Monday, May 31, 2010

Dangerous Comebackers

Sorry I haven't posted for 4 days. Couldn't be helped, due to a trip that I'll mention in a subsequent post. So some catching up to do.

On Thursday night, the Yankees lost to the Minnesota Twins, 8-2, preventing a 4-game sweep. On Friday night, the Yanks started a 4-game set at home against the Cleveland Indians, and won, 8-2.

Saturday afternoon's game was one to forget, but those who saw it never will, for the wrong reasons.

First came a rocket off the bat of Alex Rodriguez that went straight back to Indian pitcher David Huff, hitting him on the back of the head. He was down for 6 minutes, before being taken off the field on the stretcher. He managed to wave to the fans, and got a standing ovation.
He was released from the hospital that night, and found to have not sustained a concussion. Thank God, because it looked really bad on TV.

I thought about Herb Score. He was the Indians' "Phil Rizzuto," a former star who became a quirky broadcaster, and from Queens like the Scooter as well.

May 7, 1957, the same teams, Yanks and Indians, at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Score has pitched 2 seasons in the majors, and with Bob Feller now retired, it looks like Feller to Score is going to be the pitching equivalent of DiMaggio to Mantle. Except Gil McDougald hits a line drive right up the middle, smacking Score in the eye. He's out for the season, and although he spent the rest of his life saying that it was an injury the following spring training that really derailed his career, everyone wondered. McDougald was never the same, either, and was so distraught over almost killing Score that he lost his hitting edge.

There was another game in 1995, at Jacobs Field, only this time it was the Yankees in the field. I don't remember the batter and the pitcher, but the pitcher just got his glove up in time to save himself. Rizzuto, in his first season as a broadcaster in '57, mentioned what happened to Score, and the camera caught him reaching out of the press box to get the attention of Score, in the next room of the box. Score, wearing headphones and not having access to the WPIX-Channel 11 transmission, was unaware of Rizzuto's words and gestures, but he had to be having flashbacks, too.

Anyway, back to Saturday afternoon. After A-Rod's comebacker off Huff, the Yanks took a 10-4 lead... and blew it. The Indians won the game, 13-11. That's another kind of "comebacker" that I didn't want to see. Stylistically, and competitively, this was one of the worst games in Yankee history.

Fortunately, yesterday afternoon, the Yanks won, 7-3, thanks to Mark Teixeira's 250th career home run and the pitching of A.J. Burnett.

As for today's game, well, that was involved enough to warrant its own post. Tomorrow.

UPDATE: Huff made his next start, showing no ill effects from the incident.. The Yankees acquired him in 2013, traded him to the San Francisco Giants the next season, and traded to get him back the same year, let his contract run out at the end of the season, and did not try to reacquire him. He played for both of the Los Angeles-area teams, and in 2017, at the age of 32, pitches in Korea's baseball league.

*

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins in South Africa: 11. U.S. vs. England the next day.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 600th career home run: 34 (estimated). About 5 weeks.

Days until the World Cup Final: 41, July 11, at Johannesburg, South Africa. Just 6 weeks.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 67, starting Friday night, August 6, at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the new English Premier League season starts: 75.

Days until the first football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed): 77.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 94. A little over 3 months.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 104.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 105.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 107.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 131 (estimated).

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 138.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 178.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 353 (estimated).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 530.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 685 (estimated).

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 773.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 853 (estimated).

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,124 (estimated).

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 1,343. (February 2, 2014, though the NFL might tinker with the schedule to move it to February 9 or February 16.)

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,774 (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: 1,798 (estimated).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yankees' Wins On Target

After a rain delay, the Yankees finished off their first game at Target Field last night, winning 1-0 over the Minnesota Twins.

Then they took the nightcap, 3-2, with Nick Swisher's 9th inning home run giving Andy Pettitte the win after 8 strong innings. Mariano Rivera, who had his 1st blown save of the season against the Twins, got the save in both games.

The series concludes tonight with the suddenly-good Javier Vazquez pitching.

Target Field has gotten good reviews. I can't really see what makes it appreciably different from any of the other post-1992 "Camden Yards" style ballparks, but as long as it's not appreciably worse, I'm okay with it. I especially like the scoreboard topped with the original Twins logo, with the giant figures representing the "Twin Cities," and their former Triple-A teams, the Minneapolis Millers and the St. Paul Saints, shaking hands over the Mississippi River. And, of course, it's not the Metrodome. Though it has now had 2 rainouts, but no snowouts, and no coldouts.

*

The Mets beat the Phillies at Citi Field last night. Two out of three (with a chance to make it a sweep tonight) at home against a team dealing with injuries, exactly what a good team would be expected to do... this sounds familiar.

Nevertheless, credit to the Mets for winning the games they most have to win. Some wins do mean more than others, especially if they give you the confidence to win games you otherwise might not have won.

Good thing the New York Journal-American isn't still published. It was a Hearst newspaper, and if it were in business today, it would probably be blaming some foreign country for blowing up John Maine. Ba-dump-bump-tssss

*

I saw the New York Red Bulls defeat the Colorado Rapids 3-0 last night at Red Bull Arena, advancing to the next round of the U.S. Open Cup. Rapids? They were so slow they should have been called the Colorado Molasses.

Just as the Empire Supporters Club has sung to Toronto FC about the CN Tower, and to the Seattle Sounders about the Space Needle, they sang, to the tune of "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" -- I wonder if the original was meant as what we would now call a double entendre -- "You can shove your Rocky Mountains up your ass!" There were also chants of "John Elway sucks!" and "Joe Sakic sucks!" in insult of Colorado's 2 biggest sports legends.

Good thing they didn't say it about University of Colorado football legend, later Supreme Court Justice, Byron White. God only knows what they would have done with White's football nickname.

Whizzer.

Hardly any Rapids fans made the trip. One sat in Section 133, the home base of the Garden State Supporters (which is where I sit when I go), next to Section 101, home of the Empire Supporters' Club. To the tune of "Blue Moon," a variation of "You've Only Got One Song," they sang, "One fan! You've only got one fan! You've only got one fan! You've only got one fan!" And, to the tune of "Guantanamera," "Come in a taxi! You must've come in a taxi!"

At least he was wearing a Yankee cap.

*

On the way back, I took PATH to the World Trade Center station, then walked over to Church & Murray Streets to the A train back up to Port Authority.

Get this: On Murray Street, there is a bar called Uncle Mike's. First I've ever heard of it.

I was exhausted, both from the game and the heat (it was 90 degrees at game time), and I was so sweaty I probably didn't smell too good, so I didn't go in. But I intend to on an upcoming trip into The City.

For the record, both this blog and the bar were named independently of each other, each without prior knowledge of the other's existence. I wonder if I can get a discount for mentioning the bar in this blog?

Then again, it's only from moving from Nevada Smith's on 3rd Avenue to Lunasa on 1st Avenue to watch Arsenal matches from overseas that I discovered that Coyote Ugly, basis for the film of the same name, actually exists. I haven't been in there, either.

It's just as well, it's not like the magnificent Maria Bello would actually be tending bar in a tight T-shirt. (At age 43, she could still do it. Wear the T-shirt, that is. I don't know about her real-life bartending skills, but I wouldn't put it past her to be good at it.)

UPDATE: The Rapids ended up winning the MLS Cup that season. Uncle Mike's the bar has since gone out of business. And Maria Bello remains gorgeous, but she also... remains unavailable.

*

Super Bowl XLVIII (48) will be played, most likely on February 2, 2014, at the new Meadowlands Stadium, whatever it ends up being officially named.

If the Giants or Jets win it, New York City will say it was in New York. If neither makes it, and if it's as cold as many fear it will be, New York City will say it was in New Jersey.

But then, I live in a strange world, where the City of New York and the City of Philadelphia are both in the State of New Jersey, not the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, respectively.

My world is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.

On second thought, please do live there. I could use the rent money.

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).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yankees Own the City -- and Citi Field

Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!

Yankees 2, Other Team 1.

Great performance from Javier Vazquez -- in a National League park, right, Bud Abbott? "Naturally!"

