Archive | August, 2012

Rollins Benching was Definitely Deserved

30 Aug

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins was benched in Thursday’s game against the New York Mets . Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Among the players responsible for the Phillies success in one World Series championship, two National League pennants and five National League East titles is Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

He has been a team leader throughout this run and is basically a good guy, but there have been times when Rollins has done things on the field that quite frankly make you wanna use Internet speak such as WTF (What the F—), SDMH (Shaking My Damn Head) or better yet that now famous EPSN Monday Night Countdown phrase, “C’mon, man.”

In sixth inning of the Phillies 3-2 win over the New York Mets, Rollins was benched by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for not running hard enough on a high pop fly in the infield that was dropped by Mets pitcher Jonathan Niese.

“It’s a reflection on myself, it’s a reflection on the person who does it, it reflects on our team and it reflects on the organization,” Manuel said.

After Rollins reached, he stole second and then made an out on a mental lapse that was simply unbelievable for a guy of his veteran stature.  With the Mets infield in with pitcher Kyle Kendrick at third and Rollins on second, third baseman Kevin Frandsen hit a grounder to the second baseman.

Instead of staying on second, Rollins was half way down to third and was ultimately tagged out on a run down. That was the play I thought he was benched on because maybe his head wasn’t in the game.

All that said, Rollins was simply wrong for not hustling on that play and deserved to be benched. Granted, most pop flies are caught in the infield, but that’s why you play it out and you run it out because things like a guy dropping the ball can happen.

We’ve been here before with J-Roll and hustling. In 2008 against the Cincinnati Reds, Manuel benched Rollins for not running out a ball. Later that summer, he was a late arrival to the Phillies clubhouse in New York.

More recently, Rollins was taken out of the game against the Miami Marlins. In each of those instances, Rollins came before the media and at the very least gave his side of the story and acknowledged that his transgression to the fans via the media.

Rollins didn’t speak to reporters after Thursday’s and as he was heading out of the clubhouse, he said, “He already told you what happened.”  That was another bad move on his part.

The hard part of taking Rollins to task on this latest incident is that if you look at his career with the team. He has been a model citizen, a guy who is involved in the community both locally and internationally with his involvement in building youth baseball in Uganda.

Rollins has not had any embarrassing the off-the-field incidents or got caught up any crime story, something that’s often portrayed as the norm for today’s athletes.

But when you’re a team leader and you don’t hustle, what kind of example are you setting for your teammates? If you’re the guy setting the tone in good times, you’ve got to do the same thing when things are going bad as well.

I also believe that Rollins teammates need to hold him accountable as well. Where’s Ryan Howard or Chase Utley or some of the veterans on this team? It used to be a thing in baseball where the team policed itself on issues like not running out balls in play and guys would let you know if you weren’t giving it your all.

If Rollins were a teammate of Frank Robinson or an Andre Dawson, those guys would emphatically let him know that any lack of hustle would not be tolerated by using words that decorum prohibits me from listing here.

After Thursday’s latest incident, the outcry for Rollins to be traded will grow a little louder on the sports-talk radio circuit. To some of you it may not be fair, but at the same time, you don’t give your detractors the ammunition to ultimately blow you up.

At the end of the day, Rollins should know better than that because I think he’s been too good of a player over the years to slack off like that in a game. It’s inexcusable. Would he want those Little League kids from Uganda to think it as okay to do what he did Thursday? I don’t think so.  C’mon, man.

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Ugandan Little Leaguers Hope to Build On World Series Experience

30 Aug

Phillies Shortstop Jimmy Rollins shakes hands with a member of the Mehta LIttle League Team of Uganda. Photo by Chris Murray.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

In a country where sports like cricket and soccer sell out arenas on a regular basis because of their popularity, the East African nation of Uganda is probably the most unlikely place for the great American pastime of baseball.

But at this year’s Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, the Uganda 11-year-old Little League squad made history as the first team from an Africa nation to win game at the tournament.

