Monday, September 28, 2009

A Good Time To Be A New York Sports Fan

With the exception of the hardest of the hardcore New York Mets fans, its a pretty good time to be a fan of the New York area's professional sports teams.

Whats not to like? The Yankees clinched the American League East yesterday with a three game sweep over the rival Boston Red Sox, and sealed the best record in the American League and guaranteed home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the World Series berth should they advance that far. One hundred wins and 56 losses (with six to play) for a team that looked lost the first couple of months, with Alex Rodriguez missing from the lineup, injuries to catchers Jorge Posada and Jose Molina, a disaster in the bullpen, the collapse of the comeback by one time ace Chien-Ming Wang from last years injury, and some early ineffective starting pitching woes. But it straightened out. A-Rod returned and had a fine season (.285, 28HR, 93RBI). Free agent signee Mark Texiera was even better than advertised (.294, 38, 120). Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, and Derek Jeter had stellar season, and Hideki Matsui had a strong comeback year in the DH spot (.280, 28, 90).

And pitcher CC Sabathia came in and won 19 games (and counting) and is an odds on favorite to win this year's Cy Young Award. AJ Burnett went 12-9, Andy Pettite was 14-9, Alfredo Alceves went 10-1 in long relief, and future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera had 44 saves and a microscopic 1.82 ERA.

But the biggest key to the Yankee turnaround was when young Phil Hughes moved from starter to reliever, and became the game's best setup man, an eighth inning specialist who went 3-3, three saves, gave up 28 earned runs in 84.1 innings for a 2.99 ERA. But Hughes' biggest stat- his 18 holds in the eighth inning. He took over the game with the lead and turned the game over to Riviera in the ninth to nail the door shut. The combination of Hughes-Rivera might be the best Yankee bullpen duo since the Rivera-John Wetland combo of the 1996 season- the beginning of the most recent Yankee mini-dynasty.

And then...across the river in New Jersey...we may be seeing the birth of new folk hero in JET GREEN in the Meadowlands. Jet Quarterback Mark Sanchez became the first rookie QB to go 3-0 out of the shoot since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. So far he has passed at a 59% rate for 606 yards in three games, with 4 TD's and 2 INT's. Yes, he has turned the ball over with some fumbles after being hit, he can be reckless when he is forced to run, he need to protect the ball better, and has yet to prove that he can play in cold weather. But so far so good- nobody expected the Jets to beat Houston, New England, and Tennessee to open the season. Most fans would have signed on for a 2-1 start. But a strong defense that didn't allow an offensive touchdown in the season's first two games has proven to be one of the NFL's best. And what great additions Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard have been to the Jets, following new head coach Rex Ryan from the Baltimore Ravens. Darelle Revis is becoming a star before our eyes at corner. And there is a lot to love in 6'4" 360 pound tackle Kris Jenkins- man, what a load this guy is. Scary good, scarier BIG.

The Jets need to run the ball better, though Leon Washington makes up for his ordinary 4.0 rushing average with his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, and is an incredible kick returner. And Jerricho Cotchery needs a compliment as a wideout.

But all and all, its been a surprising and sweet start for the Jets, and their long suffering fans.

And then there's the New Yawk Football Giants, led by #10, the other Manning, who might be the least appreciated star in the National Football League. Eli is cool and collected under center....and is there quarterback in the league who runs the "hurry up" better than Eli Manning? Maybe Peyton does, or Tom Brady. But after watching Eli week after week, I think he might be the best qb in the league when he doesn't overthink, just reacts, and gets the team down field in a heartbeat. Eli's completed nearly 65% of his passes for 747 yards, 5 TD's 1 INT. And the Giants have gone 3-0 to open the season with division wins over Washington and Dallas. Yesterday the Giants had what was probably the easiest win they've had in years over a Tampa Bay team that was simply awful- a 24-0 blanking that wasn't even that close. How the Bucs went from a team in playoff contention last year to a disaster in 2009 is the subject for another blog entry.

And the two upcoming opponents look like a couple of tomato cans from Palookaville; hapless Kansas City and the inept Oakland Ray-daz. Manning should be able to stretch the field with Mario Manningham and Steve Smith, and the Giants will be pounding the rock with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Antonio Pierce and company will be in control with the stellar Giant D. The next real test for the Giants will be October 18 when they travel to New Orleans. And it won't get any easier for the next three weeks; home to Arizona, at the Eagles, home to Chargers...and then a bye week.

My guess- the Giants will be 7-2 going into that bye week And that should be good enough to keep them in first place in the NFC East.

Jersey Guy Shout Out! If anyone saw the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Cincinnati Bengals game with that incredible finish, you'll remember the four yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Andre Caldwell with only 14 seconds on the clock to win the game for the Bengals over the Steelers, who had won in their previous eight visits to Paul Brown Stadium in a streak that lasted nearly a decade. The final was 23-20 Bengals. Below, a portion of the recap from

"Palmer led the Bengals on a 16-play, 71-yard drive against one of the league's best defenses, repeatedly converting there-or-else throws. His 11-yarder to running back Brian Leonard on fourth-and-10 moved the ball to the 4. After a spike to stop the clock, Palmer found Caldwell open in the middle of the end zone".

The bottom line- there were no more Bengal timeouts; If Brian Leonard doesn't make that catch for the first down at the 4, its GAME OVER. He needed ten, he got 11. But that's the Brian Leonard story- he gets it done. A Rutgers guy who was the face of the program, a player who's stats never told the whole story.

The Bengals have had a history of problem children over the years. Brian Leonard ain't one of them. It was a smart decision for the Bengals to trade for him, an even smarter one to keep him on the active roster.

But then again I'm a Jersey Guy just braggin' on an adopted Jersey guy.

Way to go, BL!


DinaHaansley said...

Yeah, it's definitely a great time to be a NY fan, everyone's coming through except for the Mets as usual, I guess we can blame it on injury. It's good to see you don't believe in the SI cover jinx.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Dina-Unfortunately I DO BELIEVE in the SI cover curse.

And Mariano Rivera is on the cover this week!

Joe Girardi....if you're reading this, cover Mo in bubble wrap until the first playoff game, and don't let him play catch with his sons!


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