Thursday, April 05, 2007

Rays exact sweet revenge in the snowy Bronx

Small Markets 7, Evil Empire 6

What kind of moron schedules baseball games in early April in places like Detroit, Chicago and New York?

Oh yeah, Bud Selig.
Bad enough that the game between the White Sox and Indians was played on a 35 degree, cloudy day with the wind gusting up to 25 mph. Worse was the contest between the Tigers and Blue Jays had to be postponed due to similarly nasty conditions in Detroit. But the worst of all may have come in the Bronx, where yesterday's game had to be postponed due to monsoon-like conditions, and last night, where it started off just cold but by the later innings it got downright antarctic on their asses.

Amid snow flurries reminiscent of early December rather than tax time and wearing ski masks resembling something out of a bank tellers nightmares, the penny-pinching Devil Rays pulled off yet another improbable win over their free-spending AL East counterparts, the Stankees. At first the scrappy young D-Rays appeared to be following a sickly similar pattern for the first seven innings- take the lead (2-1), give the lead back (4-2), regain the lead (6-4), lose it again (6-6)- the only thing missing was the inevitable bullpen collapse leading to another crushing, late-inning loss.

But a funny thing happened after the Rays retook the lead, 7-6, in the 8th: they held onto it.

Yes, you read that correctly folks, the Rays pen held onto a 1-run lead in Stankee Stadium thanks to relievers Ruddy Lugo, who despite allowing the Stanks to tie it at 6 in the 7th got Georgie Posada to ground out with the go-ahead run on 2nd, and Brian Stokes, who first loaded the bases in the 8th and then got Jeter, Abreu & ERod on infield outs to preserve the win. Tack on a perfect 9th for new closer Al Reyes and the Rays had themselves a solid victory in the second game of the season.

These feel-good Rays are riding a high right now that may not be topped; they're .500 (1-1) for probably one of the final times this season; their home opener tonight (of which I will be attending) is sold out for only the second time in the club's 10-year history; and the promising young kids that form the core of this team kids continue to produce at the major league level:

-Elijah Dukes hit his second major league homerun in his second major league game

- BJ Upton had two more hits and is batting .500 (4-8)

-Japanese 3rd baseman Aki Iwamura, who had a miserable spring, smacked two hits including his first ML double and is batting .429

-Carl Crawford had 2 hits, a walk an RBI and a run and raised his average to .500 (4-8)

Although guys like Delmon Young (.222) and Ben Zobrist (.111) have yet to produce, let's not forget they've only played 2 games and one was in the friggin' snow!

So they Rays will take the good vibes of playing the Stanks tough in two consecutive games into tonight's sold out home opener at the Trop. With $8 million worth of improvements to the sterile dome and a full house on hand to watch these exciting baby Rays in action it ought to be a good time at the ball-dome tonight.

At least it won't be snowing!
Full report, plus pix, tomorrow.
P.S. Meliss, nice weather up there; I hope it's not snowing when we come up for your wedding in June!


R.I.P. Darryl Stingley

The former Patriots star receiver had his career and now his life cut short by paralyzing 1978 hit.

I am fighting back tears as I write this post because a man I hardly knew and barely remember saw his star-crossed life come to an early end yesterday as former Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley passed away at age 55.

Why am so broken up over the death of someone I didn't know and barely remember? Because the unfortunate accident that made Stingley a household name and object for nationwide sympathy in 1978 left an indelible impression on my sports-saturated youth.

I was only a naive 10-year-old living in Boston when Stingley's accident occurred. I remember he was one of the most exciting players to watch on a New England team that boasted stars like Stanley Morgan, Sam "Bam" Cunningham, Russ Francis, Steve Grogan and John "Hog" Hannah. He was fast, had great hands, and was one of those guys you wanted to watch just for the "what will he do next" factor, a-la contemporaries T.O. and Randy Moss. He was well-liked and one of those guys New Englanders rooted for because of his personality, attitude and obvious talent.

It was during an exhibition game (!) against the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland/Alameda Coliseum in August of 1978, going into Stingley's sixth NFL season, that tragedy struck. Grogan sailed what appeared to be a harmless pass over Stingley's outstretched hands and it appeared the play was over; little did anyone know that Stingley's career, and for all intents & purposes his life, would be over as well.

Hard-hitting Raiders safety Jack Tatum chased the play, came across the field and leveled Stingley with a devastating hit after the ball was out of reach that while legal was typical of the rough, take-no-prisoners style the Raiders played with back then. Stingley lay motionless on the turf for quite a while, and soon it became apparent that something awful had happened to one of the brightest young talents in the league. Stingley would not rise from the turf and gingerly walk off the field, shaking out the cobwebs and hoping to get back in the game.

Not only would Stingley never play again, the 26-year-old would never walk again, either. He was rendered quadriplegic, and he and Tatum never reconciled what happened on the field that night. The play was deemed legal and while Tatum admitted he was unhappy with what happened to Stingley he showed no remorse for making a legal hit. In fact in his book, appropriately titled "They Call Me an Assasin", Tatum admitted he hit players not just to knock them down but to hurt them.

