An Embarrassing 10-3 Playoff Loss Still Worth It.

An Embarrassing 10-3 Playoff Loss Still Worth It.

The night started out with obvious promise. A win would mean a sweep of not only the Flyers' most hated rivals, but also the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup. A close loss wouldn't be the end of the world, as really, no one expected a sweep in the Flyers' favor when the series began. All day I had a nervous buzz. Anticipation for the possibility of being in the building for something unforgettable;

My buddy Will and I filed in, warmer-than-the-regular-season weather making FDR and the lots that much more fun for tailgaters. The later-than-usual playoff start time didn't hurt either.

Passing through the turnstiles, a nice young lady hands us our bright orange t-shirts with the phrase of the game scrawled on it, the material still warm. No charge here, unlike in Pittsburgh. A few Bullies await along the first steps of the concourse, a few hoagies at Campo's. Our seats are upstairs—way up in the top row, where we can stand all game and bang on the ceiling—so we make our way up the escalators.

Not a Penguins jersey in sight. Not one. Unheard of for this series.

Up on the 200 level, where the better beer resides just behind the main bars that are just off the escalators, the lines were lighter than expected, which got us up the steps with two hands full that much faster.

When the Flyers took the ice and started circling in their end, the lighting and fan attire a uniform orange glow, the place erupted briefly. The Pens came out soon after, and as they skated in a whirlpool of their own, there was the rare blissful mix of fans booing one team while still clapping of the other. Feet glued to the floor with game 3 beer remnants, we stood as Lauren Hart sent us goosebumps and a good shiver. Her rendition was great, Kate by her side on the splitscreen. One tap of her chest as she finished showed that she was really feeling it.

As the teams lined up for the opening faceoff, there were four chants. Let's Go Flyers, We Don't Like You, Crosby Sucks, and Let's Go Flyers in the original cadence. A woman a few seats down from me did it the whole game, swimming defiantly against a current that changed years ago.

Before the fans had taken their seats from the anthem, Steve Sullivan was called for high-sticking. Claude Giroux scored on a power play less than a minute and a half in. A "Flllleeeuuurrrryyyyy" chant began, way prematurely. Evgeni Malkin was whistled for a hook 12 seconds later. Four horsemen were seen between the benches.

As we discussed in the pregamer that day, it was beyond likely that the refs would try to exert control over this game, and they did, for the better part of two periods. We had no idea how painful it would be until the second, but it was pretty apparent in the first. The Flyers tallied three times while up a man, and for some reason, the Flyers' 3-2 lead felt huge.

But then, a subtle but critical moment in the game reversed their fortunes. It wasn't the reason the Flyers would ultimately lose, and it may not show up in many game stories, but we said as it was happening that it wasn't good. Just after the Flyers went up by a 3-2 count and carried tremendous momentum with 4 minutes left in the first period, an offsides call led to a TV timeout. "This isn't good," I said to Will. It felt the same as having two days between games 3 and 4, too much time for a powerful Penguins team to regroup and strategize.

Ten seconds out of the break, the game was tied. Sidney Crosby deflected a goal originally credited as the second of the period for Matt Niskanen, who was inserted into the lineup earlier in the day. A minute later, Jordan Staal scored the first of his hat trick.

We didn't know it yet, but the game was over. The Penguins had weathered a storm that saw multiple Flyers power play goals, including one on a two-man advantage followed another by a nearly full minor. That was the only way they'd beat Marc-Andre Fleury in this one, and the free rides were over after the opening 20 minutes.

The second period began with Matt Carle in the box. Less than a minute after his release, Claude Giroux would be called for the first of six Flyers penalties in the period—four in the first 10 minutes alone, not including the Carle penalty that was served to start it. The Pens scored three times on those power plays, then danced on the ashes twice more in the period.

I kept mentally repeating the mantra we've learned over the course of the playoffs so far, and even dating back to the regular season. This team is never out of it. At 6-3, despite it being a manageable deficit, it felt foolish to expect another comeback.

The final minutes of the period were increasingly absurd. Our seats aren't the best vantage from which to call penalties, so I'm not going to comment on whether any of the calls were legit, missed, etc. Zac Rinaldo seemed deserving of a match, if not a suspension, and I'm pretty sure I called a few Penguins for various infractions the refs didn't agree with, but again, it's not the seat to be judging calls from.

