Tuesday, September 15, 2009

We Beat the F*#$ing Angels

I do not like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Yankees do not like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The way we dislike them is similar to the way Irish people disliked Scandinavians back when they wore hats with horns* and had a yearly thing where they raped and pillaged the entire island. Life does not go well when the Angels come to town. Or when we go to their town. In '02 and '05, they knocked us out of the playoffs without even smiling. Our regular season record against them since '04 looks like this:

2009 (thus far): 3-4
2008: 3-7
2007: 4-6
2006: 3-6
2005: 4-6
2004: 4-5

*Apocryphal, I think.

And it's not like they always blow us out, though that will happen on occasion. Most of the games are gut-wrenchers, cruel lead-ons that make victory seem almost tangible before the cruel blow is delivered. They treat us like a rich dude with chronic satyriasis treats an aspiring actress from a state with more cows than people. This year was no different. After we took 2 of 3 in the Stadium, they swept us in a devastating series in Anaheim just before the All-Star break. Among other things, it led to me writing this bizarre post, all but damning us to a accursed mythological status. Yankee nation, certified doom and gloomers since '02, let the black clouds foment over a strong first half.

So, for a regular season game, yesterday was kinda important. It was a make-up date from an earlier rain-out, a one-off at the House That Jeter Built before the Yanks travel west for three more next week. A win would give us a fighting chance to win or tie the season series, and maybe get the rally monkey off our backs. Of course, Joba Chamberlain had to be pitching, complete with his "rules." But he went 4 scoreless innings, and Mark Teixeira put us on his wide shoulders with a huge two-run triple. And when Phil Hughes blew the 3-2 lead in the 8th, and this started to look like another Angel kick to the groin, the Teixecutioner delivered again with an RBI double. Gardy pinch-ran, and speed killed, Mo saved, and the Yanks are one step closer to home-field advantage in the playoffs.

(By the way, Mark Teixeira? Savior. Also, ex-Angel. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.)

(I'm thinking now of a really corny and uncomfortable line relating to his acquisition. Something like..."we knew we were getting an Angel, but we didn't know he'd be so heavenly.)

(I need to stop thinking parenthetically.)

(But what about "we knew were getting an Angel, but we didn't know he'd take us to Cloud 9. Okay, I'm so done.)

Big win, especially after losing a series to Baltimore. Moving on, Juan Martin Del Potro proved he's ready for the big time with a somehow-not-that-stunning win in the US Open Championship against Federer. The win is remarkable for any twenty year-old, but more so because Del Potro absolutely blew the third set to go down 2-1 in the match. But he fought through the fourth, winning in a tiebreaker, and then Federer did that thing he sometimes does against Rafa where he just wilts in the fifth. It was a great win from a seemingly humble guy, and another great major tournament. Which got me wondering, which sport has had the best majors this year? That's right, folks, it's time for:

Tennis vs. Golf: The Wrap-Up Shake-Down Face-Off

(I give myself 10/10 for the picture.)

I'll be going through all four majors in head-to-head style, matching the first golf major against the first tennis major, and so on.* And I'll only consider men's tennis, since I don't watch women's golf and can't compare.

*Please ignore the fact that there's not a good reason to do this.

1) The Masters vs. The Australian Open

Masters: Thinking back, I actually couldn't remember exactly who won this tournament, which should be a strong indication of how this first match-up will go. Turns out it was Angel Cabrera, and now the memories flood back. This was actually a fun tourney, with Tiger and Phil making strong Sunday surges, and Kenny Perry being the old guy everyone wanted to win. He finished bogey-bogey to force a three-way playoff (Chad Campbell was the other), where Cabrera triumphed, ruining Jim Nantz's day. Okay, Masters, strong showing.

Australian Open: Over the fortnight in Melbourne, the weather got really, really hot. Like 130 degrees hot. They kept having to close the main roof to cool things down to the 90s. Rafa Nadal and Fernando Verdasco had one of the best matches in major history in the semis, with Nadal somehow emerging victorious after five sets and five hours, fourteen minutes. And then, in the final, with only one day of rest compared to two for Federer, he won again in another class five-setter, followed by Roger breaking down in tears in the post-match press conference and saying "this man is killing me." It was the third surface on which Rafa won a grand slam title, and will probably be remembered as his crowning achievement, the moment where he was at his absolute peak against the greatest player in history.

The Edge: Tennis (1-0).

2) The US Open (golf) vs. The French Open

US Open: Not a great tournament. Lots of rain made it tough to watch, and it ended on Monday. David Duval made a real run, getting within one shot before bogeying seventeen, and Mickelson was tied for the lead late. Tiger lurked for a while, but couldn't close the deal. Lucas Glover eventually took the title in a very forgettable tournament.

French Open: Diminished somewhat by Soderling's fourth-round upset against Nadal, 2009 in Roland Garros was still incredible noteworthy for Federer's first French Open title, completing the career slam, as well as his 14th major overall, tying Pete Sampras for most ever. And it didn't come easy; in the semis, he had to come back from down two sets to one to beat Del Potro. Soderling's run attracted a good amount of attention as well, though he couldn't push Fed in the final.

The Edge: Tennis (2-0).

3) British Open vs. Wimbledon

British Open: Totally unforgettable. Tom Watson, at age 59, was attempting to become the oldest man to ever win a major tournament. He played solid, imperturbable golf for 71 holes, taking the lead into the 18th on Sunday as the field floundered in windy conditions. His iron sailed over the green though, and he showed his first sign of nerves with a timid putt that came up short. In the 4-hole playoff with Cink, we got to see the brutal effects of age and disappointment firsthand, as he collapsed in the face of his own mortality. Cink took the Claret Jug in a weekend full of hope, heartbreak, and metaphor.

Wimbledon: With Nadal sidelined by a knee injury, things seemed aligned for a Federer coronation. And it came to pass, but not before Andy Roddick made the most valiant effort of his career to push Federer to an epic fifth set, finally falling 16-14. Roddick didn't have his serve broken until the last game, and Roger was made to sweat for every point. In the end, he took his 15th major to set the all-time record and reserve his place in history.

The Edge: Golf (2-1).

4) PGA Championship vs. US Open (Tennis)

PGA Championship: With Tiger majorless on the year, there was little doubt he'd be in contention near the end, and stalking his prey with a bit more than the usual ferocity. And when he held the lead against Korean Y.E. Yang after the third round, there was little doubt he'd win. Observe: Tiger was 14 for 14 when leading after three rounds of a major. An Asian-born player had never won a major title in golf. But Yang, who had only won one tournament on US soil, out-duelled Tiger, an epic round culminating in the one of the clutchest iron shots in history on the 18th. His win can safely be called one of the 5 most improbable golf results ever.

US Open: Rafa's return brought a certain amount of excitement, and his run to the semi-finals showed what extreme grit and a refusal to concede a single point can accomplish. But he ran up against a buzz-saw in Juan Martin Del Potro, who dispatched El Toro with ease in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, Federer added another chapter in his long story of psychological dominance against Novak Djokovic, breaking him in the very last game of both the second and third sets to reach the final. That match also produced what some are calling the greatest shot in tennis history, setting up match point:

The expression on Djokovic's face at :57 in that clip is utterly priceless. But no amount of magic could stop the Del Potro express, and Fed fell in a nice 5-set final.

The Edge: Draw.

Final Score: Tennis 2.5, Golf 1.5

All in all, a great year, with sufficient drama in all 8 majors.

And the real winner here?

The fans.

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