In Stingley's case mission accomplished. But not only did Tatum hurt Stingley, he wounded the hearts of a region that was unprepared to deal with this kind of athletic tragedy. The play was run countless times on New England newscasts, and even as a 10-year-old I vividly remember that morbid scene of Stingley being wheeled off the Coliseum field and being told over & over that he would never walk, never mind play, again. It was a chilling wake up call to the realities of the dangers involved in playing professional sports, something I realize was unequipped to deal with at that age.

Jack Tatum took some of my athletic-related innocence on that August day of my youth, but more tragically he took the hopes, dreams and talents away from a potential superstar who had a potential Hall of Fame career & rewarding life ahead of him. Ironically Tatum would later go on to lose both his legs due to complication from diabetes. Perhaps it took him losing his ability to walk that made him realize what he took away from Stingley & the Patriot Nation that night.

The death is the latest in a disturbing 2007 trend of Boston athletic icons passing away suddenly; first Red, then DJ and now Darryl. Following the untimely passings of Len Bias, and Reggie Lewis, Bostonians are beginning to wonder if there is a new kind of curse over the Commonwealth.

R.I.P. Darryl; you will always be loved & remembered with fondness in New England.

(More pieces on the Stingley tragedy here, here, and here.)


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

There is a baseball God! Extra Innings & MLB ink 18th hour deal

I just want to start off by saying "thank you Jesus!"
Diehard baseball fans prayers have been answered when it was announced earlier this evening that MLB has reached a compromise with cable carriers across the nation to allow games to be telecast on the Extra Innings package through the iN Demand service.

Up until a few weeks ago it appeared that transplanted baseball fans (see: your truly) would not be able to receive the Exta innings package through their cable providers anymore because MLB had reached an exclusive 7-year, $700 million deal with those bastards at DirecTv. The situation had reached a standstill, with John Kerry threatening Congressional action and MLB brass balking at the government interfering with their sport yet again, and most of the haggling was apparently over MLB's new 24-hour cable channel set to launch in 2009.

Without getting into too many specifics because frankly I don't understand them all nor do I care, the bottom line is the Extra Innings package will be available on most cable networks effective immediately, and wouldn't you know it's just in time for me to catch Dice-K's Red Sox debut tomorrow at 2:00.

Can I get an 'amen' from the Red Sox Nation?


Tampa Bay & New York Gm 2 rained out

The game between the Devil Rays and the Stankees scheduled for this afternoon was postponed due to inclement weather. In other words it's shitty up in the Big Apple. Hometown hero Dukes tries to rehab his rep by signing autographs at spring training

But despite the lack of action on the field today and the fact that they absorbed a 9-5 beating at the hands of the Evil Empire on Opening Day, the Rays are getting plenty of attention off the diamond.

For example this cover story on Elijah Dukes this afternoon. From Karl Ravich to Pete Gammons to Dickie V. everyone is singing the praises of the Rays' troubled-but-talented trio of B.J Upton- Delmon Young-Elijah Dukes. That's partly because they are fascinating case studies of what athletes who are incredibly gifted & talented can do to throw their careers away, and partly because America loves those types of stories, whether they turn out to have happy endings or not.

The stories behind these young men are truly fascinating, though. Take Elijah Dukes. Kid is a legend here in Tampa Bay, both for his immense athletic skills, which were quite apparent when he attended Hillsborough High, as well as for his rough upbringing and hair trigger behavior. Drug arrests, fights with coaches & teammates, suspensions, a dad in prison, you name it, this kid has been through it. After spending 4 rocky-but-productive seasons in the minors, not only does he make the roster after a blistering spring but he goes and hits a home run on opening day in Yankee Stadium for his first major league hit.

Somewhere a Disney writer's burning a hole in the hard drive of his HP Notepad over this kid.

So for now the media will hype Dukes and Young & Upton as well, by going over their numerous arrests, suspensions and immature quotes while touting their physical abilities and what they can do with a baseball. And while they pretend to want these guys to succeed in their careers, they would be just as happy to write juicy columns about their failures and how they wasted opportunities. After all, those make good movies, too, just not the Disney kind.

It's up to Delmon, Elijah and B.J to write the endings for them.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

MLB Opening Day: Notes, Quotes, Heroes & Zeroes

It's funny how Major League Baseball hypes opening day like it is the gateway to a seasonful of great plays, terrific games and memorable feats, a day to rejoice in the return of America's pastime and revel in the glory that is baseball.

Then the next day everyone gets the day off.

Well, not every team was off today. 18 teams are in action, including suckers like the Mets and Cards, who actually had to start the season a day early to accommodate those egotistical goons at ESPN; they both had their off day yesterday, on opening day when everyone else played, except the Giants and Padres, who open their seasons today.

What did I just write? WTF ever happened to just plain old opening day, when there were no huge TV contracts and every friggin' team played on the same day, hence the phrase "opening day"? Is that so hard?

