Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yo Yo Yo Coach K in Da House Y'all!!!

A big thank you to faithful reader William for sending in this promotional video that was posted on YouTube Tuesday. It's called "How We Hoop," a brilliant piece of recruiting hatched by the dexterous minds of the Duke Athletic Department. The production, with its immense 'street cred,' is sure to open inroads into an urban culture the school has abandoned for the past eight years.

(Either that, or it's a shoddy piece of transparent propaganda, bound to fail with its target audience, and bursting with unintentional humor. I can't be sure. Let's do a second-by-second rundown and find out!)

Title: "How We Hoop" is a fresh and daring take on more traditional locutions like "How We Play the Game" or Coach K's original suggestion: "The Style of Basketball I Generally Like to Teach Our Kids." The use of the word 'hoop' as a verb infuses the production with a ghetto flair, and will surely catch the eye of those talented 'street-ballers' (another bit of modern vernacular) who disdain antiquated notions of sentence structure. An absolute public relations coup!

0:00-0:10: "The way we the way I'd like to play," says Coach K. He has decided to utilize his trademark pedophile voice, a sure attention-grabber. The diction is slow and insinuating, re-creating the atmosphere of immediate foreboding we all experienced as children in the presence of creepy adults. The anticipation, both intense and disorienting, leads nicely into the murine coach's first meaningful declaration: "I wouldn't want to play in a...structured system." Bolstering his point is complete archival footage from each of Duke's 18 fast break points in the past decade.

0:10-0:23: Upbeat, exciting 'hip-hop' music weaves its way into our subconscious as we watch a series of loose ball scrums and near-steals, some of which may have ultimately benefited the team. Capping off this wild sequence is a stunning energy shot of Steve Wojciechowski, Duke's diminutive assistant coach. Standing at 5'3", "Wojo" is responsible for ensuring that even our most talented centers will underperform in the ACC. Directly following his outburst, Coach K makes an impassioned plea to a diverse Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd of white and Asian engineering and econ majors. A true goosebump moment.*

*If you're a white or Asian engineering or econ major.

Did You Know: Coach K went to Army, and learned everything he knew about basketball from Bobby Knight? And that Bobby Knight became irrelevant in the twilight of his career due to poor recruiting and an inability to change with the game? Don't worry, that's not mentioned in the video.

0:24: "I like to play fast," says Gerald Henderson. He stares at the camera for an extra moment, just long enough to communicate the awkward, unspoken question: "you guys know I'm going to the NBA, right?"

0:25-0:34: Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, clearly reading cue cards, spout a series of talking points about freedom and defense. Their words, nearly meaningless, are beside the point; we're meant to focus on Singler's gentle swaying as he playfully bats the ball back and forth, flashing a seductive look at the camera and unleashing his devil-may-care grin. Looks like we're desperately courting more than one minority group.

0:35: Coach K makes his first on-screen appearance. In keeping with the young, urban motif, he wears a pair of pleated black pants that rise almost to his shins when he sits, showcasing blazing white socks and running sneakers.

0:40: "I can't teach something that I don't like, and that I don't believe in," says the guru. The editors wisely cut off the end of his statement: "and I damn well don't believe in the jungle ball these coloreds are playing."

0:49: Jon Scheyer is forced to wear his uniform, clap his hands, and slap the floor in front of a green screen. His movements look slightly less enthusiastic and more stilted than a virtual player you might see on a video game.

0:52: "We can get easy buckets off our defense," says Scheyer, in the thoroughly unconvincing monotone normally reserved for children of car dealership owners who are forced to recite a catch-phrase in their dad's low-budget commercial.

1:10: "If you come from a man-to-man program, you're going to have a little bit of an advantage going into the pros," says Czar Mike. In support, he rattles off the impressive list of Dukies who excelled in the NBA. Included are Roshown McLeod, who played less than two seasons worth of professional basketball, Mike Dunleavy, who spent his first years continually losing a starting job for the Golden State Warriors, and Luol Deng, who left Duke after one year to Coach K's enormous displeasure.

1:20: "It's just gonna prepare you for the next level," says Kyle Singler, who will almost certainly fail at the next level.

1:24: "They learn how to play basketball, and that's what our system does." That's Coach K again, speaking in the 'profound' cadence used since time immemorial by frauds who want to make an incredibly banal statement sound meaningful.

1:35: Elliot Williams, my favorite Dukie: "I watched a lot of, like...Kobe and Dwyane Wade in Coach K's system...I can learn something from that." This was a voice-over, because they couldn't find a way to edit out Coach K standing to the side, holding a gun and mouthing the words "just say it."

1:40: Remember that time when Coach K barely won the Olympics with a team that far exceeded the opposition in talent? The editors gently imply that this was an act of....geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeenius!

1:48: "If you play it right, it's a lot of fun," says Scheyer. With the video director frantically making the 'cut' gesture, he continued: "If, on the other hand, you play against more athletic defenders, which history proves is inevitable in March, the rigid system that Coach K just spent two minutes trying to disown becomes absolutely limiting, and in 40 horrific minutes you will learn to hate the stifling sport of basketball, which you will never consider a 'game' again for as long as you live."

1:48-2:03: The rap music dwindles and segues into a shot of the Cameron Crazies going bananas in what I'm guessing is the late 90s. Next, a basketball hurtles into a blue background and explodes, revealing the ultra-dramatic Duke logo. Incidentally, it looks like John Wall is going to Kentucky, so, uh...we won't have a dynamic point guard or a real title shot for at least another year. Great video, though.

(By the way, it's funny how two days can almost change your outlook on a baseball season. Phil Hughes and Joba delivered big time, and suddenly we became capable of timely hitting. I still want to see us capitalize on the momentum, for once, but it's a step in the right direction. The Angels series starting today will show a lot.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Perspective, but Without Talking About Something Other Than Sports

Warning: today's post is a cheapie.

If you ever want to know what it's like for the poor people of the world who don't follow sports, read this article about cricket. You'll gain a new and liberated perspective about how athletically-disinclined souls feel when they stumble across Sportscenter, or hear you delving into sporting minutiae with a friend.

Don't worry, though, it's still cool to belittle them.

Here's a large chunk of that hilarious article. Keep in mind that it's not fake. Enjoy, and try to have an incident-free day.

Australia took a 2-1 lead in the five-match one-day cricket series after defeating Pakistan by 27 runs in Abu Dhabi on Monday evening.
Captain Michael Clarke hit a battling 63 to lead Australia to victory in the third one-dayer.

Pakistan had restricted Australia to 198 for seven from their 50 overs but could only manage 171 all out in reply.

Captain Michael Clarke was again Australia's hero as he made a battling 63 before taking three for 15 with the ball.

A ragged spell from seamer Sohail Tanvir -- who was selected at the expense of Shoaib Akhtar -- helped Australian openers Brad Haddin and James Hopes make a cracking start in good batting conditions.

Haddin struck Tanvir for consecutive blows in his first over, as the left-armer conceded 14 runs in his first two overs.

Umar Gul, who had handled the new ball, was also a touch expensive to begin with, helping Australia flourish.

But Pakistan hit back with captain Younus Khan throwing down the stumps at the non-striker's end with a direct throw, catching Hopes (15) just short of his crease while the batsman attempted a single.

Gul then sent back Shane Watson for a second-ball duck to have Australia reeling at 28 for two. Clarke and Haddin steadied the ship but Australia lost their way again with the advent of the spinners.

Shahid Afridi was pressed into action at the start of the 14th over and Australia's scoring rate dropped dramatically. But it was Shoaib Malik who separated the pair, bowling Haddin (26) as the wicketkeeper-batsman moved too far across while attempting to tuck one down to third man.

Andrew Symondswas snared by Afridi for only six and Clarke fell while attempting to force the pace while the batting power play was in progress.

Clarke had put on 54 for the fifth wicket with Callum Ferguson, who carried on briefly after his captain's departure, while Nathan Hauritz got Australia close to 200 with an unbeaten 19 off only 18 balls.

Pakistan made a good start to their reply, with Salman Butt and Ahmed Shehzad putting on 95 for the first wicket and seemingly putting their side on course for victory.

But Butt's wicket, two short of his 50, proved the turning point, the opener edging Hauritz to slip. Khan went for a duck the next ball before Misbah-ul-Haq became Clarke's first victim. The same bowler then snared Shehzad for 40 while Afridi (6), Kamran Akmal (8), Yasir Arafat (3) and Tanvir (11) all went cheaply.

Malik chipped in with a useful 30 but, when he was run out, the game was up, and Gul quickly became the last man out with nearly three overs left.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Let's Have Another Year, Just Like the Other Year

It's doom-and-gloom time in Yankee land. The season is 1/8th kaput, and despite the off-season moves, nothing has changed from a year ago. The Yanks are in dire straits, and here are 10 reasons why we won't make the playoffs:

1) Injuries - Just like in '08, the DL has apparently become mandatory service. A-Rod, Bruney, Ransom, and Wang have fallen prey so far, and if you think Matsui and Posada won't be missing time, along with one or two others, I've got a front row seat at Yankee Stadium for cheap, cheap, cheap!

2) Disappointing Starting Pitching - AJ Burnett has shown great stuff, and Andy looks better than last year. Those two aside, our rotation is a mess. CC is struggling, and it will take more than last night's decent performance to convince me he's back, Joba looks like someone who should never have left the bullpen (where's the swagger, big man?), and Wang is a disaster. Was it too much to ask that we could go twenty games without having to dip into the minor leagues? Phil Hughes starts tonight, and even though he's been great in AAA Scranton, I'm not hopeful.

