Sunday, October 16, 2011

Harbaugh Rubs Another Coach Wrongly, but Alters Niners’ Mentality

By now, his purpose should be precisely clear. He was brought to the 49ers to serve a purpose and walk into the footsteps of Hall of Fame predecessors Joe Montana and Steve Young. His coach was brought to the Niners to accomplish the same.

There's a hunch swirling around, bringing a sense of hope, the kind of humanity to cure all souls as Alex Smith is more impressive than he's ever looked in the past, of the Niners evolving into an elite powerhouse in the NFC West all because of Harbaugh. It's been a long, a very long time since the Niners felt a pile of joy, cheering and applauding the acclaimed franchise in the Bay Area bearing the circumstances of widespread calamities and unworthiness.

But this time, without much debate and politics firing up absurdity to initiate national disturbance for the reformed football team under much pressure and scrutiny, Smith discarded any political arguments. The politics and bad publicity faded out of conversation when he ran a well-executed scheme, eluded the pocket from a swarming Lions defense with his stylish footwork, scanned the field and released a 6-yard pass to Delanie Walker that gave San Francisco the clinching touchdown with 1:51 left, piloting the Niners to a 25-19 win.

The Niners are worthy, friends. Harbaugh is worthy, my friends. Smith is worthy, friends. The dubious assumption, which gave San Francisco a bad name for the mediocrity and separation in a dispirited locker room with no discipline or continuity, is that the Niners have implanted a bonded relationship and wholeness under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. When he arrived to finally coach his first ever pro team, he brought largely a fiery and stimulated attitude.

But maybe sometimes he's overzealous, such as after Sunday's game when Lions coach Jim Schwartz chased Harbaugh and shoved him for what he seemingly felt was an exuberant celebration. With the Niners roaring over on the sideline, completing another victory that silenced the sellout crowd at Ford Field in Detroit, he rejoiced with his players as he jumped wildly like a kid and crossed the field to meet Schwartz.

As a push-and-shove match escalated eventually, a fierce confrontation after successive chest bumps, Harbaugh shook Schwartz's hand firmly and backslapped him, and then continued to celebrate. It's time to take the Niners seriously, no longer a pushover, no longer intimidated or vulnerable, so assertively dominating top-notch opponents on the road and relishing the victories as exultant afterglow.

The good vibes were observed heavily when Harbaugh filled the coaching vacancy to become Mike Singletary's successor, and unlike the ones before him, he believed in Smith while few others refused to adore the sputtering quarterback. Harbaugh, a quirky and well-focused coach, is credited greatly for uplifting the franchise's culture. It ended with Harbaugh, a new NFL coach who played for Michigan, having to be restrained from Schwartz as emotions broiled for a pair of turnaround teams.

"That's totally on me," Harbaugh said. "I shook his hand too hard."

Certainly, it is on him. His players, and again, his players knew the significance of professionalism, sportsmanship and dignity by gathering around their ill-tempered coach to restore order when the Niners were tired from the penalties in a four-lead changing game.

"I went to congratulate coach Harbaugh and got shoved out of the way," Schwartz said. "I didn't expect an obscenity at that point. Obviously, when you win a game like that, you are excited, but there is a protocol that goes with this league."

It seemed all so familiar that the Lions, which have won a few games in their improbable season by rallying from behind, would come back and defeat the Niners with a game-winning touchdown. When he tried to drive the Lions, and couldn't convert on a first down against a blistering defense, Matthew Stafford was hit and sent directly to the ground. The rushing Niners' defense delivered a hit on the last drive and sacked a baffled Stafford to suddenly end the game -- setting off an overzealous celebration.

"It fires me up a lot," Harbaugh said. "If that offends you or anybody else, then so be it."

Either way, that is, the Niners are well en route of punching a ticket to the playoffs, if they continue to believe and finish with a winning record for the first time in eight years. So far, as we speak, San Francisco is 5-1 with a three-game lead in the NFC West, arguably the best team in its division. This team is really good under Harbaugh. Really good.

He has turned around the culture for many of whom are talented players with the most productive skills on offense and defense, and with harmony finally erasing the mess that plummeted the fun-loving mood of an eminent franchise because of its legends and world championships, Harbaugh is the savior for a successful turnaround. This year alone, the Niners have won five of their six games for the first time since 1998.

"He loves football," Smith said. "He's an emotional guy, and it's showing up on this team."

It never took long for Harbaugh and his staff, directed by offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, to drastically modify the mentality or psyche. Through it all, surrounded by a crafty coaching staff, Harbaugh and company are devoted to creativity and psychological approaches. Much is expected of his players as they demand rigid preparations during workouts and drills, emphasizing the significance of all details and critical mistakes.

Surely, for losing his mind, he is perceived differently, but he is still described as one of the greatest rookie coaches, if not one of the best to begin a regime in San Francisco for successfully making an instant impact. The demands are highly stressed each week and now the players have gradually improved to string together a functional nucleus.

As a result to all this, speed racer Frank Gore is more offensively proficient, pleasing his bosses every time he quickly storms past defenders, find the openings and race down the middle of the field pushing to the end zone. It is notably visible that tight end Vernon Davis has not been sent to the locker room for an early shower as if he's a mischievous teenager but has had the willfulness and driven mentality to score touchdowns.

In his first season, Harbaugh has brought the Niners together, although he may have acted like jerk and had a confrontation with another coach. It's a rarity whenever a rookie coach uplifts the culture and produce wins instantly.

For Harbaugh rather, he became the fifth 49ers coach to begin his career by winning five of his first six. Despite his chest bumps and backslaps, which was unnecessary and unacceptable, he is the main reason why the Niners are elite, and so is Smith becoming a quality quarterback

Frankly now, Harbaugh and Smith gives Niners' faithful every reason to believe.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Michigan State's Perseverance Allows for Continued Dominance Over Michigan

They can try, dare I say it, to hype the Michigan and Michigan State game as one of the most heated rivalries in college football. But there are better rivalries on football Saturdays — even though the Michigan and Michigan State clash is a rebirth, a bitter skirmish to embrace in Big 10 country.

If we grew accustomed to rivalries as fascinating as USC vs. Notre Dame, Alabama vs. Auburn, Florida State vs. Miami, Texas vs. Texas A&M and lastly Michigan vs. Ohio State, we now can deeply involve ourselves in a game where there is much antagonism between two interstate football programs.

It’s annually a hated rivalry few others care about, sensing that it will be irrelevant whenever Michigan and MSU are scheduled to meet, but the competition is merciless and it’s the equivalent of two men stealing each other’s women or even a few men fighting at bars for the hottest bimbo.

As one of the fiercest rivalries in the state, these schools don’t even like each other and probably the animosity is what sets Michigan and MSU apart. It may have been the most ballyhooed event in college football. But then again, as one of the heavenly inter-conference battles, it’s now meaningful if Michigan and State meets on a collision course as they did on Saturday, and releases anger with their powerful, hard-hitting defenses to turn it into a game of sloppy ball.

The public is familiar with the Spartans’ fight song that includes a line of “smash through that line of blue.” Again, like last season, the Spartans smashed through that line of blue, literally thrashing the enemies of the state and still own bragging rights until next season. The folks in East Lansing are familiar with the line from the fight song that includes “Michigan is weakening.”

Some would call this motivation, while some would call this a sense of passion and commitment to having a successful season by beating the Wolverines. It ended with the Spartans having the last word in an unbelievable battle against Michigan, and it would so happen that Michigan State beats its interstate rivals each season. It all ended so nicely when the Spartans PREPARED FOR BATTLE on a play where safety Isaiah Lewis returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown to give Michigan State a 28-14 lead with less than six minutes to play.

It was the one errant throw by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson that could have dictated the Wolverines’ fate of qualifying for a bowl game, a dreadful ending to silence all debates and politics about Michigan’s storybook season. The painful loss was as if the Wolverines had been beaten in the national title game and it felt like January for Michigan, leaving the field limping so badly with bruised arms, fatigued legs and debilitated bodies.

It’s not the end of the world, but the Spartans have won four straight against Michigan for the first time since 1959-62, matching Michigan State’s longest streak in the series. Given all that, and even greater, another win against the hated rivals, Jerel Worthy was the first Spartan to charge across the field, gesturing four fingers skyward while celebrating the nicest victory. “A clean sweep!” Worthy yelled.

Mark Dantonio, although his coaching job was squarely called into question at one point after the Spartans had avoidable losses, is saving his job each season because he knows he can prepare his team to beat the Wolverines.

