Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Got To See Pie!

And believe me, guys, seeing pie firsthand is like nothing you can imagine.

The be-pied gentleman in the above photos is one Juan Miranda, a first baseman with a bunch of RBIs in something called the International League (AAA) who was rewarded with a September call-up to the big club. He took over for Mark Teixeira in the field in the top of the 9th, and his spot came up with men on first and third, game tied, in the bottom of the inning.

It was a long journey to that point, though, and I plan to commemmorate it with heaps and scads of prose. Or, I'll go to the asterisks.

*I wanted to see one last game at Yankee Stadium, and I knew all the good players would be resting Monday (hangover after clinching) and Wednesday (to take advantage of Thursday's off day and give them two breaks in a row). Plus, AJ was pitching on Tuesday, which is always an adventure. Sometimes a happy one, even. So the girlfriend and I headed up to the Bronx for a last hurrah with the new Stadium. Don't worry, I'll be making fun of her later.

*Thanks to my new 8-4 work schedule, I was able to arrive just after 5 and watch some of the Yankee batting practice. I stood in the right field section, three rows back, while the pitchers and minor league call-ups fielded balls and ran drills. Joba was a particular crowd favorite; people had zero compunction about shouting his name and treating him like a goofy kid. Sometimes he'd throw a ball into the stands, and everyone cheered. Only the front row people got baseballs, so I didn't even think about angling for one. I just watched Teixeira, Swish, Cano, A-Rod, Matsui, and Gardner take BP.

*Then, a very special moment occurred. I happened to shift my gaze to right, and staring directly at me, smiling, was Brian Bruney. I swear to God he made eye contact and gestured with the ball in his right hand as if to say "want it?" Everything around me disappeared. We experienced a personal connection. I raised a hand, ready to receive, and he tossed the ball with a high arc to carry it over the first row. It was a parabola of destiny.

Until the rest of the greedy horde, trying to infringe on our moment, arrived in a frenzied cluster. The guy directly in front was proving to be a huge obstacle as he drifted backward with his arm outstretched, drawing a bead. But I knew that ball must be mine. Utilizing an elementary school playground football tactic from the days before any of us knew about offensive pass interference, I placed my right hand in the small of his back, leaned into him, and, in a move that will make me proud and ashamed for the rest of my life, gave him a slight but perceptive shove at the exact instant when the ball descended. He lunged forward, arms flailing, and the ball sailed over his fingertips. I deflected it to with my left hand, and snatched it triumphantly.

To my credit, I took the time to grin when he turned around. "Offensive pass interference, for sure," I said, and he gave a little nod that I can't necessarily describe as 'forgiving.' But Bruney had chosen me for this particular ball, as God chooses some men for glory, and I knew I couldn't let him down.

When I looked back to the field, hoping to thank him, or just to meet his eyes once again to share that special look of men who understand each other...he was already gone. I won't forget you, Brian.

*I gave the ball to a kid. I've been absurdly lucky in my life at catching things in public gatherings, and my weird superstition is that in order to keep experiencing the thrill of receiving, I have to immediately give the prize away. At first, I wanted to make an exception with this particular ball, but the longer I held it, the more it burned. I envisioned a future where foul balls, t-shirts from the t-shirt gun, and stadium giveaways all happened in the seats next to me. Karma had me in her narrow sights, and I had to get rid of the ball.

*On to the game. AJ was awesome. If not for an A-Rod error in the 3rd (absurdly scored a base hit), he would have pitched seven shut-out innings. As it was, he went 6.1, striking out 8, and leaving with the game tied 1-all.

*Girardi broke my heart by sitting Cano. When I saw Ramiro Pena taking second in the top of the 1st, I practically cried. There would be no sweet swing, no fluid, graceful arc of tapered wood as it met the helpless white sphere. No aesthetic frisson while the torque twisted his upper body even while his eyes stayed on the departing orb...oh how wrong I was.

*The Yanks are having trouble hitting. That's the dark secret of our last couple weeks; we keep winning one or two-run games, often in dramatic fashion, but pitchers ranging from mediocre to great are holding the lineup in check. Last night, someone named Larew, making his first start from AA, pitched six innings and conceded only two runs.

*Teixeira hit a home run, which is becoming a hugely predictable event when I'm in attendance. I've been to eight games this year, and I think he's hit a home run in either six or seven of them. He also hit two in the pre-season exhibition I saw against the Cubs. Uncanny.

*It's become something of a staple for me to make fun of my girlfriend when we attend a Yankee game, and luckily she provided another perfect opportunity yesterday. In the sixth inning, they flashed a bunch of birthdays on the big screen. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but you probably have to pay 20 bucks or something to have your kids name flashed for ten seconds. Anyway, the first name that came up was "Sam Handwich." Needless to say, this was a joke in 'spoonerism' form, where the first letter of each word in a phrase is flipped. The original phrase: ham sandwich. I did not need to explain this to you.

I laughed and pointed it out to Emily. She laughed too, and said "I wonder if his friends call him 'Samwich' for short."

I made a little 'heh' noise, and glanced at her sideways. She had turned my way, expression blank, expecting a reply. And it dawned on me: she thought 'Sam Handwich' was a real person. With a birthday.

I don't think I need to add any additional commentary here. (Except, PS, she's actually very smart, which is the only reason I feel okay making fun of her, and if she had a blog about the stupid things I say, I'd probably lose my job and maybe get put in prison...)

*Phil Coke entered the game in the 7th and promptly made three defensive errors in a row to give up a 3-1 lead. Swish got us close with a no-nonsense jack in the bottom of the inning, and things stayed the same until the 9th, when a familiar face entered the game...


Now a KC Royal, ole Farnsy drew a unique reaction from the crowd: everyone laughed. Apparently Soria, KC's usual closer, needed a break. All the sudden, we all felt pretty good about our chances.

Pete Abraham, a blogger for LoHud Journal News, summed up the general feeling with this live update, which I found later:

UPDATE, 10:11 p.m.: Farnsworth in to pitch. Krazy Kyle for my last game. How appropriate. Back in a bit with reaction from the 4-3 victory.

My cousin, and presumably thousands of others, used to call him 'Farnsworthless.' He's known for throwing a 98mph fastball that has absolutely no movement. He was a recurrent disappointment to Yankee fans, to the point that I always felt really bad for him. When the entire stadium laughed at him, this feeling returned. It would be a little bit tragic, I understood, if he came back and repeated his mistakes in front of a hostile crowd. But, like the rest of Yankee Stadium, I smelled blood.

Farnsy got the first out, but then Cervelli reached on an infield single, and Hinske found a hole on the right side. First and third, one out. And then, like something out of a dream, ROBBIE FUCKING CANO came to the plate. Obviously terrified, Farnsy threw him three straight balls. Sweet Robbie curled back in his stance, and Krazy Kyle, thinking he'd be taking all the way, grooved the 3-0 right down the middle.

And Robbie uncorked. The ball went sailing to the deepest part of the ballpark, looking for all the world like a game-ending home run. The center fielder managed to track it down, though, corralling the ball at the warning track. Cervelli tagged and scored, and the game was tied.

*The rest of the inning is somewhat of a blur until the very end. Hinske stole second, which seems impossible but actually happened, and then took third when the throw went into center field. Damon was intentionally walked, bringing young Miranda to the plate.

And I swear, my exact thought at that time was this: 'the best and worst and most horrible way for this game to end would be if Miranda hit Farnsworth with the ball, and reached on a single.'

That is not a lie. I wish I'd verbalized it to Emily beforehand, but alas, the thought stayed in my head. And then Miranda lined a shot that struck Farnsy somewhere on the leg, the ball shot out toward the first base line, Miranda gleefully ran past, and Hinske crossed the plate.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Scrubs Win! Scrubs Win!

Yanks trotted out the Triple-A squad last night, and still beat the KC Royals 8-2. Sweet Robbie, one of only three regular Yanks in the starting lineup (Melky and Posada were the others) hit a grand slam in the seventh to cap off the fireworks. It was only the second grand slam of the year for the Yanks. Trivia: who hit the other? The answer is really obvious. Think big-time sluggers, guys known for pure power...

