Archive | April, 2012

Phils offense Held to Just Two Hits in Loss to the Cubs

30 Apr

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun.

When the day started, there were 45,550 fans at Citizen’s Bank Park hoping the Phillies would beat the Chicago Cubs in the finale of their three-game series.

But by the end of the eigthth inning, the ball park was half-filled when fans saw that their team was in five-run role and had just one hit off Cubs starter Matt Garza. Suffice it to say that there were more hits on the scoreboard’s “Bongo Cam,” than tanything the Phillies could muster in nine innings.

Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Cubs is just another game in which fans are marking their calendars to the day that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will return to the starting lineup. The Philllies finished the day with just one run off two hits.

The only run of the game for the Phillies came when Cubs closer Carlos Marmol walked TyWigginton with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

It was Garza that put the real mojo on the Philllies bats today allowing just one hit—a bloop single by shortstiop Jimmy Rollins in the first inning— with 10 strike outs in seven innings of work on the mound.

“As a matter fact we didn’t hit the ball hard,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “Garza had a lot to with it, but at the same time our hitting is inconsistent and we’ve got to more consistent. I expect us to hit the ball and score every night. You have to to hit some balls in the game and consistently move the ball around a little bit at the major league level to win games.

Kyle Kendrick allowed three runs, two of them earned ,and seven strikeouts in six innings of work. A bad throw on a pick-off led to one of those runs in the third inning He struggled in the beginning, but he got better as the game moved forward. Unfortunately, the Phillies offense just could not get anything going.

“I just try to give us a chance to win the game,” Kendrick said.

Inside the Phillies clubhouse , the silence was about as deafening as the silence of their bats today. Trying to find answers to the lack of consistency at the plate has also become somewhat annoying to the players when they’re asked about it on a daily basis by reporters.

“For every team I’ve been on these questions are nothing new,, you go through it every year,” said Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre, who was 0-for-3 in the loss to the Cubs. “I think that the guys have been through it enough that you can’t panic.”

Phillies rightfielder Hunter Pence said he believes that it’s a matter of time before the Phillies will become consistent on the offensive end.

“It’s going to take for a few of us to get hot and it’s going to happen,” Pence said. “[Shane] Victorino is going to get better than what he’s doing, I’m going to get better than what I’m doing. It’s a thing where you continue to come out ready to play everyday and continue to go with the process. There’s no panic, it’s a long season. Once we get a few those of bats hot and with our pitching and I think we’ll be alright.”

The Ultimate Warrior: Brian Dawkins Left Everything on the Field and Then Some

26 Apr

Dawkins, who retired last Monday, was one of the league's hardest hitters.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

When Brian Dawkins left the Eagles after the 2008 season, he took with him the high-octane passion with which he played the game. And since his departure, the Birds defense has lacked his fire and his ability to be enforcer in the Eagles secondary.

Dawkins, who played the last few years with the Denver Broncos, announced his retirement from the game via Twitter last week. While he hadn’t work the Midnight Green for a while, anyone who plays free safety for the Eagles in the future will no doubt be measured by how Dawkins approached and played the game. He was one of the game’s hardest hitters who left everything out on the field.

Dawkins will be honored by the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 30 during a nationally-televised Sunday Night game against the New York Giants.

Sources say that Dawkins will retire as an Eagle. And for a guy who played the game with emotion, it is fitting that he retires in the place where he hyped to a fever pitch during pre-game introductions.

One of the things that I’ve been blessed with or cursed with is I played with all of my emotions on my sleeve and you can kind of read me pretty easily by the way I’m feeling on game day,” Dawkins said in a conference call with reporters.

“I purposely try and go out and do my best to make sure my coaches, teammates, and fans know that I gave it my all on the football field. With me playing as long as I did in Philadelphia, I heard what they said. I didn’t just hear it, I heard and listened to what they said. I felt the pain they had from past failures and the way they are treated sometimes in the media. I heard those things, and I took it to heart and I understood them.”

During his 13 years in an Eagles uniform, Dawkins was a five-time All-Pro selection, went to the Pro Bowl seven times and is the franchise leader in games played with 183 as well as the team’s all-time career leader in interceptions. He averaged nearly 100 tackles per year.

But even beyond his numbers, Dawkins was considered one of the most dominant safeties of his era. His work ethic was unparalleled and consistent, according to his former coach, Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

“Brian always put in the extra hours it took to become the star player that he was. And he transferred all of that and more onto the field on Sundays,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said in a statement. “He poured everything he could into doing whatever was best for his teammates and this organization. He was the unquestioned leader of our defense. He will go down as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time and I have no doubt we’ll be celebrating his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

When they honor him in September, I hope the ceremony will be one where they retire his jersey in the way they retired Chuck Bednarik’s. I don’t think any player can wear Number 20 again. Dawkins’ shoes, and his jersey, are simply too big for anyone to fill. The ability to play football at Dawkins’ level for the length of time in which he did it is too much to ask of anyone.

