Thursday, April 7, 2011

Opposite Day

Tuesday night was just about as miserable a night as it gets for Philadelphians. It was cold, uncomfortable and all three Philadelphia teams that played not only lost, but got embarrassed. Last night, the Phillies and Sixers had a chance to redeem themselves. As it turned out, they had polar opposite nights.

The Phillies were out for revenge after Tuesday's all-around awful 7-1 loss, while the Sixers had to rebound a night after losing to the Celtics convincingly in order to hold on to the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference.

As it turned out, the Phillies got off to a scorching start, scoring 7 runs in the first three innings to take a 7-0 lead. Joe Blanton worked out of a jam in the first when Jose Reyes led off with a bunt single, then stole second and advanced to third on a lazy backup play by Shane Victorino. Blanton proceeded to strike out Willie Harris and David Wright before getting Carlos Beltran to fly out, escaping the inning with no damage done.

From there, it was all Phillies for the next three innings, and it had the similar, but reversed, feeling as Tuesday's game. The Phils put the pressure on the Mets right in the first, with Shane Victorino leading off with a triple, Placido Polanco getting him home, Ryan Howard doubling and Ibanez singling Howard home. Then after another run in the 2nd, the third inning began to unfold a lot like New York's third inning Tuesday night. Howard, who is swinging an insanely hot bat to start the season, led off with a solo homer. Raul followed with his second hit of the game, Mike Pelfrey then walked Francisco, Pete Orr singled to load the bases and Pelfrey's night was done.

Taylor Buchholz came in for a big at-bat. If he could get Brian Schneider out, he then would face the pitcher and could see his way out of the inning with little or no damage. Unfortunately, Buchholz did just that with Schneider, striking him out with the bases loaded. Now suddenly there was one out and Joe Blanton in the batter's box. All I could envision was another strikeout or even worse a double play to end the inning with no runs. Instead, Blanton took a page out of Chris Young's book and pulled a single down the third base line, driving in Ibanez and Francisco.

And after Victorino struck out, Polanco singled in Orr to make it 7-0. The Phils got out to a red-hot start and looked to have the game in control.

Meanwhile, the Sixers were getting run off the court. The Knicks came in just a half game behind Philadelphia for 6th in the East, and they were determined to leave a half game up. The Knicks jumped out to a double-digit lead that hovered between 10 and 14 points seemingly all night, and the Sixers looked to be dead in the water.

Naturally, I decided to focus on the Phillies game, seeing as they were playing much better and looked destined for an easy victory, while the Sixers were down double digits and looked lifeless. But next thing I knew, the roles had completely reversed. Blanton, who had cruised through the first three innings, started to get sloppy, leaving damn near every pitch he threw up in the zone. The Mets responded by tagging him for two runs in the 4th, and then all of the sudden 5 more in the fifth. Just like that, the game was tied, a 7-0 lead completely gone.

Thankfully, the Phillies responded by getting two of those runs right back as Polanco and Howard — the two stars of the night for the Phils — each drove in a two-out run to make it 9-7. And after taking over for Joe Blanton, Antonio Bastardo pitched brilliantly. He did let one inherited runner score in the fifth, but then he was flawless from there, mowing down the Mets in the 6th and getting the game into the hands of J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras.

I really can't say enough about Bastardo's performance last night. If he can be counted on like that this season, the bullpen will be just fine.

As all of this was going on, I caught the Sixers-Knicks score on the bottom line. At first, I thought my eyes had deceived me. All night long, the score had read something to the effective of 76-62 New York. But now it read 87-86. I quickly told my roommate to flip over, and wouldn't you know it, the Sixers were down just a bucket with a couple minutes to go.

Just as the Mets had come all the way back from a huge deficit and tied it up, the Sixers came all the way back, and when I flipped over Jodie Meeks got a steal and exploded the other way, hitting a layup to give the Sixers a brief 88-87 lead. I couldn't believe it. Suddenly, it looked like the Sixers just might steal this thing.

But it wasn't meant to be. Just as the Phils had responded to the Mets' furious comeback, the Knicks countered the Sixers' blow. Toney Douglas of all people drained a huge three to give the Knicks a two-point lead. Then Jrue Holiday got blocked, and Thaddeus Young turned the ball over. The Sixers then fouled Douglas with 42.2 left. He hit both to put the Knicks up four, and the Sixers looked to be dead in the water again.

However, Andre Iguodala answered right back with a clutch three, a shot I thought had not shot going in, and just like that it was just a one-point game again. Maybe the Sixers could pull this off, I thought for a brief second. But Carmelo Anthony, far and away the best player on the floor last night, sank any of those dreams, answering Iggy's three with a three right back in Andre's grill with just 11.8 seconds left. That was all she wrote.

In the end, the Sixers dug themselves too deep of a hole, especially against a team with Carmelo Anthony. Toney Douglas made some huge clutch plays in the 4th, scoring 17 important points off the bench, but it was Carmelo who was the difference. Melo had a game-high 31 points and hauled in a game-high 11 rebounds. Even with Andre Iguodala playing hounding defense, he couldn't be stopped. And he hit the dagger in an enormous game, leading the Knicks back into 6th, a half game ahead of the Sixers.

It was a valiant comeback by the Sixers. Thaddeus Young was brilliant yet again, scoring a team-high 25 points and hauling in 7 rebounds, and Elton Brand was solid with his 24 and 9, but the Sixers just didn't quite have enough. Jrue Holiday, who has been very good this year and continues to grow, still struggles late in games. Last night, he was just 5-17 from the floor and made a terrible play getting his shot blocked late. Iguodala shot just 5-14, Meeks just 2-11 (0-8 from beyond), Hawes 0-5 and Turner 2-8. Without Lou, they were missing a much-needed shooter. And now they're back in 7th, right now matched up with the very same Boston team that destroyed them two nights ago. Of course, all that could change in the final three games, with the Sixers still just a half game behind the Knicks and the Celtics just a half game up on the Heat.

As the Sixers were failing in their bid for a comeback victory, the Phillies closed the curtain on New York's hope of having two big victories last night. Francisco added a solo homer to make it 10-7 Phils, and Romero, Madson and Contreras nailed down the win with little drama.

While Joe Blanton didn't have a good outing, the offense and bullpen more than made up for it. Bastardo, Romero, Madson and Contreras combined to give up zero runs and just two hits in four and two-thirds innings. And the offense put up 16 hits and 10 runs, led by Ryan Howard's 4-for-4, 2 RBI night that included two doubles and homer, and Placido Polanco's three hits and three RBIs. In all, the only starters without a hit were Brian Schneider and Jimmy Rollins. Victorino had a double and a triple. Francisco homered. And Raul even stole a base. It was a nice rebound victory for the Phils.

Just like it was a tough loss for the Sixers.

Last night was opposite day for the Phillies and Sixers in just about every capacity. The Phils jumped out to a big lead against a New York team, blew it, but then found a way to get the win. The Sixers fell behind big against a New York team, came storming back, but then couldn't finish off the comeback.

The Phils get another crack at the Mets today with Roy Halladay taking the mound at 3:05, while the Sixers must wait until Friday against Toronto to try and get back in the win column.

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