Archive | October, 2011

Jimmy Rollins Wants to Stay in Philly, but …

21 Oct

Jimmy Rollins hopes to be back with Phillies in 2012. Photo by Webster Riddick.

 

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

It will be hard to imagine the Phillies without Jimmy Rollins in red-pin stripes patrolling shortstop at Citizen’s Bank Park.

That’s something that Rollins himself can barely come to grips with that concept.

“I think I’ve worn it pretty well over the years,” Rollins said. “I haven’t really thought about putting on any other color other than red and white pin stripes.”

As much fans would like their superstars to stay with their teams until they retire, the lure of more money from free agency is a harsh reality of today’s sports climate. J-Roll, for all he has meant to the resurgence of the Phillies, understands this all too well, but he is hopeful things will work out with the Phils.

“At the same time, gut feelings don’t always make great business decisions,” Rollins said during his press conference with reporters back on Oct 11. “It is a business, regardless of how you feel or what you want. Things have to be worked out and agreed upon. I really see there’s a good chance things will work out.”

With his 33rd birthday coming up, Rollins is seeking a five-year deal with a contending team preferably the Phillies. Listening to him during his last confab with the Philadelphia media, you do get the impression that he likes being here and wants to stay here. But most local baseball observers are doubting that he will get the five years he is seeking and they might be right.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he would like to see Rollins in a Phillies uniform for several years, but refused to talk about whether the amount of years that Rollins wants for a new contract..

“I think Jimmy knows exactly where we stand as far as whether we want him back or not, there’s no question that we want Jimmy to be back in our uniform and play shortstop for the next several years,” Amaro said. “Whether that happens, depends upon whether or not we get to the finished line.”

There are some local pundits and some fans who are hoping the Phillies sign New York Mets free agent shortstop Jose Reyes, who won the National League batting title with a .337 average and stole 39 bases during the 2011 season.

Yes, Reyes is younger and had better stats last season than Rollins and on the surface, it would appear to be a good move to sign a younger, faster player.

The problem with Reyes over the years is that he has been injury prone and he has several bouts of being erratic in the field. In the final game of the season, Reyes focusing on individual goals took himself out of the game to help him preserve his National League batting crown rather than help his team win.

When it comes to intangibles like leadership in the locker room, Reyes doesn’t even come close to being the leader that Rollins has been during the Phillies run through the playoffs and the World Series.

On the other hand, Rollins hasn’t been the same player since his MVP season in 2007. Injuries have slowed him down. As a hitter, Rollins has become a bit too enamored with trying to be a home run hitter from the lead-off position like his hometown hero Rickey Henderson.

In 2011, Rollins batted .268 with 16 home runs and 63 runs batted in with 30 stolen bases.

But for all the criticism that Rollins gets, some of it deserved and some of it is absurd, he is still one of the game’s best defensive shortstops. Last season, Rollins committed just seven errors and had a .988 fielding percentage.

It is unlikely that Rollins is going to get the five years he is seeking, given his health and the fact that he is getting up there in age. But because it looks like both Rollins and Phillies management want to somehow work this out, the two parties will probably meet each other half way.

In other words, if he does stay in Philly, he will be probably get a three or four-year deal with options and lots of money.

 

Audio Report: LeSean McCoy Believes the Eagles Will Right Their Ship After Bye Week

20 Oct

LeSean McCoy is confident that Eagles can turn their season around.

In the Eagles win over the Washington Redskins,  running back LeSean McCoy gained 126 yards on 28 carries.  After a snapping four-game losing streak, the 2-4 Eagles believe they can right their ship and get their season back on track.  McCoy said even through their recent losing streak the team still believes that it can be a playoff team.  Chris Murray has more in this audio report.

 

LeSeanWrapI

With Win Over Washington, Birds still have a shot to win the NFC East

16 Oct

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the CM Report

LANDOVER, Md.–If there is any conclusion that you can come to with the Eagles 20-13 victory over the Washington Redskins is that they not only have a pulse, but they still have a legitimate shot, even at 2-4,  at winning the NFC East.

