Friday, July 1, 2016

Yankees Have Rain and Parades vs. Texas Rangers; Buddy Ryan, 1931-2016

I am way behind. I haven't been as many as 7 games behind since -- I think, 2009.

The Yankees won the World Series that year. Maybe this is a good sign.

This past Friday (a week ago today), the Yankees began a 3-game home series against the Minnesota Twins, the team with the worst record in the American League. Masahiro Tanaka started, and allowed 3 runs in 6 innings.

The Twins 2 runs in their half of the 3rd inning, and the Yankees did the same in theirs. The Twins countered with 1 in the 4th, but the Yankees followed with 2. Aaron Hicks provided some insurance in the 8th, with his 3rd home run of the season.

"No Runs DMC" each pitched a perfect inning of relief: Dellin Betances in the 7th, Andrew Miller in the 8th, and Aroldis Chapman in the 9th. Yankees 5, Twins 2. WP: Tanaka (5-2). SV: Chapman (14). LP: Tommy Milone (0-2).

*

Saturday featured an old-fashioned pitcher's duel, except neither starter was allowed to go past the 6th inning. Michael Pineda pitched brilliantly for 6, allowing just 1 run on 2 hits and a walk, striking out 8. But he threw 94 pitches, so Joe Girardi chickened out, and took him out. Twins starter Ervin Santana pitched, effectively, equally well, but was removed in the 6th by Paul Molitor, the Minnesota native and Hall of Fame Milwaukee Brewer now managing the Twins.

The game remained 1-1 into the 8th inning, which Alex Rodriguez led off by beating out a grounder to 3rd base. Girardi sent Hicks in to pinch-run for him. Brian McCann singled him over to 3rd. Mark Teixeira, still trying to find his way back after returning from injury, struck out. Starlin Castro grounded to short, where Eduardo Escobar dropped the ball, allowing Hicks to score the winning run.

Again, No Runs DMC got the job, the difference this time being that Chapman allowed a hit; otherwise, 3 perfect innings of relief. Yankees 2, Twins 1. WP: Miller (5-0). SV: Chapman (15). LP: Ryan Pressly (2-4).

*

The Sunday game didn't go so well. For the 3rd straight game, Nathan Eovaldi didn't have it, allowing 5 runs in 6 innings. Teixeira hit a home run, his 4th of the season, and the 398th of his career, tying him with Dale Murphy on the all-time list. But the Yankees only got 1 other hit, a double by Hicks.

Twins 7, Yankees 1. WP: Tyler Duffey (3-6). No save. LP: Eovaldi (6-5).

*

So the Twins went out, and the Texas Rangers came in. Ivan Nova started for the Yankees on Monday night, and he allowed 4 runs in 5 innings. But he left with a 5-4 lead. Richard Bleier pitched a perfect 6th inning, and Dellin Betanches pitched a perfect 7th. Teixeira hit another home run, giving him 5 for the year and 399 for his career, tying him with Al Kaline. So it was 6-4 Yankees.

But the Yankees couldn't hold the lead. Miller allowed a run in the 8th to make it 6-5. Girardi brought Chapman on to close it out, but he walked the leadoff batter. Then came a rain delay that was as long as the game itself had been to this point.

When the game resumed, Girardi panicked, as he so often does, and refused to send Chapman back out there. He sent in Kirby Yates. Big mistake: He got a strikeout, then he hit 3 batters and allowed 2 singles, and the Rangers scored 4 runs.

The Yankees got 2 runners on in the bottom of the 9th, but couldn't score either of them. Rangers 9, Yankees 6. WP: Tony Barnette (5-2). SV: Sam Dyson (16). LP: Yates (2-1).

The umps should have called the game when the rain came, and it was clear that the delay wouldn't be less than half an hour. I've seen games called much earlier than that, usually to the Yankees' detriment. This time, it was resumed to the Yankees' detriment.

*

The Tuesday game was worse. A pair of pitchers from the 2009 World Series opposed each other: CC Sabathia for the Yankees, and former Philadelphia Phillie Cole Hamels for the Rangers. CC allowed 2 runs in the 1st inning, but settled down, and it was still only 2-0 Rangers after 7.

For once, Girardi left a starting pitcher in too long. CC imploded in the 8th: Hit by pitch, infield single, RBI single, RBI double. Anthony Swarzak was no better: RBI single, RBI single, double play, RBI infield single.

The Yankees got a run in the bottom of the inning, for all the good it did. Rangers 7, Yankees 1. WP: Hamels (9-1). No save. LP: Sabathia (5-5).

*

The Yankees went into the Wednesday night game 2 games under .500. They needed a statement game. They got 2 of them in a row.

