Wednesday, January 30, 2008

V-J Day!

What had been a rather moribund Tuesday Afternoon in the office for me suddenly turned manic between 4:32 and 4:36pm, in which I received 4 phone calls and 2 text messages, the gist of which was something like this:

"JOHAN! WE GOT JOHAN!!!!!!!!!!!"

Thus ensuring that January 29, 2008 would go down with such days as December 23, 1999, May 22, 1998, December 10, 1984, June 15, 1983 and June 15, 1969 as Banner Days in Mets history, days in which masterful trades were made to acquire impact players that would unquestionably make the Mets a better team.

Yes, the deal is subject to Freddie and Omar being able to work out a contract extension, but the way this news has broken, and the way it has swept the Giants right off the back page, there's no way this deal isn't going to be consummated. If they screw it up, they may as well just move the team into a bunker for the 2008 season.

As I mentioned yesterday, the price the Mets put forth was indeed the right price. It's a steep one, no doubt, but considering that only Carlos Gomez has any tangible experience in the Majors, it's easy to consider this deal a victory for the Mets. Whatever Humber, Mulvey and Guerra amount to for Minnesota, it's academic. In New York, there is no patience for young players to marinate. The Mets had the other pieces in place, and they needed that one final piece to finish out the starting rotation. And say what you will about Philly's offense, I'll take the starting rotation of Johan, Pedro, Maine and Perez over the Pu-Pu platter of Hamels, Myers, Moyer and Kendrick any day. How about that for improvements? A 4th starter who won 15 games and had a 3.56 ERA last season.

So after months upon months of thinking that this was impossible, how the Mets didn't have the chips, how Johan was sure to go to Boston or the Yankees, how the Mets would be trotting out guys like Kyle Lohse, Livan Hernandez and Bartolo Colon in '08...The Misery can be put to rest, at least for the moment.

Johan Santana, in the words of Joe Buck, "WELCOME TO NEW YORK!"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Let's get it Done!

Yes, I just shamelessly used the Citibank slogan to describe my feelings about the Johan Santana trade.

The scenarios and proposals involving Santana have pretty much been talked about to death, without anything being even remotely close to a done deal. But as it stands right now, it would appear that the Mets are in prime position to land what would easily be the crown jewel of their rotation.

Yesterday, I was listening to Mike & the Mad Dog, and in a rare break from the Giants Tsunami, provided their two cents in regards to Santana. They had mentioned that while January has been all Giants talk, they expect that February is going to be Johan, Johan, Johan. And why not? With word flying around that the Twins want a deal done within the next 10 days, with Pitchers and Catchers set to report around February 15th, a deal ought to be done, lest the Twins risk going into the season with their star pitcher sure to walk away for nothing following the 2008 season.

According to Francesa, the Mets don't seem to have much competition. He believes that while the Twins are trying desperately to get the Yankees and Red Sox involved in one of their Reagan-esque Arms Race battles for Santana, neither team is interested. Neither team wants to give up their prospects. He seems firm in his belief that Santana will indeed go to the Mets, if the Twins can get off of Reyes. Although I haven't seen anything in the press to this end, Francesa insists that the Twins are indeed still stuck on receiving Jose Reyes in return for Johan. If that's the deal breaker, well, so be it. I believe the Mets offer currently stands at Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Philip Humber. The Twins would like Fernando Martinez, but that has been another sticking point with Omar. Omar, however, wasn't available to speak to Francesa or Russo about this because he has been on vacation in Israel.

Russo said it, and then he said it a few more times. "The Mets Have to get Santana. The Fans are SCREAMING for Santana!" Especially the way last season played out, they're right.

It reminds me of that week in May, 1998, after the Dodgers had dealt Piazza to the Marlins, and Steve Phillips said he wouldn't deal for him while the punchless Mets were drawing crowds of 15,000 a night. Phillips pulled the trigger for Piazza that Friday, and two seasons later, the Mets were in the World Series.

Same situation. The Mets right now, are in prime position to land the ace of ace pitchers, move him to the pitching-dominated National League, in a spacious ballpark (the dimensions of Citi Field to be determined) and basically setting him up to succeed by sticking him next to one of the best pitchers in Baseball History, on a team that has a playoff-worthy core already in place. Omar needs to get himself back from Israel and get his ass in gear to ensure that Johan Santana is the Mets starting pitcher on March 31st in Florida. If the Twins can't lure the Yanks or Sox into this and the current deal is done, great. If it takes throwing in Fernando Martinez, DO IT. I DON'T CARE! GET THIS DEAL DONE!

Twins ask for last offers, with decision coming soon []

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In Case You'd Forgotten...

The Mets still do exist, however marginal the headlines may be.

The re-signing of Endy Chavez yesterday wasn't exactly earth-shattering news. His incentive-laden 2-year deal basically ensures him of the same role he's had here for the past two seasons, that of the lovable, sharp-gloved fourth outfielder and super-sub, provided he stays healthy.

It's not at all worthy of a banner headline, but at least it gives me a good excuse to dust off that photo and remind us of better times.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Victory for the Ages

I know I picked the Giants to win in Green Bay last night. That doesn't necessarily mean I thought they would actually do it.

