Can Domonic Brown Save the Crappiest Philly Sports Year of the Century?

Can Domonic Brown Save the Crappiest Philly Sports Year of the Century?

You don't need me or anyone else to tell you that there hasn't been a lot to cheer for this year in the city of Brotherly Love. The NFL playoffs occurred without the 4-12 Eagles even qualifying as an afterthought, the much-anticipated seasons for the Flyers and Sixers both ended disastrously, and over a third into the baseball season the Phillies are three games under .500, which is actually still a way better record than their run differential says it should be. Unless things get turned around in a big way for the Phils, 2013 will be the first calendar year of this century without Philly being involved in a single playoff game in any of the four major sports.

When your teams aren't winning, and it gets past the point where winning even really does your team any good, you need another reason to get emotionally invested--preferably one a little less depressing than tanking for draft positioning. The best reason to watch a losing team is if they have a breakout player--a guy who gives you hope for the future and makes things a little exciting in the present. Through about 40 games for the Phils, though, such a player seemed unlikely to emerge from the roster, and we were stuck with holding out for a healthy Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz doing damage in the lineup together, and getting to watch Cliff Lee do his thing every fifth start. It wasn't a lot to work with.

Then came Domonic Larun Brown. Technically, he'd been there all along, but somewhere along the line (ahem) the switch flipped from "tantalizing maybe-prospect" to "2001 Barry Bonds," and now he's not just the best hitter in the Phillies lineup--for the past two weeks, he's been the best hitter in the National League, and up there with Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera for the best in all of baseball. In those two weeks, he's hit .400 with nine homers and 23 RBIs, scoring 12 runs and even stealing three bases. In the blink of an eye, he's gone from being a fringe starter to an obvious All-Star, and someone who would probably be getting mid-season MVP consideration if his on-base percentage and defense were a tad bit better. (He has walked already this month, though. Twice!)

It's unbelievable to watch. As a result, the Phillies have gone from "eh, I'll watch them if I'm home and not doing anything else" to "OH CRAP DID I REMEMBER TO SET THE DVR??" You don't want to miss a single Domonic Brown at bat these days, because there's always a pretty good chance he'll do something like he did in the first inning of yesterday's game, where he crushed a Mike Fiers 3-1 fastball (at least I think it was supposed to be a fastball) into like the seventh deck for a three-run homer, his league-leading 16th on the season. It's not even the least bit surprising anymore--hell, if he had laced an RBI single to right instead, it would've almost been a disappointment.

It's been a little while since a Phillie, or really any Philly athlete, was this exciting to watch. Maybe Claude Giroux last season, definitely Michael Vick in his first year with the Birds, probably Ryan Howard during his 58-homer MVP run in 2006. Even if he doesn't produce anymore all season--and he's been so hot that once he cools off, it seems terrifyingly possible that he'll go through a slump nearly as ice-cold to compensate--Domonic belongs in that class now for the run he's had the last few weeks, and really the last month, making good on every positive long-term projection made of him that we had been squinting so hard to see in the man himself during his first three seasons of sporadic play in the big leagues.

Is it enough to save the 2013 year in Philly sports? Will we look back on this year not as the year of Andrew Bynum and Ilya Bryzgalov making all their headlines outside of gametime, of Andy Reid and possibly Charlie Manuel running their course in Philly, of the playoffs in all four sports going on without any home team to root for--but instead, as the year Dom Brown broke out as the next Philadelphia pro sports superstar? If he keeps it up, it's not impossible. How much fun would it be to watch him put on a show at this year's home run derby, to endure countless silly "Harper vs. Brown: Who would you rather have for the next five years?" debates, to be able to chant "M-V-P!" at him in August and September and have it be at least a slightly credible proposition? It'd wash a whole lot of the bad taste out of my mouth, for sure.

