April 27, 2009

Further justification for missing Harry Kalas.

"Harry [Kalas] was a genial man, and he drank and smoked. Notice that the latter attributes conflict not at all with the first, as might be supposed, but in their way, support it, in fact, complicate and substantiate it. Harry possessed shades, had depth -- as an announcer, he was more than simply a pleasant voice, but an authentic personality, a kind of character that touched us as being wholly real.

[Tom] McCarthy, on the other hand, is the perfect homogenized American, the product of the late century techno-corporate effacement of genuine American cultural difference."

I wish I was this eloquent a blog commenter.

April 24, 2009

From the dark end of the street, to the bright side of the road.

Less than a week ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were reeling after a well-played but deflating 3-2 OT loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. We wondered if the Penguins were too quick, too experienced, too sure of themselves, if the Flyers even had a shot to compete in this series.

But now, as we enter the series' second weekend, the Flyers come equipped with new hope. Game 6 is to be played tomorrow at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, an arena described by a Penguins fan during Game 4 as "the absolute loudest I have ever heard a building, ever, in any sport." That's high praise, especially since a Flyers fan had previously punched him in the stomach.

It's a home-ice advantage, in the truest sense of the phrase. I missed Game 4, due to Bruce Springsteen-related obligations (more on that next week), but it sounds like the Flyers played a full game in a style similar to the Penguins' first period attack last night - suffocating. However, Marc-Andre Fleury stole that one, just like Marty Biron stole period one in Game 5. And now, back on the ice where they played their best game, they get a shot to stretch the series to its breaking point.

As I said, for a while, it looked like the Penguins were too much for the Flyers. Our defense was inadequate at best, we couldn't move the puck successfully from blue line to blue line and the Pittsburgh skill players were blowing by us up and down the ice. However, after a victory, a well-played loss and another win, maybe we can now make the assumption that the Flyers' youth needed a few games to get acclimated to the playoff pace, that the defense needed some time to figure out how to play the Penguins forwards (their poke-checking and stick work in Game 5 was excellent) and that Marty Biron needed a chance to help steal a big game and make this a series again.

Claude Giroux, the future superstar, said today that the Flyers were just happy to be out there, playing hockey and trying to win. Let's hope that's true, because winning three straight against the Pittsburgh Penguins isn't going to be easy. But with a possible hot goalie at their backs, a huge momentum swing as they return home and the word "choke" looming over a possible final game at Mellon Arena, the Flyers have truly come from the dark end of the street to the bright side of the road.

April 18, 2009

Road to nowhere.

If they'd played Game 2 in Game 1, the Philadelphia Flyers would have a lot of things to be proud of.

They had an aggressive forecheck (for the most part), with good goaltending and an intensity level appropriate for such an important playoff game. More stupid penalties led to the eventual OT goal scored by Bill Guerin, but they matched the Pittsburgh Penguins up and down the ice for over 60 minutes.

But it wasn't Game 1 - it was Game 2, and now the Flyers find themselves in an almost insurmountable position.

Are the Flyers getting the short end on some of these calls? Probably, but they have been all year. There's nothing that can do about that beyond playing a more disciplined game, and despite what Mike Knuble and Claude Giroux might think, that doesn't stop when regulation ends.

My biggest issue is that the team still acts like they're better than these other teams, that they haven't flipped the "win a game" switch just yet, that bad refereeing and the mouthy Penguins have contributed greatly to these two losses.

What's really happening, though, is that the Penguins are the defending Eastern Conference champions, with some incredibly speedy, skilled forwards and a very good goaltender. The Flyers do not match up well with them; at this point in the season, and the way the Penguins are playing, no team in the Eastern Conference does.

If excuses help them sleep better at night, fine. Right now, however, the Flyers are a younger, less experienced, more undisciplined team being outworked, outhustled and outsmarted by a better team. There's a way to rectify all that, but even with Games 3 and 4 coming back to Philadelphia, I wouldn't bet it on.

