Monday, May 24, 2010

Are These the 1997 or 2002 Yankees? Jose Lima, 1972-2010; Stan Jones, 1931-2010

The Mets took the latter 2 games of their interleague series with the Yankees, 5-3 and 6-4.

Well, let's see, winning 2 out of 3, at home, against an injury-riddled team? Duh, that's what you're supposed to do! This doesn't prove anything for the Mets. It certainly doesn't prove they're a better team than the Yankees.

It may have saved Jerry Manuel's job. For another week, anyway.

The Yankees, however, have now lost 5 of their last 6, and 10 of their last 15. Nick Swisher is back, but except for Curtis Granderson coming back soon, probably next weekend, they don't appear to be getting notably healthier. And while all the starting pitchers except Javier Vazquez got off to great starts (and Javy got off to an awful one), now all the starters are slumping (and Javy's the one pitching well). Even Mariano Rivera has been less than stellar of late, and the questions are coming: At the age of 40, is this just a slump, which he's had and busted out of before, or is this... it?

This season is beginning to look like one of those years when we aren't going to win it all. The question is...

Is this another version of 1997, where we won the Pennant (and the World Series) the year before, and are just readjusting, or reloading, before coming back hard the next season and winning it all? Or...

Is this another version of 2002, where we won the Pennant the year before, and the adjustments already made are putting is in a position to contend, but not to win?

Now, the better idea would be for this to be another version of 1978, where we won the Pennant (and the World Series) the year before, and we struggle at first before going on a tear and winning it all again.

But some things are going to have to change. Get healthier. Teix and A-Rod are going to have to hit better. Cano is still hitting well, but he can't drive in runs that aren't on the bases. And we need 7 solid innings from our starters.

Today is a travel day, and we head to Minnesota for our first series at Target Field. (Not to be confused with the Target Center, the nearby arena that is home to the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves.) Amazingly, in their first month and a half of outdoor home games since September 1981, the Twins have had no snowouts at their new ballpark. They played 9 home games in April, and 12 so far in May, with one postponement due to rain, but none due to snow.

They do seem to be as successful there are they were at that damn Metrodome, going 14-7 to start the season, enabling them to be in first place in the American League Central. But if the Yankees can clinch 3 postseason series at the Metrodome, they can win 2 out of 3 at Target Field, right? Of course, those Yankees were fully healthy or nearly so.

Three games in the Twin Cities, before coming home for 4 against Cleveland and 3 against Baltimore. Both teams are in last place and really strugg-a-ling, the Tribe 9 games behind the Twins in the AL Central, the O's a whopping 18 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East. Puts the Yanks' 6 back, and the Red Sox' 8 1/2 back, in perspective. It's not easy to be almost 20 games out of first place a week before Memorial Day.


Former Houston Astros pitcher José  Lima died of a heart attack. He was just 39. A real character, and once an All-Star (in 1999), but he totally lost his control, without apparent injury, illness or substance abuse.

When a pitcher loses it like that, without explanation, it's called "Steve Blass Disease," after the former Pittsburgh Pirates ace who helped them win the 1971 World Series (and pitched a complete-game win in Game 7), then another Division Title in 1972, and then simply couldn't find the plate in 1973, probably costing them another trip to the postseason. He's since become a respected broadcaster, but it's a very strange thing to see a pitcher as good as Blass or Lima suddenly turn into, well, what Javier Vazquez was last month.

You might remember José  Lima pitching for the Mets in 2006. He was weird, but he was a guy who clearly loved the game, and it's sad that he's gone.
Stan Jones died at age 78. The former Chicago Bears guard and tackle was one of the first major athletes to advocate weight training, at a time when athletes were told, "Don't lift weights, you'l get musclebound." (So having muscles is a bad thing? For a football player? Especially for an offensive lineman?)
A few days ago, after the deaths of Robin Roberts and Ernie Harwell, I decided to list all the living members of the Baseball and Pro Football Halls of Fame. Jones is enshrined in Canton, and deservedly so.

After helping the University of Maryland win college football's 1953 National Championship, he played 13 seasons in the NFL, all but the last for the Chicago Bears (that one for the Washington Redskins), played in 157 out of a possible 158 games (only once did he miss more than 1 game in a season), and was a member of the Bears' 1963 NFL Champions -- or, if you prefer, the team which, along with tight end Mike Ditka, running back Willie Galimore, and linebacker Bill George (but not yet Gale Sayers or Mike Ditka) won beat the New York Giants to win "Super Bowl -III." (They did not have to play the AFL Champion San Diego Chargers, but that would have been a fantastic game, and along with the following season, Cleveland vs. Buffalo, might have been the AFL's best chance to defeat the NFL Champions prior to Broadway Joe and the Jets.)

