Phils Riding High Into Houston for Oswalt and Pence's Homecoming

Phils Riding High Into Houston for Oswalt and Pence's Homecoming

A three-game sweep of the Braves. Three of four from the tough-to-beat-at-home Brewers. That's just how things are going for the Phillies lately. The 2011 regular season has been a pleasure for fans to watch. But before we get to see if they can use that momentum to translate into the most important three playoff series victories, we've got a couple of weeks of baseball left to see how this team can stack up historically with the best Phillies teams ever.

So while the end result of the final games isn't all that important, we are not without some interesting storylines.

With the Phillies kicking off a three-game set in Houston this evening against the lowly Astros, Roy Oswalt will make his first start as an opposing pitcher at Minute Maid Park. It will also be Hunter Pence's first game against the team that traded him just a few weeks ago.

But as Roy pointed out, the conditions under which both players departed were a bit different. After ten years in Houston, and the team's future looking bleak, Oswalt wanted a chance to win. Perhaps Astros fans (I'm assuming there are some die hards) could hold that against the affable pitcher, but I'd doubt it.

Pence being dealt, to me, always seemed like a strange move for the Astros. They both saved money and got some quality young talent in return. That is the goal of some teams.

Oswalt seems appreciative of the chance Houston first gave him.

"The team is a little bit different, but it’s still Houston,” Oswalt said. "They gave me a chance coming out of junior college to play, so it’s kind of special to go back."

And then he tells it like it is.

"The good thing is I think there’ll probably be just as many Phillies fans there in Houston,” Oswalt said. “So hopefully I won’t get booed too much."

As for Hunter Pence, he isn't trying to make a big deal about the homecoming of sorts, but adds that he was beloved in Houston for pretty much the same reason he's been such a hit in Philly.

I think the reason I was appreciated so much by the fans was the way I played on the field,” he said. “I'm going to give you everything I've got. I'm going to continue to do that. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had there in Houston and I'm just going to go enjoy it.”

8:05 start from Houston tonight.

>>Oswalt, Pence return to Minute Maid tonight with Phillies [Houston Chronicle]

>>Oswalt, Pence will have homecoming in Houston [Courier Post]

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As for the historic stuff I eluded to in the beginning of the post, Matt Gelb has some fun numbers to look at, if you're into that sort of thing. Statistically speaking, this really is the best Phillies team ever.

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Also of interest: Brett Myers is starting tonight for the Astros. I kinda miss that guy. Not his pitching per se, just his redneck attitude.

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers (16-10-3) vs. Stars (11-11-6)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Remember when it was a fight for the Flyers to simply sew together back-to-back wins?

Prior to this run, they had done it just twice in the first 22 games.

Now, they’re the hottest team in the NHL, winners of seven straight and trying to make it eight on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. The great eight?
Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, John LeClair and Eric Desjardins.

Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher.

These are just some of the players that were wearing Flyers jerseys when the team last won eight consecutive games, back on Jan. 6-19, 2002.

It’s worth mentioning, before the 2004-05 season, winning streaks were a bit more challenging with a tie being the result if overtime went scoreless. The extra session was also not 3-on-3, like it is now.

Still, what the current Flyers are doing is impressive. They’ve gone to the shootout only once over the seven-game spurt and have outscored the opposition by 10 goals, 27-17.

2. Raffl winners
Dave Hakstol has called Michael Raffl a big-bodied, straight-line forward, which is certainly not off the mark.

But from time to time, Raffl will show the deceptive skill side of his game.

He did it Thursday night to win the Flyers’ 6-5 affair over the Oilers in the final minute and a half of regulation for his second game-winner over the last three contests.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," Steve Mason said postgame Thursday (see story). "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl is quietly making teams pay. The Flyers are 4-0-2 in games that he scores a goal. Despite missing eight games because of injury, the 28-year-old Austrian is on pace for around 20 goals.

That’s much-valued secondary scoring and complementary play.

3. Not so bright
Before reeling off seven straight wins, the Flyers were in a similar spot to which the Stars are in now.

Dallas, which finished 50-23-9 last season — best in the Western Conference — after starting 19-5-0, can’t find consistency through 28 games this season. The Stars have won back-to-back games just once thus far and goaltending has been an issue as Dallas is surrendering an NHL-worst 3.18 goals per game.

The Stars do not lack offensive firepower, however. Center Tyler Seguin is tied for second in the NHL with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists), while linemate Jamie Benn isn’t far behind at 24 (eight goals, 16 assists).

Also, veteran forward Jason Spezza is coming off a three-point game (one goal, two assists) in Dallas’ 5-2 win over the Predators.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: We’ve got to go Jakub Voracek after the winger’s one-goal, three-assist performance on Thursday night. Voracek has been an absolute monster on the seven-game winning streak, posting 11 points with three goals and eight assists for a plus-6 rating.

Stars: It’s hard not to say Seguin, a dynamic player who always gives the Flyers trouble. His 21 career points (nine goals, 12 assists) against the orange and black are his second most versus any team.

5. This and that
• Mason is on a career-best six-game winning streak in which he’s posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Since Nov. 12, Mason is 9-3-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

• Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is a dreadful 1-10-3 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage, while backup Antti Niemi is 4-1-0 with 1.48 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

• Dallas has won its last three meetings with the Flyers by a combined score of 7-3.

• The Stars have lost 11 of 15 on the road.

• Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games.

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

It's been a long road back to relevance for the Penn State football program. 

The Nittany Lions surprised just about everyone this season by finishing 10-2, winning the Big Ten title and claiming a spot in the historic Rose Bowl against USC on Jan. 2. 

For one fan, the surprise season went one step further.

Per ESPN's Instagram account ...

But wait, there's more. 

Not only was he surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in what could be the most touching video of the year, but he even got a personal call from Penn State head coach James Franklin thanking him for his support. 

Not a bad way to close out 2016.