The exodus began in the latter portion of the period, the folks staying ribbing the folks leaving. Some pleaded that they were just headed to the bathroom or to get some food. And a few did return. But the hordes on the escalators showed that the building was going to be laughably empty in the third period.

I've never seen so many seatbacks during live game play.

We stayed through the end, and in the final 30 seconds, what I perceived to be a genuine Let's Go Flyers chant began and lasted to the final horn. There were plenty of mocking cheers when Flyers goalies made saves, especially Bob, as the game was well out of hand. But this didn't feel as mocking, if at all. The fans, particularly those who stayed, know the series goes on, and this was just one game.

Will and I have been to a lot of games, plenty of wins and more than a few losses, including a fair share to the Penguins. As this tragedy was unfolding, we were trying to decide if it was the toughest loss we'd been to. It was certainly among the worst games. But is it worse to be at a loss that can be chalked up to a catastrophe halfway in, or to see something like a 3-1 third period lead evaporate into a last-minute loss?

The devastating parts of this loss are clear. MAF got his groove back. Crosby played his game. Malkin got on the board a few times. The Flyers couldn't score without the power play and couldn't defend or goaltend at all. They lost another defenseman to injury. We had our first goalie change, and we all know what comes with that.

So from that standpoint, it was as scary a horror film as could be imagined. Game 4 tickets were hard to come by, yet the seats were somewhat understandably empty for the entire third period. The Penguins are back in this series.

Still, it was worth it to go. The lead-in alone was every reason you're a fan. Will drove down from Albany—and back that night—and didn't gripe a word about the drive, only the game. Instead we made plans for our annual effort to get to at least one home game per series, provided the Flyers get us one more win in the next three opportunities…

*

This guy got booed pretty hard walking in. Guess they didn't notice the bonnet at first.
Special thanks to Zach too. Wish you were in town. 

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

Cincinnati Reds starter Tim Adleman came into Friday night’s start against the Phillies with an ERA above six, having allowed 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. 

So, naturally, he gave up just one hit over eight scoreless innings. 

The 29-year-old righty dominated the Phillies in just his 20th career MLB start en route to his third win this season, pitching easily the best game of his young career in a 5-2 Reds’ win (see game recap).

It was understandably the best that Reds manager Bryan Price had seen from Adleman.
 
"It wasn't just because of the line score," Price said. "It was really command-based. Really good both sides of the plate. Had a nice sinking fastball, could straighten it out when he needed to. A very, very good changeup. I don’t think he even used a breaking ball there until the eighth inning.

"So it was really that good."

At just 100 pitches through eight, naturally the question for Price was whether to allow him the chance at a complete game. However, Price needed to get reliever Asher Wojciechowski work to get him ready for a start next week.

"I wanted to stay in there pretty badly, but you understand the move," Adleman said. "Wojo needed to get some work. It had been a while since he threw and it's a game in May. It's not a game that's deeper in the season. … I totally understand."

For his eight innings, Adleman attacked the Phillies' batters early in counts and didn't allow a batter to reach third all night. He retired the leadoff batter in all but one inning and allowed just four batters to reach base.

The Phillies' only threat came in the first inning. An Andres Blanco single was followed by an Aaron Altherr hit by pitch. That brought up Thursday's hero -- Tommy Joseph -- with two men on and just one out. Adleman utilized his changeup on a 1-2 pitch, inducing a weak grounder back the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. 

In three at-bats against Joseph, Adleman recorded three ground ball outs, all on the changeup, which is his primary off-speed offering.

"The scouting report is that he's a really good fastball hitter. Does a lot of damage on fastballs," Adleman said, "So if you can get him in situations where you're confident he's looking for a fastball and then cut a changeup on him, it can be really effective. Obviously, you have to keep it down, but that's the same with all your pitches."

Joseph's at-bats set the trend for the rest of the Phillies' lineup. The Reds’ starter kept the ball down and didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Blanco to lead off the seventh. Sixteen of his 24 outs came on ground balls and only five pitches were hit past the infield. 

Adleman stated his goal was to use the Phillies’ aggressiveness against them with strikes early in the count and it worked. It was his first time pitching into the eighth inning in his career and he did so with almost exclusively his fastball and changeup.

