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.

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

Best of NBA: Rockets crush Pelicans to spoil Cousins' debut

NEW ORLEANS -- The Boogie-and-Brow era in New Orleans is off to a highly inauspicious start.

The Pelicans' tandem of newly acquired All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis was no match for the surging Houston Rockets on Thursday night.

Reserve Lou Williams hit seven 3-pointers and scored 27 points in his Rockets debut, and Houston crushed New Orleans, 129-99.

Davis had 29 points, and Cousins finished with 27 points and 14 rebounds. But New Orleans turned the ball over 20 times couldn't keep pace with the firepower of the Rockets, who hit 20 3-pointers.

Eric Gordon scored 19 points and Ryan Anderson added 17 in both players' first game in New Orleans since leaving the Pelicans. James Harden had 13 points and 14 assists (see full recap).

LeBron triple-double powers Cavs past Knicks
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James recorded his 48th career triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 23 points, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 119-104 victory over the New York Knicks, who hung on to superstar Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose at Thursday's trade deadline.

James scored 18 points and had 13 rebounds with 15 assists for his sixth triple-double of the season.

Anthony, the subject of trade rumors because of a strained relationship with Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, scored 20 points, going 9 of 25 from the field.

Kyle Korver scored 20 points for Cleveland, which is 8-1 in February and has beaten New York 10 straight times.

Courtney Lee had 25 points for New York, which has lost six of seven and is 12th in the Eastern Conference playoff race (see full recap).

Pistons rally from 18 down to beat Hornets in OT
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 33 points, including three 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter during a pulsating Detroit rally, and the Pistons outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 114-108 in overtime Thursday night.

Caldwell-Pope scored Detroit's last 11 points of regulation, and his 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds to play tied the game at 100. Kemba Walker scored Charlotte's final nine points of the fourth, but the Pistons forced him to give up the ball on the last possession, and Marco Belinelli missed a 3-pointer that could have won it.

Detroit, which was behind by 18 in the third quarter, never trailed in the overtime. Caldwell-Pope's 3-pointer with 55 seconds remaining put the Pistons up 110-102.

Charlotte led 85-70 at the start of the fourth but missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the period, enabling Detroit to cut into the lead.

Walker scored 34 points. Tobias Harris had 25 for the Pistons (see full recap).