In a game that played out almost exactly as I thought it would, the Giants prevailed in the NFC Championship, in Green Bay last night, in a game that they could have won or lost 20 different ways.

The Giants won because their defense, which rose to the occasion in Dallas and Tampa Bay, came through with another outstanding effort, holding Ryan Grant to 29 yards rushing, forcing Brett Favre to beat them, and eventually forcing him to make a critical mistake.

The Giants won because Eli Manning, who proved himself about as steady as the Mets Bullpen in September 2007 throughout most of this season, continued his incredible turnaround, and conducted the Giants offense like it was he, and not Favre, bound for the Hall of Fame.

The Giants won because Plaxico Burress, who has played out the entire season on a crippled ankle, came through with a sterling performance equal to the magnitude of the game itself.

And the Giants won because, as a team, they were able to overcome a few individual mistakes that might have done in a lesser team (McQuarters' 2 fumbles, Madison's foolish Un-necessary roughness penalty, Tynes' 2 missed FGs) and never quit until Lawrence Tynes' 47-yard kick hooked through the uprights. They believe in each other, even when it seems like nobody else does.

I watched the game with a friend of mine, a Jets fan, and after the game, all we could do was look at each other and say, "Man. What a fucking game!" Watching the game, we were both reminded of past playoff failures by our own teams. He had flashbacks to a game 3 years ago, the Doug Brien game in Pittsburgh, when the Jets kicker missed a pair of Field Goals late in the game. I flashed way back to Matt Bahr in 1990, when these same Giants denied the 49ers of a Three-peat.

It seems so strange to think that the 2007 Giants are going to the Super Bowl. After an uneven season that didn't seem to inspire confidence in anybody, the Giants somehow righted themselves and caught fire at the most opportune time, riding a wave that will take them all the way down to Arizona for Super Bowl XLII.

You could tell that the Giants came to play an inspired game from the outset. With the temperature holding steady between -1°F and -4°F, the Giants looked warm and toasty, while the Packers, playing in their element, looked like the team that was cold. The Giants were able to move the ball at will on offense, and their defense was able to keep the Packers off balance. But for a few plays, specifically Driver's 90 yard TD, and a pair of Packers drives in the second half that were extended by bad penalties and a freak play, the Giants basically dominated the game.
But after running the ball and running down the clock to set up Tynes at the end of regulation, it didn't look good. I kept thinking that they needed to get closer, or take a shot at the End Zone. My friend was screaming about Doug Brien. Then, Tynes hooked the 36-yard FG as the clock ran out. And things really did not look good when the Packers won the coin toss before Overtime, following Tynes' second missed FG.

But as things have gone for the Giants this month, the Giants have been able to overcome the negative. And Favre's pass on the second play of Overtime was an underthrown flutterball that was easily intercepted by Corey Webster, setting up the final drive, and setting up Lawrence Tynes to charge past his coach, onto the field to make that last Field Goal to put the Giants into the Super Bowl.

3 straight on the road in the Postseason. 10 wins in a row on the road. Who the hell even plays 10 road games in a season?
The Giants did it. And they're absolutely where they deserve to be. This is a proud, proud day for the Giants and their fans, and they deserve all the congratulations they're getting right now. They earned it.
And they've earned another shot at the 18-0 New England Patriots, the prohibitive favorites right now. The Patriots basically did the absolute minimum they had to do to beat San Diego. But then, San Diego was pretty much hamstrung when Tomlinson had to go out of the game. The Chargers defense played inspired, picking off a shaky Tom Brady 3 times. But the offense failed to finish off drives, settling for Field Goals instead of Touchdowns, and that was the difference. The Patriots were able to hammer away and hammer away until there was no time left, holding the ball for the final 9 minutes of the game and knocking the Chargers off the dance floor.
It's a rematch of a most intriguing game that took place Week 17. Get ready to hear an awful lot about that, about the undefeated Patriots, about Eli Manning emerging from his brother's long shadow, and every other stupid human interest story that can be cooked up.

But you won't hear anything about Brett Favre this week.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Championship Sunday in the NFL has always been a rather breathless day, even if the 49ers haven't been prominently involved. It's really the last pure day of the NFL Season, before the idiotic week bye week before the overblown spectacle that is the Super Bowl. Some of the most memorable moments in NFL History have come on Championship Sunday, you can look here for a brief recap of some particulars.

This weekend's games should be a treat. No, it's not going to be quite as good as the frenetic New England/Indianapolis game last year, but then, Indianapolis should have muscled up and beaten San Diego. They didn't, and they're not here, so...

...Sunday, at 3PM, we have the San Diego Chargers against the New England Patriots.

This is probably the day's biggest mismatch. San Diego gallantly came away with an epic upset last Sunday in Indianapolis because they were able to move the ball at will against Indy's defense, and their own defense rose to the occasion, came up with key turnovers, shut down Indy's running game and pressured Peyton Manning into making mistakes.

This particular recipe for success is not, in any way, shape or form, exclusive.