Anyway, since today was the anti-opening day I decided to take a sojourn to Clearwater beach in order to get my head straight after a few long weeks dealing with kid-related issues such as field trips, spring break, broken bones, doctor visits, asthma attacks, birthday parties and sleepovers. Throw in a wedding and another Gator championship and I think I was literally coming down with a case of actual March madness.

Nothing like a bike ride in paradise to clear one's head. Now I am lucent enough to go through my notes from Opening day 2007 and go over some of the things I though were worth mentioning.


-Take the D-Rays loss to the Stankees, multiply it by 100 and you've got Tampa Bay's season
Let's get one thing straight: everybody knows Tampa Bay has assembled one of the greatest collection of young position players ever, but for all that potential pop and speed in the lineup they Rays still have one of the worst collection of arms this side of Sweden.

The entirety of the Rays season was on display yesterday in the 9-5 loss in the Bronx: they got a lead, 5-3 after a 4-run fifth, and got another shaky-but-decent start from ace Scott Kazmir (5IP, 6H, 5ER, 4BB, 5K). There was also speed on the base paths (Upton, Crawford & Baldelli all had steals) and pop at the plate (rookie Elijah Dukes slugged a homer for his first ML hit and 7 Rays had hits.)

But when Kazmir gave way to the wasteland known as the Rays pen, all hope for a big opening win in the Bronx was lost. Four relievers combined to allow 5 runs and turned a potential D-rays win into a surefire loss. By the time E-Rod homered off Juan Gone Salas in the eigth, the blueprint for another Tampa Bay season had been mapped out for all the world to see.

-The White Sox, my pick to win the AL Central, got their asses handed to them, losing 12-5 at home to Cleveland, which is the chic pick to win the division (what else is new?) Jose Contreras, who went from can't lose (9-0 start) to can't win (4-9 finish) in 2006, got shellacked for 8 runs and 7 hits in an inning+ of work as Cleveland's 13-hit attack was paced by old friend Trot Nixon, who had 3 hits and 3 runs scored in his first appearance in a uniform that doesn't say Boston on it. His veteran leadership, work ethic and playoff experience is really going to be a plus for those young Indian hitters like Sizemore, Hafner, Blake and Martinez.

Countdown to Ozzie's first meltdown? Two more losses.

-There's a new phenom pitcher on the West Coast, and his name is Felix Hernandez. Joining the likes of Randy Johnson, Francisco Rodriguez, Barry Zito and Rich Harden, the 20-year old Mariner became the youngest starter to win on opening day since Doc Gooden in 1985 with a dominating 3-hit, 12-strikeout performance in a 4-0 win over Oakland. Hernandez has a career record of 16-18 with Seattle but after losing 20 lbs in the offseason and a slew of starters in recent years (Gil Meche, Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro) Hernandez was tabbed to start opening day, and to say he took advantage of the opportunity is an understatement.

-Another start, another win for Johan CyTana and the Twins. The 2-time Cy winner was not sharp in the season opener for the defending AL Central champs, but luckily he has the league MVP to back him up. Despite allowing 4 runs and 7 hits in 6 innings, Justin Morneau hit a home run and had 3 hits and 2 RBIs to help Santana get the win over Baltimore, 7-4. The Twinks roughed up B'More ace Eric Bedard (4.2, 10H, 6R) and knocked out 12 hits, including back-to-back jacks by Morneau and Torii Hunter in the 2nd. Think Hunter is still trying to forget that gaffe against Oakland in the ALDS?

-The new Big Red machine halted the Cubbies march to the pennant as country strong Adam Dunn belted two homers and Aaron Harang shut down the multi-million dollar Cubs lineup. Harang out dueled Chicago Cy Young contender Carlos Zambrano and made the shiny new Cubbie offense look old and weak; he allowed only 6 hits, all singles, and 1 run in 7 innings while striking out 5, including new LF and Nomah trade includee Matt Murton 3 times.
-The Brewers, this years trendy NL pick-to-click, got a complete game 2-hitter from big Ben Sheets and shut down the Dodgers 7-1. the former strikeout pitcher only had three Ks, but used a variety of pitches to baffle the Dodgers while his teammates were busy pounding Derek Lowe for 6 runs and 8 hits in 4 innings. The new look Brewer lineup produced 10 hits and as long as they're hitting and Sheets is pitching like that things could be looking up for the Brew crew.

-Speaking of strong, I mentioned Tampa Bay's Elijah Dukes homered for his first major league hit; the fact that it came in Yankee Stadium on opening day made it all the more sweeter. As I said in an earlier post, this dude is large, and as long as he's doing things like pounding the ball out to straightaway center in the Bronx in his second ML AB, he is going to be in the Rookie of the Year mix, along with teammate Delmon Young, who had a hit and an RBI in his 2007 debut.


HERO: Felix Hernandez, P SEA a 3-hitter with 12 Ks when you're only 20 years old earns you top spot on this list

ZERO: Curt Schiling, P BOS the againg ace was supposed to get the 2007 championship campaign off on a high note; instead he couldn't make it to the 5th inning, and when the pen imploded, so did Boston's chances of going 162-0

HERO: ARod, 3B NYY the man the Bronx "fans" love to hate quieted early boo birds by driving in 2 runs on an 8th inning homer and rapping 2 hits in his first game since admitting that he and infield teammate Derek Jeter are no longer BFFs, but....