Kevin Russo, not exactly a household name outside his own household, doubled home a pair in the 7th.

The bullpen was masterful in relief of Javy, including a great job by Joba Chamberlain, who really needed to give us a great job and did.

The Mets made it interesting in the bottom of the 9th, on back-to-back 2-out doubles by Jason Bay and Ike Davis, the Met fans' Great Ike Hope, but Mariano got the increasingly pathetic David Wright to ground out to end it.

The Yankees are now 4-0 all-time at Citi Field. Or, should I say, Pity Field. The Mets at their new home ballpark, all-time, are now 54-48. Not a very good home record, is it?

They built their Citi on something less than rock and roll, didn't they? So the Yankees don't just own New York City, and the entire New York Tri-State Area, they own Citi Field, too!

*

Additional good news for the Yankees: Tampa Bay lost, and Boston lost.

Additional bad news for the Mets: The team that beat the Red Sox? The Phillies.

Interleague play allows Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, a rivalry that's pretty hot in the NFL, college football and college hockey, but was never really much in baseball, because the Minnesota Twins and the Milwaukee Brewers were hardly ever both good at the same time between 1970 (when the Seattle Pilots became the Brewers) and 1997 (after which the Brew Crew got bumped over to the National League).

Well, tonight, somebody forgot to tell the Brewers that you gotta come out of the clubhouse to play the ballgame. The Twins scored 7 runs in the bottom of the first at Target Field, and haven't looked back. The Twins led 15-0 before the Brewers closed to within 15-3. I know both States are football-crazy, but that's a football score.

Interleague play also allows a "rivalry" that really wasn't much of one from 1954 to 1971: Baltimore vs. Washington. The Orioles beat the Nationals tonight.

*

The Red Bulls lost to the Columbus Crew last night. Thierry Henry is still just a rumor to us.

But the schedule for the New York Football Challenge, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, has been released:

Day 1, Thursday, July 22: Red Bulls vs. Tottenham Hotspur – 8:00 PM
Day 2, Friday, July 23: Manchester City vs. Sporting Lisbon – 8:00 PM
Day 3, Sunday, July 25: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Sporting Lisbon – 1:00 PM; Red Bulls vs. Manchester City – 3:30 PM (one ticket for both matches)

The Challenge Winning Team will be the side with the most accumulative points scored from its two games. Points are scored as follows:

- Individual game winner – 3 points
- Drawn game – 1 point
- Goals scored – 1 point per goal

With the Newark area's large Portuguese community eager to see one of their motherland's "Big Three," the house will be rocking during Sporting's two appearances. And I really, really hope that the Red Bulls get Henry signed in time to face the fucking Spurs. And he can also show Emmanuel Adebayor of Man City what a former Arsenal player should play, and act, like.

We Could Be Hooligans, Thankfully We're Not

If American baseball was like English soccer (or "football"), tonight the New York Police Department would be on full alert. It would be a derby weekend.

There's no doubt in my mind that Yankees-Mets, and Yankees-Red Sox, would be the most hooligan-ridden rivalries in the sport. Worse than Dodgers-Giants (although that would still be the worst if the teams were still in New York, instead of in California these last 52 years), worse than Cubs-White Sox, worse than Cubs-Cardinals (that one would be a little one-sided, Card fans might come into Wrigley Field to talk trash, or "take the piss" as they say in England, but the Bleacher Bums would pound them), and don't even think about Dodgers-Angels being a rough one.

English hooligan firms have fearsome sounding names. Chelsea had the Headhunters, before their image changed a bit and they backed off from their hard-right National Front image. Birmingham City has the Zulu Army, so named because they were one of the first racially integrated firms. Burnley have the Suicide Squad. Leicester City have the Baby Squad, which is sort of like naming a very tall man Tiny or a fat man Slim.

Portsmouth have the 657 Crew, because, being on England's South Coast, they needed to take a train leaving at 6:57 AM to get to London by 10:00, enablin them to then get to any other part of England in time for the games, historically at 3:00 on Saturday afternoons. Stoke City, a bunch of bastards from the fans to the players (Ryan Shawcross) to the management (Tony Pulis, a.k.a. Tony Pus) have the Naughty Forty, and there are a number clubs whose firms call themselves that or the Dirty Thirty, and there's at least one Nifty Fifty. Since "barmy" is an English term meaning "crazy," several clubs have a "Barmy Army."

In Wales, Cardiff City have the Soul Crew, because the original members loved soul music; while their arch-rivals, Swansea City, have the Jack Army, because they're a seaport town and British sailors tended to get nicknamed "Jack."

My favorite name comes from Bradford City, which haven't done much lately and are buried in the lower divisions, but what a name for a firm: The Ointment. Ointment is what you're going to need after they're through with you.

The two clubs in England's Steel City have nasty-sounding names: Sheffield United, or "the Blades" due to Sheffield having had a noted cutlery industry that included swords (combat and ceremonial) for the armed forces, have the BBC, not the British Broadcasting Corporation but the Blades Business Crew; Sheffield Wednesday, so named because they began as a cricket club that played on Wednesdays, or "the Owls" because they played in a part of town called Owlerton, have the OCS, the Owls Crime Squad.

Probably the two most notorious, mainly because of their battles with each other, don't have names that fearsome, but they are not to be messed with: West Ham United's Inter-City Firm (ICF) and Millwall's Bushwhackers. Fortunately, they haven't played each other much in the last few years, due to a decline in Millwall's fortunes putting them in a lower division; unfortunately, they can still be drawn together in cup ties, and when they played each other in an FA Cup 2nd Round match last fall at West Ham's Upton Park, there was another riot, and there were injuries, and the question needed to be asked, "What moron was in charge of picking the matchups?"

And, "Did this moron not see the film Green Street?" In that film, written by former Watford hooligan (and Royal Air Force officer) Dougie Brimson, Elijah Wood plays a good kid who has to leave Harvard, and goes off to his sister and her English husband in the East End of London, and gets drawn into a fictionalized (or rather "fictionalised") version of the ICF, the Green Street Elite. The highlights of the film are the West Ham boys' battles with the Millwall thugs. This film is not for the squeamish, but it has a satisfying ending, at least from the point of view of Wood's character, who doesn't have the One Ring to rely on, just his wits and his fists.

You'll notice that I'm using plural forms to describe them. That's how they do it over there. Here, we would say, "The Yankees are going to beat the Mets tonight." Because North American team names are almost always plural, although there are confusing ones like the Miami Heat. (Rick Reilly once asked in Sports Illustrated, "What is one Heat called? A Hot?") So, while a lot of these English football club names sound singular, you wouldn't treat them as such. You wouldn't say, "Arsenal is going to beat Totteham," you would say, "Arsenal (or 'The Arsenal') are going to kick the living shit out of the fucking Spurs."

As you may be aware from previous posts in this blog, I'm an Arsenal fan. Which means I hate Tottenham and I hate Tottenham, I hate Tottenham and I hate Tottenham, I hate Tottenham and I hate Tottenham, I am one of the Tottenham (clap-clap) haters! Arsenal, however, are not known for having hooligan firms, althoug the usual name for Arsenal fans suggests it: Since the club's crest has a cannon, the club are known as the Gunners, and the fans as the Gooners.

*

With the 25th Anniversary of the Heysel Disaster coming up on May 29, we in America should thank God that we don't have hooligan firms -- especially since some of the on-field postgame celebrations of the 1960s, '70s and '80s could be quite scary, and if you add the hooligan element then these "pitch invasions," as they call them over there, could have been truly bloody.

Although I'm unaware of any Yankees-Mets game resutling in violence, there is precedent. On August 4, 1985 -- a few weeks after Heysel and in the all-time peak year for English soccer violence -- the Yankees were playing the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium, and the Mets were also playing against Chicago, the Cubs at Wrigley. Pitching for the White Sox was Tom Seaver, the greatest player the Mets had (and still have) ever had, and he was going for his 300th career win. As a result, about half the crowd of 54,000 was rooting for the ChiSox. I was there, not because of Seaver -- he hadn't even been announced as the starter when I called Ticketmaster for the event -- but because it was Phil Rizzuto Day. And, as the Scooter himself would have said, "Holy cow, were there a lot of huckleberries there that day."