My roommate is a Mets fan, and as much fun as it is and has been for the last five years to make fun of him for it, I have envied this year that he at least had Matt Harvey starts to look forward to, that the team had a talent so electric that his presence alone could make a game a must-watch, and make every home game he pitched in feel like a playoff game. Now, the Phils have a player of their own like that, whose raw power and ability to put on a show makes you feel lucky to be a Phillies fan, regardless of how lousy their record is (and how much worse it probably should be). In this most dire of Philly sports years, we should be very grateful to the Domonator for that.

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

Phillies look to 'keep grinding' after latest rough loss to Rockies

BOX SCORE

The Phillies have scored just two runs in 13 innings against a pair of rookie starting pitchers and the eventual outcome has been two losses to the Colorado Rockies the last couple of nights. The latest was an 8-2 setback on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). That followed an 8-1 loss on Monday night.

What's happening right now at Citizens Bank Park is ugly. The Phillies are in the midst of a freefall that has seen them lose 19 of their last 23 games. They have been outscored 134-91 over that span.

Now, before we completely lose perspective here, the Phillies remain a building team and they were not expected to contend this season. But they weren't supposed to be this bad, either, and right now they are embarrassingly bad at 15-28.

John Middleton, the team's fiery managing partner, watched several innings of Tuesday night's debacle sitting beside Andy MacPhail in the club president's box. Oh, to have been a fly on that wall. Middleton is committed to a patient rebuild from the ground up, but he's also a man who has made it no secret that he likes to win a little. The show that the Phillies are putting on out on the field these days can't sit well with him. Surely it's not sitting well with the fans. Tuesday night's attendance was just 17,109, the lowest of the season, and many in that group headed home after Gerardo Parra's sixth-inning homer gave the Rockies an 8-1 lead.

"We're just in a big rut right now," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Shortstop Freddy Galvis added that he couldn't remember going through anything this bad.

"We have to keep grinding," he said. "Keep grinding, man. It's pretty tough right now."

Tuesday night's loss offered a tale of two young pitchers. Zach Eflin, the Phillies' 23-year-old right-hander and a veteran of just 18 big-league starts, was hit hard. Meanwhile, German Marquez, the Rockies' 22-year-old rookie, was impressive. He held the Phillies to one run over six innings. He twice faced bases-loaded jams and gave up just one run when he walked a batter.

On Monday night, the Phils were held to one run over seven innings by another rookie, Jeff Hoffman.

Rookie pitchers are often good medicine for struggling teams.

"That's the way I look at it," Mackanin said. "Unfortunately it hasn't happened.

"I know we're better than this. I think the team knows they're better than this. I can't fault the hustle. Someone might say there's no energy. Well, when you don't get any hits, there's no energy."

The Phillies have scored just three runs in the last three games.

The scarcity of runs gives the pitching very little room for error. But in this game, Eflin simply did not keep it close. He gave up 10 hits and eight runs over six innings of work. Phillies killer Charlie Blackmon torched Eflin for a pair of two-run homers and Parra got him for a solo shot.

"A poor outing," Mackanin said of Eflin's work. "He couldn't locate. The ball was up in the zone. He's struggling to keep the ball down.

"When he struck out Blackmon in the first inning, it was a two-seamer with great movement, I thought we're in for a good outing here. But then he couldn't keep the ball down. You have to pitch down or you're going to get hurt."

Eflin has given up 21 hits and 15 runs in his last two starts.

"It's frustrating, but it happens. It's baseball," he said. "There are going to be a lot of times in my career where I give up a lot of hits and a lot of runs. But I'm really not worried about it right now. I know that I'm going to continue to work hard and go out every fifth day and, you know, put up a line of winning baseball."

Blackmon has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. He has three multi-homer games in Philadelphia.

"He seems to like hitting here," Eflin said. "But I just have to execute pitches. There's no excuse. I just have to be on top of my game."

Right now, the Phillies are at the bottom of their game.

