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Jim “Shoota” Magruder

You know the funny thing Shoota, I never got the chance to tell you about this blog. But per usual Rif came through with the vital knowledge, relaying the ‘informaish’ and preventing me from regretting my own poor marketing skills. The voicemail you left for me that Thursday night was priceless. Made me laugh out loud at your wit and my ‘suchness’. After you told me not to call you for “at least a few hours”, because you’d be “busy bloggin it, postin comments”, I of course immediately called you back.

I missed you, but as was often the case, tried to picture which aspect of domestic life was consuming you at that particular moment. Maybe Abbey was hungry, and thus a ‘lil heated’. Maybe you were busy trying to embed “ballgames points” into her frame of reference and anxious vocabulary. Either way that ended up being the last time I called you.

This has, for me, become a severe point of confliction. Honestly, I knew you’d call me back. Obviously. But it was also the voice mail. Throughout that weekend, during which I went to Boston to see my family, I repeatedly listened to it, as opposed to skipping it before my new messages. What had begun initially as an outright laughing fit had transitioned into a familiar chuckle with each listen.

In the week subsequent to your accident I must have heard and laughed at that message five or six times. Never occurred to me to get immediately back to you, because I knew what your life was like, and knew that you always made time in it for me, so it really wasn’t a big deal. The part of me that regrets not calling is that we in New York would at least have known about your accident and forecast. Would have had time to try and comprehend this ridiculous scenario; try to act accordingly.

But I didn’t call and we didn’t get the word until you were already gone. There’s a part of me that is destroyed by that. But, I think, there’s a bigger part of me that cherishes the fact that I was given the opportunity, one last time, to celebrate your life in a singular way. With our lives on different tracks in different places I had already accepted the fact that mementos would be a common fashion through which to play out each other’s endeavors. This time was no different. And now, in hindsight, I realize that for one whole week, when 99% of the people in your life were bracing themselves for the imminent, I was ignorantly, goofily, blissfully chillin. With another unique memento from you, I was content and chillin.

I have taken measures to ensure that that message, your last message to me, will never be misplaced, never go too long without a listen and a gag. I finally had Rif, Cotter and Ty give it a whirl right before we got on the plane out of New Orleans. Thought it would be a fitting way to leave your land.

Now I know that Louisiana was your land, your home. But you know that NY became your ‘spizz’. I know it was tough when you first got here, living uptown on your own, a sophomore in college feeding off New York pizza and the super stations. But there was that one “glorious” day when you saw a kid with an LSU shirt, got talking to him bout the Tigers, and the homeland. You asked him if there was anyone good to know at Fordham, and he immediately told you there was a kid from Boston that he was certain as steel would be a good fit for you.

That first fall day that you showed up with Glazer at my room was a Tuesday. And Tuesdays in 14M were “Jack Bauer night”. So it became a Tuesday faded-24 “steez”. The crew was always the same: Nate and Koshy, with Chrissy meandering in and out of the room, and us. Cotter and Rif would show up too, but ‘cared’ about 24 and enjoyed conversatin’ through it. Nate and I would have none of that. Season 2 of 24 demanded silence, and you didn’t seem to mind.

So it went, through the new year of 2003. Tuesdays were Jim-from-Louisiana day. Then things started getting more serious. Our inaugural intramural basketball team–Adog, Ace $$, Keith, Roger, Toine and Dre, myself–was floundering. With expectations of ‘rollin’ over fools’ en route to the glory of Fordham’s famed wall of sports, it was an understatement to assert that we were underachieving. We pretty much stunk. Then you offered your services.

I know you were a star off-guard in high school; loved the perimeter and the jays. But on this squad of slender, quick guards, your 6-1, hulky-frame was exactly what we needed in the middle. So you abandoned your game. Abandoned it so Ace “mini AI” could slash; so Roger “dub dub” could dish; so Adrian “jump-shot camp” Arias could eye up that nylon like a sharpshooter; so I could chill in the corner, waitin’ for that dish and trizzle.

And guess what? We started winning. We started finally having fun. Started hoppin’ on and off that godforsaken Ram Van with a shit eatin’ swagger instead of a collective punch in the gut. We would come to the Bronx from “that actors campus” with a mission, execute that mission, and be the hell out. That first season ended admirably, as I’d say we were right around a .500 team.