ZERO: ERod, 3B NYY... the catcalls came raining down early on ol;d blue lips when he woefully misplayed a foul pop in the first inning for an error, then struck out swinging in his subsequent at bat

HERO(es): Royals batters 12 hits including 3 doubles, 2 triples and a homerun against the Sox was bad enough, but when guys like Mark Grudzalaniek, Tonu Pena Jr and Jack don't call me Joe Buck are doing the damage, well hats off to the new-look Royals; if they were in the AL East they would finish above Boston they way they are manhandling them these past few years

ZERO: Derek Lowe, P LAD here's the opening day linescore for the former Boston playoff hero/ notorious cad: 4IP, 8H, 6ER, 5BB, 4K, loss of respect from entire team

HERO: Carl Pavano, P NYY the guy hasn't pitched in nearly 2 seasons, sparred with teammates and media all spring long, had lost all respect in the clubhouse and had become a pariah with the fans due to injury proclivity and huge contract. So what does he do? Goes out and throws 4.1 of 5 hit ball allowing 4 runs and giving his team a chance to win the game, which they did. Granted he faced the D-Rays, but still he did more than I though he would

ZEROES: Relievers and I don't mean throwing zeroes; from Hideki Okijima's homerun offering on his first meaningful American pitch to Brad Lidge allowing yet another crushing, 9th inning homer run, these men of mediocrity did not get the job done. All the Rays relievers sucked, Detroit flamethrower Fernando Rodney blew the Tigers game in the 10th and Philly closer-in-training Ryan Madson allowed the game-losing homerun to of all people Edgar Rentanerror in Philly's loss to the Braves, and you've got some god-awful relief work being done on major league mounds.
HERO: Trot Nixon, DH/RF CLE as hard as it is to see old Trotter in another uniform, it was great to see him get three hits and three ribbies on opening day. There is no question in my mind he becomes another in a long line of Sox Killers as soon as he starts facing Boston.


"It was just the achievement. Just the bad things, the good things, all in there together. It was kind of like, 'Okay, you overcame.' " Dukes on where he came from and where he is now

"No fastball command. I did not adjust. I can't remember that ever being the case. It's very disappointing. As a starting pitcher, you can make your team look a lot worse than it is some days." Schilling, echoing the sentiments of every member of RSN


Monday, April 02, 2007

National Championship deja-vu: Gators best Buckeyes again

Florida 84, Ohio State 75
MOP: Corey Brewer

Whether it was monster dunks or killer 3s Corey Brewer was THE man for Florida in the Final Four

Greg Oden has a monster game but the depth of Florida, plus a huge differential in three-pointers spells doom for Ohio State.

I think it was Confucius who once said "give a monkey a typewriter and eventually he'll type a word."

If that's true then I must be a baboon with a Dell.

Wouldn't you know the one time I want my prediction to suck as bad as a new Jim Carey movie I not only nailed the winner (not too tough) but also the Most Outstanding Player and came within 12 points of the score. Not bad for the World's Worst Gambler/Prognosticator.

As fireworks go off in my quiet neighborhood celebrating the University of Florida's third national title in 15 months I am wondering how the Buckeyes could have lost a game in which Greg Oden not only stayed out of foul trouble but dominated the game with an impressive 25-point, 12-rebound, 4-block performance.

The answer is because we all know it takes more than one player to win a game like this, and although Oden played the game of his (brief) career in what was most likely his final collegiate contest, his supporting cast left him hanging when he needed them most.

Mike Conley chipped in 20 points, but most of them came either real early or too late. He also did not control the flow & tempo of the game like he had been doing so well for the past three weeks, probably because he, not Oden, got into early foul trouble. Meanwhile Big Shot Ron Lewis did his best Jeff Green imitation by disappearing for the second straight game; his miserable 12-point outing failed to give the Buckeyes a much-needed third offensive option, and the trio of Ivan Harris, David Lighty and Jamar Butler contributed a woeful 14 points.

The Gators not only had three options working on offense, it got double-digit scoring from four of its starting five, plus 8 points apiece from Joakim Noah and Chris Richard. Big Al Horford validated Dickie V's radio station slip that Billy Donovan told him Horford would be a higher draft pick than Noah as he led the team with 18 points and also grabbed 12 boards. But Lee Humphrey (14 pts), Taurean Green (16) and M.O.P. Corey Brewer (13 pts, 8 rebs) all hit big shots that kept the momentum going and the lead in double figures most of the night and were instrumental in nailing down the unit's second consecutive national championship. Brewer earned the MOP on the strength of his 32 points in the Final 4 and because his 3-trey, 11-point first half provided the spark the Gators needed to burn the Buckeyes.

