Phils Get Back to .500, Cole Wins, Dom Homers, Everyone Happy Forever

Phils Get Back to .500, Cole Wins, Dom Homers, Everyone Happy Forever

A dicey game for about six-and-a-half innings there--especially if you were squatting behind home plate--was redeemed in the seventh inning today when the Phils exploded for five runs, all with two outs, off Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos. The Phillies easily held on in the last two frames to get a 6-1 win that makes for all sorts of team benchmarks: Their first home sweep of the year, their first four-game winning streak of the year, and of course, their first time this season with as many wins as losses since they were 6-6 on April 14th.

The biggest personal vindication of the afternoon goes to Colbert Michael Hamels, who had easily his best start of the season (though truth told, all his Miami starts have been pretty good--six runs in 27 innings, with 32 strikeouts and just four walks between his four outings this year) with a final line of 7 IP, 4H, 1ER, 1BB and a season-high 11 K's. Best of all, the Phils' offensive unshackling came just in time to count towards Cole's decision for the game, resulting in his long-delayed second W of the season, his first since April 28th. I don't want to call it a "Vintage Cole" outing because I want to believe this was more of a return to form than a flashback, but in any event, it was fun to watch our ace pitching like one.

And after going hitless in his last eight at bats--a biblical drought considering the tear he'd been on--the Downtown Dom Brown watch was back in full effect in the sixth inning tonight, when Marlins reliever A.J. Ramos generously hung a 3-1 changeup over the outside of the plate to Dom, and he belted it to right for an easy round-tripper. The best thing about it for me was how damn predictable it was--men on base, Phils with the lead, a 3-1 count and a shaky righty reliever on the mound, of course Dom was gonna homer to right. I mean seriously, doesn't this Ramos dude watch MLB Tonight? This be what Dom Brown do.

And in case you need happy funtime stat reminders, it's Domonic's NL-leading 18th homer of the season--Justin Upton is now four back in second place with his 14, and Dom now only trails Chris Davis' 20 for the lead in all of baseball--and his 10th in his last 12 games. With only one dinger today and zero yesterday, though, Dom is really starting to lag behind the homer-a-game pace he's set out for himself, so he should probably make up some ground by going yard thrice tomorrow night against the Brewers. Otherwise he might be spending the whole year playing catchup.

Aside from Dom and Cole, big kudos today go to Ryan "Big Legs" Howard, who again went for the triple today on a drive to right-center and actually got there this time. ("I thought, 'Oh no, not again,'" was Charlie's answer when asked his reaction to Ryno going for three.) And the whole inning was broken wide by Jimmy Rollins, whose single scored Delmon Young for the go-ahead run. J-Roll is also in the midst of maybe the best stretch of his career seeing the ball--though batting third in front of Ryan and Domonic might be helping with that--walking 12 times in his last ten games, after walking just 12 times in the 50 games before that. OBP has always been a concern with Rollins, so it's good to see him doing his part to give Ryan and Dom actual runs to bat in.

Oh, and because it's what anyone who didn't care about the actual outcome of this game is likely going to be talking about, it's probably worth mentioning that umpire John Hirschbeck took one in the wrist in the seventh and laid on the ground for several minutes afterwards, resulting in a 20-plus-minute delay and Jim Reynolds replacing Hirschbeck behind the place. Weird moment at the ballpark that halted what was otherwise a very quick-moving game, but the Phils commenced their rally shortly thereafter, so it looks like Charlie's "Win One For Hirschy" motivational ploy worked. Thanks John!

In Milwaukee tomorrow night for the first of a four-gamer, hopefully which will go better than the last time the Brewers were in town. Unrealistic to expect all four going this well, anyway--nine hits for the game, and one for each slot in the lineup (the eight position starters and Delmon Young as a pinch-hitter). Throw in the afternoon setting and gorgeous weather, and baseball will rarely be as utopian as this.

NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

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NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After 25 years, the San Jose Sharks will finally play for the Stanley Cup.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward added two of his own and the Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

Joonas Donskoi also scored, Logan Couture had an empty-netter and Martin Jones made 24 saves as a Sharks team notorious for postseason letdowns will now play for the championship that has eluded stars such as Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for so many years.