My most vivid memory of Dawkins as an Eagle was the vicious hit he put on Atlanta Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler in the 2004 NFC Championship, a hit that led to the victory that took the Eagles to the team’s second Super Bowl in franchise history.

Another thing I liked about Dawkins is that he was a loyal teammate. In the midst of all the harsh criticism that quarterback Donovan McNabb would receive, Dawkins was always quick to defend his teammate to the news media and anyone else who came along.

Unlike Ray Lewis in Baltimore, who comes out of the tunnel doing some sort of dance, Dawkins just sprinted out of the tunnel, fist raised, bringing the crowd to a thunderous roar. Sometimes, Dawkins was so hyped for a game that not even the Eagles mascot, Swoop, was safe…

To me, Brian Dawkins was the ultimate warrior-poet. He was a fierce competitor who wore his heart on his sleeve from the first play to the last.

At 47, Bernard Hopkins says, “Maybe I’m Just Better”

18 Apr

In their first fight Oct.15 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Chad Dawson tackles Bernard Hopkins and hurls into the canvas. The fight end as a TKO for Dawson that was later ruled a no-contest by the California State Athletic Commission.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

Legendary fighter Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins said he has no secrets for his success in recent years against younger, stronger, faster fighters like Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik.

In a career that spans over 24 years and a multitude of title fights against some of the great fighers of all-time, the 47-year-old Hopkins said it has nothing to do with strategy or even his years of experience in the ring.

“Has anybody thought or just think that maybe I’m just better than the generation in the last 12 or 10 years. Maybe I’m just better. Has anybody ever thought that it ain’t the mind games. It ain’t that Bernard Hopkins got the look that he can bully a fighter before a punch is thrown. I disagree with people who say what I do is about a head game,” Hopkins said in a conference call this week with reporters.

“When you take away the person’s ability to do what you want him to do, they say it’s mental like I did something underhanded, under the table or against the rules and you flat out beat a guy because maybe I’m just better.”

Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) will get another chance to prove his greatness against the younger “Bad” Chad Dawson (30-1-0, 17 KOs) for the WBC Light-Heavyweight title on April 28 at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.

The last fight between the two fighters had a controversial ending. In the second round of that first fight, which took place Oct. 15 at the Staples Center Los Angeles, Dawson threw Hopkins onto the canvas and separated his shouldder .

The fight ended with a TKO for Dawson that was eventually overturned and ruled a no-contest by the California State Athletic Commission. That ruling allowed Hopkins to keep his World Boxing Council light heavyweight title.

Many boxing observers thought Dawson was in control of the brief fight. Meanwhile, the 29-year-old Dawson, along with his promoter Gary Shaw, contend that Hopkins was faking and didn’t want to go through with the rest of the fight.

“I have every advantage, I’ve got the fire in my eyes and people saw that in the last fight. I really wanted to go out and I really wanted to beat Bernard Hopkins,” Dawson said. “Bernard had other plans. I keep saying this Bernard did not want to be in the ring with me that night. Maybe he undertrained and didn’t expect to see what he saw that night. Maybe he needed more time to get in shape, but I’m here and I’m for real, I’m coming to fight.”

As he usually does Hopkins is relishing the underdog role and another chance to prove Father Time wrong and boxing media pundits wrong. Every time he was supposed to look like a man in his 40s, Hopkins has found enough power to befuddle his younger opponents.

“At the end of the day, whether it’s I’m an underdog because they say I should be an underdog, I’m going to continue to show that you might have an opinion whatever, but that don’t mean you have to be right,” Hopkins said. “It’s my job to prove it come April 28th . I’ve been right more than I’ve been wrong. April 28th is the only thing that I want to say, the only I want to show and you’re going to see it when you come up and shake my hand and tell me how great I am I’m going to say thank you and go back to sleeping in my own bed, something I haven’t done in the last nine weeks.”

With each victory over younger opponents, his dogged determination to not age in the ring and a Spartan-like training regimen, Hopkins has managed to stay relevant in a sport that has few very stars that are known beyond its base of hard core fans.

“Any and every big name that was around his weight class in the last 20 years, he has fought and won against,” said Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. “I think that’s what built the status he has which is a legendary status. He did make history because he beat George Foreman’s record to be the oldest champion ever. You add all things together and people are taking notice that this is a very special athlete and that’s what makes Bernard Hopkins so popular.”

But Dawson and Shaw believes it’s time for Hopkins to exit the stage.

“If it goes 12 rounds, I want to win 11`or 12 of those rounds,” Dawson said. “I’m looking to go out and beating Bernard in a great fashion that no one can say, but this or but that. I don’t want a close fight I want to beat him decisively.”

