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.

Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, who Angels must move at some point

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Let the bidding begin for Mike Trout, who Angels must move at some point

Yes, the Angels are going to trade Mike Trout.

It may not happen this year or even next year, but eventually Angels GM Billy Eppler will accept the reality of the bleak future ahead for his franchise. Albert Pujols, who has five years and $140 million remaining on his contract after this season, has taken the baton from Ryan Howard for the worst contract in baseball. Good luck getting out of that deal. Other than the increasingly rare Pujols hot streak, they have nobody equipped to protect Trout in the lineup. 

The starting rotation has been patched together, with both Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney going down with elbow injuries early this season. Unless one of those guys comes back healthy, there isn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on the roster. Theoretically, the Angels will have money to spend on the free-agent market with both C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver coming off the books after the season. But with Andrew Cashner and Jeremy Hellickson the likely headliners on the pitching market, a quick fix for the rotation seems unlikely. 

The 2017 free-agent market for hitters isn’t much better. Should Yoenis Cespedes opt out of his contract with the Mets, he could provide a potent presence behind Trout, but there will be stiff competition for his services and he’ll be in line for a massive payday. 

Toronto’s once-dynamic duo of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista should be available, but both appear to be trending downward. Giving either player a long-term deal is a risky investment at best. 

Building around the young players in the organization isn’t a viable option. By all accounts, the Angels have the worst farm system in baseball. You can check out those rankings here or here. This is a franchise in dire need of an infusion of young talent. 

We’ve seen the Phillies in a similar situation with Cole Hamels. Once there was no way forward to win with him, the only reasonable option was to trade him. Even the most ardent Hamels supporters have to admit now that moving him made sense.  

Yes, Trout is only 24 years old and is the best all-around player in baseball. The Angels should certainly explore every possible option to build a winner around the South Jersey native, who is in the second season of a six-year deal that will pay him $119 million from 2017 through 2020. But the franchise is trending in the wrong direction. If they cannot honestly see a path to contending with him, they should look to move him and jump-start a rebuild. There will be no shortage of suitors. 

So ignore the notion that you never trade an “inner-circle Hall of Famer,” which Trout certainly is on track to become. He is signed through 2019 and the clock is ticking. 

Let the bidding begin. 

Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

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Josh Hart discusses NBA draft process, returning to Villanova

Josh Hart said the decision wasn’t easy.

But he’s happy with it.

After withdrawing his name from the NBA draft to return to school (see story), Hart is excited to focus on Villanova, graduation and then the NBA dream.

“I love the school, I love the teachers, the student body, the support, my teammates that we have coming back,” the 6-foot-5 guard said Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet’s Philly Sports Talk. “So it was a tough one and I just thought at the end of the day, I think going back for my senior year would be in the best interest of my parents and myself.”

As a junior, Hart helped Villanova win its second national championship in program history by leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.5 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.

Hart received plenty of feedback from NBA teams. He said shooting and ball handling are what he hopes to improve.

As far as his draft stock …

“There were teams interested maybe in the first [round], and then there were teams that said they would take me in the second,” Hart said. “But there’s a whole month before the draft, a lot of teams didn’t know exactly what they were doing with their picks — whether they were trying to trade up for a pick, trying to trade down, trying to trade a pick for a player. Several teams said that they would take me.”

For more from Hart on the draft and Villanova, watch the video above.

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. -- Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest of the San Jose Sharks gathered around the Campbell Bowl for a celebratory picture after winning the Western Conference final.

In that moment, all those past playoff disappointments and collapses were forgotten. It will take four more wins to put to rest those questions about if they had the fortitude to win it all.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward added two more 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.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Thornton said. "Obviously it's our first time. It was pretty neat to get this done at home. The fans here have waited so long, 25 years. We've waited 18 years or so. So it's a great feeling."

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 play for the championship that has eluded Thornton and Marleau since they entered the league as the top two picks in 1997.

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!"

"We're just enjoying the ride right now," Marleau said. "We've had some really good teams over the years."

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 a No. 8 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 a while 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 from a championship.

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.

"It's a great moment for those guys who have put in a lot of work but we still have another series to go," Couture said. "We still have four more wins to try to get. It's another step. This is the third one now. We're ready for that next challenge."

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.

"It stings right now," captain David Backes said. "Six more wins and we're having parades on Market Street. Right now ... not enough."

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.

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

"They're hurting right now," Hitchcock said. "We're all hurting. "You don't want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block."

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.