'The Significance of Temple's Bowl Berth' or 'The Existential Baggage Inherent in Shipping the Band to Albuquerque, New Mexico'

'The Significance of Temple's Bowl Berth' or 'The Existential Baggage Inherent in Shipping the Band to Albuquerque, New Mexico'

The Temple Owls did not meet their goal of winning the 2011 MAC Championship. This is a stand-alone point that requires no added explanation and possesses no reasonable refutation.

From the beginning of training camp all the way through to their official elimination at the hands of not one, but two different place kickers—neither of whom, by the way, were even playing Temple at the time—coach Steve Addazio and every single member of his program focused only on the conference title game in Detroit. It was the number one bullet point in every statement regarding the team's motivation, and the opening answer to every question about how Temple would ultimately measure itself.

But sadly for the coach, the team, and, ultimately, their perpetually disillusioned and cynical fans, the dream ended. The Owls, who fought all year for a for an accomplishment no longer in reach, were forced to pick themselves up and switch gears in an attempt to qualify for a bowl game. A month and a half later, they find themselves in (of all places) Albuquerque, New Mexico and without any discernible sense of failure. It's not "sort of" like all the MAC title talk never happened; in fact, it's exactly like it never happened.

Maybe some of that sentiment can be blamed on a convenient amnesia—that the original goal was merely forgotten in this new wave of still largely uncharted excitement—but even the most ardent defenders of Temple's "ever-rising" football program can't argue that the 2011 Owls didn't strive for something and ultimately fail.

Though, on the eve of the team's second bowl game in the last three years, it just doesn't really seem like that particular failure matters anymore. And there's a good reason why (even if it is a little disingenuous).

The beauty of qualifying for this bowl game is that both the university and its supporters have the potential to look back on this season and remember when the Owls made history. Bowl bids, especially in the modern era (when you can qualify even with a losing record), may not mean a lot to other institutions, but they certainly do to Temple. Such an appreciation for what others take for granted is no doubt the product of a history graced with such an opportunity a mere three times over the last thirty-two seasons.

When the Owls broke through with their bid to the 2009 EagleBank Bowl, securing their first postseason appearance in exactly three decades, it was a genuinely meaningful moment for a small, but disproportionately tortured fan base. No, they didn't beat UCLA on that impossibly cold night at RFK, but the very idea that the Temple was even in the game legitimately meant something. Whether students, fans and alums stayed at home to survey the game from indoors, or, as was a popular option for those in attendance, slugged pull after pull of whiskey in the hopes of keeping warm for even a few fleeting moments within the stadium's confines, there is a very good chance that those who watched remember exactly where and how they did so when Temple played in its first bowl game since 1979.

Saturday's meeting with the Wyoming Cowboys carries with it that same kind of gravity. Winning the Gildan New Mexico may not sound like much, but it doesn't really need to either. A Temple win ensures that 2011 will be remembered as the year the Owls ended their drought. Sure, long-term concerns will later set in regarding the future of certain players and the overall direction of the program, but whether or not they won the MAC title will prove wholly irrelevant in comparison to the sheer relief of that moment when Temple finally "did it."

That said, with that kind of emotion of the line, Saturday also carries with it the potential for yet another let down at the hands of the Temple Owls. This is a subject we've covered on this site in the past and one that could end the 2011 season on a profoundly sour note. A Wyoming upset would send Temple back to North Broad with neither a MAC title nor a bowl victory, but rather a familiar slap in the face, a reminder of what happens when Owls fans regretfully anticipate that which never comes.

Getting to the bowl game is still a welcome change, but its also part of the very reasonable expectations the team set for itself at the outset of this year's campaign. While 2009 was a celebration of simply "being there," 2011 needs to be a celebration of both being there and leaving there with a win. Just as it's no longer satisfying being "competitive," merely earning a bid isn't enough. It's once again time for the Owls to take their next step as an up-and-coming program, a step they've had trouble negotiating in any number of opportunities the past three seasons.

With all that in mind, if this to be a totally honest account of the significance of this single game, it's largely inarguable that all the following facts are, well, factual. 8-4 is a fine record for any football team in any conference. The Temple Owls are not the program they once were. One loss in a practically insignificant bowl game means as little as a win on that same stage. The majority of these games, after all, are indeed a sham, a fabrication of an important event which exists solely to make money absent any sense of true achievement. Lost in grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean absolutely nothing.

That is, unless you're Temple. For Temple, this game has the power to literally make or break your entire season. For Temple, this game is of the utmost significance in your long-time search for respect and credibility. For Temple, a program for decades lost in the grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean everything.

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).