On the other side, the juggernaut that is the New England Patriots just continues to roll on. As I mentioned on Monday, Jacksonville pretty much played what was for them, as perfect a game as they could play. But they couldn't keep up with the Patriots, couldn't slow down Maroney, and couldn't lay a finger on Tom Brady. Brady cooly dissected the Jaguars defense relying on short, quick passes, rather than throwing to the double-covered Randy Moss, and the resulting 26 for 28 performance only adds to his legend. Plus, look at that picture. He's so dreamy!

As an unrelated point, Tom Brady is beginning to resemble, more and more, Thom Yorke of Radiohead. They could be dead ringers for each other if Thom Yorke weren't so obviously un-athletic. But the similarities seem to go deeper than just appearance. Both are currently performing at the top of their respective games (consider that a strong endorsement of Radiohead's new album), and have done so for an extended period of time, and even their lulls could be considered excellent for a lesser individual.

But I digress.

In order to continue their drive towards a perfect 19-0 season, the Patriots just have to stick with what got them this far. As time has passed, they have begun to rely more and more on the power running of Lawrence Maroney. I've maintained that any assertion that the Patriots might have had a weak running game was likely false; Belichick has proven himself a master of deception time and again and perhaps he was playing possum with his running game for some time, allowing Brady to just sling the ball at will. This was proven last week with Maroney's strong effort against a Jacksonville defense tough on the run. And if the Chargers try to play the Jags strategy of taking away Moss, Brady has too many other weapons (Stallworth, Welker, Watson) to look to, moreso than the Chargers defense might be able to handle. Yes, the Chargers are better at LB than Jacksonville, but perhaps weaker at Corner. Besides Antonio Cromartie, who will certainly be locked on Moss, they have Quentin Jammer and Drayton Florence, neither of whom are close to spectacular.

On the other side, I don't think anybody has any idea how effective Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson or Antonio Gates can be. They were all banged up but good after the Indianapolis game (or in the Tennessee game in the case of Gates). Billy Volek and Michael Turner might have been good enough to finish out the Indianapolis game. But they won't cut it in New England. The weather is going to be cold, they're going to be tight, and it's going to be tough for them to win. They might keep it respectable, but I think the only chance they have to beat New England is if LaDainian Tomlinson calls up the Real LT, and has him send some hookers to Tom Brady and Randy Moss' houses on Saturday night, while they sit in their hotel rooms and smoke crack.

My pick: New England 38, San Diego 16.

Sunday, sometime after 6pm, is the NFC Championship, featuring the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers, LIVE, from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where the capacity of the Stadium is actually larger than the population of the town the Stadium is in.

Although it appears as though much of America seems to be rallying behind Brett Favre and the Packers, the ageless Quarterback resurrecting his career for one last hurrah, leading a band of young and hungry players to the cusp of the Super Bowl, I'm picking the Giants to win.

Here are several reasons why:
Yes, they're going to be on the road, in frigid and hostile Green Bay. But this fact hasn't seemed to bother the Giants at all over the course of the season. They won 7 of their 8 road games in the regular season (including the last 7), and then two more in the Playoffs. That's 9 road wins in a row in one season. That doesn't happen very often. We have seen the Giants mesh as a team as the season drew on, and perhaps this is why they have been able to have such success on the road.

Remember what I said before about the Chargers' strategy in beating the Colts? Well, the Giants did that in the second half of their victory in Dallas last weekend. After Marion Barber carved them up in the first half, the Giants defense held firm and rose up in the second half, keeping Barber under wraps and forcing Tony Romo to beat them. And when they were able to wear down Green Bay's offensive line and pressure Romo, Romo got frustrated and made mistakes. Well, I think they can do that to Green Bay, too. Although Ryan Grant has had a spectacular season, the Green Bay offense is so delicately balanced on Grant being able to run the ball with success. Otherwise, the game is solely in Brett Favre's hands. Now, this isn't a knock on Favre, but let's face it, Favre has always been susceptible to being pressured into making mistakes. He's a master at improvising, yes, but it's easy to overlook just how often his improvising can backfire on him (see: 2001 Divisional Playoff, Packers at Rams). Favre can also throw up that flutterball right into the opposing Safety's hands with the best of them. Favre was never pressured last weekend by a Seahawks defense that could stop neither the run, or the pass. The Giants defense has the capability of stopping the run, and they boast an excellent Pass rush. The question lies in the secondary, and if Aaron Ross is able to play. The secondary is good, but right now a patchwork unit because of injuries. But this didn't stop them last week in Dallas.

Then, there's this: If the Packers win, and go on to face the Patriots, the Media will very likely have a giant, collective, simultaneous orgasm. We will be bombarded, simply bombarded with stupid puff pieces about Brett Favre. True, if the Giants win, we'll hear the same stupid stuff about Eli Manning and Peyton, but you know that if Favre is involved, it's going to go to new heights of insanity. We'll hear from his chiropractor. We'll hear from the doctor that prescribed the painkillers he got addicted to. We'll hear from the guy who dug his father's grave. We'll probably get to see a live interview with the Bog that Favre grew up in in Mississippi. It's going to be absolutely and totally insane. I don't even want to think about the ridiculous questions that he'll be asked at Media day. Between that, the undefeated Patriots, and the Bill Simmons "Prince Favre vs. the Cobra Kai Yankees" theory, it's just a recipe for turning off your TV and throwing it out the window.

