Saturday, October 21, 2006

World Series: Cards take Game 1, 7-2

SCORE: 7-2
SERIES: 1-0, St. Louis
WP: Reyes
LP: Verlander
HRs: DET: Monroe; STL: Rolen, Pujols


Tigers hurler Justin Verlander was not on top of his game in this one. After being handed a 1-run lead in the first on a RBI double by Carlos Guillen Verlander gave the lead up on a Scott Rolen HR in the top of the 2nd. That was the last time the Tigers would be in the game as Verlander's night went from bad to worse in a hurry. In the 3rd inning he gave up a leadoff single to Yadier Molina, and then got two quick outs. But 2 out trouble came back to bite him: he allowed a double to Chris Duncan that scored Molina, and then he had to face Phat Albert with first base open. No brainer, right? You walk Pujols and pitch to Edmonds. Wrong. Verlander decided to challenge Pujols, and we all know what happens when pitchers try to challenge the best player in the game. Albert took the first pitch he saw from the rookie to rightfield for a momentum-swinging 2-run homer that made it 4-1 Cards and effectively ended the night for Verlander & Detroit.

Meanwhile Cardinal rookie Anthony Reyes, sporting old-school striped socks (nice touch) and a flat brim hat looked like the second coming of Cy Young. He shut down the potent Detroit lineup for the next 8 innings, retiring 17 in a row at one point, pitching with a calmness & authority that belied the fact that he was a veteran of only 18 career starts. The Tigers could do nothing with Reyes and the Cards tacked on a few insurance runs in the 6th. After Pujols walked he was moved to third on a botched pickoff by Verlander and scored on a single by Edmonds. Two more would score that inning, one on an interference call, and by the time Verlander exited he had a linescore that was a far cry from his previous postseason outings:5IP, 6H, 7R(6ER),2BBs, 8Ks. Yeah, I don't know how a guy mowing 'em down with strikeouts gives up 7 runs, either.
Speculation will abound that the Tigers were rusty from their long layoff; they committed 3 errors, had the interference call on Brandon Inge cost them a run and generally looked stale all night. But this is a long series and it's only one game.

The decision not to walk Pujols with first base open will come back to haunt Detroit, Leyland & Verlander if the Tigers lose this series. Although it only made the score 4-1 & it was still early, there is something about the combination of a big home run from your MVP & the boneheaded decision by another team not to pitch around him that hurts like a sucker punch to the grill. It was a timely hit from a great player, and it set the tone for the entire night for St. Louis.

Anthony Reyes. The Cards couldn't have asked anything more of the youngster, and he didn't disappoint. The kid came through with the game of his (brief) career on the sport's grandest stage and made a name for himself with a performance that could be the stuff of legend. His line:
8IP, 4H, 2ER, 1BB, 4Ks, 1 awesome story to tell the grand kids.

Verlander. The Tigers and their fans had high hopes that he could start them off on the right foot in the series; he proceeded to shoot himself in said foot. After cruising through the postseason up to that point he picked the worst possible time to have a meltdown like this. Oh, and he shouldn't have pitched to Albert (how many times you think he's gonna hear about that one?)

Reyes' string of setting down 17 straight batters was the longest in a World Series game since Cincinnati's Jose Rijo retired 20 in a row in Game 4 against Oakland in 1990...Inge was charged with 2 errors on the interference play, one when he bobbled the grounder in the first place and another when he let Rolen barrel into him allowing the run to score.

"We didn't play well." Tiger manager Jim Leyland with the understatement of the moment.

Game 2 will be played Sunday night in frigid Detroit. Kenny Rogers will take his 15 inning postseason scoreless streak to the hill as he faces former Tiger Jeff Weaver. Weaver has pitched above his head in the playoffs to date, but I'll take my chances with the Gambler over him any day.
MY PICK: Tigers will win Game 2, 4-2.


Shout outs to a couple of buddies

Just wanted to take the time to give some pub to two of my buddies who are both enjoying some terrific times right now for very different reasons.

First & foremost I want to say congratulations to our good friends Melissa & Doug on the birth of their first child, a baby boy, today just after midnight. They have been dying to have children ever since they got married last July and are going to make awesome parents. They are two of the nicest people we have ever met and my wife & I are both grateful for their friendship. Doug is a big (I mean the guy's huge-I need a stepladder just to man-hug him) sports fan, so of course we hit it right off. His team is the Bears, so he's loving life for that reason right now as well. And Melissa is a beautiful & talented artist who, like my wife, puts up with Doug's sports fanaticism-to an extent.
Congrats, guys, and welcome to the club. And Doug, better plan on spending more Sundays in the living room of you new house than at the local watering hole!

Next person I want to mention is my former co-worker Adam "Spice Boy" Spicer. Adam is someone I like to refer to as "the luckiest bastard on the face of the Earth." We worked together twice (at Hulk Hogan's restaurant & the video distributor I currently work for)-check that, I got him a job twice- and we found out that although we were born only 2 days apart we have little else in common, especially a passion for sports; I have it, he could care less about them.

So it struck me as a tad ironic when Adam called me earlier this year and told me he was going to work for the Detroit Tigers organization. A master at working a dining room who has patrons eating out of his hands, Spice Boy had just completed a couple years stint as F&B director for the American Queen paddle boat that travels up & down the Mississippi River. But after servicing old ladies and preventing his crew from getting kicked off the ship he was longing for a change of scenery. That's when he applied for & got the job as F& B director for the Tiger Club, the restaurant behind home plate in luxurious new Comerica Park in Detroit.

Well a funny thing would happen before he could begin that gig: he had to work a little event being held in Motown last February called THE SUPER BOWL! That's right, this non-sports fan was smack-dab in the middle of the biggest showcase event in all of sports, schmoozing with the rich & famous and catering to the whims of the likes of the Rolling Stones & Prince.

He was kind enough to send me a couple of snapshots of him and some celeb acquaintances:

"Ho hum, just me and Lara Flynn Boyle. No biggie."(trynottogetexcited, trynottogetexcited, trynottogetexcited...)

you like to be my next partner on Dancing with the Stars, big boy?"

So now that the Tigers have completed one of the greatest turnarounds in league history, going from 119 losses to the World Series in just 3 years, Spice Boy is at the forefront of the second biggest sporting event in America, the Fall Classic. This time he is doing awful things like attending the swanky official MLB party and assisting guests like Tom Hanks, Ron Howard & Tom Selleck.

Good thing this guy doesn't like sports or he would be having a coronary by now. I know I would. Keep up the good work, Sharkey (another nickname the man has earned), and keep the pix coming. And tell Lara I said 'hi' if she makes it in for this one.
Oh and by the way, he wanted me to make sure I mentioned that he has lost 40lbs. since these pix were taken.



St. Louis Cardinals @ Detroit Tigers

Game 1
Detroit, Michigan

Anthony Reyes (5-8, 5.06ERA; o-1, 4.50 postseason) vs.
Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.63ERA; 1-0, 5.91 postseason)

In the immortal words of Ice Cube in his epic anthem "N***a You Love to Hate": Once again it's on!

The Fall Classic gets underway tonight and it should be a great series if all the telltale signs hold true. On the one hand you have the upstart new kids on the playoff block, Detroit, who have overcome all odds to make it to this point just 3 seasons after losing a mind-boggling, near-record 119 games. The Tigers have a great balance of young guns (Verlander, Bonderman, Zumaya), old horses (Rogers, Jones) and a bunch of talented hitters both young and old (Monroe, Granderson, Rodriguez, Polanco, Ordonez), but this is their first trip to the big dance since 1984 and their first postseason berth since 1987, so needless to say other than the vets like Jones, Rogers & Pudge-less, they are a bit green in this setting.

