring at a 3-0 deficit.

The Giants have great pitching. There's no doubt about it. And thus far, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have outdueled Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. But the bats have to find a way to turn things around, have to find a way to give their pitchers some run support. It's been problem numerous times throughout the season, and each time they've managed to push through and snap out of it. They have to do that again and do it tonight. It's time to wake up.

This series is far from over. The Phils have the arms and the bats to get things done. But they don't have time to wait around. They have to flip the switch tonight with Joe Blanton on mound.

Personally, I'd go with Halladay on three days' rest, then Oswalt doing the same tomorrow. But Charlie feels differently. Here's hoping Blanton can give this team a spark, and that the bats awake in San Francisco because as we've seen in the ALCS, just because the favored Phillies are supposed to prevail doesn't mean they automatically will.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cliff Notes

Let's take another moment to appreciate our old friend Cliff Lee once again.

Ever since the Rangers beat the Rays and advanced to the ALCS to take on the Yankees, the questions started bombarding the New York hitters: What do you think about facing Cliff Lee? How will you fare against Cliff Lee? What can you do differently this time around to beat Cliff Lee?

If you don't recall, Clifton Phifer Lee was the one pitcher for the Phillies in last year's World Series that the Yankees couldn't figure out. There was his effortless dominance in game 1, and gutty performance in game 5.

In that first game, Lee went the distance, striking 10 Yankees while walking none in a 1-run, six-hit showing as the Phils cruised to a 6-1 win and 1-0 series lead. Facing elimination in game 5, Lee had his struggles early on and wound up surrendering five runs in seven innings, but he buckled down when things got tight and pulled out the victory.

So what would he have in store for New York this year, with the series tied 1-1 and the Rangers shifting location to the Bronx?

Well, John Kruk, Bobby Valentine and Mike Golic all predicted a Yankees win, all of them proclaiming that the New York lineup would finally get to Lee and score something like 6, 7 or even 8 runs. Clearly, these guys haven't been paying attention.

The Yankees didn't get to Cliff Lee even a little bit. The greatest man who ever lived threw 8 innings of two-hit, shutout ball with 13 strikeouts and just one walk in an 8-0 Texas win. And had it not been for a six-run 9th for the Rangers, you probably would have seen Lee trot out there to complete this one himself, even with a high pitch count. Because he was as dominant as ever, baffling the Yankees even more so than he did in 2009.

This potent New York lineup looked impotent and helpless. When they were expecting a fastball, they got a changeup or curve. When they looked off-speed, Lee threw his four-seamer or cutter. And in came the slider to keep them even more off-balance. He worked both sides of the plate, changed the eye level and was one step ahead of every batter. The Yankees didn't look like a collection of all-stars. They looked like an overmatched little leaguer facing the biggest, fastest, strongest kid who already had facial hair and muscles. Which is to say, Cliff Lee truly looked like a man amongst boys, and he wasn't even thinking about going easy on them.

The win improved Lee's career postseason record to 7-0 in eight starts with a 1.26 ERA and 67 strikeouts to just 7 walks in 64 and a third innings. He's given up just 40 hits in those 64-plus innings, just one home run and 9 earned runs. He has been the single greatest postseason starting pitcher I've ever laid eyes on. That's not hyperbole or exaggeration. It's simply fact.

If Buster Olney is to be believed in his post-game interview with Lee, Cliff is the first pitcher in the history of baseball to have double-digit strikeouts in three straight postseason games with last night's 13-strikeout performance following his 10 strikeouts in game 1 of the ALDS and 11 K's in the deciding game 5 to win the series.

Now he has the Rangers in a position hardly anyone thought they'd be in, up 2 games to 1 on the Yankees, with another Cliff Lee start on the horizon.

Right now, there isn't a more frightening proposition than having to step in the batters box to face one Clifton Phifer Lee in October.

Then again, we Philadelphians already knew that. And so did New Yorkers. Now Texas knows, and everyone else who is paying attention.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cody F---ing Ross? Are You Kidding Me?

Cody Ross has played 636 regular-season games. He has just 86 home runs, never hitting more than 24 in a season. He was a member of the Florida Marlins from 2006 until he joined San Francisco mid-season. The Phillies have faced him a million times, know his every damn tendency. Or at least you'd think they would. But clearly they don't, because Cody Fucking Ross, the same guy who was a decent at best outfielder for the Florida fucking Marlins, is absolutely killing the Phillies right now.