Jose Molina (.211/.287/.258). Further trivia: has Jose Molina hit any home runs besides the one grand slam? Hint: the answer doesn't rhyme with 'yes.'

For posterity, here was last night's lineup:

CF Brett Gardner
LF Melky Cabrera
2B Robinson Cano
DH Jorge Posada
3B Eric Hinske
RF Shelly Duncan
1B Juan Miranda
C Francisco Cervelli
SS Ramiro Pena
P Chad Gaudin

And the young guns did pretty damn well. This game was actually fun to watch (admission: only caught five innings), and you have to love Yankee fans...even after knowing the line-up, 43,000+ stuck around through two hours of a rain delay to watch the game. On a Tuesday. Only the rich people left.

The night's best highlight was Ramiro Pena getting his first big league home run. As per tradition, the dugout gave him the silent treatment when he came back in. Only Girardi broke character and gave him a high five at the steps ("I couldn't do it, I was excited for him."), but the rest stared straight ahead and didn't crack a smile. It lasted about ten seconds before Jorge clapped, and then the team mobbed him. You can see part of the video in the game recap. Cool stuff.

I'll be heading up to the Bronx tonight to see AJ's last regular season start. Hopefully Joe puts some of the big guns back in. If not, I'd like to see an even more scattershot lineup. Maybe something like this:

CF Michael Kay (Yankee tv announcer)
SS George Steinbrenner (golf cart allowed)
LF An authentic seat from the old Yankee Stadium
C Mayor Bloomberg
1B Mark Teixeira's wife Leigh
DH Eli Manning, in football gear, screaming "Omaha! Omaha!"
2B Robinson Cano (I'm a pretty big fan)
RF Hideki Irabu (golf cart allowed)
3B Foxy sideline reporter Kim Jones
P Nick Swisher


Kate Hudson
Three different matador costumes
A tub of peanut butter

Don't ask, please.

Either way, I'll be happy to see the Yanks one last time in '09. Hopefully AJ gets a win, ties Johan Santana with 13 on the year, and I don't have to pay the mailman 20 bucks. Updates tomorrow, and here's a high school era song I just remembered on the subway this morning. Any song whose first line is "what's the matter with the human race?" has to be awesome.

Monday, September 28, 2009


100 Wins. 9-9 on the season against Boston after starting 0-8, including this SWEEEEP. Playoffs. AL East. Homefield advantage.

This has been an awesome regular season, no two ways about it, and celebrating while Boston trudged off the field was priceless. Hideki Clutch-zilla Matsui had the big hit to give the Yanks a 3-2 lead, and the pen, as usual, held the fort. When Ellsbury grounded out to Mariano to end the game, I started shouting in the garbled language of celebration, and I heard at least four other people shout from apartments on my street. Outside, someone listening on their car radio yelled "Fuck Boston!"

I love this team, and I think we're going to win the World Series. Granted, anything could happen in the playoffs; I know nothing is guaranteed. But unlike the past few Yankee teams, these guys always find a way to win. And despite the ridiculous abilities of our line-up, it's usually the pitching that carries the heavy load.

Saturday, against a shaky-looking Dice-K, the Yanks went 0-13 with runners in scoring position. We could have knocked him out of the game as early as the 4th inning, but bad luck and impatient hitting kept undermining our chances. Last year, it would have been one of those immensely frustrating losses that became more irksome the more you thought about it. This year, Sabathia dominated, and a solo shot by Cano in the sixth was all we needed for the win.

That's how the World Series teams from '96-'00 did the job, and barring a total breakdown, this club should beat all comers in the playoffs. Once we hit our stride after the All-Star break, we went 9-1 against the Sox and 3-1 against the Angels. We swept the season series with Minnesota 7-0, and posted a near-perfect 5-1 against Detroit. We took on the best and worst of their starters, and found a variety of ways to win. If we can avoid meltdowns from CC and AJ (the former has been rock-solid, and we just need to cross our fingers with the latter), there's no reason that success can't continue.

And then again, the playoffs are wild, and strange things happen. Still...I'm cautiously optimistic.

Some good stuff:

*Robbie Cano got his 200th hit of the year. He and Jeter are now the only SS-2B combo in history to both have 200 hits in the same season. They're 3rd and 7th in AL batting average, respectively. Cano is .001 percentage points away from 5th. The Silver Slugger Award is in play for both (Jeter should win it going away).

*Teixeira hit his 38th home run yesterday, putting him one behind the injured Carlos Pena for the league lead. Two more in the final week, and he likely ends up as the HR and RBI leader in the AL, and 2nd behind Mauer in slugging and OPS. And he's probably leading the Gold Glove race, too. That's an MVP resume, any way you look at it. We're still probably looking at a close second, but his candidacy keeps getting stronger.

*CC earned his 19th win on Friday, and will probably have a chance to become MLB's only 20-game winner on Thursday against Tampa. He's quietly crept up in the ERA standings too; with a 2.04 second-half ERA, his season number is 3.21, good for fourth in the AL. Like Teix, there's at least one guy (Greinke) whose numbers are so spectacular that they'll keep him from the big award, but he's justified his paycheck in a big way since the break.

*A-Rod moved closer to 30 home runs and 100 RBI over the weekend. He's now at 28 and 93 with six games left. He'll see at least one day off in that stretch, so he'll need a 3-4 RBI game to give himself a chance.

These stats are semi-meaningless, but it should make the last week interesting while I slowly get more and more nervous for the playoffs.

In football news, the Giants won easily in Tampa. It looked a lot like a Yanks-Rays game; a stadium featuring many empty seats, with New York fans possibly outnumbering (and definitely out-shouting) the Florida contingent. 24-0 was the final score; the Bucs managed a grand total of one first down in the entire game. Also, I'm starting to develop a sports crush on Steve Smith. Has there ever been a single passing play where he wasn't open? He's about as good a slot receiver as you'll find in the entire NFL. And it occurs to me that I don't even have a clear idea of what he looks like, so here's a picture:

The next two weeks bring Kansas City and Oakland, and it would take a small miracle to keep us from starting the year 5-0. Come week 6, though, we head down to N'allins, and that team is an absolute offensive juggernaut. Both teams could be undefeated, and the Saints will be coming off a bye week. That's an old fashioned tester, if I've ever seen one.

That's all for today. Sorry if the content was a bit bland today. I'm still riding the wave of yesterday's excitement, and I'm trying to my brain in order before the playoffs leave me completely unhinged. Take it away, Swish.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Final Salvo, and Deadspin Comes A-Callin'

Tonight, Yanks-Sox: The Last Hurrah. Before the ALCS.

After losing the first 8 games of the season series, the Yanks have roared back to take 6 of 7, and now we actually have a chance to pull even with a weekend sweep. Generally, there are two ways this could go.

1) Coronation. The Yanks win at least 2 of 3, clinch the AL East and homefield against Boston, and go into the playoffs with positive momentum against the AL's top teams. In the last week of the season, against Kansas City and Tampa Bay, Ramiro Pena plays every position, including third base coach, and the rest of the guys relax. Against the Rays, we maybe lose on purpose and act really condescending, with Girardi unleashing a quote like: "we've always been fond of Tampa, and we wanted them to feel good going into the offseason."

Setback. Boston wins the series, the Yanks clinch the East and homefield against Kansas City, and nothing is quite as satisfying as it could have been.

I just don't see #2 happening. Here are the pitching match-ups:

Friday: Lester vs. Joba
Saturday: CC vs. Dice-K
Sunday: Pettitte vs. Byrd

Obviously, we're at a distinct disadvantage tonight. But we're heavy favorites after that, and smart money says the Yanks take two. If we can steal one from Lester the Molester, more's the better (is that the phrase? It returns results on Google, but so again does 'for all intensive purposes').

Okay, on to some big news: yesterday, Seth Curry Saves Duke! was featured on a website called Deadspin. Most of you are probably familiar. For those not, Deadspin is a sports blog in the same way that a great white shark is a type of fish. They have tons of readers, a great reputation, etc. etc. If you like sports and humor, you should be reading. The critical reader will note that the writers take a certain glee, bordering on the cruel, in embarrassing athletes and sports media figures, but the humiliation is usually well-deserved. And always entertaining. No soapboxes here.