It is absolutely imperative that the Giants win this game on Sunday, despite the crowd, and the Favre, and the temperature that is going to range from 3 to -7°F in Green Bay. The sanity of us all depends on it.

My Pick: Giants 27, Packers 23.

Buckle up.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Perfect Storm

Yesterday's Giants/ Cowboys game could very possibly have been the perfect storm for the Media.

Either way, they would get to kill a Quarterback after the game. If the Cowboys won, the Media could go after Eli Manning for his continued struggles. If the Giants won, the media could go after Tony Romo for his much-ballyhooed vacation with Jessica Simpson.

The game itself played out exactly as I had expected it would. This was the perfect example of the "weird game" I talked about on Friday. The Giants raced out early, but their offense was, for the most part, fairly stagnant except when they absolutely needed to move the ball. Otherwise, the story of the game was the Giants defense, who was kept on the field for the majority of the game thanks to three exceptionally long Cowboy drives. For most of the first half, they couldn't stop the run, and they let Romo complete tons upon tons of short passes, and chew up the clock on the way to a pair of touchdowns. Then, they did the same to start the 3rd quarter, driving down for a Field Goal. The Giants kept themselves in the game with a pair of lightning strikes from Eli Manning to Amani Toomer (who has been playing out of his mind lately), one on a long TD pass on their first drive, and their most pivotal 47-second Touchdown drive to tie the game right before halftime.

After that, the Giants defense finally began to wear down the Dallas offense, specifically the offensive line. Between Andre Gurode's inability to hear a snap call, and Romo getting frustrated, the Cowboys inevitably self-destructed, slowly but surely, as the 2nd half drew on. The Giants managed to parlay a great punt return by R.W. McQuarters (ex-49er) into the leading touchdown, and the final 12 minutes of the game played out in the fashion of USA 4, USSR 3. Dallas would get opportunities, and be unable to cash them in. Romo began to whine, and his teammates committed some damaging penalties. One particular sequence saw Dallas run 9 straight plays from between both 40 yard lines, not being able to advance any further because of penalties on both sides, and dropped passes, finally being forced to punt the ball away. And on the final drive, Romo overshot his receivers badly on two plays before finally throwing that last interception to McQuarters for the death knell.

Frustrating, bizarre and weird. The definition of the 4:30pm Sunday game, and the right team won this game. And the media got to rip apart Tony Romo for losing his concentration on his vacation with the Simpson Family in Mexico, because that's clearly the reason he played poorly. Even Terrell Owens, never one to keep his mouth shut, brought it up without even being asked about it, going so far as to burst into tears over the attention being brought to his Quarterback and his dopey vacation that nobody really should care about at all. But it's funny to watch Owens go to pieces over it.

Meanwhile, the early game on Sunday held quite a bit of intrigue in its own right. The San Diego Chargers, who I figured would get blown out, held the line exceptionally well against the Colts, managed to slow the game down despite losing LaDainian Tomlinson (That's LaDainian Tomlinson, not L.T.) early in the game and Philip Rivers in the 3rd Quarter. The Chargers defense kept the pressure on Manning, who only seemed to be able to hit on the longer passes, and then scored three massive turnovers, one which kept them in the game at 7-0, one which kept the game close at 10-7 before halftime, and the final one at the end of the Colts last desperation drive, all the while cobbling together the winning TD drive with James Spader at QB. That was really the "Holy Shit" game of the weekend, because I don't know anybody who was giving San Diego a chance. Yes, with this upset, it takes all the steam out of the Colts/Patriots AFC Championship game that everyone wanted to see (sort of like the Cowboys/49ers games in the 90s), but don't discount the Chargers next weekend either. I'll still go on record saying the Patriots will win, but assuming that Rivers and Tomlinson can play (and I assume they will), and Gates is a bit healthier, they can make a game out of it. Rivers matured by leaps and bounds over the last 2 weeks, and his brash, unflappable attitude appears to be something the team is able to rally behind.

The Saturday games pretty much held to form. Ryan Grant gets all the credit in the world for bouncing back after having perhaps the worst first 4 minutes of a game ever, and Brett Favre pretty much plowed Seattle into the snow in one of the trademark dominant performances that he made his name for.

Saturday evening in New England was perhaps a closer game than I thought. Jacksonville kept themselves in the game for most of the first half, but they could not slow down New England's offense, and Tom Brady basically took the game over in the 2nd half and New England was able to surge away at the end.

So, this leaves us with a pair of most intriguing matchups next weekend. I think I've already stated who I'm leaning towards, but I'll have a full slate of picks on Friday, for Championship Sunday, the final true weekend of the Football season. Meanwhile, everybody in New York can prepare for the Giants Tsunami that is sure to happen all week long.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Significant Victory

I'd like to avoid the misnomer that I'm somehow abandoning the roots of this Blog and suddenly writing about other things, however considering that my weekend involves me sitting in front of a television (and off of a sprained ankle) and watching Football, and considering the little noise, or little meaningful noise coming from the Mets, it's more at the forefront of my mind at the current time.