3) Feckless Managing - Girardi looks like a lost child in the dugout, and the moments of desire seem completely manufactured. He's already cost us one game in Kansas City, beyond debate, and his bullpen moves continue to puzzle. Calling on Mariano in Friday's game in Boston with one strike on a batter in the 8th was a strange, panicky move, and a prime example of the incompetence he's demonstrated since he began. Could any Yankee fan who's watched Francona for the last five years honestly say they wouldn't switch skippers in a heartbeat? Joey G. will be gone by the end of the year.

4) Inconsistent Bullpen - They can look great, as in the 14-inning win over Oakland, or terrible, as in the slew of games when we've conceded 15 runs or more. Right now, though, the trend seems to be that they only look good against teams with weak line-ups. Watching them work against Cleveland and Boston was a couch-gripping affair that never ended with a sigh of relief.

5) Lack of Fire - I love Derek Jeter. Don't get me wrong. He's a professional in every sense of the word, and he's a Yankee legend and future Hall-of-Famer. But would it kill him to show some passion? He's the damn captain! We have nobody, and I mean nobody, that can light a spark under this team. The passive manager certainly won't. Our best hitter, Robinson Cano, is young and quiet. Joba, a guy who was a firebrand out of the bullpen, has been neutered in his starting role. Melky, our most enthusiastic guy, stinks. AJ Burnett, our best pitcher, is never anything more than stoic. Johnny Damon is strikingly stupid, Posada and Mariana and Pettitte are even-keeled veterans, Texeira never says boo, Nady has no personality, Wang and Matsui can't speak English, A-Rod is the village idiot, and CC is dealing with his own demons. That leaves Swisher, who seemed like he might be a good influence, but even he's coming back to Earth in a hurry (current BA: .284). When he reaches his destined plateau of about .260, what real influence can he have?

In contrast, look at Boston. Sure, they have their steady Eddies too, but they also have guys like Youkilis, Pedroia, Papelbon, and Ellsbury, who are flaming balls of energy. I hate every single one of them, but they light up that team and create a winning atmosphere that everyone else can settile into. Same thing with the Rays.

So where are our sparkplugs? How did we become a boring, soulless team? I don't question our desire to win, but without those charismatic personalities, do we really want it as badly as the next team?

6) No Opportunistic Hitting - This is another carry-over from '08. We routinely have more hits than the other team in losing efforts. Last night, Detroit had 6 hits and 4 runs. We had 10 hits and 2 runs. How can you possibly score only 2 runs on 10 hits? By having 9 separate batters leave a man on base. Total, we left 20. 20 fucking men on base. The maximum you can leave is 27. And Detroit? They left 3.

It's just too typical. Whether we're popping up to the infield, striking out, or grounding into double plays, this team has a knack for blowing their chances. (In the AL, we're #2 in hits, and #7 in runs scored)

7) Weak Bottom Third - For all the money thrown into this team, our 7-9 batters are inevitably some combination of the following: Melky Cabrera, Cody Ransom, Ramiro Pena, Brett Gardner, and Jose Molina. Those five are rally-killers, and will not get the job done.

8) "Slow Starters" - Sabathia, Texeira, Matsui, Joba, Wang. Those are the worst culprits, but the truth is, only Cano and Burnett came out hot. Sweet Robbie is the sole Yankee batting above .300. Our team ERA is the worst in the American League. I put "slow starters" in quotes because I think it's a misnomer. It implies a temporary lull, follwed by an explosion, in an ultimately successful season. But in this league, you can't afford to come out of the gates limping. We're already four games back in MLB's strongest division. How far can we sink before it's time to panic? Do we really think the Red Sox and Rays won't take advantage of our "slow starters"? I'm getting so, so sick of people telling me it's a long season. Really, it's not. It's a season where patterns emerge and are rarely broken, and twenty games is a good sample size. Poor performance becomes a habit, and even if one or two of these guys break out, we can't expect a full recovery.

9) No Winning Instinct - This is intricately tied to numbers 1-8. What happens when we torch the great Josh Beckett and wind up scoring 11 runs on the Red Sox? We give up 16 with our best pitcher on the mound. What happens when CC has a sorely-needed strong outing against Detroit, holding them to 4 runs in 8 innings? We can only manage 2. What happens when Joba keeps pitching out of jams against the Sox, and we have countless chances to break the game wide open? We leave men on base, and Jason Bay hits a two-out home run off Mariano in the 9th. What happens when we're on the verge of sweeping Kansas City and recovering from a poor start? Girardi puts in his least reliable reliever, Veras, and we blow the game.

One way or another, this team snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. And when we do manage a win, we can't build any momentum. Win a game, lose a game. Win three, lose four. And on and on and on. At this pace, talent alone will put us 5-10 games over .500 by year's end. But that won't be enough for the playoffs, and we'll have only ourselves to blame.

10) The Curse of the Moose - Since acquiring Mussina in 2001, the Yankees have never won a World Series!

Hey, if Boston gets to blame Babe Ruth for 80 years, we should have someone too. And it's way more fun to believe in a curse than to admit your team doesn't have the winning pieces in place, and has spent a decade suffering from the same fatal flaws.

Goddamn you, Moose!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Brian Orakpo and the First Lady's Arms

There's a whole lot I don't want to talk about after this gut-punch of a weekend, so let me avoid the big issues for a day.

The NFL draft happened. My cousin Justin complained that I didn't include any coverage in my Friday post, but what can I say? I understand that people get really into the unending ceremony of the day, but I've never felt the pull. Obviously, I care who the Giants acquire (love our receiver class this year), and it's nice to know the first ten picks or so, but I can read the results on ESPN. I've never seen the allure in waiting thirty minutes between picks for a guy who might be an immediate flop. The time delay is like being at the horse races, but without the gambling rush or the exciting possibility that a living creature will be shot behind a white screen. (KIDDING!)

However, I happened to read the New York Post mock draft by Steve Serby on Friday, and came across what might be the strangest, most inexplicable line in newspaper history. To get an idea of Serby's format, check out the first three entries:

1. LIONS. Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia. Matt Millen would have picked Michael Crabtree. Brian Billick of Fox Sports likes the new face of the franchise, but cautions: "Stafford's accuracy is a concern."

2. RAMS. Jason Smith, OT, Baylor. Not the young Orlando Pace, but close enough.

3. CHIEFS. Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest. Someone to chase down Darren McFadden for the next decade.

You get the idea. Pretty standard. I scanned the list, half paying attention, until I came to number ten:

10. 49ERS. Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas. Mike Singletary would drop his drawers for a pass rusher with better arms than Michelle Obama.

Wait, sorry Steve Serby, my mind was wandering and I must have misheard. Can you repeat that for me?

Mike Singletary would drop his drawers for a pass rusher with better arms than Michelle Obama.

Hmmm, I still think I'm getting it wrong. Must be all this white noise. Can you say it a little slower?

Mike Singletary

would drop his drawers

for a pass rusher

with better arms

than Michelle Obama.

Say it with me now...




Not only does it make no sense...

You know what? Never mind. I'm not going to sit here and analyze the hundreds of layers of comedy and absurdity contained in that one sentence. It shall stand alone.

Mike Singletary would drop his drawers for a pass rusher with better arms than Michelle Obama.

Movinggggggg ON! The second and final order of business also involves Justin. Our fantasy teams went head-to-head last week, and on Sunday, the last chance to make up ground, he sent an e-mail after what appeared to be a significant amount of research. Note: Justin is a Yankees fan, his team is called "Gardner's Groupies," and my team is "Monsoon Season."

Subject Line: the ONLY reason to watch the game tonight

All of the Monsoon players are done for the day, the Groupies have Dandy Andy and Damon in the lineup tonight.

Areas where Groupies can/must gain points:

RUNS: Monsoon is up by 2. Can Damon cross the plate twice (or more) tonight?
RBIs: Monsoon is up by 5. Can Damon get 5 ribbies? Doubt it.
BBs: Monsoon is up by 2: This is possible but a stretch.
WHIP: we are tied. If Andy can be Dandy then I have a chance.

So, I have to rely on the SUCKEES coming thru for me? Wow, that’s asking a lot… if Damon has a career game (3 for 3 with 6RBIs, 3 Runs and 2 walks) and Andy doesn’t get shelled or walk the ballpark, then I may be able to steal my first Chaos league win…. A stretch? Absolutely. The worst part is that this will force me to at least watch Damons first 2 at bats before I call it a night and hit the hay….

Watch Girardi decide to give Damon the night off!!! HAAAAA!! Wouldn’t that be perfect?

- The Groupies

Based on that last sentence, can you guess what happened? Let's just say Justin's follow-up e-mail, after the line-ups were announced, contained the terms "Joe Girardi" and "piece of shit" in very close proximity.

Go Monsoon Season!

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who like to see such things in print: the Boston Red Sox swept the New York Yankees. Happy Friggin' Monday.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday News and Notes and Clues and Oats

There will be no waxing eternal this morning. Just some ideas and concepts from a dude who should know better:

1) Yanks-Red Sox at 7. My excitement level is about equal to Joba Chamberlain's when he sees a red car pass on the street.

2) Speaking of the Nebraska Nailer, I get the feeling tonight might be a defining start in his season. He's had success against the Red Sox before, including a couple gems, but he doesn't look great yet this year. If he gets knocked around today, and especially if he starts aiming his pitches and walking batters, it could further shake his confidence going into the summer. We need Joba at his fireballing best, and a great outing against the Sox might be just what the good doctor ordered.

