Phillies

Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

Phillies still need a miracle, but 2 wins over Braves, with Aaron Nola up next, is a good place to start

ATLANTA — The Phillies departed on this 11-game road trip needing to win just about all of them to have a shot at making the postseason. There are still two more cities to visit and miles upon miles to go on this trip, but …

Do you believe in miracles?

“I don’t think there’s anything we can’t do in this clubhouse,” Zach Eflin said after backboning a 4-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

The Phils have opened the road trip with two straight wins against the soon-to-be NL East champs and they will look for a sweep behind Aaron Nola on Thursday. A sweep is almost a must if the Phillies want to stay in the NL wild-card chase. There are 12 games remaining and they are three back.

The Phillies have used the long ball in beating the Braves on back-to-back nights. They have hit four homers in the two games and three of them have been two-run shots. Bryce Harper keyed the offense Wednesday night with a two-run bomb in the fourth inning. Cesar Hernandez also homered and the Phils scored their third run on a bases-loaded walk.

The Phils had just four hits in the game and they struck out 12 times. They also committed three errors in the field. All of this made it imperative that they get a good performance from their pitchers and they did.

Eflin was brilliant for seven innings and the bullpen tandem of Jose Alvarez and Hector Neris got the final six outs in speedy fashion.

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler gushed about Eflin.

“That was the toughest, from a mental standpoint, start from a pitcher that we've gotten all season long,” he said. “Quite simply, we didn't make plays behind him early on. He continued to get ground ball after ground ball. Calls were not going his way. And that was true when he was at that plate, as well. He just kind of had a resiliency about him throughout this game. He wasn't going to get beat mentally. He just continued to induce ground balls and got weak contact throughout the game. That was why we won that game.

“I think that there were a lot of people who were inspired — myself and the coaching staff and many of the players in the dugout — by the start that Zach just made. “

Eflin had struggled mightily in three previous starts against the Braves this season, including one last week. In just 9 1/3 innings, he was tagged for 17 hits and 20 runs (eight were unearned). He walked nine and struck out nine.

The 25-year-old righty rebounded impressively in this one. Relying heavily on his favorite pitch, a sinking, two-seam fastball, he held the Braves to five hits and one unearned run. He walked two and struck out four. He threw 99 pitches and 57 were sinkers. He got 12 outs on the ground, including a big double play against Brian McCann to end the sixth inning.

“The part that makes it especially mentally tough is the fact that he just faced the Braves,” Kapler said. “It's an incredibly tough lineup to go through several times, but even more so that he's coming off a start against them. 

“We've talked about this time of year being when we're going to fight and scratch and claw. That was fight. That was tough from Zach Eflin.”

Over his last five starts, Eflin has allowed just five earned runs in 28 2/3 innings for a 1.57 ERA.  

After some mid-season struggles, he has found himself again. It has all coincided with his re-dedication to throwing his favorite pitch, the sinker.

“At the end of the day, I’m going out and attacking guys and if it’s my sinker that day that’s working I’m going to use my sinker, if it’s my change-up I’m going to use my change-up,” he said. “We figure out what we have going early in the bullpen before the game. Today was the sinker. It’s been working these last couple outings so if it’s there next outing you’ll probably see it again.”

The Phillies still have stops in Cleveland (three games) and Washington (five) on this trip.

They face the longest of odds in making the postseason, but they’re not dead.

“We come in every single day mentally and physically ready to play and win,” Eflin said. “We have the guys in the clubhouse to do it and get there and make a postseason run, so to be able to do that and play good baseball at the same time is really good for us. We’re looking forward to riding this momentum the next couple of days and into the next series that we have coming and really doing everything we can to make it.”

On paper, you have to like the Phillies' chances with their ace, Nola, on the mound in Thursday’s series finale. However, the Phils are 0-5 in his last five starts.

Can he turn things around and keep the Phillies’ momentum going?

