Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rays Can't Take the Pressure

Yankees 8, Rays 3. Magic Number to clinch a Playoff berth down to 3, to clinch the Division down to 10.

Nick Swisher homered. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano came through with hits to put the game away. Phil Hughes had a good start for his 17th win, Joba Chamberlain a good relief outing and got the save. The only downside is Javier Vazquez doesn't seem to be any better out of the bullpen than as a starter.

The Rays looked befuddled. They've never really been in a Pennant race before. In 2008, they finished 2 games ahead of the Red Sox, but knew they had the Wild Card in their back pocket if they didn't win. They breezed through the Division Series, then jumped out to a 3-games-to-1 lead on the Sox. Then the Sox tied it at 3, and the Rays had to scramble to win Game 7 at home. Against the Phillies in the World Series, they lost Game 1 at home and, despite winning Game 2, never recovered. They tied up Game 5 in Philly after the two-day rain delay, but it was only postponing the inevitable. Then, last season, the first season they ever began with any kind of expectations of contention, they never really got into the race.

Now, of course, they again have the Wild Card to fall back on. But they have to know that, if they get it, they won't have home-field advantage in any series: In the Division Series, they'd face the Minnesota Twins, who became the first team to clinch any berth last night, securing the AL Central for the 6th time, having just missed 2 others, in the last 9 seasons, but no Pennants. Games 1 and 2, and, if necesary, 5, would be at Target Field. The Twins' new home obviously hasn't been tested in the postseason yet, but the Twins were great in postseason home games in the Metrodome -- except against the Yankees. And I don't think the Twins will be intimidated by Tropicana Field.

If the Rays do survive that, they'll have to go on the road to face the winner of the Yankees-Texas Rangers series. (It won't matter whether the Yankees or Twins ultimately finish with the best record in the AL: Being in the same Division, the Yanks and Rays won't play each other in the first round anyway, so it'll be Yanks-Rangers and Twins-Rays, unless the Rays still win the Division, in which case it'll be Twins-Yanks and Rays-Rangers.) The Rangers have never won a home Playoff game, but the Yankees know how to beat the Rays.

In contrast, since 1996, the Yankees have clinched 3 Division Series in Texas, 3 Division Series in Minnesota, 1 Division Series each at home and in Oakland, 1 LCS each in Boston and Baltimore, and 1 World Series each in San Diego and Shea Stadium. Last season, the Yankees played 7 road games in the postseason and won 5 of them -- the 1 the played in the Metrodome, the last baseball ever played in that dump, 2 of 3 in Anaheim, where Angels fans aren't nasty but they are noisy, and 2 of 3 in Philadelphia, which is full of Philadelphia sports fans -- "the people who booed Santa Claus."

Pressure? The Yankees drink pressure's... milkshake! Slurrrrp! They drink it up!

The Rays don't have a history of being able to take the pressure -- and they need to win the Division a lot more than the Yankees do.

Can the Yankees take the pressure? Is a snowball fight with Randy Johnson a bad idea?

Can the Rays take the pressure? I don't think so...

*

As I said, the Twins clinched the AL Central last night. The Rangers' magic number to eliminate the Oakland Athletics and clinch the AL West is 6 -- which is also the number for the Rays to eliminate the Boston Red Sox and clinch the AL Wild Card.

The Philadelphia Phillies are down to 6 to eliminate the Atlanta Braves and win the NL East. The Cincinnati Reds are down to 4 to eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals and win the NL Central. The NL West will probably go down to the wire, with the San Francisco Giants currently leading the San Diego Padres by half a game, even in the all-important loss column. The Colorado Rockies are 2 1/2 back, 2 in the loss column. The Giants' magic number to clinch is 12. The Braves currently lead the NL Wild Card race, and it looks like the 2nd-place team in the West, whoever that turns out to be, will be the Braves' main challengers for the Wild Card.

So it looks like the Yankees, Tampa, Minnesota, Texas, Philly and Cincy are in for sure; with 2 of Atlanta, San Fran and San Diego making it, with Colorado still having a puncher's chance.

There are 12 days left in the regular season.

*

As bad as the Jets looked last week, that's how good they looked this week, beating Bill Belichick's New England Cheatriots.