Added Shaw: “I promise you Chad Dawson will walk out of that ring victorious. He’ll have the Ring (Magazine) belt, he will have the WBC belt and I wish Bernard Hopkins a lot of luck on his entry into the (Boxing) Hall of Fame.”

Hamels Gets Some Much-Needed Run Support in Phils Win over the Mets

15 Apr

After giving two-run homer in the first, Cole Hamels shuts down the Mets the rest of the way, finishing with 10 strikeouts.

By Chris Murray

For the CM Report

Without the firepower of slugging first baseman Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in their lineup, the Phillies formula for success will simply come down to grinding out games with good pitching and the ability to somehow manufacture with good base running and timely hitting.

On a day when Cole Hamels was mowing down batters with 10 strikeouts, the Phillies offense finally provided the other end of that equation and came away with an 8-2 win over the New York Mets in front of another sellout crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park.

After scoring just one in the first two games of this series, the Phillies (4-5) scored seven of their eight runs in the final two innings of the game to put the Mets away. With a huge 10-game West coast road trip on the horizon, the Phillies are hoping to have more than a few games where they can score runs in bunches to go along with their great pitching.

“I think all of our starting pitchers know that they’re very capable of holding the opposition if they’re throwing their type of game,” said Phils manager Charlies Manuel. “On some nights, they will give up some runs. Just like today we gave up two early, they got the lead, we hung in there and we came back, we finally had a couple of innings there where we scored runs.”

Sunday’s game against the Mets was a good example of what could happen if the scoring and pitching come together for the Phillies. Hamels started the game by giving up a two-run homer to Ike Davis. The Mets would not score again.

“Cole’s the whole reason we won today,” said Ty Wigginton, who drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh. “They jumped off a 2-0 lead and he didn’t let them get anymore, he shut the door on them. Anytime, you get a pitcher out there battling like that, you want to help him out.”

After the second inning, Hamels settled down and shut down the Mets for the remainder of his time on the mound. In seven innings, the Phillies lefty allowed no runs on five hits along with the 10 strikeouts.

Hamels said he got through that first inning by not panicking and just focusing on the next batter rather than allowing things snowball out of control.

“You put it behind you,” Hamels said. “I think I’ve become pretty good at getting over it and starting back over. No matter what occurred I need to get the next guy out and I think that’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way. You just keep plugging away and if you’re able to do that and keep the intensity and the focus, you’re going to be able to pull away and have games like that.”

In recent years, Hamels has always pitched well enough to win games, but more often than naught, he hasn’t had the kind of run support to help him win games.

Up until the Phillies half of the seventh inning, it looked Hamels was going to be that hard luck loser as the Phils trailed 2-1. Singles by Jimmy Rollins and Hunter Pence put both them at first and second. A wild pitch by Mets reliever Ramon Ramirez put Rollins at third and Pence at second.

Wigginton’s sac-fly tied the game and Lanyce Nix’s double put the Phillies ahead for good. In the eighth inning, the Phillies exploded with a five-run to put the Mets away. Wigginton capped off his day with a three-run double.

“Anytime you take the field, you want to go out and contribute and help your team win a ball game,” Wigginton said. “Definitely the sac-fly even more so than the double. It’s just a matter of getting out there and getting some results.”

Notes–The Phillies activated veteran reliever Jose Contreras today and optioned pitcher Joe Savery to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.


He Took One for All Americans: Jackie Robinson and the Civil Rights Movement

15 Apr

By Chris Murray

According to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson was a sit-inner before the sit-ins and a freedom-rider before the freedom rides

For the Sunday Sun and Chris Murray Report

When it comes figuring out the actual beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement, historians will probably point to the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as the starting point.

If the bus boycott was the first chapter in the story of knocking down racial segregation in America, Jackie Robinson erasing baseball’s color line back in 1947 was the ultimate precursor to a movement that ultimately knocked down legalized racial discrimination.

Ten years before angry white mobs shouted obscenities at the Little Rock Nine and 14 years before Bull Connor sent water hoses and dogs on young protestors in Birmingham, Ala., Robinson was a lone warrior on the front lines of an hostile war to integrate America’s national pasttime.

On the field, Robinson endured his share of virulent racial hostility from his opponents on the field and from fans in the stands. And like the young people who would participate in the lunchroom counter sit-ins, Robinson did not fight back against his tormentors. He resisted the hatred with the grace and dignity that King and others  would show throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

“Jackie did it on a platform that was viewed by millions of people, he had to do it with a certain decorum, he had do it with a certain toughness, he had to endure a lot of hatred and perform at a high level,” said Jimmie Lee Solomon, Executive Vice President, Baseball Development, Major League Baseball, an interview I did with him last summer. “Dr. King did the same thing. What Dr. King went through in his 39 years is mind-boggling.”