3) Yesterday, David Ortiz gave Joba a fatherly warning: stop throwing at people's heads. The tone was respectful and maybe even complimentary, but I still hope he gets knocked on his ass. (Although that might be a waste of an out, since he can't hit anymore- .220 with 0 HR in '09.)

4) The comments came because, for whatever reason, Joba hates Kevin Youkilis. On three separate occasions, he's thrown pitches that came very near to The Youk's ugly dome. Included on that list is the greatest foul ball in history, when a fastball sailing over Youk's head hit his bat. As the miffed Red Sock picked himself up from the dirt and glared at the mound, Joba assumed a look of dumb incredulity, as if to say, "What? It was a strike."

The whole situation prompts an interesting question: what the hell is going on between these two? Joba isn't the smartest dude in clothes, but he's not dirty and he's never had a headhunter's reputation. So what's the deal? Something must have happened...did Youkilis deface the pissing-Calvin decal on Joba's pick-up? Did they get in a fierce debate about the merits of getting high on spray paint fumes versus huffing gasoline? Is there socio-economic tension, since Youk's parents owned a nicer satellite dish? We'll probably never know...

5) Saturday features my most-anticipated game of the year so far. AJ vs. Beckett. Does anybody else get very uncomfortable watching Beckett on the mound? The way he stands is...disconcerting. Someone needs to pull him aside and be like, "Josh, man, you're a great pitcher. Just an incredible talent. Everyone says it. Can I offer a little constructive criticism, though? It's just a small thing, barely noticeable...but did you ever, how can I put this delicately...did you ever consider not standing on the mound like an obese dude with two wobbly knees and a stick up his ass reading a comic book at the community swimming pool?"

They need a special center field 'Beckett Camera' that zooms past the mound and just shows the hitter and maybe part of his arm.

6) ESPN's caption on the MLB home page for this weekend's series:

Ready for Round 1 of Yankees-Red Sox? Steve Phillips says pitching will define this series.

That's pretty much a foolproof argument, isn't it? I mean...isn't every single game defined by pitching? If the score of Friday's game is 14-12, you could go up to Steve Phillips and be like, "you guys were wrong, this game was defined by good hitting." And he'd just smile, shake his head, and give you a patronizing grin. "Can't you see, buddy? It wasn't defined by good was defined by bad pitching. Just like I always said."

And then he pats you on the back and give you a ten-dollar bill because he feels sorry for how your life is going.

7) Rangers - Capitals tonight at 7pm, game 5. New York has a chance to clinch and advance to the eastern semis, where they'd face Boston. I'm not going to pretend I've followed hockey much since '96 or so, and I'm no expert on the game itself, but I think if Henrik Lundqvist has 97 saves and a double hat trick, we have a good chance of "icing."

For the record, the mailman at my work, a huge Rangers fan, thinks they'll lose by three tonight on the road. Then again, I've won about 80 dollars from him on small bets since he started working three months ago, so maybe he's not the best guy for predictions.

8) I suffered the most embarrassing loss of my life last night in a Thursday basketball league. A team consisting of my "friends" beat us by a score of 79-23. That's a narrow victory margin of 56 points, for math aficionados. We actually beat them earlier in the season, hard as that is to believe, but last night they caught fire and we eventually conceded and spread the ball around. Instead of accepting our gesture of defeat and graciously taking their time on offense, they ran up the score with a sick kind of glee. Nate, who you might remember from an earlier post, actually put full court pressure on one of our guards with two minutes left and his team up by 50.

It was the last game of the regular season. And the great part is, we play them next week in the playoffs. Here in this blog, on the public record, I swear by all things holy that I shall have my revenge. It doesn't seem likely, but karma is my brother in arms. It goes down next Thursday. I'll update on Friday.

9) My brothers and I have been playing an NBA Playoffs fantasy game which I highly recommend. The rules are that each person picks 16 players in a snaking draft. Your team has to have one player from each postseason club, and you tally the points as the playoffs progress. If you wanted to be more complex, you could keep track of rebounds, assists, blocks, etc. It creates a draft with some interesting complexities...obviously Kobe and Lebron are the best bets, but after that you have to make some judgment calls. Is it worthwhile to pick Dwyane Wade, when he'll be out (and therefore useless) after two rounds, max, or is it better to take a risk and go with someone like Tony Parker, who could lose in Round One but could also make the Conference Finals? Or should a high pick be spent on a Pao Gasol/Mo Williams type, a number 2 or 3 scorer on a team destined for the Finals? It's amusing, and keeps the lengthy playoff run somewhat interesting. As of this morning, my team has 611 points, and my brother Thomas has 609.

10) It's sunny and warm in Brooklyn. Enjoy the weekend, see you Monday.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We Offer You Only Hell and Strife, Boston

Since the dawn of 2009, life has felt a bit empty. I've tried to pinpoint the exact source of this ennui, but until last night my search came up wanting. Could it be the nagging sense of not having accomplished a single memorable feat, personally or professionally? Could it be severe loneliness, to the point that I've begun asking female clients on dates based solely on their phone voice? Or is it just the generational malaise- the oppressive sense that we exist in a time and place of long odds getting longer?

Sure, it could be some combination of the above. But those issues have been my companion for years, and I like to think I'm acclimated to some extent; I've penned a bitter truce with reality and all its caveats.

No, this vague feeling of anxiety, this lingering sense of displacement, belongs to a different complaint. It has picked, and picked, and picked some more, agitating my waking hours and haunting my sleep, until last night, in a moment of revelation, I came face to face with the epiphany: Boston, that godforsaken metropolis on the Atlantic, has lain dormant for days and months, denying me a reliable outlet of pure, unmitigated hate.

You see, the Patriots diminished. After the debilitating shock to the system of Eli's Giant triumph, they spent a season outside the playoff bubble. Like a man who had been burnt by the girl of his dreams at the very brink of eternal bliss, they tiptoed through the AFC East, afraid of risk, content to settle on a mediocre path. No playoffs, no Super Bowl, no rematch, no heartbreak. And no kind of target for the rancorous venom I usually spend at their expense.

You see, the Celtics aged. Kevin Garnett's awful melodramatics following the Lakers triumph have faded into memory, and time has claimed its tribute: a rickety pair of battle-worn knees. The club's remainder slouches on, gamely struggling against the Chicago Bulls in what appears for all the world to be a doomed effort. But even in the best case scenario, a certain royal force waits in the Eastern Conference Finals- a powerful conquistador, and the best guarantee a man could want that in mere days, the word 'repeat' will not be repeated. That question is answered, the suspense suspended. And thus King James denies me this outpouring of spite toward a green northeastern neighbor.

Oh, I don't fool myself. The bargain has not been upkept on this side, either. The Giants shot themselves in the foot, or somewhere a few feet higher, in their quest for repetition, and D'Antoni's Destroyers Decidedly Disavowed the Doctrine of Defense. It happens, they tell me.

But where do they go, all these stunted ravings? What happens to a scream deferred? Inward, inward, always inward...

But this morning, my Gotham friends, after days of rain and cold, the sun shines! The ten-day forecast promises bright skies and warmth! A springly clime alights on our maligned streets! And why?

The war is back on! The Yankees and Red Sox, at 9-6 apiece, do battle for the first time this season! Ugly Fenway will open its benighted doors to the gallant Bombers from the South Bronx! Our acrimony, long accrued, shall be expunged, excreted, et cetera. The enemy rises again...and Saturday promises particular appeal, as A.J. and Josh break out the dueling pistols and ascend the hill of dirt.

The horizon, I'm happy to report, isn't littered with Red Stockings alone. No, no...the Boston Bruins, those black sheep of Boston athletics, have salvaged something from the mess of their lives and advanced to the eastern conference semi-finals for the first time in ten long years. They made quick victims of the world's second-most successful franchise, the Montreal Canadiens. Their next opponent? At the risk of counting chickens still curled inside their eggs, it may well be the New York Hockey Rangers. One more win over Tsar Alexander and the Capitals will send the Boys in Blue Boston-bound with a return to the glory days of Messier heavy on their minds.

Hostilities, as they say, are renewed. If Chicago is America's Second City, then Boston is its Third World. Superiority must be asserted! Let the bile flow, New York. It's good for you. 'Tis the season.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Andy & Mo

From ESPN:

It was the 57th time Rivera has saved a win for Pettitte, tying Oakland Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and starter Bob Welch for the highest total in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I really didn't know about it," Pettitte said. "It's awesome."

This semi-arcane record won't make many waves, but it's certainly a tribute to two consummate professionals who possess the rare combination of skill and longevity.

When the veteran class of Yankees are finally gone, there are four who will be remembered above the rest: Pettitte, Rivera, Jeter, and Jorge Posada. All four played their first game in 1995, and aside from Pettitte's two-year stint in Houston, they've spent their entire careers in pinstripes. Together, they have 58 years in the Bronx.

There's something to be said for familiar faces, and that goes double when they've been such reliable figures. Year-to-year, Pettitte and Rivera have excelled, adjusting their style with age but maintaining a steady level of regular season success. Even more remarkable is their consistent quality of postseason play. Pettitte is 14-9 all-time in the playoffs, with an ERA under 4.

Many of those losses came in classic duels, including the game 6 setback to Josh Beckett in the '03 World Series. He's had his ups and downs (in the '01 World Series, after the fireworks in Yankee stadium, I would've bet my house and family that Andy would close it out against Randy Johnson in game 6. Instead, he imploded and lasted less than 3 innings), but throughout his fifteen years, he was the guy who consistently inspired confidence, and who you wanted on the mound in crunch time. He was also the guy who saved his biggest wins for games following a Yankee loss; he know how to pick up his team.

