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.

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).