Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Legend is Gone: Red Auerbach dead at 89

Legendary Boston Celtics coach & executive Arnold "Red Auerbach died today at the age of 89 from an apparent heart attack.

Auerbach was elected to the Basketball hall of Fame in 1969 on the strength of his 9 championships as a coach (8 in a row from 1959-66) and 7 more as an executive, and for the way he revolutionized the game and made the Celtics into a basketball dynasty.

Famous for his ever-present stogie, which he began lighting up on the court at the end of Celtics wins, Auerbach was both deified by Celtics players & fans and vilified by opposing teams & coaches for his in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style which made the Celtics one of the most feared and respected teams in the NBA for over 4 decades. His 9 NBA titles is a record shared with Phil Jackson, and Red never made any secret about his dislike for Jackson's coaching style and his desire to keep that record for himself. His 938 wins was a league record that stood until Lenny Wilkins overtook him in 1994-95.
Auerbach either coached or drafted some of the greatest players the game has ever seen: Cousey, Russell, Heinsohn, Bird, Mchale, Parish, and DJ. His shoot-from-the-hip style was appreciated in the blue collar city of Boston, especially when it angered the opposing teams. His opinion of the 'dead spots' on the infamous parquet floor in the old Garden showed his true self: "The whole thing was a myth," Auerbach said. "People thought not only that there were dead spots, but that we knew where every one was and we could play accordingly.
"Now, did you ever watch a ballplayer go up and down the court at that speed and pick out a dead spot?" he asked. "If our players worried about that, thinking that's going to help them win, they're out of their cotton-picking mind. But if the other team thought that: Hey, good for us."

Growing up in Beantown I know that Red was seen as an almighty God, lording over the beloved C's and the Garden with an iron fist, a wry smile and a cloud of smoke. He was like Steinbrenner without the pompous bluster and hot-headed hair-trigger personality; when he walked in the Garden and went to his seat, people took notice and respected his presence like he was visiting royalty. There wasn't a soul in the Hub who didn't love, worship and respect him, and his visage at the games will be a sorely missed sight this upcoming season.

Rest in peace, Red. I'll light up a double-corona up in your honor.


Little Team That Could: MVP Eckstein leads Cards to a Championship

One of the smallest guys in the league came up huge in the biggest series in the game and lifted a team of overachievers on his shoulders and carried them to a world title.
Little (5'9") David Eckstein, a former walk-on at Florida and Red Sox prospect who couldn't get out of their farm system became one of the most unlikely World series MVPs in history when he was named the recipient following the Cardinal's 4-2 series-clinching win Friday night.
Eckstein epitomized everything the Cards were about in this series: playing above your head, never giving up, and playing the game the right way. His 4 hits (3 doubles) in the Game 4 series-turning win was really where he won the award, but just for good measure he tacked on a 2-4, 2RBI performance in the clincher. Nobody in their right mind would have thought that A.) The Cards would win, and B.) if they did that a guy not named Pujols, Edmonds or Rolen would be the MVP. But this whole postseason defied all logic, so I guess having a midget with a slingshot arm win the same award that Manny Ramirez won 2 years ago is a fitting conclusion.
Meanwhile the folks in Motown will be scratching their heads over what went wrong and how it went wrong so quickly for a team that was on top of the world a mere 2 weeks ago. They were riding high when Magglio Ordonez won the ALCS with a series-sweeping home run on October 14th. But wrapping up the series that early proved costly for the Tigers as their pitchers were rusty for the World Series, and with a .199 batting average, it appears their hitters were as well.

So where did it all go wrong for the team that 'shocked the world' by knocking off the Stankees in the ALDS and then swept thorough the A's in the ALCS? It started on the mound. Tiger pitchers committed an error in each of the 5 games, a WS record, and Justin Verlander made two, including the play at third base last night that changed the game. With runners on first & second Cardinals starter Jeff no longer an underachiever Weaver laid down a sac bunt. Verlander leapt off the mound, and in a scene reminiscent of every other game in the series, wheeled and threw wide of Brandon Inge at third base. As the ball rattled around the wall Yadier Molina (3-4, 2R) came around to score the tying run, and when Eckstein grounded out to score So Taguchi with the 3rd run the Cards had their winning margin.

Verlander was better than his first outing, but not by much. Although his velocity was there (he hit 100mph on the gun several times) his location was not; he walked 3 batters and threw 2 wild pitches in the first inning! Despite that disastrous inning he came out of it unscathed, but gave up an unearned run (the 8th for Detroit in the series) in the 2nd on a sicle by (who else) Eckstein and an error by Inge.

But the Mayor, Sean Casey, who provided Detroit with all of its offense the past two games, got the lead right back for Detroit. A strange error by left fielder Chris Duncan, where CF Edmonds waved him off until the last second despite the fact that the ball was in left field, allowed Maggs to reach, and Casey knocked the next pitch out of the park for his second 2-run homer in as many nights. But that lead was erased by the Verlander gaffe, and the Tigers never recovered.

That's because other than Casey the Tiger hitters never showed up in the series. The gruesome numbers speak for themselves:

Granderson: 2-21
Monroe: 3-20
Pudge-less: 3-19
Polanc-o for 17

The Tigers batted a measly .199 as a team, the lowest in a 5-game series since the Phillies hit .195 in the '83 series vs. Baltimore. Other than Casey (9-17) and Carlos Guillen & Inge (both 6-17) the Detroit batters were as cold as the record setting temperatures.

Combine ice-cold hitting with piss-poor fielding and mediocre pitching and there you have it, a recipe for World Series failure. To top it all off Smokey Jim Leyaland will have an entire winter to answer the question as to why he went with the rookie Verlander, who had already had a shaky outing in the series and left his star lefty, Kenny Rogers, he of the o.oo ERA, 22 inning scoreless streak and dirty brown palm, on the bench instead of throwing his best pitcher in an elimination game. Leyland had been making all the right moves in the postseason up until the series, but he may have saved his worst decision for the worst possible time.

The Tigers head back to Motown for a long off-season of 'what if's.' Although Leyland has said that they have nothing to be ashamed about, that they came further than anyone expected and got flat out beat by a better team, that is small consolation for a title-starved city that was only 4 wins away from greatness. But after countless mistakes & misfires, and allegations of cheating by their best pitcher, these Tigers will go down in history as a team that was on the verge of having it all, yet walked away with nothing. Weaver became a postseason hero with 8 innings of 4-hit, 1ER, 9K ball in the clincher


College Football Week 9

I never got around to reviewing week 8, between the World series and the Bucs game I attended Sunday, so let me wrap that up first before I move on to this week's action.


MY PICK: Nebraska 28, Texas 27
SCORE: Texas 22-20
The Longhorns were on the ropes, trailing 20-19 with 4:54 to play after a Nebraska halfback option touchdown from Marlon Lucky to Nate Swift. All the 'Huskers had to do was run some clock and then punt it away and force Texas to go the length of the field to win it. But receiver Terrence Nunn fumbled the ball after he gained enough yardage for a first down on 3rd & 3 at their own 36, Texas recovered, and walk-on kicker Ryan bailey booted a 22-yarder for the stunning win. Texas QB Colt McCoy was 25-39, 220 yards, 2TDs, no TOs in his first big road test as Longhorn starter; the 'Horns have now won 16 straight on the road

MY PICK: Tennessee 38, Bama 17
SCORE: Tenn 16-13
The Vols waited until the last minute to pull this one out, and for a while it looked like it would be a second consecutive upset for the Crimson Tide. But when running back Adrian Foster dove into the end zone with 3:28 to go Tennessee could breathe a sigh of relief that the Third Saturday in October had passed without another embarrassing defeat. Vol QB Erik Ainge threw for 302 yards, but he had no TDs & 3 picks, but it was his block of Simeon Castille after his second pick of the QB that sent Castille out of bound and forced 'Bama to settle for a FG that kept the game close. Lesson learned: don't go heavy against 'Bama in this rivalry game.

MY PICK: Clemson 41, GTech 35
SCORE: Clemson 31-7
The purple-clad Tigers laid an old fashioned woodshed beating on the Yellow Jackets, and the offensive numbers Clemson piled up were staggering: 426 total yards, 321 on the ground with James Davis (216) and freshman C.J. Spiller (116 ) doing all the damage.Davis, the sophomore stud ACC rushing & TD leader, had 2 scores, and Spiller, the highly-sought after recruit form the Sunshine State, dazzled the national audience with a 50-yard catch -and-run TD in the 4th quarter when he froze 2 Tech defenders out of their jocks. Davis & Spiller bot ripped off 50 yard runs as well. But the most amazing stat from this game: the underrated Tiger defense (11PPG) held All- Everything junior Jacket receiver Calvin Johnson without a catch for the first time in his career.

