Monday, July 7, 2008
Yankees On Their Way Now, Plus Thoughts On Wimbledon
Every year, there's 3 or 4 teams that surprise out of the gate. By Memorial Day, there's usually only 1 of them left, and that team usually doesn't last to Labor Day. The Rays are that team this year, and the beginning of the end is at hand. The Red Sox have too many injuries and the fine bullpen of last year is the ineffective bullpen of this year -- and, as I predicted, this being an even-numbered year, Josh Beckett isn't nearly as good as he is in odd-numbered years.
The Yankees will win the AL East with the talent they have. It's just a matter of whether they can beat the Los Angeles Angels of Katella Boulevard, Anaheim, Orange County, California, U.S.A., Planet Earth, Sol System, Sector 001, Alpha Quadrant, United Federation of Planets, Milky Way Galaxy. I don't see any other team in the Real League that can beat them in October -- especially since the Indians have crashed and burned, making even that dysfunctional bunch in Queens look respectable by comparison. (That is, if they were ever worthy of respect.) And if the Angels somehow don't win the West, or get beat in the Division Series by a team other than the Yankees, then we may see a first: A combination World Series-Halloween ticker-tape parade.
No, I didn't do any boozing on the 4th of July weekend, why do you ask? I meant every word of that. All the naysayers need to wake up and realize that the Yankees are not only alive, but they are well, and well-positioned to do exactly as I predicted -- or did you not notice that my prediction that trading for Johan Santana wouldn't help The Other Team is also, so far, coming true?
UPDATE: Yeah, I believed it all. Boy, was I wrong!
One good way to settle whether Jason Varitek of the Red Sox or A.J. Pierzynski of the Chicago White Sox deserves to be the backup catcher on the American League All-Star team is to have them fight it out.
And this time, unlike in that 2004 fight with Alex "Madonna is my soulmate" Rodriguez, Varitek doesn't get to keep his mask on. As Herb Brooks once said of Ranger "defenseman" Barry Beck, the C on his jersey stands for Coward. Pierzynski fights dirty, but he's a man about it. He's got a little Munson, a little Piniella, a little O'Neill in him. If the Yankees could pick him up as Posada's eventual replacement, at least until someone comes up through the minors, I'd live with it. (And, yes, that ball in the '05 ALCS did hit the ground.)
I won't talk much about tennis in this blog, but I have to mention what's already being called the greatest match since Bjorn Borg won his 5th straight Wimbledon "Gentlemen's Singles" title in 1980, defeating John McEnroe in an absolute thriller. (As if McEnroe has ever been a gentleman.)
Yesterday, Roger Federer was going for his 6th straight title to break Borg's record, against Rafael Nadal, who has similarly dominated the French Open, but had never before won any of the other majors.
When I discovered that Nadal had taken the first 2 sets, I was shocked. But Federer took the next 2, and I was sure that he would win.
Nadal built his legend in that 5th set. No one will ever again say, "He can't win except on clay." Even McEnroe, covering it for NBC, said it was the best match he'd ever seen. (Well, sure: He lost that '80 final.)
If every rivalry in sports was played the way Federer and Nadal played that final yesterday, we'd have an endless treasure trove of wonderful stories. They fought hard but clean, and both have proven their greatness.
I was at Stuff Yer Face, a stromboli-and-beer-based restaurant in New Brunswick, New Jersey while the 3rd and 4th sets of that match were being played, the 2 sets won by Federer, and it was on. The Yankees had the Sunday night ESPN game, but the Mets and Phillies were underway. This shows how far the Mets have fallen: A restaurant that is only 49 miles from Shea Stadium, with the Yankees scheduled for later and thus not an immediate option, preferred to show a tennis match in England between men from Switzerland and Spain. (A good week for Spain, which also won the Euro 2008 "futbol" tournament, upsetting Germany in the final.)
If only there was an American who could challenge Federer and Nadal tournament in and tournament out. Just because Federer is a bowl-cut away from really resembling Jimmy Connors...
Let's be honest: Connors is beloved in this country, but he was never this good. He was like the Joe Namath of tennis, except Namath was severely limited by injuries, while Connors lasted a long time, making some improbable runs in majors close to 40 -- which is like doing it at 50 in almost any other sport.
I like Venus Williams. I love Serena Williams. (Yes, the difference is the tush factor. I admit it, I'm a pig. But she's still a great player.) But please, no more all-Williams Sisters finals. There's no suspense: Everything Venus does well indirectly boosts Serena, and vice versa. It's a good thing for American tennis if either wins, especially since the men's side has been pathetic lately. (Did Andy Roddick ever actually HAVE an "mojo"?)
But if they both reach the final, there's no more drama. Maybe for them, but not for us. The ideal situation would be if they both made the semis, and then one loses, and the other wins and beats the one who beat her sister for the final. That would be dramatic and satisfying.