Howard's End: Phils Pick Up Second Straight Series Win on a Walkoff

Howard's End: Phils Pick Up Second Straight Series Win on a Walkoff

After dispatching the Diamondbacks 3-0 on Saturday night, the Phillies won their second straight series with a 5-4 victory on Sunday. Cliff Lee ran into some trouble with the long ball but hung in for an eight-inning no-decision, allowing eight hits while striking out five. His bats swung back for him though, and the Phils made Arizona pay for walking Chase Utley to get to Ryan Howard with the bases loaded in the ninth. 
The D-Backs got out to an early lead on back-to-back homers in the second inning, but the skies weren't falling just yet. The Phils grabbed two back in the bottom of the frame, when John Mayberry Jr walked and was moved over on a Dom Brown double. JMjr would score on a wild pitch by Trevor Cahill before Erik Kratz roped a double to the wall in left, scoring Brown. 
Lee settled in and went through the Diamondbacks' lineup in short order, sending them down 1-2-3 in three straight innings. In the bottom of the fifth, Utley tied it up on a trademark chop swing homer to right. The Phils couldn't take the lead as Howard and Mayberry each grounded out, and in the top of the sixth, Arizona struck with another home run. Lee limited the damage by inducing a double play after Justin Upton got on, then got Stephen Drew to fly out and end the threat. Neither team would reach base over the next two innings, but the Phillies weren't ready to call it a weekend. 
Down a run in the bottom of the eighth, Utley and Howard put up two quick outs before Arizona pitcher David Hernandez got into more trouble than you usually see without the ball leaving the infield. JMjr got aboard with an infield single, then reached second on another fortuitous Arizona wild pitch. Dom Brown chipped a hit back at Hernandez, who chased the ball down and hastily threw it toward first, trying to beat the hustling Brown. The ball hit Brown (no pegs!), and Mayberry charged home and "beat" a throw from first base (umps owed him one), tying things up. The rough inning wasn't over for Hernandez, who was charged with another wild pitch, advancing Brown to second. Kratz singled him to third, but Takashi Saito was able to get pinch hitter Jimmy Rollins to fly out and end the threat. 
Jonathan Papelbon entered with the game tied in the top of the ninth. Justin Upton opened the inning with a single, but Jimmy, Chase, Ryan turned a WFC double play to clear the bases on the next at bat. Papelbon then gave up a walk to Drew, who moved to second when Michael Montero reached base on an error by Howard. Fortunately, Papelbon got pinch hitter Gerardo Parra to ground out. 
Josh Collmenter came in for Arizona with Juan Pierre leading off as a pinch hitter for Papelbon. Pierre singled to center, then reached second on a Nate Schierholtz sac. Laynce Nix PH'd for Kevin Frandsen and gave Charlie Manuel his second substitute hit of the inning, singling to right and moving Pierre to third. With Nix and Pierre on, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson called for the intentional walk to Utley, loading the bags for Howard. 
Howard's afternoon at that point included a three-strikeout, 0-4 performance, an error, and some boos. He had only three hits in his previous 28 at bats. Gibson probably wouldn't want to have to make the decision he faced in the bottom of the ninth again any time soon, but if he did, he'd probably do the same thing given everything he'd seen so far. It's not an enviable position. 
With the bags loaded and the outfield deep, Howard laced a single into right, bringing Pierre home to give the Phils a win. 
There were some nervous moments, beginning with the early home run trouble for Lee, but the Phils took advantage of late miscues and misfortunes for the Diamondbacks and ultimately a huge hit by a guy who really needed to see one. 
NotesThe Phillies held a moment of silence for Garrett Reid before the game, displaying his picture on the video board.
Braves come to town next… A third straight series win won't come easy.  
Nice Mets-Phillies reference in last night's The Newsroom. U-S-A.
Unrelated but still important question: How much would you pay for a bucket of beers at the table right in front of Billy Ocean?

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).