Monday, August 25, 2008

Last Week In Sports

In Order to Make Up For Being MIA (and not in the good Paper Planes sort of way) All of Last Week, WWOD? Is Offering Up This 25-Item Blowout/Starting Five From the Week I Missed

1. Big Pelf. Last Tuesday night was a Big Night for the Big Guy, as he went the distance to notch his first career complete game. It was a 3-hit victory against the Atlanta Braves, to boot. The 6-foot-7-inch 24-year-old sinker-baller had won 10 of his last 12 decisions going into last night's start against the Astros (which we'll get to in a bit). Not only was his nine-inning performance a much-needed salve for a shaky Wagner-less bullpen but it was a long, long time coming (sort of like this post) for Mets fans. We've been hearing about the wonder that is the Big Pelf ever since he was taken by the Metropolitans with the 9th overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. And, it was widely known that he would have gone higher in the draft had the young fireballer from Wichita State not selected a certain Scott Boras as his agent. He was to be the next big thing and the first Big Pelf. Yet it was still the same old song and dance from the brass in Flushing. Us fans have seen a few pitching prospects come and go, fizzle more than sizzle over the years and up until recently (remember that 0-7 record over much of last season?) it looked like Mike P was going to be another disappointment to add the list of Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson. Of course, that would be a very different class of disappointment from Scott Kazmir, who turned out to be every bit the potential ace that we were told he would be. He just happened to be that person while playing for Tampa Bay, after he was unloaded in the most short-sighted trade I've probably seen in my tenure as a NY sports fan. So, it's been a long time coming for a top pitching prospect to reach the Big Leagues (in our uniform) and really dominate. (Ed Note: And, remember, more to follow on Pelfrey's second straight complete game)

2. In-Season Baseball Traders. To the active go the spoils. Or at least, a chance at the spoils. As the dog days of summer segue to the tense days of the home stretch, the teams still in contention have almost uniformly been the ones who were active in the trade market this season. The Dodgers have been enervated by the addition of Manny Ramirez, while their NL West foe the D-backs have countered with the addition of Adam Dunn's big bat (and the big holes in his swing). In the AL West the Angels added first baseman Mark Tiexiera to an already rolling-along team. The NL Central death waltz between Milwaukee and Chicago has been buoyed by the entrance of pitchers Rich Harden and CC Sabathia just as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have tried to keep alive their hopes of catching the AL East leading Rays by adding Jason Bay and Pudge Rodriguez, respectively, to their rosters. The Phillies landed workhorse pitcher Joe Blanton to try to compete with the Mets starting rotation while those same Metsies traded for beleaguered reliever Luis Ayala in hopes of out-mediocring themselves.

3. Rental Car Ralliers. Hundreds of miles. Scores of dirt roads. Dozens of racers. Liters of taurine infused beverages. Handfuls of speeding tickets. Five predetermined checkpoints. And one international border crossing. The first annual Rental Car Rally took place last weekend as varyingly bedecked drivers and their crews took off from Long Island City in Queens for the Canadian hinterlands. Actually, they departed for the very modern and attractive city of Montreal. The ralliers motored through the evening and made their way through peaceful hamlets in upstate New York with the care, precision and recklessness of Vikings cross-bred with Jehovah's Witnesses. It was a site to behold. And to call the police about. By all accounts there were no fatalities and with one exception it is believed that there were no serious problems crossing the borders (well, apparently the one team who had their car tricked out a like a cop car had their ride entirely taken apart). The winners walked, drove, away on Sunday with a thousand dollars in cash in a briefcase.

4. Usain Bolt. Remember when these Olympics belonged to Baltimore native and distant relative of the Mariner, Michael Phelps? Sort of. But the man of the Games' last week was Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter won three gold medals (in three tries) and set three world records. First off, he broke Michael Johnson's purportedly unbreakable record in the 100m final en route to gold. Up next, he left the field shockingly far back as he won the 200m in world record time. This double win made Bolt the first man since the advent of electronic timing to hold both sprint records simultaneously. Last but not least, Bolt was part of the Jamaican 4x100m relay team that won the gold, again in world record time. The best part? Bolt is just 22 years old and figures to compete in London four years down the line.