(Yes, I know, I heard that the Mets were once again "frontrunners" in the Johan sweepstakes. But watching this unfold is like watching NASCAR. They're just driving around in circles.)

It had been my intent to pick all the Playoff games in the NFL. However, after finally recovering from writing the "20 Days in October" series, I was a little burnt out. This is a more acceptable way of saying that I forgot to pick the games last weekend. I suppose I could say I picked the Giants, Seattle, Jacksonville and San Diego, but what to I have to back that up, so let's just say that in the NY Times Predictify contest, I was 4 for 4 last weekend.

But the Divisional Round is probably my favorite Football weekend of the year, because it's the weekend that usually produces the best games. It happens year after year, and you can certainly guarantee yourself one Epic game, and one upset. Then, there's what I like to call the "Weird Game," the game where something strange happens. Usually, this game is the 4:30pm Sunday game, the last game of the weekend. It's usually in some odd setting, featuring two teams that play each other often, and there's generally some sort of weird final score, or play (take the famous 4th & 26 in the Green Bay/Philly game of 2003), the game is usually decided in the final moments, and the game itself generally goes completely opposite of what everyone thinks will happen (see: New England at San Diego, 2006, Indianapolis at New England, 2004, Green Bay at St. Louis, 2001).

This year, that game is going to be the Giants at the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, it's Sunday, at 4:30. It's their 3rd meeting this year, 92nd overall, and first time in the Playoffs. Dallas is expected to dominate, with their playboy QB, their loudmouthed WR, and their stadium with the hole in the roof. The Giants come in off a Significant Victory in Tampa last week, now 8-1 on the road, and with what appears to be a large chip on their shoulder. Yes, Eli Manning has proven inconsistent to the degree that I think he's taking Glendon Rusch lessons. Yes, Plaxico Burress is hurting (although unlike me, he plays through his sprained ankle). Yes, the Giants appear understaffed on Offense. In reality, all signs point to a blowout for Dallas.

That's why I think the Giants will win, and in a relatively low-scoring game, 24-20. I think Eli's going to get the job done late and lead the Giants to a Touchdown in the final minutes.

Elsewhere, I'm going with the following:
Green Bay over Seattle: Seattle just isn't very good. They won a weak division (and picked off San Francisco twice), and looked miserable in the Washington game last week. Favre and the Packers have the Mojo this season. It might be close, but Green Bay wins, 26-20.

New England over Jacksonville: I'll try not to sound too much like Bill Simmons, but he's right. Jacksonville's Defense just doesn't have the means to contain Brady, Moss, Welker and Stallworth over a full game. On the other side, David Garrard is a nice little Quarterback. He's a great game manager who won't make mistakes that will kill his team. That's a nice way of saying that he leads a marginal offense against a juggernaut. This is the great Prime Time Game, and my guess is that you can probably go to sleep early on this one. Patriots 38-14.

Indianapolis over San Diego: I'd like to think that this game would be a wild shootout, but something tells me that the Chargers won't be able to keep pace. I think it'll be one of those games where the game is close for about 3 Quarters, but then Indy will pull away, and the Final Score will look like a throttling. Colts 45-28.

Enjoy the games, folks!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I wonder if that phrase will replace "THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE!" as the ridiculous, sports-related, oft-repeated all-purpose nonsensical phrase in American vernacular.

21 times, Brian McNamee parroted this phrase onto Roger Clemens' tape recorder, as he probably stood by and stared at his lawyers, asking for what he should say next.

I have no idea why I'm paying this story so much mind. Perhaps I'm just waiting for Clemens to be exposed as the liar and the fraud we know he is. Maybe I just endless possibilities in the humor of the situation.

We learned nothing from the Clemens/McNamee tape, other than Brian McNamee is a pretty pitiful character. But Clemens never challenged him, and McNamee never confessed to anything. The Press conference was even more ridiculous. Clemens behaved like a petulant child, told the Hall of Fame Voters to stick their votes where the Sun don't shine and then stomped off.

How the hell do you call your own Press Conference, and then get mad and storm out? That just slays me to the point where I wonder if he staged it. His anger seems forced, almost false. In reality, if he doesn't care about his legacy, and he doesn't care about the records, and his career accomplishments, and the Hall of Fame, why is he even out there? If all that matters is his health, why is he shelling out all this money for conferences and lawyers and poorly-shot YouTube videos proclaiming his innocence to a world that really doesn't believe him.

Somewhere, I picture Mike Piazza. Mike Piazza is sitting at home, perhaps in Florida, perhaps in Manhattan, by himself. He's sitting on his couch, with a giant bowl of popcorn, watching this madness on TV. He sits there grinning, laughing his ass off as this circus continues to unfold.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Good and Evil

There were two stories that seemed to shape the landscape of the New York Sports scene on Sunday night.

