Ramble On Sports

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Archive for October, 2010

Karma, meet The Bronx. The Bronx, run for cover.

Posted by Bill Koch on October 20, 2010

Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it Yankees fans?

Now you’re getting a little taste of how the other half has lived for all these years while you were racking up those World Series titles that you love to talk about so much. Tuesday night was a pretty good lesson for everyone in The Bronx that the Baseball Gods won’t always be on your side, no matter how much you spend to buy their affections.

Game 4 of the American League Championship Series hit the new Taj Mahal like a tidal wave and put the Texas Rangers 27 outs from the chance to play for their first championship in franchise history. That 10-3 shellacking must have made George Steinbrenner turn in his grave. It doesn’t look like New York can do anything to stop a team that flashes claws and antlers as warning signs, hilariously mocking baseball’s traditions and its winningest franchise in the process of building a 3-1 series lead.

Your chances went begging when Josh Hamilton turned back into Roy Hobbs, Joe Girardi fell asleep at the wheel, the umpires declined to save you when Lance Berkman allegedly went deep and David Robertson got the call out of the bullpen. It’s a perfect storm of deliciousness that tastes better than all the chowder in Red Sox Nation.

A.J. Burnett was the man to come to the rescue? That must be what Girardi thought when he greedily left the overpaid righthander in the game in the sixth inning to face Bengie Molina. There’s no chance that Girardi would have turned down the chance to hold a 3-2 lead after 5.2 innings from Burnett after 17 days of rest if you had offered him that scenario before the first pitch. He must have forgotten about the 5.26 ERA and the fact that he skipped the $80-million man in the ALDS, and he must have remembered quickly when Molina slashed a three-run homer into the night.

That bullpen was going to shut it down from there? Not with arsonists like Robertson, Kerry Wood, Boone Logan and Sergio Mitre coming through the doors with gas cans in their hands and lit matches waiting. Someone put Mariano Rivera on a milk carton – he’s been MIA since the Twins series and can’t go two innings every night.

This rotation was going to get it done? Not with C.C. Sabathia looking average in every area but waist size, the shell of Phil Hughes taking his medicine in a Game 2 pounding and Burnett throwing fastballs down the dick at exactly the wrong time. Cliff Lee isn’t yours just yet.

What happened to Mark Teixeira in this series? That gunshot that hit his right hamstring in the fifth inning and dropped him to his knees, putting him out for the rest of the postseason, couldn’t have been random. If anything, it saved him from going 0-for-25 by the time this is all said and done. Someone must have figured that the most professional and dedicated Yankee that there is had suffered enough by going hitless in his first 14 at-bats.

Not even the next Jeffrey Maier could save the Yankees, further embarrassing Major League Baseball in the process. The league clearly hasn’t learned anything in the last 15 years, as evidenced by the handful of embarrassing missed calls during this postseason that could have easily been overturned through the use of instant replay. Maybe that’s when the Baseball Gods decided that enough was enough, saving the Rangers from Bud Selig and his cronies’ failure to act after some guido from Queens and three of his fellow thugs mugged Nelson Cruz at the right field wall to suck Robinson Cano’s home run into the abyss known as the Yankee Stadium bleachers. Armando Benitez is still on suicide watch somewhere because a 12-year-old kid reached out and made the catch of his life in 1996, and it looked like it was going to happen all over again until order was restored.

Where was everyone going in the ninth inning? Were the 50,000 fans in attendance that eager to go outside to the ghetto and get mugged on the walk back to the subway? Or did they sense that something had changed? They were probably running for their lives, because this never used to happen to New York. Something else might be working against the Yankees now, and it goes well beyond the power of the Rangers.

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Five thoughts from Pats/Ravens

Posted by bdowd625 on October 17, 2010

What a game. What a win for the Patriots, who, at the moment, have to be in the discussion as one of the top teams in the NFL at 4-1. I needed a cigarette when it was finally over, but I suppose that’s better than Prozac. And now, it’s time for our weekly five thoughts from Pats/Ravens.

* The New England defense was OUTSTANDING in the fourth quarter and in overtime. Raise your hand if you thought the Pats had a chance to win in OT after losing the coin toss. If your hand is in the air, you have more faith than this guy. I didn’t think New England had a snowball’s chance in hell when the Ravens got the ball first, but the defense just kept making stops, and, after a bit of offensive futility, the Pats moved the ball into field-goal range for Stephen Gostkowski.

* Speaking of Gostkowski, I was pretty nervous when he lined up to take that game-winning kick. For the most part, he’s been money in the bank during his Patriots career, but he’s been a little shaky through the first four games of the season. He had no such issues today, though, blasting a 35-yarder for the win after the 2-minute warning served as our weekly version of “icing the kicker.”