5. Johan Santana. The weekend before he took the mound for the Mets, and tossed a complete game shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates. When he toed the rubber this past Friday night, the Mets ace was facing off against former Minor League teammate (Johan started off in the Astros farm system before being dealt to Minnesota) Roy Oswalt. The matchup of aces did not disappoint. Johan, though he threw a lot of pitches, held the Astros in check through seven innings of shutout ball. Even though he had broken the 100-pitch barrier during the sixth inning Johan pleaded his case with Mets Manager/Gangster Jerry Manuel and took the hill again in the seventh to much excitement at Shea. The Metropolitans are 6-2 in his starts since the All-Star break while the Venezuelan-born hurler sports a 2.50 ERA over that span.

6. The Polish Women's Volleyball Team. It's true that they didn't make it out of Group A and lost more matches (4) than they didn't (1) but, these ladies should head back to Poland knowing that they won my heart. I'll never forget you, Glinka. Thanks for the memories.

7. US Women's Soccer Team, specifically goalie Hope Solo. They arrived in Beijing pegged as no better than a bronze medalist and yet it was Uncle Sam's gals with the top spot on the podium when the Olympic soccer tournament was concluded. Not only did the US shock the world but they knocked off Brazil to do it. If you recall the US bowed out of the semifinals at the last World Cup to Brazil after the squad's then-coach opted for a veteran keeper over the young Solo. Apparently not shy, Solo blasted the decision and claimed she would have been the difference. Well, she played this time and the US defeated Brazil. Enough said.

8. Japanese Women's Softball Team. In what was potentially the last softball game ever to be contested at an Olympiad, the Japanese women stunned the softballing world by defeating the United States, 3-1. The US women hadn't been defeated on the diamond since 2000 and had won every gold medal awarded in the sport's history. They were the team whose dominance was a main reason that the sport was being dropped from the Olympic docket. The gold-medal game was supposed to be a formality. Apparently, though, nobody told Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who dominated the previously indomitable US lineup. No doubt, this is the "Miracle on Ice" moment for the ladies-softball set, with our team playing the role of the big, bad Ruskies. Since I don't know enough about women's softball and didn't see more (or less) than one inning of play during the Games, I can't begin to say whether or not the US choked but I can say without a doubt that this had to be as devastating a loss as possible for this group. They were coming into the games for perhaps the last time (although many groups are lobbying to have softball back in the games eventually) with what was considered to be the greatest team ever assembled. The games in Beijing were supposed to be the crowning moments of these players careers. Yet it was a shock loss from which there may be no bounce-back opportunity.

9. Mike D'Antoni. While in Beijing as an assistant coach on the US Men's Hoops team (no doubt making inroads with future Knickerbockers Lebron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade) there was something, according to The Post that annoyed him. It was the fact that his cache of superstar pupils would snicker whenever his new ballclub came up in conversation. "I don't like that much. It really ticks me off," he said. I love everything about this story. I love that D'Antoni admitted, by default, that the Knicks are considered a joke, which is something that his smiling, always smiling, predecessor never would have done. I also like that he takes such things personally and understands that part of his job is going to be changing the reputation of this team amongst the players in the league. And, I don't doubt that he is the right man for the job. And, neither does Kobe Bryant, who said, "I think you've got a long list of players that want to play for him, I'll tell you that, ... He's just incredibly sharp. He's a brilliant, brilliant basketball mind. He's going to bring a system and now you just have to find players to plug into that system."

10. Jets Fans attending training camp at Hofstra University. After forty years of Augusts out on Strong Island the Jets held their last open practice at Hoftsra facilities in Hempstead last Tuesday. The team has called that place home since its inception but will be moving their HQ to Florham Park, NJ. No doubt, LI residents were sad to see the team go as camp at Hofstra was the place to be for many during the summer months. Unlike most clubs who travel to relatively out of the way places (the Giants head up to Albany) for preseason, the Jets always stayed close to home giving season-ticket holders and local fans a chance to see their heroes up close. You can only hope that the access will be the same at the NJ facility.

11. Samir Nasri. The latest next-big-thing plucked from relative obscurity by Arsenal, made good in his Premeirship debuting, scoring the lone goal in ill-bodingly cagey win over top flight newcomers (they were promoted after winning the Championship division last season) West Brom.

12. The Suddenly Fan-Friendly New York Knickerbockers. Not only did they host an open-house for potential (in other words, anyone) season-ticket buyers with free food and a chance to meet Walt Frazier and David Lee but last week the club invited fans out to buy merchandise that was marked down by as much as 90% from the retail price at the once-a-year employees-only sale. Starting with the free grub on Fan Appreciation Night (the final home game of last season) everything about the organization under Donnie Walsh has been markedly improved. Yes, they still want my money. But they are at least being nice about it.