He’s not intimidated standing on the sideline and directing his Spartans enough that MSU is overly dominating Michigan each season, readily prepared to beat the far more salient football program in the state. He wore a green sweatshirt, emblazoned with the Spartan logo on it, and the headset over his right ear. In the last four years now, there has been a big brother and a little brother on Michigan’s family tree — a MSU program that’s a bit more deeper and determined to defeat its instate foes.

It was a meaningful game for Michigan, and losing to the Spartans wasn’t helpful or good for a well-known school in pursuit of national spotlight. On the gorgeous afternoon of a nice day for an epic clash on the field in East Lansing, Jared McGaha and Joel Foreman hoisted the Paul Bunyan trophy after the Spartans came away victorious, leaving a hostile territory with widened smiles and confidence.

If Michigan has much more parity and cohesiveness under new head coach Brady Hoke, who has revitalized the program and given the brand-name university back its identity, it would be incredible to think that the Spartans were the stronger ones to survive on a bloody, fierce Saturday afternoon.

“For the rest of our life, we can walk the streets of Michigan,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

It’s hard to walk the streets of Michigan as an MSU athlete when a school is not highly regarded, simply because Michigan is a relevant program, if not one of the schools in conversation for a major BCS bowl game. We can really grasp a sense of Cousin’s perspective, a fifth-year senior who has become the first Michigan State starting quarterback to win three straight over Michigan.

He is, however, slightly cocky but is relaxed and doesn’t mind walking in the public’s view, beating the Wolverines enough times in his college career. The Wolverines, virtually losing optimism quicker than Robinson’s agility, had their first real test. This was the type of grueling matchup Michigan couldn’t handle, unable to past the stiffest test on the road this season.

Because of the Wolverines’ failures to dart past the stingiest, hard-hitting Michigan State defense, the Spartans stifled and harassed Michigan and Robinson. If not for Hoke, a coach who has given the Michigan faithful every reason to believe in the improbable after a 6-0 start, the Wolverines wouldn’t have established a new culture of prosperity.

That’s not nearly good enough for a program outplayed and bullied by Michigan State’s stout defenders. The most dazzling highlights of this game came in the third quarter when Keshawn Martin, an all-purpose wide receiver, practically showcasing his speed and quickness, galloped to the end zone twice.

“I think our defense played tremendous,” Dantonio said.

So then let’s credit the Spartans defense, particularly when the Wolverines had a chance to tie it. But Robinson was hurried, sacked and stopped on fourth-and-1 from the MSU 9-yard line with under less than six minutes left. For much of the night, he was held tightly and walked to the sideline like a lost child denied of his youth — deprived of his abilities to race through the MSU defense.

After an afternoon of being pounded hard to the turf, being abused badly and being limited to 42 yards rushing on 18 carries with one touchdown and 123 yards passing, Robinson watched from the sideline significantly banged up. This all happened when he was slammed so hard in the backfield having to leave the game. This all happened when he misfired over the middle and had been picked off for a game-deciding score.

In all, the Spartans are more dominant than most people think — a very good team with a powerful and monstrous defense. It was Edwin Baker, Michigan State star running back who had his best game of the season, rushing for 148 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. In this game alone, the Spartans were true warriors playing with attitude, perseverance and heart — and on the top of things — they taunted and brought down the Michigan Men. Most of the time, Cousins threw touchdowns while emotionally fired up to face his rivals.

Remember when no one expected the Spartans to hold Ohio State to one late touchdown? If you can’t recall, you certainly remember it now after MSU just defeated the unbeaten rivals from Michigan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Brewers Back in Business, After Randy Wolf Throws Gem

We thought the Brewers were an ouster, badly menaced by the Cardinals' feel-good story. It turns out Milwaukee survived and now has a chance to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis Friday night in Game 5, hermetically sealed from danger, traveling home soon to the friendly confines of Miller Park for Game 6 and will be heavily cheered by the noisy Brewers fans.

We once chided and nearly blamed the Brewers for toying with our senses as most of America picked Milwaukee, quickly becoming favorites in the NLCS on the verge to the World Series. But the sputtering pitching almost undermined the Beer Makers when ace Yovani Gallardo gave up four-runs in the first inning the other night and tied an NLCS record with three wild pitches.

It wouldn't be wise to rule against the Brewers after ending a three-game road losing streak this postseason, now that Milwaukee can return home and regain momentum by taking a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series. The short drought is about to end thanks to Brewers lefty Randy Wolf, who redeemed himself with a pitching gem.

Now he is the superhero Wisconsinites patiently waited for, and indeed was handed the ball and had his best performance of the NL Championship Series Thursday night. The squirrels plagued the low-cut, fresh grass at Busch Stadium, but so did Wolf, the boy who no longer cried wolf and elevated his stardom on a night the Brewers counted on him to save the season. This series is far from over as the pressure now switches squarely on the Cardinals with the NLCS suddenly tied at two games.

By his very nature, Wolf may have decided the fate of a playoff series that brings urgency and blinded optimism. So he was sent to the mound, a team that looked beyond his struggles in the past division series and never had major concerns about his idiosyncrasies, but looked at his abilities as the Brewers insulated him from the negativity after the 35-year-old blamed himself.

In the finest irony, on Thursday night in a hostile territory under much pressure with another crack at redemption, Wolf lasted seven frames in his Game 4 performance to erase the dreadful memories of his terrible division series start. The folks in Milwaukee realized it, probably because Wolf rebounded and found his groove to master the art of pitching, a handicraft that requires science and finesse. He knows his Brewers would've been on life-support had they lost to the Cardinals, and his responsibility was to capture his first playoff win for Milwaukee.

He has been a resident to well-known addresses, from his days spent in Philadelphia to Hollywood to San Diego to Houston, and then back to L.A. and eventually Milwaukee, a place he has called home for the last two seasons. He has found solace and purged all the bad memories of his last visit to the mound that ended the most horrifying episode for the Brewers from afar this season. He is charismatic, he is a leader, and although he might be a No. 4 pitcher in the Brewers rotation, he is winner in pursuit of World Series triumph.

It's become perceptible as of last night to admittedly acknowledge that Wolf beat the Cardinals in October when his teammate Gallardo couldn't defeat the Cards, when Roy Oswalt couldn't pummel the Cards and when Cliff Lee couldn't shut down the Cards. Surely, in front of their televisions, the Brewers faithful believed, and eventually, it happened so inexplicably and quickly, on a pivotal night in the biggest game of his life.

It's hard to believe now, but he actually won the most substantial game of his life. There are no longer any questions about Wolf's strength as a postseason ace. The more germane question, after one game, is whether he can lead the Brewers to the pennant, not whether he's the No. 1 ace in the rotation. What's justified in this case is that no one can sell the Brewers short, but it is certain Milwaukee is used to the disrespect and absolutely love it.

At least five times, maybe more, the Brewers needed Wolf to bail them out. Each time, he responded with his gifted arm and was poised on the hill, even if he was shaky or slightly inconsistent in having his best game and throwing his usual stuff. Even though he flubbed in his first postseason outing, as someone who couldn't string together a grand performance, he steered the Brewers to a 4-2 win over the Cardinals.

For once, away from home sweet home, Milwaukee won a signature game on the road and could close it out at home if they win Friday night, leaving the Brewers with one game left. It's all you ever wanted if you are a Brewers fan, a gratifying ending to horrifying pitching woes as the convoluted disaster turned into an unpromising scene. With a handful of pitching weak spots, mainly the team that had consistent and dominant pitching all season, Wolf healed the suffering.

Before this game, long before this game -- mind you -- the Brewers starters, other than Gallardo, struggled mightily and had pitched 22 2/3 innings in the postseason and given up 29 earned runs. It's not pleasant to mention, and again, it's not a convivial statistic to talk boastingly about that the Brewers had an 11.51 ERA. The names in the pitching staff, from Zack Greinke to Shaun Marcum to Gallardo, had not thrown a quality start.

And maybe Wolf, out of all people, had the best pitching performance with a 9.00 career postseason ERA, bouncing back strikingly from a three innings, eight hits, and seven runs in Game 4 in Arizona last week. Contrary to the fact, he works hard in preparations to avoid mental lapses and tosses in warm up sessions the next day on the field, while he gives the grounds crew a hard time.

"Randy's been around the game a long time now," said his closer, John Axford. "He knows how to approach hitters. He knows what makes them tick. I think he's a great pitcher."