They defeated Oregon 3-2 in a consolation game and while the Ugandans would finish the double elimination tournament 1-2, winning just one game was big for the country’s fledgling baseball program that is struggling to find places to play.

“People were very excited at home and they were happy,” said team head coach and Mehta Little League president Henry “Bouncer” Odong. “The Middle East and Africa were happy. The Saudi Arabians had been coming here for here for many, many years, but failed to win a game and we came here once and won a game. I am pretty sure if we come back here next year we may go up to the final point.

Odong and his young Uganda team were the special guests of shortstop Jimmy Rollins and the Phillies and attended Wednesday’s game against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. Co-coach of the Mehta Little League squad Paul Kateregga said winning in Williamsport and coming out to the ball park with the kids was a tremendous experience.

“This amazing, overwhelming, this a great experience for us being here,” Kateregga said. “We’ve never seen this. We don’t have these types of structures in Africa. This experience for us will only encourage us to do something similar. This is just the beginning.”

Rollins said he was proud of the Ugandan team and the Little League for all the odds they overcome from the struggle of getting visas, something that prevented them from coming to the U.S. for last year’s Little League World Series.

“Considering all that they went through just to get here from the living conditions back home to being able to go to Poland for the African Regional and beating Kuwait to make it the Little World Series is a testament in itself,” Rollins said. “Had they not won a game, just getting on the map is a victory in and of itself.”

As the group of 11 kids was hanging out with some of the Phillies during the team’s batting practice, they, including the two coaches, seemed to be in awe of the ball park with the baseball diamond surrounded by well-manicured, green grass.

“The kids are very excited to see this kind of field and I’m also excited because I asked is this artificial grass or natural grass?” Odong said. “It was a dream come true. We didn’t ever think we would come here.”

Finding a good place to play baseball in a nation where cricket and soccer rule is no easy task for Odong, who runs the Mehta Little League based in the town of Lugazi located 31 miles east of the capital city of Kampala.

“Our fields are so bad that we use soccer fields. When soccer comes, we have to leave and the soccer fields are not as good as (Citizens Bank Park). The cricket fields are somewhat fair, but when you’re playing ball around mid-day, the cricketers come they say they want their field, so you have to leave or you tell the kids let’s just play one inning,” Odong said.

Odong said he is looking for help from anyone in the U.S. interested in donating money to help build baseball diamonds in Lugazi.

“We do not have the ball fields,” Odong said. “At least, let’s get a ball field to the area where I am.”

In makeshift ball fields that exist in Lugazi, there is no back stop to keep the ball from going all over the place. Odong said sometimes games are delayed or stopped trying to search for the ball.

“We do not have a back stop,” Odong said. “When the ball goes far, it goes something like 200 meters. Back home we bring about three balls and they should not get lost. When the ball gets lost in the grass we have to look for it.”

Back in January of this year, Rollins visited Uganda and donated batting gloves, shoes, mitts, gum and candy. He also provided instruction to the players and coaches. Rollins was surprised to learn that the players had a fundamental understanding of the game.

“There are some kids from the first team that weren’t able to make it, who are 14 or so,” Rollins said. “Now, those kids can play. They’re a little more well-rehearsed in the game of baseball. There’s definitely a future. One, because they love playing, and two, they’re not going to stop playing.”

Odong said that baseball was introduced to Uganda and to the town of Lugazi by Christian Missionaries from the Unlimited Potential Inc. in 1997 by its president Tom Roy. He believes there will be some Uganda major leaguers in the not too distant future.

“With this kind of motivation, I’m going to do my level best to do what I can to make sure that some of these kids come here and that is if these kids are willing to work hard because it’s not so easy to here,” Odong said. “They need to play a lot of games so they understand what they have to do.”

 

 

A Long Way from Playoff Contention, Phillies Hope to End Season on a Winning Note

26 Aug

John Mayberry Jr. drove in three runs including a home run in the Phillies 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The Phillies, as you know, are a long way out of the pennant chase, but the way they played Saturday night in their 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals, there’s a huge part of Phillies fans and the players, for that matter, that wishes they push the reset button and restart the season with everybody healthy and playing the way they are now.