Recently, they started something called "The Learning Curve," where bloggers can send their site in, have it featured, and expose themselves to the wrath of the thriving commenter community. These men and women (read: men) are devotees of the site, and their attitudes and styles range from meanly funny to meanly stupid. It's certainly not a place for the faint of heart, and the Learning Curve feature gives them a chance to form a swarming mob and tear down another soul.

Being a masochist since old times, I sent Seth Curry Saves Duke! in on Wednesday, and the editors were nice enough to feature it at 5:15 yesterday afternoon. You can read the post and the comments here:

The Learning Curve: Seth Curry Saves Duke!

To be fair, I called the commenting body "human cretins" in my initial e-mail (which I knew would be posted), an act of aggression which surely invoked their ire. The link resulted in an even 1,000 hits yesterday (a bit less than ten times the usual total) and 17 comments on Deadspin. These opinions ran the gamut from "neutral in a kind of menacing way" to "vicious in a superior way." Now, here on my home turf, I'd like to take a moment and respond to a few.

User 'Sponsored by V8' says:

This isn't easy...but having a strong vocabulary goes hand-in-hand with confusing, convoluted writing. While it sounds great to you, as you wrote it and understand the gist of what you're makes reading the sentences time consuming and kind of a pain in the ass...even to those readers who understand every word.

Generally, unless you're Philip Roth or a writer of similar talent (which you're not), writing concisely and elegantly should be the goal. It is much more difficult to do this than to flex your vocabulary and pat yourself on the back afterward.


In all seriousness, though, I'm a better writer than Philip Roth, and that doesn't come from me. Dude sent me an e-mail about a month ago, which I now reproduce in full:

Hey Shane,

Just read the blog. Great stuff! Hate to admit it, but you're a better writer than me. Keep up the good work,

Philip Roth (the novelist)

PS - if you have any tips about writing, please send them my way!

(Also, commenter, I read yesterday's post, and there's exactly one word that might be considered 'fancy' or 'difficult,' and that word is: plaudit. So if you think I'm 'convoluted,' fine, but it ain't like I'm Dr. Thesaurus over here. Dr. Numbers was bad enough.)

User 'Clinton Portishead' says:

In all seriousness, the blog isn't that bad. Considering it's Yankee and Duke centric, I would recommend posting flyers at your local country club, Eddie Bauer, and Pedophile's Anonymous.

Made me laugh. The first sentence is the closest thing to a compliment on the entire page, but the same user followed it up moments later with:

Might I suggest further haphazard use of sesquipedalians and fourth-line synonyms in a transparent attempt to justify your tuition?

"Sesquipedalian" is one of those nice words that is the thing it defines (in noun form, a word with many syllables). In that regard, it's the exact opposite of 'pulchritudinous,' a word that means beautiful. How the hell did a word like that finagle its way into defining beauty? That's like an image of Davis Love III's face becoming an international symbol for 'cool.' Just shouldn't happen.

As for fourth-line synonyms, that's total bullshit. I've been down to the third line before, I won't lie, but these fingers have never plucked a word from that fourth strata.

Well, there was that Wednesday post about Rafael Nadal when I was really tired and I thought I'd used the word "awesome" too many times, so I tossed in "Nadalicious" to describe his backhand. But I swear, that was the only time.

User 'Kick His Ass Seabass' says:

I don't know why, but I really want to punch you in the fucking face right now...


User 'Scientific Mapp,' referring to this passage from my original letter: "*The name is a sort of allusion to the "Dewey Defeats Truman!" headline, which nobody gets (including me, most days) and which may have been a poor choice." says:

You and I are kindred spirits, Shane. My blog "The Wacky World of Sports!" is an allusion to the headline "Lindbergh Tot Found Dead!"

I include this because it made me laugh out loud.

User 'AC_Greens_Virginity,' referring to the original letter, says:

You should pretend you're always writing an obsequious letter to AJ when you're posting on your blog. This is because your letter was actually funny.

Someone didn't read Dr. Numbers.

User 'Trot Nixons Hat' says:

I've gotta say as a Duke alum, I don't want to read this blog...

This reminds me of a stand-up comedy show I saw in an upstate backwater town called Broadalbin-Perth, in a venue called 'The Funny Farm' that stayed open for probably three months (none of the details in this sentence are fabricated). The bar was filled with troglodyte townies, most drunk, and the two featured comedians had come a few hours north from the city. As the first performer tried to deliver his material, a haggard middle-aged woman in the back heckled him with a lowing noise that was half-moan, half-dismissal. It contained no actual words, but was so frequent and odd that it couldn't help but disrupt him. He tried to engage her, in an attempt to find something to mock, but at these times she clammed up and wouldn't respond. When he continued with the set, the noises would start again. The whole thing was pretty infuriating (though most of the other townies thought her antics were the absolute last word in humor), and the guy became totally frazzled and limped to the end of a poor set.

Anyway, at one point in the midst of bombing, he said something like "ladies and gentleman, if any of you want to become great hecklers, that's how to do it; be vague and annoying, and don't ever respond to the comedian." The commenter above accomplished that pretty well; his words are sort of insulting in an oblique way, and there's no effective way to respond. Well done, Trot Nixons Hat!

User 'Hockey Mountain,' responding to a jokey part of my letter where I lamented that Deadspin hadn't linked any of my articles after the Tyler Hansbrough one in April, says:

My suggestion: Don't be such a self-centered, self-important prick. I've never been linked to on Deadspin, and I have a god damned star. It's not personal you either write about a niche topic (like Colorado Avalanche Hockey) or you're boring.

Other than the guy who wants to punch me, I would say this is the most outwardly hostile comment. And his angry conclusions aren't even merited, since I wasn't being serious in the letter. However, he is correct that I'm a self-centered, self-important prick. I consider this a lucky guess.

User 'Magic Johnson's TCells' says:

Maybe focus more on the "gang rape" aspect of Duke instead of their sports.

I actually tried that, in an earlier blog titled "Seth Curry Continues Duke's Tradition of Gang Rape!", but I got a lot of complaints from the families and had to adjust. Also, nobody got the Dewey Defeats Truman! reference.

Okay, that's that. In a last bit of news, the Giants take on Tampa Bay Sunday, and if they win it opens up a pretty clear path to 5-0. Have a good weekend.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Folks, Get Ready...

There was a moment on election night, just before the polls in the west coast states closed, when Obama had secured victory. There was no way California, Oregon, Washington, or Hawaii would go Republican, especially since states like Ohio and Florida had fallen blue, and the electoral totals from those states would put Obama above the 270 needed to win.

Except the policy of the networks, designed to maintain suspense later into the evening and prolong viewership and therefore ratings, dictated that states could not be officially counted for one side or the other before the polls closed. So in the seconds leading up to 11pm, the channels did a one minute countdown. I was watching CNN, and they pulled a neat little trick; the graphic on the screen accompanying the countdown only advertised the closing of the western polls. But when the clock reached zero, Wolf Blitzer projected an overall win for Obama.

This led to a very cool situation at election-watch parties across the country. All night, when polls closed, people had been doing the countdowns, and by now it was old hat. So at 11 eastern, when everyone expected more state announcements, they gave a practiced cheer as time ran out. Then, when the picture of Obama and the words "43rd President of the United States" flashed on screen, those tepid plaudits erupted into cries of delirium. You can find the videos everywhere online (if you're a liberal or democrat, knock yourself out all morning on this site), and they all feature that same hum becoming applause becoming extreme jubilation.

Again, anyone with an iota of mathematical foresight knew the election was over before the dramatic countdown. I figured it out about an hour earlier when they finally called Ohio. The conversation with my friend went like this:

Me: It's over, man. He won.
Friend: Well, it looks good, but we're not sure.
Me: No, it's actually, empirically over. McCain can't win unless he wins California, and that just won't happen.
Friend: Don't jinx it, dude.

