Oswalt Caps Off Sweep of Astros, Fantastic First Weekend at Citizens Bank Park

Oswalt Caps Off Sweep of Astros, Fantastic First Weekend at Citizens Bank Park

All winter long we dream about baseball
returning to Citizens Bank Park. The past three days in South Philly
were a perfect example as to why we miss it so damn much. Not only did
season ticket holders get a chance to reacquaint themselves with the
friendly faces in their sections they hadn't seen since last year, but
they were also treated to three days of baseball featuring Roy Halladay,
Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt on the mound -- and, most importantly, three
Phillies victories.

Friday thrilled us with a walkoff, Saturday provided a handful of opportunities to tell Cliff Lee in person
what we've been thinking for the past three months, and Sunday
afternoon featured Ryan Howard ringing the bell in Ashburn Alley for the
first of hopefully many times this season. Oh, and the sun even popped
out for a few innings on Sunday to warm part of the record-setting
132,254 fans who came out to the ballpark this weekend.

The three-game sweep at the hands of the Astros featured the guys
we've seen get it done in the past -- Roy, Ryan, Jimmy -- doing what we
know they're very capable of, but also some of the fresher faces --
Mayberry, Francisco, Martinez (No, not Pedro) -- contributing in some
fashion straight from the get-go.

Phillies fans couldn't have really hoped for more from their club in
their opening weekend, and Charlie Manuel believes the veterans playing
to their potential, mixed with a number of new guys stepping up, is the
formula for success for this team going forward.

"If Jimmy Rollins just has the kind of season that he's definitely
capable of having, just his good average season, Victorino has his
average season, Howard does what he can do, we're gonna have some
offense there," Charlie said after Sunday's 7-3 win over Houston.

One of the key contributors in the final win of the series was Ben
Francisco, who was 3-5 on the day with two runs scored to go along with
his first home run of the season. Francisco has stepped into the large
shoes left behind by Jayson Werth and performed fantastically in his
first three starts as the Phillies everyday right fielder.

"Francisco can swing the bat," Manuel said. "I used to say that last
year. He has a chance to be a real good hitter. He can get on the
fastball and he'll make adjustments at the plate. I feel like he can
hit."

"I like our bench," Manuel continued. "We can do some things with our
bench. Mayberry is an improved player. Gload gives you a solid,
professional at-bat just about every time he goes up there. We got some
guys sitting there that can certainly hit and play in situations."

Manuel is impressed with Benny's bat, but Francisco also made a wild
catch against the wall on Sunday that Ryan Howard called "exciting to
watch."

"I don't think he heard me, I was trying to say 'wall!'," Howard told us after the game.

Francisco apparently did not hear Howard yell at him, nor did he
really notice the warning track dirt under his feat, because he ran into
the wall so hard it knocked the "SD" for the Padres out of the
scoreboard.

"The wall is kind of in the sun, you're not worried about the wall.
You're just trying to catch the ball," Francisco said of his catch.

Tell that to Bobby Abreu.

Francisco putting his body on the line to try and get the win and the sweep is the kind of play Phillies fans appreciate. Benny knows it.

"Winning is the name of the game and we won all three. Can't ask for
anything more," Francisco said of the opening weekend in Philly.

Three straight wins at home to start the season is pretty damn
exciting -- and rare. It hasn't been done in Philly since 1970. And it
hasn't been done as a three-game sweep of the same team in Philly since
1899. That's a long ass time ago, if you didn't have your calendar
handy.

"Hopefully we can ride this through this month and get off to a head start," Sunday's winning pitcher Roy Oswalt said.

"First two guys come out and throw unbelievable. You don't want to be
the odd man out," Oswalt said of having to follow Halladay and Lee this
weekend.

With Cole Hamels pitching on Tuesday against the New York Mets, he now has to follow three great starts.

I'm sure Cole doesn't want to be the odd man out either.

So who's ready for the Mets? The Phillies certainly are.

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Canucks 2

Instant Replay: Flyers 3, Canucks 2

Box Score

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Flyers passed a freshness test Sunday night — barely.

After building a 3-0 lead in the first 23 minutes, the Flyers held on for a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena.

The Flyers were the more rested team. They had two days off here following Thursday’s loss in Edmonton — and a three-day break before the start of the trip.

But they almost allowed Vancouver to come back in the Canucks' second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip.

The Flyers (28-24-7) moved within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently shared by Florida and Boston, in the Eastern Conference. The Canucks (26-28-6) were denied a chance to gain ground on the final postseason berth in the Western Conference.

Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn — who added the goal that proved to be the winner — scored for the Flyers. Two of the three goals came on the power play. Both teams failed to score in the third period.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen replied for the Canucks.

With the win, the Flyers avoided going winless on a three-game tour through British Columbia and Alberta. They posted their first victory in Western Canada in the past nine attempts.

Goalie report
Coach Dave Hakstol showed loyalty in Michal Neuvirth after the Flyers' netminder allowed four goals on his first 12 shots in Thursday’s one-sided loss in Edmonton. Neuvirth started off much better Sunday, as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close early and stopped all eight shots that he faced in the first period.

Power play
Hakstol was looking for the Flyers to rediscover their “swagger” on the power play. He got his wish early as Simmonds jammed in a Shayne Gostisbehere rebound only 5:45 into the game. The puck barely crossed the line but was clearly in, as confirmed by a video review. Vancouver winger Alex Burrows was off for hooking at the time. In the second period, Schenn padded his NHL power-play goals lead as he gave the Flayers a 3-0 lead at 2:38. Schenn scored his 14th power-play goal of the season on a shot from the slot as Simmonds screened Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. With his goal, Simmonds moved into a tie for second in NHL man-advantage markers with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Both players have 12.

Voracek busts his slump
The drought is over for Voracek. The winger busted his scoring slump as he gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 2:38 of the second period. The goal was Voracek’s first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

Shayne the unfriendly ghost
Gostisbehere did not live up to his nickname. Ghost was quite visible as he assisted on all of the Flyers’ goals. It was Ghost's first career three-point game.

Did you notice?
Defenseman Michael Del Zotto had a chance for a rare breakaway with about five and a half minutes left in the first period, but missed a well-placed lead pass as he was coming out of the penalty box. Instead of a scoring opportunity, the missed pass led to an icing call and a face-off in the Flyers’ end.

Up next
The Flyers head back home to meet the NHL-best Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m.

Report: Sixers, Pelicans had 'similar' package to DeMarcus Cousins deal in place

Report: Sixers, Pelicans had 'similar' package to DeMarcus Cousins deal in place

The Kings and Pelicans made waves after Sunday's NBA All-Star Game with the huge trade that sent superstar DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans.

Sacramento sent Cousins to New Orleans for a package that included rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and first- and second-round picks this in this year's draft.

But the Sixers and Pelicans reportedly were very close recently on deal for a "similar" package in exchange for Jahlil Okafor, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelbourne.

That "similar" package was reportedly minus Hield.

So while the Pelicans are now almost certainly out of the running for Okafor, they've still made an impact on the Sixers in the near future.

Remember, the Sixers have the right to swap picks with the Kings in this year's draft via the Nik Stauskas deal in 2015.

So with Sacramento's brightest star now gone, that pick swap could be looking better and better for the Sixers.

As for Okafor, what does all this mean for his status with the Sixers?