Sunday, October 24, 2010

It's Over: The Fat Lady Sings for the Yankees in Texas

Article first published as It's Over: The Fat Lady Sings for the Yankees in Texas on Blogcritics.

Okay, I'm not going to lie about it. I took a little pleasure in turning on the TV the other night and seeing that the New York Yankees were down 5-1 to the Texas Rangers in the sixth game of the American League Championship Series. Oh, come on, you could say, you're a New Yorker and you want those Texas boys beating your Yankees? Hey, they aren't "my" Yankees and never will be. When Texas beat them, why wouldn't I be happy about it?

When manager Joe Girardi sent Mariano Rivera out to pitch the bottom of the eighth, you knew he knew it was over. This doesn't mean that the Fat Lady is singing just about this championship series, but the whole Yankee era of Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and the ghosts of Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams and all those other Yankees who played for Joe Torre along with them. After this year and this loss, things will never be the same.

After the game Girardi said something about it not being easy to see the other team celebrating after a loss in a postseason series. Well, it only reminds me of Jeter and company celebrating at Shea back in 2000 when they beat my Mets. We Met fans all had to suffer through seeing that one, on our sacred ground no less, where Seaver, Agee, Jones, McGraw and all the rest played and won two World Series titles in 1969 and 1986. It was hard to see the Yankees whooping it up back then, so it felt great to see Jeter staring out at the field in something like disbelief. Keep looking Derek, because you're 36 and probably might never see another World Series ring.

One thing this series taught me is that all the king's money and all the king's men couldn't put the Yankees back together again. The highest paid team in baseball couldn't hit Texas pitching. Beside Robinson Cano (who had four homers in this series against the Rangers), the Yankees looked like guys I see up at the park hitting those softballs into the dirt. A-Rod hit a buck ninety and had no dingers. Swisher did a lot of swishing (struck out seven times), and the pitchers might as well have been soft tossing those big softballs the way Texas was whacking the ball (the Yankees staff ended with a 6.58 ERA in the six games).

I'm sorry to have to say it, but the Yankees actually got lucky in this series. They almost got swept. If they hadn't come back and won that first game, it would have been a clean sweep. Yankee announcer - and bloviator par excellence - Michael Kay pronounced the series "over" after the Yankees came back and won the first game. Can you believe that guy? Hey, Michael, what do you have to say about that now? And how about the most annoying announcer in baseball, the Yankees' John Sterling? Could he maybe do a prolonged "The...Yankees...lose; The...Yankees...lose" just to make every Mets fan's day?

So, yes I know we Mets fans have to wait until next year. I know we didn't even make the playoffs and lost 83 games. I know, I know, I know, but guess what? Yankees fans have to wait until next year too, and some of the Yankees players will have to wait forever.

This winter Andy Pettite is probably going to talk about retirement as many times as Brett Favre, and Jeter needs a new contract. A-Rod is starting to act his age without the joy juice flowing through his veins, and Mariano Rivera, now 40 years old, just might be feeling the years as well. Posado will be seeing a lot more DH next year or perhaps not catch at all, and the team has to be thinking free agent outfielder sooner or later. Swisher better take a good look around while cleaning out his locker; the trade winds are in the air.

Will the Yankees make a run for Cliff Lee? Uh, I can hear the Steinbrenner brothers unlocking the family safe as I type this thing. The Yankees need pitching, they need hitting, and they need something that my guys across the river have in abundance: humility; but waiting for the Yankees to lose that inherent arrogance is like waiting for a train in the New York City subway system. You hope it is coming but you have no idea when it will get there or if it will even stop when it does.

I'm betting on Texas over the Giants in six games. Cliff Lee, best pitcher in the universe, will lead the way. Will he be in pinstripes next year? Yankees players and fans will be wondering that as they watch the Series on TV. Keep dreaming, Yankees fans. The Mets fans and players will be watching too, and maybe the Wilpons will finally open their own safe, drag out some of that cash that Bernie Madoff didn't swipe, and give the Yankees a run for their money for Lee.