Now, if they can just keep from getting players busted for drunken driving...

As good as the Giants looked last week, that's how bad they looked this week. Frankly, I don't think we know anything for sure about either New York football team.

The Giants are home to the Tennessee Titans -- and if ex-Giant Kerry Collins is the Titans' quarterback, then the Giants will win. Collins may have been the worst quarterback ever to start in the Super Bowl, and that includes Joe Kapp, Vince Ferragamo, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson -- don't forget, those last 2 won.

The Jets have the Sunday night game, in Miami. Tony Sparano -- not to be confused with Tony Soprano, who lived not that far from the Meadowlands (and may still -- we still don't know what that final scene meant) -- has gotten them improved, but I wouldn't bet on the Dolphins for the time being. These are not the Dan Marino 'Phins, who always seemed to have the Jets under their thumbs. I think the Jets will win.

Rutgers home to North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. If it were basketball, we'd be dead meat. But it's football, and in Piscataway instead of Chapel Hill, and Carolina just got beat at home by Georgia Tech, so I like our chances.

East Brunswick visits North Edison to take on J.P. Stevens on Friday night. Historically, a tough place to play. But Stevens hasn't done much the last couple of years. I think we'll win.

Arsenal went into White Hart Lane last night and spanked Tottenham, 4-1, to eliminate Spurs from their favorite tournament, the League Cup (known as the Carling Cup for sponsorship purposes). Stick it to The Scum. Still unbeaten for the season, in all competitions -- even preseason friendlies. Home to West Bromwich Albion of the West Midlands on Saturday. Shouldn't be a problem.

Thierry Henry has a sprained knee, and will be unavailable Friday night when the Red Bulls visit Los Angeles (Carson, actually) to take on David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle and the L.A. Galaxy -- or the Gals, as we non-Hollywood types call them. Should be a tough one.

The Devils played their first exhibition game last night, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers. I hate the Flyers. Next one is tomorrow night against the Rangers. I really fucking hate the Rangers.

Wait a minute: Hockey? In September? I'm not even seriously into football yet! It's still baseball season! In fact, calendar-wise, it's still summer! Tomorrow is the first day of fall!

*

Speaking of fall, did I mention that the Mets were officially eliminated from postseason contention last night?

No?

I read on a Met fan's blog of what he thinks the George Steinbrenner Monument should actually say. Essentially, he (meaning "George") was telling off everyone else in Monument Park saying he was bigger than they were -- including Mickey Mantle and the 3 Popes.

I think he's just jealous because no Met owner will ever have a plaque with those kinds of honors on it. Which is just as well, because Joan Payson has been dead for 35 years, and in that great ballpark in the sky she's still waiting for the team she founded to give her any kind of tangible honor. They honored their "father," Bill Shea, why not their "mother"?

The Mets' loss was 5-2 to the Marlins in the Miami suburbs. The Marlins again, the team that ruined their season finales and Playoff hopes in both 2007 and 2008, they're the team that brings the Mets' elimination in 2010. Maybe the Flushing Heathen should call them The Pesky Marlins the way I call the Toronto team the Pesky Blue Jays.

The official attendance was 19,422. Sun Life Stadium (the official name for Joe Robbie Stadium -- this year) seated just under 66,000 when the Yankees played the Marlins there in the 2003 World Series. I saw the highlights on WABC-Channel 7's Eyewitness News, and I think there were a bit more than 47,000 people "disguised as empty seats."

The Marlins -- still mathematically alive for the Playoffs, and not a bad team at all this season -- are dead last in the NL in attendance, averaging 18,453 -- and includes fans from New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, who travel well (and many of them moved to South Florida and still retain their loyalties, hurting the Marlins most of the time by not when the Mets, Phils and Cubs are in town). The Rays, for all their success these last 3 seasons, are averaging 23,081. Combined, the 2 Florida teams are averaging 41,534 -- not that far ahead of the Mets' depressed (in more ways than one) average of 32,759, and less than the top 3 teams in baseball: The Yankees (46,354), Philly (45,013) and L.A. (44,459).

Remind me again why Florida is allowed to have Major League Baseball after the month of March?

If the Mets fall in the Everglades, and no one is there to see it, do they still stink?

Oh yes they do, oh yes they do.