On the other side you have the wily veteran playoff squad, St. Louis, who were just in the Series two years ago, albeit with a horrendous result (4-0 Bosox sweep, anyone?) But this is a team that knows its business, and that business is playoff baseball. The Cards have been in the postseason 6 out of the past 7 years and have a number of playoff vets (Rolen, Pujols, Carpenter, Suppan, Eckstein) throughout their roster. Simply put these guys are not about to be intimidated by playing on the game's biggest stage; it remains to be seen if the Tiger cubs will be or not.

There are also some great storylines to watch out for: the friendship between the 2 managers, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony LaRussa, who have been buddies for decades, will be beaten to death by FOX and other networks, but it does create an interesting angle. Both of these leaders are considered the best in the game, and what Leyland has done with the Tigers this year is nothing short of managerial brilliance; ironically both are vying to become only the 2nd manager in history to win a Series in 2 Leagues, joining Sparky Anderson, who accomplished the feat with the '75& '76 Big Red Machine & that magical 1984 Tiger team.
Other points of interest will be the heat of the young Tiger pitchers, especially 100mph blowtorch Joel Zumaya; the play of Phat Albert Pujols, who had an off-series in the NLCS, production-wise(1HR, 1RBI) and will be out to show why he is the best player in the game;the leadership of Tiger catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who left the Marlins after their Championship 3 years ago to join this (then) terrible team and bring it to the promised land; and can Chris Carpenter, the probable Cy Young winner this year, bounce back from 2 shaky LCS outings and carry this raw pitching staff on his shoulders?

So who will come out on top? The team with the best record in baseball for 3/4 of the season(DET), or the team that tanked a 7 game lead down the stretch, limped into the playoffs, and became the team with the 2nd worst record (83-78 Cards) to make it to the Series?
Only one way to find out- let's break it down:
This is the area that the Tigers have the clear advantage, as the Stanks and A's found out in the two previous series. Detroit lead the majors in ERA in the regular season & continues to do so in the postseason(2.92.) The deep starting staff includes hard-throwing Game 1 starter Verlander, tough-as-nails Jeremey Bonderman, nasty Nate Robertson, and old playoff warhorse Kenny Rogers, who has turned around a miserable postseason past with a marvelous 2006 campaign (2-0, 0.00ERA.) The bullpen is spectacular as well, with the double-barrelled shotgun of Fernando Rodney & Joel Zumaya, both capable of hitting triple digits on the gun, and closer Todd Jones, who has been lights-out in the postseason (3 saves, no ERs) and will not wilt under pressure.
The Cards will have to rely on rookie Anthony Reyes to do the job in Game 1 because the last series went the full 7 and their aces, Chris Carpenter & Jeff Suppan, will not be available until Games 3 & 4 back in St. Louie. Reyes becomes the pitcher with the least amount of regular season wins to start a Game 1 (5.) After Reyes the Cards will pin their hopes on the erratic arm of Jeff Weaver. Although he has redeemed his miserable regular season (8-14, 5.76 w/ 2 teams) with a terrific postseason (2-1, 2,16), he still isn't someone I would want to have to win a Game 2, especially if they lose tonight. After those 2 you get to the best St. Louis has to offer, Carpenter (15-8, 3.09; 2-1, 3.70) and Jeff Suppan (12-7, 4.12; 1-1, 1.86), both crafty vets who will not be fazed by either a Cardinal deficit or lead. From there things get shaky: the bull pen is a hodgepodge of kids who have banded together well so far this postseason but could very well crumble under the weight of the WS spotlight. The best of the bunch is newly installed rookie closer Adam Wainwright, who has filled in admirably for Jason Isringhausen and had an awesome outing in the Cards clinching Game 7 vs. New York; ask Carlos Beltran how filthy his breaking ball is.
The Tigers and Cards come into this one with banged up infielders, For Detroit 1B Sean Casey could be back in the lineup after injuring his calf in the ALDS, but possible only as a DH at first.
For St. Louis 3B Scott Rolen has a bad shoulder which has severely hampered his hitting (.188 in playoffs) and his normally steady fielding (1 error, numerous misplays), and SS David Eckstein is also not 100% with various ailments.
-1B: Phat Albert Pujols, last year & this years' probable MVP, against Carlos Guillen, who moves from his natural SS to fill in for Casey. Hmm, wonder who gets that edge?
-2B:Detroit's Placido Polanco was the ALCS MVP and he has had a blistering postseason(.471) and plays a mean second base. The Cards counter with Ronnie Belliard, a midseason pickup from Cleveland who has played well, if not spectacularly in the playoffs. EDGE: DET
-3B: Brandon Inge has been a sparkplug with his bat (big HR in Gm1 of the ALCS) & glove( lunging dive into the stands to shag a foul ball in Gm3.) Rolen has the bigger bat & better glove, WHEN HEALTHY, so this one could be a wash. EDGE: EVEN
-SS: Eckstein is hurting and has that ridiculous windmill motion to first base, but he's a sparkplug who won it all with the Angels 4 years ago, so he's got the know how. With Guillen covering 1st, the Tigers may have to rely on unproven Ramon Santiago- YIKES. EDGE: STL
-C: Yadier Molina won Game 7 for the Cards with his dramatic 9th inning HR on Thursday so he is the man of the hour right now. But Pudge-less Rodriguez has the experience, arm, bat, and intangibles to be the proven leader of this team. No contest. EDGE: DET
-CF: The Cards' Jim Edmonds hasn't had a great postseason as he recovers from post-concussion syndrome, but when he's healthy he's one of the best in the game. No one can match him on highlight catches in center, not even Torii Hunter. For Detroit they have had a great output from young stud Curtis Granderson(.313, 3HRs, 7RBI), who is emerging as a star for this Tiger team. But he is a youngster, so he may not adjust as well as Edmonds to the intense glare of the Series lights. EDGE: STL
-RF: Juan Encarnacion hasn't delivered the big plays that the Cards were hoping for when they signed him from the Marlins, where he won it all with Pudge & Leyland in '03; so far he is hitting .222 in the playoffs. For Detroit Magglio Ordonez is coming off of that game winning HR in the ALCS GM 4 finale, so he's riding high. Plus he's a better player. EDGE: DET
-LF: A committee approach for LaRussa should have playoff hero So Taguchi (4-4, 2 HRs) in the lineup for Game 1, but Preston Wilson & Chris Duncan will also log time there this series. For Detroit Craig Monroe has taken over for Marcus Thames and has also emerged as a rising star (.300, 3HR, 7RBI) this postseason. The Tigers also have young Alexis Gomez, the hero of their game 2 victory over Oakland. EDGE: DET
The managers are pretty much a wash. Both are experienced in these situations and both are considered to be masters of managing a rotation & lineup. Leyland has seemed to make every right decision so far this postseason, while LaRussa seems to be a little off of his usual sharp game handling tactics. EDGE: EVEN
Detroit has the home field and would have even without the stupid All Star Game rule, and 17 of the past 20 teams with homefield advantage have won it all. Not to mention the temps will be in the 30's & 40's with possible snow, so there's another advantage. EDGE: DET
The Tigers may have to contend with some Game 1 rust after not having played since last Sunday. Meanwhile the Cards are fresh off their grueling 7 gamer vs. the Mets and just got into town yesterday. They'll either be jet-lagged, tired & groggy, or ready to keep the momentum from Thursday night going. EDGE: EVEN
And last but not least the Tigers seem to be that destined team that comes along every once in awhile that defies logic, wins in numerous ways, and always seems to make the right moves. They have that something special that is reminding everyone of what it was like when the team with the English script 'D' on their unis ruled the game. And


College Football Week 8 Preview

After my 'Friday Night Lights' evening with my 9-year-old son last night I got real hungry for some big time college football.