13. Disgruntled Former Seattle Sonics Season Ticket Holders. A handful of folks who had held season tickets in the Emerald City for the Sonics have filed a lawsuit against Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma City ballclub in hopes of exacting at least one pound of flesh from the nefarious businessman who stole their home team. The season-ticket-holders are looking for not only the right to buy tickets at the new OKC Arena with their paid-for priority seating privilege, but to also have a judge refund any money that would be incurred flying from Seattle to Oklahoma City to attend games. I can't imagine that this lawsuit pans out but it would be pretty awesome if it did. Not only would I love for the prime season ticket spots to be empty in Oklahoma City night after night but it would it would be even better to see them full up and realize that the turncoat owners of this ill-gotten team had actually paid to fly out fans from Seattle.

14. The Barcelona Party Scene. Although it was still the end of an era at the Camp Nou when Ronaldinho departed Barcelona for Milan, the party can still go on, at least during the offseason. Renowned Barca party fixture (and footballer) Ronaldinho has bought himself a home in the Catalan capital and plans to spend much of his free time there (as well as in his native Brazil) when he is not in season with AC Milan. I can't imagine that his new employers in Italy are too thrilled about the prospect of the star acquisition spending his free time in the same places where he partied himself from the world's best player to an out-of-shape underachiever in less than 18 months.

15. Mike Hampton. The 2000 NLCS MVP, 5-time Silver Slugger and 2-time All-Star actually resumed pitching recently after not throwing a Big League frame since 2005. And, surprisingly he's turned in 3 quality starts in his last four outings.

16. Matt Stover. Over at the World Wide Leader there was recently a poll conducted in which NFL fans were asked to "select the greatest player for every NFL franchise." Fans were provided with a few options and a brief statement about each player's qualifications for such a lofty title. Joe Montana was tapped for the 49ers, Reggie White for the Iggles. Jim Brown for the Browns. And for the Baltimore Ravens? Was it Ray Lewis, the Super Bowl XXXV MVP and Ravens all-time leader in tackles? Nope. Was it Jamal Lewis, the franchise's all-time leading rusher with 7,801 yards and 45 touchdowns? He finished fourth. Was it big, bad Jonathan Ogden, who went to 11 Pro Bowls? Not even close. The runaway winner was place kicker Matt Stover who is the Ravens leader in points scored. The kicker won. And, he did so by a whopping margin, nabbing over 50% of the vote.

17. Those Inclined to Dislike A Certain Pinstriped Baseball Team With a Tendency Towards Self-Aggrandizement. The sky may actually be falling this time in the Bronx as the Yankees offense sputters more days than not and as the suddenly hot-seat-sitting Manager Joe Girardi sends out pitchers with names like Ponson and Rasner at least as frequently as he hands the ball to guys named Mussina or Pettitte. The Yanks are hovering between 9 and 10 games back of the AL East leading Rays and about half that back in the Wild Card race to the Red Sox. Of course, last year really, really also looked like the year that the pinstripers would miss the playoffs (for the first time since before the '94 strike) maybe it will be this last season at Yankee Stadium. Then again, the Bombers did just sweep the Orioles over the weekend. So, maybe not.

18. Frosted Flakes. After years of living in the less than grrrr-eat no-man's land between the Bran cereals and the full-on candy breakfasts, Frosted Flakes are making some power moves. The Flakes scored a coup when they inked Olympic uber-hero Michael Phelps to be their pitchman. Well, played. And, no doubt, well paid. Of course, there are those healthy do-gooders out in the world are a bit annoyed that Phelps eschewed Wheaties, Cheerios or any other more nutritious serial to sign on with Frosted Flakes. WWOD? tried to reach the swimmer for comment but he was too busy counting his money.

19. Chad Pennington and the rest of the Miami Dolphins. While the spotlights shine brightly on Long Island and New Jersey and wherever else in the New York metropolitan area that Jet Favre makes an appearance, Pennington and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been getting ready for what they hope will be an improvement upon last year's 1-15 regular-season record. So far, so good. They've got two straight preseason victories and a lot more swagger since Chad has arrived in South Beach. In the words of Dolphins reporter/employee Andy Cohen: "Each time I see Chad Pennington, I am more convinced he is the perfect addition to this team. Accurate thrower. Calming influence. Poised veteran. Pennington appears in complete control of this offense only a few weeks after joining the Dolphins. You just know deep down that nothing would make him happier than beating his former Jets on opening day." I am an unapologetic Chad supporter and think he has still got some football left in him. He's essentially played injured since 2004 (the shoulder injuries and then played all of last year on a bad leg) but took the Jets to the playoffs twice in that span. I'm terrified about what he is going to do in the first game of the season when the Dolphins and J-E-T-S square off. The guy is smart and probably told Sporano and Parcells more about the Jets offense than even Mangini knows. Moreover, you just know that every Dolphin is going to want to win this one for their new teammate.

