The 20 happiest memories from a Phillies season mostly worth forgetting

The 20 happiest memories from a Phillies season mostly worth forgetting

Fans cheer as left fielder Domonic Brown (9) rounds the bases after hitting a home run Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

And so the Phillies finish the 2013 MLB season with a 73-89 record, seventh worst in the NL, and a league-worst run differential that suggests they were somehow actually far crappier than even their miserable record would suggest. Hope that this team would end up as any more than this faded quickly after the All-Star break and was minimal even before that, and the team begins next season with far more question marks concerning their roster and their future outlook than, uh, any other form of punctuation.

A countdown of all the indignities inflicted upon the Phillies fanbase this year--the dropped fly balls, the blown saves, the countless moments of front-office ignominy--would be too long and depressing to relate (again) here, and there's no real point in it. Instead, I would like to remember for posterity the few things that happened this year that actually might have brought a smile to the Philly Phaithful--the hot streaks, the dramatic wins, the moments of transcendent play that were all far too few and far between in 2013.

20 happy moments over a year isn't a ton in a sport where you play 162 games per season. But for the most part, it was enough--enough to keep us tuned in, enough to keep us from totally abandoning ship and jumping on the Pirates' bandwagon (at least until the post-season--go Buccos!) For those of you who had the foresight to give up back in April, here's what they were.

20. Kyle Kendrick shuts out the Mets (Apr. 26). Easy to forget given the predictably uninspiring way he ended the season, but Kyle Kendrick actually started the season as the Phils' most reliable starter, pitching like an All-Star for the first month-and-a-half (4-1, 2.97 ERA, nearly 4:1 K/BB ratio through eight starts). His finest moment was easily his blanking of the Mets at Citi Field, striking out five while letting up just three hits and a walk, in what would be the first W in a New York sweep. We knew it wouldn't last, but it was a beautiful moment where we were able to dream that Kyle had somehow finally evolved into something more than a back-end innings eater.

19. '90s nostalgia (Aug. 26). The 20th anniversary of the '93 pennant-winning team, complete with appearances by Dutch, Wild Thing and the Krukker, was pretty fun. But '90s Night probably wins for best theme night at CBP this year, thanks to giveaways featuring the Phanatic as the baby from Nirvana's Nevermind cover, as well as the requisite funkdafied '90s player intros and a whole lotta mullets.

18. Ben Revere's season-ending hitting tear (July). After doing a whole lotta nothing for the Phils through the season's first two months--minus one noteworthy play that we'll talk about again later--Ben Revere finally came on for the Fightins in June, hitting safely in 14 straight games and reclaiming his leadoff spot in the batting order. He one-upped himself in July, racking multiple hits in seven out of 11 games, and raising his batting average over .300 for the season. Then, of course, he broke his foot and was lost for the season. Hoping you spare us the slow start and pick up where you left off next year, Ben.

17. Kevin Frandsen walks off against Mets, spares Phils third straight late-game collapse (Jun. 22). The Phillies' bullpen--primarily once-perfect closer Jonathan Papelbon--had blown consecutive games against the Nats and Mets, when they were handed a 7-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Mets on the day of my birthday party. I remember watching in horror, thinking no, not again, not today as they proceeded to give the entire thing up in the seventh and ninth, allowing the Mets to knot the score at 7-7, before unlikely hero Kevin Frandsen saved the day with a leadoff blast in the bottom of the ninth. Thanks for preventing the bullpen from ruining my 27th, Kev.

16. J-Roll's web gem allows the Phils to salvage some dignity against the Braves (Sept. 28). Speaking of Pap and blown saves, our closer nearly cost the Phils their only win in their last five tries by giving up a three-run blast in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves to allow them to creep within 5-4 of the Fightins. A single and a walk later, a sharply hit Chris Johnson grounder to the left side looked like a sure bet to tie the game up, until Jimmy Rollins--whose range wasn't generally what it used to be this year--made a phenomenal diving stop and quick throw to first to nail a sliding Johnson and end the game. A Pyrrhic victory at best, but we didn't have many victories of any kind this September, so we were grateful anyway.

