A happy and healthy Thanksgiving to everyone out there.
On this day of thanks, I thought it would be fun to list the 10 things I’ve been thankful for in 2008 when it comes to New York sports.
As a fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, and Syracuse basketball team, I tried focusing on my teams but had to stray to come up with 10, especially with the teams’ lack of success.
10. The Major League Baseball All Star Game
I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the final All Star Game ever at Yankee Stadium. As I sat out in the left field bleachers, I couldn’t see everything, but I made sure I stuck around for all 15 innings and all five-plus hours in watching the American League pull out the victory and claim home field advantage in the World Series.
Seeing all the legends like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron was a once in a lifetime experience, and the whole night was as good as it gets for a baseball fan.
9. October Baseball without the Yankees
Now, the Mets weren’t part of the postseason either, so I know I’m opening myself up here for major criticism. However, after having to watch the Yankees extend their season for 12 years in a row, enough was enough.
The fact that the team wasn’t able to make the playoffs in the final season of their historic ballpark was icing on the cake. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fanbase.
Of course it only made things sweeter seeing Joe Torre get his Dodgers into the NLCS. However, his firing was still the correct decision, right George?
8. Henrik Lundqvist
I’ll admit it, I don’t watch a ton of hockey, but when I watch the Rangers, I can’t help but marvel at how dominant king Henry can be between the pipes. He stands on his head night after night keeping the team in games when the offense struggles.
Back in the spring, when the Rangers were looking to earn a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals, Lundqvist was sensational against Pittsburgh. Lundqvist led the squad when they weren’t able to capitalize on power play opportunities.
Lundqvist is quietly one of the five best athletes this city has to offer. Write it down.
7. Jonny Flynn
After two seasons of missing out on the NCAA tournament, the orange have jumped out to a 5-0 start, including road wins on back to back nights against Florida and Kansas. The big reason behind their early success has been the play of sophomore point guard Jonny Flynn, who is making a case as one of the best one-guards in all of America. His name has been mentioned in the same breath as guards like Darren Collison and Ty Lawson.
Flynn forced overtime Tuesday night with a game tying three with 6.4 seconds left. His ability to create shots for his teammates and score the basketball will make Syracuse a contender throughout the year. He’s the best pure basketball player Jim Boeheim has coached since Carmelo Anthony.
6. Leon Washington
The Jets’ most valuable player in my eyes, Washington makes something happen every game. You can pencil him in for making at least one game-changing play, whether it’s a long touchdown run or taking a kickoff back to the house.
Leon has been important in spelling Thomas Jones, and the two have formed a dynamic rushing tandem that has helped put the Jets on top of the AFC East, and in contention for a possible postseason run.
The quarterback handing Washington the ball has been a pretty big reason for their success as well, but more on him later.
5. The Escape, the Catch, the Upset
I’m not a Giants fan, but unlike the Mets-Yankees hate I’ve developed growing up, I always root for the Giants unless they’re taking on my Jets.
While my Jets were nowhere to be found in January, the Giants’ playoff run last season was something that any sports fan could appreciate. Going on the road and winning games in Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay, when the wind chill was -20, and defeating the previously undefeated Patriots was all sorts of fun.
Of course the moment from that game that I, like everybody else, will think of first was the escape of Eli Manning and the throw and catch to David Tyree, who pinned the ball against his helmet on the Giants’ final touchdown drive, setting up the game-winning score.
The game was phenomenal, the Giants won a hard earned championship, and the Patriots were denied their piece of football immortality.
4. Johan Santana
While the Mets’ season ended up being a waste, the performance of Johan Santana was anything but that. Santana was brilliant, winning 16 games and finishing third in National League Cy Young voting.
It was his final two performances of the season, including his complete game, a three-hit shutout on the second to last game of the season (a game I was at), that electrified Mets fans and gave them hope that they would be able to avoid a second consecutive late season collapse.
Of course they didn’t, but that was no fault of Santana, who was pitching with a torn ligament in his knee. For all the prospects and money Omar Minaya and ownership gave up to bring him to Queens, and in the midst of a very disappointing season, Santana certainly shined.