* For all the good that Aaron Hernandez has done so far, he was BRUTAL down the stretch today. The fourth-rounder out of Florida had two inexcusable drops late in the game, miscues that stalled New England’s drives at crucial times. I know I told him to smoke up a few weeks ago, but maybe it’s time to curtail some of the marijuana use.

* If and when I have a kid someday, I’m going to name him (or her, for that matter) Danny Woodhead. Just imagine how inspired that kid would be to overcome insurmountable odds. Have a tough math test coming up that you didn’t study for? Little Danny Woodhead knows how to pull an A+ out of his/her ass. Last pick in dodgeball during recess? Little Danny is about to peg you right in the head to end the game. All joking aside, I love the guy. He’s a perfect fit for what this offense is trying to accomplish.

* And last but not least – welcome back, Deion Branch. One of Tom Brady’s favorite wideouts looked like he never missed a beat since heading to Seattle a few years back. Branch had several key catches for the Pats, including a big touchdown grab to cut New England’s deficit to 20-17. Here’s hoping Branch will bring back that old Patriot magic in the weeks to come.

Now all you Pats fans better go cheer for Denver against the Jets. J-E-T-S! SUCK! SUCK! SUCK!

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Ramble On’s guide to the LCS matchups

Posted by Bill Koch on October 15, 2010

If two out of three ain’t bad, what’s two out of four?

With all due apologies to all the Meat Loaf fans (if there are any of you with us here at Ramble On), we’d like to point out that we weren’t all that far off in our previous predictions that we made for the Major League Baseball playoffs. We’re perfect in the National League – we had the Phillies sweeping the Reds and the Giants outlasting the Braves in four games – and we think that makes up for our hiccups in the American League. It’s not our fault that the wins choked yet again and couldn’t take care of the vulnerable Yankees or that the Rays’ fans were far more gutless than we ever gave them credit for being.

With all of that said, let’s take a stab at giving you a World Series preview. Here are our predictions for the League Championship Series, which start tonight when New York visits Texas.

Rangers vs. Yankees
We still think that the Yankees have some big question marks on their pitching staff. Will Phil Hughes be that dominant in back-to-back outings? Can New York win a game where C.C. Sabathia is so average? Can Andy Pettitte’s 66-year-old groin hold up through two more starts? Will Kerry Wood or David Robertson explode before Mariano Rivera can save the day?

We really don’t think so. C.J. Wilson and Cliff Lee are the sort of lefthanded pitchers who the Yankees built their dynasty on, guys with the makeup to thrive even in Yankee Stadium. Josh Hamilton (a sub-.200 effort against Tampa) can’t be that bad again, Nelson Cruz is pounding the ball and the Rangers have that look of a team that has destiny on its side. We think it might be their turn to sneak past New York and try to write some postseason history.

PREDICTION: Rangers in seven games

Phillies vs. Giants
Tim Lincecum turned in one of the best postseason performances that we’ve ever seen when he shut out Atlanta and struck out 14 to set the tone for the series in Game 1. We like Matt Cain to bounce back from an average outing and Madison Bumgarner to throw well again. San Francisco’s lineup is full of grinders who won’t make it easy for Philadelphia’s pitching staff.

Unfortunately for the Giants, they’re running into one of the best teams that we’ve seen in a while. We wouldn’t be shocked to see Roy Halladay throw another no-hitter – the Giants’ lineup is far worse than the Reds’ crew that he made history against – and Cole Hamels’ clinching shutout was a thing of beauty. Toss in a lineup that is bound to break out at any moment and you have the team that we tabbed as the favorites from the beginning of this postseason. We don’t see the Phillies’ ride stopping here.

PREDICTION: Phillies in five games

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Everything is A-OK

Posted by bdowd625 on October 15, 2010

We had a close call here at Ramble On this afternoon, as WordPress – the site that hosts this magnificent blog – decided to randomly shut us down for “violating” their Terms of Service agreement. When I first realized what was happening a lot of questions ran through my head. Will we be able to transfer all the work we’ve done to another blog? Am I about to be sued? What’s for dinner tonight?

I calmed down quickly, though, and fired off a courteous yet stern e-mail to the powers that be, explaining that there must be some mistake. Within minutes, they turned the lights back on and here we are, back and better than ever. The man can’t keep us down, baby! That is all.

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Belichick proves his genius yet again

Posted by Bill Koch on October 12, 2010

Can we all take a step back and realize that Bill Belichick is still playing chess while the rest of the NFL plays checkers?