Huh? Did I really say that?

I know optimism is not necessarily a Philly trait, but if look at the rest of the NFC East, it’s a division that’s fit for the taking provided that one of the four teams in question- the Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys and Giants don’t  shoot themselves in the foot.

That’s something that all four teams have had a tendency to do with alarming consistency so far this season.

What has to bother the Eagles and their fans about their current record is that the four games they’ve lost were winnable. Take away the turnovers, mental lapses by both players and coaches, and plain old lack of execution, the Birds could be 5-1 or 6-0 instead of 2-4.

“Every game we’ve lost so far has been because of us,” said Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who caught four passes for 46 yards. “We’ve been stopping ourselves. As long as we can come out here and not have turnovers. As long as we can stop doing that part of the game and stick with what we do best which is go out there, fly around and make plays and take advantage of what the defense gives us.”

Sunday’s win over a first-place Redskins team that doesn’t scare anybody seem to lift the spirits of a team mired in a frustrating four-game losing streak.

“We know right now how our division is as far as record,” Jackson said. “We’re actually not at a bad spot. Even though we would like to win more games than we lost, we still have a good chance to win out and just keep winning and still have a chance to control the NFC East.”

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said winning Sunday’s game will be the start of a rebirth of his team once they come out of the bye week when they host another NFC East team—the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct.30.

“We’ve got to start from (Sunday) and in each and every game,” said Vick, completed 18-of-31 passes for 237 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “We’re going to enjoy this victory and this bye week and start the season all over again. We definitely feel good where we are right not. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done. ”

For the much maligned Eagles defense, which after being beaten up on for the first half and part of the third quarter of the loss to Buffalo, came out Sunday and intercepted Rex Grossman four times. More importantly, they held on to a lead and didn’t give up too many big plays as they have in their four-game losing streak.

“That’s progress for us,” said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. “A lot of times you’ve seen something wrong that happens in the second half, then it’s like,’oh no, how do we respond. But today something wrong happens, you know what to do, let’s fix it.

“It wasn’t a perfect game obviously, in the second half they made a couple of plays, but after that we came through and we were able to stop them.”

Asomugha said that while the defense had a nice outing against the Redskins, they still have a lot of work to do.

“We haven’t been where we wanted to be and the fact that we got a win today is something we can build on,” said Asomugha, who had a bone-charring tackle on Redskins tight end Chris Cooley in the first half. “But at the same time, we’ve got to keep everything in perspective and play it one game at a time.”

The winner of the NFC East will be that team can avoid assisting their opponents efforts to give them a butt-whuppin.  Stay tuned.

A Week That Will Live in Infamy: If you’re a fan of Philly sports teams, last week was one of the worst ever

12 Oct

Roy Halladay allowed just one run, but his teammates scored less than that in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series. Photo by Webster Riddick.

 

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

Philadelphia’s sports fans have had some moments over the years that have probably led to record profits for bars and liquor stores.

Pick your poison—the 1964 Phillies losing the pennant in the last week of the season despite having a six and a half game lead, Joe Carter’s walk-off homerun that beat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series; the Eagles losing the 2002 NFC Championship game (and the final game at Veterans’ Stadium) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXIX.

You can also throw in the 1981 76ers blowing a 3-1 lead to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and “Black Friday” 1977 when the Phillies blew a two-run lead in the ninth against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS.

And don’t even get folks started on a more recent example; the Phillies stunning loss to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 National League Championship Series.

But while all of these sports losses are still stuck in the craw of Philadelphia’s sports fans, my guess is that they’ll pale in comparison to the week of Oct. 2 to Oct. 9—which included the horrendous two-game slide of the Eagles, part of a four-game losing streak, and the Phillies unceremonious exit from the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Those seven days represent arguably one of the most miserable weeks to be a Philadelphia sports fans in the city’s storied sports history.

While most of Philadelphia’s sports fans were able to observe the carnage from a safe distance, I had front-row seats.