But if you were supertitious, very drunk, or not paying attention, it was a great moment where a moderate, expectant happiness turned in an instant to shocked glee, followed by tears and hugs and massive celebration. It was like waiting for a test grade, hoping to pass, and finding out you got an A, or hitting a long approach on a blind uphill par 5, feeling good about the shot, and walking to the green to find that it rolled in for a double eagle.

Yo, what is the point of all this??

Well, friends, it's a special day in Yankee-land, and I'd like to re-create that sense of unbridled joy. Unfortunately, I don't command the kind of respect or devoted following necessary to engineer even a half-smile, so I've enlisted Anderson Cooper and his piercing blue eyes to help me out. Take it way, Coop.

Anderson Cooper, after being handed a new piece of paper by an assistant, scanning it, and sitting up stiffly:

Okay...Ladies and Gentleman, we have some pretty big news here. First, we're ready to call that for the first time since 1944, the New York Yankees have won a series in Anaheim.

Second...second, now...CNN is ready to project that the New York Yankees will win the American League East.

And now...yes...yes, ladies and gentleman, CNN can officially project that the New York Yankees will also have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, and will finish the year with the best record in baseball!

Thanks Anderson. Nice work as usual, even though that last picture was kinda small. Now, in the spirit of guest bloggers, I'd like to introduce a new feature:


(Those two pictures are the blog theme song for Dr. Numbers*

*Dr. Numbers is going to disappoint the shit out of everyone.)

And now...the Doctor is in!



(*Dr. Numbers' catch phrase is "wolla wolla wolla." Don't ask.)


(*He basically says it all the time, you have to learn to ignore it.)


That's a goal for Yankee wins! They're at 97 now, with 9 games left. Boy howdy, it sure looks good!

20: Those are wins for CC Sabathia. With two starts left, he's at 18. It won't be easy, but with the way ole Charlie's been hurling, my money's on the fat man being the only 20-game winner in the bigs! WOLLA WOLLA WOLLA!

40: With three more dingers, Mark Teixeira can reach this total, likely putting him at the top of the league. And he's already there for RBI! More power than Mauer, yipppeee!

20: Twenty again?! Boy, with all these 20s, why aren't there any in my vision?!?!?!* These are the number of home runs Derek Jeter needs to become the 8th player to reach that total on the Yankees, setting a team MLB record. So far, Teixeira, Damon, Cano, Swisher, Matsui, A-Rod, and Posada have passed the mark. But Derek's been stuck at 17 for a while, sorta like a prostitute lying about her age to get more clientele!!!**

(*I'm so sorry about this.)

(**Whoa, seriously Dr. Numbers?)

100: RBI for A-Rod. He's at 89 now, and will need 11 in 9 games. Not easy, but not impossible. Now that Anderson Cooper has called home field advantage for the Yanks and the pressure's off, he's sure to succeed!*

(*Even Dr. Numbers takes shots at A-Rod's clutch abilities.)

3rd, 5th: Where Jeter and Cano can finish, respectively, in AL batting average with strong finishes. They're currently 4th and 6th.


Man, that did not go well. Tomorrow's episode should be better, he's going to add some dance stuff and maybe a magic trick for kids with disabi...hold on a second, Anderson's back with a special announcement.

Anderson Cooper: Okay, folks, this is a big one. Word is trickling in from the blog networks, and CNN is NOW projecting that Dr. Numbers has been canceled.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Yankee Dreadnought Enters Playoff Waters

With a pretty f'in big (but not quite huge) win against the Angels last night, the Yanks secured a return to the playoffs. Our absence in '08 is now exorcised, reduced to benign memory. Let's hit the asterisks.

What Happened:

*Yankees won 6-5, going ahead for good on A-Rod's sacrifice fly in the 9th.

*Chad Gaudin made a strong, possibly irrefutable case for the 4th starter's spot in the playoff rotation. And really, he wasn't that good. (You can't spell ALCS without "lacs," which is French for "lakes," which are formed or sustained or something, maybe, by rain, and are definitely at least uniform in substance, and the point I'm trying to make here, through good science, is that I hope it rains at an opportune moment in the ALCS if the Yankees are involved, because then we don't have to start Chad fucking Gaudin in an actual meaningful game.)

*Boston lost again to the KC Royals feat. Zach Greinke. (2.08 ERA, anyone? In the American League, that's absolutely unbelievable/absurd/breathtaking, and maybe the greatest individual accomplishment this year. If he doesn't take second place in the Cy Young voting, there's no justice in the world.) I almost came into work ready to declare their divisional hopes dead, but I want just one more neutral result tonight. We're 5 games up in the loss column, so a theoretical Boston sweep this weekend only brings them within two. If we maintain that margin going into Friday, I'll be ready to call it.

What Didn't Happen:

*Run production using any method other than the long ball. I only watched through the fifth, but in each inning before the Sandman (the creepy mythical one, not Mariano) took me to his magical realm, the Yankees had either a) a runner on 2nd and no outs, or b) a runner on 3rd and 1 out. And aside from the two jacks in the third and the solo shot by Matsui in the fifth, we did not push those runs across.

Your current thought: "you are being really fucking picky." Fair enough, but consider the fact that a good baseball team scores at least one run in the aforementioned situations, and consider that in the first five innings, we left three of those runs on the table. Sure, we got 5 via the home run, but those plucky Angels came a-stormin' back and drew even before we actually did manufacture a run in the 9th. Come the playoffs, and now I'm quoting the late French philosopher Albert Camus, that LOB shit will not cut the mustard.

But we won, yes. And I'm grateful. I'm just saying.

Today's game kicks off at 4, with AJ on the mound doing his best to earn me an improbable tie in the horrible bet I made with the office mail dude.

Also, today marks the official end of Yankee west coast baseball for the year (until the playoffs, maybe, but even then I'm pretty sure they do something like an 8pm east coast start time to snatch the NYC ratings).

Ye shan't be mourned, Pacific Daylight Time.

Irrelevant Bonus: The second paragraph of this 'news' story is possibly the most hilarious thing I've ever read. Or at least in the top ten thousand. Good day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Now is not the time to not keep with winning, okay please?

Another loss to the Angels, another day with no playoff berth.

I must confess, I did not watch a single pitch of last night's game. Ole Somnolent Sam, they call me. Here's an hour by hour diary of my thought process from yesterday:

8am: I want to go back to sleep.

9am-6pm: This is a big Yankee game. I will stay up for the 10pm start time and watch the entire game. I am a big fan.

7pm: I will watch a good portion of tonight's game. I spent the weekend traveling and am still a bit under the weather, so if the outcome isn't in doubt after six innings, I can go to bed a little early.

8pm: 10pm is so late for a start time. I'm dead tired, and it's more important that I get rest for the upcoming week. I'll catch the first three innings or so.

9pm: It is difficult to keep my eyes open, here in my darkened bedroom.

10pm: Behold, ye profligates! The Pachyderm Kingdom has chosen for its new sovereign an Olliphant Warrior with the permed hair of my elementary school librarian and the face of Ross from the hit show "Friends." I will be towed on a ruby-red toboggan in the wake of its imperial march! Through the Elysian hinterlands we shall do battle with the Duplicitous Pencil Squirrels, hoarders of the Golden Obama Tokens! We shall pray for Invisible Snowflakes, glory glory terror naked tears confusion all collapse in soundless giggles and plaintive cries for mother figure.

Anywhoo, 5-2 was the final score. Andy looked okay, lasting six innings and conceding 3 runs, which is really the most anybody should expect against a strong line-up like the Angels. But Saunders put the kibosh on our bats, dealing into the ninth for an impressive win. Cano and Teixeira grounded into unfortunate double plays, and we left 5 men on base. Both runs came via the long ball, courtesy of A-Rod and Matsui.

Lucky for us, Boston lost too. Thanks for the comeback, Kansas City.

So, here's how it looks with 11 games left- we're 4 losses ahead of both Boston in AL East divisional race and LA for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. That's the good news. The bad news is that we have five games left against those two teams, so the lead is far from safe.

