New Religion: Phillies' Voodoo Pins Yankees in the Bronx

New Religion: Phillies' Voodoo Pins Yankees in the Bronx

A night after the staff's best pitcher was knocked around to start the series in New York, things weren't looking too great on paper for the Phillies in game 2. Wednesday night's starter, Jamie Moyer, was dismantled for NINE earned runs in securing just three outs this past Friday in Boston, and we haven't seen much from the bats in over a month. 

But there was something a little unusual about the second game of this series. First, it was the 24th anniversary of Jamie Moyer's first career win, which oddly enough saw him top the Phillies in Steve Carlton's last game with the club. Second, Chase Utley channeled some voodoo before the game (story w/ video here), possibly joking around but more likely just doing anything he could to get the Phils' stagnant offense going. 

And anyone who's seen Major League knows that Jobu is NOT a Yankees fan. 

Moyer would pitch masterfully, going eight strong and allowing just two earned runs on three Yankee hits, two of which were homers. At age 47, he pitched better tonight than he had 24 years ago as a rookie, earning his 265th career win on the same date he'd earned his first. Also putting up a historic number tonight was Charlie Manuel, who notched his 700th career win as a manager. 

The Phillies made the most of their six hits and five walks drawn, scoring six times to beat the Yankees by a 6-3 count. Everyone's favorite Yankees starter, AJ Burnett, was chased from the mound in the fourth inning, or it might have been much worse. Burnett was tagged for all of the Phillies' runs and hits, and all but one of their walks. The Yanks' relievers put in a great effort in triage, silencing the Phils for the rest of the game.

Some recently maligned Phillies hitters seemed particularly charged up early tonight though. Raul Ibanez drew a walk in the second inning, then stole second base. The lineup has been missing Jimmy Rollins' speed for most of the season, so it was great to see a guy not known for his speed haul ass to scoring position hoping to ignite a rally. Greg Dobbs then lined a single to right, scoring Raul, after which an unnerved Burnett walked Brian Schneider and then had a Wilson Valdez dribbler bounce off his foot. With the 7-8-9 hitters all on base, leadoff man Shane Victorino nailed a triple to the right center gap to put the Phils up 4-0. Burnett would get out of the inning without further damage, but his night wouldn't last much longer.

When the Phils came back to the plate in the third, Ryan Howard led off by crushing a Burnett mistake over the wal in center, after which the increasingly bearded Jayson Werth answered with a homer of his own. 

After small-balling their way to four runs in the second, what better time for the heavy hitters to go back-to-back (marking the first time the Phils have done so all season)? Howard and Werth are now at 11 HR apiece and have each reached the 40-RBI mark on the season.

One win may be a little early to read much into it, but I'm pretty sure science would prove that Utley's voodoo charms were at play here. All that was missing was Burnett getting nailed with a thrown bat. 

The question now is how the Phillies will respond tomorrow night with a chance to win a series in the Bronx.  

Moyer's last three starts alone speak to how unpredictable this team is right now. Mostly, this trait hasn't been a positive lately. But tonight's win could prove to be just what they need to turn things around. The often stoic Utley lightening the mood in the locker room before the game appears to have helped the team come out loose and ready to capitalize on a poor-control night for Burnett. Brad Lidge made things a little too interesting in the ninth, allowing a run on two hits and a walk, filling the Phillies fans in attendance with his trademark brand of nervous anticipation.
But they'd be able to head home happy as Lidge struck out three batters in the frame to preserve the win for Moyer. 

Kind of amazing what one decisive win over the Yankees in their park can do for your feelings about this team. 

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.