Here’s how it went:

Sunday, Oct. 2. I started my day at Lincoln Financial Field to cover the Eagles-49ers game. By the third quarter of that game, Eagles had taken a 23-3 lead and it looked like they were going to stop the bleeding of losing two straight games.

I mean, this current incarnation of the 49ers is being led by Alex Smith. He’s gonna beat you? Really? A guy who has been labeled as a bust is going to lead a team from 20 points down to win. Joe Montana was not coming through that door at Lincoln Financial Field, right?

The 49ers also had a gimpy leg running back in Frank Gore, who was a playing on a sore ankle. Surely, he wasn’t going to be busting through the Eagles defenses for big yardage.

That’s exactly what happened… and don’t call me Shirley.

Smith, looking like the second-coming of Montana, John Elway, and John Unitas combined, led the 49ers on three second-half scoring drives. He threw two touchdown passes and wound up passing for 291 yards on 21-of-33 passing.

Meanwhile, Gore gashed a poor tackling Eagles defense for 127 yards on 15 carries. He averaged eight-yards per carry. On Gore’s game-winning 12-yard touchdown run, he ran over Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel and dragged him into the end zone.

The Birds offense couldn’t get out of the way of itself. They were 2-of-7 in the red zone and they committed three turnovers, including Jeremy Maclin’s fumble on the Eagles last possession of the game that sealed the defeat. The Eagles new kicker Alex Henery also missed two easy second-half field goals that might have won the game for the Birds.

Instead, the Eagles left Lincoln Financial Field to resounding boos and chants of “Let’s Go Phillies.”

About three hours later, I was in the press box at Citizens Bank Park and it’s the top of the fourth inning. The Phillies are up 4-0 with Cliff Lee on the mound. Surely, the rest of the game is a mere formality, right? The Phils would be heading to St. Louis with a 2-0 lead.

Again, this is Cliff Lee, the same Cliff Lee who back in late August went through a stretch of three straight outings where he didn’t allow an earned run.

Lee gave up five runs over the next three innings—three in the fourth, one in the sixth, and one the one that tied the game in the seventh. I thought that after Lee gave up the tying run in the sixth it might have been time for him to hit the showers for the night. He may have had nine strikeouts, but he didn’t have his best stuff.

As it turned out, the Phillies relievers allowed just one hit for the remainder of the game.

But after the second inning, the Phillies offense got just two hits for the rest of the game. Instead of a 2-0 lead, the Phillies go to St. Louis with a 1-1 tie. Phillies’ fans didn’t know it or even want to think about it, but Lee blowing that lead would ultimately cost the Phillies.

In game three, Cole Hamels and Ben Francisco gave Phillies fans a reason to think all was right with the world. Hamels didn’t allow a run in seven innings and Francisco hit a three-run homer in the top of the eighth. The Phillies held onto for a 3-2 win and they were one game away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.

But the joy was short-lived.

Twenty-four hours later, the Phillies gave Roy Oswalt 2-0 lead in the first inning and that was it for the Phillies offense.

After that the Cardinals third baseman David Freese owned the show, driving in five runs with an RBI double that gave the Cards their first lead and a two-run homer that put the game away for good and sent the series back to Philly for Game 5.

With the second largest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park warming up for a huge Phillies victory, the Cardinals needed just one run in the first inning and a good nine innings by their ace Chris Carpenter.

Even as Roy Halladay brilliantly recovered from giving up a triple to Rafael Furcal and a run-scoring double to Skip Schumaker, 46, 530 towel-waving Phillies fans were tortured for nine painful innings at the inability of their hitters to come up with a run-scoring hit of any kind.

Whether you’re talking about the long fly ball that Ibanez hit with runners at the corner, Ryan Howard, who was 0-for-his last 15 at bats in the series, swinging at bad 3-0 pitch or Chase Utley smacking the ball to the wall in the ninth inning, it was like watching a slow, tortuous death.