Pettitte's character was on full display last night. You could tell, in the top of the 7th, that he desperately wanted to finish the inning and leave the game in the hands of Bruney and Rivera. Chavez flew out to the catcher, and Kurt Suzuki came to the plate. Andy absolutely worked him, but Suzuki managed a desperation lunge that sent the ball dribbling down the third base line. It was an impossible out, and a classic pitcher's frustration. Cody Ransom, at third, didn't even throw the ball. The next batter, Rajai Davis, hit a hard grounder right at Ransom. He kept his glove up, and the ball snuck under into left field. Instead of an inning-ending double play, it left men on first and second with one out. Again, Ransom was the man on the spot. But Pettitte didn't let his frustration show, and two batters later, when the young third baseman made a nice inning-ending scoop to his left, the cameras showed Andy shouting "way to go, kid!"

And that's how he's always played.

Rivera, for his part, is arguably the greatest postseason relief pitcher in history. With an ERA of 0.77 (best all-time, minimum 50 IP) and 34 saves (best all-time), he's been a virtual lock when the Yanks take a lead into the 8th and 9th inning. Detractors like to talk about his 5 blown saves, but that's an unreliable stat, and if you look at the games, you can easily qualify 3 of the 5.

In Game 5 against Boston in the 2004 ALCS, he entered the game in the 8th inning with no outs, and men on first and third. Tom Gordon left him in the jam, and Rivera managed to get the next three batters in order. However, the man on third scored on a sac fly to tie the game, and despite Mariano's 0 ER, and what anybody would consider a good relief appearance (which included a scoreless 9th), he was awarded the blown save.

Then, in the bottom of the 9th in game 7 against the Diamondbacks ('01 World Series), he gave up a lead-off single to Mark Grace. The next batter laid down a poor bunt straight at Mariano himself. He spun, and this throw to second was off line. A potential double play was ruined, and from there the game got out of hand. But if he'd made a good throw, it's very likely the Yankees would have a 27th World Series to their credit. The "blown" save had more to do with poor fielding than poor pitching.

And finally, against Minnesota in '04, he gave up two runs in the 8th. But again, he inherited Tom Gordon's runners, and finished with 0 ER. He also pitched a clean 9th, and the Yanks went on to win the game.

All things considered, he's had 2-3 bad outings in 76 games. In 117 innings, he's allowed 10 earned runs. I

It's been a stellar playoff career for both pitchers. The regular season, of course, is no different. Pettitte's 217-127 record (an average of 17 wins per season), along with 96 wins at Yankee Stadium, make him a legitimate Hall-of-Fame contender, while Mariano, second all-time in saves, is a first ballot lock. Barring injury, they'll break the Eckersley/Welch record sometime soon, and will likely hold it for a very long time. It's not a piece of baseball trivia that will garner a ton of attention, but for Yankee fans who grew up with the '95 generation, it's more proof that we've been witness to long-lasting excellence.

In the midst of a long Yankee drought, and at the start of an uncertain season, today's theme is gratitude.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Taking the Wang Approach

For today's post, I thought I'd help out the New York Post and Daily News. Everybody knows the newspaper industry is struggling, and if they're going to survive into the twenty-first century, they'll need help. So I'm going to do my small part and write some potential sports headlines they can use over the summer. That way, instead of brainstorming for hours on end in search of that perfect pun, they can just check my list, pick their favorite, and devote the rest of the day to top-notch journalism.

There's a catch, though; all my headlines relate to struggling Yankee pitcher Chien-Ming Wang (whose last name is pronounced 'wong,' and yes, that's crucial to know, and no, after five years my stepfather has not stopped calling him 'wang'). But contrary to what you might think, these headlines are not baseball-centric. Sure, they can refer to his performance on the mound, but I also wanted to embrace a broad spectrum. The following twenty headlines cover any possible action Chien-Ming Wang might take over the next six months. I include paranthetical explanations of exactly when each particular headline should be used, since jokes are only hilarious if you explain them.

Again, I reiterate that on this list, 'Wang' is pronounced 'Wong.'

Here we go...

WANG ANSWER! be used when he struggles on the mound, or appears on a trivia show and does poorly...

WANG BALL! be used when he gives up a lot of home runs, or throws a sophisticated dance party for southerners...

GRAVITY WANG! be used when he's 'coming back to Earth,' so to speak, or becomes an astronaut...

VIET WANG! be used if he betrays the Yankees by joining the Red Sox, or America by joining a freedom fighting group from Southeast Asia, or does basically anything involving tunnels...not racist, because he's Taiwanese...

DING WANG DITCH! be used if he gives up a home run and sprints off the mound in shame, or gets arrested for ringing people's doorbells and fleeing...


...a reference to 'The Gong Show,' can be used whenever Girardi removes him from the game. Should be accompanied by a photo of Girardi hitting a giant gong. On second thought, this one might be a little complicated...

HOP-A-WANG CASSIDY! be used if he develops a problem where his pitches sort of skip to the plate, or if he buys a horse and moves west to protect honest citizens from unscrupulous ranchers...

CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET A WANG? be used if he gets really, really good, and every other MLB team wants to acquire him, or if he releases an album of protest songs and donates the proceeds to world peace...

KING WANG! be used if gets really, really good, or becomes a checkers phenom, or takes control of a small nation, or destroys a series of large buildings...not racist, because he's Taiwanese...

LONG WANG! be used if he goes deep into a game, or tries a career in amateur pornography and proves to be well-endowed...

A WANG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT! be used if Wang pitches in a day game that goes extra innings and stretches into the evening, or does a successful cinematic re-make of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-Winning drama about a dysfunctional New England family...

LET ME SEE THAT WANG! be used if he's sent down to the minors, but fans eventually clamor to have him back with the club, or if he's photographed on a beach wearing a thong that is decidedly too revealing...

SWAN WANG! be used when he's pitching his final game, or is seen at a Tchaikovsky ballet, or is seen anywhere in a swan costume...

SIREN WANG! be used if it's discovered that he uses his beautiful throwing motion to lure sailors to their death, or if he gets arrested for DUI...

WRIGHT AND WANG! be used if he goes up against Jaret Wright, or makes a crucial development in airplane technology that warrants comparison with Orville and Wilbur Wright...

WANG WAY! be used if he accidentally pitches a ball to second base instead of home plate, or drives any kind of vehicle in the wrong direction, especially a golf cart...

HE BE-WANGS TO THE LIGHT, HE BE-WANGS TO THE THUNDER! be used if he pitches a great day game in horrible weather conditions, or gets married to Pat Benatar...

MAO ZE-WANG! be used if the Yankees place giant murals of him all over the stadium, especially for political reasons, or if he becomes any kind of chairman, or communist, or even mentions China...not racist, because he's Taiwanese...

MAH WANG! be used for complex metaphors comparing his pitching strategy to an intricate board game, or if someone invents a separate board game featuring his face, and it becomes inordinately popular with my mom and all her friends...

ALL A-WANG THE WATCHTOWER! be used if the planet becomes an apocalyptic, blighted landscape with a pervading sense of imminent death, and Chien-Ming Wang is our only savior, the lone warrior standing between Earth and its nebulous doom...or if he's seen at a karaoke bar singing the Dave Matthews version of the song...

Monday, April 20, 2009

When the Loser Wins - The Silver Paradox

Last summer, for the second year in a row, my roommate Kyle organized a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. It was held in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and featured ten teams composed of his friends and acquaintances. The year before, one team ("Sausage Turmoil") had far surpassed their contemporaries in skill and athleticism, and stormed unimpeded to the championship. They were back for a title defense. My roommate's crew, "Team Hammer," also returned. The third squad of interest, for our purposes, featured three of my friends from south Brooklyn. They called themselves "Team Simko," and before the tourney a trash-talking war developed between their ranks and Team Hammer.

The day of the tournament, Team Simko showed up relatively hung over and struggled through the round-robin segment. They finished third in their group of five, losing to Team Hammer along the way. In the elimination round, they squeaked by the 2-seed from the other bracket, 11-8. Hammer easily won their quarterfinal game, and the re-match was set.

A fairly large crowd had gathered at this point, attracted by the fanfare of the tournament and the promise of a barbecue afterward. The group's attention was squarely focused on Court One. In the first semi, Sausage Turmoil (the defending champion, still undefeated and unchallenged) coasted to a 15-6 win. But the real story was the second semi-final, and everyone knew it. To add controversy to the mix, Kyle recruited a very good player to Team Hammer as a replacement for a very mediocre player who left under a mysterious cloud. Augmenting the advantage, the spectators were almost exclusively Kyle's friends. They didn't know anyone from Team Simko, and were openly rooting for a Team Hammer-Sausage Turmoil final. I should mention that two weeks earlier, I'd badly sprained my ankle and could only watch from the sidelines. My voice was the only support Team Simko would receive throughout the game. Let's be absolutely clear: it really, really didn't seem like the boys from South Brooklyn had a chance in hell.

Team Hammer took the early lead, and a repeat of their earlier victory looked inevitable. Then, unbelievably, Simko caught fire. And when I say that, I do not mean it lightly. Collectively, the three of them played a brand of efficient basketball well beyond their abilities, and reached an athletic nirvana they may never attain again. My friend Nate, who shoots from the side of his head with a two-handed motion resembling a child trying to throw a shot put, could not miss from three. He's actually a good shooter, but the odd motion ensures that every made three seems like a complete fluke. During one tight stretch near the end, he hit three in a row. I watched my roommate's frustration mount, and pretty soon the improbable Simko run had gathered too much momentum to halt. When the dust had settled and the nightmare ended, a totally silent crowd had watched their friends lose by a score of 15-9.