What I know for certain is that season two would be the one to remember. We beat ‘Yao’ (a 6-5 Chinese kid that could’ve dropped double digits for the D1 Fordham team). We beat my arch nemesis so I didn’t have to fight him. We just kept winning. And then we’d bring the party back to Lincoln Center, where the squad would ravage Koshy’s plentiful yet typically guarded stash of hamburger patties and quesadillas.

The only game we lost that season was the last one. And since it was right before spring break we obviously ‘cared’. You were off to Franklinton, me to Paree. We had the number one seed and a first round bye locked up for the playoffs. I’m pretty sure Adog played all by his lonesome that last game. Wasn’t too fair, but you know it was all good because he was most likely content with his ‘word stat line son’.

When we got back from spring break and realized that my nemesis’ squad had won its quarterfinal game and was going to be playing us for the right to go to the championship I was giddy. I had done him so dirty in that regular season game (and obviously ‘repped verbally’ throughout it all) that I was ready to laugh him back to wherever it was that he got that ridiculous earring. I must have played the worst game of my life that day. Couldn’t buy a shot. With Ace struggling to find his game as well, we were down by a mortifying 24-13 or something at halftime. What you did in the second half of that game I’ve always told myself I would never forget. Well now you need not worry kind sir.

You hadn’t seen the light outside of the paint in two seasons and somehow you knew that with our season hanging in the balance, the three-point line was beckoning. You hoisted up treys like they were coconuts. If that basketball had been a coconut then each one of those five three pointers you hit would have knocked each one of those opposing teammates right onto their behinds. But instead of literarily taking them out you did that through the grace and accuracy of your jump shot, methodically and deliberately firing calculated shots at the egos and confidence of that entire team, one by one.

When it was all said and done what had started as a dismal, season and character- threatening disaster had turned into the greatest game I’d ever been party to. And I had sucked. But I laughed. Because of you I was able to fulfill that which I needed at that moment: to be able to laugh in the face of that asshole and thank him for alllllllllll the memories. I obviously did that. He retorted by reaffirming how poorly I played. And through the jubilation I managed to shift into a quick snicker of concurrence, and returned, “Ya but not my boy!!!”

So there it is Shoota. The game I will never forget. We ended up losing the championship game by three points. But then again my nemesis had apparently mobilized the entire Rose Hill basketball community considering the squad that trotted out for the championship against us looked like they had either just come from the open Knicks tryout or had just finished filming an “And One Mix Tape”. But as usual, we refused to let the odds stand in our way. As usual we did battle. That particular game we battled and we lost.

I’ve been watching Gladiator and the Jason Bourne movies on consistent loops whenever I’m at my place. Guess I just got used to one of those ‘flicks’ always on in your room senior year. Gladiator is one of my favorite movies of all time, while the Bourne series is surely one of the most entertaining, so I loved the fact that I could always count on one being the featured ‘presentaish’ in 17D2.

But, as senior year progressed, I slowly came to realize that these two characters strongly embodied both the goodness of your being, and the essence of your struggles. Maximus had to fight in the name of his family. Bourne had to fight to discover his true identity. Once you and Meghan were married, and Abbey was on the way, your fight began. You knew you were in search of your true identity; that in New York, at Fordham, the path would lead to that ultimate recognition.

But with Meg and Abbey a world away you also had that carnal desire to be with your loved ones. Thus created an intersection of two glorious entities: your own pursuit of self-understanding, and your family. However combined, these two most cherished aspects of your life created hardship. But you fought. And you succeeded. In respect to Bourne, you fought to locate and walk the path of self, and you found the end of that path on May 26th, 2005. And like Maximus, you fought for your family, even if Meg was only there via telephone, and Abbey in spirit.

It may have been trying, difficult, even downright angering at times, but there is no doubt that in one year you accomplished more than I have in my entire lifetime. You made it work, Shoota. I’m just glad we were a part of it.

J’imagine que tu comprends tous maintenant, donc je vais prendre l’opportunite a dire quelques mots en francais, le langue que j’adore et le langue que tu a aime bien. Je suis trop content que tu etais able de voir Paris, de voyager en Europe. Croyez-moi, c’est approprie que tu a vu la terre ou il y aura encore plus des gens qui va pleurer quand ils entendent de ton dernier histoire. Je vais saisir a ton memoire comme rien jamais, en deux langues, pour toi, et pour ta famille. Donc t’inquiete pas.