And of course, the piece de resistance for this debacle was Howard making the last out and rupturing his Achilles Tendon in the process, which means he could be out for half of next season. It was a horrific end and a monumental disappointment for a team that won 102 games and had the best pitching staff in baseball.

But Philly’s sports fans weren’t going to get a break from their heartache anytime soon.

By Sunday, Oct.9, Philly’s sports fans, still hurt over the Phillies stunning exit from the playoffs, found no solace in the Eagles who lost another game they had no business losing to the Buffalo Bills.

The Eagles committed five turnovers including four interceptions by Michael Vick and the defense complicated things by not tackling anybody and letting the Bills run and pass all over them. The Birds did almost as good a job of beating themselves as the Bills did in beating them. They committed big penalties in crucial situations including a silly holding penalty that cost the Eagles a touchdown.

But the worst came late in the game. The Bills had a fourth and one at the Eagles 49 with one minute, 23 seconds left in the game. Everybody with an inkling of football knowledge knew that Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t going to snap the ball and he was calling out signals to draw the Birds offside.

And sho’ nuff, sho nuff, veteran defensive end Juqua Parker fell for it and leaped across the neutral zone and was flagged for encroachment. C’mon, man! Huh? The oldest trick in the book and you fell for that. C’mon, maaaaaaaan!

Philly’s sports fans may need help from Dr. Phil, Oprah, the Rev. TD Jakes, the Wizard of Oz or their local bartender to get past this week of infamy.

But with the Eagles heading to Washington to face the Redskins this week, they might want to wait until Sunday to get that pint of Jack Daniels. After Sunday, they may need a quart.

Michael Vick and the Eagles can't out of the way of themselves in their four-game losing streak.

Hitting Woes Derail Phillies World Series Dreams Again

8 Oct

Ryan Howard was hitless in his last 15 at-bats in NLDS loss to St. Louis Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

The lack of consistent hitting has been the Achilles Heel of the Philadelphia Phillies dating back to their loss to the Giants in the 2010 National League Championship Series. It was something that haunted them throughout the regular season even as the Phils, thanks to their highly-touted pitching staff, piled up enough wins to have the best record in baseball.

The Phillies inability to hit, despite having baseball’s best pitching staff, brought another premature ending to what was the best record in club history. It will be  another long  winter of discontent for the Phillies as they try to recover from another postseason loss that probably shouldn’t have happened.

“This is the most pitching that I’ve ever had depth-wise in our starting rotation and our pitching definitely did a good job this year,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “Once we got Hunter Pence, I felt like our offense definitely picked up and this is a good ball club and we’re definitely capable of winning. Right now, I’ve got some anger, I’ve got some—I don’t know and I just feel very empty.”

The St. Louis Cardinals advanced to the National League Championship Series with a 1-0 shutout of the Phillies in front of a disappointed crowd of 46, 530 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Phils lose the NLDS three games to two.

“It sucks being in this situation and having to come and making the last out and having it the way it happened, it just sucks,” said Howard, who injured his left leg on the final play of the game when he grounded out to first . “You don’t want to be a part of that. Obviously we want to be on the other side of that and we came up short. The only thing we can do is focus in on next year.”

The Cardinals, who won the wildcard berth on the last game of the regular season, will move on to take on the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLCS.

In a battle of Cy Young Award winners that truly lived up to its billing as an intense pitchers’ duel, St. Louis Chris Carpenter out-dueled Roy Halladay by the narrowest of margins. Carpenter allowed just three hits while pitching the full nine innings.

“I saw Carpenter throw breaking balls and change ups and fastballs,” Manuel said. “I saw him move the ball around and he pitched a real good game.”

Halladay was stellar in a losing effort for the Phillies and allowed just one run on six hits while striking out seven and pitching his way out of some tough jams.

If he could start the game over, Halladay would gladly take back the first inning or the two hits he allowed that gave the Cardinals their only run of the game. St Louis got what turned out to be the winning run on an RBI double by Skip Schumaker that scored Rafael Furcal, who tripled to open the game.