I fucking hate Cody Ross. With every fiber of my being. And I hated just about every damn second of Saturday, with the exception of eating my delicious Paesano's sandwich (went with the Daddy Wad).

After a crazy Friday night that began with watching the Rangers implode, settled in by meeting up with a friend for a few drinks and ended by walking through a conspicuous gate that opened up into the most bizarre, out-of-place courtyard, as if I had walked through a portal into another dimension, I was out of it. By the time I went to sleep, it was well past 4 a.m., rendering me useless on Saturday unless you count watching Red Dawn — ("From out of the sky, Soviet & Cuban troops begin landing on the football field of a Colorado high school. In seconds, the paratroops have attacked the school & sent a group of teenagers fleeing into the mountains. Armed only with hunting rifles, pistols & bows and arrows, the teens struggles to survive the bitter winter & Soviet KGB patrols hunting for them. Eventually trouble arises when they kill a group of Soviet soldiers on patrol in the highlands. Soon, they will wage their own guerrilla warfare against the invading Soviet troops....under the banner of 'Woverines'!", starring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen and the chick from Back to the Future) — eating a sandwich and falling in and out of sleep while watching college football until the Flyers started useful.

Turns out, I should have just stayed asleep a little longer until the Phils began. The Flyers came out and played a strong first two periods, but found themselves tied 1-1 with less than two minutes to go in the 2nd period. That's when Matt Cooke took a run at Mike Richards, then started trying to goad Richards into a fight, taking a few shoves and pushes at the Flyers captain. Richards wisely ignored Cooke, knowing getting Richards off the ice with Cooke was the exact trade Pittsburgh was looking for. The whistle blew on what had to be a roughing minor on Cooke, giving the Flyers a power play. Only it wasn't. Despite the fact that Mike Richards literally didn't do a damn thing, the referees sent both Cooke and Richards off. Instead of a power play for the Flyers, it was 4-on-4 hockey, and right before the intermission, Pittsburgh scored on a puck that bounced directly to Mark Letestu with 45 seconds left. Letestu buried it, and the goal was a killer. The Pen blitzed the Flyers in the 3rd and won going away 5-1. Not a good start to the evening, and things were only about to get worse.

For starters, entirely too many showed up at my house to watch the game, which was annoying enough in and of itself. But at least no one was pissing me off. Well, no one until Cody fucking Ross decided to become Babe Ruth.

The game was moving along as expected through two innings, with Roy Halladay not allowing a base runner and Tim Lincecum only surrendering a leadoff double to Ryan Howard in the 2nd that went to waste as Jayson Werth struck out, Jimmy hit a Jimmy (weak pop-up) and Raul flied out. Then, after getting Mike Fontenot, Halladay gave up a deep, deep home run to Cody Ross on a fat fastball middle-in, 1-0 Giants. The first hit Roy Halladay surrendered in his postseason career was a god damn home run. To the 8-hole hitter. On the Giants.

That was all sorts of annoying, but Roy came right back and struck out Lincecum and Andres Torres, showing no signs of struggling. And then El Senor Octubre matched 8-hole hitter for 8-hole hitter, ripping a high fastball out the opposite way to tie the game. When Halladay followed by singling in the hole between third and short, it looked like the Phils were about to jump all over the Freak and do what they always seem to do against the opposition's No. 1 this time of year. Instead, Victorino grounded into a double play, wasting Halladay's hit. But the Phils still had life. Polanco doubled. Then Chase walked.

Lincecum had already fallen behind Ruiz 2-0 before Curbball launched a 2-0 fastball over the wall. He fell behind Shane 1-0, and then fell behind Polanco 2-0 before Placido did was Ruiz did, looking for a 2-0 fastball to hit and driving it for a double. He then fell behind Utley 2-0 and wound up walking him on five pitches. Which is all to say that Tim Lincecum was having a tough time with his control in the 3rd inning.

Up comes Ryan Howard, with two on and two out in a tie game with one of the best pitchers in baseball facing him. It's the type of rare opportunity you get against a guy like Lincecum. He's the two-time defending NL Cy Young winner for a reason. He doesn't give you many opportunities to score, so when you get them, you have to take advantage. Ryan Howard had to take advantage.