So Shoota, from Boston to Brook-non, gee-Paree to sunny Cal-ly; from McMahon to Hillcrest and beyond, I bid you adieu. Don’t worry though. I will see you again. But not yet. Not yet…

Yekshemesh mon frere.

Game 7

There’s no way to classify what happened at Shea Stadium on a mild, rainy October night. Willie Randolph replicated one of the most epic blunders by a manager in a seventh game. Endy Chavez replicated the dream he had the night before Game 7. Jeff Suppan replicated his performance from Game 3. And somehow Adam Wainwright (who?!?) found a way to protect a ninth inning lead without a fastball.

So how did all this happen? How is a team that just last night won its 90th game about to be playing for a ring? How is it that Game 7’s either end in a thrashing or a miracle? How many wagers did the baseball fates have on this contest? There must be some explanation for the seemingly inexplicable.

With the intention of cutting straight to the heart of this matter, jump to the top of the sixth inning. One out. Cardinals and Mets tied 1-1. Oliver Perez walks Jim Edmonds on his 87th pitch. Perez has just completed one of the most improbable treks from the fringes of the baseball world to its most cherished stage. He has clearly left every ounce of sweaty fortitude on that mound at Shea. Randolph trots out to the hill, as Chad Bradford finishes his warm up tosses, waiting for the imminent call.

As the skipper gets to the mound the entire infield convenes for a meeting. Randolph looks Perez square in the eye and asks him the one question you never ask a pitcher in a deciding playoff game, be it Pedro Martinez or, well Oliver Perez. Course coach, I got one more in me. That cliche could be uttered by one of the great pitchers of all time or by a character played by Kevin Costner. Unfortunately for viewers it’s all the same. We know baseball is too cruel and Hollywood is too unoriginal for the other shoe not to immediately drop.

Instead of Perez exiting stage right it’s Randolph. And before he can retake his post in the dugout Scott Rolen has launched the first meatball he sees deep into the dark and cloudy Flushing night. Mets fans lost their lunch. Red Sox fans shuddered. Yankees fans snickered. Then Endy Chavez, the role player that time and time again has defied the odds, decided to defy the fates. With one of the most majestic catches October will ever see, Chavez ascended over the fence, hauled in the ball, swung around and doubled up Edmonds at first base.

In the delirium that ensued Chavez could have levitated and flown back to the dugout and the Shea-faithful wouldn’t have noticed. In less than a heartbeat a mundane Game 7 between two-are-you-kidding-me-hurlers had transformed into a transcendent fall classic.

If destiny had called in the form of Willie Randolph pulling a Grady Little, Endy Chavez sure as hell refused to answer the phone.

Shea continued to bump, waiting in giddy anticipation for the other other shoe to drop; waiting for this new manifestation of destiny. Waiting for Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright. Waiting.

Somehow they were kept waiting all the way until the ninth inning. Then came Yadier Molina. Facing Aaron Heilman, Molina turned on a fastball left over the middle of the plate and connected. If everyone in Shea knew that Rolen’s ball was out of the park, they certainly knew that this fly ball had warning track written all over it. For some reason it just kept carrying. For all Shea knows a jumbo jet took off from nearby La Guardia Airport and gobbled that ball up into its jet stream. Didn’t really matter how it happened, though. It was 3-1 Cardinals heading into the last of the ninth inning.

If baseball fans are connected at the hip in one common way it is in the mutual hope they share; the hope that their marquee bats will find a way to come up in deciding-situations: If we’re gonna lose, least let us lose with [insert star] at the plate…

The Mets got that chance. Against a closer who had earned that designation merely for his work in the last two weeks, New York had to feel good about its chances. Sure, Wainwright had been effective in the series, but saving a playoff game and eliminating a team in its own house are two completely different things. Both Jose Valentin and Endy “Angels in the Outfield” jumped on fastballs for solid singles. First and second. Nobody out. Cliff Floyd, a pinch hitter, stepped to the plate, and got rung up on a breaking ball right over the heart of the plate. True knee-breaker, but also the kind of pitch that relies solely on deception.

