Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Cold Night in Philadelphia

Yesterday, I was incredibly excited to take in my first live Phillies game of the season following the three-game sweep of the Astros over the weekend. I left work early, met up with Toonces, silver fox and a couple of other friends to tailgate and couldn't wait to see Cole Hamels take the mound against whoever the Mets' fourth starter was slated to be (turns out, Chris Young).

Coming off a near 80-degree day Monday and a fairly mild afternoon on Tuesday, I headed down to the stadium right from work with nothing more than a pair of pants, a T-shirt and a sweatshirt. I knew it was supposed to get colder, but I hadn't checked the forecast carefully enough. Because when I got off the subway and headed toward Toonces' car in the Linc parking lot, the wind was whipping. Big time. And it wouldn't relent as the temperature dropped. Needless to say, I was freezing.

However, the plan was to drink a few beers to warm ourselves up, head inside and prepare for a 4-0 start to the season. I should have known things weren't going to quite work out as I had hoped before I even stepped foot in the stadium. In the hopes of making my beer foam up and start to spew out of my bottle unless I chugged it, silver fox slammed the bottom of his beer bottle on the top of mine — a drinking tradition that never seems to get old. But instead of the intended outcome, the top of my bottle shattered.

With still nearly half a beer left, I thought nothing of it and decided to keep drinking. As anyone with a brain can deduce, that's not a smart idea, drinking from broken glass. Of course I cut my lip in three different places and began to bleed. Fantastic.

Right then and there, I should have known it was going to be a long night. I was cold, bleeding and about to get even colder.

When I got to my seat in section 301, the wind was gusting at an even greater pace, and the temperature was plummeting. To make matters worse, Cole gave up a leadoff single to Jose Reyes, then hit Angel Pagan. Then, Reyes and Pagan executed a double steal. Just a few pitches into my first game of the year, the Mets had two runners in scoring position and nobody out.

Thankfully Cole got out of it by striking out David Wright, getting Carlos Beltran to pop out and then striking out Scott Hairston, but the precedent had been set: Cole didn't have his good stuff.

It all came to a head in the third inning. After two uneventful at-bats by the Phillies and a perfect 2nd by Hamels, everything fell apart. Cole gave up a leadoff single to opposing starter Chris Young, and I couldn't contain myself, screaming, "Really, the fucking pitcher?" It only got worse from there. A bunt single, a walk, followed by a two-run single by Wright, and the wheels completely fell off. After Beltran struck out, Wright stole second. Then Pagan scored on a passed ball, Hamels walked Hairston, and Ike Davis and Brad Emaus got back-to-back singles to make it 5-0.

Then to put a capper on the whole thing, Cole surrendered a two-out single to Young to make it 6-0, the opposing pitcher's second hit of the god damn inning. Unreal.

My calls for Kyle Kendrick (yeah, it was that bad) were finally heard by Charlie, but the damage had been done. The Phillies were down 6-0, Cole lasted just 2 and 2/3, the opposing pitcher was getting all sorts of hits, I was freezing and the girls sitting next to us hated our guts because we were cold and cranky (and drunk) and yelling at Hamels. Not exactly the way I wanted to get my season viewing at Citizens Bank Park started.

When it was all said and done, the Phillies had created a miserable atmosphere last night made infinitely more miserable by the cold, windy weather. They lost the series opener to the hated Mets, and Cole was atrocious. That's nothing to be alarmed about after just one start and four games into the season, but it sure ruined my night.

Not even a cheesesteak run before I got home could lift my spirits much, especially when I walked in the door to my house and both the Sixers and Flyers were getting embarrassed.

Now, the Sixers' loss isn't very surprising or even discouraging. Yes, everyone would love to see them beat the Celtics with the playoffs right around the corner. There's no doubt about that. But the Celtics are clearly the better team, the Sixers were missing a key cog with Louis Williams out the rest of the regular season and frankly, the expectations aren't very high for the Sixers. Everyone is excited and happy that the team is headed back to the playoffs and that the Sixers are finally moving in the right direction. They're fun to watch, they play hard and Doug Collins has got them playing with more confidence than ever. But no one expects the Sixers to beat the Celtics, Heat or Bulls in the playoffs. And the Celtics were out to make a statement that they're still top dogs. So the 99-82 beating is what it is. At least Evan Turner had a good game.

But the Flyers are far more disconcerting. A 5-2 loss to drop two points behind the Capitals for first place in the Eastern Conference at this point in the season is downright awful. And honestly, that's probably the most appropriate word for the Flyers' play coming down the stretch.

I tried my best last week to convince myself that the Flyers will be just fine. In fact, I honestly believed that. Even with this extended slide, I just thought this team has been too good for too long this season, that it has too much depth both offensively and defensively, that the goaltending has played more good hockey than bad and would rebound. As my friends and those around me were getting worried, I felt like at some point, with Peter Laviolette manning the bench, these guys would turn things around and right the ship again.

I have to admit, that feeling is wavering. Do I believe the Flyers have as good a team as anyone in hockey still? Yes. Do I believe things will get better when (if?) Chris Pronger gets back? Yes. But I'm not nearly as confident as I was even just last week. Not with that embarrassing showing last night.

The Flyers have just two games left in the regular season, and for the first time in forever, they've truly lost the grip on first place. They are two points behind the Capitals and now just one point ahead of Pittsburgh. Two months ago, the Flyers looked like a lock to be the top seed in the East. Now they may not even win their own division, in serious danger of dropping down to fourth place.

Honestly, with the coaching change that took place last year, I didn't think this kind of thing would happen. Peter Laviolette just seems like the type of coach that would find a way to make his players learn from their past mistakes and finish strong in the regular season. But for the third straight year, the Flyers are faltering heading into the playoffs. Two seasons ago, it cost them home-ice advantage in the first round, and they were bounced rather easily by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Last season, their horrid play made them have to win a shootout on the final game of the regular season just to get in. That didn't hurt them in the postseason, as we all know, getting all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but you would think the team would learn its lesson.

It hasn't. The Flyers are stumbling into the playoffs for the third straight year. They're still in prime position to get home ice and maybe even get the top seed, but not with an effort like last night's. They'll have to play infinitely better at Buffalo on Friday and at home against the Islanders Saturday if they have any chance of reclaiming first and fending off the Penguins. They've let opportunity after opportunity to ice the top seed slip through their fingers the past two months. Now they're running out of chances.

The good news is that anything can happen once the playoffs start. It's a whole new season. We all know that. And hopefully the Flyers will be healthy and motivated to finish what they started last year. But I'd feel a whole lot better about their chances if they closed out the regular season with two resounding victories, or at least showing up with some fire and determination.

So basically, the complete opposite of last night, when Philadelphia fans were left out in the cold.

1 comment:

  1. turns out last night ended up sucking giant monkey nuts all the way around then. I was up at the stadium in the cold watching Soriano and Robertson gag up a 4-0 lead to the Twins and end up losing 5-4 in 10. Then having to hear a couple of fucking retarded Twinkies fans on the way out trying to talk shit on us only haveing to shut them up myself. That on top of hearing the news of Ryan Callahan breaking his ankle after blockin a Chara slap shot putting him out for the playoffs. All around i ended up going home sober, Pissed and cold.