With the postseason out of the question, finishing the year on a good note with winning records over good teams is the only solace they can take out of a season that’s had its lion’s share of bad breaks and setbacks.

“I think it means something whenever you win games if you have a winning record against a team, but at the same time, just the fact that we can some games, if we can keep going to close out the season and enjoy playing the rest of the way and get some victories, I’d like to see what happens,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.

The Phils can enjoy the win over the first-place Nationals that had a little bit of everything that defined the Phillies success over the last five years. First, the Phillies got a solid outing from starting pitcher Roy Halladay, who had just one bad inning when he allowed a pair of runs when he allowed a bases loaded single to Nationals second baseman Steve Lombardozi.

Halladay (8-7) kept the Nationals at bay by holding them to two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and two walks.  The 2010 Cy Young Award resembled the guy he was two years ago outside of the fifth inning with his ability to mow down the opposition and pitch his way out of jams.

For the third straight night, the Phillies bullpen kept the opposition off the scoreboard and enabled the Phillies to hold onto a lead in the late going, something they’ve struggled with during the first half of the season. The much-maligned Antonio Bastardo struck out the side in the eighth and closer Jonathan Papelbon slammed the door shut on Washington with his 29th save of the season.

“I always feel like we when we get in close games that we have a chance to win with our starting pitching, but our bullpen with the experience that they’re getting is going to pay off for us,” Manuel said. “The way we’ve played the last couple of days proves that we can stay in close games and win.”

In addition to Halladay’s solid effort, the Phillies got timely hitting, something that was a regular staple of Phillies victories during their success of the last five years. Tonight, it was John Mayberry Jr. leading the Phils hit parade as he drove in three of the team’s four runs. He had an RBI single, a home run and a sacrifice fly.

“I think that Doc really set the tone, he threw the ball extremely well as is customary. We just wanted go out there and support him, getting as many runs as we can get,” Mayberry said. “You have able to come up with big hits in big situations and you have to be able to get that run from third with less than two outs. Little things like that make big differences in games.”

Another thing the Phillies can hang their hats on is that they are 16-10 since the trading away former centerfielder Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants.

“Obviously, we wanted to play good baseball all year-long. In the first half of the year we didn’t do that,” said second baseman Chase Utley, who went 1-for-3 with a run batted in, a  run scored and two stolen bases including his steal of third base that enabled Mayberry to drive home for the Phillies final score of the game. “Every game is important from here on out. I think we do a good job of preparing the same way whether it’s the best team or the worst team.”

While most of the world  has written off the Phillies 2012 season as a lost campaign, Utley believes the Phillies still have a chance for the postseason. When asked that by a reporter, he looked her in the eye and with a straight face said: “Absolutely.”

Fighting for Survival: Kyle Kendrick Looks to Cement his Spot in the Phils Starting Rotation

25 Aug

By Chris Murray

Kendrick had a solid outing for the Phillies in Friday’s win over the Washington Nationals

For the Chris Murray Report

With the Phillies out of contention for the playoffs at this point of the season, players will be no doubt trying to win spots on the roster for next year.

The way Kyle Kendrick is pitching in the second half of the season, there might be a spot in the Phillies starting rotation with his name on it next season. Since the All-Star break, Kendrick is 5-1 in 12 games. He has allowed 10 earned runs in 37 innings pitched for a 2.47 earned run average.

“He’s been one of those guys who’s had to fight to survive and nobody can ever say that he’s not a survivor because he finds a way,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “When he’s pitching like that, it just goes to show that he is a valuable commodity and he can do his job. He’s proven that he can pitch.”

Kendrick said that all he needs is to get out on the mound and have good outings every time he pitches and everything will take care of itself when it comes to cracking the Phillies starting rotation on a more permanent basis.

“It’s not my call, but I just go out there and give us a chance to win,” Kendrick said. “If I keep doing that, I think I can stay there.”

