Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday's Starting Five

1. Christopher Columbus. Today is his day. Some people don't have to go to work today because of this Genoese fellow. Some peoples don't exist anymore because of this Genoese fellow. Still, some other people may actually have contracted syphilis because of this Genoese fellow. Either way, he's kind of a big deal. Especially to Italian Americans. It was early in the early a.m. hours 516 years ago today that a sailor aboard one of Columbus's Spanish-backed ships first spotted land. Columbus and his crew believed they had reached the shores of India or some other outlying Asian island. This belief was false. They were, in fact, somewhere in the Bahamas. Of course, they wouldn't actually admit they weren't in Asia for some time. Eventually, everyone did realize the Bahamas were not in Asia. Even if the folks that lived their were Indians. Which, I don't know about you, would have led me to believe I was in India. I mean, there were Indians. Anyway, 300 years after the first landfall, the Society of Tammany in New York City would organize a Colombian celebration. Then in 1869, an Italian American community in San Francisco held the first (of what would become an annual) Columbus Day event. And, on the 400th anniversary of the first European arrival in the New World, President Benjamin Harrison, yes, he of the Sherman Antitrust Act, encouraged the American public to celebrate this date annually. And, so we do. Still. Enjoy your day off. Think of Christopher Columbus. Think about the differences between India and the Bahamas. Think about the native peoples. Oh, and, don't forget all of the syphilis.

2. Matt Ryan & the Atlanta Falcons. Those who know me know that I've been a believer in the Icey One for a while. Those who didn't agree are quickly learning on their own that Matt Ryan, out of Boston College, is the real deal. The Pennsylvania-bred Ryan led the Atlanta Falcons, late of Mike Vick infamy, to their fourth win in six tries this season. Not only have the Ryan-led Falcons already matched their 2007 win total but they did so in dramatic fashion against a quality (note: I didn't say "high quality") foe. After surrendering what seemed to be the game-deciding score to Kyle Orton and the Chicago Bears with 11 ticks remaining on the clock, Ryan completed a pinpoint 26 yard pass to Michael Jenkins on the left sideline. The wide receiver pulls in the expertly placed ball just before his momentum carries him out of bounds. He couldn't have caught the ball and stayed in bounds. Ryan's pass saw to that. There is one second remaining on the game clock. In trots would-be goat Jason Elam, who had missed a 33-yard field goal with less than three minutes left to ice the game. Elam comes in, the ball is snapped, the clock ticks to zero and he boots the ball 48 yards and through the uprights. Game over. Falcons win. Matt Ryan is four (wins) real.

3. Cliff Floyd and the Tampa Bay Rays. Some times a hit from one guy can mean more to a club than a hit from another. For example a double off the bat of Babe Ruth meant more to the 1927 Yankees than a double by Mark Koenig. The hits could come in the same spot. But they wouldn't mean the same thing in the dugout. Point being, there are certain guys that a team rallies around. That they look to. And, when those leaders come through it energizes the entire roster. Cliff Floyd is that sort of guy. And, don't worry, I'm not comparing the aged Floyd to the Sultan of Swat. Far from it. I'm just saying that he is a leader in the young Rays clubhouse. They look to him. Even when his numbers seem modest compared to his precocious peers. They look to him still. Because he's been here before. He keeps these guys loose and in check (like he used to do with the Mets and David Wright). And when he tore into the third pitch he saw from Josh Beckett in the bottom of the fourth inning it gave Tampa all the confidence that it needed to go the distance in a heavyweight fight of a game with Boston on Saturday night.

4. The NFL Ticket. Yesterday's flurry of exciting finishes to the early NFL games was why the good lord in heaven gave us the seventh day for resting. Or, not. But it was sure damn exciting. Of course, it was only damn exciting if you were watching football in a home or reputable drinking establishment with Direct TV's NFL Sunday Ticket. It was a scenario right out of those too-condescending Jimmy Kimmel commercials that run all the time. Within a matter of minutes the Texans scored a shock last second touchdown to beat the Dolphins (who still covered the spread, though), the Vikings kicked a last second field goal to stave off an embarrassing home loss to the Lions (and prevent me from winning my suicide pool), the Rams made their own last second field goal after the Redskins had thought that they had staved off an embarrassing home loss and the aforementioned Matty Ice made that clutch pass to Michael Jenkins to set up Elam's game-winning, last-second field goal. If you were lucky (or a loser, depending on whether or not you listen to my girlfriend) and have Direct TV and two televisions in your living room then you were able to watch all of these dramatic endings unfold in succession. For the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that I didn't see the Vikings field goal live but I'm pretty sure I could have if I'd been a little bit more tenacious in my channel switching.

5. The Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles. All it takes is one win to start a comeback. Or delay the inevitable. But that didn't matter last night as the Dodgers thumped the Phillies last night as the NLCS switched locales. Behind a stellar outing from Hiroki Kuroda the Dodgers stood up for themselves and finally gave a thorough accounting of how good they've been over the past two months.

Benched. Shane Victorino. I'm not sure if you heard this. Because barely anyone knew. Because he kept it quite a secret. But Mr. Victorino would rather be hit in the ribs with a pitch than in the head. Indeed, he feels strongly about this. Who knew?