First, Eli Manning and the Giants overcame some ghosts from the past and put together perhaps their strongest performance of the season in a 24-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wildcard game.

Second was Roger Clemens' interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, in which he repeatedly denied the accusations by Brian McNamee that he used steroids.

One story focuses on a sympathetic character. The other involves a complete and total jerk.

And if you listened to WFAN last night, you weren't sure which one was which.

It's baffling to me why Giants fans continue to kill Eli Manning. I know that he's not exactly the picture of consistency at QB, and he's pretty much been set up to fail under ridiculously high expectations as the #1 draft pick in 2004. Over the 4 seasons, he's alternately looked brilliant and at the same time clueless. But he seems to have a knack for playing well when it matters most, as evidenced by the famous comeback against Denver in '05, and the last two games he's played, against New England and yesterday in Tampa. Although his numbers weren't eye-popping, they were excellent across the board. He basically managed a perfect game, didn't make any mistakes, and when the Giants were behind early and struggling, he remained calm and stuck to his game plan, smartly conducting two touchdown drives in the second quarter, and then a magnificent 8 minute drive over the 3rd and 4th quarters resulting in the game clinching touchdown.

So why are Giants fans continuing to kill this guy, talking about how he's not good enough to win a Super Bowl or ever be a franchise Quarterback? He basically just led the Giants to their most significant victory since they went to the Super Bowl in 2000, and put them into a matchup next weekend against their most hated rival, the Dallas Cowboys, where they probably look better than any other road team playing next weekend in the Divisional Playoffs. Giants fans, I think it's time to stop complaining and appreciate what you've got. Yes, he can be frustrating to watch, and he could very easily crumple next weekend in Dallas, but considering the state of NFL Quarterbacks (and the 49ers in particular have suffered greatly at the QB position this season), Eli Manning isn't so bad by comparison.

One caller summed it up rather well: If I were a professional athlete, I'd never want to come to New York. You can't please anyone.

However, none of this was quite as galling as hearing at least a few people call in and somehow make some sense out of the now-infamous Roger Clemens' interview.

I didn't watch 60 Minutes. However, WFAN played the interview shortly after 9pm (and a link to the interview is included above). I didn't have a chance to see it, but I heard that Clemens looked uncomfortable. The interview itself seemed rather mild. Mike Wallace has certainly lost a bit off his fastball over time (ha ha), and seemed to ask some challenging questions and not follow up on them. Not surprisingly, Clemens continues to deny having used steroids, and seems to shift most of the blame on his trainer, Brian McNamee. But why would McNamee lie about Clemens? Clemens assumes this is so he could avoid jail time, but then, what does that have to do with Clemens himself? I'm sure Clemens would like us to think that they're going after him like they went after Bonds. Of course, Clemens tried to make himself out to be the victim; that's what he'd like all of us to believe. His tearjerker of a story about pitching hurt in the World Series just made us all feel terrible for him. He says he's being found guilty without a trial, although the 11 pages of evidence in the Mitchell report are pretty damning against him. I'm not sure that too many people are buying the act. The ones that are are probably the same people who think Eli Manning is the worst person ever.

It pretty much boils down to this: Roger Clemens, who the hell are you trying to fool? You are a liar. And I can't wait until the day you are exposed as the fraud and the phony that you are.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

20 Days in October, Part IX

Part I - Premature Burial
Part II - Red Menace
Part III - Words & Pain
Part IV - That Particular Moment
Part V - Blood Feud
Part VI - Protest & Survive
Part VII - Just Like You Imagined
Part VIII - War of the Worlds


I am so proud to be a Met...You guys made me believe again. You made baseball fun for me. I will never, ever forget what this team did.

-Shawon Dunston

It had been 11 seasons since the Mets had sniffed meaningful October Baseball. The significance of what the Mets were able to accomplish over those 20 days in October of 1999 would shape the events of the 2000 season and beyond. Memories of any particular Mets Postseason run always has held special significance to fans. But it seemed to cut deeper in 1999. The Mets and Braves had never had a particularly fierce rivalry, especially since they had played for so many years in opposite divisions. And when the Braves were moved to the NL East with the Mets in 1994, the Braves were up, and the Mets were down. But this changed in 1998, when the Mets, needing one victory in Atlanta to perhaps extend their season, were swept away by the Braves.

Then came that 1999 season, when this rivalry would escalate into a full-scale Blood Feud, with ill feelings that continue to linger to the present day.

For me, stuck in Binghamton, it was more or less back to the grind of classes. I would gather with a few fellow Mets fans here and there to discuss what had happened, but I was basically left to deal with the ill feelings myself. I didn't watch the World Series, except for one particular game when my roommate, a Yankees fan, happened to have the game on. Secretly, I rooted for the Yankees. I couldn't stand to see Atlanta celebrate any further. I considered it somewhat of a moral victory when the Braves, clearly beaten down from their battle with the Mets, got their asses swept by the Yankees.

There would be moments where the anger would bubble up, brief bursts of snarling about Larry or Rocker or Andruw or Jordan or Atlanta, and even at times anything south of the Mason-Dixon line. But there wasn't much more to do than prepare for the 2000 season.