His at bat started out wonderfully, with Howard taking the first two pitches for balls, Lincecum again falling behind 2-0. In this inning already, Ruiz, Polanco and Utley had done exactly what you're supposed to do with a 2-0 count against a good pitcher — they locked into a spot and looked for a fastball to drive. Ruiz and Polanco each got their fastball, with Ruiz hitting a homer and Polanco doubling. Utley got a slider, not the fastball he was looking to hit, so he took it for a called strike and wound up walking. Ryan Howard did none of those things. Everyone in the world except Ryan Howard knew Lincecum wasn't going to give in to a power hitter in this situation with a fastball. And he didn't, throwing a 2-0 changeup. Howard should not have even attempted to swing at it because it wasn't a pitch he could drive. But he did swing, fouling it off. Still, he was ahead in the count 2-1, and Lincecum was struggling with his command. That's when Howard officially got himself out, chasing a 2-1 fastball out of the zone, then flailing at a slider to strike out.

Yes, the Phillies tied the game, but they wasted a golden opportunity to take the lead and put pressure on Lincecum. Certainly that is a credit to Lincecum and his tremendous ability, but it was also thanks to a crippling double play by Victorino — a guy who rarely grounds into double plays — and a truly horrific at-bat by Howard, one in which he got himself out as much as Lincecum did.

That sequence seemed to change the entire complexion of the game. Halladay started to fight his own command issues, missing his spots pretty badly in the zone. He gave up two hits in the 4th, and then in the 5th, up came Cody Ross again. Halladay uncharacteristically fell behind Ross 2-0, and for some unknown reason, he and Ruiz thought it would be a good idea to come inside with a fastball again. Roy didn't get it in far enough, instead throwing an identical pitch to the one Ross hit out in the 3rd, and wouldn't you know it, Cody Fucking Ross did it again.

It was the definition of a meatball. The type of pitch major league htiters don't miss. And it was the second time Halladay had thrown one, both to Cody Fucking Ross. The Phillies were losing 2-1 on two home runs by Cody Ross. The same Cody Ross who was in the lineup for Florida when Roy threw his perfect game. Unreal. The first one you could chalk up to a mistake and give Ross credit for capitalizing on it. The second one was flat out a horrible pitch. Horrible pitch selection, horrible location setup by Ruiz (inside) and horrible execution by Halladay. He threw the damn thing right down the middle for the second time, instead of staying away from Ross. And that was the biggest difference in Saturday night's game. When Halladay made a mistake pitch, threw a meatball, the San Francisco hitters didn't miss it. The Phillies meanwhile got themselves out on numerous occasions.

Besides Howard's horrific at-bat that helped kill the momentum the Phils had gotten when Ruiz tied the game, Jimmy Rollins got himself out in the 4th. After Lincecum walked Jayson Werth on four pitches to start the inning, he started Rollins off with a changeup that missed. Lincecum had just walked a guy on four straight pitches, had just thrown five straight balls out of the strike zone and was coming off a 3rd inning in which he was falling behind everyone and struggling to locate. So what does Rollins do on the second pitch? Swing away, of course, chasing a bad ball and giving himself a strike. Then he looked at one right down the middle for strike two and wound up flailing at a slider to get himself out, much like Howard did the inning before. That killed the rally before it even started, as Lincecum took care of the rest.

Still, as much as Halladay didn't quite look like himself and as frustrating as it was watching the Phils waste opportunities and give away at-bats, it was just a one-run game, and Lincecum didn't exactly look like he was at the top of his game either. Then disaster struck. After getting the first two batters in the 6h, Halladay gave up a two-out single to Buster Posey. No shame there. Posey has been a hitting machine ever since being called up. Up came Pat Burrell, who Roy had made look foolish by striking out on a pitch way outside. Halladay jumped ahead of Burrell 0-2, then threw a perfect cutter on the black that should have been strike three. Problem was, home plate umpire Derryl Cousins called it a ball. The very next pitch, Burrell hit a double — a double that should have actually been caught by Raul Ibanez, ending the inning; Raul jumped for absolutely no reason, losing the ball that hit him right in the glove — scoring Posey to make it 3-1, and then Doc gave up a single to Juan freakin Uribe up the middle to plate pinch-runner Nate Schlerholtz, 4-1.