This team will get better as Richards, Carter, Sbisa, Giroux, Hartnell, Coburn, etc. get older and more experienced. The window isn't closing anytime soon. Still, until they realize their failings and work harder to overcome them (a problem that, as Tom Cimino said, probably stems from leadership on or off the ice), a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins will run rampant over a team like the Philadelphia Flyers.

April 16, 2009

Coach Tom Cimino's Keys to the Series

Not the best start to a playoff series.

Now, I like to think I'm a passionate and intelligent hockey fan, but I'm only 23. How can I be expected to offer the same in-depth insights as, say, a 50-year-old? Well, that is why I bring you Tom Cimino, my father and longtime hockey fan/coach/Philadelphia Flyers season ticket holder, and his "Keys to the Series"!

(Note: His remarks, given to me in email form, have been edited to my blog's standards.)

We always dwell on what the Flyers did wrong, but as a coach, what do they need to do to correct the problems?

The worry, and its a big one, is that they have made these mistakes all season long. Rarely do you correct this kind of stuff in the playoffs, but here are four things they need to do to win.

1) Be more disciplined, and I think this reflects mostly on the coach and on leadership. You cannot win giving good teams seven or eight power plays night in and night out. If players continue to play stupid, you have to sit them.

2) Establish a stronger forecheck.

3) Get more help from the forwards in getting the puck out of your zone. They look weak in board battles, and there is too much separation between forwards and the defense.

4) Disrupt the Penguins style with close checking and, again, a strong forecheck. This is really the only way to to slow up a team that is skilled and on a roll.

The question is, how do you do all this against a good team? Boy, oh boy, this is a bad matchup for the Flyers. In my opinion, the worst they could've gotten. And they blew home ice, which certainly would have helped. I think they are losing this series, BUT imposing their style and will on the Penguins is their only chance. If they can't do all four of these things I mentioned...gone in a week.

I'm tempted to agree with him. For too long this team has acted like they can turn it on whenever they want, and, well, the time is now. Last night looked too much like last year, and this time, there's no excuses about crippling injuries or inexperience. There are a lot of young players, sure, but 75% of this team was in the conference finals last season. To me, playing aggressive is the name of the game, and the Flyers did not have the fire last night. Whether they'll hit the "play good" switch tomorrow night, that's anybody's guess.

April 14, 2009

Swing and a long drive.

As about one thousand people have reiterated over the last 24 hours, Harry Kalas was baseball in Philadelphia.

However, for people around my age, he took on a deeper meaning. Baseball has always been a game for the patient, for those who don't need constant stimulation to enjoy a sporting event. It's relaxing and comforting, but also tense and sudden, and Harry Kalas understood how to translate those traits in full. For all those who hopped on the Phillies bandwagon in the late 2000s, he brought them a newly reliable voice - dulcet tones with an expertly refined baseball cadence that so many writers and friends have remarked upon since his passing. In a way, he gave us the gift of the game.

He knew when to start and when to stop, how to bring the game to his listeners rather than force it down their throats. Even at the end, when he became more of a symbol than anything else, this was a trait he never lost. He was a throwback to an era when television broadcasts relied on substance as much as style, and for this more than anything else, he will be missed.

In the months before Harry Kalas died, he was showered with praise for his call in the final game of the 2008 World Series. The voice of two generations of Phillies fans got the chance to announce the first Philadelphia championship in 25 years, and he couldn't have done it with more professionalism and class. Even without knowing that his time with us was limited, every fan in this city instinctively understood that he was the man for the job, uniquely qualified for such a privilege, and I like to think that he enjoyed making the call as much as we enjoyed hearing it - immensely.

He was a homer at times, but he was our homer, and I don't know a single person on Earth who would fault him for that. I teared up when thinking about his contributions to my life and the lives of Philadelphians yesterday, and I'm tearing up as I write this. Even though I never met the man, and now, sadly, never will, you could make the argument that no "stranger" has contributed more enjoyment to my life than Harry Kalas did.

Phillies baseball will never be the same, and in a way, neither will the lives of each and every Philadelphian, fan or athlete, who loved Harry Kalas. My condolences go out to the Kalas family, but as so many have noted, the man died preparing to do what he loved. We can all only dream of being so lucky.