Robinson in the midst of hostile crowds, taunts, and players sliding into second base with hard spikes, excelled on the field in what was a tumultuous rookie season. He batted .297 for the Brooklyn Dodgers  and led the National League in stolen bases. Robinson won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He was  also fifth in the balloting for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

In fact, King himself acknowledged that Robinson fired the first blow in the fight to get America to  live it up to its ideals of freedom and equality guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution: “A pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”

Both during and after his playing career, Robinson toured the South speaking on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement and was one of the most requested speakers. He often told supporters that he would gladly take full citizenship rights for African-Americans over him getting into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

One of the things that very few people know about Robinson was that he was also an advocate for Black sports writers. Back in 1989, I interviewed Mal Goode, the first African-American broadcast network news correspondent, who told me that Robinson was upset over the fact there were few Black sports writer, outside of the Black press.

While Robinson bore the brunt of those early days with the utmost of humility, his strength to not fight back ultimately took its toll on him phyisaecally. By the time, he reached the age of 53, Robinson was battling diabetes and would ultimately die of a heart attack in 1972.

Even near the end of his life, Robinson was still fighting for the integration of baseball to go even further at the point. Prior to Game 2 of the 1972, Robinson told fans that day he would like to see the day the baseball would have Black managers in the dugouts.

If there is one final irony of the year Robinson broke the color barrier, it was that he led the National League in sacrifices.  On April 15, 1947, he took one for the team in a bigger way and we are a better nation for it.

Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre Talks About Utilizing Speed Game

12 Apr

Can the Phillies Win With Small Ball? Win over Marlins Could Provide the Blueprint

12 Apr

Speedy outfielder Juan Pierre hopes to help a Phils offense that will be without Chase and Ryan Howard.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the shelf with injuries, you knew the Phillies were going to start the 2012 season having to come up with creative ways to come up with runs.

The Phillies lost three of their first four of the 2012 games because their offense sans their power hitters was completely out of rhythm. Of course, Phillies fans went into worry mode even though there’s well over 150 games left. Oh, woe is the Phillies, will they ever hit again?

In Wednesday’s 7-1 win over the Miami Marlins, the Phillies may have found a lineup geared to playing the small ball that both general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel talked about last October in aftermath of their loss in the National League Division Series.

With speedsters like lead-off Juan Pierre, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino along with Hunter Pence and rookie second baseman Freddie Galvis who run hard on the basepath and create havoc on the basepaths, the Phillies demonstrated that they come up with the big inning with a small ball.

The big inning of that game was the Phillies third inning in which they batted 10 men and scored five runs on four singles and just one extra-base hit. This inning happened mainly because the Phillies were aggressive on the basepaths.

After pitcher Roy Halladay grounded out, Pierre got the festivities going with a single to right. He stole second on a play that replay showed he was clearly out. But since the umpires called him safe, Pierre eventually scored on single by Placido Polanco, who took second on the throw to the plate.

With Polanco in scoring position, Rollins gets a single to left. He not only drives home Polanco, he takes second on a fielding error. A Pence single brings home Rollins. The Phillies rightfielder takes second on the throw and is driven home by Victorino, who would eventually steal second.

Later in the inning, Victorino steals second and then scores on a two-run double by Galvis to give the Phillies a huge lead and that was your ball game.

What should ultimately stand out here is that the Phillies were aggressive on the basepaths, stealing bases and hustling for the extra bases when they could. But in order for it to work on a consistent basis, they still have to get those singles and those extra-base hits.

“I think it’s going to be a blue print even those guys (Howard and Utley)get back,” Victorino said. “There’s no reason to change. We’re going to be built on that and why not use it and make it a part our game—whether it be bunting or stealing bases in that situation.”

In the locker room after Monday’s, Phillies leftfielder Juan Pierre told me that all the Phillies needed was to string a few hits and that would get the ball rolling. He turned out to be prophetic…at least for Wednesday’s game

“Victorino can run, Jimmy can run and I can, I think that’s the ideal. My job is to go out there and create runs and put pressure on the defense,” Pierre said. “We got enough veteran guys in here that can calm down and stringing some hits together will definitely help that.”

With the Phillies starting rotation of starters like Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley, the speed game, if it’s consistent will definitely help a group arms capable of shutting any team down.

“We have a lot of ways to score runs,” said Halladay, who allowed just one run on seven innings against the Marlins. “Anytime you have speed, three or four guys that are base-running threats, can bunt and do the little things, you always have a chance to score runs. That’s a hugh addition for us and we have some guys that can really swing it, too.”

If the Phillies can make this small ball thing, they could be tough to beat by the time Howard and Utley. But they have to be consistent.