3. Donnie Walsh
I could have given Isiah Thomas a spot and spoken about how I’m thankful for his removal, but I’m going to group that with Walsh. Since being hired by owner James Dolan, Walsh wasted little time in removing Thomas as coach.
Walsh not only was able to effectively end the dreadful Isiah Thomas era, but he hired a proven winner in Mike D’Antoni. He has already begun to clear cap space for when LeBron James, among others, becomes a free agent in 2010.
The trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph clear nearly $28 million of cap space going into the summer of 2010, when the Knicks will be primed to start a new era with James leading the way.
Walsh would have topped my list, but still hasn’t gotten rid of Stephon Marbury, although that probably isn’t too far off from happening.
2. Shea Goodbye
I’ve been going to Shea Stadium for nearly 15 years, and at 21 years old, aside from the places I’ve called home and the classrooms I’ve been in, there isn’t a place I’ve spent more time than the former home of the Mets.
Although the season didn’t end as planned, I was able to drive home from Syracuse to attend the final three regular season games in the history of the ballpark. It was an emotional weekend, and it was great seeing the likes of Mike Piazza, Doc Gooden, and Tom Seaver one last time at Shea.
The final season at Shea also included Billy Joel as the last entertainer of the stadium, and I was lucky enough to be there when Paul McCartney came out.
All in all, some of my best memories were at Shea, and knowing I’ll never be there again to watch baseball is something that probably won’t sink in until I’m watching games at Citi Field.
1. Brett Favre
I can’t think of anything greater than one of your favorite players joining one of your favorite teams. Such was the case when, in early August, the New York Jets acquired one of the greatest to ever play the game to be their quarterback. Brett Favre was the centerpiece to an offseason makeover following a disastrous 4-12 season.
Bringing his one of a kind skills and child-like exuberance, the Jets find themselves at 8-3 and in contention for a division championship. Favre has completely changed the culture in the Jets locker room. Over the course of the season the group has come together as a unit and played the type of winning football Jets fans aren’t all accustomed used to.
Favre is easy to like and easier to root for, especially when he’s getting his team victories.
Flip the switch, pull the curtain down and tear it up already.
Shea Stadium was given an early farewell last night, thanks in part to yet another devastating loss by the New York Mets.
In falling 9-6 to the Chicago Cubs, this loss hurt as much if not more than any other this season.
And for all the blame the bullpen has (rightfully) earned this season, last night’s loss primarily gets credited to the offense, who failed miserably late in the game.
In the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, the Mets had runners on third base with nobody out, yet combined, they were able to muster only a bases loaded walk in the 8th, which at the time tied the game at 6-6.
There were two very questionable decisions made by the manager and one of his coaches, which were not sending Jose Reyes- the franchise’s all time stolen base king in the 7th inning which in turn led to Daniel Murphy lining out into a double place, as his rocket line drive landed harmlessly in the glove of first basemen Derek Lee, who stepped on first to retire both Murphy and Reyes.
In the 8th inning, following a Carlos Delgado lead off double, Carlos Beltran ripped a single to center, which could have potentially scored Delgado. Unfortunately, third basemen Luis Aguayo held Delgado at third without hesitation, preventing the tying run from even attempting to score. While Delgado would eventually score following a bases loaded walk, Jose Reyes couldn’t produce any bases loaded magic two nights in a row, grounding out weakly to second to end the threat.
And then came the ninth inning, where its safe to say and hope of the Mets making the playoffs came to a near dead end.
Murphy lead off, and laced a ball into right-center field, hustling his way all the way to third for a triple. Nobody out, runner on third, and up came the face of the franchise, the captain in waiting, the guy Mets fans wanted at the plate: David Wright.
Lou Piniella decided to allow his reliever, Bob Howry, to pitch to Wright instead of walking him and Delgado, in attempt to set up a potential double play with forces at any base.
Despite the fanfare surrounding him and the MVP talk which once again picked up some steam during the last week, Wright has been anything but valuable this season with runners in scoring position, hitting an inexcusable .242 in those situations, worked the count to 3-0, before fouling off a couple of very hittable pitches, only to chase a fastball well out of the strikezone, stranding Murphy at third. Piniella decided to have his reliever walk both of the Carlos’ to load the bases, and Howry proceeded to get Ryan Church to ground out to second, forcing Murphy at home, while Ramon Castro struck out.