The way things are it will be a long and cold winter for Mets and Yankees fans, and by Christmas the thought off Cliff Lee in either uniform might be better than sugar plums dancing in their heads, but don't bet on Lee having to get himself a MetroCard. If he goes on to win the whole enchilada with Texas, the Rangers' owner Nolan Ryan could find the money and incentives to keep Lee in the Lone Star State for a long time, and that just might make Texas the new sheriff in the American League. Yippee ki-yay, Yankee fans.

Monday, October 18, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Sanchez Survives Despite Two Interceptions

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Sanchez Survives Despite Two Interceptions on Blogcritics.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez took no turnovers into this game against the Denver Broncos (2-4), but that wouldn't last long. By the time the first half was over, Sanchez had thrown two interceptions, and the Jets (5-1) went back to the locker room down 10-7. It could have been worse, but it should have been better.
There was nothing to boast about in this game in terms of execution. The offense and the defense seemed like they were phoning it in today. LaDainian Tomlinson, who coming into this game was like a rejuvenated man, seem to be an invisible one until the fourth quarter. Back in the saddle Santonio Holmes had butter fingers, and Darrelle Revis, in the game but not seeming fully there yet, was beaten - and looked bad in the process - by Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown.

Of course, the focus would be on Sanchez and his falling apart in that first quarter. Much has been said recently about the way he has found his maturity this season, but early on he seemed a bit lost, though he used common sense in situations like when he allowed himself to be sacked instead of throwing the ball away. He also made a nice 32-yard pass to Braylon Edwards resulting in a TD in the first half, but it seemed like he couldn't find any consistency.

As the game progressed it felt like those games many Jets fans have sat through before: a game that shouldn't have been lost but would inevitably be because of the inability to get the big play. Head coach Rex Ryan was surely thinking about grabbing something stronger than his vegetarian shakes when he went back to that lockeroom at the half, but the Jets came back out and were not ready to throw in the towel.

The big play eventually did come in the form of a lucky break for the Jets. As the final minutes of the fourth quarter were ticking away and on fourth down with six yards to go, Sanchez threw a long pass from Denver's 48-yard line to Santonio Holmes, who got roughed up by Denver's safety Renaldo Hill on the two-yard line. This gift-wrapped the next play for Sanchez, who wisely gave the ball to Tomlinson who rushed in for the game-winning TD.

It wasn't the kind of game that the Jets wanted to play, but winning is the ultimate goal, and the Jets now have won five straight. There were lots of red flags that Ryan needs to address with the team, and one has to wonder if Revis is ever going to be Revis again.

Even though this 24-20 victory keeps the Jets in first place in the AFC East, that lead is tenuous at best because we have to wonder if the Jets players will get their acts together. Sanchez needs to be a leader on the offense, just as Revis needs to be on defense. What we saw today has to make us wonder if both guys will rise to the challenge, or if their luck will run out in the next game.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Christopher Columbus: Maybe He Didn't Discover America, But He Created a New World

Article first published as Christopher Columbus: Maybe He Didn't Discover America, But He Created a New World on Blogcritics.

"You can look it up," my grandfather used to say. This was usually about something rather bizarre, like his claims to have seen Steve Brodie jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Brodie may or may not have jumped in July 1886, but Pop wasn't born until 1888, so looking it up wasn't the whole story here. He also told many other wild tales, many of which were spun in the tenements where he grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but the one that fascinated me the most related to Christopher Columbus: he said that one Giovanni Lana, a shepherd by trade as well as a fisherman, accompanied Columbus on his first voyage in 1492. After first hearing this when I was a little boy, I have been fascinated by the story of Columbus ever since.

As an Italian-American, I enjoyed thinking that the great Italian explorer "discovered" America (with my ancestor tagging along), following in the footsteps of another great paisano Marco Polo who "discovered" China. The truth is, as many have pointed out, that China was there all along, as was America. Polo didn't discover it, but he opened a door and that was the importance of his travels there, no doubt inspiring many others who came after him, including Columbus.

Even if Columbus didn't discover America, he did something much more important: he created a new world. He dared to do something that others before him would not: he crossed the forbidden sea despite rumors of sea monsters and the fear of falling off the end of the earth. When I think of Columbus, I always remember a painting of him I saw in a book: he was making his case for tghe journey as he stood before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. He supposedly produced an orange that was meant to show them that the world was round, not flat, and he explained how he would sail around the globe to reach the India. He was so convincing that they believed him and financed the voyage, and Columbus set sail and faced the tempests and monsters in his quest for fame and fortune.

Well, what young boy wouldn't love this tale? It is filled with danger and excitement. Thinking that my ancestor was no doubt hoisting a sail as Columbus stood at the wheel of his ship, I was filled with pride and thoughts of how I could match this in the future. What worlds would I discover? Then along came Star Trek and I had my new passion: my eyes turned up to the stars and I listened to the voice over by William Shatner as Captain Kirk saying, "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before." Whew!

This is why Columbus still matters. Besides giving us a nice three-day weekend in early October, one that inspires retail sales and parades, Columbus started something: Something big; something really big. He opened the door as did Marco Polo, inspiring all those who came after him to shake the dust off their boots and breeches and leave the isolation of Europe to explore the world.

Yes, we have those who wish to denigrate his memory, and I understand their sentiments. Native Americans can look harshly at the man with good reason: he opened a door that they could only hope remained closed. They lived here in the Americas with relative peace and stability, and Europeans brought many things they didn't need: greed, violence, and disease. Blacks can also rightly question why we celebrate the day for a man who brought slavery to this land.

There are others who will contend that he discovered nothing. The Vikings were here way before him, as were probably Phoenician, Roman, and Polynesian explorers. All of this is without a doubt a way of saying that Columbus didn't come first, but it in no way lessens the biggest contribution he made to history: he changed the world forever by proving something everyone else said couldn't be done. It doesn't matter that others did it first; what matters is that when he did it, the world took note and followed him.

In his time Columbus became famous and wealthy. His name spread across Europe, and he started what would be a juggernaut of expansion, travel, and discovery. Yes, bad things happened in the course of these events, but it's not as if these same terrible things had not always happened before. Greed was always there, so was violence and slavery and everything else. The truth is that Columbus is being judged in 2010 by standards that were unknown in 1492. Wrong is wrong no matter when it happens, but at the time Columbus thought he was doing the right thing, and what he did changed the world. There is no disputing that fact.

Many years have passed and my grandfather is long gone, but I can still hear his voice. He told great stories, and I cherish them. I still think of Giovanni Lana when I look at my own son, and I wonder if our ancestor really was there to first see that land after a long gruelling voyage from Spain. If it is true, I imagine the fear that turned to joy when he left the ship, and I picture him kneeling on that beach on San Salvador, lifting the sand in his hands and watching the grains pour through his fingers as he laughed hysterically. I also wonder how it was when he returned to his fishing village outside of Genoa. Did he still cast his nets, tend to his flock, or was he forever changed by stepping on those sands of a new world?

Whatever you think about Columbus, he sailed the ocean blue in 1492. After many brutal weeks at sea, he came upon a place that was an island. When he stepped off that ship and onto that sand, he started something. After all these years, people are still stepping off ships and planes and following in his footsteps coming to America. The world as we know it changed that day, the first Columbus Day, and if you don't believe me, you can look it up.

Monday, October 4, 2010

As Gang Green Turns: Jets Trounce the Bills 38-14

Article first published as As Gang Green Turns: Jets Trounce the Bills 38-14 on Blogcritics.

If the soap opera stuff of the preseason on and off the field antics and the TV show Hard Knocks was getting kind of boring for the average Jets' fan, now he or she must be delighted to see that the Gang known as Green have what it takes. In pounding the Buffalo Bills (0-4) in what was a romp to be sure, the Jets proved their legitimacy as playoff bound and now sit in first place with a 3-1 record.

Head coach Rex Ryan must have been delighted to see his offense running on all cylinders, with Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomilson both rushing for over 100 yards, and Braylon Edwards and Dustin Keller easily scoring touchdowns. In total the Jets had 273 yards rushing and won their third straight game against their division for the first time in ten years.

Of course, QB Mark Sanchez continued his impressive steering of the offensive ship. He was 14 for 24 for a total of 161 yards and two touchdown passes. Sanchez had me worried during the preseason when he looked sometimes lost and confused on the field, but whatever has happened to shake him from that malaise is working great. Sanchez seems confident and in charge now, and the team is reaping the rewards of his growth as an on the field leader.

One has to be happy to see LT returning to form for the Jets. He rushed for 133 yards on nineteen carries with two touchdowns. In doing so he passed the great Tony Dorsett to reach seventh place on the list for all-time career yards rushing. It was the first time LT has rushed for more than one hundred yards in more than two years, but the way he is going now it makes me think he is going to have quite a few more one hundred yard games this year.

With little drama and lots of fanfare, the Jets cruised to this victory, and this should quiet some of the yackers here in New York who were shooting the breeze on talk radio this past week. Many of them thought that the Jets would ease up against lowly Buffalo, get shocked by some unexpected plays, and lose the game. How very wrong they were.

A championship team takes all games seriously, even those against teams that are 0-3. The Jets came out today and had the look of a team that is playoff bound. They left all the drama in the clubhouse, and on the field they went to work and it was a pleasure to watch.

This sets the Jets up nicely in first place in the AFC East for their big game next Monday night against the Vikings. Having won three straight, Gang Green is playing the game in their hard-hitting fashion and are taking no prisoners. It looks like they are more than ready for that challenge next week.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

NY Mets Mess: Goodbye and Good Riddance to Minaya and Manuel

This article first appeared as NY Mets Mess: Goodbye and Good Riddance to Minaya and Manuel on Blogcritics.

Make no mistake about it: the NY Mets will finally part ways with Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel after Sunday's last game of the season. This cannot happen fast enough for me. Goodbye and good riddance to them both.

In the beginning I liked Omar Minaya. I figured this fellow who grew up in Queens in the shadow of Shea Stadium had been a Mets fan all his life. Surely, he would bring something to the table that other GMs lacked: knowledge of the good, bad, and ugly Mets past. This would have to help him fashion a team that would be a winner because every Mets fan wants that, right? Wrong!

Minaya was blamed for many things, but the worst thing I think he brought to the Mets was this: complacency was okay. He seemed to sit on his hands as big fish got hooked by other teams - especially the Yankees - and that made him look either inept or unconcerned about the team. Both attitudes (and I believe Minaya suffered from both afflictions) are deadly in the game and put the Mets into a terrible situation.

Things started to turn for me when he got rid of Willie Randolph. I don't believe that Randolph got sufficient assitance on the field from the GM; therefore, how can he be blamed for the team's performance. Randolph was another local boy who made good, one who went with his father to Mets games from his native Brooklyn. I liked Randolph very much and felt he had a chance to take the Mets all the way, but he was like a carpenter without his hammer and saw. No one can blame him for the team Minaya saddled him with back then.

Of course, Jerry Manuel is not as culpable in this situation. He got dealt a bad hand. He took over for Minaya and he too never got the personnel he deserved. Minaya seemed like a guy standing on the subway platform, letting all the good trains shoot by him. He never made an effort to get Manuel help this year. We wanted Cole Hamels, but what we got was Dillon Gee.

None of this makes any sense and it never will because there is no explaining Minaya's baseball philosophy. It seems to me that he was like a guy trying to hammer nails into a table, but all he did was stand over it and toss the nails in the air. The table is never going to be completed that way, and I think that's why we have the Mets mess we have today.

So goodbye and good riddance to Minaya. I wish Manuel well, but he needs to go someplace else. He is a good fellow and deserves better. Much better.

Whom will the Mets hire as GM? The only more salient question is who will be the new manager. I like Wally Backman very much, and his kick butt attitude got him a long way with the Brooklyn Cyclones. Maybe he is what this team needs. It also needs a guy who can hit 30 homers, a couple of starters who can win 15-20 games, and a bullpen that can close the door.

We have all winter to think about these things, but the Mets organization had better get working on next year this Sunday, October 3, 2010, as soon as the last inning is played. Otherwise, next year Citi Field is going to be a ghost town.