Tanaka started, and was awful. Although his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 7-1, he allows 6 runs on 8 hits in 6 innings. Luis Cessa allowed 1 run over the last 3 innings.

Chase Headley hit a home run, his 5th of the season. Brian McCann hit his 11th in the 8th. But the Yankees went into the bottom of the 9th trailing 7-3.

Rob Refsnyder led off with a single to center. Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk. Brett Gardner singled home Refsnyder. A-Rod lined out. McCann hit his 2nd homer of the game, his 12th of the season, and that tied it at 7-7. Castro drew a walk, and Didi Gregorius ended it with a home run, his 7th of the season, and the Yankees' 1st walkoff homer of the season.

Yankees 9, Rangers 7. WP: Cessa (1-0). No save. LP: Dyson (1-2).

*

The Thursday game was a day game after a night game. But maybe that's just what the Yankees needed, to keep the momentum going.

Pineda started, and was fantastic. He allowed 1 run on 2 hits, walked 3, and struck out 12 -- in 6 innings. But, because he threw 92 pitches over those 6 innings, rather than let him continue, Girardi panicked, and went to No Runs DMC.

Actually, I can't fault that decision, since Betances (1 hit in the 7th), Miller (a perfect 8th) and Chapman (1 hit in the 9th) pitched shutout ball between them.

Pineda allowed a run in the 1st, but Gregorius died it up with his 8th homer in the 5th. The game went to the bottom of the 9th tied 1-1.

Barnette took the mound for the Rangers. He walked Headley to start the inning. Gregorius bunted him over to 2nd. Hicks drew a walk -- perhaps an "unintentional intentional walk," to fill 1st base and set up an inning-ending double play. Castro grounded to 1st, and that moved the runners over, 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs.

The batter was Ellsbury. Would he come through for the Yankees? We never found out: Barnette threw a pitch too low, and Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos couldn't handle it. Headley scored -- a walkoff passed ball, a pretty rare play, but one that helped the Yankees this time.

Yankees 2, Rangers 1. WP: Chapman (2-0). No save. LP: Barnette (5-3).

So the Yankees go into this weekend at .500, 39-39. They are 8 games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Eastern Division, and 3 games behind the Red Sox for the 2nd AL Wild Card slot.

They begin a 3-game series on the Coast tonight, away to the San Diego Padres. Come on you Bombers!

*

Rex Ryan is no longer the head coach of the Jets. Which may be a good thing, because he's weird.

But he wasn't even the weirdest guy in his own family. That would be his father.

James David Ryan was born on January 17, 1931 in Frederick, Oklahoma. "Buddy" Ryan served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, then went to Oklahoma A&M and played guard on their football team. (The school became Oklahoma State in 1958.)

He then coached at high school football in Texas, and in 1961 joined the football staff at the University of Buffalo. His defensive success there got him noticed by the biggest coach in town, Lou Saban of the AFL Champion Buffalo Bills. (Father of Nick Saban.) But UB offered him more money, and he stuck around, until moving on to the University of the Pacific and Vanderbilt.

He took a pro job with the New York Jets in 1968. With Ryan and Walt Michaels (later to coach the Jets to the 1982 AFC Championship Game) building the defense, they won the AFL title, and then held the mighty Baltimore Colts to a single touchdown and winning Super Bowl III.

It was his own team's offense that inspired his defensive schemes. He saw that head coach Wilbur "Weeb" Ewbank would do whatever it took to protect the knees of quarterback Joe Namath. So every defense that Buddy Ryan devised after 1968 was designed to get the quarterback first.

In 1976, he moved on to the Minnesota Vikings, and they reached Super Bowl XI, but lost to the Oakland Raiders. He was hired as defensive coordinator by the Chicago Bears in 1978. He had a defensive scheme based around safety Doug Plank, who wore Number 46, and so Ryan called it "the 46 Defense."

In 1982, the Bears' founding owner, George Halas, fired head coach Neill Armstrong (no relation to the astronaut), and the Bears' defense, led by middle linebacker Mike Singletary, pleaded with the old man to make Ryan the head coach. They didn't, and Papa Bear hired one of his greatest players, Mike Ditka, who had been on the successful staff of Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys.

Ditka and Ryan were an odd couple. Very odd, each in his own way. Could 2 such men share control of a pro football team without driving each other crazy? For a time, yes: Iron Mike gave Buddy control of the D, and left him alone. In the 1984 season, they reached the NFC Championship Game, but lost to the San Francisco 49ers.

Then came the 1985 season, one of the most spectacular any NFL team has ever had. They got to 12-0, and they hype was unbelievable. But in Game 13, a Monday Night Football game against the Miami Dolphins at the Orange Bowl, not only did Da Bears lose, but Ditka and Ryan argued so much during the halftime locker room meeting that Dikta challenged Ryan to a fight. What happens when the irresistible force country boy from Oklahoma fights the immovable object city guy from Pittsburgh? We'll never know: The offensive linemen pulled Ditka away, and the defensive guys pulled Ryan away.