Texas won, by the way, so our magic number for a playoff spot is still 1 game. The champagne stays on ice. We should be fine, though, because Chad Gaudin is starting tonight.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Giants Love Walk-Off Wins Too

I've been extremely negligent in my NFL "coverage" so far, a fact I attribute to an overstuffed sports landscape. The Yanks are in first place, preparing for the playoff run, so that takes top priority. And even though I don't really have a horse in the college football race, I find the whole sport irresistible, like a woman with a tattoo of Tim Tebow's face on each inner thigh (that's two faces on two thighs, ladies, with the eyes aligned). Evidence: on Sundays, I typically try to limit myself to watching one game (Giants) unless there's a really compelling match-up elsewhere. Saturdays, though, often find me gaping at the television from 10am (for College Gameday, the best pre-game show of all time) to 11pm, with a token half hour of half-hearted exercise shoehorned somewhere in the middle. So I've let the NFL fall by the wayside. Until now...


I probably don't need to mention that I hate the Cowboys. I even hate the city of Dallas, based on the few facts I know:

1) Conservative
2) Home to the Cowboys
3) Killed Kennedy

In contrast, NYC is liberal, home to the Giants and Yankees, and gave Kennedy his own airport. Both places have beautiful women, but in Dallas they're the kind of beautiful women who will feel sorry for you and maybe try to convert you to Jesus. In New York, the beautiful women won't look at you unless they're in a sneering mood, which feels like a more accurate dynamic.

Got sidetracked there. The point is, there's no team in the NFL I'd rather beat than the Cowboys and their human face-lift of an owner, Jerry Jones. And to christen that behemoth of a stadium with a walk-off win is pure gold. When Tynes' field goal sailed through, I almost expected the entire structure to collapse on itself, which would have been perfect if no Giants were injured.

It didn't always look good. I'm superstitious, and I believe that bad luck in my life influences the outcomes of important games. Last night, I took a train into Penn Station from upstate New York (cousin's wedding) and had to miss the first quarter. Adding to this frustration was my deep fatigue from the weekend spent traversing the entire northern corridor of the state. When my girlfriend and I finally stumbled into the apartment, she immediately claimed the entire couch and communicated her desire for pizza before promptly falling asleep. The food took fifty minutes and numerous English-as-second-language phone calls to arrive, all while the Giants kept settling for field goals and letting opportunities pass without sticking a dagger into "America's Team."

And then, toward the end of the 3rd quarter, with the Giants down 24-20, the gf went into what I'll just called "cliche mode," wherein she sleepily asked questions designed to infuriate me. I even hate typing this, believe me, but in this case the cliche turns out to be true and I can't very well ignore it. The dialogue looked like so:

Her (rolling over and blinking at the television): Wait...the Giants are losing?!


Her: They're losing??!

(five minutes pass, she goes back to sleep)

Her (waking up to a camera shot of some forgettable Dallas lineman): Who's that?


Her: Hey! Who is that?

Me (digging nails into my knees until they bleed):

Her: How do you not know?

(five minutes of sleep)

Her (waking up to a shot of Eli Manning): How many sibling pairs are in the NFL?

And on and on. Even though she's not a sports fan, she's actually very astute about baseball, and asks good questions and is a quick learner. But football completely mystifies her. The only thing she's been really passionate about so far is that kneeling to kill the last minute of a game is cheating ("it doesn't give the other team a chance!"). It's going to be a long winter.

Back to the Giants. We're 2-0, with two wins over divisional rivals. That part's great. I'm still a little confused about this team, though. At times, the receiving corps looks horrible, and the playcalling seems '06 bad. Dallas nullified our rushing game yesterday, and I'm wondering if we miss Ward more than I expected. At one point yesterday, I texted my friend Kyle the laconic message: "offense stinks." But at the end of the game, we'd scored 33 points, including two huge drives in the 4th quarter.

Eli, after some miserable passes early, came up big when it mattered. He finished with a 110 rating, 2 TDs, no picks, 330 yards. Not bad for someone who spends a majority of the game looking like a scared little kid (this 'Eli Paradox' has fascinated me, and everyone else, for some's why it's so much fun to remind people that he was a Super Bowl MVP...not because he's not good, but because he doesn't look like he should be good). And the Manningham/Steve Smith combo seems like it might be feasible.

The D is equally befuddling. They gave up 30 points to Dallas, despite looking really solid for most of the game and all of last week. But if you look at the stats, the 'Boys pretty much ran roughshod, with 251 total yards and an astounding 8.7 yards per carry. If not for Romo's 3 interceptions and woeful 29.6 QB rating, it could have been a massacre.

So I don't know what to think. My hands are thrown skyward. The interior of our defense should never give up 251 rushing yards, and the secondary is supposed to be the weak point. Offensively, we should be able to run and have trouble passing. I'm going to need more time before I can sort this out and know what to think. In the meantime, I'll take 2-0 and be happy.

Other stuff:

*USC did its thing where it loses to a crappy Pac-10 team and destroys any chance of a national title. Except this time, it kinda had an excuse; Barkley couldn't play, and the back-up wasn't so hot. Still, it's annoying.

*The Yanks lost 2 of 3 to Seattle, Joba looked like crap, and the Red Sox are now breathing down our necks. The good news is we only need one more win to clinch a playoff spot. The bad news is that with 6 of our last 12 games coming against the Angels and Red Sox, home field advantage and a division win are by no means guaranteed. If we win the Angels series starting today, though, things look better. Andy takes the hill tonight, and we'll be able to tell if his ailing shoulder can stand the test of a good line-up.

*As much as I've worried and fretted over the Tigers as first round opponents, Minnesota took 2 of 3 in Detroit this weekend, narrowing the Central gap to 3 games. Maybe I should practice frothing at the mouth to pictures of Joe Mauer. Or learning to vomit on command anytime an announcer uses the phrase "M&M Boys."

*With the Rockies pulling away in the west, it looks like there will be no exciting finishes in the NL. Boo to that. Can't we spot the Mets a 5-game lead in some division and watch them blow it?

*Red Sox continue to be hot. It looks like the series starting Friday might be pretty huge. Time to tuck my Yankee sweatpants into my Yankee socks and get serious.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Pie Chronicles: Kid Franco


For the 14th time this season, AJ Burnett loaded up his pie throwing arm and celebrated a walk-off win in the Bronx. The recipient of yesterday's creamed glory?* Our third string catcher, Francisco Cervelli.


With Brett "Speed Kills" Gardner on third, Cervelli ripped a 1-out single to left, giving the Yanks some momentum heading into their last west coast trip of the year. Matsui set Kid Franco up in the 8th with a game-tying 2-run homer off a hanging curve, adding to his rich history of clutch hits. But the youthful, buoyant Cervelli provided the icing,* and watching him high-step to right field as the Yankee bench overtook him in a giddy swarm was the kind of thing that might almost give someone goosebumps if they cared about sports too much.

*I don't understand why you're laughing.

What these last two games against Toronto prove:

1) Team unity is at an all-time high. In game 1, the bench emptied without hesitation to support Jorge in his important crusade against another team ever retaliating.

What these last two games against Toronto do not prove:

1) That we are poised to make a run to the World Series.

Let me put all my expectation chips on the poker table of greedy fan standards: this team has to make the World Series. If we lose in the Fall Classic, that will be a blow, but any year you win a pennant can't be seen as a failure. If we fall before then, though, I'll be disappointed. It's been a fun season, and the team has manufactured a lot of exciting moments that I wouldn't trade, but if it doesn't culminate in an AL Championship, I'll see 2009 in the dim light of failure.

However, I am by no means confident that we'll attain that goal. I've tried to ignore this for the past few days, but the Boston Red Sox are red-hot. With last night's walk-off win against the Angels, they've now won 7 straight. Dice-K came back two days ago and pitched a dandy, their bullpen is one of the best, and the bats are out in force. They won't have enough juice to swamp* the Yanks in the East (5 back in the loss column with 15 to play is too tall a task against any team not called the Mets), but is there any doubt they'll win their ALDS series against the Angels?

*Seriously, what's so funny?