He sent a wide receiver who wasn’t going to get his big contract, who was going to walk away at the end of the season no matter what and who was shut out in his last game with the New England Patriots out of town and got something valuable in return. He also just traded Laurence Maroney for Deion Branch, replacing that disgruntled wide receiver and keeping his star quarterback happy in the process.

Don’t believe me? Let’s break this down in excruciating detail for those of you who refuse to see the big picture.

Randy Moss had nine catches in four games with New England this year. He had zero catches while the Patriots rolled up 41 points on the Miami Dolphins and Tom Brady was still excellent in that game, going 19-for-24. Moss is well on the wrong side of 30, and you don’t get faster with age unless you play Major League Baseball and can use performance-enhancing drugs. He wants one final big contract to ride off into the sunset. He wasn’t going to get that contract in New England after he turned down Belichick’s offer to talk in training camp. He had one foot out the door, no matter how physically talented everyone thinks he still might be.

Let’s dismiss the talk about how much defensive attention that Moss draws, because it’s overstated at this point in his career. Perception becomes reality after a while, but that doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Darrelle Revis shut him down 1-on-1 last season, and he did it twice. Brady threw one of his worst passes of this season in Moss’ direction during that Week 2 embarrassment somewhere in the Swamps of Jersey, an interception disguised as a jump ball that gave the New York Jets all the momentum. It wasn’t the first time that Brady, Daunte Culpepper, Randall Cunningham or any of Moss’ other former quarterbacks have made a poor decision with him in the lineup. It wasn’t going to be the last.

Turnovers kill teams in the NFL, and Brady turned it over a lot less when he was winning championships by using his tight ends, hitting receivers on quick passes to move the chains and avoiding the rush by delivering the ball efficiently. Now that Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Branch and Brandon Tate are in place and ready to roll, look for Brady’s former self to emerge. That’s a guy that we want quarterbacking our favorite team. Moss was never a part of that mix. He was a luxury item who had stopped going over the middle and had become a decoy. You can pay Tate a lot less money to have him run down the sideline and be a decoy.

We all know that Brady threw a hissy fit behind the scenes when he found out that Moss was gone. That’s what every quarterback does when it looks like his weaponry is being reduced. It’s not a coincidence that the first name out of Brady’s mouth was that of a former teammate, or that said former teammate – Branch – ended up in Foxboro less than 24 hours later.

Belichick knows that if Brady isn’t happy, he won’t be happy. His team won’t be happy. His fans and his owner won’t be happy. He decided to keep everybody happy, and all it cost him was the same fourth round pick that he just acquired for Maroney. Did Maroney ever make anybody happy in Foxboro? He has now, and he has Belichick to thank for it. That’s about as close to doing the impossible as you can get. Oh yeah – the Patriots still have their own fourth round pick in 2011 along with six other picks in the first three rounds.

Check mate.

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Cox calls it a career

Posted by Bill Koch on October 12, 2010

We would be slacking on our responsibilities here at Ramble On if we let tonight pass without a word about Bobby Cox, the Atlanta Braves’ manager who walked off the diamond for the final time after his club was dropped out of the National League Division Series by the San Francisco Giants in four games.

It’s oddly fitting that San Francisco is the team that ended Cox’s storied career, because he is one of the true modern giants of the game. We won’t see many men who last two uninterrupted decades with any baseball team in any capacity ever again. Free agency and durability questions make it virtually impossible as a player while the crushing demand to win and the impatience of ownership makes it virtually impossible as a manager or general manager.

Cox has survived the test of time thanks to brilliant pitching (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz chief among them), clutch performances from a handful of terrific position players (Terry Pendleton, Ron Gant, David Justice, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Brian McCann come to mind) and steady, understanding ownership (working for Ted Turner is much less complex than trying to last under the late George Steinbrenner, for example). It was a perfect storm of circumstances that brought Cox to the moment when he tipped his cap to the Turner Field crowd one last time after Monday’s 3-2 loss to San Francisco. It was all of the above that helped Cox lead his teams to 16 postseasons, a Major League Baseball record that should stand for a long while.

Want some local perspective? Let’s turn to the Boston Red Sox for some examples. Theo Epstein, the man who built the team that broke The Curse, can’t do it – he skipped town in a gorilla suit once before and won’t have the stomach to last under this spotlight forever. Terry Francona, the man who managed that Red Sox team and still currently fills out the lineup card, can’t do it – his health has been in decline since the day he took the job due to the incomparable stress of dealing with 162 one-game seasons per year. None of their players will be able to do it – pitchers both young (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard) and old (Tim Wakefield) won’t last that long, the position players who were the cornerstones are gone (Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, Johnny Damon) or almost gone (David Ortiz, Jason Varitek), the veterans (Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts) have retired and moved on with their lives. None of those men who made history of their own can do what Cox has done. Very few in the game that we love the most can say that they have.