As the Sox were winning and Seaver was pitching brilliantly despite being 40 years old, the out-of-town scoreboard had the Mets kicking the stuffing out of the Cubs, who had beaten them out for the National League East title the year before. Dwight Gooden was in the process of striking out 16 Northsiders. And in the Bleachers, the holy Bleachers of the old Yankee Stadium, a blasphemous chant went up: "Let's Go Mets!"

Now, the fans who normally sat there were not yet known as the Bleacher Creatures. (In fact, that name was held by one of the Atlanta Braves' mascots, along with a man dressed as an Indian, named Chief Noc-a-Homa.) But their reputation, built during the nasty 1970s battles with the Red Sox, was already in place. First, there was a counter-chant of "Mets suck!" Which, by the way, they do, they always do, even when they're winning. In fact, had this been an English soccer game, no doubt, the chant would have gone up to the Met fans, to the tune of "Guantanamerea": "Sing when you're winning! You only sing when you're winning!"

The back-and-forth chanting didn't last long before the fists started flying, and there were about 50 ejections. I was in the right-field boxes, Lower Level Section 35, so I had the best possible view of the fighting: I could look right down on it, without actually being a part of it. Where I was, there was shouting, but nothing serious.

I've been to sports stadiums from the Montreal Olympic Stadium to RFK Stadium in Washington, from Fenway to Wrigley, and this was the only time I've seen a full-out brawl at any game, in any sport. This despite having been to Fenway during a Yanks-Sox game in a Yanks-Sox Pennant race. (Some minor pushing and shoving that night, but the Yanks' 13-3 blowout win probably demoralized some of the would-be fighters on the Boston side.) And, I should point out, this '85 game was in broad daylight. Not at night, when people tend to get a bit bolder, and have more time to get tanked before the game.

When the game was over, the White Sox had won, 4-1, and Seaver had his 300th. Those of us who hadn't been thrown out, regardless of whether we wanted him to get it, rose to applaud the old master, who had not just won, but pitched a fantastic complete game. I even tipped my cap. What could I do? It's not like Seaver is a figure worth hating. Met though he was, and remains, he has been all class for over 40 years. If he knew what was going on 400 feet behind him, he probably would have been appalled. I wonder if the Channel 11, Channel 9, MSG Network, SportsChannel, WABC and WHN broadcast crews knew what was happening.

*

Fortunately, thus far, America's MLS (Major League Soccer) does not have hooligan firms, only supporters clubs. The New York Red Bulls have the Empire Supporters Club, the Garden State Supporters, Raging Bull Nation and the Kearny Army.

The brand-new Philadelphia Union have a group that call themselves the Sons of Ben, named for Franklin, and have a great logo: A skull with Franklin-style long hair and bifocals, and a crack on his skull resembling that of the Liberty Bell, on a diamond-shaped crest meant to represent the kite from his electricity experiment (and thus the logo also includes a lightning bolt and a key). But opposing supporters' clubs have already nicknamed them the Daughters of Betsy, after Betsy Ross; so they countered by using that name for the supporters' club of the women's pro soccer team, the Philadelphia Independence. With their initials, they could also be called the SOBs.

If U.S. baseball teams had hooligan firms, it would be a terrible thing. Unless you were a member of such "a handy group of lads." What would their names be? Possibilities:

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Rattle (a "Diamondback" is a snake)

Atlanta Braves: The Bravo Squad, Ted Turner's Troops (so much for the A-T-L being "the city too busy to hate")

Baltimore Orioles: The Birds Business Crew, the Charm City Casuals

Boston Red Sox: Red Sox Nation (Nathan Cobb of the Boston Globe appears to be the originator of this actual name, in 1986), the Massachusetts Mafia, the Rhode Island Red Squad, the Southie Army (but would likely get their arses handed to them by Yankee Fans, who would probably call them the Mouthy Southie for being "all mouth")

Chicago Cubs: The Bleacher Bums (a name that's been used by the actual, but usually peaceful, denizens of Wrigley Field's bleachers since at least 1969), Brickhouse's Bad Boys (for broadcaster Jack Brickhouse, a World War II Marine), Harry's Hooligans (for broadcaster Harry Caray)

Chicago White Sox: The Old Romans (named for long-ago owner Charlie Comiskey), the Enforcers (for the city's Mob heritage), the South Side Hit Men (a name used for the '77 ChiSox, who had a lot of power but not enough pitching and fell out of first place in August)

Cincinnati Reds: The Machinists (from the team's 1970s nickname, the Big Red Machine)

Cleveland Indians: Chief Wahoo's Army, The Quake By the Lake

Colorado Rockies: The Rocky Horror Puncher Show

Detroit Tigers: The Motor City Madmen (Ted Nugent would have been one), The Rumble On Trumbull (Tiger Stadium was at Michigan & Trumbull Avenues)

Florida Marlins: The Miami Mafia

Houston Astros: The Far Out Space Nuts (from the city's space heritage -- how weird that sounds, our space program now old enough to have a heritage -- and a 1970s kids' TV show with Bob Denver & Chuck McCann)

Kansas City Royals: The Royal Flush Gang, The Monarchs (for the city's former Negro League team)

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Orange County Avengers

Los Angeles Dodgers: They wouldn't have hooligan firms. Walter O'Malley and Tommy Lasorda would never have allowed it. Yeah, right! Maybe it could be called The Squatters, for the people who got kicked out of the land in Chavez Ravine so that Dodger Stadium, O'Malley's monument to himself and his theft from Brooklyn, could be built.

Milwaukee Brewers: Fonzie's Army (from the Milwaukee-based Happy Days character), Harvey's Wallbangers (the actual nickname of the Brewers' 1982 Pennant winners, for manager Harvey Kuenn and their power hitting)

Minnesota Twins: The Evil Twins (come on, that one was obvious), Lou Grant's Goons (from a TV show set in the State), Hayden Fox's Screaming Eagles (ditto)

New York Mets: The New Breed (the press actually called Met fans that in their awful early days of the 1960s), Archie Bunker's Army (there's an actual Met fan blog with that name, in "honor" of Flushing's most notorious fictional resident)

New York Yankees: The Bleacher Creatures (that one is actually used, but they're not quite hooligans), the Bronx Bad Boys, the Pinstripe Army, the Sons of the Bambino, the D-Train Terrors, Yankees Universe (an unbeatable counter to "Red Sox Nation")

Oakland Athletics: The Athletic Supporters (an obvious one), the Swingin' A's (an actual nickname for the 1970s' World Champs), the East Bay Casuals, Jack London's Army

Philadelphia Phillies: The Hoagie Army, Ashburn's Army, Harry's Hooligans (not that either Richie Ashburn or Harry Kalas would have approved), the Sons of Rocky (for the city's fictional boxer, paralleling the Sons of Ben, for Franklin, used by the city's soccer team, the Union)

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Gunners (a connection not to Arsenal but to longtime Pirate broadcaster Bob "the Gunner" Prince), the Family (Willie Stargell's nickname for his World Champion Pirates of 1979, based on the Sister Sledge song "We Are Family"), the Steel City Psychos (which could have been used for one of the Sheffield soccer teams, but isn't)

St. Louis Cardinals: The Busch Barmy Army, the River City Trouble (a nod to The Music Man, although that play/film took place in a fictional Iowa town, closer to Cubs territory)

San Diego Padres: The Fighting Friars, the Border City Firm (used by English club Carlisle United, which is on the England-Scotland "border")

San Francisco Giants: Lefty O'Doul's Army (named for the longtime star and manager of the Pacific Coast League's San Francisco Seals, and operator and namesake of San Fran's most noted sports bar)

Seattle Mariners: The Wobblies (from the Seattle activities of the Industrial Workers of the World), the Sickos (from Sick's Stadium, home of the PCL's Seattle Rainiers and, for one year, the American League's Seattle Pilots), Davy Jones' Navy (focusing on the "mariner" theme)

Tampa Bay Rays: The Ray Devils, the Stingers

Texas Rangers: The Bad Cats (the Texas League used to have a Fort Worth Cats), Bush's Whackers (the moron former President used to own the team)

Toronto Blue Jays: The Royal Canadian Cheer Force, the Rocketeers (Toronto's subway is nicknamed "The Rocket," which probably goes over real well with Montreal Canadiens fans)

Washington Nationals: The Capital Punishers (a nickname used for the Washington Senators' last star, Frank Howard), the Rough Riders (in honor of their favorite President, Theodore Roosevelt). As the Montreal Expos, they could have had an English firm, the Olympians (for the Olympic Stadium and surrounding Olympic Park); and a French firm, Le Grand Armee. Hopefully, in those years of Quebec nationalism, they wouldn't have fought with each other, although an Expos-Jays interleague series from 1997 to 2004, when the Expos became the Nats, might have been trouble.