Perhaps the most telling stat of this series was the poor hitting performances of Howard (.105) , Raul Ibanez (.200), Placido Polanco (.105)and Carlos Ruiz (.059). After driving in six runs in the first two games of the series, Howard’s bat went silent as he was hitless in last 15 at-bats.

“The mentality was to get guys on base and try to make something and we weren’t able to do that,” Ibanez said. “It’s very frustrating offensively because we’re capable of doing more.”

In Friday’s game, Howard, Ibanez and Chase Utley hit some balls hard, but just could not get  that big hit that would have turned the tide of the game in their favor.

“It felt like one of those nights where we going to break through,” Howard said. “We have (Carpenter) on the ropes a couple times and guys just missed pitches. I missed a couple pitches, Raul missed a pitch. We felt like we were on the verge and for some reason, it didn’t happen.”

After the first inning, Halladay did everything to keep the Phils in the game. In the eighth, the Cardinals loaded the bases with just one out, Halladay struck out Lance Berkmann and got Matt Holliday to hit a harmless flyball to Ibanez in left.

“Obviously that’s very frustrating because (Halladay) had pitch his heart out there, but Carpenter did, too,” Ibanez said. “It’s hard to go home early because everybody in here thought we were going to be playing. We were expected to be out there still competing.”

Halladay and Phillies Ready to Take on Cards in Game 5

6 Oct

Roy Halladay hopes to close out the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday and the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—There will be two types of emotions that fans in this city will exhibit after Game 5 of the National League Division Series- a sense of relief that goes with making it into the next round of the postseason or another year of monumental disappointment where Phils hopes for a World Series title will be a dream deferred.

The good news for  Phillies fans is that their ace, 2010 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay on the mound for the Phillies against a scrappy St. Louis Cardinals team that forced Friday’s Game 5 at Citizen’s Bank Park with a 5-3 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Halladay beat the Cardinals in Game 1 despite allowing three runs in the first inning.

In that game, Halladay allowed just three hits and retired the last 21 batters he faced in an 11-6 victory. Though his start was shaky in his last outing, Halladay said he’s not going to change anything, but go out and stick to his normal game of making good pitches.

“You can’t go out and try to guard against something,” Halladay said. “You know, you have to go out and be aggressive. I’m not going to try and do anything more early in the game than I would do later.”

The Phillies will be going up against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who will be facing the Phillies on four days rest. In their game 2 loss, the Phillies got to Carpenter early, jumping out to a 4-0 in the first two innings only to have the Cardinals bullpen shut them down the rest of the way.

Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS is an ideal scenario for both teams with their aces on the mound. Both Carpenter and Halladay were teammates in Toronto and are good friends to this day.

“It’s going to be competitive. Once you get to this point, you’re going out trying to help your team win,” Halladay said. “We have talked back and forth throughout the series, but I think we both — we get to this point, and it’s down to business. The friendships kind of go by the wayside, I think, after this point.”

Carpenter, who is looking to pitch better than he did in Game 2, said he has enough postseason experience to manage his emotions.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously a huge game, but you control your emotions, you can control distractions,” he said.

With the exception of their Game 1 victory, the Phillies have not hit the ball consistently, especially from four to eight in the Phillies batting order. Ryan Howard is batting .133 (2-for-15), Raul Ibanez is 3-for-12, Placido Polanco .125 (2-for-16) and Carlos Ruiz (1-for-14). John Mayberry, who played left field in Game 3 was 0-for-4.

Patience hasn’t been a virtue for the Phillies, who seem to have a penchant for not working the count and swinging at too many first pitches. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he expects his hitters to be more relaxed in Game 5.

“They definitely work on throwing strike one if you look at it and they kind of –from there, then they stretch the strike zone on us, ” Manuel said. “I think, at times, and especially (in Game 4) once we got behind, we got a little anxious, and that’s kind of natural. We started chasing some balls out of the strike zone.