Next up was Reyes, who managed to work the count against the visibly-fazed Wainwright. He got into a hitters count and smoked a frozen rope to right center field. Edmonds was in good position and made the play. Two outs. Paul Lo Duca up. Anybody rooting for the Mets knew that if only Lo Duca could find a way to get on base, that would be it. Sure enough, Wainwright, now really feeling the pressure, lost all command of his fastball. Five-pitch walk and Carlos “October” Beltran up.

Wainwright fooled Beltran with a first pitch curve. Then he fooled him again with a last pitch curve. And Game 7 was suddenly over, along with the Mets season. It was a season where the expectations were minted as soon as the Mets forcefully took the NL East away from the Braves. And that basically happened by May 1st. Unfortunately, lots can happen in seven months. And to the Mets, lots did.

However adversity doesn’t change expectations. Not to true competitors at least. Fact is, these Mets may not be champions this year, but no one can deny that they competed until the end. And with the way Game 7 unfolded, maybe merely competing wasn’t enough. Because on one stormy autumn night in Queens, it appears that for the Mets it simply wasn’t meant to be.

NLCS Main(e) Points

First off, KUDOS JOHN MAINE. On the surface Maine’s performance in Game 6 last night fits into a nice historical perspective: no rookie pitcher starting an elimination game has ever lost that game. As concise as that sounds, don’t be fooled: John Maine was one pitch away from not making it out of the first inning. Which makes his 5 1/3 innings of shutout baseball all the more glorious. With one out and runners on second and third in the first inning, Maine whiffed Jim Edmonds on three pitches before retiring Scott Rolen with the bases loaded two batters later.This was a game earmarked for disaster, and the kid battled through it. He battled quite literally with himself, struggling all evening to locate his pitches (54 strikes, 44 balls), but refusing to give up another hit after that fateful first inning. He primarily kept his fastballs up in the zone, and had good velocity, 93-95 mph. After being boosted by a leadoff home run from Jose Reyes, it was undoubtedly Maine’s game…

Speaking of the catalyst, Senor Reyes, I think it’s safe to say that his postseason slump has ended. And a la Johnny Damon in Game 7 against the Yankees in 2004, opponents beware. Reyes is the single most dynamic player in the game today, and his non-presence in these playoffs nearly cost his team this series. Nearly…

Since every prediction I have made about the Mets has not come to fruition (see: Pedro, El Duque, Mets in 5) I will refrain from asserting that the Mets easily win this game tonight. So I will stick to the facts, and let conclusions be drawn as they may…

Reyes is baaaaaack, which bodes exceptionally well for the Mets offense, not to mention potentially disastrous for the Cardinals pitching staff. I have always deemed it next to impossible for an on-paper inferior pitcher to dominate an on-paper superior lineup twice in one series. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen. Check it. Add to that the fact that the “inferior pitcher”, Jeff Suppan, couldn’t cut it as the mop-up man for the Red Sox two years ago and you get my drift…

The Mets have history on their side. Teams that have forced a Game 7 after being down 3-2 have won that seventh game in eight of 11 instances. The game also happens to be at Shea Stadium, a venue that has housed so much magic this year that David Blaine just might be angered that he finally has some competition in New York (and in Queens no less). So unless Jeff Suppan is counting on making his 90 mph fastball disappear, odds favor the Metropolitans…

Finally, this team has been hit with every possible hindrance that a squad predestined for the World Series could be dealt. From injuries to slumps; blown leads to series deficits, they have persevered through it all. And they have done so through toothy smiles and gags, headbumps and hairdos, intertwined with hasty heroics. Some of those traits sound familiar? To paraphrase an ex-champion in the context of this Mets team: it might just be “destination”.

Post-Division Series Points

The Cardinals are back in the NLCS, where they are about to meet their maker in the form of the New York Mets. I wasn’t completely convinced that St. Louis had simply shaken off their collective blackout at the end of the regular season until I saw Tony La Russa give Chris Carpenter the nod in Game 4 last night against San Diego. By doing so he sent a clear message: with the Jeff’s (Weaver and Suppan) posing as playoff-number two and three starters, it was just plain silly to look down the line at a possible fourth starter. Had to go right back to the top. Couldn’t put his faith in Jason Marquis or Albert Pujols or the hometown faithful.