MY PICK: Noles 24, BC 21
SCORE: BC 24-19
Well it's all over but the clamoring for Bobby's dismissal in Tally now that the Noles have lost 3 games and 2 home conference games for the first time en route to another disappointing season for the once proud champions. The Jeff Bowden-led offense was ineffective again, amassing just 260 total yards and a paltry 60 on the ground. The Noles had their chances, especially when they were up 10-7 late in the 1st half and were ready to get te ball back on a punt. But a roughing the kicker call gave BC the ball back, and 5 plays later the Eagles scored the go-ahead
TD, 14-10. Still with a chance to keep it close, BC got a huge pick of Drew Weatherford32-48, 326yds, 1TD, 2INT) and returned it 36 yards for a 21-10 lead going into the half that deflated the team and its fans yet again. Booby must go chants, letters & websites are now popping up all over the place. Please, let the legend retire in his own way and get off his back. Besides, it's his
idiot offensive coordinator son who is the problem. Or maybe it was the god-awful(in 90 degree heat) all-black unis!

MY PICK: Rutgers 21, Pitt 17
SCORE:Rutgers 20-10 Greg Schiano's Scarlet Knights
are officially the real deal now after winning a game they would have had no shot at winning just a year ago. But behind the strength of sensational RB Ray Rice (39 carries, 229 yds, 1TD) and the underrated Rutgers defense (5th time in 7 games have allowed 10pts or less) this Scarlet-clad squad has the folks in Piscataway (and the loyal RU fan base nation wide) thinking positive things, like awards and BCS bowls, for the first time in decades. The most impressive thing about this win is that Pitt, the leading offensive team in the Big East behind stud QB Tyler Palko (16-26, 169, 1TD) was held to just 236 total yards, 67 on the ground. Meanwhile the turf-churning Rutgers running attack totalled 268 on the ground, thanks in no small part to Mr. Rice. After a home breather vs, UConn Rutgers will play at Louisville in what could be a conference-deciding showdown on Nov. 9th. Repeat after me- Rutgers is for real, Rutgers is for real, Rutgers is for real...

Michigan State pulls off miraculous, record setting comeback Just when we had all buried the Spartans for being a bunch of underachieving quitters they came back and proved to the world that there is still some fight left in old Sparty. MSU overcame a 38-3 3rd quarter deficit en route to an improbable 41-38 OT victory over the stunned Northwestern Wildcats, who now own the dubious distinction of being the answer to an ignoble trivia question: who allowed the biggest comeback in NCAA history? The Spartans looked dead in the water through 3 quarters as the Wildcats ran roughshod over John L. Smith's disappointing squad. But maybe something snapped when the Spartans were on the verge of complete & total humiliation- blown out by Northwestern- that made them rise up and conquer. Because all of a sudden (and I just watched this one on Classic) there appeared to be a tsunami (pardon the analogy, but that is what it resembled) of offense that took over Michigan State. It was like Groundhogs Day for N'Western: 3 & out, Spartan score; 3 & out, Spartan score; 3 & out, Spartan score. Over & over again that happened again starting at 7:)0 to go in the third quarter and culminating in a Brett Swanson 28 yard FG in OT to win it. Unbelievable game. Watch for it on ESPN Classic; it will be on all the time.

WEEK 9 Games to Watch:

1.) W-rld's La-rgest Outdoo- Coc-tail P-rty
9 Florida vs Georgia @ Jacksonville 3:30 CBS
The powers that be (aka: school presidents, television & advertisers) have declared that their employees may not refer to this classic matchup by its rightful name, due to political correctness. Bullshit, everyone else says. The annual border war between the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators is what it is- a ginourmous outdoor tailgate centered around one of the most heated rivalries in the game.
These two teams, much like FSU/UF, do not like each other, and their fans feel pretty much the same why. My wife & I should know-our good friends, JT & Janet, are a mixed marriage and this day is most tense in the household. Lately it has consisted of a lot of pouting on JT's part & gloating on Gator's part, and if JT's prediction that the Gators, who have won 14 of 16 in the series, are going to "hang half a hundred" on his Dawgs, well then it could make for a nasty hangover for Dawg fans. And also for celebratory Gator fans; hence the nickname of the damn game!
MY PICK: Gators 27-17

8 Tennessee @ South Carolina 7:45
The Old Whining Ballcoach sports an 8-3 record over Tubby Fulmer and his orange-clad boys, dating back to his Florida days when he got off the classic blast "you can't spell Citrus (Bowl) without UT." Now the Vols are the clear favorites, boasting a potent offense (scored over 30 pts 5 times) led by QB Erik Ainge (1959 yards, 14 TDs) and a decent defense. The Gamecocks (5-2) have been disappointments in Spurrier's second season in Columbia, which has been marred by arrests, suspensions, and injuries. In other words, he needs this game BAD. I look for a close game, much like the Vols had with rival Alabama last week, but the superior Tennesse firepower should prevail.
MY PICK: Vols 24-13

3 USC @ Oregon State 3:30 EST
With all the talk surrounding "who should be Number 2? USC has got a lot to prove in this one. The Trojans were passed in the BCS standings by the Wolverines this week for 2nd place thanks to lackluster wins over Washington St, Washington and Arizona State by a combined 19 points. So until they face the red-hot Cal Bears in LA on Nov 18th, USC is going to have to do some serious ass-whipping if they want to hang with the big boys in the BCS race. Although the Beavers are an unimposing 4-3, Corvallis is a tough place to play. But with receiver Dwayne Jarrett back at full strength, he and QB John David Booty better start putting up some impressive numbers for the voters to see.
MY PICK: USC 35- 21


Friday, October 27, 2006

No more Baseball: Cards win the Series

The St. Louis Cardinals complete an improbable run to win their 10th world title, their 1st one since 1982. The forecasters were wrong. The meteorologists who predicted severe thunderstorms would interfere with Games 4 & 5 were proven to be what they are- liars. The baseballologists who predicted an easy Tigers Series victory (yours truly included) were dead wrong as well- 9 out of 10 "experts" on chose the Tigers as their champs.
But the Cardinals completed a near-miraculous run to the title, becoming the team with the 3rd worst regular season record ever (83-79) to hoist the championship trophy. Anyone else see the irony that they won it 2 years to the day that they lost the Series in a 4-game sweep by the Red Sox (was it only 2 years ago?)- cue the Twilight Zone music.

I will have a complete wrap-up of this game and the series tomorrow; I have to do a college football post and also have a Little League tourney at 8:30 AM, so it will have to wait. But the season is over, so there's no hurry.

No more baseball in '06. I know, everyone is really bummed. All 246 of us.


Game 5 Preview

Game 5, 8PM FOX

Verlander vs. Weaver
Cards lead series, 3 games to 1

Rookie Justin Verlander, who was roughed up in Game 1, willtake the mound tonight for the Tigers in a possible elimination game.

Detroit manager Smokey Jim Leyland has had the Midas touch all post season long and has made what some are calling a controversial decision regarding tonight's starter. Rather than go with embattled Kenny The Cheatin' Cameraman Clubber Rogers on his normal 4 days rest, Leyland has elected to "keep the rotation intact" and stick with his hard-throwing rookie righty, despite Verlander's lack of top velocity and poor pitch placement in his opening game outing (5IP, 6H, 2ER). Translated that means the wily veteran manager doesn't want to throw his best pitcher in an elimination game on the road because the guy just got caught brown-handed cheating and he knows the atmosphere at New Busch will be hostile, even for those docile fans.

His reasoning is the Tigers have to win 3 games, not just 1, so Rogers should still get a chance in Game 6. Uh Jimbo, that's looking like a longshot the way your team is throwing the ball around the field like little leaguers and haven't even hit the new, slimmed down Pudge's weight.

The good news for Detroit is that the bats came alive last night (10 hits, 4 runs, 4 XBHs) and they will face Jeff Weaver the Underachiever tonight, so there should be more to come. But will Verlander be able to hold off the suddenly unstoppable Cardinal offense, or will he resemble the rest of the Detroit pitching staff this season- lost.