In a meticulous, laborious fashion, Wolf is the only left-handed pitcher in the National League with 13 wins or more in 200 innings in each of the last two seasons, other than Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw.

After it was over, he felt relieved and can finally sleep at nights. Haunted by the Game 5 NLDS loss he wasn't sleeping much, but when he had another crack to scrape together the greatest win of his big-league career, he removed the bleakness of his pitching bungles.

"It was the most stressful game I've ever watched in my life," Wolf said. "And I felt that my offseason sanity was riding on that game. It was the most miserable game I've ever pitched. I didn't eat or shower that day. I don't know if they call that depression, but it was tough to swallow."

When he needed to, Wolf succeeded to release the painful thoughts of his past disillusionment, and only gave up a couple of early opposite-field home runs that Matt Holliday drove over the fence, a player who has not hit a homer since Sept. 6. It was a matter of time before Allen Craig stepped to the plate and deposited a homer into the stands, a player who entered the game 0-for-12 off Wolf during the regular season.

Although he allowed two home runs, Wolf retired the last 15 hitters he faced and had only one 2-0 count and a lone 3-0 count all night. For those who believed profoundly in Wolf, leery a bit about his response after he took a momentum crash but in reality was more confident coming off a poor pitching game, he threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 29 hitters he faced. The best pitcher from the Brewers, as it stands following a striking comeback, is Wolf and power hitter Ryan Braun, who became the first player in history to reach base in the first inning of eight straight postseason games.

“We just needed to win regardless of how it happened," Wolf said. "We needed to tie this thing up and assure ourselves a chance to decide this thing back home."

Other than his terrific heaters, which highlighted the summary of this game, he had support from two staunch relievers that went to work in the late innings. There were no better late-inning, shutdown relievers than setup man Francisco Rodriguez and Axford. The pitching staff would be aided, believe it or not, when Braun had two hits on the night.

The hard-driven offense kicked into full gear when Jerry Hairston Jr. was aggressive on the bases and was useful in doing the little things. Such was sliding into home plate to score. But in the meantime, Wolf threw 107 pitches in the game for his highest percentage of any start he has appeared in the last three years. His curveball fanned the Cardinals at nearly every at-bat, and they finished 1-for-8 in at-bats ending with the irresistible curveball. It's evident that Wolf is the Brewers' ace, the pure pitcher in the rotation that could be a Game 7 hero. Ever thought?

Someday when he retires from our America's Pastime, he can walk and reminisce about the greatest game of his life that he can talk about for many years to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cardinals Postseason Craze Is More Than Miracle

This is definitely not a phantasm, not even an illusion but a reality for baseball as the Redbird gang is the sphere of the game's utopia. In every conceivable way, the Cardinals are the biggest surprise this postseason, in the town where Midwestern values are distinguished from the wildest cult of fans surrounded by the banks of the riverfront and the nation's tallest monument.

Beyond all the pity and messes from the Steroid Era, a dreadful age in sports when many players were juicing their bodies with performance-enhancers, the Cardinals are the coolest fable. The hallucination has turned into reality, and St. Louis is largely in position to win the World Series.

They look like the team of miracles and imagination, but nevertheless it doesn't seem as if the Cardinals are the flukiest ballclub this postseason and may have justified by producing at the right possible time to become the hottest club that they are a menace, not to society but opponents in October.

Will the world ever realize that baseball is a game of momentum and awakened bats, a game of hot streaks, not the one game of probability and certainty?? Will the world ever realize that David Letterman is more hilarious than most people think? Will the world ever accept Lady Gaga for who she is?

It's hard to understand the variations of the mind, but it's not difficult to sense that the Cardinals are more than just a surprise. The local franchise is authentic and St. Louis residents actually believe in the Redbirds by now, and only did so after the Cardinals capped an astounding finish to clinch the NL wild-card berth that completed one of baseball's remarkable comebacks.

So before the Cardinals were fueled to string together a historic comeback, the ballclub trailed Atlanta by 10 1/2games, and then won 23 of the last 31 games to complete the unthinkable. The stunner came in the division series when the Cardinals beat the Phillies and eliminated baseball's best team from the postseason, which is probably why the miracle is more refreshing.

The sellout crowd was dressed in seas of Cardinal red and the foot-stomping, loud cheers from fans in the stands exploded at Busch Stadium, feeling the improbable run and imaginary dreams. The ballpark is an insane mental house, and the Cardinals have written a familiar tale with a rare playoff push that can encourage a person to embrace the wave of crazed postseason surprises. The mood is so similar, so common, so timing for the Cardinals, who have made life interesting and entertained fans by the eye-popping, heart-stopping fruition.

There are believers galore in St. Louis, but the Cardinals still have unfinished business in the NLCS. Face it, people. Baseball life in the Midwest is exciting, intense and more fun. From now on, it's about the Cardinals transforming into a believable World Series ballclub and producing in the most gratifying game that incredibly transpose all the momentum in the Cards' favor.

So what a curious, nice irony that the Cardinals, who would reach the highest point of the postseason before even clinching a trip to the World Series, are turning a surreal story into a true baseball anecdote. We trust Chris Carpenter in every start he appears, not as nervous when he face hitters, knowing that the Cardinals are usually untouchable if he's throwing the fastball and has a fiery mindset.

We trust he knows what is expected of him. If not for Carpenter, the Cards probably would not be in this position. But then again, maybe they are just that damn good. Every time Carpenter throws, though, he doesn't hold back his emotions and plays with intensity that normally results in a Cardinals victory, owning remarkable postseason numbers unlike any other pitcher.

As it stands, he is now 6-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 11 postseason starts and he has carried the Cards, and if you admire the beauty of the game, you're probably in love with Carpenter and the beautiful script the Cardinals have produced. The notion of this series brought a sense of aspiration and mastering a world championship is the Cardinals' top priority on their to-do list this fall, wildly standing as the invincible ballclub, a team to beat this postseason, a team no one ever imagined.

At the end of the night, after St. Louis secured a 4-3 win in Game 3 of the NLCS to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with the next two games at home, the Cardinals are frazzled and drained but more importantly have seized home field advantage with the most productive hitters in the postseason.

"We are really not going to stop and think about it because there's so much to do yet," said manager Tony La Russa. "But if you stop and think, you may get distracted and you start walking around and digging yourself, and we don't want to do that."

His excellence began in the last series, long before the Cardinals climbed into contention, long before earning any credit, and long before the recent marvel in this alluring postseason. Carpenter, unhittable and gritty, is coming off two brilliant performances this fall. His finest outing was a three-hit shutout in a 1-0 win in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against Philadelphia on Friday, for one of the masterly pitching performances in the postseason since Bob Gibson.

For the hottest ballclub, the Cardinals jumped out to a 4-0 first-inning lead, but couldn't maintain the huge advantage as the Brewers pulled back cutting the deficit to one run. They went from mediocre to winners, the Redbirds from the Midwest who came together on a mission in attempt to bring home the pennant.

What an amazing way, after they were cursed and blamed for their nonsuccess, for the Cardinals to reestablish themselves in the second decade of the 21st century, with the accomplished La Russa and the greatest revival. The melancholy has disappeared, the sputtering Cardinals' bullpen has suddenly awakened and St. Louis is not on life-support, suddenly recovering from all the weaknesses that burned the franchise.

For now, though, after the Cardinals were dead in September and suddenly came alive in time for the pennant chase, St. Louis refuse to surrender. The miraculous run is a formula no antagonist can defeat, unable to stop baseball's hottest team that has a monstrous, terrifying pitching staff when the Cardinals bullpen finished the regular season with a 3.73 ERA and ranked 17th in the majors.

That's assuming the Cards, who can win baseball's gorgeous prize, shimmer in the spotlight and try to spend millions on slugger Albert Pujols by the time he test the market this winter, are considered the greatest team given the adjustments from a much-improved bullpen. The game was hyped as a duel of aces, and Game 3 was critical for the Brewers, mainly because Yovani Gallardo started, but Milwaukee struggled badly and the Cardinals were stronger.

The bullpen, 11th in the NL in ERA during the regular season, was the difference as Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte combined to throw four perfect innings after Carpenter left the game. It's been a fun postseason, simply because the Cardinals have brought much drama, now that no team can defeat them, not even Gallardo who is now 1-8 in his career against St. Louis.

Worse, the Brewers rotation is declining when Randy Wolf, Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke are 1-3 with an 11.52 ERA in five postseason starts. The duel lasted only five innings for both pitchers, but Carpenter obviously had the better outing by expertly giving up three runs on six hits with three walks, while Gallardo surrendered four runs on eight hits and five walks.