In Friday night’s game against the Washington Nationals, Kendrick (7-9) extended his scoreless innings streak to 21 before giving up a pair of runs in the seventh inning on a two-run home run by Nats  pinch-hitter Tyler Moore. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out three in the Phillies 4-2 win over Washington.

Earlier in the season, Kendrick had a career-high 22-inning scoreless streak that went from June 28 to Aug. 3. He started the season in the Phillies bullpen and came back to the starting rotation from April 23 to July 6. Kendrick wound up going back to the bullpen on July 13 when starting pitcher Roy Halladay came off the disabled list. Since the team traded Joe Blanton to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kendrick has been in the starting rotation since Aug. 3.

Before the All-Star break, Kendrick started the season with a 2-8 record. His resurgence in the second half of the year has definitely been a pleasant surprise to Manuel who said he didn’t envision Kendrick turning things around the way he has in the second half of the season.

“It just goes to show you when you get focused on what you’re doing and you apply yourself and you stay at it, good things can happen to you,” Manuel said. “Kendrick has always been capable of pitching good games.”

Kendrick said there’s nothing special that he is doing on the mound other than going through his progression of pitches.

“It’s just getting ahead. My changeup has been big for me,” Kendrick said. “I’m not doing anything different. It’s about making pitching and focus on every pitch.”

Manuel said the thing that is making the difference in the second half of the season for Kendrick is that he is more relaxed and is able to dictate the pace of the game when he’s on the mound.

“When he gets in a good rhythm, he controls the tempo of the game,” Manuel said. “He takes it like a Jamie Moyer, or a Cliff Lee, (Roy) Halladay, or (Cole) Hamels, he moves the tempo of the game and he’s in control because of his pitching in the game. He mixes his pitches good. The catchers have done a good job of working with Kyle and he follows along with them when he gets in a good groove. .. He can command the ball wherever he wants to.”

Phillies outlast Reds in a Four Hour, 11-Inning Marathon

24 Aug

Hamels didn’t get the decision, but was not happy with the rain in the early innings in the Phillies 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After the Phillies toughed out a four-hour and 24-minute marathon of a 4-3 win in 11 innings over the Cincinnati Reds at Citizen’s Bank Park, Phils manager Charlie Manuel had the tired look of a guy who had gone 12 rounds with the heavyweight champ.

“I feel like I been in a fight and lost,” Manuel said with a smile. “I feel drained, I kept waiting for somebody to come home. We actually worked (starting pitcher Johnny) Cueto and made him pitch and ran his pitch count up. We just couldn’t get a hit to put us over the hump until the end there. ”

After blowing an opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies won the game on an RBI single by centerfielder John Mayberry Jr. that scored second baseman Chase Utley.

In a game that was supposed to be a duel between two of the National League’s best pitchers with lefty Cole Hamels (14-6) and the Reds right-handed ace Cueto (16-6). Both pitchers did well enough to keep their respective teams in the game.

Hamels pitched six innings and gave up three runs on six hits with four strikeouts and three walks. He threw 108 pitches. But the Phillies southpaw seemed to be a prickly, if not slightly unnerved, about the heavy rainstorm that hit the ballpark in the early innings.

“The only thing I was really frustrated about was having to start the game in the rain,” Hamels told reporters after the game. “I’ve seen it numerous times. I think Cliff (Lee) gets stuck with it a little more than I do. I understand the whole premise of anger behind it. I don’t think it should ever happened.

“I think we have these things called radar detectors and if you can’t read them correctly,  I don’t what’s going on. It’s not fair to both teams. For Cueto and I, we’re obviously pitching really well. We want to continue to pitch well. Obviously, you have to go through the elements, but you have to make it fair as possible.  I don’t think the situation was very good, but I gotta go pitch.”

When you’re making $144 million, what’s a little falling rain on your head?  Hamels critics will no doubt have a field day with him and will likely brand him to be as a whiny, bratty spoiled millionaire.