MY PICK: The Tigers have no quit in them, as evidenced by their skipper who supposedly had quit smoking years ago, only to have claimed to blow through a carton the other night. They will be ready to play tonight no matter who is on the hill, and I look for them to come out with playing no holds barred baseball. of course it will be up to Verlkander to rediscover his stuff and keep them in the game. Weather forecast calls for rain, but it did last night as well, and we all know the f-ing weathermen ARE NEVER RIGHT!

Tigers 5-3.


World Serious: Cards on the brink of a title

SCORE: Cards 5-4

WP: Wainwright

HRs:DET: S. Casey(1)

The Detroit Tigers lost the World Series in the 7th inning of Game 4 last night when they blew a 3-0 lead and went down 4-3. They temporarily got it back again, though, when they rallied to tie it at 4 in the top of the 8th.

But it appears they have lost it for good after they allowed a soul-crushing run off the bat of 'Spark Plug' David Eckstein, his 4th hit of the night, that drove in the game winner and sent Detroit to the verge of elimination in the Series. Down 3-games-to-1 and playing like a team my son's LL squad may face in their tourney later tonight the Tigers have the look of a tired, dazed, clueless and beaten team.

There was so much that went on in this game it was like 4 games in one. It started out looking like a sure Detroit victory, thanks to 1B Sean 'The Mayor' Casey & a re-energized Pudge-less Rodriguez. Casey's(3-4, 1R, 1RBI) homer off of shaky Cards starter Jeff Suppan (6IP, 8H, 3ER, 2BB, 4Ks) in the 2nd inning provided the listless Tiger offense with a much-needed early shot in the arm and a 1-0 lead. He and Pudge-less, who played like a man possessed all night, helped push 2 more runs across in the third; after Grandy led off with a double, his 1st hit of the series, and Guillen walked, Casey hit a 2 out single that scored Grandy, and Pudge followed with a double that plated Guillen for a 3-0 Tiger lead.
But that lead was short-lived. Detroit starter Jermey Bonderman (5.1IP, 6H, 2ER, 4BBs, 4Ks) gave one right back in the bottom of the frame when he allowed a 2-out double to Spark Plug (4-5, 1R, 2RBI-what a perfect nickname for that little scrapper) that scored Aaron Miles, who had walked. Bonderman, who hadn't pitched since the Game 4 clincher of the ALCS Oct. 14th, pitched well enough to get a win but was touched up for another run in the 4th on doubles by Scott Rolen (2-4) and NLCS hero Yadier Molina; suddenly the game was tight, 3-2 after 4.

That's when things got real interesting. The starters held serve for the next 2 innings before giving way to the pens. Now, Detroit was supposed to have the superior bully, so said me & 10,000 other observers, but most of them are young & inexperienced in pressure situations like the World Series. In the 7th Fernando Rodney took over for Detroit and that's when things got crazy. Sparky led off with another double (his 3rd), but not your ordinary double. Grandy slipped on the slick turf heading back for the sharply hit ball, and by the time he whirled around and tracked it down Eckstein was on first base. For many longtime baseball fans the play was eerily reminiscent of the play in Game 7 of the 1968 Series played between these two teams, when Cardinal centerfielder Curt Flood slipped while tracking a ball hit by Detroit's Jim Northrup; Northrup had a triple, the winning run scored and the Cards lost the series because of that play. Thirty eight years later, with many players from those 2 squads sprinkled throughout the stadium, Grandy's play appeared to have cost Detroit the Series as well. Because as So Taguchi came up to bunt him over, a funny thing (and for Detroit I mean awful) happened on the way to the sacrifice- Rodney lobbed the ball over to first and it sailed into right field as Sparky came scurrying all the way around to tie the game at 3. It was the 4th error by a Detroit pitcher in the series, which have resulted in 6 unearned runs. Yikes. But it wasn't over there. After intentionally walking Phat Albert, Rodney then struck out Edmonds & Rolen. Out of the jam, right? Wrong. Preston Wilson singled to left and Taguchi scored, and although Inge cut off the ball and nailed Pujols off of first, if the ball had gone through I believe that Taguchi would have been so dead at the plate- the way Pudge-less was playing (must've gone on another cycle) he would have thrown Taguchi off the plate to keep him from scoring. 4-3 Cards, and the Series seemed to be slipping away from the Tigers right in front of our eyes.

But the never-say-die Tigers came back to tie it again in the 8th. Rodriguez hustled his way to a leadoff double and after Polanco (0-3, 0-13 in the Series) grounded out, Inge doubled him in off of Cards closer Adam Wainrwright for a huge rallying score. Alas for the Tigers and their fans that euphoria was not to last long.

Joel Zumaya came in in the 8th for Detroit and looked as shaky he did in his previous outing. He
immediately walked Molina, then got a FC groundout and a strikeout. But the new Tiger curse (called horrible pitching & hitting & bad defense) came back to strike again when Zumaya's wild pitch got Aaron Miles (who was safe on the FC) to second base, and then that little sucker Sparky hit another rope to the outfield that a Tiger had trouble with. This time it was left fielder Craig Monroe, who raced over & back to left center, leaped, and had the ball glance off the end of his glove. Run scored, game over, Series most likely over as well
Pick one- the slip by Grandy, the error by Rodney, the ball off of Monroe's glove- any of the above could be considered game-changing, monumental plays- and they all came by one team in a 2-inning span. Crazy.

Duh, I think that would be the little engine that could, David 'Sparky' Eckstein. His 4 hits were all big, but those two momentum-swinging doubles in the 7th & 8th are the stuff playoff legends are made of. Fitting the game ended the game on a groundout to 'short.'

Again, pick one- Rodney, Zumaya, Grandy, Polaco-fer, Bondereman are all good candidates. But I would have to go with Rodney. If you can't throw the ball from the mound to first base, well no wonder you get no respect.

"I went to plant my feet and they just went out from under me. It was just a freak thing. If I stand up, I catch it easily." Granderson on his misstep

For Detroit it's win or go home. The will most likely send Verlander to the mound to oppose Weaver. But with heavy rain in the forecast for Friday night, the Tigers could be staring at another off night to sit back and ponder the dire situation they are in.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Set the DVR to Hyperdrive Mr. Sulu!

Another Thursday night of quality TV viewing, with 2 sporting events and 2 shows that will dominate the viewing.

World Series Game 4, 8PM FOX
They hope to get this one in tonight- they monsoons that forced the postponement of Game 4 last night have apparently let up, and the powers that be think they will be able to play this evening. If there are no more delays, the pitching matchup should be Jeremy Bonderman for Detroit vs. Jeff Suppan for St. Louis. Bonderman(1-0, 3.00) is already rusty since he hasn't pitched in 2 weeks, and we know this has already posed a problem for Tiger hurlers (see; Verlander, Zumaya.) But another weather delay could leave playoff stud Suppan (1-1, 1.86) with only 1 start in the Series. Double-edged sword, anyone? Meanwhile Smokey Jim Leyland (he said he smoked a carton of cancer sticks during the 2+ hr rain delay last night-hopefully he was kidding) has mixed up his struggling lineup- the o-for-the-series trio of Granderson (1st), Polanco (3rd) and Pudge-less(6th) has been moved around a bit: Grandy will still leadoff, but Polanco will move to 7th & Carlos Guillen to the 3rd spot.
Last night's rain out was the first Series rain out since 1996 (ATL/NYY GM 1)- let's hope there isn't another, like 1976 when the Sox/Big Red machine classic was delayed 3 days before the infamous Carlton Fisk Game 6 could unfold.

College Football: 10 Clemson @ Va. Tech 7:45, ESPN
Clemson is suddenly looking like an imposing force after their 31-7 beatdown of Georgia Tech last Saturday. In that game the Tigers rushed for 321 yards, most from the deadly duo of James Davis (216yds, 2TDs) & CJ Spiller (116yds, 1TD) and they are catching the Hokies at a good time- they were thrashed by BC 22-3 two weeks ago but got a little healthier with a 36-6 win over So. Miss. At 5-2 (their other loss was to that same GTech team that Clemson trounced) the Hokies have been a major disappointment, but the combination of Clemson having the short week and playing at notoriously brutal (for visitors) Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, I have a funny feeling Tech might give the new kids on the ACC block a game tonight. I just hope the Tigers burned those hideous purple crayola unis!
MY PICK: Hokies 26-22 (there will be a safety)

The Office/My Name is Earl 8-9PM, NBC
As I posted yesterday we didn't watch last weeks' due to scheduling conflicts, so I have those stored already. I'll record these tonight and watch them back-to-back, but probably not till late. Too much sports.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

World Series PPD- time to blogon

Game 4 of the World Series was postponed tonight due to nasty storms in the St. Louis area. That's not the worst news, though: more, possibly more severe, storms are expected for the next 2 days at least. Already tonight's postponement has eliminated the off travel day on Friday, compacting the final 4 (possible) games to Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun. Another day or 2 of rain and we could be looking at the series sliding into next week, meaning we could have Series games on Halloween &/or November 1st. The only other time the Fall Classic was played in the early winter of the 11th month was in 2001 due to 9/11.
This is the result of both the extra round of playoffs, the Divisional Series that were added with the Wild Card in 1995, and the obnoxious television networks like FOX that pay gazillions of dollars to put one game on at only at night for a month (except for a couple of the DS games.)