Maybe that's because he kept asking me things like why there were no colors painted in the end zones, where were the little white lines between the yard lines, and do the players run out of a tunnel & onto the field through smoke? Also, why the guys (kids, actually) could only punt the ball about 20 yards and why wasn't the game on TV?

All very good questions coming from a boy who (obviously) was attending his first high school football game and only knows the sport of football from the glamorized and stylized NFL & NCAA versions.

" This is where it all begins" I told him. "Every guy you see playing on Saturday & Sunday started out on a field like this playing under these conditions."
"Oh" he replied, unimpressed.

And it got me thinking: what's the best part about the sport, the raw reality of high school competition, or the flashy, gimmicky theatrics of the NFL?

For me it's the middle ground- college football. The players are still young enough to be called kids and most of them are still playing for the love of the game. But then you also have your high-livin', paycheck-collectin', "I'm basically in the NFL already" players like Reggie Bush and every member of the University of Miami, past & present.

So let's dig in to some of the best the sport has to offer today. And can I get a little smoke with that, please?

5 Texas @ 17 Nebraska 12:00 EST
The top two teams in the Big 12 (both are 6-1, 3-0) square off as the Longhorns finally travel outside the Lonestar state for the first time this season. Although they are road warriors, having won 15 in a row and 27 of 28 away from home, this is the first road game for redshirt freshman QB Colt McCoy. It will be interesting to see how the Longhorn greenhorn, who is 5th in the nation in passing (1,229 yds & 18 TDs) stands up to the stout 'Husker defense, a unit which has allowed only 7 TD passes in 7 games. Nebraska QB Zac Taylor is no slouch either (1,547 yds, 14 TDs, and even though the 'Horns have won 5 of 6 meeting since both teams joined the Big 12 in 1996, the Sea of Red in Lincoln should pose a formidable obstacle to McCoy & his mates.
MY PICK: Nebraska 28-27

Alabama (5-2) @ 7 Tennessee (5-1) 3:30PM
At first glance this tilt between the high scoring Vols (34PPG, 13 in NCAA) and 2-loss Tide looks like a mismatch. Then you look a little deeper and discover that this border war has been played since 1901 and Tennessee is coming off a humiliating 6-3 loss last year in Tuscaloosa. In that game RB Cory Anderson was going in for a score but fumbled out of the end zone and the Tide marched down the field for the winning FG. So the Vols will be out for revenge, and with 109,000+ orange-clad fans urging them on, something tells me they are going to get it on the 'Third Saturday in October.'
MY PICK: Tennessee 38-17

13 Georgia Tech (5-1) @ 12 Clemson (6-1) 3:30
At the beginning of the year you can't tell me anyone outside of Atlanta & Death Valley thought that these two teams would be ranked higher than FSU, Miami, BC & Va. Tech. True, G.Tech has returning electric QB Reggie Ball & exciting WR Calvin Johnson (ACC leading 559 yds & 8 TDs), but c'mon, these guys are no powerhouse squad. Clemson is even more of an enigma; they lost half of their team from last year, including record-setting QB Charlie Whitehurst, but all they have done is fill in with seldom-used senior Will Proctor (1,302 yards, 10 yards) and the ACC's leading rusher James Davis (745 yds, 14TDs) and are averaging an NCAA-best 44 PPG. So this is now the marquee matchup in the reshuffled ACC. Enjoy it.
MY PICK: Clemson 41, GTech 35

22 Boston College (5-1) @ FSU (4-2)
You read that opening line correctly- BC is ranked, FSU is not. Both teams can be called major disappointments in the newly rebuilt Atlantic Coast Conference. Both teams, along with Miami & Va. Tech, were supposed to be the cream of the league when it was reformed 2 years ago. Yet here we are with FSU, Tech & Miami unranked and BC hanging on at the bottom of the poll. Yikes. Needless to say the Noles need this game BADLY if it does not want a repeat of last year's horrendous 5 loss season and end up in the ACCellar. BC is making its first visit to Tally since 1980, so the intimidation factor could be high; at least from the stadium, not from the harmless Noles offense. But BC QB Matt Ryan is nursing a sore ankle and might not get the start in this one. If he doesn't, the banged up Seminole defense might survive this one. If Ryan plays, it could be an embarrassing home loss for the once proud Florida State squad. The Eagles have been involved in a lot of close games this season, and this one should be no different.
MY PICK: Noles 24-21

19 Rutgers (6-0) @ Pitt (6-1) 5:45, ESPN2
First things first. Tell me which one you think should be the ranked team: Pitt averages more YPG (413-340), more passing YPG (256-146) and more PPG (37-31), yet they are unranked, primarily due to their early loss to now-horrible Michigan State. The one stat the Scarlet Knights bests the Panthers is the ground game: Rutgers, behind the strength of the nation's 7th leading rusher, Ray Rice (899yds, 11TDs) averages 194 YPG, 14th in the NCAA, to Pitt's 158 (41st.) They both also have solid defenses, as RU allows only a measly 8PPG, Pitt only 13PPG.
And both teams have leadership at the QB position: Pitt senior Tyler Palko is the top rated passes in the nation with 1661 yards & 17 TDs, and Rutgers soph Mike Teel is making a name for himself with games like last week at Navy, where he threw for 215 yards & 3 TDs to compliment Rice's running. All in all this shapes up to be a doozy of a battle for supremacy in the overachieving Big East, with plenty of running, passing, and excitement to qualify as the Game of the Day (I hope.)

After jumping off the Rutgers bandwagon and nearly breaking my leg last week, much to the chagrin of my buddies Ira & Butchie, I'm climbing right back on this week. Although Ira, an RU alum, says that the Knights aren't quite ready to win a game like this, I'm going on the strength of their top-ranked defense and incredible ground attack to grind out a hard-fought, classic Big East dogfight. And if Pitt wins, they will be ranked.
Rutgers 21-17


Friday, October 20, 2006

Speaking of Fabolous...

Hip-hop superstar Fabolous was shot outside a New York City nightclub Monday night and then arrested as he and his posse sped to a hospital shortly thereafter.

Skylar John Jackson, a.k.a. Fabolous ("So Into You", "Can't Let You Go"), was arrested after a shooting at NYC hotspot Justin's, which is owned by hip-hop mogul Diddy. early reports said that newly acquired Boston Celtics point guard & Brooklyn native Sebastian Telfair had been robbed of a $50,000 chain at the club earlier in the evening and he &/or members of his entourage may have been involved in the shooting. New updates claim that there is videotape of a Fabolous friend swiping the chain off of Telfair's neck and also of the shooting of the rapper.

Fabolous and 3 friends were arrested after they ran a red light and were pulled over en route to the hospital to treat his gunshot wound to the thigh. The group had numerous unregistered firearms in the vehicle, leading to the arrests.

New reports show that Telfair had left the scene before the shooting but that members of his party may have been directly involved.

Considering Telfair is coming off of 2 majorly disappointing seasons with Portland, marred by a gun charge when he was caught bringing a loaded handgun onto a Jailblazer charter from Logan in February, this incident doesn't bode well for Danny Ainge & Co. as the C's prepare to open the regular season on November 1st against the Hornets.

Stay tuned for more details- like whether Telfair gets the Tupac treatment.