It's one of the best products on the field in October, an element no one can replicate on pace to accomplish something special. As long as Carpenter is dominating, the Cardinals are giving themselves a chance to clinch their 18th World Series appearance with their power at the plate. He's obviously throwing well for the Cardinals, but not only is Carpenter the component.

There is Rafael Furcal, who has been a big leaguer for 12 seasons and has done well getting on base to move into scoring position. As such a point in the postseason that he is hitting .500, with two triples, two singles and a stolen base and three runs scored, Furcal is producing efficiently.

The same can be said for Pujols, who has been on base in eight of his nine appearances to the plate in the past two games, driving a shot into left-center to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. It would be fatuous, not to mention irresponsible, to dismiss the red-hot David Freese after hitting a double to give his team a 4-0 lead and he is unbelievably 6-for-12 in this series, batting .367 with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs.

"We have a bunch of premier hitters stacked one on top of another, and sooner or later, somebody is going to do something," Lance Berkman said. "It puts teams in a bad spot when everything's clicking, because there's really nowhere to go. It's like an American League lineup in the National League. It's the best offensive team I've ever been a part of in the National League."

Don't forget about the bullpen, too. This is not a mirage, but a genuine natural power.

"I don't consider this team a surprise," Berkman said. "I really don't. Take a step back and tell me which team in the National League has a better lineup than we do. We've got a bona fide ace [Carpenter]. And we've got a closer [Jason Motte] who throws 100 miles an hour, with a nasty slider.

I couldn't agree with Berkman more. This isn't a surprise team, but a championship-caliber team.

"So I mean, at this point, it really shouldn't be, 'I can't believe the St. Louis Cardinals are in the NLCS, making some noise.' That having been said, we're still a long ways from where we want to be. But the fact that we're here, to me, is not surprising."

For those who can't believe the Cardinals are in the NLCS on the verge of another World Series appearance, believe it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

David Stern Dismantles NBA, As We Laugh

His legacy is forever tarnished, NBA commissioner David Stern, simply for poisoning the association that he has not overseen too well, sabotaging the integrity of the sport, when he is most famous for the globalization in basketball, and lastly, losing power in his vision for the league.

The NBA recently undermined its brand and dismantled its product by the apathy and its unwillingness to save the league, secure the wealthy enterprise from harm in the decrease in revenue. It was no surprise not to hear much noise on 63rd street, one of the busiest streets in New York, where Billy Hunter walked into view as cameramen swarmed around him to capture the best possible photo shot.

When he walked and stood on the sidewalk, tired of the madness from the prolonged lockout that has created chaos more than peace, reporters gathered to interview Hunter, who is beyond petulant and fatigue.

The more ridiculous notion is that Stern is humiliated when he announced the NBA cancelled the first two weeks of the season Monday night. The cancellation of the season for the industry is absurd and has gotten to the point when both sides are far apart in a unanimous agreement to end the labor fuss.

"It goes back to a comment that David said to me several years ago, when he said this is what my owners have to have," Hunter said Monday night. "And I said, 'Well, the only way you're going to get that is, you prepare to lock us out for a year or two.' And he's indicated to me that they're willing to do it. So my belief and contention is that everything that he's done has demonstrated that he's following that script."

The script, however, is destroying his legacy -- a reputation that never really existed for a man who never had control of his own business as team owners dictated how the business is ran. The clock was ticking for the two sides to place a deal on the table, but the stupidity and greed defaced the beauty of pro basketball and exasperated a handful of disgruntled fans.

It's one of the craziest scenarios in NBA history, and Stern is highly responsible for the corruption, with basketball destroyed in the bleak era of labor talks. For all the commotion that has forestalled the season, thus the whole season may not be lost unless the two sides cannot end the ugliness of labor disputes -- as advertised -- he is after all revealing to fans that he is the worst commissioner in sports.

This is how it is for Stern, and secured with the knowledge of understanding the anger from fans, he fled the hotel and wisely left on 63rd Street and the corner of Lexington Avenue. He fought off a multitude of reporters at the NBA labor meetings and hastily left the hotel by walking through an empty lobby.

And near the end of his news conference, in denial and refusing to acknowledge the truth in regards to the hideous lockout, not only reducing businesses' revenue in cities but also crushing the credibility of the well-respected league other than football, he avoided the media.

It's a trend that should continue for quite some time, and everywhere he goes until the lockout comes to an end, he'll be ashamed of showing his face in the public and frightened over the possibility of hacklers. The confusion of his lockout that cost regular-season games was the result for Stern having uneasiness. It was, of all things, a moment that fended off the madness when he walked under the hotel canopy to issue his announcement.

The labor dispute will forever smudge his legacy, and in his regime, he's never ruled as commissioner but failed by his poor judgment. If he wants to stay in power, after everybody have suggested that he cannot give the owners hegemony to manipulate the process of labor talks.

In the midst of the contentious stupidity between NBA players and owners, Stern has lost support, he's not the unrelenting, he's not the disciplinary head honcho and he's listening to the owners, falling into their deceptive trap of disingenuous games. As the most hated commissioner in pro sports, he notoriously has lost not only prestige in his tenure but he lost power with his owners, and doesn't even have the voice to stand up to their nonsense.

If he ever wants the regards of as commissioner in this generation, he'd have to heel the woes and undo his failures, engaged in his pride and legacy more than he is in restoring order for basketball. It figures, given that the owners manipulated the cancellation because they truly believe they can obtain a stiffer luxury tax to provide competitive balance.

The owners are asking for the league the sport to uphold financial losses, but the stubborn businessmen haven't seen progress so are willing to waste an entire season. It's the second half-season NBA lockout under Stern, and here he is again getting pushed around by the richest owners. He's in the toughest position, and has decided to cancel the regular-season games until further notice, refusing to give his effort in encouraging players in discussion for a new collective bargaining agreement.

With the cancellation of games, having gotten uglier and more chaotic, the league lost an estimate $200 million from the two weeks of cancelled games. In the meantime, owners will attempt to regain the money with another proposal to make matters worse for a league of selfish team owners and a powerless commissioner in a volatile and unbalanced business.

It's a lingering fuss over money, a convoluted ordeal that has become grotesque and presents the lack of professionalism, integrity and dignity. It's a shame both sides, including Stern as well in these dire situations, act like children unable to have successful negotiations to stop the endless dispute. Fans are upset. Owners are selfish. And Stern is impotent. It almost reached the point that some players’ agents were in agreement to decertify the union a couple of weeks ago.

More than anything, it was a fray between Stern and fans, more than it was a fight between Stern and the players or which ever position the dispute has taken. What it is, of course, is Stern wants to be the important one in all of this mess, he wants to speak for everyone, and risk his sport in a courtroom.

Has it ever dawn on him, with two weeks of the regular season lost and the shortage of profit, that he is publicly humiliating his own association, destroying a game with an influx of star players and instead minding his owners? He's not a winner, but his owners are winners. He doesn't feel sorry for fans, and couldn't care less about NBA fans.

All he cares about his earning his fair share of bonuses. In this case, the NBA is beyond repair and the images are washed away by the failures and ineptitude. The public has lost respect for Stern, refusing to hear apologies and realizes he's in the business for himself. Aiming to earn his huge salary, his bonus money, he's not focused on finding a cure for the corroded business he poorly runs.

The politics are trivial to fans, and the fans shouldn't find the fuss important. Amid all this silliness, Stern has been on the owners’ side and the players offered givebacks, but Stern and his owners mocked them and disapproved it. For years now, the owners were confident Stern would be on the same level as the players. When there is billions involved, the last thing the agents want is a loss in the war.

The harsh reality is that Stern is not a manipulator, but a damn crook in it for the money, if nothing else. A few years ago he called ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was banned from the league for his point-shaving scandal, a "rogue, isolated criminal," but we're not too sure whether he's a rogue as well. His agenda, as it turns out, is making more money, not revitalizing the game when players have been contacted to meet in Miami and Los Angeles to resolve the disparity.

The worst of all is Stern lagging in negotiations, pushing back deadlines with his self-imposed meetings, but then the union promptly cancels the player meetings and return to the cureless negotiations that have no point. The talks never resolved anything on Monday and a deal wasn't put into order in a timely fashion. It's quite simply owners are asking the players to take cuts in their salaries in an awful business, losing profit with the fragile economy that is a mean recession.

