The Evster remembers the Southwest Philly Floater

The Evster remembers the Southwest Philly Floater

Earlier this week, The 700 Level named the Southwest Philly Floater as our #1 favorite Philly sports moment of the year. Now while you can argue that the Snow Bowl was more epic, or that Spencer Hawes not sucking was more mind-blowing, there was no play -- or post game interview -- that was any more "Philly" than the Southwest Philly Floater.

The shot itself? whatever. It wasn't even really a floater. More of a hop-step, looping layup that pretty much every combo guard in the country has in his arsenal, regardless of where he grew up. The game? meh. A 13th-seeded mid-major knocking off a 12th-seeded bubble squad happens pretty much every March. But there was something about this moment that was just so "Philly."

Tyrone Garland (who by the way, is only the THIRD ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER in the Public League's history, behind only Maureece Rice and a guy named WILTON NORMAN CHAMBERLAIN) didn't settle for an end-of-the-game pull-up jumper like Carmelo, or a step-back 3 like Steph, he drove it into the paint, because that's what Philly guards do. Garland's "Floater" is a high-percentage look in any gymnasium and on every blacktop, regardless of heavy winds or double rims. When the game is on the line in Philly, you don't launch a fadeaway jumper, you take it to the rack. And then you shout out your whole goddamn neighborhood.

What's wrong with Philly fans that this makes us SO happy? To have a stupid basketball play -- and one of the roughest sections of town -- as the lead story on the 11 o'clock SportsCenter? I think it's clear that we have some sort of major inferiority complex, built up from years of living in the shadows of DC and New York. We don't have the polish and pull of the nation's capital, and we can't even come close to the glitter and glam of the Big Apple. The two biggest celebs we've raised in the last 30 years -- Will Smith and Kobe Bryant -- both stuck us in their rearview mirror on the way to LA. Whether or not we choose to admit it, THIS STINGS US DEEPLY, but when a guy like Tyrone Garland -- who left Philly to play ball at Virginia Tech, but then came back! -- puts Southwest Philly on the map, it makes us all proud to be from America's fattest city.

(And by the by, anyone who says Kobe isn't "Philly," shut up. Just shut up. The dude's dad was as Southwest Philly as you can get, playing at the same high school (and college) as Tyrone Garland. Just because Joe Bryant chose to raise his family ZERO POINT THREE MILES west of City Line Avenue, does not mean that his son is a Main Line wimp. If there is a ballplayer whose game is any more "Philly" than Kobe Bryant's -- playing through injuries, attacking the rim, locking up on D -- please show him to me. Rasheed Wallace left North Philly for the wine and cheese of Chapel Hill. Does that make him an outsider? KB is a stone cold killa AND he got a 1080 on his SATs.)

The thing is, most Philly fans who leapt out of their seats after Tyrone Garland's buzzer beater were not from Southwest, nor were they even La Salle basketball fans. I can safely say that La Salle is BY FAR my fifth-favorite city team. Maybe even sixth depending on how Drexel's lookin'. The only time I ever go to Southwest is to pick up a 50-pack of munchkins from the Dunkin Donuts on Island Avenue on the way to the airport. But after Tyrone Garland knocked off Mississippi, we were all from Southwest. We all had a Cousin Bern. And we all considered Craig Sager to be the world's biggest dork.

For one night in March, it didn't matter if you were #TempleMade or belonged to the Merion Cricket Club, Tyrone Garland was representin' for all of us. Nowhere else in the world did coaches teach their guards to take it into big guy's necks. Nowhere else did fellas rock pointy, bushy beards. Nowhere else did people get goosebumps by simply watching the opening credits of Trading Places. Only in the 2-1-5. Only in Illadelph.

Lionel Simmons played Gameboy like a boss.

Yeah, we might mispronounce the plural form of "you", and our public school system is a friggin' joke, but this is the home of the Southwest Philly Floater. The town where Ben Franklin invented a little somethin' called E-LEC-TRICITY. The place where the fastest, most bonkers offense in the NFL put up 54 big ones against the Chicago Bears.

Next victim: the bitch-ass Dallas Cowboys.

YA HEARD?

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Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

• Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

• Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”