Fabulous Football Weekend

Amidst all the baseball going, and with an off day today before the World Series starts, I plan on having an All-Football Weekend.
Starting tonight my son & I are going to attend the Largo High School football game. Largo High is the alma mater of current Ole Miss RB Dexter McCluster, who ran for a county record 2,490 yards & 39 TDs as Largo made it all the way to the regional finals last season. This year the Packers haven't missed Dex a bit, reeling off a 7-0 record behind the strength of versatile QB Leonard Johnson and a pair of running back siblings, junior Brynn (839 yds & 10 TDs, both 3rd in the county) and senior Greg Harvey.

Tomorrow, after my son's Little League game at noon, I will be firmly planted on the couch for the BC/FSU battle at 3:30 on ABC. It should be an interesting ACC clash, with the unranked Noles in desperate need of a decent conference win and the #22 Eagles coming off of a 22-0 beatdown of the powerhouse Hokies. After that tilt at 5:45 EST I will be digging into a Big East battle for supremacy as #19 Rutgers (6-0) takes on unranked (somehow) Pitt (6-1.) These two overachieving schools are looking for the BCS bowl bid as the top team in the conference, so a lot will be on the line in this one. I will end the college football segment of my weekend with the 13 Georgia Tech/12 Clemson match @ 7:45 on ESPN; this one seemed to be a mere afterthought at the beginning of the season but now shapes up to be an important game in deciding who will advance to the ACC Championship game.

Finally on Sunday I will be attending the Eagles/Bucs game at RayJay at 1:00PM, courtesy of my good buddy Joe and his awesome seats 5 rows up on the 20yard line in the south end zone. A week ago this game looked like a complete stinker, with the Eagles sitting pretty at 4-1 and the Bucs resembling the 1980's creamsicle Pirates at 0-4. But then the Eagles lost a heartbreaker to New Orleans and the Bucs won a heart warmer against the Bengals, and now this game has a feel of desperation for both teams- one trying to stay in the playoff hunt and another attempting to retain its credibility with fans and not become a laughingstock parody of its former championship self.

So there you have it, my itinerary for a full weekend of football action. Of course I will also watch the World Series between the Tigers and Cardinals; that's what PIP is for.

As usual, full reports with highlights & photos will follow all the games.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

NLCS Game 7: A Classic

Cards ride stellar pitching & clutch hitting to their 17th World Series berth Cards 3, Mets 1
Cards win series, 4-3
WP: Flores
LP: Heilman
SV: Wainwright
HR: STL:Molina

It was a Game 7 classic that will go down in the history books because it had all the elements of great Shakespearean theater: fantastic pitching, an eye-popping defensive play, and 9th inning theatrics that produced both a hero & a goat. The St. Louis Cardinals & New York Mets were deadlocked at 3 games apiece in the series and at 1-1 in Game 7 for more than 7 innings before an unlikely hero provided a 9th inning blast that would catapult the Cards back into the World Series for the second time in 3 years. (You might remember the first time-2004, the Year of the Sawx.)

Proven Game 7 vet Jeff Suppan (see his win in the 2004 NLCS vs. 'Roid-ger Clemens for proof) was all business when he took the mound for the visitors. With his Jeff Reardon-like beard, steely glaze and profound confidence Suppan had the calming effect of Mr. Rodgers as he had the Mets hitters baffled most of the night. He allowed a first inning run after getting the first two out on a double by Beltran, walk to Delagado and the first clutch hit of the series by David Wright (.160, 1HR, 2RBI), but was lights-out from there. He ended up going 7 innings, allowing 2 hits and the 1 run with 5 walks and 2Ks. But it was his demeanor, approach, and attitude that the Cards seemed to thrive off of all night long.
On the other side Mets starter Oliver Perez matched his mound mate in confidence & ability if not experience & statistics. Perez had a disappointing 2006 campaign with 2 teams, the Pirates (2-10, 6.63ERA) and Mets (1-3, 6.63) for a combined 3-13, 6.55 season, and he had been tagged for 5 runs and 9 hits (including 3 HRs) in the Mets 12-5 Game 4 win. But managers & analysts rave about his "stuff" and tonight he showed the world why. Pitching with a nervous coolness Perez matched Suppan stride for stride; he gave the short-lived 1-run lead right back in the 2nd on singles by Edmonds & C Yadier Molina (more on him soon) and a safety squeeze bunt by Raphael Belliard that tied the game at 1. But it would remain that way as Perez turned in 6 innings of 4 hit ball with 2BBs & 4 Ks. It was a much needed shot in the arm for a team that had been nervous about their Game 7 pitching options, but a guy that Mets manager had the utmost confidence in when naming him the starter. Willie instincts were right on this call.

The starters gave way to their bullpens in the late innings to take over in a tie game, but if not for those two outstanding performances this game would never have been the classic it ended up becoming.

Endy Chavez had been a little-known utility player with a .269 career average in 569 games covering 6 seasons and 5 teams. Now he will be forever known as a playoff (near) hero, as his spectacular, home run-robbing catch in the 6th inning was one of the more clutch, and unbelievable, catches you will ever see in the postseason. With Perez in his first jam since the 2nd inning, Edmonds on first and Rolen coming up, Randolph went to the mound to chat with his pitcher. After the pep talk, Rolen (bad shoulder & all) promptly took the next pitch to deep left for what appeared to be a momentum-swinging 2-run homer. Not so fast my friend; Chavez watched the ball all the way, timed his leap, and at the precise moment the ball was coming down, leapt up, stretched his arm & glove to the fullest extent and snagged the ball as it was coming down on the other side of the wall. As it popped to the top of his glove and Chavez came down into the padded wall with a thud the silent stadium erupted in cheers. But then Chavez had the presence of mind to throw back to the infield to double Edmonds off first; Jimbo was already well around second when Chavez caught it. Guess he thought it was gone, too. As Chavez came off the field to thunderous applause from the fans and numerous celebrations from his teammates, it appeared to be one of those history-making catches that would propel a team to a victory and then be talked about for decades to come as the turning point of the game.

Alas for Mets fans, that play was not to be the turning point in this masterpiece.

By now there was a steady drizzle falling, the fans were nervous and everyone was wondering what would come first: extra innings or a rain delay? Luckily for all of us the answer was neither. It turns out that the 9th inning would provide the closure this long, strange series needed, and it would come in grand style. as is so often the case in these types of games, one man had to be the hero, rendering the other the goat.
Aaron Heilman, a dead ringer for a young Al Leiter, had taken over for Chad Bradford in the 8th and got 3 quick outs (sandwiched around a Pujols IBB, his 2nd of the game.) To start the 9th Heilman got Edmonds to strike out while making him look silly in the process and it looked like either bottom of the 9th or extra inning dramatics were imminent possibilities. But then Scott Rolen took the 8th pitch he saw from Heilman to left for his 2nd 9th inning single in 2 games. GULP. This is where Mets fans began sweating profusely and looking more worried than an expectant father. In an instant they knew why they were worried. Light hitting (6 HRs all year) catcher Yadier Molina instantly injected his name into the lore of postseaon baseball when he took the next pitch from Heilman deep over the wall in left for a monstrous 2-run, game deciding home run that left the stadium so silent you could hear every Card player & coach congratulate the youngest member of the Catching Molina Brothers (Bengie & Jose are the others.) It was a postseason moment that appeared to be frozen in time: the fans waving their white hankys, the rain & mist shrouding the stadium, Endy Chavez leaping, this time futilely, to try and bring the ball back again, and the Cards celebrating with jubilation as if they had just lifted an enormous weight off of their shoulders.
They had; it was the weight of disappointment and unfulfilled expectations after a 2nd half swoon left the Cards as the team with the worst record in this postseason and a heavy underdog in this series.
The Mets still had a chance in the bottom of the 9th and gave their tortured (oh, boo hoo, it's been since 1986 since you won it all-waaaaaaaa) fans a glimmer of hope when Jose Valentin & Chavez singled off rookie Cardinal closer Adam Wainwright. But the kid, who took over for injured Jason Isringhausen near the end of the season, got tough from there. Foregoing the bunt opportunity and playing for the win (2nd guesses, anyone?) Randolph sent out gimpy Cliff Floyd in an attempt to get an extra base hit to tie or win the game right there. Bad move, Willie, as Floyd struck out on a NASTY breaking ball from Wainwright that said "this game is mine." Jose Reyes then lined out to Edmonds in center, and after a walk to LoDuca loaded the bases, Wainwright caught Cardinal Killer Carlos Beltran looking at another filthy yakker to end the game and the season for New York.
So the Cards will meet the Tigers (remember them) in the World Series beginning Saturday night in frigid Motown. Suppan was named the NLCS MVP for his 2 outstanding performances, not to mention his 1 home run, and a jubilant Cardinal team will have very little time to celebrate & enjoy this magnificent win.