Derek Fisher, Players Association president, is trying to resolve the issue and suggested that players post inspirational words on Twitter. The truth is players in defense have every right to battle in the war, particularly because the players are those who bring the revenue and excitement which lure fans to brace the sport. But it's believable to assume that the players will become involve in the tussle, confident the fight will soon end.

It's hard to imagine with Stern in the commissioner's chair.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jets lost Swagger That Led to Mediocrity

He has voiced so many opinions and thoughts about the Jets in pregame news conferences, that Rex Ryan is verified as a jester for his bizarre silliness. A week doesn't pass, it appears, without his peculiar antics or hilarity.

So now, already, we are left to guess if the losses have softened the spirit for the Jets, who haven't been cohesive or poised but undisciplined and divided. If we became accustomed to the Jets 2-3 start, including the humiliating loss nationally, now we're really becoming used to the scarcity and lack of success as this team was supposed to be ranked as one of the contenders with a chance in reaching the Super Bowl.

His peculiar demeanor shouldn't bother us, but if the Jets have the urge to win, maybe now would be a good time for the Jets to curtail arrogance and zip it shut. If the Jets are ambitious to accomplish more than just clinching a playoff spot in pursuit of a championship, maybe Ryan should let the game speak for itself because all the unnecessary trash-talk has poisoned the team.

If the Jets keep losing, though Ryan is the public figure folks in New York adore with his bombastic and erratic antics, he'll finally take criticism from the masses in New York and the local newspapers could banter with him on the front page as he'll feature as the headline. Too much humor disrupts, I know. Too much lack of discipline damages cohesion, I know.

This is, to simply put it, the most dysfunctional team in the league, perhaps not even close to winning a championship and instead close to qualifying for an acting gig for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The reality in football this season is that the Jets-Patriots rivalry is nothing but hype, and has bothered our self-consciousness as we are hypnotized by a meaningless rivalry.

It used to be an American trait for populace to buy into the ridiculous hyperbole as the meanest war in football became bigger than the Yankees-Red Sox hype. But now, although it is the perception of mutual animosity for a pair of protagonist, there'd be no reason to relight romance for the rebirth of a moribund rivalry like the old days. Any fight is uneventful if the duel is not saturated with bad blood, and assuming that the Patriots are no match for the Jets, then it's not really fun watching an annual meeting.

It's funny how, for a legion of reasons, people still embrace the Jets-Patriots engagement when it's only another game on the schedule. It would not be a surprise to see the Jets miss the playoffs, prematurely dismantling in a season they were projected to elevate beyond standards, wilting on offense despite having enough reinforcements and dividing among a unit inside the separated locker room.

The assumption is, of course, the Jets aren't playing together but individual ball and should actually, in such a quick process, emphasize the significance of cohesion and teamwork. If anything, Mark Sanchez earns his teammates' trust and surely has evolved into a leader but his team's nucleus is not workable. They like him and, relatively, they trust him.

The downside is -- his damn team is not performing like a Super Bowl contender, and in truth -- it's possible to think of the Jets as a disappointment. We understand, Ok? This is a unit unprepared and uncontrolled bothered by tumult because of poor judgment from on-the-field mistakes that comes from the lack of team effort. The championship aspirations have suddenly vanished, and now Sanchez is frustrated after a 30-21 loss on Sunday in the latest renewal of a rivalry. Do you blame him?

"We got a couple of third and manageables, we just gotta convert," Sanchez said after the game disappointingly. "Some underneath passes, we just gotta connect and I don't know the reason why we came out so slow. We had probably the best week of practice all year this week. Guys were into it. We knew our plays, we knew the gameplan."

It's never sweet for the Jets to lose against their hated rivals, but it's too bad New York couldn't prevail in a hostile territory in Foxborough, an environment where the Jets are disrespected and demoralized badly by Tom Brady and the Patriots. It's foolish of people to call this a rivalry -- and every season we believe in the nonsense.

So whether you like it or not, it's not a rivalry, but just another game on the schedule. This was never worth the hype, but since the Jets vs. Patriots have had the greatest show on turf in recent memory, it's sensible of fans to await an AFC East clash. This year, anyway, the Jets don't have the edge over the Patriots. This time, the Patriots have the edge over the Jets, and not by a slight advantage, but a huge differential. It wasn't long ago when the Pats, having their rivals numbered nearly every time they met, when the Jets lost by an embarrassing six touchdowns to New England in December. And then, more impressively, they won a month later in the playoffs by destroying Brady and the befuddled Bill Belichick in a game that Ryan roughly out coached the nominal Beligenius.

Not that time.

It's the most contentious rivalry, but it's not very telling when the Jets are inferior, falling as quickly as the other football franchise in town. If Gang Green can't beat its nemesis, for what has become one of the best football battles in a long time, then it is considered unsuccessful.

And thus far, the Jets have been unsuccessful not even intimidating or invulnerable. It's not, even if this is essentially America's primary sport to embrace and enjoy each weekend, fun watching the Jets but painful seeing them squander critical games. It is frankly a nightmare, as Halloween quickly approaches at a time when fans are panicking over the Jets, to realize that New York lost its third straight game.

The Jets are struggling because, with the stubbornness and silliness amid the season of pursuit to glory, they have no identity. Watching the Jets at Gillette Stadium, with the softest pass defense in the league and no hard-nosed football, was like rooting against a paltry pee-wee team. That's all you need to know about the Jets, a sad story written this season as we can laugh our asses off. It's the same thing every week, a tiring routine aging faster than the Statue of Liberty.

The unspoken weaknesses about the Jets is that, because of their indecisions and indiscretions in drawing plays on offense and adjusting on drives, they are frustrated among offensive players. The problem -- and this is the biggest issue -- is the Jets inability to stop the run and hinder the opponent's passing game. The Jets were fun to watch, but now they're not.

This time, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer looks on from the sideline daze and upset with an offense in turbulence. Five games into the season, and the Jets aren't fighting for a playoff spot, let alone winning games. The craziest aspect of the Jets recent downfall is that the Patriots still manage the edge, beating them every chance they have, despite that New York absorbs exposure and spotlight simply for Ryan's loudmouth.

With his dramatic reality shows, Ryan is the celebrity nut, from his foot fetish, to his obscene gestures that featured on tabloids, to his outrageous theme on HBO's "Hard Knocks" where he made a complete fool of himself -- he and the Jets were given national spotlight. It's true that the Jets are mired in disarray thus far, staggering against their archenemies to take more energy out of the players.

It's true that nobody is intrigued by Santonio Holmes, but are disbelievers. It's true that nobody is satisfied with Plaxico Burress, but is irritated. The only person who might be radically showing his emotions is Sanchez, who swung the door to the interview room open Sunday evening and walked in mad.

He folded his arms and stood around, for about five minutes, leaning against a door. It wasn't long after that Ryan, a descending coach who is too busy trying to be hilarious more than serious about his team's perfection, walked into the room, in full view of the media, venting on what actually went wrong with the Jets.

“I never thought I’d be here losing three straight, but that’s where we’re at,” Ryan said. “We’ve earned it.”

I've never thought they'd be losing three straight, either.

But the reality is that they've lost three straight. And in the standings, the Jets are 2-3, sitting two games behind New England and Buffalo with a stumbling offense and an unstable defense that couldn't forestall the Patriots on a series of plays. The weaknesses for the Jets are that the team can't run the ball efficiently or proficiently and they can't lesson the mistakes.

The eight penalties for 89 yards hurt New York, along with its inability in the blown coverage on Wes Welker when he dusted for a 73-yard catch on the Patriots' opening drive in the second half. There was no coverage for Deion Branch on his 2-yard touchdown, and the Jets can't win by struggling to convert on seven of its first nine possessions.

When it was over, Brady had finished with 321 passing yards, leading to Stephen Gostkowski 28-yard field goal that sealed the victory. But even though the Jets saw gradual improvement in the running game behind a balanced offensive line by the return of Nick Mangold, the lack of explosiveness and prowess is how New York had fallen short. It could become worse if the Jets drop another next Monday night against winless Miami, following three consecutive road losses.

There is no denying that the Jets need much work. But at this rate, the Jets are going nowhere.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yankees' Failures Smear America's Dream

The Steinbrenners built the world's largest palace, a $1.5 billion venue with $2,625 ticket prices, a place that has computers in the clubhouse, a building with a gigantic high-def screen above centerfield. But now is the moment that new Yankees Stadium is shut down until next season.

The body language of the pinstripe faithful was telling and fans had watery-eyes, distraught expression and sat in the stands in disbelief, shedding tears after the Yankees were ousted in the playoffs. The home crowd stood, worried and deeply cheered for the Yankees, but the highest paid baseball team in the world couldn't advance past the first round of the postseason for the fifth time in the last 10 years.