Now listen, the pitch was a strike. We all know that. But it wasn't the first time on the night that Cousins squeezed either pitcher. There were several times Tim Lincecum was upset with calls he didn't get, and Roy was especially upset with this one to Burrell. But the truth of the matter is Cousins had a tight strike zone both ways all night, one that sort of floated a bit too. It's easy to blame Cousins, but the fact of the matter is that Lincecum was getting squeezed just as much, if not more all night long. Don't be mad at the ump on this one.

No, be mad, furious actually, at Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay. Ruiz was teammates with Pat Burrell for years. He knows his strengths and weaknesses as a hitter, or at least should. We all know the only pitch Pat Burrell can really do damage with is the one middle-in, and that he has always struggling with pitches away, especially off-speed ones. In an earlier at-bat, Halladay struck Burrell out and made him look foolish in the process by going away from him. But on that 1-2 pitch, Ruiz and Halladay decided to come middle in, it caught too much plate and Burrell smoked it. Yes, it should have been caught — and no matter how long of a run it was, it should have been caught — but the most egregious part was the pitch selection itself. Stupid, stupid call by Carlos and Roy. And as they did all night the Giants took advantage of the mistake. Burrell didn't miss the pitch, he ripped it. And it was the true turning point in the game.

The Phils did manage to make it interesting, getting both runs right back thanks to a single by Chase and a two-run home run by Jayson Werth, but those two great at-bats were surrounded by terrible ones. Howard struck out on three pitches following Utley's single, chasing a slider and then a changeup in the dirt. Then Rollins duplicated Howard's outcome, albeit on twice as many pitches, also whiffing on a changeup in the dirt.

As angry and frustrated as I was, when the Phils got to the bottom of the 9th still down just a run, I had a really good feeling. Brian Wilson is a really good closer. He's also the type of guy the Phillies have been known to slap around, a hard-throwing closer. I was saying the entire 8th inning, just get someone on for Gload, and he'll hit a walkoff. When Wilson hit Curbball with one out in the 9th, I was sure Gload was going to come through. I just knew it. And when he ripped a fastball foul, I thought he had at least gotten Ruiz to third, maybe home … only it was all sorts of foul. I was pissed, and when Gload struck out, I threw the waste basket in front of me off the ground … and it bounced unexpectedly toward one of our TVs, striking it pretty hard and shaking the picture. For a second, I thought I had broken the TV, and my roommates stared at me in horror. Thankfully, the TV came away unscathed, unlike the Phils, who fell behind in the series one game to none when Wilson retired Victorino with a strikeout, striking out the side in the 9th and recording all four outs he was asked to get via the strikeout.

It was a tough one to swallow. Neither Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum was on his game, but the Giants capitalized on Roy's mistakes much better than the Phils did on Lincecum's. The most maddening part was the way the Phils gave away at-bats. Ryan Howard struck out three times. So did Jimmy Rollins, who went 0-for-4 and looked so awful that I was calling for Wilson Valdez to start game 2. Shane wore an 0-for-5 collar with two K's. And Raul went hitless as well.

That game put a damper on my night, simply staying in and heading to bed relatively early. I had no desire to go out, no desire to even drink, despite numerous invitations. It's depressing how much playoff baseball affects my mood. I really wish it didn't.

While some people I know were proclaiming that the sky was falling with the loss, I still remained relatively optimistic if not disappointed in the outcomes. Certainly, the Phils couldn't afford to go down 0-2 at home, but this was just one game, and one game in which the Phillies saw that LIncecum was not invincible. I just wanted to get to Sunday, anticipating the Eagles-Falcons game as the appetizer and game 2 as the main course, with the delivery of our brand-new, insanely awesome couch as the dessert.

Despite going to bed fairly early on Saturday, I was still plenty tired Sunday morning … and I had to up at 10 a.m. to prepare for our couch delivery, which was supposed to be at the house between 10 and 1. I think you know where this is going.

Seeing as the Eagles were scheduled to kick off with the Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field at 1, I assumed the delivery truck would pull up right at 1, interrupting the beginning of the game. As Adam EatShit and I finished preparing the room for the couches that my roommate had already mostly taken care of, I got a call from Toonces asking me if I'd be interested in going to the Phils game. Of course I said yes. I hadn't seen Roy Oswalt pitch in person yet all season, much like I hadn't seen Cliff Lee pitch in person last year until the NLCS, and I'm undefeated in Phillies postseason games. I accepted the invite for the good of the team.