For the Mets is yet another heartbreaking ending to the team that hasn't been able to capture a title since that putrid 1986 crown. Maybe, with all the stupid "1986/2006" signs smattered all over the place, and numerous references to Mookie Wilson, Bill Buckner, the Mets have got a little curse of their own going on here.

But if this game was part of a curse, then so be it.

Because I do live for this.

But what baseball fan doesn't?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Let's play 7: Mets force Cards into the Ultimate Showdown in Sports

Rookie pitcher John Maine tosses 6 scoreless innings and Jose Reyes' leadoff HR helps the Mets force a Game 7 tomorrow night.

Mets, 4-2
WP: Maine
LP: Carpenter
HR: Reyes

As I said yesterday, this Series has followed a bizarre pattern- that is, there is no pattern. Other than St. Louis winning 2 games in a row (2 & 3) this series has had more surprise outcomes & hidden twists than an episode of Prison Break. Star pitchers have pitched badly (Carpenter in Gm 2), and bad pitchers have shone like stars (Weaver in Gm5); green rookies have pitched like seasoned veterans (John Maine tonight) and playoff veterans have pitched like AA prospects (Billy Wagner in Gms 1 & 6.) The only things that have been predictable is that a no-name has made himself a playoff hero (So Taguchi) and the superstars (Beltran, Delgado, Pujols, & Edmonds) have come through in the clutch.

But tonight's non-pattern/pattern made perhaps the least sense of all. The Cardinals had their ace,Chris Carpenter, the 2005 Cy Young Award winner and the likely winner this season as well, on the hill going up against the Mets rookie righthander John Maine. The kid was thrust into the playoff rotation when El Duque Hernandez went down with a calf injury before his start in the NLDS against the Dodgers. All he has done since then is provide solid starts (other than a small meltdown in Gm 2 when he allowed 5 BBs & 3 ERs) and a steady, calming presence on the mound that allows everyone around him to relax as well. Tonight all he did was shut down the potent Cardinal hitters with a masterful 5.1 innings of 2-hit shutout ball. He's a rookie.

Maine event, Maine man, Maine-iac, whatever you call him the kid is cool

It helps relax a pitcher when your stud SS starts off the game with a nerve- calming home run to take the edge off of everyone. This kid is using his time in the postseaon spotlight to show the whole world what a phenomenal player he tryly is. He's beginning to resemble a Rickey Henderson-type catalyst- homeruns, triples, stolen bases. After tonight's 3-4, 2R, 1RBI, 1SB, numerous terrific defensive play performance, the 23 year-old from the Dominican is hitting .282 (11-39) with 1-2B 1-3B, 1-HR, 7R, 5RBI & 3SB. Talk about making a name for yourself when it counts. The Mets would get another off of Carpenter(6IP, 7H, 2ER) in the 4th on a Shawn Green single, and when Paulie LoDuca tacked on 2 more with a single off Braden looper it looked like the Mets would cruise into Game 7.

Look, up in the sky, it's a superstar being born

But wait- the ninth inning was yet to be played. And the second coming of Brad Lidge, Billy Wagner, got the call to nail down the 4-run win. Wrong. Wagner and his shrinking confidence got into immediate trouble, allowing a single to Encarnacion, then a single to Rolen, who can barely life his arm above his shoulder and had been 0-3 w/ 4 men LOB (bases loaded in the 1st) in the game. After getting the next 2 out, up stepped Wagner's nemesis, So Taguchi. Taguchi had tagged Wagner for the game-winning HR in Game 2, and this time he got the closer for a 2-run, confidence-crushing double to break the shutout and the good feelings the Mets had been having up to that point. Wagner then induced a game ending groundout, but a lot of people in Met land will be losing sleep over the fact that this guy might have to be called on to save a Game 7.

So tonight we are all treated to a spectacular sporting event-Game 7 of a League Championship Series. The only thing better is a Game 7 of a World Series, but we;ll take this for now. It will be Jeff Suppan for the Cards, himself a veteran of an NLCS Game 7 two years ago against Roger Clemens & Houston for the right to go to the World Series. If you recall the Cards were in that series , so guess who won the Game 7. he will be opposed by either Darren Oliver or Oliver Perez. Right now the Mets don't care if it's Oliver Twist on the mound. They forced the ultimate showdown; now all we have to do is sit back & enjoy it.

MY PICK: With all the momentum going with New York, plus the decided advantage of playing a Game 7 at home, I'm going with... The Cards. Logic says the opposite of what should happen will happen, therefore I look for the Cards boppers, especially Pujols, to come through, and who knows, maybe we;ll even get to see So Taguchi take Wagner deep again for the Series winner.

Cards 6-4


Booger traded to Colts for a 2nd round pick

The Bucs traded defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2007 2nd round draft pick.
Granted, Booger never became the dominant defensive force that the Bucs envisioned when Tony Dungy & Rich McKay made him the 15th pick in the 1999 draft. He struggled against the run, was frequently injured, and could never fill the enormous shoes of the pass-rusher the Bucs needed to replace Warren Sapp; McFarland had only 20 career sacks, Sapp had 16 1/2 in one season. But to just give him away for basically nothing speaks volumes about the Bucs organization. I remember when the Bucs got him, watching him play that first year and thinking "how can a guy that big be that freakin' fast?" I mean he would blow by guys like they were, well, 300+LB offensive linemen, and he made Sapp look like Father Time in comparison.
Chucky & Bucco Brucie Allen didn't draft him, but they had to know before this season started that he wasn't working out, fitting in with their scheme, or, most importantly, not a GRUDEN PLAYER. On this team if you're not a GRUDEN PLAYER (see:Gradkowski, Bruce or Pittman, Michael or newly signed Buchanan, Phillip as examples) you're little more than a useless spare part (see:Alstott, Mike or Johnson, Brad, or Clayton, Michael.) So the question is why didn't they try to trade him in the offseason when he might have had some value, before he decided to disappear entirely this season (13 tackles in 5 games) making him virtually worthless? How much you wanna bet that he is rejuvenated with Dungy in Indy? C'mon, a hundy?

Unfortunately for Booger & the Bucs there weren't enough plays like this

On the same day Chucky & Bucco signed newly-released CB Phillip Buchanon (speaking of first round busts.) Buchanon was drafted by 17th by Bucco in 2002 when the two were with the Raiders (hmm, the Bucs picking up a former Raider? what a novel little idea. Why didn't they ever think of this before?) and was traded to the Texans before this season for a 2nd & 3rd round pick.Although he has 11 career INTs and 7 defensive TDs, to know that Houston let him go after giving up 2 picks for him says a lot about the player and the Bucs. How much you wanna bet he joins the list of Ex-Raider/Buc Busts like Doug Jolley, Rickey Dudley, Charlie Garner, and Tinman Brown? C'mon, a hundy & 1/2?