Kyle did not take it well. For about the next half hour, he paced by himself and stewed. Team Simko celebrated amid a hostile crowd. And throughout the next year, whenever they got drunk together, they sent my roommate a text that said "15-9." When we played pick-up that summer, they all wore white t-shirts with the infamous score written on the back in black magic marker, along with various other references to the game. It became a running taunt that continues to the present and will not end unless Kyle beats them in this year's tournament.

Needless to say, it was the most memorable part of the day. Here's the epilogue: in the championship, Sausage Turmoil annihilated Simko. They repeated as champions, and it was not a difficult feat. But by that time, a certain energy had already been spent among the players and the crowd. Because of the massive build-up of the second semi-final, and the unlikely development of its story-line, the stakes of the game far exceeded anything that could be drummed up for the title match. The tournament had blown its collective load. The fact that Sausage Turmoil won didn't seem to matter. And now, a year later, time has confirmed that Simko's win was the signature moment of the day. 15-9 is the score that sticks in the mind, for better or worse.

Which leads me, at long last, to the point of today's post. There's a unique phenomenon in sports that only surfaces on extraordinary occasions; sometimes, the team or individual that ultimately loses has an earlier incident so resonant, and so singular, that it becomes the highlight of the competition. It's a rare occurence. Sports are inherently competitive, and competition is designed to yield a champion. The very structure of a game exists to make us remember the winner. But it will happen, once or twice in a blue moon, that a loser's feat claims the foremost spot in our memory. Call it the Silver Paradox- when second place is the first winner.

Here now, in no particular order, are Four Silver Paradox Moments (That Don't Involve My Friends- I Promise). Keep in mind that I'm shooting from the hip here, and I'm sure I've left out some glaring examples. If you think of any, let me know.

The Shot Heard Round The World - 1951

After trailing the Brooklyn Dodgers by 13 1/2 games late in the season, the New York (baseball) Giants won 37 of their last 44 games, including their last 7, to complete an amazing comeback and finish the regular season in a dead heat with their crosstown rivals. Back then, each league had only one division, so the winner would go directly to the World Series. When divisions are tied today, a one-game playoff decides which team is bound for the postseason, but in 1951 the rules mandated a best-of-three series. The teams split the first two, and in game 3 at the Polo Grounds, Brooklyn took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

A rally against the Dodgers' tiring pitcher, Don Newcombe, led to baserunners on second and third and a 4-2 score. Bobby Thomson stepped to the plate, and Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen brought Ralph Branca in for relief. After a first-pitch strike, Branca threw a high, inside fastball that was meant to set up a curve. But the pitch wasn't high or inside enough, apparently, because Bobby Thomson laced it into left field, where it cleared the fence by mere feet. The Giants won the pennant, 5-4.

Other fun facts:

*Dressen, the Dodger manager, won a coin toss and decided to cede homefield advantage in the 3-game playoff. His absurd reasoning was that if they won their home game (game 1), they'd only need to take one of two on the road...ignoring the fact that if they lost their home game, which they did, the Giants would only need to win one of two at home.

*Jackie Robinson ran in from the outfield after Thomson's home run to make sure he touched every base.

*Newcombe had tried to take himself out of the game before the 9th started, but Jackie Robinson convinced him to stay in. Branca, who Dressen sent in for the immortal at-bat, had given up several home runs to Thomson that year, including one that cost the Dodgers game 1 of the same playoff.

*Willie Mays was on deck when Thomson hit his blast.

*The New York Daily News published the 'Shot Heard Round the World' headline the next day.

The epilogue that nobody remembers:

In the World Series, a third New York team triumphed- the mighty Yankees beat the Giants in 6 games.

McEnroe defeats Borg in the 4th set tiebreaker, 18-16 - 1980

In the 1980 Wimbledon Men's Championship, Swedish master Bjorn Borg was vying for his fifth straight title. Standing in his path was John McEnroe, the young American hot-head who had just begun to revolutionize tennis. The final was the most-anticipated tennis match in years, and marked the high point of their great rivalry. McEnroe came out firing, winning the first set 6-1. Borg rallied to win the next two, and the two men fought their way to a 4th set tiebreaker. After a match of exciting, back-and-forth play, the tiebreak exceeded any and all expectations. In case you're new to tennis, tiebreakers are played to 7 points, win by 2. This one went to 18. Borg saved six set points; McEnroe saved five match points. To this day, it's still considered the greatest set in professional tennis history. When Borg finally missed an easy forehand, McEnroe won 18-16, forcing a fifth set. "I knew I had won the match," he said later. "I knew it."

The epilogue that nobody remembers:

He hadn't. In the deciding set, Borg won 8-6 for his fifth straight Wimbledon title.

Video of Borg's 8 match points:

Constantino Rocca at the British Open - 1995

Playing on Scotland's legendary Old Course at St. Andrews for the British Open, "reformed" alcoholic golfer John Daly somehow managed to silence his personal demons for a weekend and take a 1-shot lead into the clubhouse on Sunday. Italian Constantino Rocca, playing in the last group, needed a birdie on the difficult par-4 18th to tie. His drive came up short, and he hit a miserable chip shot to leave himself sixty feet for the chance at a playoff. And then this happened (video starts with the chip. The putt is at the 3-minute mark, but the entire thing is worth watching to see Daly's interaction with his wife beforehand. Unfortunately, this clip doesn't include a reaction shot of Daly, but you can see that here at the 1:52 mark):


The epilogue that nobody remembers:

Rocca the Choker lived up to his nickname in the 4-hole playoff, and Daly played solid golf to win the Open. Later, his life got really, really bad.

The Yanks Hit Two Game-Saving Home Runs in the World Series - 2001

Unlike the other moments, this one came in the media-saturated era, so it needs less explanation. 9/11 had just happened in September, and New York was reeling. As much as sports can have significance against the backdrop of that kind of tragedy, these games meant a lot. After a mediocre season that saw the Yanks make the playoffs by virtue of being the best team in a bad division, they snuck by Oakland in the Divisional Round on a divine defensive play by Derek Jeter. In the ALCS, they needed only six games to beat a Seattle Mariners team with one of the best records in baseball history. That set up the World Series match with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs, behind Schilling and Randy Johnson, won the first two at home. Roger Clemens pitched one of the few good playoff games of his life to give the Yanks a win in game 3. Then came the fireworks, of which there will be no video since MLB does not allow such impudence.

In game 4, down 3-1 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, Tino Martinez drilled a home run to right field off cursed D-Backs reliever Byung-Hyun Kim. The stadium went apeshit, and discovered new decibel levels when Derek Jeter became Mr. November with a walk-off home run in the 10th (the clock had passed midnight, making the date November 1st).

In game 5, again down two in the bottom of the 9th, it was Scott Brosius' turn to hit a two-out, game-tying home run (again, off Kim). Mayhem ruled in Yankee Stadium. Soriano hit a game-winning single in the 12th, and the Yanks took a 3-2 series lead. I can still remember where I was for both games (college dorm room, freshman year), and they're easily in my top 5 sports moments of all time.

The epilogue that nobody remembers except Yankee fans and everyone who hates us:

The D-Backs won game 6, and our most reliable clutch performer, Mariano Rivera, blew a lead in the ninth of game 7. Luis Gonzalez broke my heart with the winning hit. As I stared dumbfounded at the tv, a stream of Red Sox fans streaked through the hallway of my dorm, celebrating like they'd just won their first World Series since 1918.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chokin' Charlie Sabathia?

Yesterday afternoon, the lowly tribe of diamond denizens from Cleveland etched their collective names in history by winning the first regular season game at the new Yankee Stadium. Let's speak in plain language: it was not a nail-biting affair. At day's end, the bright, state-of-the-art scoreboard proclaimed a grim 10-2 result, and the Yanks fell back to .500.

Carsten Charles Sabathia started the game, and left in the sixth with only one run conceded. However, his only clean inning was the first, and it took some keen defensive work to bail him out of subsequent jams. Cody Ransom made a diving stop on a sharp grounder and threw out a runner at home; Jeter turned a pretty double play when Cleveland's hit-and-run was undermined by a fly ball; Jose Molina caught Grady Sizemore stealing just before a DeRosa hit would have sent him home; Phil Coke retired Sizemore to strand Sabathia's last eligible baserunner. Cleveland left eight runners on base during the big man's innings. In short, CC got lucky.

Girardi yanked him after 5 and 2/3, and his final line did not impress. 120 pitches, 5 hits, 5 walks, and only 4 strikeouts. Just like in the first game at Baltimore, he couldn't locate his fastball. It led to walks, reduced velocity, pitches up in the zone, and a lot of trouble.

To be fair to CC, he didn't blow the game. That task fell to Jose Veras (initials: JV), who is officially the latest, greatest bullpen liability. The minute he entered the game, life at the new stadium took a turn for the painful. Our philosophy of bend-but-don't-break quickly turned into 'desperately avoid further humiliation.' Hopefully, Veras' appearance represented a last chance of sorts; Girardi handing him the ball for a final shot at atonement. Redemption did not come to pass. If he enters a close game in the late innings any time in the next few weeks with the score tied or the Yanks up, it'll be on the skipper's shoulders. Fool me once, et cetera et cetera.

But let's return to the fat man. For the second time in three starts, CC stunk. What was the difference, you might wonder, between those two efforts and his impressive outing against Kansas City last weekend?

