Monday, August 4, 2008

Monday's Starting Five

Back in the Saddle Edition

1. Big Brown. The Kentucky Derby-winner and Preakness-winner, who flamed out famously in the last leg of the Triple Crown made his return to the race track yesterday at the $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, NJ. The crowd of 40,000+ was there to see what Brown had left and they were not disappointed. At least, not too much. Running against what I read was a fairly mediocre field at a distance of 1 1/8 mile, Big Brown did win the race but not without some trouble. He had to make a late-comeback against a 20-1 horse Coal Play. The challenger (owned by that Zito guy who always seems to have horses in the big races) went hard for the lead after the first turn and made sure that Big Brown, ridden again by Kent Desormeaux, wasn't going to outpace the field from the gate. In fact, Coal Play had Big Brown looking like a second place finisher right through the far turn and heading into the turn for home. But then in a performance that was more grit than transcendence, the favored horse muscled past Coal Play without many strides to spare before the finish line. I was planted on the last turn as the horses came around for the final straightaway. Brown is the second-place horse in the video (with the white-clad jockey) and pulls even just as the clip ends. As you can see once the first two horses make it through the turn, this was no small distance to make up on the final straightaway. And, even though the "smart" guys in the crowd could be heard telling no one in particular "Here's where Big Brown takes him," it was no sure-thing.

2. Willie Randolph. All in all, 2008 will not go down as the best in Randolph's storied baseball career. It won't beat out his 1980 season with the Yankees when he racked up 151 hits, 99 runs and 30 stolen bases en route to a Silver Slugger Award, a fair amount of MVP votes and a starting nod in the All-Star Game and surely won't trump his 2006 season managing the Mets when he helmed a squad that won the fourth most games in franchise history, a NL East division title and was within one base hit of the World Series. Nope, 2008 won't eclipse either of those two seasons. But he had a moment on Saturday at Yankee Stadium that could rank up their with the best days of his baseball career. Upon being introduced to full-house during the annual Old-Timers' Day in the Bronx, Randolph received a deafening, long-lasting ovation that was the most noteworthy moment of an otherwise perfunctory affair.

3. Jason Bay. Although it still completely befuddles me that the Red Sox could really, seriously trade away Manny Ramirez's bat it has been a pretty nice start for new Sox left fielder Jason Bay. Since arriving from Purgatory, err I mean Pittsburgh, Bay has swung a hot bat and been involved in seemingly all of the action during a three-game sweep of the A's. In his first night at Fenway, Bay scored both runs in a tense 2-1 win and then he scored two more runs and contributed an outfield assist in the 5-3 win on Sunday.

4. Philadelphia Phillies. They're back in first place. And, have been for a few days. The Mets wave of post-Randolph emotion and inspiration seems to have crested and rolled back leaving the Phils back in the NL East driver's seat. The Flyin' Hawaiian Shane Victorino cracked a game-winning three-run home run last night against the Cardinals just hours after the Mets put the finishing touches on a brutal 1-5 road trip.

5. Brett Favre. He's also baa-aack. After an interminable and insufferable amount of in-front-of-the-scenes posturing and behind-the-scenes negotiating, No. 4 will be taking the practice field at Green Bay's training camp this week. He won't be a Viking. Or a Jet. Though, he still might not be the Packers' starting QB either. Somehow, the most that the Packers front office and coaching staff were able to concede was that they will give the three-time NFL MVP and nine-time Pro Bowler a chance to compete for the first-string job. While I totally understand that Favre is a self-aggrandizing narcissistic who has listened to the things that sycophantic commentators like the Patrick-Maguire-Theismann trio and writers like Peter King for far too long, it is also true that on the football field he's still pretty darn good. He took the Packers to the NFC championship game last season and had the weather been a bit more favorable he probably would have taken his team to the Super Bowl. Knowing that Favre is not long for this game (even if he won't leave it as quickly and quietly as we would all like) can they really decide to end his consecutive games started streak when he is totally healthy because they are going to trot out Aaron Rodgers? And, can Rodgers really develop at all as a starter when his teammates and his fans know that the gunslinging sure-fire Hall of Famer is just hanging out on the sideline smiling his impish aw-shucks-grin every time Rodgers sails a ball out of bounds or has a miscommunication with Donald Driver who has played with Brett for what feels like an eternity? The Packers were adamant that Favre not play elsewhere (to the point where the actually and literally tried to bribe him with a $20 million "marketing" contract) but having achieved that goal they have to play him. If no else can line him up under center than the Packers have to. Right?