15. Comeback win over the Cubs (Aug. 30). For the most part this season, when the Phils got down, they stayed down, but a rare actual comeback came in a fun Friday win over the Cubs at Wrigley. Chicago's 5-0 lead was cut to 5-4 in an offensive flurry in the sixth, then to nil in the 7th with a Frandsen solo shot, and then in his last (only?) great moment as a Phillie, Michael Young gave the team the go-ahead with an RBI single in the ninth. Certainly happened the other way around plenty for the Phils in '13, so it was nice to get one for the good guys.

14. Chase re-signed (Aug. 7). It took a lot of money to do it--possibly as much as $75 million over five years, if he hits all his plate-appearance benchmarks--but it was a rare bit of good news for the '13 Phils to find out for sure that the franchise's best player since Mike Schmidt would be sticking around for at least another couple years. Hard to say if he'll be around for the whole five-year duration of his contract, but if we could get the kind of production we got from Chase this year (.284/.348/.475, his highest OPS+ since '09) for even three years of that deal, it'd be hard to argue he wouldn't be worth it.

13. Darin Ruf's on-base streak (Jul-Aug). Watching Darin Ruf as an every day player for the Phils the second half of this season was certainly not without its frustrations, but it was a rare fun subplot for the post-All-Star squad to see him continue to stretch his career-starting on-base streak--through his first 36 career games, he had reached base safely at least once in every one of them. It ended with an 0-fer in Chicago, and it was much rougher sledding for Ruf after that--he hit just .232/.354/.378 in September--but between the on-base streak and his nine-homer August, it was more offensive production (and more of a reason to watch) than we get from most of the Fightins all season.

12. Cole Hamels goes the distance against Atlanta (Aug. 12). An up-and-down year for sure for Colbert, but an upswing was definitely started with his complete game victory--one ninth-inning run away from being a shutout--of the first-place Braves in August, in which he struck out nine and walked none. After a start to the season in which wins were pretty hard to come by, the Phils would win in Cole's next six outings, improving his record to a still not-as-bad-as-it-looks 8-13, and proving that Hamels was still perfectly capable of living up to the ace billing (and ace-scale contract) he had with the Phillies.

11. Domonic Brown redeems Pap's first blown save of the season (Jun. 17). Remember how Jonathan Paplebon was perfect through the season's first two and a half months, giving up just four runs in 24 appearances and converting his first 13 save opportunities? Probably not, since he blew four of his next five chances, including a series-opener against Washington, in which Chad Tracy of all people laced a two-out, two-strike homer right to tie the game at 4-4. But Papelbon's hide was saved by hits from Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins and Dom Brown, the last of whom drove in the winning run with a single to center. The look of sheer elation on Pap's face as he embraced the man who redeemed his blown save was not one often seen on the Fightins' faces this season.

10. Kratz & Galvis homer to win it in the ninth (May 9). You need big bats to scrape runs off a closer with stuff as dynamite as the Reds' Aroldis Chapman, and whose bats were bigger in baseball this year than Eric Kratz and Freddy Galvis? Well, pretty much everyone's, but it was enough for the Phils on one unlikely day in May, where back-to-back solo shots from Freddy and ol' Turkey Bacon were enough to turn the tables on the Cuban Missile and secure the 3-2 victory for Philly. You could say nearly every win for the Phils this season was unexpected, but this one moreso than most.

9. PHI-LAD, 16-1 (Jun. 28). Still pretty hard to believe this actually happened, but yes, that was the Phillies hanging 16 on the West-best Dodgers, with homers from Michael Young and John Mayberry Jr. and an unlikely six RBIs from Delmon Young, in what will sure go down as Delmon's greatest game as a Phillie. The 16 runs was easily the most the team scored all year, and the 15-run difference for the game was especially stark considering they still ended up with a worse run differential on the season than the friggin' Marlins. Winning by a lot is fun, turns out.

8. Chase finally responds to Mac's letter (Sep. 3).

Only took him about four years. But then again, Chase was always a man who was careful with his words.