"I think it had a lot to do with that little pause [in his delivery] and he did a good job changing speeds on us," Joseph said. "He basically did it with two pitches, which says a lot about how hard this game can be. Hats off to him. 

"Next time we'll see if we can't get him back."

In a way, Adleman was getting the Phillies back. He made the third start of his career at Citizens Bank Park last year on May 14. He took the loss against Friday’s starter, Aaron Nola, while allowing three runs in five innings.

Born in Staten Island, Adleman was raised in New Jersey, but grew up a Yankees fan. He hadn't been to CBP until college, where he faced Villanova while playing for Georgetown. 

At 29, he's a little old for a second-year starter because he took a winding road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, he was nearly out of baseball by 24. He spent two years in independent leagues before catching on with the Reds and debuting in the show last season.

The journeyman starter had struggled in his last few starts, which helped his ERA balloon to 6.19. However, his Friday night opponent seemed more than happy to take some air out of the balloon. Adleman became the fifth pitcher in the last six days to come into a start against the Phillies with an ERA of 5.00 or above and allow one run or less over at least five innings. 

"It feels good," Adleman said of his night. "Philly's a good young team and Nola is making quite a name for himself. He out-pitched me last year and coming into tonight I knew I had an opportunity to right the ship so to speak."

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

BOX SCORE

When the opposing pitcher comes in with an ERA that matches the area code for San Diego -- 6.19 -- and holds you scoreless on one single over eight innings, well …

You've reached the low point of your season.

And it's time for a team meeting.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called for a little powwow after his club suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Don't let the final score fool you. It wasn't that close. The loss was the Phillies' 21st in the last 26 games. They were held to three hits for the fourth time in the last six games -- five losses -- and have scored just nine runs over that span.

Mackanin acknowledged that this was the low point for his team, which owns the worst record in the majors at 16-30. Cincinnati starting pitcher Tim Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA, but he pitched like an ace in holding the Phillies to just a first-inning single over his eight shutout innings (see story). Adleman walked two, struck out four and at one point set down 16 straight Phillies. The 29-year-old right-hander has made 20 starts in his big-league career and this was by far the best.

"Yeah," Mackanin said when asked if the loss was the season's low point. "We need to step it up. We’re better than this. I know we’re better than this. We’ve just got to start playing as aggressive as we can and take it to the other team. Be aggressive at the plate and pound the strike zone."

That apparently was Mackanin's message to the club in his postgame meeting, though he would not talk about it.

"He just wants to see us play with a little more fire and a little more energy," Aaron Altherr said. "You know, it’s something we’ve got to do. Today wasn’t too great. But, like I said, hopefully we can right the ship and start winning some games again."

Tommy Joseph was tight-lipped on the content of the team meeting.

"That's basically stuff that was between us," he said. "There's a pretty good understanding that we need to get going in here and that was really it. I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory and what he had to say is between us.

"It's definitely not a lack of effort. Everybody is out there trying to get the job done. I think there are certain nights when the job is getting done. When things start to spark a little bit, everybody feeds off that. Obviously there are some nights where that doesn't happen. It's definitely not from a lack of effort. Everybody is going out there busting their ass, so it's just a matter of sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn't."

Mackanin used slumping Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season and he produced a ninth-inning double after Adleman exited. The Phillies actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but a fielder's choice ground ball and then a strikeout by Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, ended the game. Franco struck out swinging wildly at a full-count breaking ball from Raisel Iglesias.

Joseph mentioned that Adleman changed speeds well and used a slight hesitation in his delivery to throw off hitters.

But was it more the pitcher or more just a bad offense?

"It’s hard to tell," Mackanin said. "That's a daily question. Are we not hitting the ball like we should or is the pitcher that good? It seems like I look up and every other pitcher we face has a 6.00 ERA, but I think it’s all because we’re missing good pitches to hit. We’re getting pitches to hit and we’re not hitting them."

Aaron Nola did not have a good start. He gave up a pair of homers in falling behind, 3-0, after two innings, and, obviously, there was no coming back, not with this offense.

The Philies are 5-18 in the month of May.

Or should we say Mayday?

"We’re trying to stay positive, as positive as we can throughout this stretch," Altherr said. "You know, it’s tough sometimes when things are going the way they are. We’re just going to keep being positive, keep trying to bring as much energy as we can to win some games."