But, thankfully, we don't have hooligan firms in North American sports. We occasionally have trouble, but not like a Millwall-Luton riot, or a Heysel, or the fights that often happened between rival firms on London's subway, the Underground/Tube, and on its inter-city railway stations such as King's Cross and Euston -- due to 12 clubs being inside London's beltway, the M25, and anywhere from four to seven usually being in the first division, the subway and inter-city train stations were no-go zones on matchdays for much of the 1970s and '80s.

Baseball's attendance is higher than ever before. So is that of our college football and basketball games. Attendance remains high in the NFL and NBA, and it's bounced back considerably from the post-lockout dropoff in the NHL. Even our MLS matches are doing much better, and it doesn't just seem that way because 22,000 in a 25,000-seat stadium looks better than 22,000 in a 70,000-seat stadium.

So far, MLS supporters clubs haven't made the jump from loud, boisterous, sometimes profane, prop-wielding "ultras" to truly nasty, violent, weapon-wielding "hooligans." Nor have any other sports' fans in this country and in Canada.

May that remain so in perpetuity.

This Is Not a Subway Series

The Yankees closed out their two-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, losing the games 10-6 and 8-6 -- having entered the bottom of the 9th inning of these games down 10-2 and 8-4, respectively. Neither A.J. Burnett on Wednesday, nor Andy Pettitte last night, nor the bullpen either night got the job done. We are now 5 games behind the Devil Dogs.

On the other hand, as bad as the Yankee pitching was against Tampa, we still scored 6 runs off them each night, including 6 runs in the two 9th innings. If we can do that to the Rays' staff, with several of our players hurt, what can we do to the Mets in the series that starts tonight? Just remember: We proved last year that we can hit home runs at Citi Field!

*

Let's clear a couple of things up. First, a really good blog called Yankeeist states that the Yankees' all-time record against the Mets is 42-30. That's a winning percentage of .583, meaning that, over 162 games, the Yankees' record if they only played the Mets would be 94-68. Pretty strong, possibly enough to make the Playoffs.

This, of course, does not count spring training games or those mid-season Mayor's Trophy games that Met fans loved to crow about, back when the Flushing Heathen dared to crow about anything. As Billy Martin taught us, "It's an exhibition game, George! It doesn't mean anything!"

However, the 42-30 record cited by the author of Yankeeist also does not count the 2000 World Series, by far the most important games ever played between the Mets and... well, anybody. Counting the Yanks' 5-game win, it's 46-31. That's a winning percentage of .597, and a 162-game pace of 97-65. That's frequently enough to win the American League East, or the National League East, and almost always enough to at least make the Wild Card.

The Mets have been the Yankees' bitches. Historically speaking. Just one reason why the Mets' brass didn't exactly celebrate the Mets' history at the newly-opened Citi Field last season. Now they have a small museum, including a Mets Hall of Fame, in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. (Did Jackie ever even set foot in Shea Stadium? I know Joe DiMaggio, Pearl Bailey, and Jacqueline Kennedy and her kids, did so during the 1969 World Series.)

We must never let Met fans forget that in the one and only chance they will ever get to face us in a World Series, we beat them and clinched at their dump of a stadium, with 25,000 people chanting, "Let's Go Yankees!" and "Thank You George!"

From that day forward, the Mets have had no reason to exist. Interleague play exists for the sake of money, which overlooks the fact that holding Kansas City Royals vs. Florida Marlins is no way to increase attendance.

Finally, since we have long since had a World Series between the Yankees and the Other Team, let's stop calling these regular-season series "Subway Series." At the very least, take the capital letters off.

To the Mets and their pathetic, delusional fans, the Yankees are the team against which they will always be measured, and the comparison will do them no favors. To the Yankees and their fans, the Mets will always be an annoyance. A mosquito at the picnic, if you prefer. Our arch-enemies are the Red Sox; theirs, the Phillies.

*

As Yankee Fan Lisa Swan puts it in today's Subway Squawkers blog:

<< Today's Joel Sherman column in the New York Post reminds me of two of the dopiest ideas pushed by the New York sportswriters over the past few years - that David Wright is better than Alex Rodriguez, and Jose Reyes is better than Derek Jeter.

And this wasn't pushed by one writer or two - this idea was pretty common in the New York papers from about 2006 on. You would have thought that Jeter and A-Rod were as worn out as Emmitt Smith in the Just For Men commerical, the way certain writers in this town insisted that the Mets stars were on the rise. As Doctor Phil would say, how's that working out for you? >>

Sherman:

<< Wright was going to be the Mets' Jeter; the homegrown kid who mixed skill, intangibles and charisma to become prince of the city. Instead, he has finally passed Rodriguez in the worst of all categories: Wright is now the most dissected athlete in New York. We break down his swing and psychoanalyze his mind. What is up with the wild arm, the lack of clutch play and, yes, all of those strikeouts?

You see, this is why you don't make somebody an "untouchable" before they've really proven themselves. Jeter got that type of treatment after 4 rings. Wright got it before the Mets even won a Playoff series. Now that Wright is finally getting scrutinized, and it's got to hurt, after the years of the media telling him how great he is...

Reyes and Wright have dwindled from cornerstones to puzzles. The Mets went all in during the 2006 season, signing both to multi-year contracts, believing they had erected a long-term foundation. Now the Mets will have to decide on Reyes’ $11 million option for 2011 and whether a champion really can be built around the left side of their infield.

As a new Subway Series begins, the question now is not whether Reyes and Wright have passed Jeter and Rodriguez, but if the best days for Reyes and Wright already have passed and, if so, how do the Mets survive that? >>

Look, the media have turned hotshot rookies into future Hall-of-Famers before. The Yankees have gone through this. Just in my memory, from 1977 onward:

* Steve Balboni, nicknamed "Bye-Bye" for his home runs, but he couldn't get on base any other way so he kept going "bye-bye" onto the New York/Columbus shuttle.

* Dan Pasqua, whose lefthanded power stroke seemed tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, but he turned out to be a lefty version of Balboni (with better hair, no mustache and a reasonable diet).

* Kevin Maas, the flashiest of flashes in the pan, who even made the cover of New York magazine in 1990, and now lives on in the name of another Yankee Fan's blog, NoMaas.

* Gerald Williams, who was supposed to be the better of the Yankees' 2 big outfield prospects named Williams, until they realized he didn't have the goods and Bernie Williams did.

* Ruben Rivera, Mariano's larcenous cousin, who decided, even with MLB's minimum salary being far more than he ever could have made back in Panama, that stealing bases wasn't as good as stealing Derek Jeter's glove, getting him the heave-ho out of The Bronx.

* Shane Spencer, who did help us win a couple of World Series even if he never matched his September 1998 production.

* And, most recently, and the jury is definitely still out on him, Joba Chamberlain.

But none of these had as much made about them as Jose Reyes and David Wright. They were supposed to be the Mets' answer, at long last, to Ruth and Gehrig, to DiMaggio and Henrich, to Mantle and Berra, to Mantle and Maris, to Jackson and Munson, to Derek and Bernie. Or, at the very least, the successors to Darryl and the Camera Kid. And it hasn't happened, and now it may never happen.