Anyway, I thought this would be a good time to do a miscellaneous rant/post just to get some things off my chest and onto this page. I'm not sure if this will make much sense because I am still suffering lingering effects of my stressful day Sunday. I feel somewhat like A-Ben-dicitis must feel, minus the bone-crushing hit and reconstructed jaw. Is it possible to drink/yell/sweat yourself into a concussion or some other kind of head trauma? If there's a doctor out there reading, let me know.

-Speaking of my state of mind, I pick up my paper today (which, by the way, is the "newly restyled" St. Petersburg Times; evidently "newly restyled" means lopping off an inch off the page so I feel like I'm holding a pamphlet and enough colors, graphs & website links to make it look like USAToday on Nandro) and what do I see but an article about flavored beers. All of my faithful readers surely remember that in my Bucs game post, one of the causes I attribute my near blackout & lingering hangover to was the god-awful pumpkin beer I was forced to sample at a pre-game tailgate (by forced I mean it was free and they were out of Bud Light.) Well lo & behold this article , about how Anheuser-Busch & Miller are introducing flavored beers to compete with microbreweries and craft brewers, has a list of the Top 10 flavored beers in 2005. And what do you think (after plain) was #2? Give that person a prize, it was FREAKIN' PUMPKIN BEER! Are these people serious? That crap tasted like cough medicine, Thanksgiving dessert and Lysol. My buddy JT and I thought "how bad can it be?" Two sips later we had the answer. And it was the No.2 flavored beer in the country last year?! Wow.

"This really tastes like shit"

-What my Wife & I are watching:
Not just my usual Top 5 TV show list here, but a current, up-to-the-minute record of what we are watching nightly right now.

1.(TIE):MLB Playoffs & Dancing with the Stars
Both events are dominating the sets at this time, and on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, usually simultaneously. I am a baseball fan at heart and I don't care who is playing- it's baseball, it's meaningful, it's (usually) being played at a high level, and sometimes you get Kenny Rogers-level controversy. No matter who is playing in the Fall Classic, this fan is watching. Unless it's the Subway Series; that was blacked out in my house.
But DWTS is merely taking over the nation. My son watches with my wife, parents at the LL ballfield are checking their watches and yelling at the kids to hurry the game up so they can get home and see who got eliminated (it was Jerry Springer tonight-no controversy there), and "stars" on the show are gushing about what a life-altering mega experience it is to them. All this for some ballroom dances? The answer, for 20+ million people, appears to be yes. And although I am not a diehard fan, there is something about the combination of C-list celebs & their professional dancers, with their chemistry, camaraderie, and coquettishness that makes this little phenomenon magical. Ah, who am I kidding- it's the outfits. Put them in dorky clothes and you've got American Karaoke on a wooden floor, and I'm never setting eyes on it.

2.) Prison Break
Suspension of disbelief is not just a suggestion, it's a requirement as the writers seem to be throwing every thriller cliche into a blender then throwing them against the wall to see what sticks. Some of the twists work (Agent Mahone secretly working for Agent Evil & the President-awesome!), and many more don't (Sucre's leg caught under a log- I think I saw that on a cartoon; T-Bag duping Michael with the $5 mil- c'mon Michael has more brains than that, doesn't he?) But like DWTS, there is something that keeps pulling the viewer back every week, whether it's the fast pace, solid cast, good-vs.-evil plot or flat-out fun escapism. Who am I kidding, I know my wife only watches for the "hot-hot-hottie" brothers Michael & Linc. Although trying to follow all the twists and turns caused her to invent a new word the other night when she blurted out "I'm stuped!", which I took to be a mishmash of stupified & stumped. Honey, that sums this show up brilliantly!

3.) Help Me Help You
We were skeptical of this show at first, mainly because it stars Ted Danson, who ruined himself for TV comedy forever when he hung up Mayday Malone's hairpiece, Jere Burns, who hasn't been funny since Dear John, and a bunch of no names. Except for Jane Kaczmarek, who plays Danson's soon-to-be ex-wife. Danson plays Dr. Bill Hoffman, a pompous, arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic therapist who is loonier than his cuckoo patients. They include Inger, an Asian woman with commitment issues; Dave (Jason Ritter), a shy guy with mommy issues; Johnathan, a bald little married dude who looks like Michael Stipe and is in denial over his true sexual preference; Jere Burns as hot tempered, no-BS businessman Michael, who gives it to them straight and is screwing around with mousy-but-sex crazed Darlene, who has the hots for Dr. Hoffman. The chemistry between the always-terrific Kaczmarek as Anne and Danson is great, the jokes are hilarious (Bill to the group: "can we put the genitalia discussion on the back burner, please?") and the episode with Bills' band of goofball therapists, named Pink Freud, was worth the whole season alone. This show is finding its footing, and my wife and I are really starting to enjoy it; the time slot after Tuesdays DWTS ep (9:30, ABC) doesn't hurt, either. Check it out.

4. & 5) The Office & My Name is Earl
The only reason The Office isn't higher is because we haven't watched it in a week due to the above mentioned items as well as our son's school projects & baseball games. I still have it on the DVR, and I plan on watching that ep & this weeks' show back to back tonight. No doubt that will catapult the show back to the number one spot next week, because it is the best show on television, hands down.
I also have about 3 eps of Earl to catch up on, but the way this season started, I have a feeling it's going to be dropping out of the top 5, not climbing up.

-Wanted to let you sports fans know about an excellent column called the UniWatch by Paul Lukas. It is totally dedicated to all things related to sports uniforms, including caps, jerseys, gloves, socks, logos, emblems, cleats and anything else that an athlete wears on his body. I caught onto this column when it became a semi-monthly feature column on a couple of years ago; it has since been given its own site, and the compilations & information contained make for fascinating, entertaining, and informative reading. Recently two of UniWatch's columns have gotten heavy press- the one about the Detroit Tigers Old English script "D" not having one design, but 3 or 4 different variations all being worn by the Tigers at once has caught everyone's eye now that the "D" is being seen worldwide in the Series. Also the article notes that Kenny the Cheater has been wearing a darker, BP cap during games all season, an MLB no-no and a perfect place to hide his pine tar stash-busted! But this incredible column about Bill Buckner wearing a Cubs batting glove underneath his regular glove in Game 6 of the '86 Series nearly blew me off my feet. Not only was he muffing a routine grounder that cost the Bosox the game & Series, but he had a Cubbies batting glove that was at least 4-5 years old underneath the glove that missed the ball! As the kids like to say, "double jinx!" Great stuff. So if you are interested in arcane facts like how 30 Major league teams have logo discrepancies, you'll get a kick out of this site.

-My Fabulous Sports Weekend, Part II
Last weekend it was a football tripleheader (went to a High school & pro game, watched a ton of college) but this weekend is going to be a little different. Friday night I will be coaching in my son's Little League Tournament, starting Friday night at 6:00. We will most likely play 2 games Friday night in the 10-team, inter-county tourney, and then right back out there Saturday morning for 2 or 3 more, depending on how we do. Last spring we played in one of these and the boys made it all the way to the final game, where the exhausted kids finally succumbed to the combo of blazing heat & playing 5 games in less than 24 hours. But it was great fun and I am looking forward to it almost as much as he is (actually he was a little disappointed because he had so much fun at the Largo High football game last week he wanted to go to the homecoming game this Friday!) So that takes care of FRI/SAT (I will come home & crash on the couch and ingest about 12 straight hours of college football/World Series baseball after it's over) but on Sunday I hope to be attending on of my favorite annual are sporting events: The Chrysler Championship PGA Tour Event played at beautiful Innisbrook Country Club in Palm Harbor. I am not an avid golfer like the majority of my Florida buddies (Bob, JOE, JT...), in fact I've only golfed twice, both times at my good friend, the late, great Chicago Bob Allen's home course, Seminole Lakes CC. But there is something about attending a PGA event that gets my blood going. I think it's the mixture of beautiful scenery, up-close access to PGA pros, the leisurely pace & subdued crowds (as opposed to the concussion-inducing football games), and Michelobs in those cool new bottle/cans. Because the last few years have been hot enough to consume multiple beverages while trudging around the gigantic course. But it is great fun; the big-name pros usually make it to the event because it offers a large payoff (nearly a mil)- this year Goosen, Els, Vijay & Adam Scott will be there, last year Lefty & DL III were there- and they are extremely accommodating to the fans (although that's because Tiger hasn't been there yet), as the autos of Vijay & Goosen adorning the walls of my Sports Den can attest to.