Last night, after trailing several times, they completed their final comeback in the bottom of the 9th on a bloop single by the light-hitting Alex Gonzalez. Before that, lighter-hitting Nick Green walked after two pitches that looked, to closer Brian Fuented, like third strikes. He had a beef with the umps after the game:

"Especially here and some other places, they seem timid to make calls. I've heard it from other guys that come in here and say that. That's either because it's a mistake, or they're scared."

Is all that true? Maybe. I didn't see the pitches, but it's not unreasonable to expect that some umpires have a home-team bias, particularly in the more raucous stadiums. You certainly see it in basketball, college and pro, all the time. But the real point here is that when a team has your number, this is the kind of shit that happens. Questionable walks, bloop singles, improbable comebacks; Boston just knows how to beat LA. It's inexplicable, but undeniable. They've won 12 of 13 playoff games against the Angels since '86. Since 2002, the Angels have won the season series exactly once, in 2008, and that year the Sox beat them in the playoffs.

There's no logical reason why this happens. Both teams are strong, both teams are successful. Both are World Series champions in this decade. Throw the Yanks into the mix, and it gets even stranger; the Angels always beat us, and before 2004, we always beat the Sox. Things happen in streaks, and momentum or confidence or whatever tends to ensure that a streak in motion stays in motion. The point is that the Sox will probably win against LA, and the Yankees will probably win against Detroit. The stars are aligned. Maybe I'm counting little chickies still in their eggs, but my gut tells me the success of this season depends on a 7-game series against Boston that starts in about a month.

Fair? Probably not. But that's how it's designed.

I'm upstate at a cousin's wedding starting tomorrow, so no post until Monday. Have a good weekend.

(Semen joke)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The Bronx is a-fightin'! Last night, after Mark Melancon stuck a high fastball in Aaron Hill's back, Toronto reliever Jesse Carlson threw a pitch behind Jorge Posada. The benches cleared, but no violence was meted out. Then Jorge got on base, was hit home, and managed to shove Carlson or elbow him or something (or did Carlson initiate it? We may never know. (He didn't.)), at which point they exchanged words, Carlson threw a punch, and Jorge quickly wrestled him to the ground while the dugouts emptied again. Afterward, Carlson had this to say:

"Once he crossed the plate and threw that elbow at me or whatever, I just said, 'Let's go.' I'm probably the smallest guy in MLB and we were right near their dugout, so I was just hoping I got out of there all right."

Unfortunately for him, he suffered a moderate bruise on the right side of his head, which should come as little surprise since he was basically engulfed by a Yankee swarm. Posada, on the other hand, was more contrite:

"I don't want my kids to see that. ... Fight in the middle of the field, benches clearing -- that's a bad example."

And Jorge left the field in this manner:

You can read the re-cap and watch the video here.

It's a lot to absorb. My main thoughts are a bit scattered, but here are some tentative conclusions:

1) I don't think Melancon hit Hill on purpose. He's a wild pitcher, and I can't imagine what motivation he, or Girardi, or any other Yankee would have to plunk someone at that stage of the game.

2) Carlson's beanball was clearly on purpose (duh), but he went about it the right way, throwing low and behind the batter. For whatever reason, the Blue Jays thought they needed to retaliate, which as I've stated in point one was unnecessary, but at least Carlson didn't go headhunting.

3) I can only imagine how personal and aggravating it is to have a baseball thrown at you on purpose, but I can't help wishing Jorge had handled it with a cooler head. His original words toward Carlson were no big deal, and didn't result in any fighting. But the half-elbow after crossing home plate was totally uncalled for. Before that secondary spark, the incident was over.

4) Some people may argue that team passion is a good thing, but in my mind this is the exact wrong time to be starting brawls. What if A-Rod or Teixeira or Jeter or anyone absorbed a cheap shot that sidelined them for two months? What if they gave a cheap shot that resulted in their suspension for the balance of 2009? What if they suffered a freak injury during the melee? There's no reason to risk that stuff so close to the playoffs, and as a veteran Jorge should know better.

The problem now is that we have another game left with the Jays, and they're now an angry team with nothing to lose. The risks of retaliation and further injury hang like a black cloud over tonight's contest. Let's hope we come out unscathed.

As a final note, I feel compelled to indulge a bit of masculine energy by way of my cousin Justin's official fight analysis. He sent an e-mail evaluating the respective merits of every Yankee combatant (Joba, Sabathia, Shelly Duncan, Burnett, and Girardi earned flying colors, while A-Rod, Jeter, and Ramiro Pena wilted in the heat of battle), and had this to say about Cano:

"Cano actually was great...he had a bat in his hand and was challenging the dugout about 3 mins after the fight was broken up...he tried to charge someone with the bat but Teixera basically tackled him."

As if I needed another reason to love this guy! The word is out to Major League Baseball: don't mess with Sweet Robbie. He gets a little nuts.

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.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wild Weekend

A Truly Strange And Exciting Time It Was.

A lot happened over the past three days, starting Friday night.


*Derek Jeter passes Gehrig for #1 on the all-time Yankee hit list with a single down the right field line.


*Rafa Nadal closes out Fernando Gonzalez in their suspended match by winning the second set tiebreaker and then taking the third 6-0. He advances to the semis to face Juan Martin Del Potro.

*Notre Dame and Michigan engage in intense offensive battle, exchanging touchdowns and the lead before freshman QB Tate Forcier leads the Wolverines to a game-winning score with 11 seconds left.

*UConn, my new favorite team, takes a 10-0 advantage over #19 North Carolina into the fourth quarter. They end up relinquishing the lead with less than two minutes left, and then commit a holding violation on their last possession. Unfortunately, this penalty happened in their endzone, costing them a safety, and UNC wins 12-10.

*USC beats Ohio State, as I predicted, but the feat is not easy. A rowdy Columbus crowd and staunch D keep the Buckeyes ahead until the very last drive, when freshman QB Barkley marches the Trojans from the shadow of their own goal line to the promised endzone. 18-15, and Pete Carroll is still undefeated against the Big 10.


*Rafa Nadal, also as I predicted, falls to Del Potro. Not a close match; 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Beaten down by injury and an irregular schedule, he has virtually no chance against the talented Argentine.

*The New York Football Giants start off the right way, holding on for a 23-17 win against their divisional rival, the Redskins. Eli looks sharp-ish, the receivers look competent-ish, and the D is excellent.

So, what's the meaning of all this? Damned if I know. It may be too much information to process at the moment; we're in a time of sporting overload. The US Open concludes today, with Federer (who was his usual brilliant self in a straight set win over Djokovic, an opponent he seems to own both physically and psychologically) against Del Potro. That will reduce the sphere somewhat, but for the next six weeks football and baseball co-exist, and it will be a sensuous, chaotic, overwhelming epoch. Focus becomes difficult, but also necessary. I may wear blinders, or induce tunnel vision, or take a vow of silence. I don't know yet. But we should all buckle up; the ride's about to get bumpy.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Okay, humor me with this quick bit of tennis stuff before I finally talk about El Futbol Americano. As covered extensively all week, really, Rafa is moving along in the US Open. Last night, after winning the first set tiebreaker against Fernando Gonzalez, he summoned the USTA trainer for some abdominal problems that have been dogging him for the past month. One of the earliest critiques of Rafa's style was its unsustainability; he used too much torque, put too much pressure on his body, and generally ran around too much to stay healthy over a long career. In a nutshell, the theory went that his strategy of wearing the opponent down, so effective, would finally do the same to him.

It's too early for a verdict, but this year's knee injuries were certainly ominous, and the current stomach ailment adds fuel to the fire. If you had to predict where someone with Rafa's relentless style would be physically worn down first, you'd have three good guesses: knees, elbows, and core. Two out of three have cropped up in '09. That ain't good.

Still, he managed to beat "Gonzo" in that first breaker, and he led 3-2 in the second set breaker before rain postponed play for the night. They'll resume around 2pm today, if the weather clears. After the second rain delay, Pam Shriver interviewed Uncle Toni on the sidelines, and he straight-up admitted that if play were to continue, Rafa would have to win the second set to have any shot at completing the match. Translation: his physical limit for the night was one more set of tennis. Anything but a straight-set victory, and he'd have to retire.