So on the same day they gave up on a disappointment on the D-line they picked up another disappointing defensive player who had high hopes on draft day that amounted to little more than unfulfilled potential. Makes sense, right? Oh yeah, one guy is a GRUDEN PLAYER.

Just another day at One Chuck(y) Place.


Cards bounce back from rainout & beating to take 3-2 series lead

St. Louis, behind another quality start from Jeff Weaver & a
Phat Albert HR defeat New York, 4-2
Cards lead series, 3-2
WP: Weaver (2-1)
LP: Glavine(1-1)
SV: Wainwright
HRs:STL:Pujols, Duncan

This series is really getting bizarre now. Momentum, what momentum? Each team has appeared to steal 'Uncle Mo' from the other, like New York's emphatic 12-5 Cardinal clubbing in Game 4 after St. Louis's 5-0 smack talk-silencer in Game 3. But just when you think you got this NLCS figured out, it comes back to surprise you again.

Tom Playoff Vet Glavine was taking on Jeff the Underachiever Weaver and all the odds seemed to be in New York's favor, coming off of that Game 4 win plus the rain-induced off day, which allowed Tommy G. to pitch on his normal 5 days rest. But then a funny thing happened: they played the game. And wouldn't you know the Bust beat the Best with superior pitching and timely hitting. Perfect formula for a Series-winning team.

Weaver baffled the formerly unstoppable Met hitters with 6 innings of 6 hit, 2-run ball; even though he allowed 3 doubles, the only time it hurt him was when Jose Valentin doubled in 2 in the 4th for the Mets short-lived 2 -o lead.

Before they could think about building on that lead Albert Pujols came up with one out and promptly torched a Glavine(4IP, 7H, 3ER) offering into the leftfield seats for a momentum-swinging HR. Bad hammy, huh Albert? The Cards tacked on another after a walk to Rolen and singles by Belliard & Edmonds to leave the 4th with the score tied at 2 and Uncle Mo clearly swaying towards the home dugout.

The next inning the Cards stole the momentum and the series advantage by knocking Glavine out of the game. After losing the lead on a single, double & a walk, he was relieved by Chad Bradford. The hard-throwing sidearmer combined with Pedro don't call me Jose Feliciano to get out of the inning without allowing another run, but the damage was done. Chris Son of Dave Duncan added a solo shot in the 6th off of Feliciano for the final margin.

So the series goes back to the Big Apple for the do-or-die (for the Mets) Game 6 tonight at 8 on FOX. The hopes for New York will reside on the arm of rookie John Maine against Cardinal ace Chris Carpenter-GULP. But the Mets roughed up Carpenter in Game 2 (6H, 5R), and my instinct tell me that although they might not beat him up again, they will score enough runs to force a Game 7.
MY PICK: Mets 3-2


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sai it ain't so, Lou!

Pinella signs to manage Cubs, wants E-Rod to join him

Just a week after speculation was rampant about Lou Pinella taking over for Joe Torre in the Bronx Sweet Lou decided to take the job as Cubs manager.

The Cubbies and manager Dusty Baker parted ways after a miserable season in which the injury-ravaged team finished 66-96, last place in the NL Central. Pinella was given a 3-year, $10 million dollar contract with a club option for a 4th.
Let me give the guys at the Tribune Co. a little insider information as to what is going to happen that will prevent Lou from seeing even the third year of that deal from the dugout:
Next spring there will be all kinds of talk of optimism, turnaround, changing a culture of losing, instilling a tough attitude and playing to win every single night. Then the season will start. The M*A*S*H unit that is the rotation will reopen; the offense, built on unproven kids & high-priced vets, will pull a 'Hit Show' no-show; and Lou will have a classic '3/4 stubble, 14-beer hangover, mid-season meltdown' that will make Dennis Green's look like an Afterschool Special. By the beginning of Year 2 Lou will be dropping hints that things aren't working out and planning his return to the FOX booth for the 2008 LCS.

And he will be getting paid to golf and schmooze for the entire 3rd year of the deal.

And speaking of stars, it has already been rumored that Pinella wants former pupil and current headcase E-Rodriguez to join him in the Windy City. Yikes. Can you say "horror show?"

Nice job, Lou. You fooled em again. Or is it yourself you're fooling?

Most common phrase heard on the North Side in Fall 2007

Why oh why didn't we take Girardi?!


College Football Week 7 Wrapup

It was a wild weekend both on the field this week for many different reasons. You had a top- ranked team fall, a Heisman hopeful lost for the season, and an on-field brawl as ugly as any in the sports' history. Plus I went 4-1 on my picks. Crazy, man, crazy. Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down...

2 Gators stumble at Auburn, lose 27-17
MY PICK: Tigers 14-13
The Gators are going to remember this loss for a long time to come. Remember it as the game that cost them a shot at the National Champion-ship. A game that they had in their hands for more than one half of play, and a game in which Chris Leak again crumbled under the pressure of a big SEC game and handed the game to the hungrier Tigers. The Gators got burned on a blocked punt returned for the go-ahead TD, and then Leak had two costly 4th quarter turnovers, one a controversial fumble call on a play where he appeared to be passing, and then a back-breaking interception he had no business throwing that cost them any shot at making a late comeback. Now the Gators are back with Auburn & the rest of the 1-loss pack, and the Tigers served notice that they are not dead yet. Both teams still have a shot at an SEC title, but that National crown seems like a long shot now for Florida.

Ugly on field melee mars FIU/Miami contest
The game was supposed to be about bringing together two South Florida schools just 9 miles apart whose players are very familiar with each other for bragging rights to Dade County. Unfortunately both squads took the turf war analogy a bit too far as a major brawl involving at least half of both teams saw 18 players ejected and resulted in suspensions ranging from 1 game to indefinite. It was a truly ugly scene, with players swinging helmets, crutches, and stomping on the legs of players on the ground, and to many it was reminiscent of the days of the Hurri-ganstas of the 1980's, when the 'Canes were feared both on & off the field for their extracurricular exploits. In the wake of the brawl 30 players received suspensions, 2 FIU players were booted from the team, and Miami TV analyst & former 'Cane Lamar Thomas was fired for these ridiculous comments uttered during the fracas: "Now, that's what I'm talking about. You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked. You don't come into the OB(Orange Bowl) playing that stuff. You're across the ocean over there. You're across the city. You can't come over to our place talking noise like that. You'll get your butt beat. I was about to go down the elevator to get in that thing." Wow, so that's how this thing gets uglier.
This incident brings to light a much bigger issue than exercising on field self control; it brings in the larger question of Larry Coker's ability to control this team and President Donna Shalala's ability to control her staff. Coker has been on the hot seat since the start of the season and in the wake of this mess refuses to admit this is a problem but merely a minor incident that can solved by suspensions. And Shalala's disregard of the school's recently rebuilt image seems like a replay of the Gary Barnett/Colorado fiasco, where an out-of-control, embattled coach retains his job far past the point of no return for the institution. Although the school says Coker is safe for now, you can bet the house that you will not see him back with Miami next year. Reality check, Larry: when you stop winning it's bad enough, but when you can't stop your players from beating up other players on the field, your time is up.