20. Mike & The Mad Dog. After 19 talkative years this famous radio duo has finally parted ways. Mike Francessa has stayed on at WFAN (660 AM on your radio dial) in the tandem's afternoon-drive time slot while the Chris "Mad Dog" Russo has made for the lucrative land of satellite radio. Although both radio personalities may actually have gotten their break from none other than the deposed and disgraced Don Imus they were an important part of the sports landscape in New York City. Their discussions and the calls they chose to take from fans shaped the debate and the controversies of their era. Surely many a manager and player had their life made fare more difficult by these two than almost anything that ever happened on the field (or court) of play.

21. The Professor and the Thin Beast. In the best men's beach volleyball performance I've seen since that brilliant summer of Zach Barnes and Monroe Clark, the US Men's pair of Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser won the gold medal in Beijing over an upstart side from Brazil. Rogers, and his freakish leaping ability and powerful goatee, was pulling the strings of all four players in the sand after a shaky start while the taller, beastlier, Dalhausser took over the competition down the stretch owning the net and rifling in some powerful sinking jump serves.

22. K-Rod. The hits saves keep on coming for the Angels closer. He just passed the 50 saves mark and has Bobby Thigpen's record of 57, set in 1990 with the Chicago White Sox, dead center in his bespectacled sights. Barring injury or a devastating loss of form it seems the Rodriguez is a lock to improve upon Thigpen's tally. Of course, with lots of people like me writing/saying things like this maybe the jinx is on.

23. Matt Ryan. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and the Iciest football player to come out of Boston College in some time, say a little over 20 years, has been moved up on the Atlanta Falcons depth chart and will be starting at the quarterback position when the regular season kicks off. Although he only had to leapfrog Chris Redman and Joey Harrington this move is not without a lot of hard work as the Falcons seemed, at first, committed to not starting Ryan until he was "ready." Well, whether it's the zillion dollars the club is paying him or his wise-beyond-his-years calm in the huddle, the Matty Ice Era is upon us.
Highlights from Ryan's Preseason Outing Against Tennessee

24. The US Men's Hoops Team. This test for USA Hoops was administered Pass/Fail. It was gold medal or bust in Beijing and Jerry Collangelo's revamped outfit passed the test with flying colors (flying red, white and blue to be precise). After defeating Spain in a hotly contested battle in the final, Lebron and Co. were awarded their gold medals. The takeaways from the tourney seem to be four things (to me): First, Jason Kidd has officially passed (or had taken from him) the torch to Chris Paul as the elite American point guard. Although Kidd did hold his starting spot, it wasn't until CP3 took the floor that the Redeem Team began hitting on all cylinders. It was nice and all that Kidd was allowed to keep starting but anyone who was watching knew what was up. The second takeaway was the reemergence of Dwyane Wade as one of the game's best. Coming off the bench with the verve and incisive play that made Shaq's team his team, Wade was an electric force in these Games. Unlike all of his last season (and seemingly too much of his short career), the former Marquette standout is healthy. If he can stay that way then you've got to factor the Heat into the Eastern Conference picture all over again. Third and fourth things-to-file-away were the fact that the US has not totally solved the international zone defensive schemes and is not yet as good as they can be when it comes to the different three-point stripe.

25. Luis Ayala. The newest steward on the Titantic or the finger in the dyke that saved the small town for certain doom? Well, the jury is still out on this but Ayala - recently dealt from the Washington Nationals to the New York Mets - is the newest member of the Mets bullpen. He had a nice outing in a save situation on Friday night to secure a win for Johan Santana. After three stelar seasons to begin his career, in which he went 70+ innings with a sub-3.00 ERA, things have taken a downturn for the Mexican right-hander over the past season and three quarters. He had made it clear to Nats management that he wanted to be traded. Mets GM Omar Minaya was familiar with him from their time together in Montreal and, keeping with his frightening strategy of stockpiling former Expos, brought Ayala to Flushing in exchange for second base prospect (all glove, no bat) Anderson Hernandez.

...about last week. Between heading out to Shea a few time to catch the once-surging Metropolitans and recovering from a auto race across international borders last week was lost over at WWOD?. I'll make it up to all of you this week. Starting in about an hour.