Anyway, to the surprise of no one, 1 o'clock rolls around and still no couch. Here we are, my one roommate lying on the floor, the other sitting against the wall and myself way back, sitting on one of the old couches, watching and waiting.

To our amazement, the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, both touchdowns coming on 30-plus-yard scores by DeSean Jackson. On the opening drive, Kevin Kolb hit Jeremy Maclin for 22 yards, and then Jackson took the ball 31 yards to the house on an end around. Two plays, seven points. After Matt Bryant missed a field goal for Atlanta, the Eagles gained 30 yards on the ground on four straight running plays, including a 13-yarder by DeSean, before Kolb threw a perfect strike to Jackson for a 34-yard touchdown, 14-0 Eagles. Everything seemed to be going Philadelhia's way, as the Birds were surprisingly dominating both lines of scrimmage and moving the ball with ease. Even King Dunlap looked good, and DeSean, who had not been targeted much by Kevin Kolb this year, doing most of his damage with Mike Vick at the helm, was having himself a huge game. Then this happened:

Talk about leaving your receiver out to dry. Dunta Robinson almost killed DeSean Jackson. I mean kill. I honestly thought DeSean was dead. I'm certain I've seen players get hit as hard as Jackson got hit there, but I don't think I've ever seen someone get hit any harder. It was quite a sobering moment. Such a promising game had hit a dark spot. The last thing any Eagles fan wants to see is their star receiver down for the count. And make no mistake, DeSean was down for the count, out cold. It wouldn't be surprised to here he's out until Thanksgiving.

The good news is that the Eagles continued to dominate. With DeSean down, Jeremy Maclin picked his game up. He scored on a 8-yard touchdown pass by Kolb, doing a tremendous job of working his way to back to the ball, and the Eagles had themselves a 21-0 lead, and looking for more. Moving the ball down the field before half, it looked as though Philadelphia was going to really put this thing away nice and early, either going up 24-0 or 28-0 as they marched toward Atlanta's end zone once again. But with 52 seconds left, Kolb threw a bad interception, and Atlanta moved right down the field in 38 seconds, scoring on a Tony Gonzalez TD. Instead of a commanding 24- or 28-point halftime lead, the Eagles were up only two scores.

Not only that, but our couch still hadn't come. Toonces, who had to pick up our Phils tickets at 2, beat the truck to my house. Between 10-1 became between 10-1:30, then 10-2, then 10-2:30 before finally, right as the second half was about to get underway, the truck pulled up.

As our couch was being brought in and set up, Atlanta added a field goal to make it 21-10. That's when the moment of truth really came for Kevin Kolb. He and the Eagles had looked so good before that interception. Now it was suddenly an 11-point game with all the momentum in Atlanta's favor. Would Kolb fold or rebound? He answered that question emphatically, immediately hitting Maclin for an 83-yard touchdown to answer the 10 straight points Atlanta had put up.

That was pretty much the game right there. Atlanta did get another touchdown, but the Eagles remained in control the whole way, holding on for a 31-17 victory to improve to 4-2 and keep pace with the Giants for first place in the NFC East. Kolb was terrific, completing 23 of 29 passes (79.3 percent) for 326 yards and three scores. He hit seven different receivers and was not shy about attacking down the field. DeSean was brilliant before he got murdered, and Maclin had one of the best games of his career, hauling in seven receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Both lines played extremely well, with Trent Cole as the standout defensively and King Dunlap of all people doing a very nice job on John Abraham. Asante had one pick and probably could have had a couple more. Darryl Tapp continued to impress, and the Eagles ran the ball 38 times for 154 yards, grinding down the clock in the second half with the lead. It was like watching a bizarro version of the Eagles.

The only lowlights for the Eagles were the injury to Jackson and the horrific three misses by David Akers, all wide left. You'd think he would have overcompensated and pulled that last one, but no. Akers was going to miss left and there was nothing anyone was going to do to stop him.

Of course the biggest story was Kevin Kolb and his tremendous play. He's now led the Eagles to two straight wins, looking very good the past two weeks. And because of that, we now have a full-fledged quarterback controversy once again in Philadelphia — Vick vs. Kolb.

WIP must be salivating over this. I, on the other hand, am just excited and surprised that the Birds sit at 4-2 and atop the division with not one but now two quarterback changes and a thrilling quarterback controversy hanging over everyone's head.