Remember when the media said Rey Ordonez was better than Jeter? Remember in 1999, when Sports Illustrated had John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo, Or-don't-hit and Robin Ventura on the cover, and called them "The Best Infield Ever?" Took until October for The Dreaded SI Cover Jinx to work, but work it did.

Like Patrick Roy once said to a guy heckling him, Jeter can say to anyone who ever though either Ordonez or Reyes was better, "I can't hear you, I've got my championship rings stuffed in my ears." To which A-Rod can say, "I can still hear out of one ear, so let's go, guys!"

*

Some people say the Yankees win only because of money, with the payroll now at $206 million.

These people are blithering idiots. The Mets have been the highest-paid, or 2nd-highest-paid, team in the NL since their (ahem) glory days of the Eighties. Sometimes the Dodgers have had a higher payroll, and they haven't won a Pennant since 1988 (Met fans remember what happened that year, right?); while the Phillies now have a higher one, probably due to performance incentives that Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have, unlike their Met counterparts, actually, uh, met.

The Mets' payroll is $136 million. What have they gotten for their money? The choke of 2006, the monumental collapse of 2007, the half-monumental (or maybe just half-mental) collapse of 2008, the misery of 2009, and now they're behind the Washington Nationals. (Who, to be fair, have followed the Tampa Bay Rays' path of being so bad for so long that they got all those draft picks who are now majors-ready, and they're much-improved.)

Still, some people think it's all about the money. When you make it "all about the money," and not all about winning, you get neither money nor winning.

That sounds like something Benjamin Franklin said. Then again, Ben left our actual arch-rivals' city (Boston) for the Mets' actual arch-rivals' city (Philadelphia). Smart guy.

*

Here's the pitching matchups. Tonight, Javier Vazquez, having pitched considerably better his last 2 times out (he couldn't have pitched considerably worse), goes against Hisanori Takahashi, making his first big-league start after 15 relief appearances. He does so because Jon Niese, previously scheduled for tonight, hurt his hamstring.

Ordinarily, the Yankees do not do well against pitchers they've never seen before. The Mets have taken advantage of this on a few occasions, most notably in the first-ever Yanks-Mets game that counted. I was there: June 16, 1997, the Mets knocked Pettitte out of the box, and Dave Mlicki pitched a shutout, Mets win, 6-0. (The Yanks won the next 2 to take the series, though.)

After the game, while I was thinking, "No, don't jump on the third rail, that manner of suicide will hold up Subway service and inconvenience thousands of people," Mlicki was interviewed on Channel 7 Eyewitness News. He was asked if the atmosphere was like a Playoff game. He said, "Never been there, so I couldn't tell you." An honest Met. He finished with a career record of 66-80, and did make one postseason appearance, pitching reasonably well in the 2001 NLDS for the Houston Astros but taking the loss anyway.

So is this new-to-us pitcher a bad sign for the Yankees? Not necessarily. According to Yankeeist, "Takahashi is not stretched out as a starter and will be limited to roughly 85 pitches Friday night." And Vazquez has shown he can pitch well in NL parks, of which Citi Field is one.

Saturday afternoon, on the Fox Game of the Week, two kids who've pitched superbly thus far, each going a long way to dispel myths about them: Phil Hughes vs. Mike Pelfrey. Pelfrey pitches very well when I'm in the park, so I will be staying on this side of the East River. And the Hudson River. And the Hackensack River. And the Passaic River. And the Elizabeth River. And the Rahway River. And the Raritan River. Hell, I may just cross the Millstone River and the Delaware River, on a train down to Philly. Or get on a bus and head down to Atlantic City, thus crossing the South River, the Toms River, the Mullica River and Egg Harbor.

Sunday night, on the ESPN Game of the Week, the two aces, CC Sabathia and The Great Johan Santana. CC's last couple of outings have been rough, so we need him to step it up. We've known how to beat Johan Santana ever since he was a Minnesota Twin. Remember that 15-run shellacking last June? That was a nice day at the beach for me.

Time to muss up the Mutts.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Time to Count On Andy Again

I have seen Andy Pettitte pitch more than any other pitcher. I have seen Mariano Rivera in more games, but of all the pitchers I've ever seen -- live and on TV -- Pettitte has started the most games, pitched the most innings, thrown the most pitches, and given the Yankees the most wins.

After that flopulent performance by the Yankees against Tampa Bay last night, easily our worst game of the season thus far, we are once again counting on The Hawk to straighten us out. Or, better yet, straighten the opposition out.

How good has Andy Pettitte been over the years?

* He has won 234 games, 197 of them as a Yankee. This leaves him behind only Whitey Ford at 236 and Red Ruffing at 231 among wins by a Yankee pitcher. Those 234 wins (going into tonight's game) are more than the following pitchers already in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Jim Bunning, Stan Coveleski, Jesse Haines, Bob Lemon, Hal Newhouser, Dazzy Vance, Lefty Gomez. (There are others, but they were either Dead Ball Era pitchers, or relievers, or had their careers prematurely ended by injury or illness, and thus it wouldn't be fair to include them on this list.)

* His career winning percentage is .634, and that's better than all Hall-of-Famers who pitched all or most of their careers in the post-1920 Live Ball Era, except the following: Whitey Ford, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Gomez, Dizzy Dean and Jim Palmer. (Though it's worth noting that Koufax, Gomez and Dean had their careers significantly shortened by injury, thus preventing them from pitching through an age-related decline, putting Andy really behind only Whitey, Grove and Palmer.)

* His career ERA is 3.87. That may sound high as far as the Hall is concerned, but his career ERA+, his ERA in relation to the rest of the League, is 117, making him 17 percent better than the average pitcher. And also making him better than the following starters from the Lively Ball Era already in the Hall: Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Phil Niekro, Eppa Rixey, Jim Bunning, Robin Roberts, Nolan Ryan, Jesse Haines, Red Ruffing, Burleigh Grimes, Don Sutton, Early Wynn and Catfish Hunter.

* Although not a power pitcher, his 2,179 strikeouts and 937 walks make for a K/BB ratio of 2.3. You might beat him, but he won't beat himself.

* He is 18-9 in postseason play. That's the most wins of any pitcher in postseason history. He's 6-3 in Division Series play (5-3 as a Yankee), 7-2 in the League Championship Series (7-1 as a Yankee), and 5-4 in the World Series (he pitched once for the Astros in the 2005 Series but was not charged with a decision).

* He has pitched in 16 seasons and reached the postseason in 14 of them, won 8 Pennants and 5 World Championships, including 2009, when he started and won the clinching game of all 3 postseason series. (Derek Lowe was the winning pitcher in all 3 Red Sox postseason clinchers in 2004, a record Andy matched, but Lowe did not start all 3 clinchers, making Andy stand alone, until this November at the very least.)

* On Baseball-Reference.com's "Hall of Fame Monitor," where a "Likely HOFer" is at 100, Andy is at 120. On its "Hall of Fame Standards," where the "Average HOFer" is at 50, he's at 38.

* Their Top 10 Most Statistically Similar Pitchers to him are: Kevin Brown (will never make the Hall), Bob Welch (No), Dwight Gooden (we'll never know if he would have, but he's a No), David Wells (probably No, but Happy Birthday, Boomer!), Orel Hershiser (close, but No), Catfish Hunter (Yes), Juan Marichal (Yes), David Cone (probably No), Dazzy Vance (Yes) and Jack Stivetts (No).

Andy Pettitte is a sure bet for Monument Park at the new Yankee Stadium. He is becoming a better and better bet for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But that's for the future, for when he retires plus 5 full seasons. For now, Andy, we need you tonight. Hitters, Andy needs you tonight. Let's go!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Revised Countdowns

The numbers below have been adjusted, to reflect my errors, revised projections, and newly projected events.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins in South Africa: 23, June 11, just over 3 weeks. U.S. vs. England the next day.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 600th career home run: 46, estimated, probably around July 4.