The same could have been said for the Mets. After the final game in Atlanta, much of the team went back to New York. Most of them requested videotapes of those final two games. Finally removed, they could take the time to look back at all they were able to accomplish.

Mike Piazza didn't make the trip.
Instead, Mike strode to a car rental counter, rented a Ford Escort and drove. Drove wherever, just so he could clear his head. "I threw my cell phone away and just drove," he said in an interview with New York Magazine, "I was burned out, and driving for me is very therapeutic. I was solo, man. Just drove through, ate at diners, truck stops. It was pretty neat."

Of course, there would be turnover for the Mets. Although they had preferred to re-sign him, John Olerud left the Mets to sign with the Seattle Mariners. Other players, such as Shawon Dunston, Masato Yoshii, Kenny Rogers and Orel Hershiser, were not re-signed either. Dunston would give way to Melvin Mora, and Outfield prospect Jay Payton. Todd Zeile was signed to replace Olerud at 1B. But there was still a hole in the starting rotation. Leiter and Reed would return, as would Bobby Jones, who had missed most of the '99 season with injuries.

On December 23rd, 1999, the Mets would make a major deal to bolster their rotation. Mike Hampton, who had won 22 games for the Astros in '99, would be dealt to the Mets along with Outfielder Derek Bell. The price would not be cheap for the Mets, as Roger Cedeno and Octavio Dotel were the main pieces heading to Houston, but the message was clear: The Mets were going all out for the 2000 season.

Then, there would be controversy.

Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year old mom with four kids. It's depressing...The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners. I'm not a very big fan of foreigners. You can walk an entire block in Times Square and not hear anyone speaking English...How the hell did they get in this country?

I'm not a racist or prejudiced person, but certain people bother me.

-John Rocker

The article, written by Jeff Pearlman, appeared in the December 27, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated. In the interview, Rocker also called Bobby Valentine "Unprofessional" and "A Clown."

The backlash would be swift and immediate. Rocker would publicly apologize for his comments, but the damage had already been done. A suspension would be handed down, and teammates, who previously thought Rocker simply a comic villain, would abandon him. When the Mets schedule for 2000 was released, everyone immediately looked to Thursday, June 29.

The first matchup between the Mets and Braves.

The return to Shea of John Rocker.

But there was other business to take care of first. The Mets began the 2000 season half a world away, in Japan, against the Cubs. The first games of the New Millennium be an historic matchup, the first time Major League games would be played outside of North America. The Mets and the Cubs would split their games, and then return home to commence their seasons. As expected, the Mets played well. In particular, it was Piazza and Alfonzo carrying the load offensively for the Mets, with Zeile and Agbayani chipping in. Al Leiter got off to a red hot start. Mike Hampton pitched well, if inconsistently. Derek Bell got off to a flying start before cooling in June. And Rookie Jay Payton earned the Center Field job after an injury to Darryl Hamilton, and came through with big hits and big plays in the Field.

On May 29th, in the bottom of the first inning of a game in Los Angeles, F.P. Santangelo was caught stealing. The throw by Mike Piazza was slightly wide of the base, and Rey Ordonez had to reach across the base to make the tag. The force of Santangelo's slide broke Ordonez's arm. He would be finished for the season, giving way to Melvin Mora.

On June 29th, the Braves and Rocker returned to Shea. The Braves held a 3 game lead over the Mets in the division, despite missing starter John Smoltz, who was lost for the season after being diagnosed with a torn ligament in his Right Elbow following the 1999 World Series. A contrite Rocker attempted to take the 7 train to Shea, but was dissuaded from doing so for fear for his safety. Over 700 police officers were stationed at Shea for the game. Alcohol sales were restricted. Armed snipers were posted on the roof of the Stadium. A videotaped apology from Rocker was shown before the game, although it could not be heard over the boos from the crowd. Rocker would enter the game in the 8th inning, dashing in as per usual, dodging all sorts of projectiles. He was clearly rattled by the situation. But behind in the count 3-1 to Robin Ventura, Ventura surprisingly swung through a high fastball. Rocker would rebound to strike him out, and retire Zeile and Payton behind him in a game the Braves would go on to win 6-4. Even after all this, the Mets still couldn't beat the damn Braves.

Then came Friday night, June 30th.

In the 8th inning, with the Braves already ahead 5-1, Brian Jordan blasted a 3-run HR off of Eric Cammack. He did his little sashay across Home Plate, pointed to the sold out Fireworks night crowd and danced off. The Braves were going to do it to us again.

Then, the Braves pitchers lost it.

Don Wengert managed to get 2 outs, although his outs were sandwiched by hits from Bell, Piazza, Zeile and Payton, which scored 2 runs to make the game 8-3. Wengert would be removed for Kerry Ligtenberg. Ligtenberg would walk Agbayani, Mark Johnson and Mora, forcing home two more runs to make the score 8-5. A now-disgusted Bobby Cox summoned Terry Mulholland from the bullpen to try to stop the bleeding. But Mulholland only made it worse. First, he walked Derek Bell, forcing home another run. Alfonzo followed with a hard single past Larry at 3rd, scoring two runs to tie the game.

