Dom Brown Delivers With Ninth-Inning Walkoff, Makes Jonathan Papelbon Very Happy

Dom Brown Delivers With Ninth-Inning Walkoff, Makes Jonathan Papelbon Very Happy

This one had "bummer" written all over it. The Phillies scrapped to a 4-2 lead through five, and Antonio Bastardo cleaned up a Mike Adams-induced eighth inning jam to get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon in the 9th with a one-run lead still in tact. Pap's perfect season looked to remain in tact with an easy first two outs and an 0-2 count on Nats pinch-hitter Chad Tracy, a .141 hitter to that point. But wouldn't you know it? That darned Tracy clocked a fly ball just over the wall in right, and Pap had his first blown save of the season, another back-breaker in a recent stretch of tough baseball for the Philly Phaithful.

However, a leadoff hit from Ben Revere in the bottom of the ninth, and a well-executed hit-and-run on a Jimmy Rollins single, and suddenly the Phils had a chance to let Papelbon off the hook. Domonic Brown would do just that, delivering a base knock up the middle with two outs to score Revere, and getting Pap his first W--his first decision of any kind, actually--on the season. Final score: Phils 5, Nats 4.

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Though the shaky bullpen work robbed him of his first win in a Phillies uniform, John Lannan overcame a shaky start to give the Phils five solid innings of work, allowing just two runs on six innings and a walk--about as good an outing as we could expect from our fifth (sixth?) starter against his old ballclub in his first game since going down with a knee injury. Michael Stutes held down the fort with two innings of spotless work, before Adams and Papelbon gummed up the works late.

The real heroics of the night came on the other side of the ball, particularly from the aforementioned Revere and the forever-streaky Ryan Howard. Ben Revere is in the midst of easily the best stretch of his thusfar shaky debut season for the Phils, going 2-5 tonight with a steal and the game-winning run, stretching his hit streak to eight games, double the length of any other such streak he's had as a Phillie. As a leadoff guy who doesn't walk much and basically hits for zero power, Revere has to at least hit near .300 to be any kind of useful to the club, so it's encouraging to see him at least get up into the mid-.270s after spending much of the season struggling to even get to the quarter mark.

Howard was undoubtedly player of the game, however, going 3-3 with a walk and a homer--his first for the month of June, somewhat depressingly. Though Howard's power has been disturbingly sapped of late, he's still seeing the ball remarkably well, hitting .346 for the month with nine walks, after hitting just .254 with ten walks total for the season before June. He may not ever be the home-run masher that he was in the late '00s again, but as long as he's squaring up the ball this consistently, drawing walks and not striking out too much (under one K a game for the month, no small feat for Ryno), he can still be a net positive for the team offensively.

And while you might not say Dom busted out of his mini-slump this game--any game where he doesn't homer is still something of a subconscious disappointment at this point--he certainly had his most productive outing in a while. After going seven games without collecting multiple hits, Dom went 2-4 tonight with another walk--his ninth this month, after going all of May without a BB--including the game-winning hit. He did have a rough bases-loaded punchout in the third inning, which ended in the ugliest swing-and-miss third strike we've seen from the Domonator since his hot streak commenced last month, but it's still mostly good swings for Dom, and hey, any night at the plate that ends with you being tackled by Jon Papelbon and whip-creamed by Freddy Galvis is a pretty good night.

One final note on this one: Charlie Manuel again substituted Michael Martinez for Ryan Howard on the basepaths late in this one, with Howard on second with no outs and a 4-3 lead, and it again came back to bite the Phils as Martinez was left stranded at second, and Howard's batting spot came up in a critical moment in the ninth, with Charlie forced to go with the super-sparingly-used reserve Steve Lerud at the plate, rather than the guy who went 3-3 with a homer and a walk in his first four PAs. Lerud quickly whiffed, failing to cash in Ben Revere from third, and Dom was left to save the day with two outs. I understand why Charlie goes with those late-game substitutions, but I never like it, and hopefully another night like tonight will convince him that the risk really outweighs the reward when it comes to pinch-running for your big bats late in the game.

Anyway, a good early blow for the Phils in this NL East three-gamer, bringing the Phils back within a game of Washington for second in the division. Cliff Lee takes the hill tomorrow night against Ross Detwiler with a chance to pull the Phils to even--though I doubt many would have guessed at season's start that the two teams would be vying for second in the East with a couple of sub-.500 records. We'd take it for now, anyway.


Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Eagles (3-2) return home Sunday for the first time in nearly a month and welcome a familiar face to the confines of Lincoln Financial Field. 

Sam Bradford and the Vikings (5-0) will come to Philadelphia fresh off a Week 6 bye and, most notably, as the league's lone unbeaten team. Minnesota boasts one of the league's top defenses, ranking first in points allowed (12.6 per game) and second in yards allowed (287.6 per game), and is looking to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2009.

The last time these two franchises met was back in December 2013, when Matt Cassell and the Vikings put up 48 points in a win over Chip Kelly's Eagles.

To get a better handle on this year's Vikings, here's what they're saying about the Eagles' Week 7 opponent.

Brian Robison poses yet another challenge for Big V
Making his NFL debut in a start against the Redskins last week, Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled mightily. Ryan Kerrigan beat Vaitai and got to Carson Wentz for 2½ sacks, all of which came in the first half.

It won't get any easier for the rookie right tackle this week either, as he'll likely be lined up against Brian Robison for most of the afternoon. Robison has four sacks and two forced fumbles on the season and, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, the versatile 10-year defensive end could be difference maker on the defensive side of the ball Sunday.

