Tag:New York
Posted on: September 29, 2011 9:52 pm

MLB Finale 2011: Will Playoffs be Anti-Climatic?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This date could go down as the most exciting 'regular season' day in baseball history. In a season when all of the Division races were settled heading into the final week, the last night of the 2011 season saw four teams enter play with a chance to secure a Wild Card Playoff spot. At the very least, win and they would find themselves still alive to play earn their spot in a one game playin game. This is just one FAN of THE GAME's take on what went down.
The St Louis Cardinals, who had battled back from 8 1/2 games back starting the month of September to tie the Atlanta Braves, started things off in Houston facing an Astros' team that had already lost 105 games. A supposedly easy task compared to the Braves facing a Philadelphia Phillies' team boasting the MLB's best record by 4 games entering the day's play. However, as evidenced by the Stros' victory in Game 1 of the series, these ARE professional baseball players, complete with egos and drive to win, and any team can beat any other on a given day.
Regardless, behind a two-hit, complete game shutout by the Cards' Ace, Chris Carpenter, St Louis did their part in an  8-0 victory. The bats were out early as they jumped on Astros' starting pitcher, Brett Myers, scoring five first inning runs. they cruised home from there.

Despite losing the sizable lead in the standings, the Braves looked to stay alive and avoid the series sweep by sending veteran Tim Hudson to the mound. The Phillies countered with journeyman Joe Blanton, and their lineup featured most of the regular starting lineup. Each team tallied a run in the first inning, then, after Blanton ceded the mound to Cole Hamels, Atlanta went on top on the strength of Dan Uggla's two-run homer in the third. The Braves would not score again.
As the game progressed, Philadelphia replaced starters Ryan Howard, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz. The rest of the starters remained in the game for the duration as the Phils played the game out. Philly scrapped out single runs in both the seventh and ninth innings to tie the game and send it to extra frames. The most frustrating of Atlata's bad fortunes had to be rookie sensation Craig Kimbrel's blown save in the ninth. The kid will probably win the NL Rookie of the Year, but just seemed to run out of gas in September, a concern for future seasons.
As pitcher after pitcher took the ball, neither team could push across a run through three extra innings. Finally in the 13th inning, Trade Deadline pickup, Hunter Pence, pushed across the go ahead run on an infield hit. Dan Uggla managed to draw a one-out walk off of David Herndon to give the Braves life, however Freddie Freeman grounded into a game ending double play to extinguish all hope.

St Louis earned the spot and will face the same Phillies in the first round of the NL playoffs. Atlanta had the race seemingly in hand as the final month of the season began, but could not manage to hold on. Perhaps the biggest reason for the fall of Atlanta might be found in the usage of both Jonny Venters and Kimbrel throughout the season. Both young pitchers were amazing at times, but were used often. And both seemed to tire in the most important month.

The American League Wild Card Race was even more WILD, no pun intended. The Boston Red Sox, who began the season in rough fashion, rebounded well and was one of, if not the, best teams in baseball from mid-April through August. They began September with a nine game lead in the Wild Card chase over Tampa Bay.
Although the Sox had already dropped four of six games to the lowly Orioles in the past ten days, they seemed to have nearly as easy a task facing them as their St Louis counterparts. The Os had lost 93 games coming into last night and were sending Alfredo Simon, 15 previous starts and a 4-9 record, out to face a potent lineup. Boston countered with 15-game winner Jon Lester. It sounded like a perfect recipe for victory.

On the other hand, the Rays were facing rookie pitcher Dellin Betances, making his first ever Major League start. Former sensation David Price, who struggled to a 12-13 record, went to the hill for Tampa. To his credit, Betances tossed two scoreless innings before the New Yorkers began to send a bevy of hurlers into the game, both known and unknown entities. Price, on the other hand, gave up five runs in the first two innings, including a Grand Slam to slugger Mark Teixeira, leading the fans to lose hope. Tropicana Park began to slowly empty after Teixeira blasted his second home run of the game, and 39th of the season, to make the score 6-0.

Meanwhile, Boston built a 3-2 lead though five innings on the back of Dustin Pedroia who drove in the first Sox run in the third and followed that up with a solo homer in the fifth inning. That score remained into the seventh inning when a deluge opened up over Camden Yard. That rain turned out to be an apt statement on the fortunes of the Red Sox' season as the night wore on.
Back in Tampa, the lead had grown to seven runs when Andruw Jones smashed a solo shot off of Juan Cruz in the fifth inning.

Stadiums in both cities empited, leaving each with a remaining majority rooting for the visiting teams. And then the world turned into the craziest baseball melodrama ever written. While the Red sox watched on the clubhouse television, the Rays mounted an eighth inning comeback. It started innocently enough with a Johnny Damon single. Ironically, Damon had won World Series Championship rings with BOTH the Red Sox and Yankees. Ben Zobrist followed with a double, Casey Kotchman was hit by a pitch and the bases were loaded. Nothing really to worry about in New England, the score was still 7-0. But Sam Fuld drew a walk and Sean Rodriguez became the second batter of the inning to be hit by a pitch and the Rays had score twice. After Desmond Jennings struck out, BJ Upton hit a sacrifice fly to cut the score to 7-3, but Tampa was now down to their last out of the inning. And the man strolling to the plate was the one man Boston dreaded to see in this situation, Evan Longoria. First pitch swinging, Longo blasted a three-run shot into the seats and the lead was down to a single run. After sitting the Yankees down in order in the top of the ninth, The Rays had one final chance to extend their season. Zobrist flew out and Kotchman grounded weakly to third, setting the stage for Manager Joe Maddon to turn to Dan Johnson. WHAT? The same Dan Johnson who had started the season with the big club, only to be demoted to the minors for the majority of the season? The same Dan Johnson who was sporting a batting average of .108? The same. And in the fashion of perhaps the silliest premise a screenwriter could come up with, Johnson hit a two out, two strike pitch down the right field line, just barely clearing the wall and tying the game. Believe it. 
In Baltimore, the rain ended and the Red Sox players slowly filed back onto the field. Their attitudes belied the fact that they still had the opportunity to win their game, a game in which they still held a one run lead. Back and forth from Baltimore, MD to Tampa, FL television viewers could flip, only to see no one cross the plate in either game. Defense dominated as threat after threat was extinguished, including Boston's Marco Scutero being thrown out at the plate. The Rays battled into extra innings as the Sox faced the bottom of the ninth.

And who should take the mound for the Beantowners? One Jonathon Papelbon. Papelbon, one of the games' most respected and feared closers, had the chance to secure Boston's victory. And he looked on fire striking out the first two Orioles to come to the plate. That was when the world began to change, yet again. Chris Davis was first pitch swinging and doubled into the right field corner . Nolan Reimold battled Papelbon to a two ball, two strike count and then blasted a ground rule double tying the game. 

Two things then happened at once. In Tampa, BJ Upton was stirking out to lead off the bottom of the 13th inning just as light hitting Robert Andino was finishing off the Sox disgrace by hittting a catchable liner into left field. Ironically, Boston's left field was being manned by former Rays' Superstar, Carl Crawford. Crawford did not make the catch. The game was over .... save blown and game lost by Boston's most reliable asset, Jonathon Papelbon. But their was still a faint heartbeat detectable on the Sox chances.

The climax of the evening and the moment of the season followed a mere three minutes later. Evan Longoria, he of the three run game changing home run in the eighth inning, worked a two-two count, fouled off a pitch and then proceeded to hit what is probably the shortest, and yet most important, home run in the franchise's history. A walk off home run in the bottom of the 13th inning on the final day of the season to clinch a post season berth! Amazing night, amazing end!

There will plenty of angst driven accusations made about how the Yankees pulled starting players and did not send their ace reliever, all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera, into the game to close Tampa out. And I could respond, in a purely unbiased way, that the Yankees EARNED the right to rest any and all of the players that chose to by winning the division and clinching early. I could respond that all of the players on the field for all of the teams on this are professionals, and as such, competitive baseball players. I could respond that during the course of a 162 game season, the Red Sox managed to swoon in late June, losing four of six games to the lowly Padres and Pirates, "end of discussion".
But the real reason that the Tampa Bay Rays are playing in the post season and the Boston Red Sox are making vacation lies in two simple facts. During the month of September, the Red Sox lost five games to the Baltimore Orioles, a team which ended the season with 93 losses. And finally, head to head, Tampa Bay beat Boston four our five games in Fenway Park. Win any one of those games, and things are different. Boston has only place to look if they wish to assign blame .... the mirror.

Epilogue: The title of this day's blog is 'MLB Finale: Will Playoffs be Anti-Climatic?' I felt that I needed this entire diatribe on the events of last evening, and some observations concerning the collapses of September to get to this point. There is, in fact, a possibility that certain teams get hot and each playoff series turns into a blowout. There could be absolutely no drama what so ever as we crown a champion to this 2011 season. I, for one, will be praying that Wednesday, September 28, 2011 is merely a prelude to a fantastic post season! But I still must finish it all like this ......


Posted on: January 9, 2010 1:26 pm

WEEK 18: Here we go (picks & more)

Every NFL fan, and I mean the TRUE FAN (those of us who can get past whether or not our favorite team made the playoffs), looks forward to Week 18 from the moment the preseason camps begin to open. Some of us get labeled as 'bandwagon' fans because our allegiances seem to change from game to game in the playoffs (again, if our fav is not there), but I disagree with that label. I believe that those fans who are like me just LOVE NFL football and we appreciate great matchups and great games in the playoffs. Let's face it, there are separate rivalries in playoff season that go beyond the regular season, such as the Colts and Patriots , and, from the past, the Steelers and Cowboys . So, in each matchup I find reasons to pull a little more for one team than the other. Perhaps I appreciate one head coach more than the other, admiring the way they hold their team up in a classy way such as Tony Dungy always did. Or perhaps there is a player who is the most intriguing story of the playoffs such as Brett Favre and the possibility that if things fall just right he could be facing the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Regardless, I LOVE THE PLAYOFFS!!!

What follows are my picks for Wild Card Weekend, why, and which team I am pulling for:

Philadelphia @ Dallas
For some, this game is a no brainer and the Cowboys are the choice. There is no question that they have played their best all-around football over the past few weeks. The defense has stepped up big time, throwing two shutouts, Marion Barber seems to have found himself again and Tony Romo has matured into the best version of himself in his career. I believe this has more to do with coaching than anything else. The 'Boys are using Felix Jones and Tashard Choice , along with Barber, in a rotation that is most effective. Barber has not played in this situation since Julius Jones was let go. Barber was the most feared goal line back in the league in those days, and his recent performance shows he is once again benefitting from not being an every down back. As for Romo, he still has that 'goofy little kid' look going on, but I believe that something has clicked inside of his head and perhaps his heart. He looks fearless in the pocket and trusting of his receivers. He finally has a target worthy of taking pressure off of Jason Witten in Miles Austin , and other receivers are actually catching the ball too.
Conversely, the Eagles were the hot team and many people's pick to rise up and make a big run in the playoffs. Then Week 17 happened and everyone jumped off of their wagon. Donovan McNabb can still get the job done, but his line must protect him AND his receivers MUST CATCH THE BALL. Brian Westbrook looked like he was in the second week of the preseason against Dallas and provided little spark. And the defense just isn't the same without Coach Johnson dialing up the blitzes. I am a big Andy Reid fan, and if anyone can turn this around in a week, well he is certainly one who could. But ......
I don't see it. I grew up a Cowboy fan until Mr Jones bought the team (just don't like that guy) and I would tend to lean towards rooting for the Eagles. That being said, momentum is huge, and although the Eagles could grab it away with some stellar early play, I think it's all on Dallas' side.
Cowboys 27 Eagles 24

Green Bay @ Arizona
Here is the 'bandwagon' I am jumping on this week. I love what the Packers have done over the course of the second half of the season. Aaron Rodgers has proven in my eyes that he is a big time quarterback and that maybe the Pack wasn't so dumb letting the 'every year Favre off-season circus' move on. Rodgers has a bevy of receivers to go to in any given situation. In addition, the running game is clicking with Ryan Grant leading the way. The addition of Ahman Green has only helped. Defensively, despite the blip in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago (I was at that game), Green Bay has improved throughout the season. The young linebackers are on the verge of becoming one of the best crews in the NFC, the line works hard and the secondary led by Charles Woodson have made the 'big play' an every game occurrence.
I enjoy watching many of the athletes on the Cardinals roster perform, respect and admire the entire Kurt Warner story and all that he has achieved, and I like Ken Whisenhunt. However, I thought the Cards played over their heads last year (Larry Fitzgerald going all-universe) in the playoffs, and they truly benefit from playing in the weakest division in the NFL. Anytime you can combine Fitz with his receiver mates, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston , and have Warner throwing the pigskin around you have a chance to win. And as much as I believe Beanie Wells is a future star, he just cannot hold onto the ball.
In the end, I believe Green Bay is primed for a deep run. Unfortunately for the defending conference champs, they are in the way.
Packers 34 Cardinals 20

NY Jets @ Cincinnati
Rex Ryan made a lot of grandiose statements at the beginning of the season that only increased, both in volume and pompacity, after a very good start by the Jets. Somehow, despite a rollercoaster ride of team performances, the New Yorkers find themselves in the postseason. I love Ryan. I truly believe he is a future Super Bowl Champion coach. Mark Sanchez looks like he will develop into at least a good Qb, if not a very good one. Once Thomas Jones runs out of 'career gas', Shonn Greene will develop into a superstar. And Darrelle Revis already IS a superstar. All of this bodes well for the future, and making the playoffs this season will only accelerate future success. But that's the future, this is now.
The Bengals , on the other hand, are out of gas ..... NOW. Their defense has looked weaker and weaker as the season has progressed. Carson Palmer has proven that he is fully recovered from the knee injury that he suffered a few years ago, and is nice quarterback. But the receivers are old, Ocho is hurting, the running game is (can I repeat myself?) out of gas. Unless Larry Johnson comes off the bench and out of obscurity with a performance of a lifetime, I think the Cats are in trouble.
This might be the least entertaining game of this playoff season.
Jets 17 Bengals 10

Baltimore @ New England
Who doubts 'The Hoodie'? Bill Belichick, like him or not, is a proven winner. Tom Brady already has his bust being molded for when he reaches Canton. And Randy Moss ? Shoot, when Randy decides to play he is one of the best receivers in the history of the game. But this team is a shell of what we are used to seeing out of the Patriots. Moss WILL show up, and probably have a nice game. Although at times Brady played great this season, I don't think he is all the way back from the knee. He'll also play well in this game. But the running game is lacking, the defense is not good and Wes Welker is out. Yikes!!
The Ravens enter this game with a chip on their shoulders after what they feel was a referee influenced loss during the regular season. I still don't see what all the hype is about surrounding Joe Flacco . Sure, he's better than anyone expected coming out of college, but no one expected ANYTHING, so how is that a big deal? He's good, might become real good, but he's not leading ANY team into the Super Bowl this season. Despite aging, the defense is still the story in Baltimore. Ray Lewis is jacked up. Is that a surprise? Ray gets jacked up as soon as he opens his eyes every morning. And he will play his best football of the season during the post season, no matter how long it lasts. The big key to this game is can Ray Rice and Willis McGahee combine to dominate time of possession and get the ball into the endzone without putting it on the ground too often. The smart money says yes.
Now, I for one would not be surprised if 'Hoodie' has kept something up his sleeve. We all know that no one leaks in New England, the Secret Service could take lessons on security from the Chowds. This may or may not be the case, but what if Fred Taylor has been MUCH healthier for WEEKS than the Pats have let on? Maybe Fragile Fred has just been staying healthy, comes out and puts up 200 yards and 3 Tds? If so, Hoodie's legend multiplies by 1,000 and the Patriots win. If not .......
Ravens 23 Patriots 21

Enjoy the games friends and fellow fans!!!

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com