As fun as that Eagles game was, I'd be lying if I said it had my full attention. Besides awaiting the couch, the Phils game was what really occupied my brain. To help pass the time, Toonces and I went to Paesano's because he has never been. Yes, I ate from the same sandwich shop two days in row. They're that good. This time, I went with the Diavlo.

It was delicious. We ate the sandwiches at my house, watching the 4 o'clock games, then left for the ballpark a little before six. I asked Toonces where we sitting, and he said section 213. Thinking nothing of it, once we entered the stadium we realized that 213 was in fact the Hall of Fame section, only my second time ever sitting in that section. Since we had tons of time to kill, we walked around the Hall of Fame Club, checking out the sites and vast array of food selections, buying nothing but soda and some cheese fries.

Finally, game time was nearing, and I was getting pretty excited. Just watching Roy Oswalt stroll from the dugout to the outfield to stretch, you could tell the man was focused and ready to dominate. Sitting in front of us were two middle-aged gentlemen who showed up with two shots of whiskey each. Every time they got up, which was quite often, they came back with another alcoholic beverage — beer, vodka, whiskey, you name it. These guys were loaded, but surprisingly not obnoxious. Stunning, I know.

Anyway, Roy came out and retired the side in order, starting the game off by striking out Andres Torres on a high fastball, something that turned out to be a common theme on the night.

Meanwhile, typical Phillies kryptonite Jonathan Sanchez looked like the complete opposite of Oswalt. Though he did begin his night by striking out the leadoff hitter like Roy — getting Shane to go down looking — he walked Chase. Then Chase stole second, which was followed by a throwing error on Mike Fontenot on a grounder by Placido, putting runners on the corners with one out. Then Sanchez walked Howard, and was really having control issues. He did however strike out Jayson Werth looking for out No. 2, a huge out with the bases loaded and a terrible mistake by Werth. Now, from my vantage point (admittedly not the best on the first base line in section 213), the pitch Werth was called out on looked high. However, it was close, and he had two strikes, and the bases were loaded. You can't strike out there. Just can't. Especially looking. If you get your bat on the ball, chances are it scores a run. Instead, it turned into the second out with nothing to show for it.

Thankfully Jimmy Rollins was paying attention and learning from his mistakes in game 1. Seeing that Sanchez was wild, Jimmy was extremely patient at the dish and worked a bases-loaded walk, getting an RBI to put the Phils up 1-0. The bad part was that Raul followed that up by striking out, and the Phils really let Sanchez off the hook. Yeah, they did manage to score a run without a hit, but they also didn't make the Giants pay nearly enough for giving away an out and walking three guys. It was more of the same from game 1, not quite capitalizing on San Francisco's mistakes.

The good news this time around was that Oswalt wasn't making many mistakes for the Giants to capitalize on.

Roy cruised through the first four innings, striking out five Giants in the process and taking a no-hitter into the 5th. It's a good thing he did, because after that shaky first inning in which he threw 30-some pitches, Sanchez settled down. Only on a Howard ground-rule double in the 3rd and a Jimmy Rollins single that should have never been did another Phillie reach base before the 5th. Rollins hit a pop-up that was a simple, routine pop-up in front of the mound, clearly Fontenot's ball, but no one called it and it dropped. I can't believe a major league team allowed that to happen.

But then in the 5th, with the Phils still clinging to that 1-0 lead, up came Cody Fucking Ross with no one on and one out. For some unknown reason, Oswalt and Ruiz insisted on throwing Ross another fastball on the inner half, and for the third time in two games, Cody Fucking Ross launched a solo home run to left-center, tying the game.

I was beyond furious. Furious at Ruiz and Oswalt for that pitch. Furious for even throwing the guy a fastball, let alone one on the inside half of the plate. Just stay away from the guy. He's killing it right now. How could they possibly throw that pitch to him again? I was so fucking pissed. Cody Fucking Ross had the first hit of the game for the Giants for the second night in a row, and for the second night in a row it was a solo home run. Unbelievable. Game tied, and thousands of pissed fans. Here's a note to Carlos Ruiz and the rest of the Phillies pitchers for the remainder of the NLCS: STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM CODY FUCKING ROSS!!!!!!! NOTHING BUT OFF-SPEED PITCHES ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE PLATE!!!!! FUCKING JESUS TAPDANCING CHRIST!!!!

I really hate that guy.