Simply put, in the two games where he struggled, the pressure was on. The Orioles debacle was opening day and his first Yankee start, while yesterday's atrocity was the inaugural game in a ballyhooed new park. After all the publicity of CC's monster contract, and the fact that he was joining baseball's most successful franchise in an unforgiving city, expectations soared. This early in the season, no other pitcher in baseball has fallen under so much scrutiny. That, combined with the enormity of the situations in Baltimore and New York, begot a boiling cauldron of stress.

Coming in to the season, the biggest knock on Sabathia was that he couldn't deliver in the clutch. His postseason starts had ranged from mediocre to abysmal. Yankee fans even had personal experience with his shortcomings; in 2007, he matched up with our resident choker, Chien-Ming Wang, in the divisional series. We knocked old CC around pretty good, chasing him in 5 innings after 2 home runs and 6 walks, but Wang out-dueled him on the crackup scale, giving up 8 earned runs in 4 innings of work. And now they're on the same team! Huzzah!

Okay, now I'm going to start delving into some stats. I apologize if things get muddled. Statistics are not my strong suit, and in general it's better for all concerned if I don't go beyond trying to memorize the formula for batting average. By the end of this post, I may be half-naked, clutching my hair, being dragged out of my office by security guards and screaming that Archimedes proved the evil of the world.

That being said...

If we go by my theory, that pressure played a part in CC's failures in Baltimore and New York, we have to find the symptoms. In this case, it's easy. CC had no control. Like all pitchers, he's largely ineffective when he can't throw his fastball for a strike. Hitters can be more patient, the pitcher is forced to reduce velocity in the interest of accuracy, and the arsenal of pitches is severely diminished. Most of all, though, poor control leads to that old cardinal sin- walks. Against the Orioles, CC walked 5 batters in 4+ innings. Against the Indians yesterday, he walked 5 in 5+. If it's true that pressure induces a lack of control, we'd expect a pattern of higher walk totals than average in 'pressure' games.

For his career, CC averages .31 walks per inning, or just under one walk every three innings. A respectable total by any account. Now let's check how he did in the playoffs:

In 5 starts, he pitched 25 innings and walked 22 batters. That's an average of .88 walks per inning, an astronomical total, and almost triple his usual number. In two pressure performances so far this year, his BB/9 is an even 1.0. You could argue that the playoff sample size is still too small, but I tend to disagree. Five games is enough to establish a pattern, and this one ain't good.

The rest of the stats follow suit. In regular season games, he gave up .93 hits per inning. In the playoffs, 1.32. Regular season ERA: 3.65. Playoffs: 7.92. Regular season WHIP: 1.25. Playoffs: 2.2. Strikeout to walk ratio, regular season: 2.63. Playoffs: 1.09.

You get the point, so enough math (for at least a year). Suffice it to say, his stats this year align more closely with those miserable playoff numbers than with the regular season Sabathia we hoped to see in pinstripes.

Your response to all this might be, fine, but even if he continues the negative playoff trend, he should settle down as the season progresses and return to his old self at least until October.

Here's the problem with that (aside from the fact that we're already chock-full of shrinking violets): Unlike Cleveland or Milwaukee, the New York media is constantly out for blood. After his poor start in Baltimore, this was the Post's back cover:

Birdbathia. And the sad part is, I'm sure the gung-ho wackos at the Post had been saving that headline for days and months, just waiting for his first setback. That's the silent undercurrent which makes the New York media even more sinister; there's a tangible glee in watching the bigwigs fall, and if they can do their part to bring about the collapse, so much the better.

And believe me, the strain is only going to mount. There have been a slew of great ballplayers who couldn't excel in the cutthroat New York market. It didn't suit their dispositions. Generally, these were players who also tended to struggle under extreme pressure.

The heat is on for CC, and so far he's looked like a man who'd rather stay out of the kitchen. Am I worried that increasing frustration and anxiety will turn every one of his starts into some kind of trial by fire? That he'll wither under the glare of the blinding New York spotlight? You betcha. The good ship CC needs to be righted, post-haste, or he'll be shark bait in no time flat.

Enjoy the weekend, see you Monday.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Greg Paulus is Trying Really Hard to Make My Blog

Alright, I suppose it's time to deal with this...

By now, you all probably know that Greg Paulus is "exploring" his football options. He worked out for the Green Bay Packers, and then visited the University of Michigan, where there are murmurings he could play next year. In a mind-boggling (but very funny) move, Duke football coach David Cutcliffe offered him a chance to join the a wide receiver.

The whole development is bizarre, but more than that it's just tiring. You know the feeling when you come across a piece of supposedly 'stunning' news, but instead of piquing your interest, it induces that weary, over-stimulated sensation? I've been lazily watching the development of this Paulus stuff for three days, and all I want to do is turn away from the computer and curl into a ball. Even typing this post is painful; I have phantom arthritic pains shooting up and down my arms and hands, and they won't go away until I'm done.

Because here's the thing: Greg Paulus is not going to play football. Michigan will eventually realize they don't want to invest too much time in a guy with one year of eligibility, and they'll move on. There are no more NFL minor leagues, so that avenue is shut. The most he can do is transfer to a lesser school, or go play in Canada or something. But that won't happen. Even his coach from Syracuse CBA high school, where Paulus was a phenom, is sounding a cautionary tone:

"To play at the NFL level he might have to add 30 pounds," Christian Brothers football coach Joe Casamento told ESPN's Joe Schad. "He could always throw it accurately and he's a smart winner and a leader, but where now is the arm strength?"

This 'passing' fancy (don't worry, I hate myself too) will run its course, and Paulus will become a basketball coach.

The whole episode reminds me of the incessant Brett Favre coverage during the last offseason. You ended up sick of him, sick of sportswriters who said they were sick of him, and sick of yourself for thinking about it. I'm convinced that his miserable performance for the Jets was the sweet, rewarding boomerang of all that negative karma.

Maybe I'm prejudiced, because I'll admit that Greg Paulus isn't my favorite athlete. I respect him, a lot, but I don't like him.

The respect comes because, in a very, very small way, I can empathize with what he went through at Duke. My senior year in high school, I was a starter on the basketball team. I worked hard, and made myself into a decent player, but I was light years away from even being considered 'good.' On the depth chart, I was clearly number five. I averaged about seven points a game, grabbed a few rebounds, and tried to play solid defense. That's as far as it went; I was just happy to be on the court.

One game, midway through the season, we traveled to the town where I grew up, and where my dad still lived. He and his brother had been stars at the high school, and basketball was a big priority in the community. During the bus ride, my coach called me to his seat in the front- a move that did not bode well. I sat down on the crinkled green leathery material (which you never see anywhere but a school bus) and prepared for the worst.

He told me I wouldn't be starting. Instead, they were giving a shot to a junior who they hoped would be more dynamic. I felt a gigantic knot in my stomach when I heard the words, and for a second I thought I might vomit. I staggered back to my seat, stared out the window, watched the landscape pass, and felt sorry for myself.

The truth is, nobody was going to judge me. My dad certainly wouldn't care, and being the sixth man for one game wouldn't be a big deal. But to my narcissistic high school mind, riding the pine in my dad's home town would be an unforgettable embarrassment. And there was also the personal failure that the change implied. Despite all my effort, I wasn't good enough, and at some point during the season I'd disappointed the coaches. The news left me distraught. During the JV game, and all through the pre-game workout, I sulked. When the coach spoke to me, I looked off to the side and gave one-word answers. I didn't engage my team, and I went through warm-ups halfheartedly. I wanted everyone to see my pain.

Before we took the court, my coach pulled me aside in the locker room. "What's your problem?" he asked. Again, I turned away, but the harsh reaction and all the emotions of the situation brought tears to my eyes. I tried not to let him see. "I know you're not happy about sitting," he said, "but you need to grow the fuck up."

And then he left, and I sat down on the bench and considered leaving the gym. Instead, I let his words sink in, and I grew the fuck up. It ended up being the only game I didn't start all year, but I took my medicine and had a decent game off the bench.

It wasn't easy, though. I certainly didn't acquit myself well along the way. And that one-game demotion I experienced, in my small town, was a drop of rain in the ocean of Greg Paulus' tribulations. His downward trajectory was not only more permanent, but also very public.

When Paulus first came to Duke, a lot of people were excited. Comparisons to Bobby Hurley abounded, and the big talking point was that Duke had founds it next workmanlike point guard. He might not be Jason Williams, but who's to say the team wouldn't have even more success under his tenure?

It became clear about halfway through his freshman season that such prognostications were grossly, and falsely, optimistic. In what would turn out to be his best year, he exposed himself as a defensive liability. Worse, he lacked the burst of quickness to be a true offensive threat. His absolute ceiling was a colorless competence, and even that never came to pass.

Over four years, the tide of public opinion swung against the plucky guard. People outside the Duke fan circle saw him as another undeserving, 'scrappy' white guy who they were supposed to love for vague assets like work ethic, hustle, and stoicism. To say that Greg felt a lot of hatred on the road is a massive understatement. But even supporters grew disenchanted with his skill set, and began to despair at Duke's future. And it's impossible to ignore the awkward sense that, to the team's detriment, Coach K had recruited someone in his own image.

For many, Paulus personified Duke's fall from prestige. He came to symbolize the recruitment failures, the athletic drop-off, and the diminishing NCAA returns. I'll admit that he became my scapegoat, too. Watching him run the point was an exercise in perpetual frustration. Whenever I formed an argument attempting to explain the reversal of fortune in Durham, Paulus was inevitably Exhibit A. Finally, even the coaches themselves were forced to recognize the sorry state of affairs. His role began to dwindle, slowly but surely. Things got so bad that this year, his senior season, he didn't even average half a game of playing time. In the second-round nailbiter against Texas, he played for all of two minutes.