"We have to stay together as a team and keep fighting, try to get out of what's happening right now," Galvis said. "It's a really tough situation, but we have keep playing hard."

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

NHL Playoffs Senators battle past Penguins to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario -- Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators bounced back nicely two days after a blowout loss put them on the brink of elimination.

Anderson stopped 45 shots, Mike Hoffman scored the tiebreaking goal early in the third period and the Senators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 36-year-old Anderson was coming off a pair of rough outings, including Sunday when he was pulled after yielding four goals in Ottawa's 7-0 loss in Game 5 at Pittsburgh.

"You can't change what happens in the past," said Anderson, who has credited work with a sports psychologist early in his career for helping him manage the mental side of the game. "From that moment on you have to look forward and get ready for the next one."

Hoffman fired a slap shot through traffic off a pass from Fredrik Claesson to put the Senators ahead at 1:34 of the third. Bobby Ryan also scored a rare power-play goal for Ottawa.

It was quite a response after the drubbing in the previous game.

"I think the biggest message for us was if somebody told us back in training camp in September that we'd have an opportunity to win Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final at home in front of our fans we would've taken it," Ryan said. "So let's not dwell, let's not kick ourselves and put our heads down. Let's embrace this opportunity to extend this for two more days together and go from there."

Evgeni Malkin gave Pittsburgh, vying for its second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, the lead early in the second period and Matt Murray finished with 28 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought we dominated zone time. We had lots of chances. We didn't score tonight. The puck didn't go in the net, but if we continue to play the game that way, then I believe we'll get the result."

Game 7 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with the winner advancing to face the Nashville Predators for the championship.

Ottawa was primarily looking for a return to structure in Game 6, beginning with a smoother start -- which they got. Notable in a scoreless opening period were two effective penalty kills, one of which saw Viktor Stalberg get the best opportunity short-handed.

Pittsburgh had four shots with the man advantage, but Anderson stopped them all. It was evident early that he had his game back in this one. He stopped Nick Bonino off a rebound in transition, Scott Wilson off a deflected shot by Phil Kessel, and Bonino again when Kyle Turris gave the puck away.

Anderson then stopped 22 of 23 shots in the second period.

"I think Anderson was the reason that they got this one, he played big for them," Murray said. "But in our room we just focus on what we need to do. We played really well, we just didn't get the bounces and weren't able to put one home."

Anderson's performance was a reminder for Senators coach Guy Boucher of why he took the job with Ottawa in the first place last May.

"I'll be honest with you, if I didn't have a No. 1 goalie, I didn't want the job," Boucher said. "I've lived it for quite a few years, and it's hell when you don't have it because everything you do turns to darkness, and there's nothing that really matters when you don't have a real No. 1 goaltender.

"It's like a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball, and we have it," Boucher added.

Murray was also sharp. The 22-year-old, who replaced Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 3, made maybe his finest save of the first on Derick Brassard, who found an open lane down the middle of the ice following a pass from Ryan.

The Penguins appeared to have opened the scoring just over three minutes into the second, but Trevor Daley was deemed to have interfered with Anderson following an Ottawa challenge.

Less than two minutes later though, Pittsburgh took the 1-0 lead anyway off a few moments of brilliance from Malkin. The playoff scoring leading (24 points) bounced off a check from Zack Smith behind the goal and after being stopped on his drive to the net, followed up with a nifty backhand rebound to beat Anderson.

It was the 153rd career playoff point in 142 games for Malkin -- three back of Sidney Crosby for second among active players behind Jaromir Jagr -- who had been jarring with Hoffman a few minutes earlier.

The Senators had little going until a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage for 1:24 just past the midway point of the period. The Ottawa power play, which had gone 0 for 29 in the previous 10 games, came through with Ryan ultimately wiring a one-timer short-side to tie the score.

It was the sixth goal and 15th point of the playoffs for Ryan, who is second on the Senators behind captain Erik Karlsson (16 points).