It was nothing but silence in Yankee Stadium, and instead fans' jaws dropped and eyes shut, wondering what had happened to the Yankees, smearing America's Dream by not reaching the World Series in late October. The timing couldn't be worse for the Yankees, a franchise that frown on postseason losses, considering that anything less than a World Series championship is considered a failure.

As baseball's most storied franchise, the Yankees are seemly qualified to have a colossal palace because of the mystique of championships and legends, but it's not enough to be described as America's team. It isn't often, particularly in baseball, when the Yankees possess the greatest talent in the sport and fall short in the first round of the postseason.

It's not common for the world's most high-market franchise, an undaunted ballclub with the gusty Steinbrenner family paying for the player's fragile egos or names, paying for overpaid bums to lead the Yankees to another World Series title, to backslide earlier than usual. It's not a trait the franchise embrace so well. The perpetual spending each winter, a moment when the Yankees are buying on the market and shopping to hire the big-name free agents in pursuit of capturing triumph by winning a world championship, is evidence that winning never turns old for the Yankees.

It's a relationship of mortals, but Alex Rodriguez is perfectly fitted in a town where he has become the pretty boy of Broadway, where the Yankees were foolish enough to pay the unworthy bum $275 million. He was supposed to be the next home run king, but he is not a postseason performer. And no one wants to admit it, let alone hear it in a town that keeps endorsing a fraud.

He might have had his chance to win the division series with one swing, but now he'll have to live with the misery, taunted for his postseason failures. If there's a theme to this season, it's A-Rod's postseason struggles again when he blew his chance in a bases-loaded situation in the seventh. It's simply understandable that he can never come through for the Yankees.

It was a Yankees nightmare with what materialized in the Bronx on Thursday night. It was a gorgeous October night for baseball, but by the end of the night the Bronx was burning. It's very seldom you see failure on the biggest stage by the pinstriped stars in the Bronx, but Derek Jeter finished 1-for-5 and Texieira batted a mere .167 while he went 3-for-18 in the series with no RBIs.

It seems that Rodriguez is almost on decline when he was 2-for-18 overall, 0-for-4 in Game 5 and he even struck out to end the Yankees' season, which wasn't a surprise given his debacles in the past. The spotlight is strictly on Rodriguez and he'll take much criticism if the Yankees have a dismal postseason, simply because he's the highest-paid player on the Yankees roster.

The crowd had booed him intensely for much of the night, stunned by the lack of success that will haunt Rodriguez and has somewhat doomed the Yanks in reestablishing as America's team again. While the Detroit Tigers finally were relieved, and celebrated by racing from the visitors' dugout to the mound emotionally thrilled at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees watched from the dugout hysterical over what had happened as the Tigers had advanced to the ALCS after capping an impressive 3-2 win in Game 5 over the Yanks.

It began as an interesting but nerve-racking start as eyes rolled and jaws dropped, when manager Joe Girardi wasn't hesitant changing pitchers as if he was changing his underwear. It took several pitchers before the Yankees finally had no batting power to rally against the Tigers. He probably felt comfortable, but was almost leery, depending on his bullpen which is all the more reason he summoned for Phil Hughes and Boon Logan.

It seems sensible to believe, if true, that he yanked rookie Ivan Nova from the game for medical issues, a lefty who departed early after feeling tightness in his right forearm, which Girardi had no other choice but to call on his bullpen. It's hard to imagine a team with a $200 million payroll losing in the first round, and it's just hard to fathom that the culture in New York is not good enough to produce championships and triumph for a baseball town. It was telling that the Yankees have all the money in the world, but in the ALDS they couldn't prevail even though the franchise has prodigy, talent and situational hitters.

“Our guys played hard. I can’t ask for any more from them during the course of the season. And obviously this is a terrible day for us. But we got beat,” said Joe Girardi, whose managerial strategy of his bizarre moves in the bullpen drew attention.

There should be plenty of attention focused on the high-price hitters in the lineup who failed ever so miserably to come through. The irony was in fact that the pitching was more powerful than the bats in October. The baseball world, particularly the Yankee haters, are delighted that New York is out of the postseason picture, unwilling to marvel the disdained franchise.

But the other half of the country, such as in New York, is painfully distraught about the Yankees sudden demise it seems. The American Dream is dented, and for weeks in Time Square and other parts of the urban cities in New York, people will talk about the dreadful loss for a ballclub more compelling and hated than any other club in the majors.

"It's devastating. This is going to hurt for a long time," Rodriguez said. “I’ve got a lot of work for me to do, personally. I've got to get my health back in order and I know exactly what I have to do to get back to help this team get back to the top."

At Yankee Stadium, one fan sat in the stands after the game ended with his head down and hood over his head. Another fan sat in the stands with a dazed stare on his face, still in shock over the painful ending. It wasn't the right moment, with all its sheer dominance from the offense in the season, for the batting power to deteriorate.

The ultimate infirmity of the offense hurt and blemished the Yankees in the seventh inning of a game Detroit's Joaquin Benoit came in to pitch with one out and one on base, giving up a single to Curtis Granderson, and then Robinson Cano bounced a groundball to Benoit's right just as he stumbled and fell off the mound. And because Benoit couldn't retrieve the ball, Cano was on first with an infield single.

That loaded the bases and Benoit rubbed his face, and the Yankees faithful stood and cheered when A-Rod stepped at the plate. After it happened, Benoit was intimidated, slowly throwing his pitches, and feared throwing it to Rodriguez. From time to time, he fearfully stepped off the mound.

It wasn't long after, nevertheless that he struck out Rodriguez on an 86-mph changeup, but then he mistakenly walked Teixeira on five pitches and eventually the Yankees scored to close in on a 3-2 deficit. As the sellout crowd stood feverishly and nervously, screaming from the top of their lungs and pushing for the Yankees to tie it at 3-3, Benoit struck out Nick Swisher on a 96-mph fastball to end the bottom half of the inning.

We all dreamed for a Yankees vs. Phillies match up, but as of now, it isn't the greatest time for traditional brand names in sports and it's definitely not time for the Yankees to take a joyride to the World Series. What we wanted was, of course, a revival in baseball with a pair of large-market franchises. We wished for the Yankees vs. Phillies in a business that has diminished with all the steroid allegations, with the 162-game season and with the apathetic, soft-minded commissioner Bud Selig.

It's baseball at its worse, and the pinstripe ritual never faded so quickly after Thursday night. It happened suddenly and quickly in the first inning, an unexpected scene no one ever imagined, that Don Kelly belted his first postseason career homer on a pitch delivered from Nova. The insurance run gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead that Delmon Young drilled off Nova in the first, and shortly after Girardi called on his bullpen to relieve for the injured rookie.

For much of the night, he had used nearly all arms from his bullpen. This night wasn't over without CC Sabathia relieving in his first appearance as a reliever ever. With 355 regular season and 15 postseason starts, it was peculiar but not surprising to see Sabathia on the mound for the fifth and some of the sixth. It figured that he'd be asked to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera, and indeed he walked him only to face Victor Martinez afterwards.

If there ever were a proper moment for the Yankees to pay for intentional walks, it was then with Martinez hitting an RBI single to turn down the volume at Yankee Stadium. For Sabathia, though, he's quite an overpaid left-hander and could opt out of his contract, which he probably will and test the free agency market.

But it's hard to envision Sabathia signing elsewhere if the Yankees have the highest player's payroll in baseball to offer him the largest deal that no other team can give him. This offseason, however, Cliff Lee won't be available, but bringing aboard a top pitcher is the Steinbrenners' and GM Brian Cashman's intent, and it is significantly vital for the Yankees to address the pitching weaknesses.

The notion is, after the pitching struggled roughly just as much as the offense, Cashman will be aggressive in his attempt to trade for a pitcher. Though the Yankees clinched the AL East, it's not good enough as New York is aiming for another title and have already suggested trades.

There is speculation of the Yankees already engaging in a trade to send Jesus Montero to the Giants for Matt Cain or pursue in Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson or free agent Mark Buehrle during free agency who are the best pitchers in a fragile free-agent class. As you all probably know, the Yankees often respond to failure by spending money on the best available player.

But even if Rodriguez is on decline, even if Teixeira has not hit the ball efficiently, even if Sabathia has been shaky in the postseason and even if Burnett finally pitched effectively without looking confused, the Yankees have to pay them nearly $700 million. Whatever the Yankees do, although Sabathia had knee surgery and has not been able to lose weight, they can't allow him to test the market if he could earn more than the four years and $92 million left on his current deal.