It's official: The Cleveland Cavaliers finally fired head coach Mike Brown. Knicks fans, you can start to sweat again: LeBron may be staying, and he's certainly not coming to The Garden.

Looks like the NBA Finals will be yet another matchup between the league's two most hatable teams, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. They've faced each other in 10 NBA Finals -- 11 if you count the Lakers' last Finals appearance in Minneapolis, in 1959. The Lakers have won just 2 of them, 1985 and 1987.

The Stanley Cup Finals are going to be more interesting. The Chicago Blackhawks won the Western Conference, making their first Finals since 1992 and only their second since 1973. The Philadelphia Flyers are one win away from winning the Eastern Conference and reaching their first Finals since 1997. Although these teams have frequently both been good at the same time, they've never faced each other in the Finals. They came close in 1995, both reaching the Conference Finals, but the Flyers lost to the Devils (probably their biggest rivals) and the Hawks to the Detroit Red Wings (definitely their biggest rivals).

President Barack Obama has lived his whole adult life in Chicago. Vice President Joe Biden grew up in northern Delaware, only a half-hour drive (assuming traffic is moving well) from the South Philadelphia sports complex. I wonder if they might have a friendly bet going on?

The Hawks haven't won the Cup since 1961. The Flyers, not since 1975. If the Hawks win, maybe Biden will pay up and tell Obama, "I'm used to the Flyers losing. It's no big fucking deal."


The New York Red Bulls defeated one of the giants of European soccer, the Turin-based Juventus, 3-1 yesterday in a "friendly" at Red Bull Arena in Harrison. Juventus has won more Italian league (Serie A) titles than any other team. Technically, they've won it 29 times. However, several of those are said to have been "stolen" -- one of their nicknames is I Ladri, The Thieves -- and their last 2, in 2005 and 2006, were stripped in a major scandal. This season, they fell to 7th place, which, to the Juventini (fans of Juve), is as scandalous as having been caught cheating. (Not that the cheating itself was scandalous to these bastards, only that they were caught.)

They did not bring all their starters -- and, as an Arsenal fan, I noticed they did not bring one of their franchise's icons, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, or recent and disappointing acquisition Felipe Melo, both of whom have been linked with Arsenal lately -- but they did bring some big stars: Alessandro del Piero, David Trezeguet, and Brazilian stars (thus explaining their use of single names) Diego and Amauri.

Scoring for the Red Bulls, all in the 2nd half, were Jeremy Hall, Conor Chinn and team Captain Juan Pablo Angel. The Red Bulls had a 3-0 lead going into injury time, at this point quite a few of the Juventini (or Gobbi, "Hunchbacks," as Juventus fans are often called) had snuck out, before missing their team's only goal, by Amauri. Serves them right.

Subbing for Buffon in goal was Alex Manninger, who saved Arsenal's bacon a few times when David Seaman was injured in the 1997-98 "Double" season, including during the key clash away to Manchester United. Manninger, an Austrian, previously played for the Red Bulls' "parent club," Red Bull Salzburg. (The drinkmaker is headquartered there.)

The game had virtually no meaning to Juventus, aside from a trip to New York (and a game in New Jersey). But to the Red Bulls and their fans, who'd lost 3 straight and fallen out of first place in the MLS East, it felt real good. This is the first time the franchise has beaten a traditional European power. For a team that's never won a major trophy -- losing once each in the Finals of the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup -- it may be the greatest moment in franchise history.


The finale of Lost was last night, and it turns out that everybody is dead. Including Bruce Willis. Except for Bret Michaels. Turns out he escaped from the island on Charles Foster Kane's childhood sled, only to discover the truth about Luke Skywalker's father. And the truth about Sam Tyler's father. And the truth about Richard Castle's father.

I didn't need to watch Lost. I've got my own island where strange things happen, and you can't tell whether some people are dead or alive. It's called Manhattan.

In New York City...
While Mona Lisas and mad hatters
sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
turn around and say, "Good morning" to the night.
For unless they see the sky
but they can't, and that is why
they know not if it's dark outside or light.
-- Elton John


Days until the 2010 World Cup begins in South Africa: 18, June 11, under 3 weeks. U.S. vs. England the next day.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 600th career home run: 41 (estimated). About 6 weeks.

Days until the World Cup Final: 48, July 11, at Johannesburg, South Africa. Just 7 weeks.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 74, starting Friday night, August 6, at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the new English Premier League season starts: 82.

Days until the first football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed): 84.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 101.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 114.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 116.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 117.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 138 (estimated).

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 145.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 185.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 360 (estimated).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 537.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 692 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 780.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 860 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,131 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,781 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,805 (estimated).

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