The Bears settled down the rest of the way, shutting out the Giants and the Los Angeles Rams in the Playoffs, and blowing the New England Patriots away 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. The offense carried Ditka off the field, as you would expect; but the defense carried Ryan off the field.
This was not totally unprecedented: When the Bears, with Ditka as tight end, won their previous title, the 1963 NFL Championship, no one dared carry Halas, then both owner and head coach, off the field, so they carried off their defensive coordinator, George Allen, who later coached the Rams and the Washington Redskins. But most fans did not know about this precedent, and it was shocking.

It was clear that some NFL team was going to hire Ryan as a head coach, and when the Philadelphia Eagles came calling, neither Ditka nor Mike McCaskey, running the Bears for his parents, Virginia and Ed McCaskey (Halas, Virginia's father, had died in 1983), lifted a finger to try to convince him to stay.

But as hard as it was for Ditka and Ryan to be together, neither was as good without the other. Neither one ever reached another Super Bowl. Ryan didn't because, as brilliant as he was with defense, he didn't know squat about offense.

One of the first things he did as Eagle head coach was to release Earnest Jackson, who had rushed for over 1,000 in each of the preceding 2 seasons. He built a defense with Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Andre Waters and Wes Hopkins. But he also had an offense led by mobile quarterback Randall Cunningham, a man so versatile, he was known as "The Ultimate Weapon." He had Keith Byars in the backfield. He had Cris Carter, Irving Fryar and Keith Jackson (not the sportscaster) to throw to. In 5 seasons as head coach, Ryan took the Eagles into only 3 Playoff games, and lost them all.

Which isn't to say they didn't have their moments. In 1987, during the NFL players' strike, the Cowboys broke the strike, playing seasoned veterans against the Eagles' "scabs," and won. Two weeks later, Ryan decided that this meant that running up the score was okay in the NFL now, and, with a safe lead, went for another touchdown in the final seconds. Landry, whose Cowboys had cheated and otherwise played dirty for over a quarter of a century, had no credibility to say anything.
If ever there was "a shit-eating grin," this is it.

Nor did Landry's replacement, Jimmy Johnson. In 1989, he said Ryan had taken out bounties on 2 of his players for the Thanksgiving game. A previous Eagles head coach, Dick Vermeil, would ask his players, "What's it going to take to beat the Dallas Cowboys?" Buddy Ryan seemed to know: He was 8-2 against them as Eagles head coach.

In 1990, the Eagles knocked 11 Redskin players out of a game, which became known as "The Body Bag Game." You ask an Eagles fan between the ages of 30 and 50 who the franchise's all-time leading rusher is, and they might not be able to remember. (I had to look it up: It's LeSean McCoy, with 6,792 yards from 2009 to 2014. He's now with the Buffalo Bills.) But they'll relish telling you about the Bounty Bowl and the Body Bag Game. That's Philly fans for you, and that's Buddy Ball for you.
The heart of Buddy Ball: Left to right: Clyde Simmons,
Eric Allen, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner and Reggie White.

Ryan was fired after the 1991 season, going 43-38-1, counting the 3 Playoff losses. He spent the 1992 season talking about the NFL on CNN. In 1993, he was hired as the defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers. They won their last 11 regular-season games to make the Playoffs, but in the last game, against the Jets, he and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride got into a shouting match on the sidelines. As with his to-do with Ditka in 1985, the defensive players pulled Buddy away, and the offensive players did the same with Gilbride.

Did this 2nd near-fight make Ryan's name mud in the NFL? Hardly: The Arizona Cardinals made him head coach and general manager in 1994. In his 1st season, they went 8-8, and looked like they were headed in the right direction. But in 1995, they crashed to 4-12, and he was fired. His overall head coaching record was 55-58-1.

After that, he retired to his ranch in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and his 2nd wife, Joanie. He and his 1st wife, Doris, divorced shortly after the birth of twin sons Rex and Rob. They had an older son, Jim. Rex now coaches the Bills, and Rob is his defensive coordinator. Like his father, Rex has proven that he knows defense, but doesn't know offense. At least he got the Jets into a conference title game (2, in fact), which is more than his father ever did as a head coach, though he got 3 different teams into Super Bowls as an assistant, winning with 2 of them -- and none of his sons yet has a Super Bowl ring.
Left to right: Rob, Buddy, Rex

After losing Joanie to Alzheimer's disease in 2013, and battling cancer and the effects of a stroke, Buddy Ryan died on his ranch on June 28, 2016. One of the most fascinating characters in NFL history was 85 years old.

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