Down the Drain: OffenseDefense Costs Phillies Again

Down the Drain: OffenseDefense Costs Phillies Again

Love him or hate him, Chris Wheeler summed it up best just before tonight's winning run came across the plate in the top of the eleventh: "Nothing's comin' easy."

The Phillies took a three-run lead on a Jimmy Rollins blast in the second inning, then waited through an hour and seven minute rain delay before allowing it to drip away one frame at a time. The offense could not add to their total, Ryan Madson blew his first save of the season, and the club finally fell apart during extras when Placido Polanco failed to make a fairly routine play at third base to extend the game. Cubs steal one, 4-3.

Tonight's loss will be tough to swallow, as the Phils had every opportunity to play the role of finishers against a struggling ball club. Instead, Chicago kept coming back at the home team, and eventually outlasted them.

You Can Plan a Pretty Picnic, But You Can't Predict the Weather
The trouble began when the tarp came off the diamond. Kyle Kendrick, who had pitched well through three innings, was unable to return after the pause. From there, Charlie Manuel embarked on a mission to use every available arm, so by the time the tenth rolled around, the only remaining reliever was David Herndon.

Denys Baez went the farthest, giving the team a competent 2.2 innings after the delay. While he seems to have relished the longer appearances in recent weeks, Baez may have tired in the top of the sixth, plunking Darwin Barney with two outs to set up a Starlin Castro RBI single. Barney stole second, and scored when Domonic Brown's throw from right field took a wicked bounce that Dane Sardinha couldn't handle.

Romero, Stutes, and Bastardo combined for a scoreless 1.2, but Jose Contreras saw the lead cut to one on his watch after a pair of doubles by Castro and Carlos Pena in the eighth.

Madson Falters
In the ninth, Madson blew the save, but he nearly cost them the game entirely. After Geovany Soto took the closer deep to left center to knot the score at three, it appeared the very next batter gave the Cubs the lead. Tyler Colvin drove another bomb over the wall in right, but replays showed it may have been aided by a Phillies(?) fan. The umpires went inside for a replay session, and indeed wound up sending Colvin back to second base. Madson worked his way out of the inning after the gift.

Was fan interference the correct call? (take a closer look here) The guy clearly leaned over the fence, but I wasn't sure there was conclusive evidence that ball didn't have the distance. In any event, it gave the Phils a second chance, and the imbecile was escorted from the stadium, so at least that much was win-win.

Another Long Night
The Fightins had a shot to take the game in the tenth, but the depleted bullpen reared its ugly head. Shane Victorino drew a two-out walk, and Raul Ibanez reached on an infield single. That brought Brown to the plate, but with Herndon's spot up next, Cubs manager Mike Quade called for the intentional walk.

While Wilson Valdez was willing and able, Charlie left Herndon in the game and prayed for the best. A reliever with two career Major League at bats, Herndon swung meekly at strike three, and the threat was over.

Not Like This...
File under "Not Meant to Be."

Colvin led off the eleventh with softly hit ball up the first base line, which he nearly outran. Howard got to it with little time to spare, but couldn't get the pill out of his glove in time for a flip. It appeared as if Herndon might come unglued after the runner advanced when a passed ball got through Carlos Ruiz, but back-to-back K's pulled the situation back to manageable.

Barney grounded the ball down the third base line to a charging Polanco, who had what looked like a relatively easy play at first. Instead, the usually steady Polanco short-armed the throw, and Ryan Howard wasn't able to dig it out. Colvin came flying around third, easily scoring the game's decisive run.

Time to Point Fingers
There is plenty of blame to go around after a loss like this. One group at least that should be left off the hook is the Phils' pitching staff. Sure, the bullpen allowed some runs tonight, but they weren't actively bad. Madson was probably due, and the winning score flat out wasn't Herndon's fault.

You could question Manuel's frequent use of the bullpen, however. I hope they have plenty of Anytime minutes out there. Four pitchers didn't even get a full inning of work, and obviously it created problems later in the game, when instead of managing to win the game, he was forced to manage it not to lose. While the Phillies mulled their limited options, the Cubs still had plenty of arms ready to go deep into the night.

But ultimately you have to look at the everyday guys. The offense has long since been a source of discontent, and tonight they didn't record a hit for five innings. On top of it, a series of shoddy defensive plays directly resulted in the winning run coming across. It's enough not to hit, but if the sloppy execution in the field continues, even the Phillies' pitching won't be able to save them.

Ex-Penn State TE Brent Wilkerson gets probation for indecent assault

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Ex-Penn State TE Brent Wilkerson gets probation for indecent assault

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A former Penn State football player will serve five years' probation and register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to indecent assault.

Twenty-two-year-old Brent Wilkerson was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty in connection with a February outing to several bars with a young woman and others.

Police say Wilkerson was drunk but the woman was sober when he insisted on making sure she got home safe.

The woman tells police Wilkerson pushed her upstairs to her bedroom where he fell asleep. The woman says she went to bed later and woke up to find Wilkerson kissing and fondling her and fondling himself. He later apologized in a text message.