OU's Peterson pleases his dad then breaks his collarbone
It had to be quite an emotional day for Oklahoma star RB Adrian Peterson when the Sooners took on Iowa State in Norman on Saturday. The Heisman contender (935 yds, 10TDs) had his dad, Nelson, watching him play for the first time in his career; Nelson had recently been released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence and had never seen his son play organized ball. And wouldn't you know his boy put on quite a show for his old man. Peterson took the first carry of the game 40 yards, electrifying the crowd and pleasing his proud papa. He would go on to total 183 yards and 2 TDs to vault himself into the top 3 for the coveted trophy. But then the happy story came to a sad conclusion: on his final carry of the day, and it turns out probably his OU career, Peterson took a hand off and scampered 53 yards towards the end zone. By this time the game was out of reach (27-9 w/ 7:00 to go) and there was no real need to have him in there except to pad his Heisman stats and please his dad. But the play turned into a devastating injury as Peterson dove into the end zone avoiding a tackle and landed awkwardly, breaking his collarbone and putting him out for the remainder of the season. Most likely he has played his last game as a Sooner as he is expected to be the first running back chosen in next years draft. A sad ending to a great story and wonderful college career. See you on Sundays, AP.

Rutgers roughs up Navy, 35-0, to make it 6-0
MY PICK: Navy 35-31
Okay let me preface the defense of my horrible prediction by stating that Navy QB and offensive leader of their triple-wishbone attack Brian Hampton suffered a devastating knee injury in the first quarter and had to be replaced by an unproven sophomore. That said, what Rutgers is doing deserves recognition as the Scarlet Knights went to 6-o for the first time since 1976 and moved up the rankings from 24 to 19- that's right, Rutgers has cracked the Top 20! With Hampton out the Knights had their way with the untested Middie defense, and they rolled right through them like a carrier through the Pacific. Leading rusher Ray Rice racked up 93 more yards & 1TD and QB Mike Teel threw for 215 yards & 3 TDs as the Scarlet Knights took full advantage of Hampton's absence; with Hampton running the option Navy was leading the nation in rushing at 350+ yards/game, but with him out the Middies managed only 113 yards on the ground and 161 total yards. Still it was an impressive win for the Knights, albeit one that was made much easier by the loss of nearly the entire Navy offensive attack.

Indiana knocks off #15 Iowa
This story is little more than a blip as far as national titles, Heisman trophies and BCS standings go, but it warmed my heart nonetheless, so I though I'd make note of it. Indiana, a school that has been rocked this season by terrible losses, a key suspension and their coach's illness finally got something to cheer about. The Hoosiers knocked off the #15 Hawkeyes 31-28 (you know, the team that was supposed to knock off Ohio State a couple of weeks ago) Saturday, their second win in as many weeks (Illinois) and it had to bring a big smile to the face of Coach Terry Hoeppner. You may remember I wrote about Hoeppner's return from his second brain surgery in less than a year a mere 3 weeks after his latest operation, and although the Hoosiers lost his first game back, they have won the last 2 since their beloved coach's return to the sideline. The irony is that the suspended player, captain WR James Hardy, had a career day with104 yards & 3 TDs, the last one with just under 10 minutes remaining for the final margin. Said Hoeppner after the celebration had begun in Bloomington: "I had an interesting call on the field -- Ben Roethlisberger called my son's phone," said Hoeppner, who coached the Steelers quarterback at Miami of Ohio. "He just wanted to call and congratulate me. Normally, I wouldn't take a phone call at that point, but I'd take that phone call." Up next for this feel good squad: The #1 & undefeated Buckeyes.

How do you spell Georgia? U-G-H!
The Bulldogs were trounced last week by the Volunteers, 51-33, which was one of the more embarrass-ing home losses in Georgia history. They only had to wait a week in Athens to top that one. The #16 Dawgs fell to lowly Vandy, 24-22, in a game that might mark the end of the Mark Richt era at UGA. Vandy had not won a game against a ranked opponent in 53 tries and had not defeated the Bulldogs since 1994. The funny thing is that Georgia had plenty of chances to secure this one, leading 10-0 near halftime and 13-7 going into the break. But things started to go wrong at the start of the 2nd half; RB/KR Thomas Brown was injured during the kickoff and was removed from their game. It has been learned that he suffered a probable season-ending knee injury. After a turnover on the 2nd play Vandy cashed in with a TD, then added another near the end of the 3rs. Georgia would scrap back and take a 22-21 lead with 9:00 to go, but blew it when Vandy nailed a 35-yd FG with no time left, stunning the fans at Sanford Stadium and leaving Richt's ability to steer this team to the promised land in doubt.

The 1st BCS Standings are out

The magical, manipulative poll that determines which two teams will vie for the Sears Trophy & the National Championship made its debut this week and left many people scratching their heads. Here are the Top 10, with their AP rankings in parentheses & Sat results:
1.)Ohio St. (1) def. Michigan State, 38-7
2.)USC (2), def. Az St, 28-21
3.)Michigan (3) def. Penn St., 17-10
4.)Auburn (8) def. Fla, 27-17
5.)W.Virginia (4) def. Syr,41-17
6.)Florida (9) lost to Aub., 27-17
7.)Louisville (6) def. Cin, 23-17
8.)Texas (5) def.Bay, 63-31
9.)Notre Dame (10) bye
10.)Cal (11) def Wash St. 21-3
The most glaring difference is that Michigan is ahead of USC in the AP poll but not in the all-important BCS. This fact will become a moot point when the Buckeyes and Wolverines square off on November 18th, eliminating one contender. Other discrepancies include 7th ranked Tennessee at #11 in the BCS, making it virtually impossible to climb back in it even though they are 5-1 like a dozen other teams, and Auburn at a hope-inspiring #4 BCS, so they can basically forget about the meaningless AP.

This just in: Here is my up to the minute Super-specialBCS busterJRose Readout Top 5(this poll is based solely on which teams I believe are the best in the country right now):
1. Ohio State- will remain there at least untill Nov. 18th
2. Michigan- need Manningham back to beat OSU
3.Auburn- when they play their game, can't be stopped
4.Louisville/WVU-one offensive power will be eliminated in 3 weeks
5.Cal- ready to knock off USC Nov 18th

By the way, my three other picks:
-Cal over WSU, 37-21: SCORE: Cal 21-3
-Ohio State over Mich St. 28-17; SCORE: OH ST. 38-7
-Mich. over Penn St. 27-10; SCORE: Mich 17-10

Buckle up, folks, it's going to be a fun final month.


Disaster in the Desert:Bears,down 20, catch Cards

In another Monday Night thriller Arizona blows a 20-pt lead to lose
24-23 to Bears Devin Hetser's kick return for a TD was the winning score

This is one of those games that defies description. I mean I saw it, I know what happened, I know how it happened, but I still can't believe it actually did happen.
The first incredible part of the whole thing is that the Cardinals were actually whipping the undefeated Bears, jumping out to a quick 14-0 first quarter lead and pushing it to 20-0 at halftime. That's right, the hapless, underachieving, perennially disappointing Cards were trouncing the Team of the Year, the superior both offensively & defensively, Chicago Bears. On National television, in their first MNF game at home since 1999 in their gorgeous 450 million new stadium. And it was all thanks to the mature, clutch, confident play of rookie QB Matt Leinart.
The first year signal caller was making only his 2nd career start. His first one, last week vs. the Chiefs was memorable both for his success ( he became the 1st QB in history to throw for over 250+ yards w/ a 60% completion percentage) and the teams' failure (the Cards jumped out to a 14-0 1st quarter lead only to blow it in the final minute and lose 23-20.) Cue the Twilight Zone music please.