There are two conclusions to draw. First, even mother nature loves Nadal. The rain bailed him out, and I really, really like his chances to win this match whenever it's played. Second, it seems totally impossible for him to win this tournament. The schedule has the men's semis on Saturday, with the final to be played on Sunday. That means Rafa would have to play three straight days against top-tier competition. Last night, after an off day, he couldn't even go four sets. I'm seeing a gutty win today, and a semi-final loss to a lightning-hot Juan Martin Del Potro.

And in the end? I'll take it. The semis are a terrific result in this comeback major. He can spend the offseason healing, and maybe 2010 will find him healthy.* You can follow today's match, should it happen, starting at 2pm here.

*Of course, Rafa has surprised me in the past. In this year's Australian, he played an epic semi-final in horrible heat against Fernanda Verdasco, finally winning in 5 sets. That was on a Saturday too, and he had to come back Sunday to face Federer in a match where nobody gave him a chance. He won that one in five sets too. But I do think the physical situation is more dire this time around.

Okay, time for pigskins!

*First, Greg Paulus. Do you ever feel like certain people are put on Earth to have their pain flaunted in the public realm? That was the arc of Paulus' Duke career, and his first game at Syracuse didn't look much different. He didn't make too many terrible decisions, though a few passes came inches from being picked off all day, but it also doesn't seem like he has a good arm. The throws all took on the same floating quality. No zip, no preternatural accuracy. Then he threw the horrible interception in OT to lose the game.

I felt bad for him, and you have to wonder what SU coach Doug Marrone was thinking by naming him starter. Maybe he's incrementally better than the back-up, but why waste time with a guy who can only give you one year? Shouldn't the rebuilding process include grooming a future QB, getting him starts now so he's not overwhelmed when the team actually has a chance to be good? What's the upside to starting Paulus? Leadership? Not buying it, especially after last Saturday. He's just not that good. Syracuse may win four or five games this year, but they should be looking to the future.

I grew up watching great SU teams under Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison and Marvin Graves (a player from my high school was a captain on the O-Line, so our family bought season tickes for a few years), and it'd be great to see the Orange rise again. But Greggy boy ain't the man for the job. He's just a whipping boy, same as at Duke.

*USC will be amazingly fun to watch, as usual. Freshman QB Matt Barkley looked pretty great, and Pete Carroll has fashioned yet another dynamic offense. They roll into Ohio State this week, and boys from the Big 10 (coming off a narrow, narrow win against mighty Navy) have no chance in hell. In the last seven seasons, USC has lost seven games. Here are the losses: Oregon State, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Texas, California.

Notice a pattern? Except for Texas, which was a classic national title game they probably should have won, USC only loses to inferior teams in the Pac 10. These are trap games, against teams who are intimiately familiar with your system and can catch you lagging on an off-week. It happens roughly once per season, and usually on the road. What they never do, ever, is lose the big non-conference game. Since taking over in 2001, Pete Carroll has never, ever lost a game to a Big 10 team. He's 6-0, with five of those wins coming against one of the top 2 Big Ten teams in the Rose Bowl.

I'm someone who really hates the Big 10. I'm sick of their lack of talent, I'm sick of the nonsense we hear every year about "fundamental football," and I'm sick of one of their teams getting undeserved respect, and occasional bids to the BCS Title Game because they romp over terrible competition in the regular season. One of my favorite years was 2007, when everyone was clamoring for a Michigan-OSU rematch in the BCS Championship, after they both went undefeated until meeting each other at the end of the regular season. Instead, USC thrashed Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and LSU did the same to Ohio State in the championship, exposing the conference as featherweights. Truly a wonderful stretch.

Until proven otherwise, the Big 10 has less speed, strength, and overall talent than USC and the top tier SEC schools. Plain and simple. I'm looking forward to further proof Saturday night.

*The Big 12 has a lot to prove. After a fun season last year, with four seemingly awesome teams, the Bowl Games proved to be a huge disaster. Oklahoma State got roughed up by Oregon, the immensely entertaining Red Raiders from Texas Tech lost big to Ole Miss, Texas barely snuck by a questionable Ohio State team, and Oklahoma was exposed in the title game by Florida. The common element? Poor defense. It was masked in an explosive Big 12 season, where QBs and receivers ran up otherworldly numbers (four Heisman candidates from one conference!), but against stauncher opposition they proved to be all show and no go.

The rebranding effort is off to a poor start, as Oklahoma went down at home last weekend to a strong BYU squad. Strong, but still BYU, you know? It puts a serious hitch in their national title aspirations, and calls the entire conference into question. I actually predicted this one, which I'm not going to take too much credit for since it was based more on a vague sense of OU's overrated quality and a hatred of Bob Stoops than any kind of in-depth analysis. But the word is out on the Big 12; strong D and a competent offense can unseat the best they have to offer.

*The SEC West will be a ton of fun. Alabama has another tough-as-nails team, focused on running and defense. They were convincing against Virginia Tech in the Kickoff Classic, and have another legitimate chance to go undefeated in the regular season. I'm still not sure if they have the passing game to overcome their problems with erasing deficits (exposed last year by Florida and Utah), but Nick Saban is a strong coach, and nothing will come easy for their opponents.

Elsewhere in that sub-conference, Ole Miss is a top 10 team, Arkansas is resurgent, LSU is a total puzzle (currently ranked 11th) who could do almost anything, and Auburn is one or two good wins from a top-25 appearance. Out of six teams, the only pushover is Mississippi State. This is the strongest group in the land, and every game has classic potential.

*It's hard to pick against Florida. The consensus #1 looks almost unbeatable. Looking at their schedule, the only bear of a game comes on the road at LSU in week 5. They avoid Alabama and Ole Miss on this year's docket, and their only other currently ranked opponent is Georgia, who they get at a neutral location, and who looked pretty poor in a first week loss at Oklahoma State.

There's no way to measure how sick I am of Tim Tebow; I've found him unlikeable since the very beginning, and it only gets worse with more exposure. But he's a gamer, and Urban Meyer gets a half-share of my vote (Pete Carroll gets the other half) as the best coach in college football. It's hard not to see them going undefeated this year, and taking down Bama in the SEC Championship.

Prediction Time: USC and Florida win out and meet in one of the best title games in recent memory. USC triumphs 28-24.

Sadly, I've left myself no time to discuss the NFL. The Giants kick off their season Sunday against the Redskins, and you can bet I'll be in full rejoicing mode Monday. I've got a close eye on our receiving corps; if we can get results from these guys, we'll be one of the NFL's strongest teams again. If not, it could be a long year. Go G-Men.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Derek & Lou

Last night, Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig's Yankee hit record with a single in the seventh inning. There's not much I can say that would do justice to the milestone, or come close to matching the current media coverage. All I can do is tip my blogger cap to the classiest guy in the game, a player whose talent, work ethic, and professionalism has ensured long-lasting success. Here he is, at 35 years old, and he'll most likely finish in the top 3 of MVP voting. Since he became the full-time shorstop in 1996, his highest batting average over a full season is .349. His lowest is .291. And because of his immense capacity for focus, he's always been the guy Yankee fans want batting with the pressure on. And soon he'll be the Yankee Hit King.

And Lou Gehrig was a classy player, too, as Jeter noted in his post-game interview last night. Whenever he breaks the record, probably Friday, it will be a great torch-passing moment. Compared to other recent milestones, like McGuire topping Maris or Bonds surpassing Aaron, there will be no wincing feeling of regret. Jeter deserves what he accomplishes, just like Gehrig deserved it when he passed Babe Ruth 72 years ago.

Moving on to the US Open, Federer won a deceptively tough match yesterday against Robin Soderling, a guy I like more every day since basically crowning him the reigning poor sport of tennis in this post. Federer owned him the first two sets, 6-0, 6-3, but then Robin got back into the match in a big way. He pressed Roger throughout the third, eventually winning a tiebreak 7-6, and did the same in the fourth to earn a set point in that tiebreak. Then Fed hit a typically clutch serve, and won the next two points to advance to the semis. But make no mistake, things got a bit dicey. If Soderling could have come out of the gates playing like that, and maybe gotten lucky on one of his five failed break chances, that match could have gone the other way. Then again, that's why Federer is Federer; there's no room for weakness.

