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.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Red Wings' Vanek, Nielsen score in 6-5 SO win over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski lead Sharks past rival LA Kings, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in overtime to lead Oilers past Panthers 4-3
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

Joel Embiid, Sixers prove plenty with benchmark win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers weren’t supposed to beat the Raptors, were they? This was going to be an “easy” game for the visiting team, which was coming to Philadelphia on a back-to-back that started in Brooklyn. The Raptors are a playoff team, and second in the Eastern Conference at that. Not to mention, they had defeated the Sixers in their last 14 meetings.

Maybe easy would have been the case the last time the two teams played back in mid-December. For the Sixers, though, things have changed since then and a 94-89 win over the Raptors on Wednesday proved this recent success is not fleeting (see Instant Replay).

“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Joel Embiid said. “We’re competing. We’re winning games. We’re playing great defense. We finally found what we’ve been looking for.”

The Sixers had been missing clearly-defined roles and a defensive identity (see story). Now that Brett Brown has whittled down his roster to 10 players and laid out a starting five and second unit, the team has been gelling in those two aspects. The Sixers have won seven out of their last nine games, with the Raptors being the highest caliber of competition.

The Raptors entered the game averaging 111.5 points per game, first in the East and third in the NBA behind only the Warriors and Rockets. They had scored less than 100 points in just seven games this season. Additionally, the Raptors had been held to under 90 points by a single opponent: the Spurs. Not bad company to be in. 

Embiid led all players with 26 points (including 12 for 14 from the free throw line) to go with nine rebounds (see highlights). The Sixers staved off 25 points (11 for 21 from the field), six assists and three rebounds from DeMar DeRozan and 24 points (11 for 16 from the line), four rebounds, four assists and five steals from Kyle Lowry, who fouled out. The Raptors shot 25 percent from three and 65.2 percent at the free throw line.  

“We’re playing with a spirit, we’re playing with a defensive mindset,” Brown said. “There is a belief within each other amongst the team that is the best that it’s been since I’ve been here.”

The Sixers' winning stretch began against subpar teams, opponents who earlier in the season some would look at the schedule and say, the Sixers could probably take that one, as they tried to project a batch of victories. The Sixers turned those wins over the Nuggets, Timberwolves and Nets into momentum and carried it into a matchup against the Knicks.

Even though the Knicks are looking lost this season, they still have veteran offensive firepower that can take over a game against a struggling opponent. The Sixers made noise by beating them at the buzzer, then escalated their performance against the postseason-hungry Hornets and Bucks. 

The Raptors are different, though. There is no questioning their success and potential to make a deep playoff run … again. Nonetheless, the Sixers handled this well-seasoned opponent with composure and confidence down the stretch. 

They stayed together when DeRozan hit a jumper with 1:53 to play to give the Raptors their first lead since the second quarter. The Sixers responded to the one-point deficit with a 7-0 run to push the edge up to six points with 20.7 seconds to go.

“I think it says we’re for real. It shows our consistency that we’ve built throughout the year,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’re relentless. We have a young group of guys that know how to play the game and play it the right way and will come out there and compete against anybody in this league. I think the perception should be a whole different one now.”

The Sixers showed they can compete with top talent. Their wins aren't just coming from teams at the bottom of the standings. 

"That gives us a lot of confidence," Embiid said. "Coming into the game, we had a lot of confidence. Winning against the second-best team in the East is just amazing. We’re going to keep on working."