In the end, Paulus had very few supporters. So it's even more remarkable that he handled his situation with such grace. In fact, it's almost annoying. A little bit of acting out might have shed some light on his character, and maybe even made him relatable. But you have to admire his businesslike attitude. Despite the inner turmoil and heartache he surely experienced, he never complained to the press or let his displeasure manifest itself outwardly. There wasn't a bigger cheerleader on the bench. He contributed what he could, and deferred willingly when it was necessary. Nobody can accuse him of disloyalty; he was a faithful soldier in Coach K's faltering army. Even when the season ended, his quotes reflected an apparent serenity with the arc of his career.

"I wanted to play point guard, and I got a chance to do that and to play for Duke and Coach K," Paulus told the newspaper. "I wouldn't change a thing."

But it's all a little too contrived, a little too decorous. Very few of us have been through something of that magnitude, but we've all known the minor humbling failures life inevitably delivers. It's never fun, and we certainly don't view the outcome with detachment. It's not human. And that's why his accepting stance should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Personally, I don't believe it for a second.

So maybe this football business is how Greg Paulus 'acts out.' And even though we're already sick of it, and never really liked him in the first place, we should probably hold our bile and let this adventure unfold. For four years, he had to internalize the emotional distress of a slow, public failure. He suppressed his character for the good of the team. If this is the beginning of his re-emergence, his declaration of independence from a Duke system that chewed him up and spit him out, then what can you say except "cheers"? Maybe the gridiron is the savior he needs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Ruined A.J. Burnett's No-Hitter

(Last night, as I watched A.J. Burnett dazzle the Rays, things around me started to change. The dim room began to buzz, and the dull components of my apartment glowed with life. The tall, beige, industrial heater (always an eyesore and sometimes emitting the odor of burning rust) owned a thrilling dignity I’d never noticed. The ancient couch cushions, stained to variable shades of blue by years of unrepentant spilling, suddenly contained the multi-hued spectrum of the sea. And the purple blotches on my fingertips, acquired from a bag of frozen blackberries, became historical remnants, scars from some nobler event. All this, you understand, because Burnett was throwing a no-hitter. The room was electric. And what better way to jinx the endeavor, you ask, then to anticipate the best and start a live blog two-thirds of the way through the game?

I apologize, A.J. It won’t happen again, until it does. We pick up the action in the bottom of the sixth.)

8:50: Things are getting crazy in Tampa. AJ is absolutely locked in. No-hitter through 5, and Iwamura’s leading off. A few minutes ago, my stepfather sent our Yankee circle this e-mail: “AJ is like me in many ways, not the least of which is, he's ONE HELL OF A STUD!”

8:51: Moving away from Burnett for a very quick second, it’s worth mentioning that Nick Swisher is owning the Rays. After striking out Gabe Kapler last night in the pitching performance of the year, he’s 2-3 with a double and a home run. The dinger immediately followed a questionable brushback by Garza, who is a very unlikable human being. Before the game, they showed him sitting on the Tampa bench, listening to rap (presumably), and flailing his arms around like the coolest kid in school. He was all by himself, but seemed very aware of the camera.

As Swisher trotted around the bases, Kapler glared from the dugout. That man does not seemed pleased with the emergence of Crazy Nick.

8:52: Iwamura strikes out looking, fastball on the corner! The YES Network shows footage of Burnett’s first no-hitter, which took place on May 12, 2001 when he pitched for Florida. Want to hear something really fucked up? Both games were in the same state.


I just fact-checked, and it turns out the Marlins were playing in San Diego that day.

But still!

According to Flaherty, Burnett hasn’t shaken Molina off all game. On the next pitch, to Jason Bartlett, Burnett shakes off a fastball. David Cone points it out from the booth, with his inimitable glee, and Flaherty tries to save face by asserting that they’re “clearly on the same page.”

8:54: Bartlett drills one that’s about a hundred feet foul, but I still practically leapt off the couch. I am way too excited, way too early.

8:55: AHHH! Bartlett smokes one to left, but directly at Swisher. Two away in the sixth. Good God. At least get through this inning, A.J., so I don’t look like a complete fool.

8:56: B.J. Upton is terrifying to behold at the plate. He’s like Cano in that sense. He just looks imposing and ultra-athletic. But now he’s down 0-2 after a 92mph fastball right down the middle.

8:57: Strike 3! Upton’s gone! Inning over! No-hitter through 6!!!!! Come on AJ!

8:57: Michael Kay, sensing the moment, wants us to call our friends and tell them to put on the Yes Network. Especially, he says, those friends who are watching ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ A nation wonders: when will Michael Kay and ‘Dancing With the Stars’ bury the hatchet? They’re tearing us apart.

8:59: Exactly twenty-four hours after my gushing post, Robinson Cano started to look terrible. Today is no exception. He’s swinging at ugly pitches, not being patient, and hitting weak grounders. On his last appearance, he didn’t run out a grounder to first. Is the old lazy Cano back?

9:00: YES shows Burnett’s only baserunner of the night, a walk to Burrell on a bad slider. That’s all that stands between him and a perfect game.

9:01: Cano strikes out on a down-and-in breaking ball. Crap. Sweet Robbie looks like his old self, which is not a pleasing sign.

9:02: Michael Kay mentions BJ Upton’s ridiculous basket catch from last night. On the difficulty scale, that has to be one of the greatest I’ve ever seen.

9:03: Nady’s sharply-hit grounder goes off Longoria’s glove and into the outfield for a hit. I’m very, very torn right now. Our lead is only 2-0, and we need this game, but wouldn’t it be better if AJ got back to the mound right away? To stay in rhythm? I’ve already decided to blame Girardi for not having everyone bunt to the pitcher if the no-hit bid fails.

9:05: Nobody is near Burnett. He’s all alone on the bench, with a towel or a thick sleeve wrapped around his right arm. There’s about twenty feet of separation between he and the closest Yankee (Joba, wearing his trademark goofy grin).

9:06: Michael Kay thinks he’ll be blamed if the no-hitter doesn’t happen, since he’s mentioned it so much. Time to visit and check the spelling of ‘solipsistic.’

9:07: Something about David Cone is very likeable. He’s talking about his own no-hitter, back in the day, and how a back-up catcher warmed him up when the regular catcher was on base and couldn’t get ready on time. Somehow he doesn’t sound arrogant or self-important. Just a humble dude relating a story. I don’t really know what I’m saying, here. I just like David Cone. A lot. I’d like to be his best friend. I should find his address…

9:09: Garza has thrown 111 pitches. Full count to Molina. Jose chases a low slider for the third out. Seventh inning stretch.

9:11: YES is showing footage of Cone’s no-hitter. Game on. The always-tough Crawford steps into the box. Goes down 0-2. Fights off a tough curve. Son of a bitch I’m nervous.

9:13: Pugnacious at-bat from Carl, fighting off some very good pitches. My room is completely dark except for the glow of the television and computer, and it smells like an impending fire since apparently spring doesn’t exist and my heater rumbles to life.

9:13: And there’s a base hit to left. Fuck.

9:14: My night is ruined. This is the most public yet of my many humiliations. Goodbye.

9:17: I’m back. I might as well finish this one out. At the end of the day it would still be a big win. The score is now 2-1. Longoria and Pena followed Crawford with two singles. Burrell up, still no outs.

9:18: Starting to wonder if I jinxed Burnett with this live blog…

9:19: Sac fly to right, tie game. After last night, a loss here would be really tough to take. I’m starting to get sullen.

9:21: Great inside-out fastball from Burnett. Navarro down on strikes.

9:22: Molina snaps a throw from his knees to pick Pena off at first. Beautiful. It’s a real shame this guy can’t hit, because I don’t know if there’s a better defensive catcher in the league.

9:23: I’ll reiterate: we need this game. If Tampa Bay somehow comes back to win, they’d take the series and deal us a very disheartening blow. Not the kind of momentum you want for Thursday’s stadium opener.

9:25: As well as he pitched all game, A.J. lost focus for a few batters after Crawford’s hit. I can easily understand why, but it would’ve been great if he’d buckled down. Of course, if it was me, judging by my reactions as a spectator, I would’ve sat on the mound, tried to tear apart my glove, failed, kicked the rubber in frustration, shattered my ankle, and limped off crying.

9:26: Gardner is batting .240. We need something more out of him. Speed is nice, but you have to be on base to use it. .240 doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the big picture. We’d almost be better off with Melky. (I don’t really believe that)

9:27: And just as I say it, he lifts a double over Crawford’s head in left!

9:28: Bunt, Jeter. Bunt. If we can’t score Gardner in this situation, we don’t deserve this win.

9:28: After showing bunt, Jeter takes a strike. If he doesn’t bunt here, I want Girardi’s head on a stick. This is inexcusable.

He’s not bunting. I’m distraught. 2-1. How can he possibly not bunt here, with no outs? 3-1. Even a walk isn’t great, because it puts the double play on. We need Brett at third after this at-bat.

9:29: There’s strike two. If he strikes out here…

9:30: Jeter barely, and I mean barely, loops a base hit over Iwamura’s head at second. If he had caught that, Gardner wouldn’t have advanced. I hate that call by Girardi. Hate it.

9:32: Howell is making Teixeira look silly with slow curves. A strike-out here would be a disaster. No outs. 2-2.

9:34: Great job by Tex. Warning track bomb to left scores Gardner. The lead is ours. You have to wonder if Burnett is coming back next inning.

9:36: Swisher up! He’s batting .478 with four homers this year.

9:38: Swisher flies to center, Posada grounds out. Middle of the 8th.