Then Roy walked Fontenot, and I was ready to lose it. Luckily, he retired 8,000-year-old Edgar Renteria and then struck out Sanchez to end the inning. And even better, the Phillies played incredibly smart small ball to get that run right back in the bottom half of the inning.

Shane led off by slapping a double down the leftfield line, and I was pumped. Chase followed by smoking a deep fly to right, pulling the ball and allowing Shane to tag and get to third with less than two outs. Then Polanco smoked a deep fly ball to center, sacrificing himself to drive in Victorino, one-run lead restored.

From there, Oswalt was straight dealing. All night long, Roy was firing his fastball at 93-94 mph. His change was on, and his slow, looping curve was devastating. Even the slider was working for him. He struck out Torres for the third straight time on high heat, then got Huff and Posey after giving up a single to Freddy Sanchez. Even as Jonathan Sanchez was keeping pace, making Ibanez look foolish every at-bat and getting Werth and Ruiz to look helpless at times, it didn't matter. Oswalt was in complete command.

He struck out Pat Burrell to lead off the 7th, got Ross to fly out to center (though it was to really, really deep center, so deep and hard-hit that had it been to any other part of the park, it would have been another home run; seriously, stop giving this guy fastballs to hit!), and retired Fontenot himself on a grounder back to the mound.

Having sat down five straight Giants and 8 of nine batters following the walk to Fontenot in the 5th, Oswalt decided to take it upon himself to jump-start the offense again in the 7th by leading things off with a single and chasing Sanchez from the game. Yes, a Roy Oswalt single was ultimately the deciding factor on Sanchez's night. There's just something about Phillies pitchers hitting in October.

Victorino then bunted him along to second for the sacrifice, and the insurance run was in scoring position. The Giants elected to intentionally walk Utley to set up the double-play ball and get to Placido Polanco. That's when Polanco said intentionally walk this, hitting a single to center. I watched intently on whether or not Sam Perlozzo would send Oswalt. He had the stop sign up, but Roy ran right through it. As the throw came home, Aubrey Huff cut it off for some reason, and that split second it took Huff to transfer and fire home was enough for Oswalt to score, giving the Phils a 3-1 lead.

I went nuts, jumping so hard and so high that I hurt my knee. And I couldn't have cared less. Here was Roy Oswalt, getting a huge hit and scoring a gigantic run in a close NLCS game 2, one that the Phillies absolutely had to win. That was the spark the Phils were looking for. Ramon Ramirez's night was through. In came lefty Jeremy Affeldt to face Howard. Affeldt did strike Howard out, but not before Utley and Polanco stole third and second respectively. Afterward, the guy behind me, who had been killing Howard all night, screamed, "$18 million to strike out! You suck, Howard! You suck!" clearly forgetting about how, you know, Howard had completely carried the Phils to the World Series last year, and helped carry them to the postseason every year with enormous Septembers. Not to mention the fact the guy has actually been getting a few hits here in these playoffs.

Anyway, after Howard was retired for out No. 2, Affeldt intentionally walked Jayson Werth to load the bases for Jimmy Rollins, then was relieved by Casilla. Now, Rollins has had a horrific postseason at the plate thus far, routinely hitting a Jimmy or striking out. However, these are the types of moments Jimmy Rollins lives for, the type of situations where he thrives, especially against flame-throwers like Santiago Casilla or Jonathan Broxton.

Well, Rollins, despite all his struggles and horrible at-bats that had me calling for a return of Wilson Valdez, came through yet again, absolutely tattooing a bases-clearing double that iced the game.

Oswalt took care of the Giants in the 8th, striking out two more in the process to finish the night with 8 innings pitched, 9 strikeouts and just one run on three hits. Oh yeah, and a single and run scored for good measure. Ryan Madson came in and made it interesting in the 9th, struggling with his command, but got the job done. The 6-1 win was an emphatic statement by the Phils, a statement that they aren't dead just because of one loss.

The tough pill to swallow on Saturday may have been the Phils' first game 1 loss in the playoffs since their game 1 loss to the Rockis in 2007, but it's hardly a sign of a chink in this team's armor. This series is tied 1-1 heading to San Francisco will Cole Hamels taking the hill against Matt Cain, our California boy going back to his home state. A win for the Phils tomorrow and I'm not even sure this thing gets to Philadelphia. Just make sure not to give Cody Ross anything to hit. Fuck that guy.

Seven more wins.