Thornton assisted on Pavelski's goal less than four minutes into the game to set the tone and Marleau had two assists in the third period that set off chants of "We Want The Cup! We Want The Cup!"

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final will be Monday night. The Sharks will either host Tampa Bay or visit Pittsburgh, depending on which team wins Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

With the loss, the Blues' postseason woes continue as the franchise still seeks its first championship and first trip to the Cup final since 1970. Coach Ken Hitchcock's second goalie change of the series did not work as Brian Elliott allowed four goals on 26 shots in his return to the net.

Vladimir Tarasenko, a 40-goal scorer in the regular season, got his first points of the series when he scored twice in the third period but it was too late for the Blues, who still trailed 4-2.

Despite making the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons and winning the second most games in the NHL since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Sharks have been known for their soul-crushing playoff disappointments.

They won just three games in three previous trips to the conference final, were knocked out twice in four seasons by an eighth seed and most notably blew a 3-0 series lead to lose in the first round to Los Angeles in 2014.

The impact of that loss lasted for an entire year as San Jose missed the playoffs entirely last season. But led by first-year coach Peter DeBoer and bolstered by some key acquisitions by general manager Doug Wilson, the Sharks recovered this year and are now only four wins away from a championship.

This was the first time in San Jose's history that the team played with a trip to the Stanley Cup final on the line. The atmosphere in the Shark Tank reflected the high stakes with the fans at a frenzy during pregame introductions and the "Let's Go Sharks!" chants starting soon after the puck dropped.

The Sharks fed off that energy and were buzzing early as Hitchcock predicted before the game. St. Louis nearly silenced the crowd when Alexander Steen got a chance in the slot early in the period but Jones robbed him with a glove save.

That led to a breakaway for Thornton, who missed the net on his chance. But Pavelski recovered the puck behind the net and before Elliott knew what was happening, Pavelski tucked the puck in on a wraparound for his NHL-leading 13th goal of the playoffs.

San Jose added to the lead early in the second when Ward tipped a point shot from Brent Burns past Elliott to make it 2-0.

The Sharks had a chance to add to it when Scottie Upshall was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty. But the Blues managed to kill San Jose's potent power play and started to take over the play after that. They couldn't get a goal the rest of the period, however, as San Jose kept them mostly to the outside and Jones made a great pad save against Jori Lehtera.

Ward's second goal and another by Donskoi in the third period removed any drama and allowed the fans to celebrate.

Notes
Marleau played his 165th career playoff game, the most ever for someone who never played in the finals. Thornton is next on the list with 150 games, followed by Curtis Joseph with 133. ... The only franchise that has played longer than San Jose without going to a Cup final is Arizona, which began NHL play as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979-80.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- Back home, the Cavaliers were not hospitable.

They rudely roughed up the Raptors again.

LeBron James scored 23 points then sat the fourth quarter, Kevin Love scored 25, and Cleveland unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

On their court in front of 20,000-plus screaming fans following two straight losses in Canada, the Cavs opened a 34-point lead in the first half and never slowed while taking a 3-2 series lead.

They can clinch their second straight conference title and trip to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 6 on Friday night in Toronto.

"We ought to be able to transfer that on Friday," James said. "Playing in that beast of an arena that we're going to we got to be composed, we got to be tough and we got to be sharp."

The Raptors, who came in with momentum and confidence after winning Games 3 and 4, left Quicken Loans Arena shaken and one loss from having their deepest playoff run stopped.

"They kicked our butts, bottom line," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "That's been all three ballgames."

James had eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes before checking out late in the third quarter with the Cavs up 37. He spent the fourth quarter resting on the bench while Cleveland's reserves finished the romp.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points and he, James and Love outscored the Raptors 43-34 in the first half. Cleveland has won its three games in the series by a combined 88 points.

"They are a different team here," Casey said. "We came in here with a chance to do something special and we didn't get it done. They pushed us around and took what they wanted."

DeMar DeRozan scored 14 points and Kyle Lowry had 13 for the Raptors, who were overwhelmed from the start. Bismack Biyombo had just four rebounds after getting 40 the past two games. The only positive for Toronto was center Jonas Valanciunas, who returned after missing eight straight games with a sprained right ankle. He scored nine points in 18 minutes.