“I think it's really important that we focus on just one game,” Kapler said. “More specifically, just one pitch. The first pitch of the game for Aaron Nola, the first pitch of the game for our leadoff batter tomorrow is what we're focused on.”



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Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Baseball fans are hoping for the best. 

Everyone that loves the sport is hopeful that the owners and players can iron out their financial differences and come to an agreement that clears the way for a 2020 season. In the meantime, we are left to wonder what a season played in the midst of a pandemic might look like. 

Beyond there being no fans in the ballparks when the season starts, players would also keep their distance from one another, both on and off the field. 

A potentially awkward scene comes to mind. Say the home team wins in walk-off fashion. What would the celebration look like? We're used to seeing the entire team stream out of the dugout and charge whoever delivered the winning hit, mobbing him somewhere along the basepaths and ripping his jersey off.

Or in the case of a walk-off home run, everyone waiting at home plate to dump the Gatorade bucket on the hero and jump around in unison.

We saw Phillies star Bryce Harper in the middle of several such celebrations last season, most notably after his walk-off grand slam against the Cubs. What would that look like in 2020? Harper sprinting around the bases, charging towards home plate where ... no one is waiting for him. Everyone gives him a thumbs-up from a distance and goes their separate ways? It's a weird scenario to think about. But it will likely play out quite a bit should there be a season. 

Former Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur was a guest on the Phillies Talk podcast this week and said that if he were still playing, he'd probably still hug a teammate after a walk-off and just pay the fine.  

Back to the possibility of playing in empty ballparks without fans. At first thought, that doesn't seem like too big of a deal for the players. Baseball is baseball, it's still the same game with or without fans. But not having the energy and electricity that the fans provide could have a big impact on certain players, particularly the Phillies' best player. Francoeur, for example, explained how players sometimes really use the fans' energy to get up for day-games when the fatigue of the season mounts.

No one feeds off the fans more than Harper. He loves playing to the crowd at Citizens Bank Park — pumping up the fans sitting behind him in right field and gesturing to the crowd behind the dugout after a big home run. Harper fires up the fans, and vice versa. 

Harper is equally effective in feeding off negative energy on the road. He's probably been booed in opposing ballparks more than any player in baseball and he's been dealing with it since his teenage years. He was heckled throughout a game in San Francisco last season, with one fan yelling 'overrated' each time Harper stepped into the batter's box (a chant Harper hears in most road cities). He channeled that negativity into a pair of monster home runs and made sure to let the fans know about it afterward.

His first game back in Washington last season is another great example. Nationals fans were all over Harper the entire night. He responded by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run home run into the upper deck.  

Harper is a showman. He relishes his roles of fan-favorite at home and villain on the road. Harper will still be effective playing in an empty ballpark. But it's fair to wonder if the lack of energy could have an adverse impact on him.  

It's one of countless unknowns as we brace for what promises to be a baseball season unlike any we've seen. Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure there will be a season. The clock is ticking. 

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Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

Revelations and takeaways from the Roy Halladay E60 documentary

There was so much of note in Friday's powerful hourlong E60 documentary of the life and death of Roy Halladay. Heartbreaking recollections from his widow, Brandy, troubling details of his addiction to prescription opioids, and the valuable lesson that hopefully can come from such a painful tragedy.

"I just wanted him to slow down," Brandy said.

"Roy had none," she said of the balance in his life at points.

"He didn't feel he had the luxury of making mistakes, he was truly tormented."

How Halladay's opioid addiction began

Halladay popped his back during the 2011 season and pitched through it. He pitched through pain the night the Phillies' playoff hopes ended in a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS after a franchise-record 102 regular-season wins.

Brandy told a story of Roy experiencing such back pain that he once fell down sneezing around that time.

Halladay began taking prescription opioids in the spring of 2012, obtaining them by paying cash to a doctor in Florida who was recommended to him by a Phillies teammate.