No, that is not me standing next to Retief.

(I was illegally snapping the picture)

All I can say is thankfully the weather has changed to fall-like conditions so there will be no repeat of last weekend's blackout. My wife & I tackled that Copperhead course last year in the sweltering heat and nearly had to be hospitalized with heatstroke.

But one thing's for certain this weekend- I will not come within a 300-yard drive of Pumpkin Beer- or else I might really feel stuped!


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

World Series Game 3: Cards take control

SCORE: Cards, 5-0
SERIES: Cards 2-1


Cardinals ace (how many times has he been called that lately) Chris Carpenter did just what he has done at new Busch Stadium all year- shut down the opponent. The man with the fiber optic-thin 1.81 home ERA continued his mound mastery tonight as he made the Tiger cubs his latest victims. Shaking off 2 poor NLCS starts Carpenter looked like the soon-to-be 2-time Cy Young winner that he is; he limited Detroit's suddenly struggling lineup to just 3 hits in 8 innings while throwing just 82 pitches, striking out 6 and walking none. In fact the guy didn't even allow a 3-ball count to a Tiger batter all night. How's that for coming out and dominating a game?
Detroit starter Nate Robertson (5IP, 5H, 2ER, 3BBs, 3Ks) wasn't awful, but he was in a couple of jams early and definitely did not look sharp. Chalk it up to yet another Detroit hurler (along with
Verlander & Zumaya) who certainly appeared to be rusty after nearly 2 weeks of inactivity.

Carpenter got all the support he would need in the 4th, when the Cards loaded the bases on a single by Preston Wilson, a ground rule double by Phat Albert and a walk to Scott Rolen. After a fielder's choice by Belliard cut down Wilson at the plate on a nice play by Inge, Jim Edmonds laced a double down the right field line scoring 2 huge runs that set the tone for the rest of the night. That tone would be that St. Louis would not need any more runs in this one, because their best pitcher, and one of the best in the game, was pitching like it again.

Meanwhile the Tiger hitters, especially the trio of Grandy-Polanco-Pudge(less), were toothless again. That threesome is now a combined 0-34 in the series- they are the only things colder in Detroit than the weather. Talk about chocking on the biggest stage; these guys are making E-Rod look like Reggie Jackson. And the Tigers continued to play sloppy defense; the game was officially decided in the 7th inning when flamethrower Joel Zumaya came on in relief. The hard-throwing righty must have been rusty from his 2 week layoff after coming down with wrist trouble in the ALDS. He immediately walked the 1st 2 batters, then had to face Pujols with no outs & 2 on; he pitched Albert well, and got him to hit a comebacker to the mound. But Zumaya wheeled and threw to third, behind Inge, who was scrambling to get to the bag, and the ball went down the leftfield line for a devastating 2-run error that put the game away. It was the 3rd error by a Detroit pitcher in the series, 5th error overall by the normally sure handed Tigers. The Cards,meanwhile, who had made an error in 4 consecutive games, played flawlessly in the field.

Terrific pitching, timely hitting, and a critical error all adds up to a 2-1 Cardinal lead in the series.

Zumaya's error. Although Edmonds' was the deciding hit, the error was a double-edged psychological blow for Detroit: it made a 2-run deficit a 4-run deficit with 2 innings to go, and it proved that the once-unhittable reliever could be scored upon, not to mention what the after-effects of such a blunder on the grand stage of the Series will do to his psyche.

Carpenter. Once again Edmonds had the biggest hit of the night, but without Carpenter's performance the Cars might not win that game. Him stepping up at the right moment was the kind of lift a team can use as a springboard to a championship.


Zumaya. He took a workable deficit and turned the game into a near-rout with his horrible performance. His line (1IP, 0H, 2R, 2BBs, 1K, 1 BIG 'E') was awful, and his error was even worse. I am not faulting him for trying to get the lead runner, like McCarve-job was doing (he kept saying that almost every time in that situation the pitcher would go to second base, not third.) Hey, it was a 2-run game and he was trying to get the force at third to keep the man from being 90 ft from home plate- no problem there. But his throw was so bad, wide and behind the helpless Inge, that it made for one of those unforgettable World Series moments.

NOTES: While the Tiger middle of the lineup is 0-34 (including a frigid 0-12 from ALCS MVP Polanco), the supposedly hurting Cards triumvirate of Pujols, Edmonds & Rolen are a combined 11-31 (.354) with 8 runs, 7RBis, 6 BBs & 2 HRs. That's getting it done.

No words necessary for this one.

The Tigers will try to regroup behind righty Jeremy Bonderman, who hasn't pitched in 10 days (uh-oh) but brings a 1-0 record and 3.00 ERA to the mound. He will be opposed by Jeff "Big Game" Suppan, who is 1-1 with a 1.86 ERA including his gem (8IP, 3H, no runs) in Game 7 of the NLCS vs. New York. Should be a good one, and one that The Tigers desperately need if they want this thing to go back to Detroit.


Must See Reality TV

A double dose of compelling reality TV takes place tonight, and I will be glued to one while keeping an eye on (parts) of the other.

1.) Dancing with the Scantily Clad Semi-Celebrities
Last week's episode (from what I saw) ended in a semi-controversy when they did not eliminate anyone thanks to country singer Sara Evans' sudden departure mid-week. Evidently her husband is a sick pervert who not only pulled a Jude Law (slept w/ the nanny) but had over 100 naked pictures of himself in various states of arousal on his computer. Okay then. So, much to Jerry Springer's chagrin (does he look like he's gonna keel over at any time now or what?) there was no elimination and all the couples will be back tonight; they will dance twice, 2 different dances. Jerry may bite it in this episode- better get the defibrillator ready, stat. There are 5 duos left, and the fave is now Mario Lopez and his honey, err trainer, Karina. But I personally prefer the girl from High School Musical, Monique Coleman; she's got attitude, charisma, stage presence, and quite a set of dancer's gams. I really don't care who wins- all I know is whoever designs the costumes deserves an Emmy!

2.) World Series Game 3 8PM, FOX

"See, I got pine tar on the top of my hands, too"

All eyes will be on all palms of the pitchers thanks to Kenny The Cameraman Clubber & baseball's latest (non) scandal, Dirtgate. The players will attempt to divert the focus of the series away from splotches of foreign substances on pitchers' hands and redirect everyone's attention back to the play on the field. The series is tied at 1 game apiece, and the 2 pitchers starting tonight both have big question marks: Chris Carpenter of the Cards may have had a Cy Young regular season, but his postseason numbers so far(2-1, 3.70) have more resembled Cy Sperling. The Tigers counter with Nate Robertson, a filthy pitcher when he's on, but he hasn't pitched in 2 weeks, so it's anyone's guess what he's going to bring to the mound at new Busch Stadium tonight. Plus who knows what else you might see. Maybe Pujols bat will shatter sending superballs screaming throughout the park.

MY PREDICTION: (from yesterday) Since Carpenter had the best home ERA in the majors (1.81) this season, and the Cards will be hungry to give their crowd a home Series victory after losing both games in '04, I like St. Louis to come out firing on all cylinders and erase the memories of Dirtgate.
Cards 6-2.

As I always tell my wife, sports are THE ultimate reality television.



I had to postpone my column for one day due to the fact that much like a couple of Super Bowl QBs I was still very groggy from my game experience the day before. In fact I am still feeling the after effects today, although not as bad. But the post must go on, so here is a wrap up of what went on around the league this weekend (Bucs game excluded, scroll down for that review.)