Days until the World Cup Final: 53, July 11, at Johannesburg, South Africa.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series: 79, starting Friday night, August 6, at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the new English Premier League season starts: 87, Saturday morning (afternoon, their time), August 14. Up the Arsenal!

Days until the first football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed): 89, Monday night, August 16, Giants vs. Jets, with the Jets as the official home team. If the NFL decides to award Super Bowl XLVIII to the Meadowlands, as it is a finalist to be so awarded, I'll start a countdown for that.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 106, Thursday night, September 2, at home against Norfolk State.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 114, Friday night, September 10, against an opponent TBA, possibly at home against Woodbridge, which would be the reverse of the 2009 schedule.

Days until the first regular-season Giants game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 116, Sunday afternon, September 12, vs. the Carolina Panthers.

Days until the first regular-season Jets game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 117, Monday night, September 13, vs. the Baltimore Ravens.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 143, estimated, at around October 9, the first Saturday of the next season.

Days until Rutgers and Army play the first college football game at the new Meadowlands Stadium: 150, Saturday, October 16.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 190, November 25.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 365, estimated, probably around one year from today, May 19, 2011.

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 542, November 12, 2011.

Days until the last Nets game in New Jersey: 697, estimated, probably around April 15, 2012; presuming new owner Mikhail Prokhorov doesn't decide to stay at the Prudential Center.

Days until the 2012 Olympics begin in London: 785, July 27, 2012.

Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 865, estimated, could happen around the close of the regular season, September 30, 2012.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 1,136, estimated, could happen around June 27, 2013.

Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,786. Estimated, could happen around April 8, 2015 -- which would be the 41st Anniversary of Aaron breaking the record. If Aaron lives, he would be 80 years old, or 1 year older than Babe Ruth would have been had he lived to see Hank hit Number 715. Of course, a lot of A-Rod's homers are also suspect, but far fewer than Barry Bonds'.

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: 1,810. Estimated, could happen around May 2, 2015. Of course, this does not stop Albert Pujols from surpassing whatever turns out to be A-Rod's final total in the early 2020s -- age and decline might, but Pujols currently has 374 and shows no signs of stopping.

One Hell of a Split

The Yankees blew a 5-0, and a 6-1, lead over the Red Sox, and trailed 9-7 in the bottom of the 9th, and won anyway. Last night, they followed that up by blowing a 5-0 lead, and trailed 7-5 in the bottom of the 9th... and got it to 7-6 with the tying run on 3rd and the winning run on 2nd, but couldn't close the deal on Jonathan Papelbon the way they did the night before.

The Scum victorious. One hell of a split series. The Yanks had won 13 of their last 16 in the Hundred Year War, but not this one. I guess they used up all their magic in the first game, and need time to regenerate. And with Tampa Bay coming in, they don't have much time.

I said that, in this stretch against the Twins, Red Sox, Rays and Mets, they needed to win 7 of 10. They have now won 3 of 5, with a two-game set against the Rays starting tonight and then three at New Shea against the struggling Mutts. Can they win 4 of those 5?

They took 2 of 3 against the Rays, in St. Petersburg, early in the season. I see no reason why they can't take both of these: As great a start as the Rays have had, the Yankees' has been nearly as good, and Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher should both be back.

As for the Mets, well, they wasted another fine performance by The Great Johan Santana last night in Atlanta (just as the Yanks wasted one by CC Sabathia). David Wright made a game-losing error (on a grounder hit by our old friend Melky Cabrera), and Wright's head really is not in the right place right now.

The Yankees proved last season that Pity Field wasn't hard to hit home runs in after all, unless you're a Met.

The Mets' only reliable starter right now, besides Santana, is Mike Pelfrey, who no longer seems to need me in the ballpark, and will most likely start on Saturday; and Santana can't pitch any sooner than Sunday anyway, unless Jerry Manuel wants to pitch him on 3 days' rest on Saturday, and besides, there's one team Santana has had trouble with dating to his Minnesota days, the team that crushed him in that 15-0 win last season: The Yankees. The Yankees have no reason to be overly concerned about the Mess.

*

Still no confirmation of Cesc Fabregas' alleged wish to go back to Barcelona. Barcelona say they must repsect Arsenal's wishes. (There's a first time for everything.) And Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood has said, "I do know there has been no official approach from Barcelona. Under those circumstances the best comment is no comment." So, relax, my fellow Gooners.

At the same time, there is still no confirmation of former Arsenal superstar and current Barcelona bench-sitter Thierry Henry coming to the New York Red Bulls. Though I do notice that "Metro" do not currently have a player on their roster wearing Tit's iconic Number 14. (I seriously doubt it's because they expect Johan Cruyff, who played two exhibition games in New Jersey for the Cosmos way back when, to come out of retirement at age 63.) Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Don't Buy the New Reggie Biography

Happy Birthday to Mr. Reginald Martinez Jackson, a man who did so much to make my childhood bearable.

How did Reggie get to be 64? The same way Tom Seaver got to be 65, Mike Schmidt got to be 62, and Carl Yastrzemski got to be 70: By not dying. If only we could say that about 64-year-old Bobby Murcer, 64-year-old Catfish Hunter, and 63-year-old Thurman Munson. Those are the ages that these men would be now. Alas...

There's a new biography out about him, titled Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball's Mr. October, by Dayn Perry of Fox Sports.

It took me 4 days to read it. When it was over, I thought I understood Reggie a little better. And it is well-written.

But the best birthday present I can give my first real sports hero is to tell you all: Do not buy this book.

Remember what Billy Martin said about Reggie and George Steinbrenner? "The two were meant for each other. One's a born liar, and the other's convicted."

It can't be denied all that hard: George was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions, and Reggie has said a lot of things that, with a little research, were proven untrue.

The book suggests that Reggie inherited a lot of his personality traits from his father, tailor and bootleg liquor distiller Martinez "Marty" Jackson. Traits such as telling tall tales, looking out for money first and other priorities second, and difficulty with being faithful to the women in his life. As much as I would like to, I can't defend Reggie against these charges.

But the book doesn't just take shots at Reggie. In fact, it is an equal-opportunity hatchet job. It rehashes things about George and Billy, and also brings up things I hadn't known before, things that, had they been known at the time, would have destroyed whatever reputations they still had, much as happened to O.J. Simpson (though none of them killed anybody, as far as I know), Pete Rose (though none of them bet on baseball, as far as I know) and Mark McGwire (though none of them used steroids, though the book suggests that Reggie introduced to McGwire and Canseco the guy who introduced steroids to them).

The book also suggests that what Reggie supposedly said about Thurman Munson in that infamous SPORT magazine article was true, that Thurman was an incredibly insecure guy, particularly where his salary was concerned; that as much as Thurman admired Jim "Catfish" Hunter, it did bother him that George made an exception to his promise to Thurman that he would always be the highest-paid Yankee, and then made another exception to sign Reggie, and then another with Rich "Goose" Gossage.

This is in sharp contradiction to the scene in the film version of The Bronx Is Burning, where Thurman (played by Erik Jensen) says to Reggie (Daniel Sunjata), "You think I'm jealous of you? What have you got that I want? I've got a wife and three beautiful children." (At the time, Reggie was not all that long from being divorced, and what is believed to be his one and only child was years away from being born.)

On the other hand, this is not the first book to suggest that Reggie was, and perhaps remains, a lonely man, but that his parents' breakup damaged his ability to form lasting relationships on any level. Perry torches Reggie's father, and makes his mother look bad as well, although not nearly as bad as his father.

The new book also makes several other Yankees look bad. It does no favors for Chris Chambliss. It hits Sparky Lyle hard. It trashes Graig Nettles, making him look like one step up from the Ku Klux Klan. Perry hits Nettles so hard, I began to wonder if Bill Lee was a consultant on the book.

From Reggie's Oakland Athletics days, it hits Vida Blue, John "Blue Moon" Odom, Mike Epstein, and especially Billy North. Hardly surprising, considering the A's image as a team always at odds with each other, and apparently agreeing on only one thing, that they hated their team's owner.