It wasn’t like Hamels melted way like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. He allowed a one run in the first inning and two more runs in the sixth inning as the Reds took what appeared to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead for the Reds given how the Phillies struggle to get hits off Cueto until the sixth inning.

 

For the Reds, Cueto pitched five innings plus two men in the sixth inning. He allowed two runs on five hits and threw 111 pitches.

The Phillies got on the board with a pair of sacrifice flies by Eric Kratz  and Laynce Nix that scored  first baseman Ryan Howard and rightfielder Domonic Brown to cut the Reds lead to 3-2.  The Phils would ultimately tie the game in the eighth inning on sacrifice fly by shortstop Jimmy Rollins to short left center that scored Brown, who was 2-for-6 with three runs scored.

The Line Between Toughness and Avoiding Injury

23 Aug

The offensive line has to protect Michael Vick, who is helped up by Danny Watkins (63) left and right tackle Todd Herremans during a pres-season game against the PIttsburgh Steelers on Aug. 9. Photo by Webster Riddick

Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Michael Vick is a fierce  competitor, but showing how tough on every play could shorten his season.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

What was supposed to a dress rehearsal for Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and the Eagles offense turned into an evening of alarm and outright panic for Eagles fans because Vick injured his ribs on a third-down play in Monday’s exhibition game against the New England Patriots that was just about everybody’s fault.

It was the second straight week that Vick has sustained some sort of injury. During the Eagles’ first exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago, the quarterback injured his thumb.

While those injuries aren’t serious enough to miss any significant time, the concern over Vick’s health in a 16-game season has some Birds fans hanging their heads in doom and gloom even though the regular season is about two  weeks away.

Eagles fans and those of us who cover them in the media point to Vick’s reckless style of play, the offensive line not protecting well, Vick holding the ball too long, not sliding after a run and trying to make a big play when all hell is breaking loose as the reasons to be concerned for his health in a long season.There’s only so much Vick’s smallish 6-foot frame can take.

The flipside of the collective worry for Eagles fans’regarding Vick’s health is that his aggressive approach to the game, his desire to make the big play and to not give up on a play when things break down is something that fans in tough, gritty blue collar Philadelphians usually admire about  their quarterback.

“That’s what you would think a competitor would do, never quit on a play,” said Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. “With Mike back there, you never know what’s going to happen. There could be five guys around him and he can break out the pocket and make a beautiful throw downfield. He never wants to lose,he wants to win in everything.”

Vick’s greatest virtue as a quarterback, his ability to extend plays with his legs and to create something out of nothing, can become not-so virtuous when defenders finally catch up to him and tackle him hard. While it may remind many of the “Michael Vick Experience” days in all the wrong ways, it has served Vick…and the Eagles…well for the most part.

“I don’t necessarily call it reckless, I just think he has a unique style of play,” Maclin said. “I think you get the best of both worlds with Mike as far as a guy who can read defenses and make throws and also a guy who can use his legs and run it out a little bit.”

As a quarterback, Vick has to learn that no matter how strong his arm is or how fast he can escape the rush of a linebacker, who runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, there are times when he has to get rid of the ball or take the slide.

Watching Vick on Monday against the Patriots on the play when he dove head first on a scramble instead of sliding like a baseball player, there was a part of me that cringed for his safety. But I also knew that Vick’s first inclination was probably to barrel into that guy for the first down.

If that was the case, I’m not mad about that because it shows me that this guy will do anything to win…and because he’s willing to take the hit to bring home the ultimate prize for Eagles fans…a celebratory Super Bowl Championship parade down Broad Street…fans shouldn’t be mad either.

As some who has seen footage of John Elway diving into the Green Bay Packers defensive line in the Super Bowl, legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback John Unitas throwing hard blocks at Hall of Fame linebackers like the Green Bay Packers Willie Davis and Washington Redskins middle linebacker Sam Huff, I like Vick’s competitiveness. While some Eagles fans, a group best known for seeing the glass as not only half empty, but also broken in a thousand pieces on the floor, may see the dings he gets as proof of being injury-prone, I see them as proof of his fearlessness as a competitor.