Okay, the move paid off. Carpenter rebounded from a rocky first inning against the Padres and clinched the series for his ball club. He did what aces do: win a big game. Problem is, the next big game he appears in will not be until Game 3 of the NLCS. It could’ve been Game 1, if La Russa had a ounce of faith in any of the aforementioned entities. But he didn’t. He witnessed first hand the colossal implosion of his corps a few weeks ago, and obviously deemed advancing to a third consecutive League Championship Series a sufficient success.

In the interest of speaking directly: the Cards have no chance of winning a game not started by Carpenter against the Mets. Since his slated second start would be for a Game 7, it’s safe to say that the Mets clinch the NL pennant in 5, and rest up for the World Series while the A’s and Tigers duke it out in a long series…

Speaking of those destroyers from Detroit…how bout them Yanks?!? No honestly, props to the Tigers. That squad clearly responded to the naysayers a la the White Sox of last year by thoroughly dominating a team that most (yours truly included) believed would be bashing all the way to the AL pennant. Now the Yankees are headed to the showers, another October minus glory.

Obviously more is being written about the Yankees than any of the remaining playoff teams. There is lots of speculation that Joe Torre is headed out; lots of debate over whether A-Rod can ever show his face in the Bronx again. Jim Caple even dared to suggest that the Yankees trade Jeter and move A-Rod to short. Yeah, and maybe the Patriots will trade Tom Brady if they lose a few more playoff games. Hogwash. But hey, with a philosophical structure as warped as the one exercised by this present version of the New York Yankees, maybe they should just cut out the heart of the beast.

Yeah, and then that beast will bleed all over the Bronx. So in the name of preventing bloodshed, let’s quell the “trade-Jeter” talk…

As for the ALCS, this is a series I’m having a lot of trouble getting a read on. Detroit’s near-stellar starting pitching, coupled with their ability to consistently have good at bats and hit the ball out of the park, has been impressive. With Joel Zumaya throwing hand grenades in the forms of weaponized-fastballs to opposing hitters in the seventh and/or eighth innings, the Tigers appear to have a sound formula for success…

I’m kind of reeling because I still haven’t totally grasped the fact that Oakland won a series-clinching game for the first time in my cognitive life. The A’s are a team that has always been constructed for a long series; they’ve just never been able to get to a seven game series. Now that they are there with Rich Harden seemingly in midseason shape, they’re going to be tough to beat. Because both the Tigers and A’s are peaking at the right time, the ultimate advantage once again swings back to the Mets, who will have to go into either Detroit or Oakland to begin the World Series, but with less tribulations in their rear view…

Bye Week with Rudi

When I’m not diligently producing points for my reputable readership I’m shifting in and out of various free lance jobs at College Sports Television (CSTV). Lately I have been working as a researcher for the studio crew. On Saturday CSTV was fortunate enough to obtain the analytical expertise of one of the NFL’s more decorated running backs, Rudi Johnson.

I had no idea he was going to be in-studio, and coincidentally was wearing one of those half-turtleneck, NFL-brand, long-sleeve T-shirts. The only insignia is in the form of a small team logo on the left side of the neck. And those who know my local affiliations understand implicitly that the logo was of a little Patriot. Let’s just say that after watching intently four quarters of the Patriots-Bengals game last Sunday I wasn’t exactly flyin’ outta my “And 1’s” to go and introduce myself.

To add a little perspective Rudi is 5-10, 225 pounds. He wore a sleek cream-colored suit, baggy. To the unknowing those 225 pounds may have seemed diminished, possibly even in question. To a perceptive sports-eye who happened to be wearing some adversarial gear, those were 225 pounds of human steel. So yeah, I had a lot of work to do and didn’t have the opportunity to go say whatup…

After Rudi did a taped-bit he gravitated over to the research area to check in on the day’s games. I looked up and he was over my right shoulder. (At least the logo was out of his line of sight.) I stood up, introduced myself, and told him not to pay attention to my shirt. Which drew his attention directly to my shirt. He chuckled, and reflected briefly on the Pats game. Said the Pats got away with one, and his squad will get another shot come playoff time, with a different result. I noted that the venue may be different, come January. He didn’t waver. I didn’t doubt him.

I asked him about the upcoming schedule. He said they’re going down to Tampa after the bye week. I grinned and joked about how that should be a nice bounce back game. “Somebody’s gotta pay,” he asserted. I once again didn’t doubt him. Probably because he’s one of the nastiest running backs for one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses. Have I mentioned that? He’s also a down to earth guy. Has that unique combination of ego and personality. He’s brash, and in the same breath modest.