Playing defense as if every possession was the game's last, Cleveland held Toronto to 34 points in the opening half while building a 31-point halftime lead -- the largest in conference finals history. Since their expansion arrival in 1993, the Raptors had never been down by 30 before in any game -- regular or postseason -- at halftime but they have rarely seen a defense like this either.

The Cavs were all over the court, swarming and stifling DeRozan and Lowry, who combined for 67 points in Game 4.

A courtside doctor might have stopped this one in the first half.

Love found his shooting touch after it went missing during the lost weekend in Toronto, where he went just 5 of 23 and was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 4. He finished 8 of 10 from the field, a confidence-boosting performance that should temporarily quiet his critics.

"Kevin Love being Kevin Love," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "He had two bad shooting games and we made a big deal out of it. Nothing he does amazes me. We gotta keep him aggressive all the time."

The Cavs made a point of getting Love the ball right away and he responded by making all four field goal attempts, dropping a 3 late in the first quarter that pushed the Cavs to a 37-19 lead.

"He was just locked in," James said. "We saw that and just wanted to keep giving him the ball. The easiest one he had tonight, he missed."

Cleveland's onslaught continued in the second quarter, and when James got free for an easy two-handed dunk, Cavs fans could relax and begin making TV viewing plans for Friday.

These looked more like the Cavaliers who opened the postseason with 10 straight wins, obliterated the Raptors by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2 and given a chance to beat whomever survived in the West.

Center of attention
Valanciunas hadn't played since May 7. He scored two quick baskets in the first quarter when the Raptors were still close.

Tip-ins
Raptors: Dropped to 2-7 on the road in this postseason. ... Played a game every other day since April 29, going 7-7. . Biyombo and Valanciunas are the only teammates with at least 120 rebounds this postseason.

Cavaliers: Trumped their 31-point win in Game 1, which was the previous most lopsided playoff victory in team history. ... James played in his 191st career postseason game, moving him ahead of Magic Johnson for 12th place on the all-time list. ... James (1,320) is tied with Kobe Bryant (1,320) for the second-most free throws in postseason history. Michael Jordan made 1,463. ... Improved to 7-0 at home in these playoffs.

Up next
Game 6 is Friday night in Toronto.

Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

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Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Crawford singled in Matt Duffy with two outs in the 10th inning, and the surging San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres 4-3 Wednesday for their 13th win in 14 games.

Duffy singled off Brad Hand (1-2) with one out, pinch-hitter Hunter Pence popped out, Duffy advanced on a wild pitch and Crawford hit a 1-2 offering over center fielder Jon Jay as Duffy scored standing up.

Crawford also singled and scored after some alert baserunning in the second inning. Duffy and Denard Span drove in runs for the NL West-leading Giants.

San Francisco completed a three-game sweep, extended its winning streak to five and improved to 9-0 against the Padres this season. The Giants' two walkoff wins in the series were against Hand (see full recap).

Arrieta moves to 9-0 in Cubs' win over Cards
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Arrieta remained unbeaten on the season despite allowing as many as four runs for the first time in nearly a year and the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-8 on Wednesday.

Arrieta (9-0) joined the White Sox's Chris Sale as the only nine-game winners in the majors.

Arrieta allowed four runs in a regular-season game for the first time since June 16, 2015.

Arrieta became the first Cub to win his first nine decisions since Kenny Holtzman in 1967 and it is the best start to a season for the franchise since Jim McCormick went 16-0 in 1886.

Kris Bryant hit a three-run homer and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist each drove in two for the Cubs (see full recap).

Bradley extends hit streak to 29 in BoSox victory
BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his major league-best hitting streak to 29 games, Xander Bogaerts homered to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight win.

Travis Shaw had three RBIs and Boston moved to a season-best 12 games over .500. The Red Sox have scored eight or more runs 10 times in their last 14 home games.

Steven Wright (4-4) had another solid outing, giving up three runs, two earned. He has now given up three runs or fewer in eight of his nine starts.

Chad Bettis (4-3) held the Red Sox scoreless through three innings but was responsible for seven runs over the next two innings before getting pulled.

The Rockies have lost six of their last seven -- all on the road (see full recap).