The game was nip & tuck for most of the first half; Oden remained foul free and was having his way in the paint, Conley came out and scored 4 quick points and Ohio State led 11-9 nearly 7:00 minutes in. A quick 9-0 run, highlighted by five free throws, got Florida in front 17-11, but the resilient Buckeyes got back to within two, 24-22, with 5:39 left in the half when Harris hit his only three of the game.

That's when the wheels came off the Buckeye bandwagon, because Florida would go on to nail not one (Humphrey) not two (Brewer) but three (Green's turn) consecutive threes to blow the lead out to 11, 33-22, in the span of two minutes just before the half. Seven consecutive points by Oden before the break (he had 11 pts, 7 rebs & only 1 foul at halftime) made the score somewhat respectable at 40-29, but the message to Buckeye nation was heard loud and clear.

It was a nightmare scenario no Buckeye fan would ever want to imagine: even though your best player is having his best game, the other team is still better than your team.

The real difference maker in this one can be found at two lines on the court: Florida bushwhacked the Buckeyes from threeland, nailing a scorching 10 of 18 from beyond the arc while OSU was an atrocious 4-23 from deep AND the Gators ate up the Bucks from the charity stripe, hitting 22-25, many early in the first half, while OSU took just 17 free throws and made 11, many late in the game.

Four-for-twenty three from three. No lie my 10-year-old-son, who is less than 5-ft. tall and fresh off a broken hand, nailed three straight college threes the other day outside, and these young men could only manage to hit 17% of theirs. Awful.

An 18-point differential from three-pointers plus 11 more free throws made equals a 29-point edge for the better team.

In hindsight it's a miracle the score wasn't a lot closer to the football game's.

Now the Gators can bask in the glory of owning both of college athletics' most coveted crowns and be secure in the knowledge that the Ohio State Buckeyes are once again and at this rate probably always will be their bitches.

Blow, Gators!


March Madness: The Championship Game

1Florida Gators (34-5) vs. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes (35-3)

The BCS rematch should feature plenty of big plays by star players, but in order for the Buckeyes to avenge the football team's humiliating title loss, center Greg Oden needs to stay out of foul trouble and on the court.

There are a number of firsts that would be established should the Gators hoist the national championship trophy just a few hours from now. It would be the first team to repeat as champion since the Duke Blue Devils did it in 1992; the first team to win both the football and basketball titles in the same season; and the first team to beat the same school for said titles in the same year.

Oh yeah, and the first team to repeat using the same starting five both seasons.

Whew, that's a lot of potential firsts.

But there is no guarantee in this sport, and Ohio State has as good a chance as anyone to knock off the reigning champs and stealing back some of the thunder the gators stole from the university after that BCS Championship game blowout.

Let's take a look at what both teams need to do to take home the title.

Ohio State will win if...
...they play the same kind of smart, team basketball that has gotten them to this point: a 22-game winning streak and oozing boatloads of confidence.

In order for that to happen superstar center Greg Oden is going to have to steer clear of the foul trouble that has plagued him throughout this tourney; the 7'0" frosh has amassed 17 fouls in the last 4 games and has only averaged 24 minutes per game in that span. When he's on floor he will negate some of the inside presence of Joakim Noah and Al Horford; when he sits those two will tear the Bucks apart underneath, and the title will be all but theirs for the taking.

Also, point guard Mike Conley Jr. must continue his stellar play; the fab freshman is averaging 15 points and 5 assists per game in the tourney and his expert ball handling, cat-like quickness and smart decision making has kept the team afloat when Oden has had to ride the pine. Oh and senior guard Ron Lewis, the hero of OSU's win over Xavier in the regional semis, needs to play like the guy who averaged 25 PPG against Xavier, Tennessee & Memphis, not the one who scored 9 against Georgetown Saturday night.

Throw in a few threes by G Jamar Butler, points from Ivan Harris and Davis Lighty and quality minutes from big men Matt Terwilliger & Othello Hunter and the Buckeyes could surprise the college basketball world.

The Gators will win if...
...if they play like they did the other night against UCLA. That team came out with a passion, intensity and determination that had been absent from nearly every Florida game this tourney. Sure they were beating people, but they weren't beating up people.

And make no mistake the Bruins did get beat up by the Gators for the second season in a row. UCLA is an extremely tough, disciplined and fundamentally solid team and Florida made them look like Coppin State, forcing the Bruins into taking bad shots, committing bad fouls, and taking them out of their game before the halftime buzzer had died down. if the Gators come out playing like that again tonight, the Buckeyes might have no chance against that kind of juggernaut.

Noah will be the key once again. Even if he doesn't score, which he hasn't done much of in the tourney (12 PPG), he must clog the middle and rebound & block shots like he did against the Bruins. That will leave perimeter players like Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green to hit from the outside while versatile forward Corey Brewer, who scored 19 against UCLA Saturday night can score from beyond and from inside the arc. Widebody Al Horford will surely get his rebounds, and don't forget about underrated & emerging forward Chris Richard, who had 16 points Saturday night.

When the Gators are clicking on all cylinders they are an efficient and deadly animal, literally & figuratively. Even when a couple members of that special returning starting five has an off night though, the rest of the group is talented enough to kill off most threats with just a slight increase in intensity. It's going to be tough to keep this team from its supposed destiny, and it's going to be tougher to live in this state as a Gator Hater after that.