7. John Mayberry Jr.'s walk-off grand slam (Jun. 4). Anytime you can use the phrase "walk-off grand slam" for your side, that's a pretty cool thing. JMJ got his in the bottom of the 11th against the Marlins--which, remarkably, was his second homer of the game after being inserted as a pinch hitter in the 10th inning. The slam was the first of Mayberry's career, and one of the few truly positive moments the over-exposed backup outfielder had on the season. Walk-off grand slam, though...hard to beat that.

6. Sweeping the Braves at home (Sep. 6-8). More a moral victory than anything by that point, natch, but c'mon--three straight one-run victories over the best team in your division, two in late-game go-ahead style, in front of a fanbase that hasn't had a ton to cheer about all year...you had to respect the showing. The fact that it was one of only three series sweeps the team managed over the entirety of 2013 makes it all the more noteworthy. And hey, if the Braves win one or more of those, they at least tie for the best record in the NL and maybe get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Take solace in the little things, guys.

5. The Ben Revere Catch (Apr. 15).

You could tell how good this catch was because even the guys on the Reds broadcast couldn't stop running it back and waxing poetic about how it might end up as the year's best. It may or may not have finished the season with that superlative honor, but it was certainly the web gem of the season for the Fightins, and one of the few times when Ben Revere actually lived up to his much-hyped and little-delivered defensive prowess. Another way you could tell how good this catch was--the fact that Revere was easily able to recover and double the man off first, who clearly thought to himself "no goddamn way is that thing not dropping."

4. Cliff Lee's final month (Sept). The numbers are just staggering: 39 IP, 8 ER, 54 K, 1 BB--the last two of which have never been done in conjunction over the course of a month by any other pitcher. And that's not even including how Cliff went 3-4 with a triple at the plate against the Marlins over that stretch, setting all kinds of benchmarks for badassery in the process. While the rest of the Phils barely looked like they were trying in the season's final weeks, Cliff Lee was making baseball history. We say again: If not for Clayton Kershaw's once-in-a-decade season of dominance, you're looking at your 2013 NL Cy Young winner right here.

3. Blowing out the Mets to move over .500 (Jul. 19). Ah, the season's second half started out with such promise. After fighting the entire pre-All-Star Break to get to a winning record, the Phils finally managed to creep one game over .500 for the first time all season in their first game back, with a 13-8 immolation of the Mets in New York that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated. Chase, Dom and Michael Young homered, and the Phils were leading by double digits by the end of the third inning. It seemed like good times forever for the Phillies, a portent that things in the season's second half would be far smoother than the first. Then the Phils lost their next eight, and five of the six after that, and before you could say "Juan Lagares," the season was over. We'll always have the optimisim of that one inordinately hot night at CitiField, though.

2. Three consecutive walk-off wins for Ryne Sandberg (Aug. 21-23). In what was easily the lowest ebb of the Phillies' season, after the incessant losing in late July and early August and the resultant firing of beloved long-time manager (and forever world f---ing champion) Charlie Manuel, a trio of consecutive walk-off wins against the Rockies and Diamondbacks managed to briefly restore some sense of momentum, and even a little fun to what was probably the most depressing franchise in the majors. Incredibly enough, it was very nearly four straight, as the Phils managed to fight back from 7-1 to tie the Diamondbacks in the eighth, then got about 27 chances to win it in walk-off fashion in the ninth and extras, before the Phils finally had to pitch Casper Wells for an inning and the Diamondbacks scored five for the win. Still, for a minute there, it seemed like the team had gotten some of its WFC mojo back--a most-welcome feeling, even as it was far too little and far too late.

1. The emergence of the Domonator (May-Jun). If you remember this Phillies season for one thing and one thing alone, let's hope it's for the span of late May to early June, where there was simply no hotter hitter on the planet than Domonic Brown. The potential long-promised from the Phillies' 25-year-old outfielder took such a long time to consistently show itself that many understandably assumed it had just never existed in the first place. Then Dom hit ten homers in 11 games, taking the baseball world by storm and securing his first All-Star bid (though somehow, not a slot on the NL's squad for the home run derby--thanks, David Wright and Michael Cuddyer). With the possible exception of watching LeSean McCoy juke his way out of a sure tackle, there was simply no sight in Philly sports this year more exciting then Dom squaring up on a ball on the outside corner for those couple of weeks.