AJ’s back. I think I like this call. Zobrist hits a foul to the left side, and Swisher makes a running catch by the Yankee bullpen. He’s all smiles as he flicks it to Jeter. The state of Florida officially hates Nick Swisher. On a side note, one of my pet peeves is ballparks where the bullpen is on the field of play. They shouldn’t even call it a bullpen. They should call it…a bull-field…an enclosureless bull-field.

9:42: Iwamura grounds out to Cano. Two away. After his brief lapse into mediocrity, Burnett looks masterful again.

9:43: Michael Kay says this is the second time Burnett has “picked up” Chien-Ming Wang. As though Wang is completely appreciative. “Hey A.J, just wanted to touch base for a second and say thanks for pitching so well. That fact that you dominated immediately after my awful start, and made me look even worse by comparison, is just fantastic!” (Taiwanese translator: ‘Do you really want me to tell him that?’)

9:44: Bartlett grounds to short, and Jeter makes a nice charging play. End of the 8th. AJ has only thrown 103 pitches, and is theoretically available for the 9th. But I think at this point, you bring in Mariano, one of the few Yankees who didn’t pitch yesterday.

9:47: Robbie goes the opposite way for an effortless single off Wheeler! Beautiful, that’s what I love to see. For some reason, I feel heavily invested in his output this year.

9:48: Melky “double play” Cabrera is pinch-hitting. And sure enough, he hits a grounder to second…but it sneaks through for a base hit. First and second, none away.

9:51: After a failed bunt by Pena, Girardi is on the field. It looked like Navarro may have touched the ball to knock it foul, but replays show that he just stayed away. Good move by Girardi getting back to the dugout. Being ejected for arguing a correct call is the last kind of publicity he needs right now.

9:52: Ramiro Pena fails to lay one down. When weak-hitting players can’t bunt, it’s pretty annoying. If the guy was a home-run hitter or a superstar, I’d understand. But come on, do something at the plate. With two strikes, he flies out to Upton the range-covering gazelle, and the runners don’t advance. That at-bat could come back to bite us.

9:55: Molina flails at a slider. Two down. On first and second, the runners sit down and break out the picnic baskets. We asked for this with that anemic bottom part of the order.

9:58: Gardner drills it to dead center, and even Upton can’t catch up with this one! Ground rule double, 4-2 Yanks. Yesssssssssssss!!!!!!!

10:01: Great at-bats from the Yanks this inning, Pena’s failure notwithstanding. Jeter comes back from 0-2, works a 2-2 count and fouls off two.

10:01: Michael Kay uses the adjective “Jeterian” to describe Jeter’s earlier singles.

10:02: Three-run opposite field BOMB from Captain Clutch! “The ulimate Jeterian hit!” gushes Kay. 7-2 Yanks, and this baby is in the books! Ballgame over! Live blog over! The Yankees win! THEEEEEEEEEE YANKEES WIN!

EPILOGUE: Brian Bruney has the courage of a lion. He strikes out the side in ballsy fashion to finish off the Rays in the bottom of the ninth. This was a masterpiece from Burnett, and oh so necessary. You gotta love a guy who can sense when his team needs a lift, and delivers a gem. In a small way, I like to think he built off the energy from Swisher’s pitching performance yesterday. AJ was the man of the match, but let’s not forget another huge effort from Swish, and Gardner’s two clutch hits. Great win. Wouldn’t it be nice to win the rubber game Wednesday, and take a two-win streak into Thursday’s festivities…

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nick Swisher, the Greatest Yankee of All Time

Don't miss today's actual post below, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include this fantastic video of Nick Swisher outperforming Chien-Ming Wang and our entire bullpen from last night.

Watching the Swish yuck it up and have a good ole time while the rest of the team is somber (what with the 15-5 deficit and all) is pretty hilarious. They invented the word 'irrepressible' for this guy.


At the 2:40 mark, he shakes off Molina. Molina was not giving signs.

At 3:40, after striking out Kapler, Swisher asks for the ball and rolls it into the dugout. Michael Kay gets on a soapbox and calls the game 'embarrassing.'

At 5:25, he brushed back Burrell, and the entire stadium boos him. Swisher laughs.

As We Lay Dying

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I like to think that when William Faulkner wrote those words, in 1951, he was secretly hoping a sports blogger would one day use them to introduce a discussion of the New York Yankees.

Today, Mr. Faulkner, your wish is granted: I’m ready to declare a state of emergency in the Bronx, and it’s not because of the rampant crime. After a week of baseball, the pale demons of the last eight years are creeping under the doors in Yankee-land. It's not panic time yet, but there are serious issues requiring solutions.

The first is Chien-Ming Wang. Since 2005, he’s been a reliable starter, winning 19 games each in 2006 and 2007. His featured pitch, and really the one on which everything else hinges, is the sinker. If the sinker ain’t sinking, he turns into a paper tiger who throws a low 90s batting practice fastball and a mediocre cutting slider that nobody feels compelled to chase. And despite his impressive regular season stats, he never brought his best stuff to the playoffs, where he’s 1-3 with a 7+ ERA.

Still, it seemed like he’d be a guy you could count on for 15 wins a year as long as he could summon the nasty, ground-ball inducing sinker a majority of the time. Then, last season, he hurt his foot running the bases in an inter-league game. He missed the rest of the year, and a lot of fans (including myself) believe the injury cost the Yankees a playoff spot. Thus far in 2009, his sinker looks positively feeble, and he’s 0-2 with an ERA just shy of 30. The upstart Rays absolutely shelled him last night, scoring 8 runs in his 1+ inning of work.

More than the awful numbers, Wang’s body language is completely downcast. It’s a familiar sight for Yankee fans who remember his playoff performances; he hangs his head, slouches, and looks like a frustrated kid about to throw his glove and stalk home. It’s hard to know what he’s thinking, especially since he doesn’t speak English, but I get the sense that mental toughness isn’t Chien-Ming’s calling card. That shortcoming has been on full display this year, and it may signify more than a mere downturn. We could be witnessing a new and ugly pattern- an early forecast of Wang's numbered days.

If there’s one thing Yankee fans have grown accustomed to since our last World Series win in 2000, it’s disappointing starting pitching. It seems to rear its ugly head on a yearly basis. Our free agent acquisitions have been mostly catastrophic, from Randy Johnson to Kevin Brown to Carl Pavano to Roger Clemens. The home grown products haven’t been much better (the names Kennedy and Hughes still produce a blinding red anger somewhere behind and between my eyes). Sabathia and Burnett look promising so far, but if Wang joins the list of disappointments, it could be another long year.

The second resurgent problem is injuries. I mentioned Wang’s fluke baserunning mishap last year, which is a strong example of our terrible luck. It seems like the Yankees are plagued by more tears, sprains, strains, and breaks than any team in America. Last year alone, Wang, Joba, Hughes, Jeter, A-Rod, Mariano, Posada, Damon, Matsui, and Kennedy missed significant time due to various ailments. In 2007, Torre had to use 13 starting pitchers just to squeak into the wild card spot. Over and over, the Yankees get nailed. You could argue it’s because we have a lot of old players, but the numbers are too staggering to explain it away by age alone. And now, Teixeira has tendonitis in his wrist, A-Rod is gone until mid-May, and a good portion of our line-up look like they’re only a patch of uneven ground away from losing one or both legs. We can’t escape.

The final returning ghost of seasons past is Girardi’s chronic over-managing. It was a big complaint last year, but 2008 was also his first go-round with the Yankees, and most fans were willing to give him a pass and wait for better times. Well, the future has arrived, and early results have not been stellar. In Kansas City, we faced the two worst Royal pitchers on Friday and Saturday, and their best, Gil Meche, on Sunday. If you were a manager, which day would you pick to rest two of your better hitters? Friday or Saturday, right? Well, Girardi picked Sunday to bench Posada and Damon, and it left us with a four-man stretch of Melky Cabrera, Cody Ransom, Jose Molina, and Brett Gardner. The result? Meche completely shut them down. The four went 2-for-12 and grounded into three double plays. Oh, and did I mention that leaving men on base, and double plays specifically, were a gigantic Yankee killer last year? Why couldn’t Girardi have rested Damon on Monday, after the flight to Tampa Bay?

Still, we would’ve won the game on Joba’s strong start if another classic micro-management blunder hadn’t blown it in the 8th. Up 4-3, Girardi put Damaso Marte in the game, and he quickly got two outs. Instead of leaving him in to finish the job and set things up for Mariano, ole Joe saw that Billy Butler, a righty, was coming to bat. Marte is way more than some kind of lefty specialist, but Girardi decided to bring in Jose Veras, who’s had control problems all year, to face one batter. Surprise surprise, he walked Butler, and then Phil Coke blew the game. Over-thinking spoiled the day, and a much-needed sweep turned into a heartbreaking loss that segued into yesterday’s embarrassment in Tampa.

To re-cap, four huge bugaboos of the last decade seem to be haunting us anew in 2009: disappointing starters, injuries, a lack of opportunistic hitting, and over-management. To see this club plagued by the same headaches that derailed us for eight years produces a sick, helpless feeling that undoubtedly reeks of overreaction to milder temperaments. My cousin Justin recently wrote in a group e-mail that the mere sight of Girardi, by all accounts a decent human, makes him furious. My stepfather and uncle are calling for his head.

Again, it’s only been seven games. Are we all making mountains out of molehills? Maybe. But we can also recognize a pattern, and when the same exact problems start rising like an oppressive fog to obscure any prospect of hope, when a 3-4 start signifies a lot more than a 3-4 start, we have to tip our caps to Faulkner and recognize that yes, that dreaded beast we call the past is alive and well.