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Patriots Branch out, acquire former wide receiver

Posted by bdowd625 on October 11, 2010

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news tonight that Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch is heading back to New England for his second tour of duty with the Patriots. (Those of you who follow us here at Ramble On know we trust Schefter as much as our own mothers. Maybe even more so. Sorry, Mom.) In exchange for Branch, the Seahawks will receive a fourth-round draft choice, and since the Pats stockpile draft picks like I hoarded pogs back in sixth grade, they’re really not losing much.

We applaud the Patriots for getting back to their roots and re-acquiring a solid citizen like Branch. It doesn’t hurt that he’s still got some talent – Branch was the Super Bowl MVP back when the Pats edged Carolina during the 2003-04 season – and is, by all accounts, extremely close with quarterback Tom Brady. But let’s not get carried away here, people. This isn’t seven years ago. Branch – and Brady, for that matter – aren’t getting any younger. Branch, 31, has battled injury problems since heading to Seattle before the start of the 2006 campaign, playing in only 51 of a possible 68 regular-season games. He’s on pace for 52 catches this season, though, and he hasn’t hauled in that many passes since his first season with the Seahawks. (If you’re curious, Branch had 78 receptions and five TDs in his last season with Brady and the Pats.)

Don’t get us wrong – we welcome Branch back with open arms and hope this trade returns New England to its real glory days. We’re just not overly optimistic at this point. I guess we’ll get our first taste when New England returns to action following a bye during Week 5. First up for the new-look Pats? Baltimore. Bring. It. On.

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Bruins bounce back in style

Posted by Bill Koch on October 10, 2010

This certainly was more of what we were expecting out of the Boston Bruins when they opened their 2010-11 season on Saturday afternoon in Prague.

The Bruins bounced back from a lame performance to shut out the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-0, and salvaged two points to bring back across the pond. Boston looked like a completely different team on Sunday morning, a team that we actually have fun watching. The Bruins were skating hard, finishing their checks, generating chances and playing responsibly in the defensive zone. This is the sort of performance that allows us to believe everything will be okay after last year’s postseason implosion. Let’s move to our five points from Sunday’s matchup to break this one down.

— Very nice Bruins debut for Nathan Horton. He added another goal and an assist on Sunday to make it four points in two games and looks like the perfect fit as the power forward that this team desperately needs. Boston is going to welcome this guy with open arms if he keeps lighting the lamp on a regular basis.

— We couldn’t help but feel like Milan Lucic is this team’s barometer after watching both games this weekend. Lucic didn’t do all that much on Saturday and we don’t think it was a coincidence that Boston was flat. He was much more aggressive on Sunday, got on the board with his first goal of the season and teamed with Horton and center David Krejci to form the best line either team rolled over the boards. The Bruins clearly responded with a complete, 60-minute effort and need an invested Lucic going forward.

— Tyler Seguin, welcome to the NHL. Congratulations on your first goal with the Bruins and we hope that there are many, many more in your Boston future. Seguin finished off a breakaway with a nifty backhand that put the game out of reach in the third period, a well-timed goal considering that Phoenix had put together a couple of good shifts and looked like it was about to threaten the Bruins’ two-goal lead. It was the kind of scorer’s finish that we’d expect out of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.

— Did anybody else notice that Daniel Paille was scratched on Sunday? Jordan Caron was an instant upgrade on the wing, giving the Bruins some youthful energy and playing with the desperation that we would expect out of someone fighting for a spot in the first 20. We’d rather see a young player get his feet wet and grow into a spot with the team than watch a veteran who has already had his chance and done very little with it any day of the week, and we hope to see much more of Caron going forward.

— Tim Thomas showed no ill effects from offseason hip surgery while pitching a shutout against the Coyotes in his first start of the year. This was the perfect example of why many NHL insiders consider Boston’s goaltending depth to be the best in the league. Thomas and Tuukka Rask will never have to play back-to-back nights during the regular season, can take a rest at the end of a long road trip and can allow any little injuries that they pick up during the grind of the 82-game season heal completely before taking the ice again. That said, let’s not turn this into a controversy. Rask’s team didn’t show up in front of him on Saturday – it could have been 10-2 instead of 5-2 if he didn’t play as well as he did – and Thomas benefited from a solid performance by the Bruins on Sunday. Consider these two men No. 1 and No. 1a for right now.

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