Volstad Act: Phils Hang on, Start Weekend Above .500

Volstad Act: Phils Hang on, Start Weekend Above .500

A little good news to start your Friday… The Phillies are over .500. We're not used to celebrating merely having a winning ball club in recent years. Or ever really. But there's certainly relief in looking at the standings this morning and seeing the Phillies with more wins than losses for the first time since opening day. After sweeping the Cubs, that's just where the Fightins are as Boston comes to Philly for the weekend. 
Good things usually happen for the Phils when Chris Volstad is on the mound. They're hardly alone in that regard, as Volstad hadn't won any of his previous 18 starts heading into Thursday night's showdown with a certain Mr. Halladay. And it isn't just the luck of the sport's sometimes-unfair system for doling out W's and L's to pitchers. During a span over eight games to start this season, his new club the Cubs haven't won any of his starts; in his last ten starts of 2011, his old Marlins won just twice. 
Add to that inglorious streak the fact that the Phillies essentially owned Volstad during his time with the Marlins, plus the fact that Carlos Ruiz was catching Roy Halladay in this one, and most signs were pointing to that glorious game-above-even heartland. 
Notes on the Phils' hang-on-for-dear-life 8-7 win below. 
Doc went 8 strong, allowing 7 hits and no walks, striking out 4. His 3 runs allowed came on a first-inning sac fly after a leadoff double, then a pair of solo homers in the seventh and eighth innings. After running a long count and grooving a pitch to Welington Castillo, then watching it clear the left field wall, Doc beaned the mound with the rosin bag in frustration. Gotta love that emotion despite pitching an efficient game and getting great run support. 
Halladay's batterymate once again was a key in providing the offense, continuing his early season tear with four 4 hits in 5 plate appearances and 3 RBI on the night. Chooch's average has climbed to .363, with an OBP now over .400. Elias Sports informs us that Ruiz is now 15 for 30(!) with 12 RBI in Halladay's starts this season. Get that man a Timex.
Jimmy Rollins got aboard 3 times, with a hit and a pair of walks, scoring 3 runs. 
Hunter Pence struck out with two on in the first after Volstad allowed a hit and a walk, but made much of more of a bases loaded opportunity in the second, singling to plate a pair of runs. 
Not content to leave it all on the mound, Halladay saved some for the plate, where he had a pair of hits and scored two runs as well. 
Juan Pierre continued an impressive run of his own, getting on twice out of the 2-hole and snaring a dangerous fly ball dropping just inside fair territory in the 7th. That catch would be a potentially huge difference-maker, as things started to go south for Phils pitching in that inning. Starlin Castro had just homered over Pierre's head in the previous at bat, but the left fielder helped stop the bleeding with his grab, and Doc escaped after a double play. 
After the bats added three insurance runs to take an 8-2 lead in the eighth inning—and really, look no further than this game to see how important insurance runs can be—Doc gave up the Castillo homer in the bottom of the frame, then induced three straight outs and handed the ball to Jake Diekman for the ninth. 
Diekman's debut was impressive (3 K in 1.1 IP), but there are plenty of unanswered questions for the kid. With an 8-3 lead, this was the perfect opportunity to see how he'd respond in his second appearance. He has some funky, hitter-fooling stuff, like he's throwing a rock at a dead bird. But his control is a question, and some near misses resulted in a 4-pitch walk to start the bottom of the ninth. Diekman got Castro to fly out, but then walked pinch hitter Jeff Baker, got Joe Mather to line out, then hit Ian Stewart to load the bases. 
After Castillo again struck with late-inning damage, doubling in all three baserunners, Diekman's night was done. Jonathan Papelbon came in on the eve of his matchup against the Red Sox, allowed a hit that scored a run, but then got a groundout to end the game, 8-7. 
Phewwww. 
On a night where every run counted, the Phils didn't stop swinging. They preserved a win for the ace and gave the new bullpen kid enough cushion to get whooped and not have a loss on his head. We'll take it. 
Up NextCole Hamels hosts righty Daniel Bard as the Phillies-Red Sox series kicks off tonight in South Philly. Also in town across the parking lot are the Celtics, with gorgeous weather on tap for the whole weekend. Do it right, Philadelphia... 
VOTE CHOOCHTake a minute from your Captain Busyface schedule today and vote Chooch for the All-Star Game. Could he possibly be more deserving? Short answer: No. 
And, if you like the design above, that's via Mr. Rick Penguin at zoowithroy.com. Pick one up here. 

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

It had been a while since Steve Mason saw himself.

Walking into the Barclays Center on Sunday, the Flyers’ goalie was 0-6-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .844 save percentage over his last 10 appearances (see more recent Flyers numbers and stats).

A far cry from how Mason truly sees himself in net.

But heading into Wednesday’s rivalry clash with the Rangers, Mason will have something to build on, something he couldn’t say since Dec. 21 — the last time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a gigantic one for Mason considering all the key moments on Sunday the Flyers hope invigorate his confidence.

Without numerous clutch stops from their goalie, the Flyers don’t come back from two goals down to beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime. Mason made four saves  — three on four-time All-Star John Tavares — in just over a minute of a third-period power play. The Flyers ended up having to kill two New York man advantages in the final 10 minutes of regulation in order to force overtime.

The extra session is when Mason was just as good, if not better, stoning Tavares on a breakaway attempt that had game-winner written all over it. Mason made four saves in overtime after 13 in the third period.

“I was happy with the way that, personally, this game went for myself,” Mason said Sunday. “It’s been a tough stretch and this is more the type of game that I expect of myself. In recent games, the team was lacking the big saves and tonight it shows what kind of difference it can make.”

It was a massive performance heading into a massive three-game stretch against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.

“Mase made some huge saves for us,” Simmonds said. “It allowed us to get back in that game.

“It’s not just Mase [with the] ups and downs. Everyone in here has been kind of fighting it and squeezing sticks pretty tight. That one felt good and I think Mase led the charge for sure.”

Mason understands just one game doesn’t turn around a season.

“It’s nice to feel good after a game,” Mason said. “At the same time, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to have a short mindset and get ready for the next one.”

That brings the Flyers to Madison Square Garden Wednesday to face the Rangers, who they’ve lost five straight games to dating back to last season. Mason hasn’t had much luck against New York this season, allowing seven goals in two losses with an .860 save percentage. However, in 2015-16, Mason put up a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.

“That’s going to be a tough game going into MSG,” Mason said Tuesday (see story).

The good thing: Mason was in New York two days ago, remembering what he can be.

Manute Bol's 7-foot, 17-year-old son dominates in HS season debut

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Manute Bol's 7-foot, 17-year-old son dominates in HS season debut

Bol Bol, the 17-year-old son of the late Manute Bol, is a top high school basketball prospect with offers from schools like Arizona, Kansas and Creighton. This highlight tape should give you an idea why.
 
Bol, whose father played in the NBA for parts of 12 seasons, including 215 games for the Sixers, now attends the famed Mater Dei High School in California and played in his first game of the season this past weekend. Listed as the No. 16 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class by Scout, Bol started his season off with a big 21-point, 10-rebound effort.
 
Take a look at the highlight tape from the 6-foot-11 Bol and expect to see him carry on his father’s legacy on the court at a major NCAA college basketball program soon.