Tonight the game started out the same even though the opponent was the 6-0, high-scoring, hard-hitting Chicago Bears. After attempting an 80-yd bomb on the first play that missed Bernard Big Play Berrian by 5 yards the Bears were forced to punt, and The Cards onslaught began. Leinart drove the team right down the new, retractable grass field on a 12-play,77-yard drive highlighted by his 5-5 passing and capped by his 11-yd TD pass to Bryant The Other Penn St. Johnson. Before you could say "Ditka" the Cards were up 7-o and the new Univ. Of Phoenix stadium was rockin' in red; it was the 1st Td allowed in the 1st quarter by Chicago all year. Then after a Grossman (and was he gross, man: 14-37, 148 yds, 4INTs, 2 fumbles-OUCH) pick the Cards utilized the short field as Leinart (24-42, 232yds,2TDs, no INTs) threw a pass to Anquan Boldin that the former FSU star turned into a 26-yd TD and a 14-0 Arizona lead after 1 quarter. Wow.
Boldin was high-steppin after his score

It wouldn't end there as the Bears started to regress back to the Bears of the past decade and the Cards were playing like, well Leinart's old team, the USC Trojans. They just kept pressuring Grossman into foolish mistakes and taking the Bears out of their game all thew while mounting drives and keeping the pressure on the Chicago defense. But the trouble began when the Cards couldn't put it back in the end zone before the half, settling for 2 FGs when they were in touchdown range and spreading the score by only 6 points to 20-0 at the half. That inability to cash in on those Red Zone opportunities would come back to haunt Arizona before the eerie night was through.

The second half brought more of the same: Grossman resembling the Grossman many people thought he would be- unsure, insecure, mistake-prone and absolutely clueless. The Bears offense was truly offensive on this night: 168 total yards, 6 penalties & 6 turnovers (not including 2 fumbles that were recovered.) But yet they would come back in this game. And it would be without the aid of an offensive touchdown. It all started when the Cards could not tack on any more points after their initial 20-pt burst. Time & time again Leinart & co. would try to get to the end zone and time & time again they failed. The game started to take on a feeling of "something is going to happen soon", and it soon did. The Bears finally got on the board with a FG halfway thru the 3rd quarter while the Bears D, obviously after a little pep talk at halftime, came out with a vengeance, led by All-Everything LB Brian Urlacher.

Near the end of the 3rd the Cards were pinned deep in their own end of the field when the Chicago D struck: Mark Anderson came at Leinart like a runaway train, smashing into the QB and jarring the ball loose; it was scooped up by Mike Brown who ran it in 3 yards for the score that gave the Bears a glimmer of hope and made the score 20-10 heading into the 4th. Unfortunately for Arizona it would not end there. The Cards looked as if they'd have a big, momentum swinging score when they intercepted Grossman and returned it 73 yards for an apparent score. But the score was overturned (he was down) and the Cards would eventually give it back to the Bears again. That's when the impossible happened and an interesting game turned into an all-timer. With over 5 minutes to go Edge James coughed up the ball near midfield thanks to the omnipresent Urlacher (11 tackles) and recovered at the 40. Charles Tillman scooped it up and ran the 40 yards for theTD and suddenly it was a 20-17 game with just 5:00 to go. Gulp.

"They couldn't blow this, could they?" is all I kept thinking, but despite my disbelief, the Cards could & would blow this. After a 5 play drive stalled the Cards were forced to punt it back to Chicago with about 3:00 minutes to go. Little did they know it would be the end of the game right there. The punt was fielded by rookie Devin Hester who took it at the 17 and raced 83 yards to the other end of the field for the soul-crushing, go-ahead TD that wound up being the final score 23-20. Although the Cards still had a shot, as Leinart drove the team and set up a 40-yd FG attempt with less than a minute to go. But normally clutch kicker Neil Rackers missed the potential game winner for the 2nd week in a row, and the Cards stole a defeat from the jaws of victory. In the blink of an eye the Cards' dynamite play, Leinart's excellent performance, and a ton of good feelings and positive happenings were wiped away and replaced with that familiar "oh no, not again, how did this happen?" feeling. Menawhile the Bears celebrated like it was 1999, somehow miraculously winning this game DESPITE NOT SCORING AN OFFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN.

As I said, I saw it and I know it happened, but I still don't understand how. Evidently neither does Cards coach Dennis Green, who gave an expletive-laced tirade in his postgame press conference before storming out without responding to the meltdown any further. To his credit Leinart remained the consummate pro in the end, saying all the right things and remaining the picture of responsibility and composure, even if his own coach could not do the same. It looks as though the Cards found a keeper in the young stud from Cali. It's too bad the team just can't find a way to win.

NOTES: There were a lot of 'firsts' in this wild one, here are a few:
- Bears became the 1st team in history to come back from 20pts down & win without the benefit of an offensive touchdown
-Cards became the 1st team to lose consecutive games when leading 14-0 after one quarter.
-Edge James became the first player to total so few rushing yards (55) on so many carries (36.)

I'm sure more firsts will come to light, but one thing's for sure: no one will forget the first Monday Night Football game played in the University of Phoenix Stadium. Ever.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Mets even Series with 12-5 bludgeoning of Cards

The New York Lumber Co. made a much-needed appearance as the Mets slug 4 HRs in rout
Mets 12-5
Series: tied at 2
LP: Thompson
HRs: STL:Eckstein, Molina, Edmonds: NYM: Beltran(2), Wright, Delgado

Call it the Carlos & Carlos Show. Or the Wright Brigade. How about the 'Queens Crushers', as a yang to the Bronx Bombers? Whatever you want to call them the New York Mets got right back into this NLCS by doing what many experts, and myself, thought they would do: outslug the Cards with their superior firepower.

It took 4 games but that finally happened as Carlos Beltran (2), Carlos Delgado and David Wright each went deep off of 4 St. Louis hurlers. The vaunted New York offense, which had been averaging under 3runs/game finally had the breakout game everyone was waiting for, especially the Two Carlos'. Beltran continued his single-handed demolition of the Cards with his 2 HR performance; he has 7 HRs against St. Louis in 11 NLCS games against them. I'd say it's about time to give the Pujols/Papi treatment to this guy and walk him in every situation lest he beat your behinds yet again. I mean can any St. Louis pitcher, past or present, get this guy out? Why not bring in Bruce Sutter, Bob Gibson or John Tudor to try and stop this maniac?

The Cards actually jumped out to a 1-run lead against Mets starter Oliver Perez (5.2, 9H, 5R, 3HRs) but that was quickly erased by Beltran's first homer and one out later Wright followed with his homer, his first hit of the series. After the Cards tied it in the 3rd, Delgado (2-4, 5RBIs) untied it with a massive 3-run bomb off of reliever Brad Thompson, who had just come on for starter Anthony Reyes. That swing turned a tight tie game into a rout as it opened the floodgates for a 6-run outburst in the 6th inning that made it 12-3 before St. Louis tacked on a couple more to make it (somewhat) respectable.

So the Mets tied the series at 2, and with major rain scheduled for tonight might be able to have Tom Glavine back on his normal rest for Game 5 .It's now a short (3 game) series, and if the Mets bats stay red-hot, it could be a quick, bitter 3 games for St. Louis.

QUOTES: "When you have good hitters like we do, you're not going to hold us down too often." Mets manager Willie Randolph on his powerful lineup.

-Game 5 tonight has been cancelled due to rain and will be played Tuesday night at 8 on FOX. It is the second game of the NLCS to be postponed by rain; the first, Game 2, benefited St. Louis as it allowed them to use ace Chris Carpenter in Game 2 instead of Game 3. This time the precipitation favors the Mets as they will be able to use their ace, Tom Glavine, on his normal days rest instead of a day early. The flip side is he will not be able for a crucial Game 6 or 7 start, but the Mets can't look that far ahead now.
-Glavine(2-0, 0.00) will be opposed by Jeff Weaver (1-1, 1.69).
-There are questions about the health of Phat Albert's hammy. Suck it up son, it's the NLCS.