"He was continuing to hurt himself, and the more he hurt himself, the more dependent he would be on medication," Brandy said. "He was breaking his back. He actually shrunk three inches from compression in his spine. That's insane."

Former teammate and pupil Kyle Kendrick, who looked up to Halladay as a role model and mentor, noticed that something wasn't right. 

"At his locker, I was right next to him. You'd try to talk to him and you'd feel like he wasn't there," Kendrick said. "As a friend, I felt like I should say something. I felt like he might need help. A teammate and I said something to someone who worked for the team."

The teammate confronted Halladay about his drug use during the 2013 season but nothing changed.

Fear of public scrutiny

Halladay's body became dependent on the medications to function. All the while, he privately dealt with the fear of others finding out. He was tormented by the potential public scrutiny.

"Everybody should be able to ask for help and they shouldn't be looked down on and judged for that," Brandy said several times throughout the documentary. If there is one lesson to be learned from this tragedy, it is that.

Roy Halladay went to rehab for his painkiller addiction during the 2013 season, his final year in the majors. Many Phillies fans will remember the stress-filled, sweat-soaked 13 starts Halladay made that final year. At times, that was a reaction to the medication in his system.

He left rehab early, Brandy said, because he had been recognized and someone had snuck a phone into the facility. Roy was nervous about word of his stint in rehab leaking out.

The struggle to find a purpose

After retirement, in the years before Halladay recaptured some of his joy and passion by coaching his sons' baseball teams, Roy "stopped taking care of himself, inside and out," according to Brandy. His weight rose to over 300 pounds at one point in retirement, then down to 205 at another.

He reentered rehab in January 2015 for the painkiller addiction and was there three months. When he returned home, he began seeing a psychiatrist and was formally diagnosed with ADD, depression and anxiety. 

In retirement, Halladay struggled to find a purpose. 

"He was lost, he didn't know what to do with himself," Brandy said. "Flying was therapeutic."

Doc's days in the air

The circumstances of Halladay's death were documented in a 2018 toxicology report and in a report from the National Transportation Safety Board last month. He had Zolpidem, amphetamine and morphine in his system at the time he crashed his Icon A5 plane into the Gulf of Mexico. According to the NTSB report, Halladay was doing extreme acrobatics when he lost control.

Halladay received his pilot's license in 2013. He had spent much time in the air with his father, Roy II, a pilot, from a young age, and had accrued more than 700 flying hours himself before the crash.

"He was an excellent pilot," Roy II said of his son. "Mechanically, his skills were very good. He kept working for additional ratings."

Yet still, Brandy didn't feel it was totally safe. 

"He was trying to fill this void by buying boats and planes and cars and shoes," she said. "Roy was an adrenaline guy, he was always looking for that rush."

When Roy got his Icon A5, a plane that made him feel like he was flying a fighter jet, "he was so excited, he couldn't control himself," Brandy said.

"My concern was after he got the (Icon A5), he kept talking about how sporty it was, how much of a sports car it was," his father said. "I said be careful with it."

The tragedy

Halladay died 35 days after getting the Icon A5. According to the NTSB report, he frequently flew at low altitudes in shallow water and flew underneath a bridge in Tampa with Brandy on board 12 days before the fatal crash.

On the day of the crash, he and Brandy were supposed to see one of their sons' band perform at a school concert. Roy told Brandy he'd return the Icon A5 to the airport and meet her there. He texted her while she was driving, "I'm so sorry, I should have just gone with you, another wasted day." Instead of flying north to the airport, he had flown west to the Gulf of Mexico where the crash occurred.

"I had so much more in the future I wanted for us and it was hard to know that it was just done," Brandy Halladay said.

"I know in my heart it was an accident. I want to make sure that people understand that he was just a man. Perfect, I hate that word, perfect. I just want him to be Roy. I hope somebody hears our story and says, 'Wow, I'm going to ask for help.'"

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