MY PREDICTION: The Buckeyes are young, talented, and fearless when it comes to the big stage. But just like in the BCS title game, all that cockiness and talent doesn't mean a thing when the whistle blows. The bright lights of being square in the middle of the national spotlight will almost surely rear it ugly head with the young Bucks, while the Gators should have a Patriot-like "been here, done this, let's take home another trophy and collect our NBA paychecks" attitude. Could be close, but should be Gators.

Florida 77, Ohio State 70

MOP: Brewer


Baseball preview: It's a beautiful day- let's play 2!

Opening Day combined with the NCAA Championship game make this one of the greatest days of the sports year

The Super Bowl, the Daytona & Indy 500s, the final days of Wimbledon & the US Open, Sunday at the Masters and in the old days a big heavyweight bout all have a certain unique and exciting aura about them that make them the best sporting days of the year.

Today, with the Opening Day of the 2007 MLB season and the NCAA basketball national championship game later tonight, has to be right up there with all those luminous events as a singularly spectacular day to be a sports fan. Throw in passover, the finale of prison Break and another episode of dancing with the Stars and you've got enough going on to qualify for national holiday status.

But nothing beats the pomp, pageantry, and propensity to see 'roided-up records set than opening day, and ESPN has a great double-header scheduled this afternoon. Devil Rays at Stankees at 1:00 followed by Boston at Kansas City at 4:00.

There will be some games tonight, although evidently not on Extra innings, but by 9:00 everyone will be glued to that ultimate reality show with the winner taking home the ultimate prize, the title game rematch between the Florida Gators and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

That game is still 8 hours away, though. In the meantime I will enlighten you with my always-entertaining MLB 2007 Season Predictions, guaranteed to come true or at least ensure I will have to endure months of unending verbal abuse.


A.L. East: Boston- this is the year that the Sox unseat the reigning 10-year division champion Stankees. Boston is not only stacked offensively thanks to the addition of Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew, but the rotation should be one of the best in baseball and Papelbon is back to close out close games.

Sure the Sox have questions, like will Coco rebound from his injury-riddled 2006 season, can Pedroia handle the strain of playing 2B for a contending team in the cauldron of Beantown, and will Lowell duplicate his bounceback season of 2006, but with five potential .300 hitters ( and 2 guaranteed 35+ HR/120+ RBI men the offense should score enough runs to take the division crown.

New York- great lineup, but that rotation is as old and thin as Ann Coulter. Toronto is loaded on offense as well with the addition of Frank Thomas but the loss of Ted Lilly could hurt the Blue Birds more than they realize. Beyond Cy Halladay the rotation is shaky and in this division that's all it will take to miss the postseason. Baltimore & Tampa Bay? Just watching, thank you.

A.L. Central: Chicago- everyone loves either the defending division champion Twins, ready-to-blossom Indians or the dominant Tiger team that went to the Series, but don't sleep on Crazy Ozzie's squad. The Sox are still loaded on offense with the Fearsome Foursome of Crede, Thome, Dye and Konerko combining for 151 homers last year and the pitching staff, though slightly overworked in recent years, has the potential to make the Chisox a title contender again.

Meanwhile Detroit lost its horse, Kenny Stickum Rogers, for a few months and my money says Gary Sheffield somehow poisons that chummy clubhouse by mid season. Minnesota has one pitcher, a Cy Young lock no less, but four guys had career years last year so don't look for that to happen again. Cleveland-when C.onstantly C.onvalescing Sabathia is your ace, you got no shot.

Plus if the White Sox don't win it will be fun to see how bad Ozzie will implode.

A.L. West: Texas- the ultra-chic pick this year evidently is the LA of Anaheim Angels, who have been picked by many experts to be this year's Cinderella team and go all the way (S.I. picked the Halos to win it all, thank God.) Closely trailing the Angles are the always-competitive A's, but the loss of Barry Zito, the final ace from that Terrific Triumverate of Zito-Hudson-Mulder, should kill Oakland's chances.

But I like the Rangers to get back to the postseason with reclamation project Sammy Sosa poised for a big comeback and boasting an offense that just won't quit. Hurlers Kevin Millwood, Vincente Padilla young Brandon McCarthey are just good enough to get it done, and they have two closers so when Eric Gagne breaks down Akinori Otsuka (32 saves last year) can step back in.

Wild Card: Stankees a $200 million payroll and a big mid-season acquisition (Rocket fueled?) should be enough to get the Empire into the playoffs



AL Champ: Boston


N.L.East: Phillies- once again I am going against the grain as everyone seems to love the Mets repeating their success of 2006. I look at a threadbare rotation and an old, potentially washed up closer that will have a hard time overcoming the loss of Pedro Martinez. That's why I like the Phils, with their solid starting five (Myers, Hamels, Garcia, Eaton & Moyer) and dynamic offense led by reigning MVP Ryan Howard, to make it to the postseason for the first time since 1993.