Mike Piazza had come into the game having driven in a run in 12 straight games, in the midst of one of the hottest of hot streaks he had ever been on. What followed would become one of the signature moments of his Mets career.

-Gary Cohen

Rarely demonstrative, Piazza pumped his fist rounding first base, as the entire Mets team streamed out of the dugout to greet him. The Mets would win that game, and the next before falling in the series finale. But the Mets clearly showed the Braves that they would not be pushed around anymore.

Although he had been performing well at the plate, Melvin Mora's defense at Shortstop became a liability, and on July 28th, he was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles for established Shortstop Mike Bordick. Although Bordick hit a Home Run in his first Mets AB, he did little to distinguish himself with the team. Mora went on to become an All-Star with the Orioles. He returned to Shea on June 16, 2006, and his vengeful 2-run HR helped to beat the Mets 6-3.

On September 26th, the Atlanta Braves clinched the NL East with a 7-1 victory over the Mets at Shea Stadium.

On September 27th, the Mets clinched the Wildcard with a 6-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium. It would be the first time the Mets would be heading to the Postseason in back-to-back seasons, vindication once again for Valentine, and, most importantly, rest over the season's final few games.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that the Mets and Braves would meet once again in the NLCS.

Someone, apparently, forgot to tell that to the St. Louis Cardinals. After winning the first two games at home, the Cardinals walked into Atlanta on Saturday, October 7, and finished off a shocking sweep of the Braves with a 7-1 victory. In New York, the Mets were beginning the 3rd game of their NLDS with the San Francisco Giants just as the game in Atlanta was finishing up. When the final score was posted on the scoreboard at Shea Stadium, an eruption of cheers and mock tomahawk chops came up from the crowd. The Mets biggest nemesis was dead.

The Mets would go on to win the game 3-2 on Benny Agbayani's 13th inning Home Run.

The next day, October 8th, the Mets finished off the Giants when Bobby Jones, an afterthought, came through with a masterful 1-hit Shutout.

With the specter of playing the Braves for the pennant now gone, an energized Mets team stormed into St. Louis and simply overwhelmed the Cardinals over the first two games. Mike Piazza, having played in fewer games, and received more rest late in the season, anchored the offense. His double in the first inning of the first game on October 11 plated newfound sparkplug Timo Perez with the series' first run, and prompted Mets coach John Stearns to proclaim, "THE MONSTER IS OUT OF THE CAGE!!!"

On Monday, October 16th, behind a 3-hit shutout from Mike Hampton, the Mets clinched the National League Pennant, a 7-0 clubbing of the Cardinals, capping off an easy 5-game victory in the NLCS. They would go on to face the Yankees in the 2000 World Series. Rick Wilkins flew out to Timo Perez for the final out. Perez jumped in the air three times before making the catch, touching off a wild celebration at Shea, culminating with Piazza, Lenny Harris and John Franco leading the Mets team in a victory lap around the stadium. In the clubhouse, Valentine grasped the Warren Giles trophy and screamed to his players, "THIS ONE'S A BIG ONE FOR YOU GUYS, RIGHT HERE!"

In 2001, the Mets would begin their season in Atlanta. Robin Ventura would hit John Rocker's first pitch of the season for a 2-run Home Run in a game that the Mets would win 6-4 in 10 innings. The Mets would raise the NL Championship Banner one week later with the Braves in attendance at Shea.

On June 22, 2001, following a Brave victory over the Mets at Shea, John Rocker, struggling on the mound, was dealt to the Cleveland Indians. He would bounce around for several seasons before vanishing from the Major League landscape, despite continuing to incite ill feelings whenever he was heard from.

On September 21, 2001, the Mets and the Braves played the first major sporting event in New York City following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Both teams lined up on the infield during an emotional pregame ceremony, and shook hands with each other before the game. With the Braves leading 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th, Mike Piazza hit a long 2-run Home Run off of Steve Karsay, bouncing off the camera well in Center Field to give the Mets a 3-2 lead and victory.

The Mets had struggled throughout much of the 2001 season, but they had made a late, frenetic run at the Braves. But on September 23, 2001, Armando Benitez blew a 4-1 lead in a game the Braves would go on to win in 11 innings Brian Jordan hit a HR in the 9th, and another in the 11th. 6 days later, on September 29th, it was Jordan again, capping another Mets bullpen collapse with a Grand Slam off John Franco. The Braves would go on to another Division title. The Mets went home.

The Mets and Braves continued in opposite directions for several seasons, before 2006. That year, the Mets finally turned the tables, marching into Atlanta in late July and sweeping the Braves, led by Carlos Beltran. On September 18, 2006, the National League East Championship changed hands for the first time since the Braves had entered the division in 1994. The title went to the New York Mets.

By this time, the only players remaining on either team from that 1999 season were Andruw Jones, Brian Jordan, John Smoltz and, of course, Mr. Larry Wayne Jones. All were and continue to be booed with great fervor. Especially Larry.
The names and faces change. The memories of that time in History will live on forever.