Which brings me to this: The book really slams team owner Charlie Finley. Fair enough: This isn't the first book to slam him, and it won't be the last. Finley was an innovator who built a dynasty, but also a cheap bastard who shafted Kansas City. He tried to shaft Oakland. In the process of shafting K.C., he also shafted Denver, Louisville and Dallas. And, in trying and failing to shaft Oakland, he shafted Denver and New Orleans. He shafted several of his players, including Reggie and Catfish, the 2 best players he would ever have. He broke up his dynasty because, multimillionaire though he was, he wasn't willing to give up the occasional extra few thousand dollars (how quaint the amounts now sound). And he generally acted like a madman who, much of the time, didn't even care enough to show up at the ballpark.

There are even some people in the book who look good at times, but not at others, including John McNamara, who did so much to help Reggie through his 1967 season at Double-A Birmingham, flashpoint of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s; but then, as manager of the A's in 1970, sided with Finley and let Reggie be treated like dirt. (They appear to have reconciled when McNamara managed the California Angels, as the Anaheim franchise was then known.)

Should we know that these baseball men did some awful things? Yes. Do we need to know all the awful things they did? I don't think so.

What really pisses me off is that a lot of the people Perry trashes in this book are no longer able to defend themselves. If Bill Madden is to be believed, George Steinbrenner has suffered strokes that have left him in a state resembling Alzheimer's disease. Reggie's parents, Billy Martin and Charlie Finley are dead, and thus they cannot respond either.

Who ends up looking good in the book? Reggie's Oakland teammates, particularly Catfish, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers. Reggie's Oakland manager Dick Williams, and his Anaheim manager Gene Mauch. And Angels owner Gene Autry, the legendary Singing Cowboy, looks like one of the most decent and generous men who ever lived, a portrayal that matches much of what I've heard about him. But his wife and successor as Angels owner, Jackie, ends up looking bad.

Most of the people this book rips were not all bad. Many of them did good things, and not just on the field. Some did wonderful things. Perry doesn't seem to give them much credit for this, though.

*

Reggie deserves a fair assessment of his life and his baseball career. You could walk away from such an assessment wondering what he was thinking sometimes. But this new biography is mostly negative, seeming to praise him for two things: The big hits he got, and for being the first black baseball player to really get away with being outspoken.

Even that isn't really true: Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson, and eventually Hank Aaron all were admired for the stands they took. Reggie may have taken it to the next level, and he'd be the first guy to tell you that he deserved credit for that. But, as a student of history, and especially of baseball history, he'd also be the first guy to tell you that he didn't start it.

In his book Memories of Summer, in which he discussed many of the New York baseball legends he covered in the 1950s, and what had happened to them since, Roger Kahn said, "No, you couldn't possibly approve of Mickey Mantle. What you could do was love him."

A lot of people will read Dayn Perry's new biography Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball's Mr. October, and come away shaking their heads, but still remembering why they loved the guy.

Maybe Perry should have discussed that in his book. Instead of writing a "fair and balanced" (he does work for Fox, after all) book about a sports icon, he wrote a cold-blooded listing of events that make his subject look like a caricature of what he was -- or like Billy Martin's image of him, which is ironic because Perry hits Billy hard, too.

Why do people love Reggie? Why do they love Seaver, or Yaz, or Pete, or Tony Conigliaro? Why did they love Mickey, or Willie, or Hank? I'm not a psychologist, and I can't explain what makes a person say, "Yeah, I know, he did some things I can't approve of, but... but I love him. Still."

As Neil Young -- another such person -- might have said, "I sing a song because I loved a man. I know that some of you won't understand."

Dayn Perry could have said words to the effect of, "Reggie Jackson had his flaws, but he was good for the game of baseball, and he was good for America."

Instead, he wrote a book that shows his writing talent and Reggie's baseball talent. But both the subject and those who might want to read it deserve better.

As a baseball fan, and as someone who still admires Reggie Jackson, I'm asking you: Do not buy this book.

UPDATE: In 2013, in response to this book, and to the film version of The Bronx Is Burning, Reggie wrote a rebuttal: Becoming Mr. October, telling of his life up to and including the 1978 World Series. I had long hoped that, following his 1984 Reggie: The Autobiography, he would write another memoir. This is most of it. I wish he had written more about what his life's been like since.
He also teamed up with fellow Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson on Sixty Feet, Six Inches, as good an inside look on how baseball is played -- from the perspective of one of the leading strikeout pitcher of his generation and the leading home run hitter of the next generation -- as we are ever likely to see. But that's about how he (and Gibson) approached playing the game. It doesn't say much about his life. (In 1994, Gibson published Stranger to the Game, covering his entire life to that point, and his thoughts on life and baseball at the time.)

As of 2016, Reggie is still alive. Maybe he's got another book in him.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Now THIS Is a Stunning Loss! If You're a Red Sox Fan!

Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!

11-9! We beat The Scum, 11-9! We beat The Scum, 11-9! We beat The Scum, 11-9!

The Yankees blew a 6-1 lead tonight. Phil Hughes allowed a home run in the 6th, and Joe Girardi panicked, and went through the pen -- I wonder if John Sterling said, "Chan Ho has been taken out of the Park!" -- and the Red Sox took a 9-7 lead into the bottom of the 9th.

Then came an A-Bomb! From A-Rod! To tie it! Then Jonathan Papelbon hits Francisco Cervelli -- a really, really stupid move if it was on purpose, but then we are talking about Papelbum -- and then, "You're on the mark, Marcus!" (You got a better one, Sterling?) Marcus Thames hits a 2-run homer to win it for the Bronx Bombers.

Due to injuries, the Yankees were without half their starting lineup: Catcher Jorge Posada, designated hitter Nick Johnson, center fielder Curtis Granderson and right fielder Nick Swisher.

Result? Cervelli subs for Posada and goes 2-for-4 with an RBI, and gets on base (the hard way) to score what was technically the winning run; A-Rod started as the DH, then moved to 3rd base, forcing Girardi to give up the DH, but it ended up not mattering, and A-Rod went 2-for-5 including the tying homer; Gardner, continuing his move from left to center, went 2-for-4; Randy Winn, taking Gardner's place in left, went 1-for-4; and Thames, in right, went 2-for-4 and hit the walkoff homer.

It was one of those Yankee-Red Sox games, where the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. Or, as Sterling would say, to Suzyn Waldman, "You know, Suzyn, you just can't predict baseball": A-Rod comes through in the clutch (then again, that's not so unexpected anymore, is it?), and the winning pitcher is...

Javier Vazquez? How much have I had to drink?

Who cares how it happened, it happened! We beat The Scum!

The Yankees totally shook off the horrendous loss to Minnesota yesterday, and gave the Red Sox a truly stunning loss. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay also won tonight, so the Yanks remain 2 games back. But the Red Sox are now under .500 at 19-20, and are 6 1/2 games out of the Wild Card, and it's only May 17. Any combination of Yankee wins and Red Sox losses adding up to 118, and the Sox do not make the Playoffs.

Thank you, Yankees. More of the same tomorrow, please. (The starting pitchers will be CC Sabathia against Josh "Super Punk" Beckett.) Even if it is this convoluted, a win is a win, and a win over The Scum is a win over The Scum!

Yanks Don't Get Stunned By a Loss Like This

After continuing their dominance of the Minnesota Twins with an 8-4 win on Friday night and a 7-1 win on Saturday afternoon, yesterday's game was one of those games that you don't like to talk about at parties.

If you hadn't seen it, and now only saw the final score, Twins 6, Yankees 3, you might not think it was a big deal.

It was. Because Mariano Rivera, who hadn't allowed a run, let alone blown a save, all season (albeit in just 11 innings), walked home a run, and then allowed a grand slam. He suddenly looked like a 40-year-old man, which he is, and not like the greatest relief pitcher who ever lived, which he also is.

But there was a bigger reason: Joe Girardi screwed up. Big-time.

Sergio Mitre started in place of the awful Javier Vazquez. For 5 innings, against the potent Minnesota lineup, he was fine. But he got into a little trouble in the 6th, and, rather than trust a pitcher who had been cruising, and hadn't even thrown 80 pitches yet, Girardi went to the bullpen, bringing in David Robertson.

