Last year, I debuted my now annual end of year Top 10 list for best Philadelphia sports games of the year. Even though there was so much less excitement and great games this year, the list is back this year, anyway! Last year, I felt the ordering of the games, including what was the number one game, was very clear cut. This year, not so much. But I will make an attempt at it anyway. With all the sadness, scandal, and shame this year has wrought on many a people in the area, perhaps looking back at the year's higher moments will be a plus for everyone involved and a good way to end a shitty year on a high note. Just like last year, I will start with some honorable mentions.
Union comeback verse New England Revolution: Usually I try to only post wins on here. After all, what is worth celebrating about a game that is not a win? Well, in soccer there are draws, and when you have a 3-goal comeback in dramatic fashion, even if the match ends in a 4-4 draw, it is still pretty noteworthy. And thus was the exact case when the Philadelphia Union hosted the New England Revolution on September 7, 2011. New England Revolution 4, Philadelphia Union 4
The Kids Are Alright: Following a 2nd round playoff exit to Boston that saw numerous goalie changes, Ed Snider demanded a ridiculously overpay for a position not worth a ridiculous overpay. In order to fit that overpay in, Paul Holmgren had no choice but to blow up the team, trading the previous faces of the franchise away for youth and draft picks. Low and behold, the Flyers first game of the season immediately followed a 15-hour banner raising at Boston. With many fearing a rocky year, the kids played a great game and the Flyers defeated the Bruins. Flyers 2, Bruins 1
Someone From Philadelphia Wins A Trophy!: The New Mexico Bowl. Yes, this is the kind of year that was. A boring New Mexico Bowl makes the list. Temple 37, Wyoming 15.
10. Flyers Win A 7th Game: On a day and a playoff where there were several Game 7s that would overall rate much better this one, this makes the list because it is the only one that involved a Philadelphia team, and the Philadelphia team won. Flyers 5, Sabres 2
9. Anything Crosby Can Do, Giroux Can Do Sexier: Sidney Crosby made a glamorous return, scored 4 points, and made all sorts of headlines because he is Sidney Crosby and when he is not injured he is the best hockey player of this generation. But, Crosby is not the only one who can make a dramatic, impactful return from a concussion. Even though he was out nowhere near as long, Claude Giroux also suffered a concussion this year and also scored four points in his return. And may I remind you, even though he is not better than Crosby, Giroux is much sexier. So that counts for something. Flyers 4, Stars 1
8. Phillies win NL East: Five straight years. Phillies 9, Cardinals 2.
7. Sunday Night Smackdown: In a Philadelphia Eagles season with very little to celebrate, one good thing that did come of it was the complete beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Eagles 34, Cowboys 7
6. Phillies Game 1 Thrills: It started out poorly for the Phillies, with Halladay having a rough first and the Phillies offense getting mowed down by Kyle Lohse. But, as Phillies fans know all too well, Kyle Lohse in the playoffs is not the greatest of ideas in the world, and Lohse finally got a chance to payback the grand slam he gave up in Game 2 of the 2007 NLDS. The Phillies lost the series, but this was fun. Phillies 11, Cardinals 6
5. Ben Francisco, Playoff Hero: Seemingly every year, some guy comes out of nowhere, gets red hot during the playoffs or comes up with a "clutch" hit, and gets heralded everywhere as a hero. Ben Francisco was that guy in the 2011 MLB Playoffs until he wasn't anymore. It was a tight, tense, dramatic game which saw Francisco hit the game-winning home run late. As exciting a win as you could have in the playoffs. Too bad it ultimately ended up being their last. Phillies 3, Cardinals 2
4. Phillies win opener: I am far from what you may term a "baseball traditionalist," however, I can hardly deny the pageantry that is MLB's opening day in comparison to other sports. It is different. It is more exciting, even though it is technically 1/162 of a season as opposed to 1/16 or 1/82. But it is the smell of spring in the air. It is the knowledge that summer is on the horizon. When the boys of summer first take the field on what is usually a crisp April morning, it is the feeling that a summer of fun is about to begin. And for the Phillies in 2011, it was struggling against old friend Brett Myers playing for a Houston Astros team that recently has been frustrating the Phillies at CBP. Well, everything changed with John Mayberry's 9th inning walkoff shot. The 2011 Phillies were back. Phillies 5, Astros 4
3. Disaster becomes elation for the Flyers: What started as the single worst decision that Peter Laviolette has ever made soon became a celebration that would last up to the point the Flyers got cold-cocked by the Bruins in the next round. But in the most exciting and dramatic hockey game of the year, the Flyers rallied after falling behind thanks to starting career AHL goaltender Michael Leighton in just his 2nd game of the season over the significantly more competent Sergei Bobrovsky or Brian Boucher. In future hindsight, I think it will be safe to say this game-winning goal hindered the Buffalo Sabres for six years. Flyers 5, Sabres 4 (F/OT)
2. 76ers beat the Heat: Just hours before the Flyers defeated the Sabres in overtime, the number two game on this list happened. For the 76ers, 2010-2011 was a resurgence. After enduring a painful year under Eddie Jordan, the Sixers fired him, hired Doug Collins, and improved instantly. They made the playoffs after having the number two overall pick in the 2010 Draft, and as luck would have it, they ended up playing the most controversial team in the league, the Miami Heat. The Heat won the series 4-1, but the Sixers played them tough the whole way through, which is more than one might be able to say for the next two teams the Heat faced. For the Sixers, that one win was special and unforgettable. Like the hockey game soon after it, it was a dramatic comeback and won at the last second. 76ers 86, Heat 82.
1. Babe Valdez: Entering the 2011 season, Babe Ruth was the last person in MLB to start the game as a position player and end the game as the winning the pitcher. After the 2011 season, that person was Wilson Valdez. But while Valdez got the glory for a single inning, the real story of this game should be Danys Baez. Make no bones about, Danys Baez is not a good pitcher. Most of the time, he does not pitch well. In his tenure with the Phillies, he has been below replacement level. But Danys Baez will always have this one night. One night where he did pitch well. For five innings. More than he had pitched in quite a single game in quite a long time. And he was not getting BABIP luck, either. Danys Baez actually pitched real well in this game. His time in Philadelphia on the whole can best be described as real bad, but he will always have this one night. And the Phillies will always have these 19 innings they will always remember. Phillies 5, Reds 4 (F/19)