If all of the air wasn’t sucked out of Shea following the Mets’ inability to score more than one run during those final three innings, it certainly was a half inning later, when with two outs and nobody on, Luis Ayala , in his second inning of work, allowed a single to Ryan Theriot, who after stealing second, scored on a bloop single to right by Lee. The final knockout punch was delivered by Aramis Rameriz, who crushed a home run off Ayala with a runner on, punctuating what would turn out to be a very forgettable night at Shea for New York.
The loss was crippling, not only becasue it was once again of the self-inflicted variety, but because with the Phillies getting mauled at home by the Braves, the Mets could have tied up Philadelphia in the loss column, while also maintaining their one game edge in the Wild Card- something of course they were unable to- as the Brewers took care of the Pirates in Milwaukee.
This loss certainly tops them all, and despite how bad the bullpen has been, and even despite Oliver Perez coughing up the 5-1 lead his team gave him, the Mets were gift wrapped an opportunity to put themselves in prime position to erase the nightmares of last season, needed nothing more than a fly ball from their third basemen.
For what it’s worth, and its hardly consolation after a loss last night, Carlos Delgado all but put penciled his name in next seasons opening day line-up after coming up huge once again last night. With the score tied at 1 in the bottom of the third, Delgado took advantage of a distracted Carlos Zambrano, who seemed to allow Reyes’ antics running down the third base line get into his head, as he served up a grand slam to the Mets first basemen.
Delgado also doubled to lead off the 8th, and eventually would score on that bases load walk, and did all he could to help get his team past the demons of last season’s collapse which seem to taking in Shea’s final days along with the fans.
Johan Santana can’t pitch every night, but it seems like down the stretch unless he’s on the mound, the Mets find ways to lose these pivotal late season games. Jerry Manuel seems hesitant to pitch his ace on short rest this weekend, although the situation may force his hand if come Saturday the Mets find themselves in an elimination game.
It just doesn’t get much worse than it was last night at Shea Stadium, which will now likely host it’s finall games Sunday, following another brutal loss which took the Mets’ playoff destinty officially out of their own hands, and puts their postseason hopes very much up in the air. And ironically, had David Wright done just that with a fly ball, we would likely be having a very conversation this morning.
But he didn’t, and the team took one step closer to missing out on playoff baseball for the second time in as many years, doing so in an eerily similar fashion, while taking all of the life out of ballpark dying to breathe some October air one more time.
Sadly, it appears those hopes, along with the team, are already flat lining.
The great thing about sports is how often history likes to repeat itself.
Off the top of my head, I think of the countless times the great athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger woods find ways to overcome adversity and come out victorious.
I think back to 2001, when the Yankees found themselves in the same situation on back to back nights, trailing the Diamondbacks in the ninth inning and hitting two out home runs to help win World Series games.
I recall Adam Vinitiari drilling not one, but two game winning field goals to clinch Super Bowl victories for the Patriots.
And wouldn’t you know it, here in 2008, history has once again poked it’s ugly head up, this time in the case of The New York Mets.
I don’t think anybody can forget their epic collapse last season, which of course is highlighted by the fact they could not capture a division crown, no less a playoff birth, despite having a 7 game lead with 17 games left to play.
The fell harder and faster than a brick off the top of a hundred story building, and sure enough, a full calendar year later, they find themselves with a healthy (although not as hearty) lead in their race for a National League East title, with- you guessed it- 17 games left to play.
They’ve played 145 games to this point, splitting them between a season that has really been the combination of to individual era’s: The end of Willie Randolph’s, and the beginning of Jerry Manuel’s.
Of course you could also argue the Mets really picked things up when their first basemen decided he had been hibernating long enough.
Carlos Delgado has gone from being asked out of town to the talk of it.
His numbers since June 27th are eye-popping, as it was that afternoon he hit two home runs and drove in nine against the Yankees in the first half of a two stadium double dip in the Bronx.
That would be the final game the Mets would ever play at Yankee Stadium, preparing to lower its curtain a month earlier than expected with the Yankees all but dead, and their slugger left it looking an awful lot like the guy they claimed built it.
OK, so Carlos Delgado is no Babe Ruth, but his performance down the stretch has put the Mets in prime position to put the nightmarish end to last season behind both his team and their fans.
These Mets can’t seem to figure out whether or not they are in fact a reincarnated version of last year’s losers. Despite many of the same faces, it’s the fresh ones who seem to provide the most hope in avoiding another dreaded September disaster.
They have a new manager (Manuel) who has a new go-to guy (Johan Santana) in his rotation, which is something the last guy (Randolph) didn’t (no, Tom Glavine fell a bit short).
Ryan Church, Dan Murphy and Luis Ayala have all helped their new team in a variety of ways, however it’s also been the guys who were hear that have been contributing.
Jose Reyes, who seemed to fall in love with popping out for the last month of last season, looks fresh and energized, and has continued his potential MVP pace (that’s right, Delgado isn’t the only guy who should be in that discussion).
Carlos Beltran has been ever so quietly putting up the same consistent numbers he has the last two seasons, and while his home run numbers are down, his batting average is up.
A quick note about Beltran- for all the talk about him being overpaid and out of place in New York, the guy will once again finish the season with over 100 runs scored and 100 RBI, while hitting between 25 and 30 home runs and (at current pace) hitting between .275 and .285. You can debate whether or not that’s worth the contract he signed, but the fact of the matter is he has been playing his best baseball over the last 3 weeks (when the games have counted most) while also continuing to play gold glove defense in center field.
Mike Pelfrey, whose face we saw last year but without the results, has been a savior of sorts with his solid numbers since June, winning 11 games to an ERA of less than 3.00 since.
With 17 games left, the team also has a number of question marks surrounding it.
Their closer, Billy Wagner, underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week and likely has pitched his final innings as a Met.
David Wright, despite his 4-4 performance the other night, still needs to cut down his swing and go back to driving the ball up the middle and to right field. Doing that successful with runners in scoring position wouldn’t kill him either.
The bullpen? Still a heart attack waiting to happen each and ever night, and can certainly be credited with Manuel’s recent anointment of his team as “Team Tightrope”.
Forget about the velocity issues with Pedro Martinez, right now he needs to remember where the strike zone is if he wants any hope of getting another contract offer from the Mets, as he becomes a free agent at seasons end.
Oliver Perez has been relatively reliable since Randolph’s firing, however another recent meltdown against last place Washington signaled a potential warning for the organization. Perez is also in his contract year, although based on his potential and agent (Scott Boras) he’s likely all but assured an overpriced deal.
The Mets have 17 games left to do what they were unable to last season, which is simply hold on.
They lead the second place Phillies by 4 games in the all important loss column, and wrap up their season playing 13 games against the Marlins, Braves and Nationals, teams a division winning team should beat.
Then again, facing the same teams down the stretch last season, the Mets were unable to take care of business, making unprecedented, unwanted history.
The Mets now look to make sure what happened last season isn’t repeated.
Johan Santana was acquired over the offseason to bring his Cy Young left arm to Flushing and provide a stabilizing force atop the Mets rotation.
After one start, the Mets and their fans had to be feeling pretty good about their new southpaw.
Don’t expect to be hearing any talk of missing Carlos Gomez or Phillip Humber, not after Santana struck out 8 batters over 7 strong innings of work to help secure an Opening Day victory for his new ballclub.
David Wright broke the game open in the top of the fourth, as he cleared the bases with a 3 run double off Marlins lefty Mark Hendrickson.
Wright finished the day 2-4 with those 3 RBI, while the Mets also got production from Carlos Beltran with two doubles, Jose Reyes who had two hits and an RBI, along with Angel Pagan and Ryan Church who contributed an RBI a piece.
The story however was Santana, who beautifully mixed a live fastball and dancing changeup which kept Marlins hitters off-balance all afternoon.
He allowed a mere 3 hits, and walked two, with his only blemish coming in the result of a Josh Willingham 2 run shot in the bottom of the 4th.
The bullpen was solid, as Matt Wise, Scott Schoeneweis, Jorge Sosa and Aaron Heilman combined to pitch the final two innings, without allowing a run.
With the game on the line in the bottom of the eight, manager Willie Randolph called upon Schoeneweis an Sosa to face a batter each, leaving two runners stranded.
The Mets hope their 1a can be equally as dominant as their 1 was today, when Pedro Martinez takes the hill tomorrow night against Marlins righty Rick VandenHurk.
Interestingly, the Mets opened their season in much the same way they ended last season, facing a young Marlins team with a veteran southpaw on the mound for them.
Fortunately for the orange and blue, the lefty was Johan Santana, and the results were just a bit more satisfying.
What a difference an ace makes.
(from my Sports Illustrated FanNation Blog)
After 44 years, 4 National League pennants and 2 world series championships, Shea Stadium will be no more come opening day 2009, as the New York Mets will start play in their new home, residing just beyond the leftfield fence.
But while Citi Field remains a season away, 2008 has all the makings to put the Mets in position to send Shea off in style, perhaps raising a new championship banner when the new ballpark opens.
With Opening Day just a weekend away, the storylines heading into the 2008 season seem almost overwhelming.
Prior to their trade with the Twins, the theme early and often would have been the collpase.
Their late season disaster will remain in the minds of players and fans, as well it should.
The collapse should be a reminder to the young players and especially to the veterans that you can’t take a single game, a single at bat or a single pitch for granted.
That means no getting bored or complacent, regardless of how many games ahead or behind they mae be in the standings.
Fortunately, the collapse will probably take a back seat to the arrival of Johan Santana, arguably and considered by many to be the best pitching in the game today.
Santana’s Here, Pedro Still the Man
Ok, so the best pitcher on the planet is now a Met.
He brings with him his Cy Young awards, his wins and strikeouts.
So how is it possible he might not even be the most important pitcher in his own rotation?
The answer to that is Pedro Martinez.
Santana, injuries aside, can be penciled in for anywhere from 16-20 wins, and an E.R.A. under 3.
Pedro, in my opinion, is the X-Factor in the Mets rotation.
If healthy, Pedro can give the Mets the most potent 1-2 punch not only in the National League, but in the majors.
Mike Francesa said it earlier in the week on WFAN, and I agree with the statement that if Pedro has a ‘Pedro’ year, the Mets can and should run away with the division.
And when talking about Pedro, his value extends beyond the pitchers mound.
Since day 1 in Queens, Pedro has become vital in giving the Mets a confident swagger, while also providing comic relief and a veteran presence with championship experience.
His antics seem to have no end, he always is smiling and knows how to keep his teammates lose.
When Pedro is in the dugout, the team just seems to be in a better overall mood, and thats no coincidence.
Hopefully for Pedro and Mets, his right arm provides as many smiles in the stands as his personality provides in the clubhouse.
The Maturation of Jose Reyes
If you want to talk about antics and personality, look no further than the Mets shortstop.
Jose Reyes was never shy when it came to celebrations and handshakes, however when his slump became a contributing factor in the Mets late season collpase, many questioned Jose and how he handled himself, along with how his manager handled him.
I can’t put much blame on Willie Randolph, as it was important for Jose to be Jose, and for him to work through his struggles on his own.
While playing Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose on the loudspeakers could probably occur less, there is definitiely some growing up to do on his part.
Jose is a laid back guy who likes to have fun.
And lets not forget, the kid is in his mid 20’s, and seeing him smile reminds you that the game of baseball is supposed to be fun.
However, Jose has admitted that he needs to tone down his act, and concentrate more between the white lines.
I would have trouble understanding anybody who says that Jose needs an attitude adjustment, because his personality is right up there with Pedro’s, keeping his team loose and having some fun along the way.
When the team was winning, there weren’t any issues with how he played or how he acted, but the slump he went into changed that.
How much of the way he played and the way he acted affected his performance is something only Jose Reyes knows.
I would hate to see Jose Reyes take the field every night and sit in the dugout the same way Roberto Alomar did during his brief and very forgettable tenure in New York, with that sulky look on his face wondering what he was doing here.
Jose needs to have fun, but also needs to start taking some bigger steps forward.
The sooner he does that, the sooner Jose can smile with a ring on a finger.
Carlos Delgado is the Biggest Question Mark in the Mets Lineup
With Moises Alou set to miss at least the first month of the season following surgery to correct a hernia, Carlos Delgado will assume the 5 spot in the Mets order, and will also assume even greater responsibility in doing so.
The top half of the Mets batting order is solid, with Reyes, Castillo, Wright and Beltran, however when you reach Delgado, Met fans have reason to be worried.
Not only did Carlos put up his lower power and average numbers since the beginning of his career (24 HR, 87 RBI, .258 AVG), but his age seems to be showing as he had a lot of trouble catching up to fastballs, and more times than not seemed to be up there guessing.
After a hip injury set him back a bit this spring, Carlos needs to prove he can stay on the field, and produce while doing do.
His defense is average at best, so you need to get the type of offensive production from him fans of his had come to expect (35+ HR, 110 RBI)
How realistic is that from a 36 year old player with nagging injuries in his contract year?
Your guess is as good as mine, however once thing all Mets fans can agree on is that if Delgado can produce the way he is expected to, especially for the money he is being paid, then the lineup is all the more dangerous, as Beltran gets the protection he had in 2006, making him all the more effective.
He needs to just keep taking the ball the other way, and if he can do that with regularity, Mets fans should be happy with the Carlos Delgado they see this season.
If not, look for GM Omar Minaya to seek help from outside the organization.
Mets-Phillies is the ne Mets-Braves (but don’t forget about them either)
Until last year, the Mets and Braves were probably the most interesting rivalry in the National League East (dating back to at least the last decade).
Turner Field was a house of horrors for the Mets as nothing seemed to go right, whether it was Angel Hernandez blowing a call on a play at the plate (’97 or ’98), Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine shutting down a usually unimpressive Mets offense, or John Franco and Armando Benitez serving up game winning homeruns to the likes of Brian Jordan (2001).
In 2006, that all changed as the Mets were able to finally break through against their arch nemisis, sweeping a series late in the summer, propelling them to take the division away from Atlanta for the first time in 14 years.
Last year, the Mets found a new tormentor, along with new leading characters not named Jones.
The Phillies, behind an MVP season by shortstop Jimmy Rollins, made the lives of the Mets and their fans miserable by embarassing them over the final 7 games of the year, taking all of them.
As a result, the Phillies were playing October baseball, while the Mets were left to deal with the fact that Rollins had correctly predicted his team was tops in the NL East.
The once dead Mets-Phillies rivalry was renewed (if there ever really was one), and going into this season, the typically quiet Carlos Beltran proclaimed his team the one to beat, taking the rivalry from the field back into the headlines, where it seemingly began with Rollins speaking his mind before last season began.
Heading into 2008, the Phillies AND Braves are both expected to be competitive, and neither should be overlooked anymore.
The Mets may have proved Turner Field and the Braves no longer intimidate them, but for at least one more year Chipper will be doing all he can to bid an appropriate farewell to the ballpark he named his child after.
Mets and Phillies.
Mets and Braves.
One division on the line.
Lets the games begin.
One More Miracle?
Shea Stadium has seen it all.
The Beatles played the first ever stadium concert at Shea in 1965.
The All Star game called Shea home in 1964, the year the park opened.
‘The Franchise’ arrived in Tom terrific.
Miracles were possible in ’69
‘Ya Gotta Believe’ was born in ’73
There was Rusty and Kranepool.
Doc and Daryl.
Mex and The Kid.
“Gets by Buckner”
A Piazza Delivery.
‘Wild’ Times in 99
A subway ride in 2000
Mikey’s magic after 9/11,
Omar, Willie, Pedro and Carlos bringing the “New Mets” to town
Division champs once again in ’06
Jose and David doing it the ‘Wright’ way.
There was Murph, Lindsay Nelson and Ralph.
There’s the apple and the airplanes.
The NBA is where amazing happens…
But Shea is where ‘Amazin happens.
In 2008, the Mets and their fans say goodbye to the place where many of us Mets fans have been raised.
And for all the knocks on it (and there are an endless amount), Shea will forever be remembered where anything was possible with the orange and blue.
Can the Mets leave Shea for the final time as World Series Champions?
Like I said, anything is possible.