And then he took my seat. As a researcher, ninety-five percent of my work involves staring at a computer screen, tracking football statistics via gamecasts. I had gone to grab a bottle of water, and when I returned Rudi was plopped down at my station, reading up on his squad and his competition. So I stood and waited. I had some, not a lot of work to do. But there really wasn’t any question. I just wasn’t going to be the guy who tells Rudi Johnson to get out of his seat in a Pats shirt. No, I’m not that guy.

When Rudi finished, I retook my seat, and before long he was back flanking me watching the games. We got talking again, this time about his division, the AFC North. Agreed that the Steelers would rebound and the Ravens would level off. I asked him what games he had circled on the schedule, and he directed me towards a Monday night game on December 18th in Indianapolis. Talked about how there will definitely be a lotta offense. I added that this rematch of one of the great games from last season will probably have home-field implications as well. I surely wasn’t enlightening him.

If there is one aspect of the NFL that separates professionals from wannabes, it’s the sheer power with which these guys hit each other all over the field. (In the Bengals-Patriots game last week Reche Caldwell was blindsided so hard that I really thought he was knocked out cold.) In that light I asked Rudi if there was one hit he remembers taking that really flattened him. He laughed and responded that he likes to initiate the hitting. I agreed, assuring him that I have seen plenty of instances in which he pancaked, railroaded or simply ran through opposing players. But there must be that one hit, right…

“John Lynch,” he said. “One time he got under my chin, and hit me good, I needed stitches.” I then asked him if there were any singularly memorable blasts that he’s dealt out. The gist of his response was that those kind of memories were plentiful. He does love a good stiff arm though, and he is part of an elite class of backs who employ it frequently. Most relevant, his ex-teammate, Corey Dillon. He said the two still talk, and was in accord with my claim that Corey was more than happy to accept “the 15” for his excessive celebration after earning a hard-fought, late-touchdown against his old mates.

Looking ahead, Rudi exuded nothing but confidence about the 2006 season. “We expect to win every game we play,” he said. If there is one thing the Bengals have to do better, though, it is to more effectively defend against the run.

“Gotta stop the run,” he said.

“One thing’s for sure, Rudi,” I shot back. “Ya’ll can definitely run the ball.”

He grinned and headed over to the set.

NFL Points: Week 4

The Patriots and Eagles are back in it to win it. Mark it down. While the Bears and Colts are probably the best two teams in the league right now, it is New England and Philly that have rediscovered the winning two-step, and should thus be feared…Donovan McNabb dazzled on Monday night, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another two against unfortunate Brett Favre and Green Bay. McNabb has now thrown nine touchdowns this season against just one interception. Had it not been for his cockiness against the Giants with a humongous lead, the Eagles would be undefeated through four weeks. The Andy Reid/healthy-Donovan McNabb combo has been good enough to appear in four of the last six NFC Championship Games. The defense can still stop the run and Brian Westbrook can still confound opposing coaches and personnel with his multifaceted capabilities. With the Cowboys (and we’d expect T.O.) coming to town on Sunday, Philly is one win away from putting itself in the drivers seat for the NFC East title…

With all the hoopla and verbal jousting in the week preceding Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Bengals, one had wonder if the Cincinnati players were merely trying to fill the time during which they were normally posting bond. Relevant as that may be, the Bengals had a different agenda on their minds. They saw the Pats game as a minor speed bump after which cruising over at fairly high speeds they would be able to proclaim themselves the best team in football. Instead Laurence Maroney decided to stiff-arm that scenario, in addition to the rest of the weak Cincy-run defense, en route to 125 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.

There are very few instances when Bill Belichick gives a sound bite worthy of repeating or attempting to interpret. But when the ever-mum and monotonous-New England coach decided to engage himself in that Bengal-banter during his press conference earlier this week, it was obviously for a reason. Chad Johnson had essentially challenged Belichick to give him one on one coverage to which Belichick responded, “Tell him we’d cover him one one on one all the time but he pushes off more than any receiver in the league. He must be paying off the officials not to call it.” A comment from Belichick involving wit? It can’t be true! Well it was calculated, and while his facial expression won’t change until the tickle of falling confetti forces the issue, we can definitely say that the coach got the last laugh this time…

MLB Playoff Points ‘06

Undoubtedly the most bizarre stretch-run in recent memory. Yet here we are, on the eve of another MLB postseason. Collapses, surges and injuries were the dominant story lines throughout the last week of the season. The Cardinals and Tigers survived while the Twins and Dodgers thrived. The Padres and A’s sustained while the Mets and Yankees pained. Now that some of the dust has finally settled it’s clear that there’s not a single team in the field that is currently equipped with the necessary tools to win 11 October baseball games. With that in mind, let us examine a handful of guys whose play will ultimately dictate the fortunes of their teams.

Rich Harden and Frank Thomas: It’s sad to say, but Rich Harden embodies the essence of this generation of the Oakland A’s. That is, he consistently comes out of the gates in April doing his best Sandy Koufax-impression. The A’s come out of the gates in October doing their best ’96 Yankees-impression. Problem is, Harden is always on the shelf by mid-May and the A’s are always eliminated in the ALDS via reverse-sweep by mid-October. Sooo, if Harden can take his rightful place atop the new Oakland “Big three” (in front of Barry Zito and Dan Haren), and Frank Thomas can continue to anchor that lineup, the A’s could find themselves back in a position to win one game and advance to the ALCS. Yeah, familiar territory for Oakland…

Chien-Ming Wang and Randy Johnson: The Yankees have such ridiculous offensive capabilities that they should probably be represented at the next G-8 Summit. With that said, their championship aspirations rest on the shoulders of their starting pitching. Mike Mussina’s poise under pressure is one-upped only by Mariano Rivera (okay, five-upped). Wang has made one career playoff start, and lost. The Unit was borderline-atrocious in his one playoff-stint with the Yanks last October. Wang has been much better this year, but Johnson has arguably been worse, and is now ailing. Yankee-fans definitely don’t want to hear the names “Corey Lidle” or “Jaret Wright” in the same sentence as “elimination-game” so the front three for New York must bear the torch.

St. Louis Cardinals: So much to say, don’t know where to begin. They do have the best hitter in baseball. They also have the best pitcher in the National League. After Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter though, all they got is a whole-lotta baggage. They’ve been to the World Series and NLCS the last two years, respectively. And yaddy yaddy yadda, I mean let’s face it, THIS TEAM DOESN’T DESERVE TO BE IN THE PLAYOFFS!! They deserve to get a reality show made about the last two weeks of their season, that’s about it. But behind all the mortification is experience. If this team can find a way to regroup they could actually be back in the NLCS. (It’s okay, I’m laughing too.)

Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran: With Pedro out, many might deem the Mets rotation as the x-factor. It’s a given that the starters are either old (Orlando Hernandez and Tom Glavine) or lacking postseason experience (Steve Trachsel and John Maine) but the bullpen is the deepest in the league, and will bolster the staff from the back end. If Willie Randolph can get five innings from his starters, the Mets will be fine. So long as Reyes wreaks havoc for opposing pitching staffs on the base paths and Beltran reprises his role as an October-assassin (the real reason Omar Minaya gave him all those digits). With those two guys leading the way offensively, the Mets will be scoring runs consistently. As for “that guy” to replace Pedro when it comes to closing out a series, I think El Duque proved last year that he remains a transcendent-October pitcher (and that’s taking into account the possibility that he’s 68 years old).

Failing to mention the Twins, Tigers, Padres and Dodgers by no means is an indicator that they are ill equipped to get out of the first round. On the contrary I believed that the Twins could’ve beaten the Yankees in a short series and ended up taking the whole thing. But the Tigers decided that the Royals were real good and in doing so gave away the division on the last day of the season. I’m avoiding a prediction here because for the first time since 2001, I know the Yankees are going to win the World Series. But wait, I was wrong then because the Yanks lost the ’01 Series to Arizona! I’ve said it before; I’m no visionary. So how bout this: Mets take back the subway in seven.

 

Pedro Afterthought…

What a shame. There will be no epic Pedro-return in the World Series. And now that it has been revealed that he has suffered a torn rotator cuff there may be no Pedro until late next year. But one thing about Pedro is for sure. That tremendous ego of his is matched only by the size of his heart. That’s the reason I fervently believed he would somehow find a way to pitch when needed; the same reason he was immortalized in Boston. And I speak for a nation when I wish him the best.