If not for Sabathia, the Yankees pitching wouldn't probably be average, despite that Nova had a sensational rookie season before his nightmarish Game 5 loss. There is Joba Chamberlain, but he's recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery. Better, Phil Hughes had an 18-game win season by finishing 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA, and Ian Kennedy needed a change of scenery to reach 21 wins this season with the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks.

It's good to know the Yankees won 99 games and clinched a postseason berth, but as we all know, the Yankees will try anything to win. It's just unfortunate for America's Dream after it was never really a hallucination, but a Yankees nightmare.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A.J. Burnett Comes to the Yankees' Rescue

When he ran down, pulled back and leaped near the warning track, and then made a retreating, sensational catch with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning, Curtis Granderson not only saved the Yankees but saved the derided A.J. Burnett.

Had the ball flown over Granderson's head it could have finished as the worst baseball game in franchise history, and by the end of the night, the Yankees would have faced much scrutiny. Now, it seems, Burnett saved the Yankees season, throwing 81 pitches on a beautiful night at Comerica Park.

The expectations were largely an element and, if there were ever anything less than a phenomenal performance, Burnett would've been ridiculed and bashers all over the urban cities in New York would've talked badly about him in Time Square or on the subway ride to the workplace.

The creativity from the local tabloids would've had comical headlines with photos of Burnett dropping his head helplessly, and each newspaper would've been at the nearest newsstand. But all the ineptitude that came from the disappointment, inconsistencies and even the point when he was mentally baffled for nearly every start was erased when Burnett probably rescued the Yankees from forever being described as the worst ballclub to ever fail built with so much talent.

The theory behind the Yankees is that the Steinbrenners are the wealthiest owners in baseball, and inherits the highest player's payroll in Major League Baseball, squandering millions to bring together a repertoire of high-profile pitchers and sluggers. If the Yankees lose in the postseason, and denied a World Series appearance, then the season is considered a failure.

It's certain Burnett would've been considered a pathetic bust had he not pitched consistently as the Yankees were on the brink of elimination. So meanwhile, he's the hero and so is his outfielder Granderson, who contributed with his amazing defense. It may not be the equivalent to the team's batting power, but Burnett certainly may have saved the Yankees season.

When it was all over, the Yanks thrashed Detroit in a 10-1 romp. They can sigh relief and live on another day, keeping postseason hopes alive and traveling back to New York tied 2-2 for Game 5 of this fascinating division series on Thursday. The rookie sensation Ivan Nova, called on for the biggest game of his life with the burden of heavy pressure, is set to pitch against Tigers' Doug Fister.

Everyone, as we know by now, thought Burnett was done forever but he stunned the world with an amazing performance. The population in New York had given up on Burnett for a reservoir of misfortune and inferiority over the last two seasons with his pitching woes, and his $82.5 million contract that had almost went to waste.

Before he came alive at perfect timing, he transformed into -- after all -- from an overpaid athlete to otherworldly hero. It was at one point that he used to just collect a large paycheck, and was evidently comfortable underperforming for a franchise that makes an effort to capture perfection and world championships each season if possible.

It's about time that he delights and not disappoint fans in New York and helps baseball's most storied franchise win games, particularly in a series where the season was over had the Yankees lost to the Tigers. Against Detroit, he never toppled, he never stayed on the mound too long and he never gave up a bevy of hits in a single inning that could have turned it into a nightmare for Burnett.

Through it all, he survived 5-2/3 innings and gave up one run Tuesday night. And then, for once, he wasn't pressured and seemed composed and, early on, Burnett forced hitters into pop outs and groundouts. When it comes to Burnett, he's never been a strikeout pitcher, and has always relied on the defense to bail him out of jammed innings or the toughest situations, and nobody is asking him to strike out hitters.

If there's one way to pacify people, he can't pitch inconsistently and need a stronger effort. Because the Yankees are obligated to pay Burnett $16.5 million yearly through 2013, it was hard for the most hated baseball team to cut him loose. And even though he struggled and had a poorly awful ERA, Joe Girardi juggled his rotation and wasn't hesitant giving Burnett the start with much at stake.

There's no need to talk about his horrible 5.15 ERA that killed him during the season. At long last, he delivered and came to his team's aid when it was truly needed in order to keep all the World Series dreams alive, at least for another game. For once, however, he wasn't taking more criticism and instead he was being praised after a redemptive tale may have restored aplomb as New Yorkers probably trust in Burnett, more confident that he can prevail in the critical moments and get it done for the Yankees.

He's managed to throw his breaking ball that almost turned the night into a disaster by his first inning mortality, but eventually he began to release the breaking ball effectively. It almost felt as if he was getting ready to give the game away, with another hellish inning to go down as the worst pitcher in Yankees history. It felt like that in the first inning, and it was a pattern everybody was accustomed to seeing.

So early on, he walked leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, and then Burnett stayed with the breaking ball, although with two outs Jackson stood on third and Girardi ordered Burnett to intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera. When he faced the next hitter, which was Victor Martinez, he walked him as well. It seemed like his night was over.

It was time to summon Cory Wade from the bullpen, but Burnett finished the first inning without giving up a run, after Don Kelly drilled a line drive that drifted to center field, where Granderson misjudged the ball and took a step in and then turned and stepped back.

On a play where the ball almost went over his head, he leaped and extended his glove to catch the ball that ended the inning. Had the ball dropped back at the wall, the play would have given the Tigers a 4-0 lead and Burnett would have been criticized for blowing it.

When it was all said and done, Burnett, 34, had redeemed himself of his prior failures. The thing is, nobody believed in him. The actions spoke louder than words. And Burnett certainly brought the action.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Justin Verlander Wasn't Great, but Is the Beast of Fall

The readings of the radar gun, wildly indicating the velocities on the scoreboard in Comerica Park, were vicious and nasty delivered from Justin Verlander. He likes velocity. He studies the batters. And eventually, he throws 95-96 mph fastballs, pitching by far at his best in the postseason, a terrifying ace to face in the moment of hot streaks, especially when he finds a groove.

Back at home in Detroit, he was saluted by the waving towels of the feverous Tigers' fans, and heard the cheers of "M-V-P!" repeatedly. The struggles in the first inning, which Verlander couldn't track the speed or find the location of his pitches, troubled the Cy Young candidate as he allowed two runs and had to find his command.

There were times in his career, such as Monday night when he had a remarkable performance and had thrown his fastball that traveled faster than a car pursuit, that he was the strikeout machine. This was not his greatest outing but he had the meanest fastball, despite his inability to produce from the start in the Division Series, knowing his capabilities when he dominated the majors all season.

It was a spectacle, the undaunted pitches we all waited to see, throwing an array of fastballs and seen by spectators striking out the sides. In the town where fans have seen misfortune and not enough triumph -- including the economic downturns as the automakers crippled, as the unemployment rate increasingly rose and as the outcome of the text-messaging sex scandal involving the mayor turned uglier -- Verlander and the Detroit Tigers are the most enjoyable story for the community.

The early demise of the greatest pitcher in baseball never lasted long -- and in response to his blunders -- he stayed ahead in the pitch counts, found his location and attacked the strike zone.

The pitches were thrown well and traveled as fast as a Ferrari driving 100 mph, and when he had the ability to retire hitters, he had more confidence and he had plenty of discipline. Has there ever been a consistent star in this town that everyone adores? Absolutely. But the city has not seen a prodigal athlete in quite some time.

What we have here, mind you, is a pitcher as advertised, a spectacular panorama for baseball. Maybe he is fittingly what was needed for the sport with the reality of the situation. Because he has saved the sport from itself, and doesn’t seem to be a hoax in the majors, he is gladly admired and he is the primary sports figure in a town that witnessed him strike out Nick Swisher to end the fourth.

His manager, Jim Leyland, is not satisfied until the series is over, of course, but he is tense and Verlander relieved nerves when he struck the side in the fifth. In addition to that, he went after Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez in the sixth, with his 100 mph fastball that flew past the plate.

We can see the brilliance of Verlander, a legend on the rise before our very eyes. A star is certainly born in October. With talent comes greatness. And by virtue, with confidence comes diligence. It’s not bad for Verlander, who has become Mr. October, rising in autumn and regarded as the best pitching talent.

So while it wasn’t the best performance of his monumental career as a big-leaguer, he threw 120 pitches and stayed in the game most of the night. What we all know is, even when he struck out seven of the nine Yankees he faced, Verlander wasn’t dominant or impeccable as far as being unhittable.

And when he dealt with the flaws early, allowing a single to Derek Jeter on the first pitch, with no baseball pedigree to retire the side, Verlander rolled with it and rebounded. It’s one of the many reasons the Tigers are notoriously at a premium in Major League Baseball. No one ever doubted Verlander, but it’s indubitable he is ideally the untouchable ace in the fall and has beaten the Yankees.

There is, however, enough evidence to pinpoint that Verlander is exactly what baseball needs for a remedy, to finally jettison the fraud of poisoning baseball. So now, as the Tigers lead the best-of-five series 2-1 on the verge of dispatching the Yankees from the postseason, the storyline has been specifically on Verlander after throwing strikes in a 5-4 win in Game 3 on Monday night.

This was supposed to happen. This was not supposed to happen or what the Yankees had in mind, though, trailing the series with their season on the line. It doesn't seem to be getting better for the Yanks when manager Joe Girardi will hand the ball to A.J. Burnett for Game 4.


From the sound of this, the Yankees couldn't care less whether or not they lose, handing the ball to their worst pitcher in the lineup. The Yankees honestly believe they can pull it off with the lousy Burnett as the probable starter in the elimination game. Are the Yankees out of their damn minds? What is the franchise thinking?

But it is more than important to give credit where credit is due, and in reality, it is the Tigers, especially Verlander who potentially may have just won the series for Detroit. It has become known, with all the implications involved and when much is at stake for the right-hander, that Verlander capitalizes when it counts and certainly is cheered for delivering the hard-throwing fastball with every fiber in his vigorous arm.

So although he is dazzling, in the postseason from a far, Verlander, who has 24 wins and the pitching Triple Crown, is in pursuit to win the Cy Young award and could be named the MVP this year, the accolades won't be praiseworthy if the Tigers lose in the ALDS against the Yankees. It was only a matter of time that Verlander would take control in the second and breeze through the middle innings against one of the game's powerful lineups.

The obvious was that nothing was intriguing about the pitching duel, with CC Sabathia getting bullied by the Tigers, all while Verlander stunningly surrendered two runs that changed the dynamic of the game and quickly wiped away a 4-2 Detroit lead. Just like that, faster than Verlander's velocity, the Yankees tied it 4-4.

It was tense, giving Detroit fans the jitters, and even Leyland stood in the dugout nervously. Just as much as Lancelot gave loyalty to King Arthur, local fans in the stands believed in Verlander, a pitcher the team depends on greatly -- as, I presume, he elevates his intensity from the crowd. He has all the mechanics to be a legend, and he is recognized and simply peerless.

What fun to watch Verlander. He is easily, despite the ineffective pitching early on in the postseason, hitting 100 or 101 mph and reached it 15 times during the eighth-inning. But with two outs, he walked Jorge Posada and then hit Russell Martin in the ribs with a fastball.

Because he was a bit out of sync in the inning the Yankees scored two runs and tied it, but Delmon Young smashed a home run in the bottom of the seventh to erupt frenzy in the crowd. Leyland was confident in Verlander by staying with his ace for another inning. The plan was for him not to allow runners to score, and he certainly stopped it from happening by throwing fastballs to Alex Rodriguez on five pitches during the at-bat.

That's a good way to bounce back from Friday's poor performance. He was that good. In fact, he was unhittable from the second through the sixth, and thought he would attack the zone by releasing his fastballs and his curve balls that arched like a rainbow.

Falling in love with his fastballs, the motion he tends to go with frequently, the Yankees weren't hoping for Verlander to pull the string on his changeups but he certainly exercise the off-speed pitch.

And as a result, he fanned four in a row in the fourth and fifth that capped a ravishing night in the homeland of the Motor City.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Since Foster Carries Swagger, Texans Don't Miss Johnson

Gary Kubiak slowly removed his headphones off his head. He took a deep breath, then he gazed at his fallen star, and he wore solicitous features on his face heavily. It's frightening whenever a team loses its star player, and the last thing the Houston Texans expected was an ailment to debilitate a go-to receiver.

For now, the Texans are caught in uncertainty after Andre Johnson crashed to the turf without contact and grabbed the back of his leg instantly, then stood on his own two feet and walked off the field gingerly. There'd be no reason to panic, however, when it was arguably the most convincing win of the Texans season, sending a statement against one of the toughest and stingiest defensive teams.

At the end, with a 17-10 win Sunday in front of the largest home crowd in franchise history, Kubiak smiled from the sideline and slowly charged the field in bliss, proudly and merrily, like a little kid earning a trick or treat bucket filled with candies. It's been four games now, and finally, for the second time in the 2011-12 season, Arian Foster played and rushed for 155 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown after Johnson left with a hamstring injury.

So when he is on the turf, a prolific speedster who is a fantasy stud, he is a product in the Texans' system that features a stellar zone blocking scheme, giving him space to dart out of the backfield as a all-purpose rusher. Back from an injury, after a full recovery, he showed up with his attributes and dashed past Steelers defenders, slowing down the sluggish and oldest defense.

It hasn't exactly been a week, but either way the Texans won't miss the injured Johnson, and after Foster's breakthrough performance with his quickness and stamina, they can actually survive each week. There's no other running back on the planet as quick as Foster, who is finally ready to play effectively and have a factor on the way his team performs. This is a different team when Foster is active. Hell, it's a different team when he is sidelined.

Early in the season, the hamstring injury kept Foster sidelined and he wasn't capable of being creative with his nifty footwork and couldn't fight through the injury. But now, he can finally run hastily and push on the pass rush, very effective and unstoppable in the pocket. He is fit and healthy, but more than ever, has the mobility to be explosive and run at full speed.

In every way, that is, he is a boon for the Texans' offense. It is a dynamic offense, and as long as Foster plays, Houston won't have to be concern with scoreless games. He is a forceful tailback and could dictate the tempo of the game, just as the Texans could be paramount as it was against the Steelers, making life miserable for Ben Roethlisberger.

It was, by far, the finest performance by the Texans, particularly when the team is known for its blunders on the road or at home. It really used to never matter, but now it's irrelevant to talk about the Texans struggles. From the beginning, they have been resilient and tougher, on the verge of clinching a playoff spot only if Houston continue its dominance in the season.

This wasn't expected, and it's probably because the Texans were feeble and never finished the fourth quarter strong, but would instead perform the choke job. The defense hasn't lacked mental toughness, beating every team that cross its path, tired of getting pushed and bullied every Sunday.

It's time to praise Houston and admittedly forecast that this team will be crowned AFC South champs by the end of the season, particularly when Foster has returned robust to what appears that he is in full form. Though Kubiak said it's a "hamstring-related" injury, Johnson is reportedly expected to miss at least a week as the injury is described as unknown. The Texans became dominant with Foster, which means Johnson won't be needed.

It seems as if he's more an accessory than a reinforcement, and most of the game Foster showed glimpses of life. On the bright side, he has dazzled and slaughtered a sluggish Pittsburgh defense, finding the openings and pushing through the middle to speed by the Blitzburgh. The nicest thing is he finished with triple-digit rushing yards on 30 carries and ran on a bad hamstring.

The Texans couldn't care less about being the understatement in the league, treated with disrespect even though they're having one of their sensational seasons. It was painful for Roethlisberger, who takes a beating more than anybody else in the league and sustained a sprained ankle in the game. It was brutal in which he was sacked multiple times and harassed by defensive end Mario Williams aka Super Mario.

It never gotten any worse, and surprisingly, the Texans responded with physicality and mental toughness to pressure the hell out of the Steelers. They applied the hard hits and forced turnovers, an attitude rarely seen from the Texans. But last week during practice, Kubiak emphasized the significance of aggressiveness and physicality, and the entire team followed his instructions by applying it on the field.

Early in the game, the Texans controlled the momentum with a 95-yard touchdown drive in 19 plays for the longest drive in franchise history. It never became any better for the Steelers. It was as if the Steelers were confused and intimidated, scared to play the Texans, a team that bullied and pushed Pittsburgh around like a chew toy.

There was a moment when the Steelers tied the game at 10 early in the fourth, but the Texans answered with an awesome 85-yard play that set up Foster's 42-yard touchdown.

And there you have it, Foster and the defense are the components to beat, not Johnson. After a good start this season, the Texans have the swagger, even more so with a monstrous rusher.

Beware… Everybody!!