You would think that a city that heaped all kinds of praise on former Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand for bloodying his nose against the center field fence, admired tough guys like Joe Frazier, who wasn’t afraid to take a punch to knock you out,and adored images of Bobby Clarke with no teeth,would appreciate that from it’s football team’s quarterback.

If Vick worried about getting hurt as much as Eagles fans would like him to, the doubt that comes with that would put him on the slow boat to injured reserve for sure.

But while Vick can’t think about getting hurt when he‘s on the field because he’s less effective when he’s less aggressive, he might also want to consider some advice that he got from the Football Fan In Chief, President Barack Obama, over the summer.

You see, President Obama, a guy that knows a little something about having people with ill intent coming after you all of the time, said that Vick might want to slide instead of run every once in a while.

If the idea is to make it the Super Bowl, that bit of Presidential Advice might be good for Vick to heed.

 

 

Can they Make It work: Philly, Sixers Welcome Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson

16 Aug

On Wednesday thousands of 76ers fans welcomed Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson at the National Constitutional Center. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

When the Philadelphia 76ers acquired 7-foot center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers and Jason Richardson from the Orlando Magic, it capped off what Sixers’ head coach Doug Collins and general manager Rod Thorn characterized as a successful off-season in terms of filling needs and helping the team build off last year’s run to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“Anywhere I’ve been I’ve never really had that guy that you throw the ball down in the post, play through him and he’ll give you possibly 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) every night, he’ll be able to block shots and rebound,” Collins said. “Obviously, we’ve become a power team. … The day we met after our last game, we wanted to get bigger, more athletic on the front line and we’ve added more shooting.”

On Wednesday, Bynum and Richardson received a huge welcome from about 1,000 cheering Sixers fans who gathered at the National Constitution Center on Independence Mall at a public press conference for the team’s newest acquisitions.

Outside of the Lakers new center Dwight Howard, the Sixers got the league’s second best center in Bynum. Last year, he had a breakout season with the Lakers averaging 18.7 points per game while pulling 11 rebounds per game while playing with superstars like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. He said he embraces the opportunity to being the no. 1 scoring option in the Sixers offense.

“I’m looking forward to it because it’s the next step in my career in my progression as a basketball player,” Bynum said. “For a little while in the Denver series (the Lakers) used me as a main option. It’s going to be a lot more exciting, a lot more fun playing, knowing everything is going to be run through me.”

In addition to his ability to score in the low post as well as defend and rebound in the paint, Bynum’s presence should make things easier for the Sixers to find open spaces for their shooters.

After parting ways with players like Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala, the Sixers will have better set of shooters than they had last year. Richardson will be the team’s shooting guard this season. Last year with the Magic, the former Michigan State star averaged 11 points per game and shot 36 percent from 3-point range.

“I just want to help this team win games, provide some veteran leadership and help the guys out,” Richardson said.

Coming off the bench for the Sixers will be players like Nick Young, who averaged 16.6 points in 40 games with the Washington Wizards and 9.7 points per game in 22 games with the Los Angeles Clippers. He shot 37 percent from 3-point range. Dorell Wright, who averaged 10 points per game with the Golden State Warriors last season. In the 2010-2011 season, Wright averaged 16 points per game and led the NBA in three point baskets made.

“Dorell was one of the most improved players in the NBA, he really can shoot the three,” Collins said. “I think he’s a guy that if we want to go to a smaller lineup and use him as a part of a shooting lineup. We could have Jrue (Holiday), Richardson, Nick Young and Dorell. That’s four guys who can shoot the ball.

With all the new pieces joining the returning players from last season, Collins said he is confident that the team will come together as unit by the time of their season-opener in October against the Denver Nuggets.

“I think everybody’s going to be committed early,” Collins said. “What we’re going to try to do is to guys to come in after Labor Day so they can get a chance to workout together and get to know one another …We’re going to hit the ground running. Everyday in practice is going to be important for us.”