Wilkerson was kicked off the team in March. Court records say he lives in Clinton, Maryland.

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Embracing the playoff underdog role

Union-Toronto FC 5 things: Embracing the playoff underdog role

Union vs. Toronto FC
7:30 p.m. on ESPN2

Riding a seven-game winless run entering their first playoff match since 2011, the No. 6 Union (11-14-9) will attempt to hit the reset button and unseat the third-ranked and heavily favored Toronto FC (14-9-11) on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2) at BMO Field.

Here are five things to know:

1. Playing underdog
The struggling Union are happily accepting the role as underdogs against MLS Cup-hungry Toronto FC.

"It's a difficult task but it’s not impossible,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. "Not many people are giving us a chance. We've been a good team when we're considered the underdog and my guys have responded well in that situation. This is no different."

To fully embrace that underdog role, and in an attempt to wash away the stink of how they ended the regular season, the Union are treating Wednesday as a hard reset. For them, the playoffs will be a fresh chance to prove themselves.

“It’s a new season now,” said Union center back Ken Tribbett, who helped his club draw Toronto FC at BMO Field on Sept. 24. “In the playoffs, anything can happen. We go up to Toronto and it’ll be a good test. We have to stay sharp for 90 minutes and hopefully we can come back here with a win.”

And there is a reason to be slightly optimistic about the Union’s chance. Despite a 1-0-1 record against the Canadian side this season, the Union, who lost 3-1 in the first match, played much better on Sept. 24 at BMO Field. They clogged the midfield and ground the Sebastian Giovinco-less club into a 1-1 draw.

“It’s encouraging that we have gone there recently and played well,” Curtin said. “I think we have a group that has a belief, and one that is pissed a bit about how things have ended. They are motivated.”

2. Leaning on experience
While the 2016 Union will ultimately be known for their reliance on youth — a group that included Keegan Rosenberry, who has played every minute this season, Fabian Herbers, Josh Yaro and Ken Tribbett — it’s the veterans that will lead them on Wednesday.

“This is a pressure game for everybody,” Curtin said. “We have a good balance of guys who have played in big spots, like (Chris) Pontius, Tranquillo (Barnetta), (Alejandro) Bedoya. (C.J.) Sapong has played in big games, you can go through the list.”

Yet despite Curtin’s need for his veterans to lead, his reliance on youth means the younger players need to be reliable. The manager admitted that pressure can change how people play, and he is making sure the Union youth movement remains steady on Wednesday.

“We have young guys, there’s no question about it,” Curtin said. “These guys will play in their first playoff game and a lot of the guys on our roster have never been in a playoff game. You hope they rise to the occasion and I’m confident they will.”

3. Pressure on Toronto
Making their second-ever postseason appearance, high-priced Toronto FC has its sights set on bigger things than the Union in the play-in playoff round. That’s why Curtin believes the pressure is squarely on his opposition.

“I’d say the pressure is on them, they are the home team,” the manager said. “My guys should be loose, they have nothing to lose. It’s fair to say, they are the home team and they want to make a deep playoff run. We want to make some noise.”

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney knows his team will be excited, so he’s trying to instill a high intensity but controlled start for his club.

“We expect a little of the unexpected at the start,” he said. “The game settles down eventually, but at the start, there’s a lot of emotion into it and you want to play with the right kind of caution but the right kind of intensity to put the opposing team on their back foot.

“The guys are ready to go, ready to go after Philadelphia.”

4. Keep an eye on
Jozy Altidore: It would be easy to go with Giovinco here, but Altidore has a recent history of crushing the Union. He has two goals in his last three games against the Union and buried 10 in 23 games this season.

“Jozy is a guy who can stretch the field and is dangerous,” Curtin said. “He’s not a guy you can shut down, it’s not possible. He’ll have his moments, you just have to make those looks as predictable for (goalkeeper Andre Blake) as you can. You hope he’s a little off on the night.”

Tranquillo Barnetta: Without added inspiration, the Union offensive catalyst has been one of the club’s best players all season. On Wednesday, Curtin expects a little extra from Barnetta, who is not returning to the Union in 2017.

“I’ve talked a ton about how special he is, he’s been a great attribute for the Union and a guy we want to prolong the season for,” Curtin said. “He’s played in the big spots, the big games and there’s something extra there for him.” 

5. This and that
• On the injury front, Union center back Yaro sprained his MCL while returning from a concussion. “It’s a two-week injury,” Curtin said, “so it will be unfortunate he won’t be part of the Toronto game.”

Warren Creavalle is also fighting injury. The defensive midfielder left Sunday’s match with a rib injury but could be available for Wednesday. “It’s painful for him,” Curtin said. “He’s a tough kid and he wants to be a part of this game.”

• The Union and Toronto FC are deadlocked all time, with a 6-6-5 record against each other. 

• The Union are 2-4-3 at BMO Field.

• Both clubs enter Wednesday limping. Since August 27 (the Union’s last win), Toronto FC is 2-1-4, while the Union are 0-5-2.