Of course, it couldn't last, and as NL scouting figured out how to stop feeding into Domonic's hitting strengths (and as Dom was nicked up with a couple injuries), his power numbers sagged, and after going deep for the 27th time on August 14th against the Braves, Dom did not homer again all season, slugging just .314 for the month of September. But all we wanted to see this season was that it was there at all with Domonic, and if that impossibly hot stretch didn't leave you convinced that there was still the potential for greatness with Dom, you sir or madam are one tough sell. I can't wait to see him in the lineup again every day next year, wondering when next the Dom Bomb might go off.

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

During a game after which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson eventually admitted “not everybody” played hard, two individual plays have been scrutinized more than any others this week. 
 
More than anything, two plays from the first quarter have stood out the most from the 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. 
 
First, there was Zach Ertz’s non-block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, then there was Jeremy Hill’s short touchdown run where it looks like Rodney McLeod simply let him score.

“I understand all the criticism and stuff,” Ertz said by his locker on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the details of every thought I had on that play. I’m focused on giving this city everything I have on each and every play. I promise going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past. 

"I understand how it looks on the film, but I’m not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn’t see on the play and how it impacted the play and vice versa. I’m focused on getting better. I know I’m far from a finished product as a tight end. I’m looking forward to this week against the Redskins.”
 
On the play, Carson Wentz scrambled for a gain of 10 yards and with Burfict sprinting toward the play, Ertz side-stepped to let him through. Head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz have both said a block from Ertz wouldn’t have been a factor on the play because Wentz was going out of bounds. 
 
But it certainly didn’t look good and fans aren’t happy about the perceived lack of effort, which Ertz said he understands. 
 
So does Ertz think he did anything wrong on the play? 
 
“I think I could have maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more to ensure that he didn’t get near Carson by any means,” he said. “But like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there’s a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play and I’m focused on getting better.”
 
While offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested on Tuesday that he was OK with the non-block from Ertz because it will keep his best tight end healthy for the last quarter of the season, Ertz said the coaching staff hasn’t told him to pick his spots to be physical and claimed his past injuries aren’t affecting the way he’s been playing. 
 
And aside from that one play on Sunday, Ertz thinks he showed his toughness and effort throughout the afternoon. 
 
“If you look at that game, I did give my all,” he said. “That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watch that game for all four quarter, I mean, I’m cramping up, I’m still going out there and battling each and ever play. All I care is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That’s all I’m focused on.”
 
This isn’t the first time Ertz’s effort and toughness have been questioned this season. The lack of yards after the catch and after contact has become a major talking point among fans this season. 
 
But for Rodney McLeod, having his effort questioned is an entirely new experience. McLeod wasn’t a second-round pick like Ertz; McLeod entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He worked his way to becoming a starter and eventually earning a free agent deal with the Eagles this offseason. 
 
Hard work and effort are what got him here. 
 
“It definitely hurts,” McLeod said about the criticism. “I know what type of player I am. I’m going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are the things that got me where I am today. That’s what my game is built on. So when somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and others.”
 
McLeod’s explanation for what happened on the first-quarter touchdown run echoed what his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. Basically, he thought the play was going somewhere else and by the time he was able to react, he was flat-footed. 
 
He then said he didn’t hit Hill because he thought the running back had already crossed the plane of the goal line and he didn’t want to get flagged. 
 
When fans watch the play, they might see a player who didn’t give it his all on that play. Not McLeod. 
 
“I really don’t see it,” he said. “If you look at any play before then, any game, any practice film, I’m probably one of the guys that’s giving it his all out there for this team and for my teammates. Like I said, I’m a prideful guy. I take pride in effort, hard work, all those things, I think, describe who I am as a player. Looking at that play, I thought it would hit somewhere else. It kind of came through leaky, guy was low, felt like by the time I got over there, it could possibly be a late hit. It’s a tough situation for me to be in.”