N.L. Central:Cubs- while it seems everybody loves the Brewers- today- and the Cards and 'Stros have solid but pitching-thin clubs, when you take all that money the Tribune Co. spent (more than $300 million in upgrades) in its swan song season owning the team, throw in a combative, competitive coach like Lou Pinella, a Cy Young candidate (Victor Zambrano) and a pair of potential MVPs (Soriano, Lee) and you've got the makings of a curse-busting season.

Unless of course all that Stankee/Boston-like free spending blows up in their faces.

N.L. West: LA Dodgers- this division will most likely be the wild west shootout like it was last year when 3 teams went down the stretch with a chance to win the divison and two, the Padres and Dodgers, made the playoffs.

Arizona is a young but trendy pick and San Fran will be better with Barry- Zito I mean- but I like the Dodgers combination of quality starters (Lowe, Penny, Schmidt, Wolf) and plethora of .300 hitters. The Pads, Giants and D-Backs will all be in the mix, and even the hapless Rockies should be improved, but I love L.A. here-plus they're the West Coast Sox.

Wild Card: Mets- decent enough pitching (most like a mid season trade if Petey doesn't return) and a star-studded lineup will get this team back to playing October baseball.



NL Champ: CUBS

WORLD SERIES: Red Sox over Cubs in 7 games

AL MVP: Big Papi, DH BOS he will finally make the voters get over the hangup about him not playing the field when he mashes 55 homers and 145 RBIs for the division winners

NL MVP: Jose Reyes, SS NYM the supersonic shortstop will be the spark plug of the dynamic New York offense; he will lead the majors in steals, triples and being most exciting player to watch every at bat

AL Cy Young: Johan CyTana, MIN the 2-time winner for the Twins is sure to get 35 starts being the only quality starter for Minnesota now that Francisco Liriano is out for the year, and those starts will equate to 21-25 wins, a microscopic ERA & WHIP and close to 300 strikeouts

NL Cy Young: Carlos (don't call me Victor again) Zambrano, CHI I've picked this guy for three years running and one of these times he's gonna make me look like a genius. The ace of the new Cubs with Wood & Prior no longer in the picture this stud is poised to have a huge season, further justifying his demands for a mega buck contract.

AL Rookie of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS I know it's not fair because the guy had pitched for 67 seasons in Japan but if Nomo, Ichiro and Kaz Suzaki can win it so can he. the talented & enigmatic man known as Dice-K will win 18 games, have an ERA near 3.00 and a WHIP near 1.10 and strengthen the rotation of a playoff contender all while adapting to life in a foreign country; of course I'm referring to the Red Sox Nation.

NL Rookie of the Year: Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B ARI This kid has got a ton of potential and a devastating bat; he hit the first major league pitch he ever saw for a grand slam after a September callup and he carried a .395 OBP in 340 minor league games. With the 3B job his to keep for the Pads he should have enough ABs to win the award.

Plus I just love saying his name (kouzmanoff, kouzmanoff, kouzmanoff...)

That's all for now. laugh if you want, but I will have the last laugh come October.

And if I'm wrong I'll just start over under another


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Play Ball! The 2007 season is underway

For some reason the phrase "opening night" doesn't have that same lyrical, wonderful ring that "opening day" enjoys, unless you're referring to a Broadway play, but nevertheless the 2007 Major League Baseball season kicked off this evening when the Mets took on the World Champion Cardinals in St. Louis.

So let's all take a deep breath, kick it down a notch from Final 4 fever to Opening Day mania, and enjoy the poetic, beautiful, glorious sport of baseball.

Remember, every team has a legitimate shot of winning it all beginning tomorrow.

Except the Rays.

Full season preview tomorrow.


March Madness: No Foolin'- BCS title game rematch

Florida manhandles UCLA (again) and Ohio State outlasts Georgetown to set up an unprecedented title game rematch.

OSU's Ron Lewis had every reason to celebrate and GU's Jeff Green had every reason to hang his head after the Buckeye's Final Four win over the Hoyas. (AP/CBSportsline)

Florida 76, UCLA 66

Ohio State 67, Georgetown 60

Is it any surprise that I carried my penchant for making horrid picks in the NFL season over to college hoops?

With my 0-2 stink bomb in the Final 4 I held onto my well-earned moniker of The World's Worst Gambler, which is why I'm smart enough not to actually throw my money away. Unless you count the office pool, in which my bracket has been dead longer than Anna Nicole Smith (friggin' Longhorns!)

But despite my shitty predictions the title game will be a compelling match up for many reasons, not the least of which will be the "rematch" angle. You can be sure ESPN and every other network, talk radio show and Internet site will beat this one to death, so be prepared to hear "this is the first time two schools have played each other for the football and basketball championships in the same year" about 64,527 times between now and tomorrow night at 9:00.

Another surefire storyline will be the young Bucks going up against the veteran Gators. If Florida was to go on and win the title it would become the first team in history to repeat with the same exact starting five as the previous season. Meanwhile Ohio State has cruised to a 22-game winning streak since it got crushed by the Gators back in December on the strength of its two Fab Frosh plus excellent support from an emerging supporting cast.