"Whether his hand is in the turf at left end or he’s standing over a guard or center as the defensive tackle, Robison could be dropping back to cover a tight end or running back," Krammer wrote. "At the line, he’s given responsibilities to call stunts or twists depending on their own play call. Sometimes he’s setting the pick to free another teammate. ... And on Sunday against the Eagles and their rookie right tackle, keep an eye on Robison when he lines up at his traditional spot of left end. All four of his sacks this season, including two strip-sacks, have come from there."

Makeshift offensive line remains a question mark
The Vikings may be undefeated, but by no means are they made up of perfect parts. As the midway point of the NFL season approaches, Minnesota's injury-battered offensive line is still a work in progress. 

Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are both sidelined with season-ending injuries. Starting guard Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion Week 5 against the Texans, but is expected to return against the Eagles. Center is the only position on the line the Vikings haven't had to replace because of an injury at some point this season.

But despite the constant changes up front, Minnesota has been stout overall in protecting the quarterback, allowing eight sacks and 27 quarterback hits across five games. According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, the performance of that makeshift offensive line is going to be key in the Vikings' potential success down the road. 

"What’s best for Bradford and the Vikings’ standing as the NFC’s top dog is better pass protection," Murphy wrote. "He was sacked twice when Houston defenders turnstiled Clemmings and hit hard in the pocket other times. ... Offensive line intrigue never is a sexy storyline, but how well the Vikings manage the unit week to week figures to be an underlying factor to their continued success."

Strong away from home
The Vikings are a just a few years removed from going winless on the road, finishing 0-7-1 away from home in the 2013 season. Minnesota secured wins in only two of its first 10 away games under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, but have since gone on a tear.

Minnesota has won seven of its last eight road games dating back to last season and, in their most recent game away from U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings took down the Panthers, 22-10, in Week 3. A testament of a true contender is having the ability to win consistently on the road, which holds true with the Vikings.

According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings' vast improvement over the past two-plus seasons has contributed to them becoming a stronger team away from home.

"Facing a tough opposing crowd once was a tall order for the Vikings, but it’s much less of one now. After being one of the worse road teams in the NFL earlier this decade, they’re now one of the best," Tomasson wrote. "Overall, the Vikings have improved, having gone from 7-9 in 2014 to 11-5 last season to 5-0 this year. That’s the main reason the road record has gotten so much better. Still, players say the continuity the team has had has especially helped when entering rugged road environments."

While Vegas has the Vikings as light favorites on the road, national experts have them heavily favored straight up to hand the Eagles their third straight loss.

ESPN: All nine experts picked the Vikings

CBS Sports: Seven of eight experts picked the Vikings

FOX Sports: Three of five experts picked the Vikings 

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Flyers Skate Update: Ivan Provorov has a new partner

Ivan Provorov has a new partner.

Provorov will be paired with Brandon Manning on Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, a changeup from the first four games of the season. Mark Streit drops to the third pair with Nick Schultz, a tandem that worked together most of last season.

"We're going to change them up," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said after the team's morning skate. "We're going to look at a couple of different things. Some of the combinations are some familiar ones, such as Streiter-Schultz. They played a lot of minutes together last year. It's a move that we want to take a look at."

The Provorov-Manning pair is an interesting one. It should allow the 19-year-old to activate more in the offensive zone with Manning playing positionally sound. Manning has played with an extra edge thus far, showcasing a far more aggressive brand of hockey than he's shown previously with the orange and black.

With Streit, an offensive-minded blueliner, Provorov had to cover for his partner. Provorov also ran into some tough luck situations, too. Now with Manning, Provorov has the handcuffs off a little bit. Manning plays well positionally and while he has been more aggressive, he knows when to stay back, which will help Provorov.

It's another adjustment for the rookie. Through four games, he said, there haven't been any surprises in terms of his expectations for how the NHL game plays.

"I think what I expected is what I got," Provorov said. "It's the best league in the world, you expect all four lines to be great, you expect fast pace, physical game and that's what I got. I'm still learning, but I'm trying to do better as the games go on."

Provorov has one assist this season and enters Saturday as a minus-5, largely because of the Chicago game Tuesday. Hakstol praised Provorov's maturity level and ability to self-evaluate. What he hasn't done with Provorov is talk about numbers.

"There are some meaning in stats and we take the meaningful areas and apply those," Hakstol said. "But I haven't talked to any of the young guys about their statistics. We're four games in. I don't make too much of statistics right now. We're evaluating day-to-day play and looking at areas that we can use as strengths and areas individually we can improve."

Starting slow
If there has been one common theme through the first four games, it's the Flyers' poor starts. In first periods this season, they've been outscored, 6-1 (see game notes).

On Thursday night, the Flyers again came out of the gates slow. It was their first game back after a season-opening road trip out West, which Jakub Voracek said was a factor.

Voracek, who has four assists, said the burden falls on the individual player to focus on the small details and avoid committing mistakes.

"As a player, if you don't have that extra step, you just have to keep it simple," he said. "It's going to come around. The first 10 minutes, you have to make sure you don't make mistakes and I think that we were trying to do too much if we weren't feeling right. It showed last game against Anaheim. We were a half-a-step slower."

Four games isn't a large enough sample size for Hakstol to make a definite statement on the Flyers' first-period woes. The second-year coach said he'll have a better understanding where his team is at after the Carolina game.

"I think we'll answer that question after the start tonight," Hakstol said. "I think we'll get a fair evaluation of our starts after our start tonight, and if we have a problem, we'll know it after tonight. If we don't, we'll know that as well.

"Pretty clear, crystal clear, black and white in my mind. Tonight should tell else what type of team we are at the start of the hockey game."

Projected Flyers Lineup
F: Brayden Schenn-Claude Giroux-Wayne Simmonds

Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek

Nick Cousins-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Matt Read

Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov

D: Andrew MacDonald-Shayne Gostisbehere

Ivan Provorov-Brandon Manning

Nick Schultz-Mark Streit

G: Steve Mason