Chargers lose game, but more importantly LB Merriman
As if losing 30-27 to a Chiefs team that had been humiliated 41-7 by Pittsburgh a week earlier wasn't bad enough, the Chargers got word that star LB & reining Defensive Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman has tested positive for steroids and faces a 4 game suspension. The news is a critical blow to a team that has already lost 3 key defensive players for illicit reasons: gunshot wounds suffered during a drunk driving arrest(LB Steve Foley); felony selling of prescription cold medicine (S Terrence Kiel); and an arrest for domestic violence (CB Markus Curry.) Now the heart & soul of the defense, a kid who set the league on fire last season when he had 10 sacks & 54 tackles as a rookie out of Maryland is charged with taking the banned steroid nandrolone and, pending appeal, faces a mandatory 4 game suspension for a first time offender. Merriman claims the 'roid was in a supplement he has been taking forever and he had no idea the nadro was in it, blah, blah, blah... c'mon dude, my 9-year-old could probably deduce what stuff is bad and what stuff is legal because there is so much coverage of this nowadays. Next thing you know he's going to say the jar had dirt on it and the dirt got on his hand and...
Congrats, Shawne; you're reputation for being a feared defensive force who played the game hard & the right way is now tainted forever. (Note: he will continue to play pending an appeal, said to be Nov. 9th.)

Big trouble in Big D
Pity poor Tuna Parcells, T.O. D. and all the rest of those overconfident, holier-than-thou Cowboy players & fans, for the team they have got down there in Irving is now an unmitigated disaster; word on the streets has FEMA ready to show up at any time. The Cowboys not only lost the game last night on MNF to their hated NFC East rival Giants, 36-22, they also lost their starting QB, their realistic hopes at winning the division, and possibly Parcells' reign on the team. The Boys looked flat & sloppy from the get-go, trailing 9-0 early after a 50-yd TD bomb from Eli to Plexiglass and a safety by LaVar Missingman, the second time Bledsoe was blindsided on a sack. But they had a shot to take the lead before the half when they drove all the way to the NY 15 , only to see Bledsoe throw a horrendous ball that CB Sam Madison easily picked; it would end up being the INT that may have ended Bledsoe's career as a Cowboy. Tuna tabbed fan-fave Tony Romo to start the 2nd half, but he fared no better-his first pass was picked off and turned into a FG 50 seconds later. Owens also dropped a critical 4th down pass when he was wide open, and Bledsoe was shown stewing on the sideline the remainder of the game. Ugly scene right now in Big D, not that anyone outside of Cowboy Nation gives is shedding a tear for this sorry bunch.

Super Bowl QBs go down with injuries

Adding injury to insult: Seahawks blown out and lose QB Hasslebeck
As if losing at home to the Vikings by a score of 31-13 weren't bad enough the Seahawks lost starting quarterback Matt Hasslebeck to an apparent right knee injury. Hasslebeck was injured with the score tied at 10 early in the3rd quarter after Minnesota LB E.J. Henderson rolled up on his leg after a play; although it was a similar-looking play to the one that knocked Carson Palmer out of last years' playoff game, Henderson was blocked into the QB and did not intend to injure him. Small consolation for 'Hawks fans as the team is still reeling from the loss of 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander, who may return next week after missing 3 games with a broken foot.
After the injury the Vikes proceeded to rip off 21 unanswered points mostly thanks to the running of Chester Taylor. Taylor rushed for a career-high 169 yards, including a back-breaking 95-yarder that turned a 7-point game into a 14-pt deficit to start the 4th quarter; with backup QB Seneca Wallace handing off to backup RB Maurice Morris (49yds), Seattle had no chance. So the 'Hawks face the prospect of playing at least the next 3 games without their field general, and although they have a cake schedule the rest of the way (OAK, SF, GB, AZ) they will still face a tough road back to the Bowl. It looks like Deion Branch won't be returning, either.

Roethlisberger's season of misery continues
Pittsburgh and Atlanta played a whopper of a game on Sunday as the Falcons and Steelers played what looked like an Arena League or Madden version of NFL football. The quarterbacks were on fire, especially in the first half: both Steeler QB A-Ben-dicitis (16-22, 238, 3TDs) & Falcon run&gunner Mike Vick (18-30, 232, 4TDs) tossed 3 TDs in the first half and the receivers they were throwin to had field days as well: Pitt's Hines ward(8recs, 1171 yds, 3TDs, 1 lost shoe) and Atlanta's Algae in the tank Crumpler(6recs, 119 yds, 3TDs.) The teams traded scores in a wild game that was tied at 38 after regulation, and Atlanta would eventually win on a 32-yard FG in OT. But by then A-Ben-dicits was long gone, having been on the receiving end of a nasty helmet-to-helmet collision from Chauncey Davis early in the 3rd quarter; Big Bend was knocked out cold and had to be removed from the field on the cart. He was later seen cheering on backup Charlie Batch & his mates from the sidelines with his hat on backwards, a sight that might as well become the official team photo for this miserable (2-4) post-Super Bowl season.In case you lost track Roethlisberger has now been a hood ornament in an off-season motorcycle accident, had his appendix removed in the preseason, and now this. I wouldn't want to be around this guy when the season is over (oh yeah, it already is.)
Now I've got it-it's the 'guys who are too old
to wear their hat-on-backwards' curse

Legit or Git?
Inspired by the awesome ESPN segment Contender/Pretender (and you guys know how much I love those cheesy ESPN segments) I have come up with my own way of describing the cream of the crop & the rest of the slop in the NFL. Thanks to my 19-year old stepson for supplying me with the word "git', which loosely translated means a loser, nerd, or wannabe.

LEGIT: New England (5-1)
The Pats are quietly and efficiently (as usual) creeping up on the rest of the AFC, thanks partly to an easy schedule and the improved play of the drastically-changed team. The Pats are now tied with nemesis Denver for the 2nd best record in the AFC (the Colts are on their usual "Regular Season Wonders" 6-0 run) and after their sound 28-6 thumping of Buffalo in Orchard Park appear to be in comfortable control of a playoff spot. Tom Terrific was his usual understated-but-effective self (18-27, 195yds, 2TDs, no INTs) and Corey Dillon ran for 2 scores. The still-gelling defense held the NFLs 5th leading rusher, Willis Magahee, to a mere 59 yards on 20 carries, for a wimpy 2.9YPC with a long run of 8 yards, and they forced Bills QB JP Lostman into committing 3 turnovers (2 fumbles, 1 INT.) Plus Brady found his 2 new receivers (Chad Jackson & Doug Gabriel) for touchdowns.
After 2 tough games coming up (@MIN on MNF, @ home vs. Colts) their soft December schedule (DET, MIA, HOU, TEN) should help the Pats lock up a top-seed playoff spot.

GIT: Philly(4-3)
From kings of the league to 2-time hard luck losers in two weeks time the Eagles have been exposed as a one-dimensional, flawed, and sometimes poorly coached team. Last week they handed the game to the Saints and let them kick a deflating game-winning FG at the buzzer; this week, we all know what happened at Ray Jay ( I sorta remember) as they allowed the 2nd longest game-winning FG in NFL history in their meltdown in the Tampa heat. Both times questionable clock management by coach Andy Reid led to the losses. But the real problem is the Eagles are so predictable-it's McNabb scrambling to make plays and Westbrook (when he's healthy) trying to break off a big run (which he did against the ancient & clueless Buc defense.)
Although they are not better off with T.O.D., they most certainly need to upgrade their receiver position in order to compete in the playoffs. But with a killer sched remaining (@IND, @NYG, CAR, ATL) they might not have to worry about that.

LEGIT: Denver(5-1)
They may have a horrible quarterback but their defense is the real deal; after their ho-hum 17-7 victory over hapless Cleveland this D has allowed a paltry 44 points in 6 games for a minuscule 7.3 PPG. They would have had a shutout this week, too, if Jake the Fake hadn't thrown a 4th quarter INT that led to an easy Browns score- it was only the 2nd TD the unit had allowed all season! Talk about putting the 'D' in Denver. This team may be as close to the 2000 Ravens as far as 'let the D win the game & don't let the QB blow it' mentality that won them a Super Bowl than any we've seen since. But I still don't think they can win it with Plummer behind center. Although if Baltimore could do it with Dilfer, I guess anything's possible.

