Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Blowout, a Blown Save, a Protest and Cliff Lee

This Labor Day weekend had a whole lot of stuff you don't normally see — a Penn State kicker missing two field goals and an extra point, a blown save by the Phillies and a game played under protest — as well as the expected Cliff Lee dominance.

Things began normally with the Phillies opening their series with the Marlins by winning 5-3 thanks in large part to John Mayberry's two-run home run and three RBI night, continuing to hit the shit out of the ball. But beginning on Saturday, the abnormal started to take over.

In fact, the out-of-the-ordinary occurrences kicked off right from the opening kickoff for Penn State's 2011 season, with Chaz Powell taking the ball back 95 yards for a touchdown on the very first play of the season.

I honestly couldn't tell you the last time I saw Penn State return the opening kickoff of the season for a touchdown. Pretty nice way to start your season, even if it was against Indiana State.

As for the rest of the game, it's incredibly hard to take anything away from a 41-7 blowout against a vastly inferior team. In fact, the only thing to really take away is that red-shirt junior kicker Evan Lewis should never be allowed to kick another football in his life. Lewis got the start over expected kicker Anthony Fera because Fera has been buried deep in Joe Paterno's doghouse. The problem is, Lewis has a weak, inaccurate leg that probably wouldn't even earn him starting status on most good high school teams. He missed both his field goal attempts — from 38 and 47 yards — and even missed a freakin extra point, not to mention that he was routinely getting his kickoffs no farther than the 15, often at the 20.

He may very well be an excellent guy, but Evan Lewis is not a Division I kicker. He just isn't. Penn State simply cannot afford to have him kick against Alabama next week, or the the defending national champs will be starting damn near every possession at midfield.

If Fera's indiscretions are too serious to allow him back on the field, at least go with freshman Sam Ficken on Saturday. At least he made his extra-point attempt and kicked off farther than Lewis.

Other than that, it was good to see Penn State handle Indiana State so easily. The defense was outstanding, with the defensive line getting tons of pressure, and it was really nice to see the offensive line dominate in run blocking, which allowed Silas Redd to gain 104 yards on just 12 carries. If you remember last year, the Penn State offensive line struggled to run block even against the bad teams it played, so it was nice to see them create huge holes and get a big push. Also, Silas Redd is definitely going to be special. You can just see it.

As for the quarterbacks, no one really stood out, though Rob Bolden's numbers were hindered by tons of drops. On the first drive alone, Bolden threw a perfect deep ball to Derek Moye that Moye dropped, another difficult throw with a man in his face to Justin Brown that Brown couldn't quite adjust on and didn't make any terrible decisions. Matt McGloin had a better statistical day, but he made me cringe by throwing at least three balls that should have been picked off, especially an atrocious one right to a defensive lineman as he was being wrapped up.

Say what you want about Bolden, but the guy does not just toss ill-advised throws to the opposition the way McGloin does. I'd start him next week against Bama just like last year and go from there.

Anyway, like I said, kinda hard to take too much away from the game, so here are the highlights.

A few hours later, and then an hour or so after it was supposed to start, the Phils and Marlins finally got underway after a rain delay. Cole Hamels did his job, going seven innings, surrendering just four hits and three runs while driving in a run himself and leaving with the lead. Then another rare happenstance occurred, with Antonio Bastardo, easily the Phillies' bullpen MVP this season, couldn't throw a strike, walking both batters he faced in the 8th before being lifted for David Herndon. Then Herndon gave up a three-run home run to Gaby Sanchez, and two more solo shots for good measure as the Phils lost 8-4 thanks to the blown save and loss by Bastardo and Herndon. Ugly.

But of course, nothing could prepare us for what occurred on Saturday, with the Phillies losing 5-4 while playing a game under protest.

Obviously, everyone knows what happened at this point.

We could argue until we're blue in the face as to the merits of using instant replay in this instance, and we certainly can all agree that Joe West is a bona fide asshole. He always has been and always will be. Every time he umpires a Phillies game, I always remember when Lenny Dykstra once asked Joe West to move slightly off the first base line so Dykstra could see something, probably his first base coach, more clearly, and West flatly refusing. I just had that guy.