“I think what we’ve got to just be ourselves and play like we can and I think the results will be there.”

Of course, Manuel’s big concern has to be with Howard, who has driven in six runs in the, but hasn’t had a hit since Game 2.

“Yeah, well, the last couple days he’s having trouble tracking the ball, staying on the ball. When he does that, usually he struggles,” Manuel said. “He got to stay on the ball, let the ball get a little deeper on him and stay in the middle of the field, just try to make good contact. That’s how comes out of it.”

Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence said he and his teammates aren’t going to do anything dramatic with their approach at the plate, but follow their instincts.

“I think if you go up there trying to do something, you’re going to end up working against yourself,” Pence said. “You have to let the game play out. There’s going to different situations, different circumstances. You can’t predict what’s going to happen in this game. You have to allow your instincts to take over, just your process, your approach and let it be at that.”

Eagles Hope to Jump Start Season Against Buffalo

6 Oct

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

Suffice it to say that after three straight weeks of blowing fourth quarter leads, the 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles are in desperate need of a win before their season spirals into an abyss of constant defeat..

Several Eagles including quarterback Michael Vick came into Nova Care practice facility on Tuesday, the players normal day off, to review film, lift weights, and to presumably fix what’s been ailing this team.

“I think it’s just a sense of urgency now and guys see the position that we’re in,” Vick said. “I think they understand what it’s going to get back and how some things are going to have to change. I’m confident in each and every guy in this room that we can get this turned around.”

The first order of business was to throw out all of that “dream team” nonsense and the notion that they were a lock for the Super Bowl with all their free agent acquisitions during the lockout-shortened off-season.

“I think the dream team, that word is dead now,” Vick said. “You can’t talk dream team anymore. It’s over with it now. We’re one of those teams that has to scratch and kick from the bottom now and try to figure out how we’re going to get ourselves back to a position where we can compete with the best teams in the league.”

Last week’s second-half loss to the San Francisco 49ers was embarrassing on both sides of the football. The offense rolled up 513 total yards, but could not get out of the way of itself once it got inside the red zone. The Birds converted just two of its seven red zone chances into touchdowns including a couple of missed field goals and a couple of costly turnovers. The Eagles are 23rd in the NFL in red zone efficiency and they are tied for  17th in to goal to-go  situations.

“We’re one of the top five offenses in the league, but we’re in the bottom three in turnovers,” said tight end Clay Harbor. “We could be 4-0 right now. We’re focusing on making sure that we hold on to the ball and don’t turn the ball over. If we get that taken care of, we’ll be great. The mindset is still we feel like we’re one of the best teams in the league.”

Harbor said the frustrating thing for the Eagles offense is that they have been one or two plays from getting that extra yard and really putting things away.

Right tackle Todd Herremans said it’s time for the offense to start delivering on the field

“I think there’s been way too much talk about what we need to do, what we can and what we should be and it’s time to just be it rather than about it,” Herremans said.

Even with all the offense’s struggles to score touchdown, the Eagles had a 23-3 lead in the third quarter only to have another defensive meltdown. They gave up three scoring drives 77 yards or more. The Birds defense allowed Frank Gore, who was playing on a sore foot to gain 127 yards on 15 carries, while over averaging over eight yards per carry.

“It’s hard for me to pinpoint what it is,” said cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. “I think the guys on the other team come out that much more hungry. I think as a defense we gotta realize that when you’re up, that’s when you really gotta start focusing in and zoning in and that’s where all the tired ness has to go out the window.”

Defensively, the Eagles are at the bottom of the league in red zone defense (32nd), rushing yards per game (30th) and rushing yards per attempt (31st). Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said the defense can be better, but it has to stop breaking down at critical moments in the game.

“The fact that we’re going out there and having stretches throughout the game where we shut the run down, and then all of a sudden give up everything,” Jenkins said. “We have to be consistent and that comes from confidence and knowing what you’re doing and not just knowing it, but knowing it so well that when you start getting tired, you don’t have to think and second guess yourself but just react.”