Before we get to the championship game let's recap how both teams locked up the right to go toe-to-toe again. Although I was at the wedding and reception last night and didn't see much of the action live, thanks to the trusty HD-DVR I caught the edited version of the FF this afternoon as I lounged off my tanguerayover.

Despite Oden's foul trouble the Buckeyes lead early and pull away late to knock off disappointed Hoyas

Mike Conley Jr. strapped the Buckeyes to his back and got them to the title game

I knew it was going to happen. Billy Packer knew it was going to happen. Dickie V. knew it was going to happen. Shit Borat probably knew it was going to happen. And sure enough, it happened.

"It" would refer to the much ballyhooed "Battle of the Big Men" between Greg Oden and Roy Hibbert turning into a foul-plagued washout as both 7-footers compiled fouls early and often to negate what could have been the best match up of the tournament. Oden picked up his 1st foul :18 into the game and his 2nd less than three minutes later and had to sit for the rest of the half, while Hibbert got whistled for his second midway through the opening half, pulling the e-brake on what was shaping up to be a monster game.

As everyone also predicted once the big men had to sit the other star players would take over, and Mike Conley Jr. had no problem rising to the occasion. The fearless freshman guard carried the Buckeyes in the first half, scoring 11 of his 15 points on 5-6 shooting while wreaking havoc on defense and moving the ball brilliantly. The Buckeyes capitalized on numerous Hoya turnovers and at one point had scored 13 of its 20 points off of takeaways to take a 27-23 lead at the break despite Oden having zero points and zero rebounds in 3 minutes of PT.

Georgetown woke up to start the second half, shooting 70% from the field in the first 10 minutes while outscoring OSU 21-17 to tie the game at 44 despite Oden playing and playing well (8 pts, 4 rebs to begin the half.) Unfortunately for the Hoyas superstar forward Jeff Green came up very small in the biggest game of his career. The Big East Player of the Year was held to nine points and took just five shots; he didn't even take his first shot until there were 3:00 minutes left in the first half. Blame part of the awful performance on a solid Ohio State defensive scheme, but a big part of the blame for this loss will rest squarely on that man's shoulders.

That's because once Hibbert picked up his 4th foul with just under 9:00 left having scored 15 of GU's 44 points, Ohio State would break the game open with a quick 6-0 run. The Hoyas would stay within striking distance, but with Oden working his way to a decent 13-point, 9 rebound effort, Hibbert shut down and Jeff Green doing his best invisible man imitation the Buckeyes were able to hang on and seal its first entry to the championship game since 1962.

What if? What if the two big guys had been able to stay foul-free and we were able to witness a memorable clash of true top-flite college centers dunk and swat their team to the title game. One thing we learned from this one is that while the Buckeyes would love Oden to be on the floor for more than 20 minutes a game they know they can still win without him.

Georgetown cannot say the same regarding Hibbert.

The Gators bitchslap the Bruins again and end their season for the second consecutive season

Noah, Richard and Brewer are three big reasons the Gators have a chance to repeat

Arron Afflalo should grab some serious couch time with Dr. Melfi (gotta get in Sopranos mode)after he and his UCLA Bruins were manhandled by the Florida Gators for the second year in a row.

Last year the Gators trounced UCLA in the championship game as leading-scorer Afflalo was held to a meager 10 points and only 10 shots. Last night Afflalo did score 17, second-highest on the team, but struggled from the field (5-14) and was limited to 24 minutes due to Oden-esque foul trouble. And for the first time this postseason the Gators looked like they were ready, willing, and able to play quality basketball from start to finish, and because of that they did finish off the Bruins yet again.

Although Joakim Noah had his worst scoring game of the tourney with only 8 points, his 11 rebounds and 4 blocks set the tone defensively for Florida. With Al Horford contributing a mammoth 17 board performance but only 9 points the offense ran through the trio of Lee Humphrey (14 pts), Chris Richard (16pts) and Corey Brewer (game-high 19 pts.) Brewer kept the Gators in control in the first half when he had scored 12 of the team's first 19 points while Afflalo sat most of the half with three fouls.

The game was low-scoring and tight early, just the way the Bruins wanted it, and the teams were tied at 16 with 6 1/2 to play in the opening half. The Gators then went on a quick 10-0 run sparked by consecutive treys from Brewer and Humphrey, and with Afflalo and center Lorenzo Mata in foul trouble the defensive-minded Bruins could never get its true game going. In fact it was the imposing defensive play of Florida, exemplified by back-to-back blocks by Horford and Brewer during the run, that may have decided this one. Florida blocked 6 shots, out-rebounded the Bruins by 17 and held UCLA to just 39% from the field.

UCLA did cut it to a 6-point deficit, 29-23, at the half, but a soul-crushing 17-4 run near the start of the second half spelled doom for the over matched Bruins. The Gators finally played like champions and dispensed with the team it faced in last year's title game.

On Monday night we'll see if they can knock off the same school that its football team bludgeoned for a championship less than 3 months ago.