GIT: Jacksonville (3-3)
Remember when the Jags were being lauded as a sure-fire Super Bowl contender? Neither do I as J'Ville got blown out by the woeful Texans 27-7 this week, their 2nd awful loss in 3 weeks. What happened to that staunch defense that held opponents to 12PPG the first 3 weeks? Now they have allowed 36 to Washington & 27 to a Houston squad that had been averaging 14 PPG. Plus the Texans had been allowing a league-worst 418YPG coming in; they gave up only 22o to Byron Leftwich and the rest of the Jags offense. The Texans had not had a back rush for over 60 yards all season until the artists formerly known as the Jacksonville D-line let unheralded rookie Wali Lundy run for 93 yards and a score; Houston ran for a season high 131 yards on the ground. Yikes! All these things, plus upcoming dates with Indy, New England and the Giants add up to another season without a championship in J'Ville.
Alright, that's all I got folks. Time to go pop a few more Advil and adjust my backwards cap.


Monday, October 23, 2006

World Series Gm2: Tigers even it up

Score: Tigers 3-1
Series: Tied at 1
WP:Rogers (3-0)
LP:Weaver (2-2)
HRs:DET: Monroe(5)

The Tigers won a game they had to have in order to keep this Series from getting away from them. But the talk of the night and today is focused the foreign substance on Tiger starter Kenny The Cameraman Clubber Rogers' hand. A foreign substance was detected by Fox cameras on Rogers' left palm in the first inning, which was believed to be seen by Cardinal players in the clubhouse, who then alerted manager Tony LaRussa and the umpires. After much discussion and confusion, Rogers came out for the second inning with the questionable spot removed. But the debate was just beginning: what was it on Rogers' palm, why was he allowed to remove it, and how long has the spot been there? After all, the split screen picture above shows an near-identical spot on the rejuvenated lefty's palm in the ALCS vs. Oakland (left side)as well as last night. Hmmmm. Rogers claims it was "a big clump of dirt" he got on his hand due to the damp ground & resin bag and that when he noticed it he washed it off without being told to do so by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez.

But Tiger manager Jim Leyland and supervisor of umpires Steve Palermo both said that Rogers was told by Marquez to wash the substance off. Hmmm. And if it truly was a clump of dirt, how was that identical clump of dirt on the hurler's hand in the previous series?

Look, let's get real here and quit pussyfooting around the issue:Rogers cheated. He entered this postseason with the highest ERA of any pitcher in history (8.85) and he has now, after allowing no runs in 8 innings last night, pitched 23 consecutive scoreless innings in this postseason. That streak is the 6th longest in baseball history, 3rd longest in one postseason run. He has been busted with a foreign brown substance on his pitching hand in not one but two playoff series and suddenly gone from pitching like Gerald Ford to Whitey Ford when the calendar turns to autumn. And everyone wants to blow it off and blame it on some dirt? That's a pile of horsecrap. This guy was blatantly cheating and should have been called out for it and tossed from the game, if not the series. Everyone wants to sweep this under the rug because it would ruin a feel-good story, the kind baseball so desperately craves, and divert attention away from an entertaining postseason. It would be yet another black eye for a sport still recovering from steroid scandals, All Star Game fiascos and the recent death of Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle.

But let's call it like it is. I never believed that Rogers had turned himself around to become this grandfatherly leader of men, model citizen and all-around good guy. Is he the first pitcher to use pine tar on his hand, especially in cold weather, in order to grip the ball better? Hell no. But he is the one allegedly doing it now, in the midst of a marvelous postseason run for his Tigers, and by doing so he threatens to wash away all the good things Detroit has worked so hard to accomplish all season. There is no doubt in my mind he is cheating- the guy mauled a cameraman for crying out loud, what's a little pine tar on the hand to him?-and there is also no doubt in my mind that every player on both teams knows he did it. But everyone, including the Cardinal players & manager and MLB officials, appear willing to let it blow over, so what's done is done. The next chapter in this story will be in Game 6 when Rogers is scheduled to take the hill again. And you can travel to Vegas & bet the house that his hands will be cleaner than a surgical instrument.
As for the game the Tigers wasted no time in getting to Cards starter Jeff Weaver (5IP, 9H, 3R, 1BB, 5Ks.) Emerging star Craig Monroe, who is making up for spending 6 years in the minors, picked up where he left off in Game 1 when he hit the 1st pitch of the 9th inning for a confidence boosting home run. This time he hit the 1st pitch of the 1st inning for a one-out moon shot off of Weaver the Underachiever to give Detroit that early lead they so badly needed to help erase the memories of the 7-2 Gm 1 beating. Monroe now has 5 homers this postseason, matching Detroit legend Hank Greenberg's record. The more I see of him & Granderson the more I love those guys.

Detroit added another run that inning on an RBI double by Carlos Guillen (3-3, 1R, 1RBI) and that ended up being all The Cheater would need to pick up the win. Detroit added an insurance run in the 5th on a Sean Casey singled, which made it a little easier to stomach the horrendous job Todd Jones did in the 9th. he allowed the only cardinal run on 2 hits, his own error and a HBP, but ended it on a groundout with the bases loaded. he then went into the postgame presser and said the substance on Rogers' hand could have been chocolate cake. Ha ha.

KEY PLAY: Monroe's homer. It set the tempo and gave the Tigers confidence that they could get to Weaver in this one. It also gave Rogers an early lead, and with that loaded up palm, that would be all he needed.

HERO: Guillen. He was a homer short of the cycle, was involved in all the Tigers scoring plays and the natural SS is playing phenomenal defense at first in place of Casey.

GOAT: Rogers. He has taken all the attention away from the Tigers win, the Series, and his own phenomenal run by involving talk of cheating and fair play. Nice job, Dirtman.

NOTES: The last time a pitcher was ejected for an illegal substance in the playoffs was Los Angeles Dodger reliever Jay Howell in the 1988 NLCS. Howell was found to have pine tar on his glove and subsequently suspended for 2 games...The Cheater joined Christy Matthewson as the only pitcher to have 3 scoreless starts in 1 postseason.

"It was a big clump of dirt, and I wiped it off," Rogers said. "I didn't know it was there, and they told me and I took it off, and it wasn't a big deal."
He better hope the Tigers win it all and he can ride off into the sunset without any more incidents to tarnish his already well-blemished reputation.

Game 3 is tomorrow night in St.Louis. Nasty Nate Robertson (1-1, 5.91) will start for Detroit against cards ace (though not in the postseason) Chris Carpenter (2-1, 3.70) Carpenter has allowed 25 hits in 24.1 innings this postseason.Yikes.
MY PICK: Cards ride the strength of exposing the Dirtman as a cheatin' fool and crush the rusty Robertson (he hasn't pitched in 14 days)and Detroit,6-2.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

The greatest game I've ever witnessed. Period.

The Bucs survive a 4th quarter collapse and beat the Eagles on a historic FG at the horn, 23-21. It was one of those magical games that will be talked about, replayed, and debated over for decades to come. It was one of the greatest football games played in the NFL in recent memory, with two terrific comebacks, one by each team, and it had a cardiac finish that left spectators in a state of shock & disbelief as they swarmed out of Raymond James Stadium.
And I was there to witness it all.
But I'm still not quite sure if what I witnessed was real, because it all unfolded in a hazy state of sunstroke & dehydration that nearly made me black out at one point (no lie.) But from what I do remember, and what I did see, the Bucs won a football game that they had no business winning in the first place, but after they thought they had it won they didn't want to let it go.

The day started innocently enough, tailgating in the 90 degree heat and enjoying a few pregame libations. Only under these conditions are you allowed to pour beer on pork and not get a disgusted look from the people you are serving. My buddy JT, the owner of the fabulous seats we were sitting in, prepared the pregame meal while we all wondered how great it would be to send the Eagles home with a loss today. There were plenty of Eagle fans spread throughout the area, though not like the old days when 25,000+ Green & Gold-clad Packer fans would take over the Old Sombrero.

We made our way to the radio station party house across from Ray Jay for one last pit stop & you could feel something in the air, something that would say this could be the Bucs day. Or maybe it was just the funny feeling I got from sampling a horrendous offering of a disgusting beverage called pumpkin beer! Either way it was shaping up to be a great day, despite the sweltering conditions. Yup, this is Florida in October folks. While the rest of the country is getting the flannel PJs, scarfs and longjohns out of storage we are busting out the sunblock, protective headwear and mist machines. As we headed to our seats (which, as I have mentioned before, are 5 rows from the field in the south end zone on the goal line) there was a buzz in the stadium that made me think this could be the Bucs day. Or maybe it was that damn pumpkin beer again.

As the teams prepared for the kickoff, JT & I settled in and realized we had numerous Eagle fans scattered around us, and we knew it would be a long day, for one of the groups, either way. This being close to Halloween, some of the more "colorful" Phily fans even decided to wear costumes.

Luckily our seats provided other views to keep our attention focused away from those whack-jobs.

The game began it was looking doubtful the Bucs were going to have a shot at winning it. The Eagles started by marching the ball down the field the Bucs as the Buc defense sat idly by, until it was time to buckle down-in the red zone. That would be a theme all day for the Buc defense- bend but don't break- as they allowed a mind-boggling 506 yards of total offense (to their 196) but forced 4 turnovers that would keep them in the game. The first turnover came on this drive after the Eagles had moved it to the Bucs 24. But a fumble recovery by Torrie Cox gave Tampa Bay the ball back and they had dodged their first bullet of the day. The teams would then trade
futile drives in a game of "I can't score" that was making the people who had paid good money (or even those of us who got in for free) furious with sweaty rage. It was nauseating football at its finest. The Bucs repeatedly tried to establish Caddy Williams (23atts, 82yds) and the running game, and Philly kept driving the length of the field and turning the ball over.
Much-maligned Buc CB Juron Bolden stymied a Philly drive with just under 4:00 to go in the first quarter, and that would be a harbinger of things to come for Don & his mates. After a scoreless first quarter it looked like it would be more of the same in the 2nd. The teams continued to jab and punch at each other with no significant damage being done. Until Ronde Barber stepped into the fray. That's when things got exciting.

With the Eagles starting another drive McNabb dropped back to pass to Hank Baskett (I think that's his dad, Michael Myers, above) at their own 33yd line. But up stepped Ronde, who read the play perfectly, and he scampered untouched into the end zone for the go-ahead score, 7-0. Let me tell you it was as loud as I have heard Ray jay, and that is saying something. There is something about Philly Fan that just brings out the venom in other people. Oh yeah, maybe it's because they hate & disrespect every other team & their fans. As the noise died dowwn Philly attempted another drive only to have McNabb fumble the ball & recover it. The teams would trade punts for the rest of the half, although the Bucs had a chance to go for a field goal as the half ended. After totally mismanaging the clock (passing on 3rd down instead of running to gain more yardage for a FG? C'mon Chucky, smarten up) they decided to punt the ball because Gruden didn't thing Matt Bryant could kick a 53 yarder. Boy would he be proven wrong.

The second half started and brought more of the same. That would be more of Philly driving the ball and more of Ronde returning it for a score. After a long Buc drive (14 plays, 58 yards in 8:05) resulted in a 30-yd Bryant FG & a 10-0 Tampa Bay lead, Philly went back to work. And so did Ronde. A 17-yard pass to Baskett got them over midfield, McNabb dropped back and tried to hit WR Greg Lewis with a short pass. Not so fast my friend. Ronde jumped the route on this one too and raced 66 yards for the score that nearly brought the house down. (Note:This is the point that I nearly blacked out. Literally. As we were all jumping, screaming, high-fiving, and berating Philly Fan, all of a sudden everything started to go black around me. Things got real quiet, like I was in a dream. Then the noise disappeared completely, the light disappeared completely, and I felt as if I was being transported to another dimension. But I was actually thinking at the time: "Oh my god, this is what it means to black out. I'm going to collapse right here in the 5th row of Sec. 126 and not only embarrass myself & JT but miss the rest of this game. Shit." As soon as it came,though, it departed, leaving me with a funny feeling and a splitting headache. Must have been the pumpkin beer.) Anyway, the Bucs kicked the point while I was free-falling through the afterlife, and the score was a miraculous 17-0 Tampa Bay. Wow.
The Eagle fans still tried to talk smack, but there is no comeback for "SCOREBOARD!"

But this being the 2006 Bucs this game was far from over. And the Tampa Bay defense that had bent all day was about to be broken in a bad way. Before you could say Vince Papale the Eagles mounted an 8 play, 79-yard drive culminating in a 12 yard TD pass from McNabb to someone named Thomas Tapeh (who?!) for a break-the-seal score that would be the beginning of a wild finish at the New Sombrero. As the fourth quarter began with the Bucs leading 17-7 it wouldn't take long for Philly to make the Bucs fans squirm in their already sweat-soaked seats. McNabb immediately led the Eagles downfield, highlighted by 56 yards of running from Brian Westbrook. Now you have to understand I had been giving a boatload of crap to every Eagle fan I had seen that day wearing Westbrook's #36 jersey: "Hey, Westbrook, I see you're not playing again today." Or, "Hey, Brian, why aren't you on the field-injured again?" You know, intelligent stuff like that. Well this was now payback time, as the Westbrook-clad fan next to me began giving me a healthy taste of my own medicine. And little did I know, that was just the beginning of it.

Now the score is 17-14 with just under 9:00 to go, and it was more than a little nerve-wracking time. But Gradkowski (remember him? hard to with these numbers:13-26, 104yds) lead the Bucs on a 48 yard drive that was greatly aided by 2 unsportsmanlike conduct flags on Philly DE (and Miamai alum) Jerome McDougal, one on a flagrant face mask of the Rocket and then another freebie for punting the flag like a football. Thanks, Jerome; I see that all the controversy surrounding your alma mater has helped you try to become a better person. That fortunate turn of events led to a 44-yard FG that made it 20-14 with just under three minutes to go. The Bucs had this one in the bag, right? Wrong again.

All Tampa Bay had to do was go into that dreaded but (sometimes) effective prevent defense. You know, don't let anyone get behind you for a score, keep all the plays in front of you. Evidently the Bucs didn't practice this form of defense enough as Philly would mount a soul-crushing drive that nearly took every last gasp of the thick, muggy air out of the stadium and every Tampa Bay fan in it. On 3rd & 1 from Philly's 29 the Bucs needed a stop to force a crucial 4th down play. They didn't get one as Westbrook rushed for 1 yard to keep the chains moving.

Two minute warning. Just hold them for the next 2 minutes and the Bucs would have a confidence-building win over a powerhouse NFC team. But these are the Bucs, whose defense is now older than the average age of the residents in Pinellas County. After a couple of short gains and a penalty the Eagles were faced with 3rd and 6 from their 48. And what happened next will be remembered for a long time to come in Tampa and Philly. McNabb threw a short dump pass to Westbrook in the flat, and he knew he had to break some tackles to make something happen. 55 missed tackles later Westbrook raced down the sideline to the end zone, and with tacklers left in his wake scored an improbable, mind-numbing, heart-stopping TD that gave Philly a 21-20 lead with just :33 seconds left in the game. Oh no, say it ain't so. The once raucous crowd sat in stunned silence while every Philly fan that had suffered through 3+ hours of abuse let loose with a string of invectives that could not be repeated in this family blog. All well deserved, I might add. Well except for the part about our grandmothers.

It was at this point that JT decided it was time to go. There are two types of people that attend sporting events: the "let's leave early to beat the traffic" types, and the "I'm staying until the very end no matter what" types. My buddy JT, God bless him, is the former. Now what would the difference be in leaving :33 seconds early, especially when there was a chance, albeit a slight one, that the Bucs could still win the game? I reluctantly left our seats, with Westbrook fan simultaneously high-fiving and laughing at me at the same time. But I slowly made my way up the steps and lost JT somewhere along the way. Darn. I'll just have to set up shop in the standing area at the rails in the far end zone to see if the Bucs had a snowballs chance in Tampa to pull this one out.

And then a funny thing happened. The Bucs came out acting like they were going to try and win it. An 11 yard pass to Michael Clayton and a Gradkowski scramble for 9 yards made it 2nd & 1 from their own 44. An incomplete pass to Clayton & timeout later left them with :03 seconds on the clock and an improbable 62 yard FG attempt to win it. From my vantage point it looked like Bryant was kicking it from another area code. No way he makes this I'm thinking to myself as I stood there glued to the rail to find out for myself. The kick went up, and up, and it went long, and longer, and after what seemed like 30 seconds of hangtime landed through the uprights for a game-winning 62 yard field goal, the 3rd longest in NFL history & 2nd longest to win a game.
Matt, you under there?

Unbelieveable. I was there to witness history. Although I don't know if my buddy was. For all I knew he was back at his truck listening to it on the radio. But as I high-fived every Buc fan in sight and ripped every Philly fan within shouting distance I raced out the stadium exhausted, hungover, and near the verge of passing out. But boy was I happy. except for an awful aftertaste of pumpkin in my mouth.

"Nan na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye" Repeat.