This Is It, Don't Get Scared Now: Phils Begin Fight to Stay Together in Atlanta

This Is It, Don't Get Scared Now: Phils Begin Fight to Stay Together in Atlanta

Pat Burrell. Jayson Werth. Pedro Feliz. Jamie Moyer. Brett Myers. Brad Lidge. Ryan Madson. J.C. Romero. J.A. Happ. Chad Durbin. Scott Eyre. Clay Condrey. Chris Coste. Eric Bruntlett. Greg Dobbs. So Taguchi. Geoff Jenkins. Matt Stairs.

Save for the familiar infield, the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies really don't resemble the WFC's of 2008. Still, there's been enough continuity that 2007 through July 2012 has all felt like part of the same run. And that's why this trade deadline has looked so ominous for so many weeks.

In reality, the Phillies are a much different team now as compared to then and many of the speculated moves they could make involve players who weren't parading in the first place, with the exception of one very notable individual. But there's just something about this weekend, a feeling, even if its misguided, that these Phils as we know them are about to change in spite of the fact that they already have.

For the next three days, they control their own fate. If they want to stay together through next Tuesday, now is the time to show it.

John Finger did a great job yesterday providing a brief refresher on just how the Phillies have stuck it to the Atlanta Braves the past two Septembers in a row. Now, of course, the Braves have the chance to return the favor a good month and a half to two months ahead of schedule.

The general narrative surrounding this three-game set at Turner Field, and the narrative Finger spelled out in that same article above, goes something like this:

-- If the Phillies can win the series, especially in decisive fashion, it could be enough to convince Ruben Amaro, Jr. to keep the team together over the next two months or even buy at the deadline in the hope of winning the second wild card, earning a one-game play-in opportunity, and hoping to scare everyone in October.

-- And if they lose, especially in decisive fashion, then it's time to sit down, pick up the phone and begin the 2013 baseball season.

There is certainly an argument to be made, an argument I rather like, an argument that makes sense in my head, that this weekend really shouldn't matter in the grand scheme of things. The centerfielder really should be traded regardless of what happens. The rightfielder and the other lefthanded ace really should be on the block and available for the right price.

But then there's this group that managed to recapture this city's love affair with baseball for the first time since the mid-to-early '90s. There's this thing they can do when they're behind in games, and it generates a genuinely unmatchable level of excitement and joy and pride and fun.

It's irrational to make an honest argument that this team should hold steady through next Tuesday out of the belief that they really can get hot, that they really can make the run, that they really will steamroll everyone when the weather gets cold and we're left with Buck and McCarver and, briefly, Sager. They can't. They won't. They really shouldn't try.

But if there's any group who can do it -- look at Chooch's intensity after ripping a bases-clearing double, watch Ryan talk up everyone in the dugout before putting his head down on his bat, see the smile on Jimmy's face when they somehow pull it off -- it's this group.

Take a good look at the 2012 Phillies you really haven't had a chance to watch this season. Come Wednesday Aug. 1, you might not be able to see them like you used to. Somebody else's name could be added to the list in italics.

Tonight's Pitching Matchup
Well, if it isn't Mr. Moneybags -- Cole Hamels, the man who definitely isn't going anywhere, makes his first start since signing his extension and will get the weekend going for the Phils. Hamels is 11-4 this year with a 3.23 ERA, 1.122 WHIP and $144 million contract. In three starts in the month of July, two have been not so good and one has been really good. Here's to hoping the new deal settles and refocuses him, because it has to be hard not to think about all he probably has on the mound since mid-June. Against the Braves lifetime, Cole is 11-6 with a 3.69 and and 1.204, but those numbers rise (4.06, 1.311) at Turner.

He'll be opposed by 34-year-old Ben Sheets, who has spent two of the past three seasons out of baseball because of injury. Sheets is 2-0 in two six-inning starts with a 0.00 ERA. The Phils have not seen him since a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers in Sept. 2008, shortly before the two clubs' NLDS series. He'll kick things off at 7:35 p.m.

Roster Moves
Placido Polanco placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday (retroactive to July 23) with lower back inflammation.

Kevin Frandsen has had his contract selected to fill Polanco's spot on the roster.

Charlie's 7/27 Lineup
1. Rollins, SS
2. Victorino, CF
3. Utley, 2B
4. Howard, 1B
5. Ruiz, C
6. Pence, RF
7. Pierre, LF
8. Fontenot, 3B
9. Hamels, P

We'll see you postgame.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).