April 12, 2009

Mike Knuble speaks the truth.

"I think it shows a team's solidarity with all team members working toward a common goal," Knuble said. "The ultimate goal is to have a team picture on the ice with the Stanley Cup and every player with a full beard."

Damn right.

April 7, 2009

Shootin' at the walls of heartache.

I used to have this tape when I was a kid. It was called "NBA Superstars," and if my house burned down, it was the one thing I'd have saved. And I don't even LIKE the NBA. Enjoy.

Bang, bang.

April 2, 2009

Minimum eight-peat.

I thought, "Man, I can't write a 2009 Phillies season preview yet. They're still looking for a right-handed bench bat, along with two spots in the bullpen!"

And then I thought, "That's it?!" I can't tell you the last time the Philadelphia Phillies had that much figured out going into Opening Day. Being World Fucking Champions must do that to you.

Seriously, though, the rotation is set. The batting order is set. Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett and Chris Coste have secured seats on the bench; Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey and Scott Eyre are locks in the 'pen. Barring a setback to Cole Hamels or an unexpected injury elsewhere, the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies are almost good to go.

A fair question would be - has the team improved? I'd answer "no", but then again, I wouldn't regard that as a bad thing. Some could say that their play in September and October of last year was catching lightning in a bottle, but I'd argue it was their true talent finally emerging for the first time. Granted, you can't sit back and bank on that, but given the shape that Ryan Howard and Brett Myers showed up to camp in, the quickness in which Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz recovered from injuries and the overall competitiveness of Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins, this team deserves a chance to prove that they are more than just a one-year wonder.

In all honesty, it seems like the mindset of the entire organization has changed. Not only did new general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. defuse a potentially difficult, almost team-wide arbitration situation with simple, smooth negotiations, but the releases of Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins, owed about $15 million between them, showed that this organization has nothing on their mind from winning. Cutting loose two overpaid dead weights (although Jenkins can still play, his salary will not remotely justify his performance) would have been unthinkable several years ago, but, as was mentioned on the spectacular Phillies blog Beerleaguer earlier today, the Phillies appear to have finally learned the meaning of the term "sunk cost". Jenkins wasn't going to play enough, and Eaton wasn't going to play at all. Why waste time and money on them when, instead, you can waste only money? It's smart thinking, from an organization not previously known for such.

Amaro also showed a nose for the Gillick-esque small deal that won us a World Fucking Championship in the first place when he acquired John Mayberry Jr. and Jack Taschner. Even if they turn out to be nothing more than a future right-handed bench bat and a 50-game left-handed stopgap until JC Romero returns, that's still a great deal more value than what we gave up to acquire them.

The only thing that threatens to derail the team, besides the obvious spectre of injuries, is Amaro's penchant for veterans. Raul Ibanez and Jamie Moyer, both at an advanced age, were given contracts that are considerably more generous than those of their peers. As a man with Jamie Moyer cards, pennants and photographs plastered all over his desk at work, I can't say I disagree with the decision to lock him up. And it should be noted that Ibanez appears to be the model teammate, a hard-worker with a passion for physical fitness and consistency, with the resume to prove it. However, at the end of each of their contracts, it's very likely that we'll be paying for extremely diminished returns, and Amaro should be scolded for overplaying his hand a bit too early.

Of course, if they win again this year, it's safe to say that no one will give a crap. It would be the first repeat since the 1998-2000 Yankees, the first NL repeat since the 1975-1975 Big Red Machine of Cincinnati. It would be almost unprecedented in modern baseball, and it would elevate players like Hamels, Rollins, Utley and Howard to unparalleled levels of belovedness in this city.

And it's doable. A lot needs to go right again, but this is a core of players at their peak, players who have the enviable combination of long-term security and rookie-esque desire. Minimum eight-peat? That might be a bit much, but for the Phillies fan, newly optimistic or still entrenched in the comfort of Negadelphia, anything short of at least a third straight NL East title will be an absolute disappointment.

Plus, what other team has such a bad-ass shortstop: