Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday's Starting Five

1. San Francisco Giants. Last week it was all Rockies all the time in this space. But now the hand is on the other shoe as the Giants swept the Rockies in a return series in the Bay Area. This time Tim Lincecum topped Ubaldo Jiminez and this time the Giants got the game-winning home run. After a three-game sweep over the weekend, the Giants have pulled even with the Rockies in the chase for the NL Wild Card. Worth noting, is that given-up-for-dead Barry Zito had a stellar outing on Saturday, snapping off A's-era curve balls while pitching into the ninth (he even got a curtain call from the crowd). If he can give this team reliable No. 3 down the stretch he's a potential difference maker. These two clubs play one more three-game set (in San Fran) down the stretch. I'm looking forward to it.

2. Zack Greinke. Some would say the Zack Attack just locked up the 2009 AL Cy Young Award. Those people are probably wrong because the honor will likely be bestowed on either CC Sabathia or Justin Verlander who will finish with more regular season wins and will have pitched their team to playoff berths. What Greinke's complete-game, one-hit shutout over the Mariners on Sunday earned him was recognition as the nastiest pitcher of the year. Maybe not the most consistent but the filthiest. If there was an award for that it would be shined daily with Rollie Fingers' mustache wax and it would be presented to the Royals' ace post haste. This gem follows on the heels of his franchise-record 15-K masterpiece earlier in the week.

3. Chula Vista Little League. I thought it was over. I mean, Chinese Taipei (and that's Taiwan for those of you not concerned about messing up the cross-straight relations in the Far East) was nearly unbeatable when reaching the championship game of the Little League World Series. They were 17-2 (I think) heading into Sunday's winner-take-all matinee against the boys from Chula Vista, California and they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third inning thanks to back-to-back home runs. At the time, the US club was hitless. It didn't look good. To the point, where I almost turned off the game to focus on the work that I had been putting off all morning. Almost. But the Cali kids pushed one run across in the bottom of the third and then broke out for three more in the fourth. One of the kids for Chula Vista tossed three scoreless innings of relief to put the title on ice.

4. Heath Slocum Tigers Woods has locked down golf tournaments with incredibly difficult shots all around the world. He's fended of johnny-come-latelies in multiple locales and he's overtaken pretenders to the crown and had his passport stamped on the trip. He's done it in Majors and in middling events sponsored by American auto makers. But he hasn't done it in Jersey City. There (or, rather, here) he just flat missed a 7-foot put on 18 that would have forced a playoff and presumably given him a better-than-even chance to win the Barclays. The 124th-ranked player in the world, though, sunk a 20-foot shot at the same hole to ice his one-stroke victory. All weekend this tournament was in the back of mind. It was taking place a few miles away and I kept thinking I would pop over at some point. But I didn't. Had I known that Tiger would lose in dramatic fashion would I have been more likely to go? I'm not sure. But I do remember Michael Jordan missing a breakaway dunk (it clanged off the back iron and went almost all the way back to half court) against the Knicks more than I remember any single shot that he made on the handful of occasions I got to see him play against the Knicks at the Garden.
"Usually, he makes it," Slocum said. "Ho-hum for him. I guess you can't make 'em all."

5. US Open. My favorite part of the annual tennis tournament in Flushing, other than that is ours, is that it goes so late. It just feels right and like New York. At some point in the next month, I'll be up bleary-eyed and drinking Yellow Tail Merlot, because the meager beer supply in my fridge has long since run out, until 2 a.m. watching tennis. And I can't wait.

Monday Morning Schadenfreude

Monday Mudita

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hospital for Special Surgery Introduces Provasic

New Drug RDU-90 to Revolutionize Sports Medicine

When news broke yesterday afternoon that mercurial Mets pitcher Oliver Perez was going to have season-ending surgery performed on his right knee at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan it obscured another announcement from the hospital that has been involved with the Mets for the past decade. The hospital has been in the news throughout the 2009 baseball season due to its involvement with the injury prone New York Mets. Doctors at this particular hospital have operated on several members of the ballclub but have also been quite busy with their own research and development initiatives.

Working in conjunction with Dr. David Altchek and the Mets training staff, Dr. Charles Nichols (right) has pioneered a breakthrough drug that was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Nichols' lifelong work in the field of health studies has produced Provasic (RDU-90). Properly administered, this drug will provide a non-surgical remedy for injuries to the elbow and will render Tommy John surgeries obsolete. And, perhaps more impressively, when taken before the initial trauma, this drug can provide greater resistance to any and all ligament and tendon injuries. Sports medicine will never be the same.

Pharmaceutical giant Devlin Macgregor is hoping (and has invested heavily in that hope) that this medication will become as much a part of the routine of athletes at all levels of competition as HGH vitamins. If the results from the tissue samples provided by Dr. Nichols are duplicated in the general public then we could be looking at longer more productive careers for professional athletes as well as more active lifestyles by civilians.

Shockingly, the dream of Provasic has turned into a nightmare for the Hospital for Special Surgery, Dr. Nichols, Devlin Macgregor and the New York Mets. Controversial new information has been brought to light by a disgraced Chicago-based vascular surgeon. This doctor claims to have information that shows that new wonder drug RDU-90 is not what Dr. Nichols claims. Promoted as the end of ligament and tendon tears, the drug has been revealed to have potentially lethal side affects, most notably liver damage, and has been shown to be the reason behind the Mets' ruinous 2009 campaign.

Doctors Nichols used his relationship with the Hospital for Special Surgery and their pre-existing relationship with the Mets to round up a 25-man roster of unwitting guinea pigs. The first player to be administered Provasic, without his knowledge, was closer Billy Wagner. The outspoken reliever was given the drug last season when he complained of tightness in his elbow. Shortly thereafter he was ticketed for Tommy John surgery. Nichols and Devlin Macgregor hoped that Wagner's injury was too advanced when the treatment was started to provide an accurate assessment. However, when the surgery was conducted the tissue damage told another story. At this point, or so the whistle-blowing Dr. Kimble of Cook County Hospital would have us believe, the cover-up and unethical activity began. With Devlin Macgregor on the hook for millions over the years and Nichols feeling that his professional reputation was on the line, the drug was pushed through FDA trials with doctored results. In order to keep up appearances, RDU-90 continued to be administered to Mets players throughout the offseason and through Spring Training. The result is that Mets have placed 19 players and counting on the disabled list during the 2009 season.

Things came to a head when rookie pitcher Jonathan Niese tore his hamstring off the bone while executing a warm-up pitch a few feet away from coaches and trainers in early August. One of the last remaining healthy players on the roster, All-Star third baseman David Wright began asking some questions after the Niese injury. He placed a call to a family friend who in turn reached out to Dr. Kimble, then embroiled in legal troubles involving the death of his wife. Kimble seized the opportunity for distraction and looked into the situation with the tenacity of someone with nothing to lose. When he saw the third baseman felled by a fastball to the head in a home game against the Giants, Kimble knew that Wright had been on to something.

The sad denouement to this story is heartbreaking but seems fairly obvious in hindsight. The only party to benefit from the disastrous 2009 Mets season, aside from the rest of the NL East, was the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. With each new injury they had their profile raised even higher and scored more free publicity. It is clear that the hospital had much to gain by making the balllplayers more susceptible to injury. Combined with the greed of the pharmaceutical giant and lax FDA oversight, Provasic was able to take down an entire ballclub. Be warned, Provasic is not safe.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. The Colorado Rockies. They're ba-ack. So we already realized that the Rockies are aiming for the postseason. We got that part right. What we got wrong, though, is the means by which they plan on entering October play. It looks like they want the gild-edged invitation awarded to the NL West winner rather than the key to the back door given to the Wild Card entrant. Thanks to another walk-off win in extra innings, this one coming courtesy of Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies are now just two back of the Los Angeles Dodgers with two more games to play against them this week. Colorado is 16-7 in August and have charged all the way back into the divisional race after trailing by 15.5 games in early June.

2. Zack Grienke. The hottest pitcher in the first half of the season (11-4 with a 1.95 ERA through the end of June) has seen his Q rating drop in the second half. Not only has his performance dipped (0-3 in July) from his out-of-this-world start but he plays for the Royals in Kansas City, which is not a place the mind tends to linger once the postseason races heat up. But there is no ignoring Grienke's franchise-record 15 strikeout performance against the Indians.He struck out the side (on just 12 pitches) in the fifth and struck out two batters in five other innings. He struck out twelve opponents swinging and missing. And he didn't even come out for the ninth inning. His AL-leading ERA now rests, quite comfortably, at 2.43.

3. Mark Sanchez. Even though he was shaken and stirred by the Baltimore Ravens defense on Monday the Jets have reportedly named the No. 5 pick in the 2009 NFL draft as the starting quarterback. He has started exactly 16 collegiate games and zero professional games. But that smile! That charisma! Those abs! I was really a fan of the apprenticeship that Chad Pennington served under Vinnie Testaverde before taking the reins and don't believe that the success of Matty Ryan and Joe Flacco undoes the years and years of struggles by freshman signal callers but I'm OK with this move. I mean, if Pennington were still around (and this team were likely defending their 2008 AFC East title) then I'd keep the Trojan in the barn for a year. But there is no incumbent veteran to learn from. Kellen Clemens is more like a graduate assistant that helps grade papers than someone who should actually be teaching a class in quarterbacking.
The Jets defense figures to be solid if not spectacular as does the running game. The coach is charismatic and should block some of the media glare with the girth of his waistline good humor. Aside from taking place in the cauldron that is NYC (or NJ), this does seem as good a situation for Sanchez as you could find. He's got a better pedigree than Flacco and Ryan even if he doesn't have the reps that either accrued during longer NCAA careers. So, let's see what this Sanchez kid has. Well, other than his looks and the personality and the hopes of fans and Madison Avenue.

4. Billy Wagner. All an organization and fan base can (reasonably) demand of a big-ticket free agent is that they be what they were supposed to be. Like the 2006 Chicago Bears. You can hope for more and you fear less but you just want anything you spend a lot of money to be as advertised. And Wagner was exactly as billed. He signed with the Mets after the 2005 season and was known as hard-throwing and occasionally hard to get along with. He was loud, he was mostly but not always very, very effective, and he was not going to shy away from anyone, whether it was an opponent, a quarrelsome teammate or a reporter with a tape recorder. He was all those things before he arrived in Queens and he was all of those things right through his last day in Queens. When he was in the clubhouse there was music (usually songs about hillbillies and horses) playing loudly and there was conversation. He brought some juice (and not just from the Copenhagen packed in his bottom lip) to a team that could be downright funereal the past two years. And he endearingly broke into tears last year when it looked like his career was over. As a Mets fan, I'll miss him. He was a guy on this team that was always accountable, even when he screwed up (like that 3-run ninth in Game 2 of the 2006 NLCS) and he was always giving it his all. I may have felt that he fell in love with the slider too much but he finished in the top ten in saves in 2006, 2007 and 2008, even though he missed the end of the year due to his injury. And I'm impressed by the way he battled back from Tommy John surgery. He nearly halved the recovery time and has been lights out thus far. He wants it. And his drive and candidness put the attitudes of some of his teammates in harsh relief. His star-crossed time New York is over and he walks healthily away to a team currently holding a playoff position. Good luck.

5. Carlos Pena. The power has been on all year. But the light switch upstairs was mostly in the off position. That's how Pena managed to lead the American League in home runs before the All-Star Game but initially be left off the roster. He was, after all, batting an anemic .228 at the time. Which actually looks great next to his post-break average of.202. Finally, though, Pena looks right in the box. He cracked two longballs last night as the Rays romped over the Blue Jays and is batting an even .400 this week. If he can keep it up (or at least keep it above .250) then this team can and will give the Red Sox a race in September.

Benched. Isiah Thomas. This guy! Oh, this guy. You'd think that after all he has been through over the past few years that he wouldn't needlessly make a spectacle out of himself. But like a moth to flame he's back on the front page of and in the headlines around the country for threatening to pull Florida International out of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic because he doesn't want to play defending champion UNC in the opening round. For reals? You're going to drop out of a famous charity event, one that battles cancer, because you'd rather play Ohio State? Apparently, FIU was under the impression that they were in a different group from North Carolina until UNC released their schedule and it contained FIU in round one. And if you don't play Isiah's way then he wants to go home. Aside from being a completely asinine thing to do it's also a waste of a perfect teaching tool for his students, err... athletes. If I were him, I circle that game on the calendar and I tell my team that we're going to do everything we can to be in top condition by tip off of that game and then we're going to measure ourselves up against the best. I do this knowing that the loss is all but inevitable. Because that allows you to reset the clock at zero. You've checked the egos of your players and you have a tangible thing to build towards. From that day on you build towards a rematch or a meaningful game against another blue-blood program. This episode just goes to show that Isiah has no interest in being honest with himself or his players about their achievements or their place in the hoops world. He wants to avoid big teams and try to gain respect with smoke and mirrors. He wants to look good losing against Ohio State and then not have to face UNC in a later round. The only thing this guy is good at is giving me things to get worked up about. He is the UNC of that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Colorado Rockies. All signs are pointing towards another Rocktober as Colorado took 3 of 4 from the Giants in a key wraparound series over the weekend. Last night's win came in extras courtesy of a Ryan Spilborgs grand slam and one of the other two wins came over San Fran ace Tim Lincecum. The Freak was outdueled by Ubaldo Jiminez in a matchup that would be great to see again once the leaves begin to change color. Buoyed by Jimenez's continued dominance (6-0 with a 2.46 ERA since the All-Star break) and the return to rookie form of Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies are arguably playing the best baseball in the National League. And they'll get a chance to prove it with the NL West-leading Dodgers coming to the Mile High City nursing a shrinking lead.

2. Aston Villa. The Villains of Aston took a match off Liverpool at Liverpool for this time since 2001. The 3-1 victory over a supposed title contender must leave Villa feeling good about replicating their top six (meaning entry to some form of European tourney) finish from last season. This was the second league defeat for Liverpool to start the campaign and sees their title hunt already jeopardized.

3. Baltimore Ravens Defense. When longtime Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan signed on as the head coach of the New York Jets this offseason there was a rousing cheer from his former players. They had fought for and been inspired by Ryan during his year's directing the most consistently ferocious defensive unit of its era. They loved him. They were sad to see him go but happy to see him get his chance at the top spot on the sideline. And they wanted to pulverize his team on Monday Night Football. The Ravens' D picked off both of the Jets' hopefuls at the quarterback position, returning both picks to the house for six. The Ravens' defense outscored the Jets offense, 14-7, in the first half.

4. Tampa Bay Rays. Although the Rays haven't shined as brightly as they did during the 2008 season they are still alive for the Al Wild Card, having taken two out of three from the Rangers over the weekend. They opened the new work week with a throttling of Roy Halladay and the Blue Jays. Not bad for a Monday. Perhaps it was the decision of silver-maned manager Joe Maddon to dye his hair black that inspired the Rays to hang seven earned runs (and eight altoghter) on the Doctor. Or maybe it was the continued re-emergence of Carlos Pena, who homered again.

5. Edgerrin James. Back in the summer of 2000 when ESPN the Magazine seemed like it could really gain some traction and become something new and important in the world of sportswriting there was a friend of mine reading an issue with James on the cover. He was reading the feature by James (with Dan Le Batard) and, in typical suburban awe at the dude's attitude and life, he marveled, "Man, that Edgerrin James is one hardcore nigger." It wasn't meant to be racist (or to not be racist). We were the only two people in the room and I was watching television (probably a Win Ben Stein's Money re-run on Comedy Central) and he was half talking to himself. Those were just the words that came out of his mouth (and was probably just what Le Batard and James were going for) after reading things like "You ever seen someone smoke crack? Where I'm from, I considered it entertainment. Me and my boys would beg for change, pool our money and buy crackheads their five-dollar hits -- but only if they smoked right in front of us. They'd smoke it in cans, pipes, any damn thing, and then, real fast, they'd go into this zone, acting all crazy, making these out-of-control motions. We'd sit on that corner in Immokalee, Fla., and laugh all day, man. I was 10." Ten years and 2,982 carries later, Edge is still hanging in the NFL. He hooked on the with Seattle Seahawks in a lightly publicized move that could pay big dividends later. The Seahawks are a veteran club decimated by injuries last year that could easily outperform expectations if they stay healthy. I like this move for James and for the club.

Sixth Boy. The Little League World Series.
It was the best of times...

It was the blurst of times...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday (Mets) Schadenfreude

Although this game-ending play by Phillies second-string baseman Eric Bruntlett is generally being hailed as the 15th unassisted triple play in Major League history, and just the second to end a game, there is cause for disagreement. I think. Because I'm pretty sure that it was assisted. By Mets skipper Jerry Manuel. With no outs and runners on first and second, Brad Lidge imploding (again) on the mound and Jeff Francoeur facing a 2-2 count at the plate, Manuel sent both runners. The attempted double-steal dragged Bruntlett towards the bag at second, placing him in great position to snag the ball that Francoeur laced right up the middle of the field. With Bruntlett's momentum taking him through the catch (one out) and right to second to tag the base (two outs) then he just had to turn to his left to tag Daniel Murphy who was barreling towards him (three outs).
Had Manuel not sent the runners then Bruntlett is not in position to make the play because, as Murphy said, "Frenchy hit it on the screws." Castillo would have scored from second and the Mets would have had two men on base with no outs and been trailing by just a run. Instead, Manuel assisted on a triple play. I guess that goes in the books as a M-4 triple play or a 10-4 depending on how you denote the manager.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thrusday's Starting Five

1. Cliff Lee. NL-Only fantasy leagues are being swung by the Phillies new ace, who came over from the Cleveland Indians in a deal shortly before the non-waiver trading deadline. It would only seem fitting if Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay has ceded first place in such a league to a team that was able to claim Lee of waivers while Halladay had been holding out to claim himself. As the Jays continue to slide towards irrelevance after a nice showing early in the season, Halladay must be envious of Lee, who seems rejuvenated by the change of scenery just as former teammate CC Sabathia did last year after he left the Tribe for Brew Crew. Lee no-hit the D-Backs into the sixth inning last night and went the distance for his fourth win (in four tries) since joining the Fightin's. For good measure, he k'd a career-high 11 batters.

2. Rich Harden. After seeing his ERA balloon to 5.47 in the second week of July the oft-injured Cubs pitcher has gone 3-1 and allowed just eight runs in seven starts. He tossed seven shutout innings for the Cubbies against the Padres last night while striking out eight and allowing just one hit. The Cubs won, 7-1, to avoid getting broomed by the lowly Padres and keep some tenuous hope alive for October baseball on the North Side of Chicago. Harden's got a 1.80 ERA in August and is looking more like one of the 39 pitchers ever to strike out the side on nine pitches.

3. Burnley. Just when you thought that I was only going to mention Arsenal victories in this space, I'm happy to tout the performance of club that hasn't notched a top-flight win in 33 years. Burnley, a charter member of the Football League (the oldest existing circuit in professional football in the whole world) in 1888, returned to the Premeirship with great fanfare, knocking of reigning champions, Manchester United, 1-0. Robbie Blake scored for Burnley and goalkeeper Brian Jensen turned away a penalty shot to secure the win in the club's first fixture after being promoted following last season. Longtime Clarets fans may be less surprised (although I doubt it) as they saw their club dump Arsenal and Chelsea from the Carling Cup last year. This club has been around for a long while, their home town has been around since the early medieval period and their grounds, Turf Moor, opened in 1883. This win was a long time coming.

4. The Wild Card Races. I may not be a part of one, but there are seven fanbases around the country rooting for teams within 5 games of the Wild Card lead. Again, the team I support is not competing for the Wild Card (only infamy), but there is no doubt that this back door into the baseball playoffs makes the season much more exciting. Even though Bob Costas hated it initially. This weekend's series between the Rays and Rangers and Rockies and Giants pit WC contenders against one another.

5. Mark Teixeira. It's true that I don't think the Yankees first baseman deserves to be the AL MVP. I admit that. But that doesn't mean that he's not having a heckuva second half. The free agent signee knocked in all three runs in the Bombers' 3-2 win over the Oakland A's last night in the Bay Area. The button-down, glove-down first bagger hit a two-run homer in the fourth that provided the winning run after he had already scored Jeter on a groundout in the first.

Benched. Michael Carrick. For the top teams in the Premiership, it isn't so much about the wins in your side's account. It's about the ties and the losses. It's about those points that you leave behind as the season progresses. It's about letting lesser teams equalize in extra time to earn a draw or dropping a game that you should have tied yourself. With Manchester City looking primed to join the upper echelon of England's top football league and Arsenal showing (so far) that they're not ready to be replaced it looks that each point will be precious come the spring for all the Prem contenders. And if things are especially tight then Manchester United will miss the one point that they left behind in that opening tilt when Michael Carrick botched a gilt-edged chance to secure a draw at the Turf Moor in the Mancs' season-opener at Burnley. The midfielder out of the West Ham system saw a feeble penalty attempt saved by the home goalkeeper just before the close of the first half.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wednesday's Starting Five

Here are the five persons, places, minerals, vegetables and/or Knickerbockers that you should be talking, thinking about and/or critiquing today.

1. Brett Favre. No. 4 is a winner today. Not in my eyes (where he is the guy that taught me you never know what you chad til it's favre). But in his. Which is all that really mattered. You've got to know that by now if he actually matters to you. He wrangled exactly what he wanted out of the Minnesota Vikings. He got a starting quarterback job on a club with a great running back and a very good defense. And he got it without having to come to training camp, without having to learn the entire playbook during the offseason, without having to spend too many long August days with his teammates, and while sticking it to his former bosses in Wisconsin. The Riverboat Gambler surely won this hand. But at what expense? The Purple Judas may finally have alienated his devout followers in dairy country and, gasp, even his cheerleaders in the media.

2. There was one ancillary benefit of Brett Favre signing with Vikings. Tired of being lied to and forced to go the Pedro Gomez route once too often, some in the mainstream media have, at long last, turned on No. 4. Most notably, Sports Illustrated's website was finally calling them like you know that the individual reporters must see 'em. They produced a "Heroes to Villains" photo essay featuring Brett and even NFL scribe and noted Favre acolyte called the move a "mistake" by all parties involved. The ever-candid Jeff Pearlman called him a traitor to his fans in Green Bay. How far we've come from the weekly boot-licking that be-wranglered one received during every nationally televised NFL (whether he was playing or not) for the past half decade. If he doesn't play well then this has the potential to get ugly. I can't wait.

3. Last night was the sort of thing that Alanis Morrisette might have included in her song "Ironic" had she written it late last night instead of during the mid-nineties. And if she was a Phillies fan (although "she went down on him at the Vet" doesn't have the same ring to it). Like everything else in that song, what happened last night at Citizens Bank Park wasn't "ironic" as the word is defined in the dictionary but it was close enough. Making his home debut, Petey took the mound in the turn that once belonged to Jamie Moyer. And he promptly allowed a leadoff longball to Stephen Drew. But after that he looked like vintage (OK, vintage 2005 maybe) Pedro, setting down the next nine D-backs to face him, including a masterful strike out of Mark Reynolds to close the first. But then the rains came. Along with the lightning and the thunder. And the elderly. 46-year-old Moyer came on in relief after the rain delay and twirled six scoreless frames to close the game and secure his team-leading 11th win. Not only did he snag the win on Pedro's debut at CBP but he also kept himself atop the club leaderboards a bit longer. Of course, ESPN wasn't breaking down the eight ground-ball outs that Moyer coaxed from Arizona. Nope. But they were breaking down the aforementioned strikeout of Reynolds.

4. Joe Mauer. Prior to this season the Twins' All-Star catcher had but one solitary double-digit home run season to go along with his three batting titles. Although his consistency was impressive enough, it seemed the tools of ignorance capped his power. That was the knock on him. And made him vulnerable to sluggers whenever it was time to cast MVP ballots. Then he hit 11 dingers in May 2009 and will more than double his career high before the season is through. So aside from leading the league in hitting (which he is), Mauer is also leading the DH-laden AL in slugging percentage. There are silly, misguided men who think that Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira should be a frontrunner for the MVP. They are wrong. It's so plain that even folks who work for FOX can tell. Some people will talk about his club's middling record and I'll then show them this play. Case closed. I think.
Sports Videos, News, Blogs

5. Arsenal FC. Hot off the heels of their season-opening undressing of Everton at Goodison Park, the Gunners were up in Scotland playing the first leg of a Champions League qualifier against Celtic. At the time the ball dropped, just Barcelona and Dynamo Moscow had emerged victorious from Parkhead in the preceding 36 Champions League matches at the grounds. Until the Gunners topped the Scots, 2-0. With a relentless performance, Arsenal made their own luck, getting two fluky goals to all-but ensure their progression to the group stages of the competition. It's a bright start for the club that many thought/think was/is likely to falter this season after letting too many players go and refusing to be lured into the Real Madrid-led free agent frenzy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

They're Baa-aack

By now, you know that one-time animal combat enthusiast Mike Vick has signed with the Iggles. It's old news. And speaking of old news. Brett Favre is unretiring. Again. According to "sources," the ol' gunslinger is about to ink a deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Our long national nightmare may soon be ending. And I don't mean the nightmare of not being able to watch Favre play football. I mean the nightmare of having to deal with the will-he-won't-he blanket coverage by every national sports outlet that occurs each day that No. 4 is sort of retired. At this point, Favre can do less damage in uniform. Unless you're a Vikings fan, of course.

Tuesday's Starting Five

Here are the five persons, places, minerals, vegetables and/or Knickerbockers that you should be talking, thinking about and/or critiquing today.

1. Chris Carpenter. Since the All-Star break, the pride of Exeter, New Hampshire is 6-0 in seven starts with a sterling 1.96 ERA. He's quietly perched behind Adam Wainwright for the NL lead in wins even though he took a Mets-like two trips to the disabled list. He won a Cy Young Award in 2005 and could find himself in the running again if he keeps this up down the stretch (and Lincecum stumbles down the stretch).

2. Vladimir Guerrero. The Talented Mr. Roto may not believe that Vlad's recent power surge is for real. But it's happening. Or, at least it happened. Maybe next week it won't be happening any longer but last night he cracked two more home runs sans batting gloves. Even as he ages and breaks down, I've found him fascinating to watch. It's just "see the ball, hit the ball" for him. His confidence in the batter's box is impressive even when the results are not. For one, I hope that this resurgence is for real and I get to watch him at or near his peak in October.

3. The Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg. Both parties had to get this deal done. Just had to. The Nats couldn't let the player hyped as a once-in-a-generation talent go unsigned because they wouldn't pay and Strasburg couldn't miss a year (and expose himself to injury playing in an indie league) because he was too good for what was widely known to be the richest contract offered to a drafted player. But with super-agent Scott Boras involved it seemed possible that everyone would go home empty handed. Thankfully the story today isn't about Boras. It's about a kid with darn good arm and a team with its first glimmer of hope.

4. Jeff Feagles. Preseason football is usually interesting right up until the third series of the first game. And then it is a chore. To watch on television, to attend in person or even to write about. This is largely because the best players rarely play much. Or at all. The best players and even the starters who aren't that good sit out and I don't blame them. It's hot in August. And even if injuries can occur at any moment in any game it makes everyone feel better if they don't occur before the regular season gets underway (see Chad Pennington's fractured wrist in 2003). So, the fourth quarter of a preseason fixture - when the game is sort of on the line - is generally a wasteland. The play-by-play men are usually rambling on about anything but the action on the field and guffawing at one anothers jokes. The stands are sparsely populated. And Pro Bowlers are usually not trying to seal a win for their club. Except for arguably the best player on the New York Football Giants: Jeff Feagles. With 10 seconds to play in a tie game on Monday night against the Carolina Panthers, Feagles launched a 56 yard punt down to the Carolina 18 yard line. The Panthers would turn the ball over on the next play and some rookie defensive end out of Colorado State returned the ball for the game-winning score as time expired. A good friend of mine who bleeds blue (and screamed to everyone on 1st Street in Hoboken, N.J., that "Eli is better than Peyton!" for hours after the Giants' comeback win over the Broncos in 2005) has long insisted that Feagles is the organization's best player. Last night only proved it further. This guy even makes big plays in preseason openers. Where's his hundred million dollar contract?

5. David Wright. He's on the 15-day disabled list. He's concussed. Because he got hit in the side of the head with a 94 mph fastball. Right in the head. But he doesn't seem confused. And he's still impressing me. Because in his first meeting with the New York press corps since taking the Cain fastball he told them that he was "embarrassed" that he had to be placed on the disabled list. That's right, on a team that has seen All-Stars at first base, shortstop, center field and in the bullpen miss extended time due to injury, the third baseman said, “I’m embarrassed to be on the DL. I want to play. I’m supposed to play. I’m not supposed to be on the 15-day DL. I take a lot of pride in playing every day.”
Not only is that a message to his injured teammates (and a pretty pointed one when you think about it) but it's exactly what you want to hear from a guy that your pinning future hopes on.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday's Starting Five

Here are the five persons, places, minerals, vegetables and/or Knickerbockers that you should be talking, thinking about and/or critiquing today.

1. Y.E. Yang. On Friday, the chorus of "here we ago again" echoed in golf circles. Tiger Woods took an early lead in a Major. The tournament was done and dusted. But apparently this fellow from South Korea played his ass of on Sunday, while paired with Woods, and swiped the PGA trophy. Like most media folks, Gene Wojciechowski rushed to applaud Yang's effort while being sure to note that Tiger really should have nailed this down, no matter how great Yang was in the last round. Which he was. Wojciechowski described Tiger's play on Sunday as being "whatever the level is just below choke -- and I don't know what you'd call it -- that's where Woods ended up. He faltered. He needed 33 putts to complete the round. He was the old woman on the medic alert commercial who fell and couldn't get up."

2. Derek Jeter. There are nine positions on a baseball team. And, no. I don't think of the DH as a position. Excepting the Edgar Martinezes of the world, every player that has ever stepped on a Big League diamond since the National League was founded in 1876 has manned one of those spots. They don't really change. There are no "wildcat" second baseman or "point-forward" left fielders. The stability of baseball is one of its calling cards. Just like baseball cards. And, if baseball cards continue to exist then starting next season people will see a number at the bottom of the hits column of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's Topps or Upper Deck card that is higher than the number at the bottom of the corresponding column of any other player at that position. Ever. In the top of the third, Jeter fisted a ball to the opposite field for a two-base hit (could it have been anything else?). This base knock moved him passed Hall of Famer Luis Aparacio, with 2,674 hits while penciled into the lineup as the shortstop (he also has some hits as a DH). He may not have (even close to) the best glove at the position (although he seems to be moving better this year than in recent seasons) but he will seemingly always have the most hits. And, he's thirty-something behind Lou Gehrig for the most hits by a Yankees player. Ever. These are things worth noting. Even if you think he's the second best shortstop in the Bronx.

3. The Texas Rangers. Ladies and Gentlemen, please step right up and meet your new AL Wild Card leaders! Powered by anonymous young pitching, and Kevin Millwood, the Rangers, under the watchful eye of Team President Nolan Ryan have passed the Red Sox and Rays to take the lead in the race for the last playoff spot in the Junior Loop. They are No. 3 in ERA in the AL and No. 2 in home runs. Which means they are balanced. Behind Ian Kinsler, the Rangers topped the Red Sox, 4-3, in Arlington last night to edge themselves in front of Boston with a month and a half to play. And, they're lineup is stocked with solid fantasy options coming down the home stretch. In case you were wondering.

4. Arsenal FC. They had lost too many players to Manchester City. They were too cheap when it came to the transfer market. They were egotistical in their belief in their youth system. They were too stylish and too weak. These were but a few of the things being written about Arsenal in the run-up to the opening weekend of the Premiership. These points were moot by the 37th minute of the Gunners opening fixture at Goodison Park against Everton when new signee Thomas Vermaelen, formerly of Ajax, slotted home the second of what would become six goals. Arsenal thrashed Everton (and US goalie Tim Howard) on the road to show all the naysayers in and around North London that Arsene Wenger's side does not plan on surrendering their spot in Top Four (along with Man. U, Liverpool and Chelsea). Others who began the Prem campaign brightly include Tottenham (with a win over Liverpool).

5. Luis Castillo. And then there was one. The much-maligned second baseman for the Metropolitans takes the field tonight as the sole player still in place in the infield or outfield from Opening Day. And if you asked Mets fan who was least likely (and who they least wanted) to still be standing come mid-August they would have told you, to a man (and a Mets Grrl) that Luis was the player least-likely-to just about anything. Yet here he is. Playing. Well. Or, at least well-ish. Although his is the face of two of the three representative pratfalls of the 2009 Mets' season (the drop in Yankee Stadium, the fall down the dugout stairs at Citi Field and the Wright beaning), Castillo is actually having a heckuva of a year for himself. With two outs in the fifth, Castillo clouted a ball into the second deck in left field for his first home run in more than 300 at-bats, a drought that led the Majors. On the season, he's been hitting at a .300 clip, stolen more then 10 bags, hit more than 10 doubles and scored more than 60 runs. He's been consistent. And he's mostly been on the field. Had this team been healthy then this performance likely would have been just enough to get them over the hump in the NL. But they're not healthy and it's relatively meaningless.

Fun With Google Image Search

In today's episode we search for Simpsons tattoos and are awed by the second thumbnail in the top row.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Mudita

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Verknickular

Additions to the native language of our locality inspired by New York sports

Function: Transitive Verb; sit - ē- fěld

The 2009 New York Metropolitans baseball club of the National League played their home games in a ballpark named Citi Field. Unfortunately, the players on the Mets experienced an unprecedented injury epidemic while playing in the organization's new home. All-Stars, journeymen and young up-and-comers alike were undone during the 2009 campaign by injury. The problem reached its zenith (hopefully) during the first week of August. Second baseman Luis Castillo stumbled coming down the steps into the Mets dugout. He sprained his ankle and was forced to miss time. Two days later, rookie pitcher Jonathan Niese tore his hamstring right off the bone while throwing a warm-up pitch after awkwardly falling into a split while trying to cover first base. Both players - along with Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Gary Sheffield, John Maine, J.J. Putz, Billy Wagner and many more - had been citifelled.

1: a tragicomic means of injuring oneself
2: to die by means unexpected, and usually ironic
3: to commit a pratfall
4: to fail suddenly and in full view in spite of preparation and a clear path to success
5. to be undermined by those persons or dugout steps or athletic trainers standing next to you on the mound intended to aid your quest; to be betrayed by a friend or one's own weakness

In use:
1. In the midst of a shockingly fine bounce-back season, Mets second baseman Luis Castillo was citifelled by the dugout steps during a game against the Cardinals.
2. The Darwin Awards annually honor those individuals who have citifallen in strange and embarrassing circumstances during the previous year.
3. In the final act of Return of the Jedi, when the Rebel Alliance appeared on the verge of ruin and the young Skywalker was about to be turned or vanquished, Darth Vader citifelled the Emperor.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sad Day in Shermer, Ill. (and Hiroshima, Japan)

I read somewhere on this wondrous series of tubes that the flash that occurred this day sixty four year ago over/in/through Hiroshima had the brightness of 200 one-million candlepower lights. I don't know if that figure is accurate. Probably not. But it does convey the inexplicability of what is must have been like in that city at the moment of the atomic blast on Aug. 6 1945. The decimating brilliance of the explosion changed the world. It was an awesome display of might. And light. Unlike anything previously seen.

A few decades later, John Hughes changed, or at least illuminated, his world with a different sort of, more benevolent, brilliance. And it took him just 16 candles. Hughes died today in Manhattan. On Hiroshima Day. Is that fitting? Poetic? Ironic? Nope. It's just a coincidence. But look what I did with it. Impressed? I know.

Although Hughes wrote National Lampoon's Vacation, which was released in 1983 it wasn't until his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles that he really began to carve out his very popular niche in the popular culture. As either writer or director (or both), Hughes gave us Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Mr. Mom, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors and a whole bunch of other movies. He also introduced us all to Molly Ringwald, which likely began my attraction to redheads.

(That's Hughes on the right.)

Alonzo Mourning Will Forget Your Birthday Even If You Offer Him a Kidney

While perusing the website of the Worldwide Leader at work I noticed that former Knicks nemesis-turned-sympathetic figure-turned-self-aggrandizing back-up Alonzo Mourning was hosting a live chat. I dropped by. Not so much because I care what he's selling. But maybe to find something to make fun of him about. You know, the usual. But then it dawned on me to ask him if he'd wished Patrick Ewing a happy birthday yesterday. After all, Ewing mentored Mourning early in his career and the two Georgetown alums are supposedly very close friends. I mean, Ewing did offer to donate his kidney to the guy.

I'd like to think that Mourning will actually call. And that it will brighten Patrick's day. That's sort of cool. I think. Although I don't want to be responsible for getting Mourning off the hook for forgetting his buddy's birthday. Patrick deserves better friends. I bet Dikembe Mutombo called.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Big Fella's B-Day

All of me here at WWOD? would like to send out best birthday wishes to Patrick Aloysius Ewing. Forty seven years ago today, Patrick was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He is now enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. And in my living room, where the 1989 Costacos Borthers poster "Ewing Security" is proudly displayed.

Not only does Patrick hold Knicks' franchise records for games, minutes played, filed goal attempts, field goals, free throw attempts, free throws, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, steals (think about that for a second), blocks, fouls, points, blocks per game, offensive wins shares, defensive wins shares, and overall win shares but his tireless work ethic, dogged determination even when hobbled by injury and a supporting cast that was almost always deficient were all examples that I still draw on. The Big Fella was a role model for me. Just don't tell Oak.

Most of my friends growing up ripped on Patrick's looks (in a not entirely unracist way), the sweat dripping from his body at the free throw line and his lack of NBA championship rings. They rooted for Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or Magic or none of the above yet still harbored a general dislike of the Knicks. My Knicks. But, when I looked at Patrick out there I saw a guy who was playing his tail off at both ends of the floor. A guy who did lose some big games (and the last game of every playoff run of his career) but not for lack of trying. To me, a kid without illusions that I was any blue-ribbon world beater, I saw something heroic in him. He wasn't as tough as Oakley. Or as mercurial as Starks. He was just constant. 20 points. 10 boards. A few blocks. And every last ounce of energy that he had that night.

The fact that his career was tinged with melancholy as the years wore on only endeared him to me more. His was a quest that we can all relate to. As was it's conclusion. He wanted to be the best. And he had the talent but not the help. Or the breaks (and by "breaks" I don't mean injuries, which he had in spades). This is life. I don't know any Michael Jordans. I don't know anyone who just wins. But I know plenty of Patrick Ewings: Hard working folks who give it their all day after day with little hope of raising the Larry O'Brien trophy. Most of us don't get the victory parade. Even if we give it our best. Which we usually don't. I know I don't. Not all the time, at least. But Patrick did. Night after night. It was inspiring to me. It still is.

Happy Birthday, Big Fella.

And, yes, I do believe that the ball did clear the cylinder in play No. 3. I will always believe that.

In honor of the Patrick's big day, let's take a look back at his career: