|11-11-2004, 10:26 PM||#1|
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[Sports Central Newsletter] #118 - The Greatest Comeback
The Sports Central Newsletter
November 2004 - Issue #118
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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|
- Words From the Editor
- The O-Files: "The Greatest Comeback"
- Editor's Pick: "Diary of the Big Night"
- Shots From the Lip: "Yankee Ineptitude Ends the Curse of the Bambino"
|-- WORDS FROM THE EDITOR --|
This issue's theme deals with the collapse of the mighty New York Yankees and the unthinkable comeback of the Boston Red Sox. "The O-Files" explains why the Red Sox' path to victory was the greatest comeback of all-time, bar none. Meanwhile, "Shots From the Lip" breaks down the cause of failure for the Yankees and considers the solutions for the suddenly vulnerable Yankee Empire.
Outside of baseball, my Editor's Pick of the articles in the last week is Danny Sternfield's "Diary of the Big Night," a unique column combining opening night in the NBA and the presidential election.
Not to be lost in this is our coverage of football. Every Tuesday, Brad (author of The O-Files) brings you his NFL power rankings, a tradition spanning years at Sports Central. And a new edition this year is Jeffrey Boswell's weekly NFL predictions, appearing Thursdays. Don't miss these SC exclusives!
- Marc James
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|-- THE O-FILES -- |
"The Greatest Comeback"
By Brad Oremland
I'm a sports traditionalist. In best-of-all-time debates, I usually go with the old guys. Babe Ruth, Jim Brown, Wilt Chamberlain, Rod Laver. The '27 Yankees, the 1958 NFL Championship Game. I'm the guy whose face turns red when every Super Bowl that's close is described as the best ever. I'm the one who screams and shouts when people call the Boston Red Sox's comeback in this year's ALCS the greatest of all-time. This time, though, I'm not screaming or shouting.
Boston's comeback really was the greatest ever. Purely on the factual merits of the comeback, it's amazing. Coming back from three games down in a seven-game championship series had never been done. Not only had it not been done, no team even came close to doing it.
Add that the comeback was against the AL's winningest team, one known for its clutch postseason performances, and the series should have been Over with a capital O.
That sort of comeback, by itself, is sufficiently heroic to be called the greatest in history. But another dimension is added when you remember that you're talking about the Red Sox coming back against the Yankees. Even if you don't believe in curses, betting against Boston in October is always a good idea. Especially when Boston plays New York.
I hate saying that, because the Sox/Yankees rivalry really is the most overrated in North American sports. It has never occurred to anyone in Boston or New York that maybe people elsewhere in the country don't care as much as they do. Yankees fans are the worst in baseball, and Red Sox fans are a close second. When Boston plays anyone except the Yankees, I root for the opponent.
But the Yankees are my least favorite team in all of sports, and I'll always root for them not to make it to the Series. I was on the phone with a friend during the second inning of Game 7, and we were about to hang up. "Hold on," I said, "I just want to see this pitch." Johnny Damon sent that pitch over the wall for a grand slam. I actually squealed into the phone. That was the first moment since Game 2 that I really believed Boston had a chance.
So the Red Sox accomplished something that had never been accomplished before -- coming back from 0-3 to tie their series at 3-3 -- and then went a step further, winning Game 7. They overcame their own October demons and vanquished the Yankees in the postseason. On top of all that, they did it with a flair for the dramatic.
A ninth-inning comeback against Mariano Rivera and an extra-innings walk-off home run in Game 4. Another ninth-inning comeback against Rivera en route to the longest game in postseason history in Game 5. A bloody sock and two crucial reversed calls in Game 6.
The 2004 Boston Red Sox did no less than make the impossible possible. This year's ALCS was the reason there are sports fans. I say without exaggeration that it was a play, a drama about the triumph of the human spirit staged over nine days. The Red Sox defended the Alamo and survived. They were Poland, repelling the Russians and Germans and everyone else. Against all odds, even against history, the team stood strong in the face of the storm and weathered it. All the clichés apply. All the sappy stories have come true. I've seen Curt Schilling compared to Roy Hobbs. I've heard talk of pigs flying and cows coming home.
Some people don't understand sports fanaticism. But those of who are true sports fans, to the depths of our beings, connect with sports in a way that's difficult to articulate. Sports are an ongoing novel, with a new chapter added every season. They bring us as high as any great movie, as low as any tragic play. When Schilling returns to the mound with blood on his sock, our hearts beat a little faster. When David Ortiz singles in the bottom of the 14th, our whole bodies tingle. When Damon gets thrown out trying for home in the first inning of Game 7, our hands sweat. When he homers with the bases full an inning later, our eyes tear up.
What must Damon have been feeling as he rounded the bases? What was going through Ortiz's head when he crossed home plate after Game 4? It wasn't, "Gee, I hit a ball with a stick and it went really far." It wasn't even, "I put us up 6-0, or won the game, or extended the series." It was triumph over adversity, the overcoming of doubt and of astronomical odds. It was coming up big when the stakes are highest, the ordinary person who finds extraordinary strength to save her or his child from a burning car. That's what sports are about. They're a collection of minor miracles. The 2004 ALCS embodied all of the drama and passion and triumph that are connected to sports. That's why this was the greatest comeback ever.
Brad welcomes your feedback: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)
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|-- EDITOR'S PICK --|
There have been 11 new articles posted on Sports Central in the last week. Check them all out at: http://www.sports-central.org. The Editor's Pick is:
Diary of the Big Night
By Danny Sternfield
Whether you're a political guru or a diehard NBA fan, this night is big. There is no better way to follow the night than by keeping a diary. SC's Danny Sternfield looks at opening night in the NBA and explores its parallels with the U.S. election night.
|-- SHOTS FROM THE LIP --|
"Yankee Ineptitude Ends the Curse of the Bambino"
By Mike Round
So the curse of the Bambino can be put to rest, at last. No more "1918" chants from the bleachers at Yankee Stadium. No longer can we rely on continual ineptitude from the Boston Red Sox, like reruns of M*A*S*H on Paramount. The Red Sox won it all, and deservedly so. On question remains unanswered -- what on earth happened to the New York Yankees?
It's no secret I'm no fan of the Boston Red Sox. It's not like I was born a Red Sox hater -- I hadn't even heard of them until my mid-20s. But as soon as I got hooked on baseball, the Sox became my enemy. The sheer self-importance of the fanatical "Red Sox Nation" and their ludicrous "The Hub" philosophy; the maddening pomposity of the Boston baseball media led by Archdeacon Gammons; the bitterness and vitriol of the fans when things don't go their way. It all combines to grate on the nerves like a teacher running his nails down the chalkboard in class.
It was all in evidence during the playoffs. The treatment of Mark Bellhorn summed up Red Sox fans to perfection. He was booed mercilessly during the first three games of the ALCS series, culminating in chants of "Pokey, Pokey" during Game 3. Then Bellhorn turns it around in Game 4 and the strikeouts turn to base hits and home runs. Suddenly, the "best fans in baseball" love him. Sickening.
The media are as bad as the fans. Terry Francona was the new Grady Little for the first three games of the ALCS. He really got the proverbial boot to the gut after the Game 3 blowout Yankee win for his handling of the Boston pen. Then, as if by magic, he's transformed into a baseball amalgamation of Vince Lombardi, Bear Bryant, Tommy Lasorda, and Phil Jackson.
Rick Sutcliffe, surely THE most annoying and sycophantic color analyst in any sport (and there's some hot competition for that title), really rode Francona during the garbage time of Game 3. His chief point was that Francona had run out of starting pitching options for Games 4 and 5 by his use of Wakefield in relief. As it turned out, Francona was right, although the Yankees won in a canter. Wakefield steadied the ship and saved the rest of the pen for the rest of the series.
Sutcliffe, realizing that the momentum had shifted to Boston before the start of Game 6, did a complete about-face, and eulogized about Francona's managerial skills. Sutcliffe should be inducted into the Gumbel family without delay. The long-winded sentences, the Dan Dierdorf-esque booming pronouncements, such as, "Theo Epstein should do what it takes to resign the most improved shortstop in baseball" (Orlando Cabrera) and, "Is there a better situational clutch hitter in the game than Jason Varitek?" Every time Sutcliffe starts a sentence, I feel an urge to stand to attention and check I've polished my boots to regulations.
Francona was one game away, in my opinion, from being fired in the offseason. Now he's a hero with his place in Boston sporting history secured. How fickle is sport? But Francona got lucky -- real lucky.
At the start of the season, in my preview of the upcoming baseball season, I wrote that I hated the makeup of this Yankee lineup. My loyal readers may recall that I felt the Yankees would do well to reach the ALCS. Patently, I was not alone in that sentiment. A few lone voices had questioned the "rotisserie baseball" tactics of the Yankee front office. The chemistry looked bad, especially when things were getting away from the team and somebody needed to step up and steady the ship.
Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Alex Rodriguez, and Javier Vasquez look great on paper, but in the clubhouse, they take on a different persona. It's not that they are necessarily disruptive. The problem is they can't or won't step up and be a positive influence, either on the field or in the clubhouse. There was no Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, or Jim Leyritz on the roster. You don't win championships without men of steel in your team. The Yankees turned out to be paper tigers.
Men like Sheffield and A-Rod look like gods when things are going well, but the true test of a player isn't during regular season encounters against mediocre pitching when there's a tomorrow. The acid test comes in the postseason, against premier starters or bullpen aces like Keith Foulke, when men are on base and the game or season is on the line. Sheffield and A-Rod palpably failed that test.
Games 1-3 both looked giants. In Games 4-7, Sheffield went 1-for-17. In Games 5-7, Rodriguez went 1-for-12. Hideki Matsui, Sheffield, and Rodriguez combined to go 24-for-42 with 18 RBI and 21 runs scored in Games 1-3, but were just 10-for-53 with one RBI and two runs scored thereafter. Jorge Posada proved he's merely a fastball hitter. Jason Giambi didn't even show up. Tony Clark, Kenny Lofton, and John Olerud need to retire.
The Yankees left a staggering 32 men on base in the two overtime games (4 and 5). The plan of getting on base and moving guys along -- small ball, if you like -- was completely abandoned in favor of hacking for the fences. It was almost as if the team had unilaterally decided that whatever happened Boston couldn't take four in a row, so why not try to end it with a highlight reel homer?
The turning point of the series may have come in Game 5. Miguel Cairo led off the inning with a double and stood at third with one out and New York leading 4-2. Rodriguez went for the fences and struck out. The Sox rallied for an extra inning victory and the rest is history.
Joe Torre has many plus points, but stamping his authority on men who earn upwards of $10 million a year isn't his strong suit. He sat motionless in the dugout as the season and his team disintegrated live on FOX. He should have been in A-Rod's face when he got back to the dugout. The team needed at least an infield hit to bring Cairo home, thus putting an insurance run on the board. Instead of subjugating himself to the team, the $25 million a year man went for the glory and failed.
It's been four years since New York won a World Series and some big names have come on board during that period, ostensibly to make the team better. They've failed. Mike Mussina, Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Weaver, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Esteban Loiaza, Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, Javier Vasquez, Jose Contreras, Tom Gordon, and Alfonso Soriano have all failed to win a ring in pinstripes.
So where do the Yankee brain trust go from here? GM Brian Cashman will be back it seems, as will Torre. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will be gone, joining Don Zimmer in malcontent's corner, nursing a beer together and *****ing about Steinbrenner.
Cashman's a lucky man. His resume is spotty at best, though it's debatable how many of the signings he's made are his or Steinbrenner's. Kevin Brown was a multimillion dollar disaster, as most predicted. Esteban Loiaza was a one-season wonder who's reverted to his previous journeyman status. Javier Vasquez looks like this season's Jeff Weaver. Steve Karsay was a total waste of money, and likewise Felix Heredia. Last season's bullpen waste of money was Chris Hammond.
Furthermore, the Yankees are saddled with some hideous contracts, primarily Jason Giambi's multiyear millstone and Brown's reckless deal that sees him earning somewhere in the region of the GDP of South Africa. Mike Mussina is also on the downward slope and if the team wants to bail on Vasquez, then they are going to have to chip in substantially on his $12 million a year deal.
The experts are claiming that the Yankees need a second baseman. They're wrong. The last thing the Yankees need is Nomar Garciaparra playing second, with his shortstop buddies Jeter and A-Rod alongside him in the infield. Miguel Cairo can't hit much and his defense is ordinary, but he's cheap and the team doesn't need an extra big bat. It needs a man batting ninth to just get on base, and Cairo can achieve that.
What's blatantly needed is reliable starting pitching. Jeff Weaver was sent to the Dodgers and now looks like the man he was in Detroit. Ted Lily was dumped to the A's and is now the reliable lefty in Toronto the Yankees desperately need. David Wells was judged to be too much of a risk and in came Kevin Brown, who promptly broke his hand thumping a wall. At least Wells just thumps fellow bar flies.
Mussina and El Duque are the only definites for next year's rotation. Jon Lieber might be back at a reduced rate. Javier Vasquez might get another shot. David Wells is still Steinbrenner's first love. Randy Johnson is a possibility, but the Yankees will have to find some prospects and cash to go with Vasquez to tempt Arizona.
Mel Stottlemyre should have been fired last year, but survived. If he doesn't walk this year, he should be pushed. A team ERA of 5.17 for the series is a disgrace. A new man who can revitalize an aging pitching staff is a must. So is some reliable bullpen help for Rivera. Felix Heredia is so bad he should try throwing right-handed. My mom could hit Paul Quantrill. Tom Gordon is old and dire. He's fine against the Tigers with a thee- or four-run lead to protect, but put him in a big game with a ring on the line and he throws grapefruits, when he's not walking guys. The Yankees have never replaced Mike Stanton as the "Get to Manny" guy.
Carlos Beltran looks like he's headed to the Bronx. He's good. He has power, he runs the bases, he can field, and he's young. He's also expensive and unproven in the white heat of New York, Boston, or Chicago. He's got power to spare, but power isn't what this team needs most.
In many ways, it's irrelevant who does or doesn't come in to the Bronx this offseason. If the team doesn't revise it's philosophy, then it will never recapture the glory days of 1998 and 1999. Torre and Mattingly need to stamp on the egos in Yankee Stadium and get these mercenaries playing as a unit. If they don't, they'll fall short. Boston learned that and now New York needs to.
Whether Beltran or Randy Johnson starts 2005 in New York, the Yankees will be the team to beat in the AL. If you want to win a World Series, you'll have to beat the Yankees to get there. But, looking back at a thrilling 2004 season, it's hard to feel any sympathy for Steinbrenner and his lapdog, Cashman. They gave Bud Selig the middle finger salute, signed who they liked, and paid the luxury tax as if they were tipping a doorman. And still didn't win the prize.
Who really would have gained any happiness from seeing Gary Sheffield sporting another ring? And Kevin Brown? Two of the worst "me-first" offenders in sport. But this wasn't David beating Goliath. Boston has the second highest payroll in baseball. It's just that Boston spent their money more wisely.
That's baseball done for another year. Now hand me the remote, my dear, N.C. State and Georgia Tech are on Jefferson Pilot Sports.
Mike welcomes your feedback: mailto:email@example.com?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)
(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 12/05/04.)
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