Robertson had a lousy start to the season, but has been better lately. He got out of the jam in the 6th, and also shut the Twins out in the 7th. But then, Joe brought Joba Chamberlain in for the 8th, and Joba only got 2 outs, and turned a 3-1 Yankee lead into 3-2.

That's when he brought in Mo. And, unlike previous Yankee bullpen legends Joe Page, Luis Arroyo, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage, Mo isn't so great when he's brought in before the 9th inning. In this one appearance, his season ERA soared from 0.00 to 1.59.

For the Mets or Red Sox bullpen, this would be just another day at the office. For the Yankee bullpen, it was shocking. The YES Network cameras panned the stands, and the looks of shock on faces were everywhere. "No, not our Mo, that can't happen to him!" But it did.

*

However (and there's always a however), the Yankees still took 2 of 3 from a very good team. No reason to get upset over one loss, no matter how shocking.

That's the key: The Yankees do not get shocked by this. Joe Torre used to have a saying when he was the Yankee manager: "If what you did yesterday still looks good to you today, then you haven't done much today." Yesterday's win wasn't going to help much today. And if it went the other way, then yesterday's loss wasn't going to help your opponent today. Win or lose yesterday, today you move on. Girardi manages the same way.

Yeah, he blew it yesterday. He should have left Mitre in. Should have let him pitch through 7. Then brought in Robertson, then, if he'd gotten into trouble, brought in Joba, and kept Mo for the 9th.

This is a big stretch of games for the Yankees: 3 at home against perennial Playoff team Minnesota, 2 at home against perennial Playoff team Boston, 2 at home against a Tampa Bay team that is in position to become a perennial Playoff team (but are not, not yet), and then 3 "on the road" against The Other Team. These 10 games could set the Yankees on the course to another championship. Failing that, they could break a lesser team.

They are all lesser teams.

The Yankees will most likely take 3 of the 4 against The Scum and the Deviled Eggs, and anything less than 2 of 3 against the Mess is unacceptable. After all, last season, the Yankees proved it wasn't hard to hit at Citi Field. Just hard for the Mutts to do it. Do that, and it's 7 of a supposedly tough 10. I think most Yankee Fans would take that.

Tonight, Phil Hughes goes against Daisuke Matsuzaka, who sure was worth it in 2007 -- before we found out that the real reason the Red Sox won that World Series and the one in 2004 was that they cheated with steroids -- but really hasn't been since. Hell, Hideki Irabu helped the Yankees win 2 World Series, and they can't be credited to steroids.

Yesterday's loss was shocking, but the shock is over. Time to move on. Beat The Scum.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Red Bull Arena Victorious, Red Bulls Not So Much

I'll discuss the Yanks-Twins series in my next post, most likely tomorrow. I have to talk about the Red Bulls.

Last night, I attended my first match at the new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Suffice it to say, the experience was far better than my 1st Red Bulls game, last year in front of 60,000 empty seats at Giants Stadium.

That was a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy -- a.k.a. the Gals -- in which David Beckham was washed up and yet was still the 3rd-best player on the pea-green sheet of Meadowlands concrete that passed for a field/pitch. "Metro" (a nickname from their days known as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars) were never in that one.

This time, they faced the Seattle Sounders, a relatively new team named for a team in the old North American Soccer League, and it was a terrific game, full of good defense. Goalkeeper Boula Condoul and defenders Mike Petke and especially Tim Ream were on their game.
Tim Ream! There's only one Tim Ream!

Unfortunately, Seattle scored in the 85th minute to win, 1-0. Even worse, the Red Bulls got cheated out of not 1 but 2 2nd-half fenalties: There was a Seattle handball in the box a few minutes before the goal, and a Red Bull player got tripped in the box in injury time. This should have been a 2-1 New York victory, but it wasn't.

I sat in the 3rd row of Section 133, in the "South Ward" -- probably so named to connect them to the City of Newark right across the river -- home to the Garden State Supporters, one section over from Section 101, home to the Empire Supporters Club (New York City-based). Together, they do their damnedest to make a Red Bulls game sound like an English or European game. If I'm going to go to any more games, though (and I intend to), I'm going to have to learn their songs.

Fortunately, some of their songs are adaptations of familiar ones, for example, to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In":

Oh, New Jersey! (Oh New Jersey!)
Is wonderful! (Is wonderful!)
Oh, New Jersey is wonderful!
It's full of tits, fanny and the Red Bulls!
Oh, New Jersey is wonderful!

They did not, however, do the accompanying one for the opposing team:

Oh, Seattle! (Oh Seattle!)
Is full of shit! (Is full of shit!)
Oh, Seattle is full of shit!
It's full of shit, shit and more shit!
Oh, Seattle is full of shit!

Maybe it's because, despite 3 Yankees-Mariners Playoff series between 1995 and 2001, there isn't a rivalry between the New York Tri-State Area and the Pacific Northwest. Maybe they'll do it for games against the New England Revolution, D.C. United, or the new Philadelphia Union. Empire Supporters Club top boy Matt Doyle has already outlined the relationship, saying that D.C. will always be their big rivals, that they hate United, but they pity Philly.

I chose last night as my RBA premiere because Seattle has Freddie Ljungberg. This marked the 1st time I ever saw an Arsenal player (or ex-Arsenal player) live. Freddie's 33, and he's still got some game. He didn't score, or get the assist, but he moved the ball well, he moved himself well, and he still does corner-kicks better than anybody on the current Arsenal squad except Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie. And, unlike in many of his Arsenal appearances, he did not have ridiculous hair. (In fact, he had hardly any, going with a crewcut.)
To extend the Arsenal part of the story, Seattle's goalie was Kasey Keller, an American who once played for Arsenal's arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

The Red Bull ultras in 101 and 133 seemed to harp on the fact that Keller is a disgrace to his country, that he's the backup to Brad Friedel on the national team, and that he's old. (In fact, he's 40 -- 3 weeks older than I am.) In defiance of Major League Soccer's demands that a family atmosphere be in the building, we gave him hell.

But while I saw 3 Arsenal shirts in the building (and 2 Manchester United, 1 Chelsea, 2 Barcelona, 1 Ajax Amsterdam, and, interestingly, 2 Newcastle United), I was, as far as I can tell, the only fan who called Keller a "Tottenham reject." And the only one to bring up April 25, 2004, when Ljungberg played for Arsenal and Keller for Spurs, and "We won the League at White Hart Lane!"

I was 50 feet from Keller's net, and I swear, he turned around, and the look on his face said, "Fucking Gooners, I can't get away from them! Why won't they leave me alone?"
Because you're Tottenham Scum, that's why!

I don't know how he and Freddie can now be on the same team. But both had the last laugh, winning the game.

Attendance at the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena was 17,900. That's less than the 23,000 or so they claimed for the L.A. match last year, but that was probably just tickets sold, and I doubt it was more than 18,000 at the 79,000-seat Giants Stadium. (Good riddance, that place was bad enough for football, but for soccer it was deeply awful.)

A small contingent of Seattle fans was in the upper deck in the northeast corner. They didn't make asses of themselves. In fact, we even did, to "Bread of Heaven":

We forgot!
We forgot!
We forgot that you were here!
(pause)
We forgot that you were here!

You know, to "Guantanamera," "Sing when you're winning! You only sing when you're winning!" Well, they barely sang even then.

And I thought Seattle was a good sports town.

Anyway, I will be back. Hopefully, my next match will be a week from today, when, with Italy's Serie A completed today (Internazionale completed the domestic double by winning their 5th straight league crown), Turin-based giants Juventus come in for a "friendly." The Thieves. I don't know if that'll bring a lot of Italians into the place -- it's been a while since Newark had a huge Italian community, much of which moved out to the suburbs -- but I want to see it.

Because, while the home team did not win last night, the home crowd sure did. And so did the new house.

Forza Red Bull! Let's put together a season worthy of the fans and the stadium!