And so, in the semi, the Greatest will face the immensely unlikeable Novak Djokovic. As I mentioned Tuesday, I'm rooting for someone other than Roger to win, specifically Rafa, but I still don't want to see Jock-Itch beat him. And you can bet the crowd won't, either, after last year's post-match rant where he played the sore winner like a method actor and turned the entire city against him. Regardless, it should be entertaining.

Tonight at 7, Rafa vs. Gonzalez in the quarters. This match means the most to me of any this year since Roger-Rafa in the Australian final. Rafa's coming off an injury, and the hard surface in Flushing has never been his best, so I don't expect him to win the title. But Gonzalez is a punk, a conclusion I arrived at quickly watching him live on Tuesday night (covered in yesterday's post), and I'd rather Rafa go down to someone a little more respectable. Actually, I'd rather he beat Federer in the final, but that's getting a bit greedy.

Tomorrow, definitely some college football stuff; thoughts on last week and predictions for this coming Saturday. Tonight, don't miss Rafa-Gonzalez and the start of the NFL season. The Titans will be a strong team, a playoff team, but I can't see Pitt losing at home in the opener. Steelers 27, Titans 17.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Last night I bit the bullet, spent 50 bucks, and watched my favorite athlete play his fourth round match. It was a quintessential Nadal victory, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, as he wore down Frenchman Gael Monfils over two and a half hours. I also got to see the final set and a half of Fernando Gonzalez and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Here are some fresh ideas from the night in tennis.

*Fernando Gonzalez is a total dick. During the forty-five minutes I watched, he:

a) Was a dick to the ballboys. Before every serve, he'd make both ballboys on his end throw him three balls apiece (players typically hold two to serve). Some of these he'd hit back if he didn't like the way the ballboy threw it. Some he would glance at cursorily and hit backward. Out of the six, he'd eventually select two, but usually after he'd made the ballboys feel they'd done something wrong.

b) Was a dick to the linesman. A guy I met in the crowd actually told me about this one. Apparently he hit a shot that was called wide, he challenged, and the video showed the linesman was wrong. Instead of accepting the mistake and being happy that he got the point (which is the entire purpose of the challenge system), he stood and stared down the linesman for about fifteen seconds, trying to shame him in front of the crowd.

c) Was a dick to the fans. It's considered polite etiquette for all fans to be seated while a player is serving, but in stadiums so large it's virtually impossible. Most players settle for a majority calm in the stands. Gonzalez, on the other hand, actually held up play for two minutes while he unleashed another stare-down on a guy about forty rows up, way out of his sight line, who was struggling to find a seat. I saw Monfils, Nadal, and Tsonga routinely serve with more than ten people still milling around. And later, for a second dick-to-the-fans move, a fan near the baseline caught a smash that hopped over the barrier. In the big stadiums, the general rule is that the fan keeps the ball. Gonzalez walked over, held out his racket, and wouldn't leave until he made the fan give the ball back. The whole place booed him for that one, but he didn't seem to care.

Fernando Gonzalez: Asshole.

*Moving on from Gonzalez, I noticed that fans love yelling common phrases in a foreign language. They think it sounds cooler, and actually, it does. But I can't tell you how many Americans I heard yelling "Vamos!" and "Allez!" all night (both matches were Spanish-speaking vs. French-speaking).

*The ballboys are amazing. This is a highly trained corps of dudes and dudettes who fetch balls and move in formation with ridiculous precision. And I'm convinced they would dominate in a throwing-accuracy contest. For three plus hours of tennis, I didn't see one errant toss, and a lot of them were legitimate full court hurls.

*Gael Monfils is a ridiculous human specimen. Tall, limber, wiry, and ridiculously quick, he's really something to watch.

*In the first set, he played Rafa really tough, getting an early break and chasing absolutely everything down. Rafa's strategy, as far as I could tell, was no more complicated than to hit the ball from side to side, making Monfils run as much as possible. It seemed pretty misguided, because Monfils is fast as hell and seems to be in great shape. With Rafa down 3-6 in the tiebreaker, the crowd began to cheer, and Monfils started doing an impromptu dance on his side. This started a big trend of the Frenchman playing to the crowd, and when he smashed a hard return to win the set, the place went nuts. I was worried.

*A thing I noticed about Rafa that I missed on tv: he's slightly bowlegged. This should come as no surprise, since it seems like the majority of really quick athletes in all sports share the trait.

*The second set started the same as the first. Monfils kept getting to everything, playing to the crowd, pumping his fist, and looking really, really good. Which brings me to the topic of the premature celebration. Monfils went crazy getting the crowd (and himself) into a frenzy early in the match, peaking with his first-set win. But as he continued to pump his fist after big points, it lost some of its power. And then, as the points got longer, and he stopped chasing everything down, as he'd spend ten seconds after the hardest points leaning on his racket with his chest heaving, the rhythm of the match became clear. And when Rafa broke in the second set, his fist pump was the real deal. It had the energy of actual transformation, of overriding Monfils' theatrics and establishing an irreversible pattern; it was the realization of a plan, instead of just the basic luck of winning an extra point here or there; it had the future on its side, if that makes any sense.

*Which brings me to the aspect of Nadal that's so remarkable; he's tireless. And he lets his opponent know it. From the opening coin toss, when he jogs in place with his muscles on display, to the heavy moments in the later sets when fatigue sets in, he's always in your face. He jogs from his seat after every break, he jogs back to his position after every point...he's just in constant motion. I can only imagine how discouraging that is to an opponent trying to break him down. Rafa may lose a match, but there's a part of his spirit, or something, that's totally unbreakable. Call it toughness taken to an extreme level. It's easy to see why he, and he alone, is such a persistent frustration to Federer.

*Monfils had his spirit broken. He came in to the match with no strategy, hoping to out-hit Nadal. When he got tired, "no strategy" turned into "go for broke on every point." Which, basically, is conceding defeat. It'd be like a tired boxer sloppily trying to knock out a precise, fit opponent with one punch, except even more improbable since tennis has no equivalent of the KO. At the end of the second set, watching Monfils basically wheeze (early in the match, he made no sound when hitting the the third set, he was emitting a noise that I can only call a moan), I predicted Nadal would win 6-2 6-2. Instead, it was 6-1, 6-3. And this wasn't a tough prediction to make.

*Where Monfils became semi-annoying was when he kept trying to pump up the crowd, despite having given up. He'd let Nadal's wide shots go, or flail at them and send them limply into the net. When a ball came his way, he'd go for the immediate winner, often hitting it way long. 80% of the time, he looked like an amateur, and the match got away from him. But the other 20% of the time, when he hit a winner, he'd scream "Allez!" and get the crowd riled up again. It was sort of like watching someone cheer on his own demise, and getting everyone to buy into it. He had to know he was done; I maintain this. I guess you can't fault him for keeping his spirits up, but I still felt it was a bit phony.

The perfect encapsulation of this behavior came with Nadal up 40-15, with two match points, in the final game. The first point was a doozy, lasting maybe 15 shots, and Monfils scorched a winner down the baseline at the end. He absolutely exploded, highly aware of his own charisma and consciously going for the "heroic effort" image, I think, and then hit the next serve about four feet wide to give Nadal the win.

*I got to watch Uncle Toni Nadal in person. Just as impassive as on tv. Quite a thrill.

*After the match, Rafa was pure joy. And graceful, too. He complimented Monfils, talked about how exciting a player he is, and also spoke kindly about Gonzalez, who he plays in the quarterfinals on Thursday. When he hit one of the three autographed balls into the stands, he bounced it off his head first. To see someone so indomitably tough also be possessed of a rare humility, and to understand the 'play' aspect of the game, is really cool. It's nice to know these qualities aren't incompatible, and that's why he's my favorite athlete.

*Night tennis is awesome. I highly recommend you put it on your life list of things to do.

*Thursday: Good vs. Evil. Rafa and Gonzalez. I don't think I'll be able to take it if he loses. Should be tense!

(I wanted to talk about college football yesterday, and again today, so some of that tomorrow, I think.)