But ultimately, whether or not instant replay should have been used (it shouldn't have), the call was the correct one. A Phillies fan clearly interfered with Bryan Petersen as he tried to make the catch. That's indisputable. So by rule, Hunter Pence was called out and Ryan Howard was forced to go back to first. Fine. Whatever.

Here's my biggest problem with the whole thing, and I have to give credit to silver fox for pointing this out: If the rule is that the batter is automatically out on a fan interference play, why wouldn't fans always try to interfere with plays within their reach when the opposition is batting? Think about it, if a batter is automatically out on fan interference, conceivably every time a ball looks like it may drop for a hit near the fence, a fan could reach over and get in the fielder's way, thus the batter is out. What's stopping fans from becoming a part of the outcome with that rule? It's a flawed rule that should be changed some how, though admittedly I'm not sure how. Awarding a ground-rule double poses the same problem, only for the opposite side. What I do know is that the batter shouldn't be punished just like the fielder shouldn't for fan interference.

Also, this.

Maybe Major League Baseball should look into a rule where seats have to be so far away from the outfield fence so things like this don't happen. I don't really know the solution, but I do know that that play sucked for Hunter Pence and the Phillies and certainly affected the outcome of the game.

Having said that, the Phillies most definitely didn't lose because of that game. In actuality, they win that game if Roy Halladay catches the flip from Ryan Howard that he dropped. The play was screwed up from the start because Roy didn't break off the mound right away to cover first, but even with that, Howard gave Roy a good toss, but Halladay just dropped it. If he catches it, Sanchez doesn't score and the game probably never goes to extras.

Also, they win the game if the bullpen could just hold the lead that Ryan Howard gave them with his huge two-out, two-run single in the 7th. But it couldn't because for some reason Bastardo was unavailable after facing just two batters the night before, which makes absolutely no sense to me given that the Phillies bullpen has thrown the least amount of innings in baseball. Michael Schwimer showed why he isn't really a big leaguer, walking three and surrendering a hit to allow Florida to tie it, and from there it was the game that would never end.

David Herndon, who would turn out to be the goat for the second day in a row thanks to his bases-loaded walk in the 14th to end the game, deserves a little slack. For starters, Herndon shouldn't be in position to throw as much as he has lately, but with Kendrick on paternity leave and Bastardo unavailable, he was forced to go once Brad Lidge and Michael Stutes did their jobs. And while that 2-1 pitch to Mike Cameron in that final at-bat was without a shadow of a doubt a strike, changing the entire complexion of that at-bat, really it was inevitable that Florida was going to win that game.

Herndon was skating around trouble every single inning, while the Phils weren't threatening at all in extras. I mean, Herndon walked 7 guys, five of them intentionally, and was getting hit hard, albeit at his fielders, especially drawn-in outfielders. Sooner or later, the Marlins were going to get someone home, and they did.

Talk about a wild weekend. Thankfully, Cliff Lee was there to restore order last night, pitching his sixth freaking complete-game shutout of the season and most definitely entering the Cy Young discussion as the Phillies destroyed the Braves 9-0.

Lee gave up just 5 hits while striking out 6 and walking no one in his league-leading 6th shutout, shutting up Chipper Jones and his stupid old mouth in the process. He also continued to be awesome at hitting, going 1-for-4 with a run scored.

Meanwhile, the offense pummeled Derek Lowe, with the 2-5 hitters going 8-for-16 with 6 runs scored and 5 RBIs, including a home run by Howard and three RBIs by Pence.

Cliff Lee, for real.

1 comment:

  1. "I honestly couldn't tell you the last time I saw Penn State return the opening kickoff of the season for a touchdown."

    Well, it wasn't technically the "opening kickoff of the season," but Powell did it last year to open the 2nd half against Youngstown State. If the opening coin flip had gone the other way, maybe Chaz would be the answer to a trivia question.