Thursday, October 30, 2008


THREE REASONS why the Tampa Bay Rays failed to win the World Series: a team batting average of .212, Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge.

I don’t know whether it was stage fright or the cold weather, but those same Rays who overcame the Boston Red Sox – and in particular, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria – failed to show up in Philadelphia.

Pitching usually prevails in the World Series. The lower temperatures of late fall give the hurlers an undoubted advantage.

Hamels set the tone by taking home-field advantage away from the Rays in Game One. He didn’t actually win Game Five, but in five post-season starts, the World Series MVP went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA.

Lidge’s stats are even more impressive. He converted 41 out of 41 save opportunities during the regular season with 92 strikeouts in 62 games for an ERA of 1.95.

The 31-year-old from Sacramento carried that form into the post season, saving seven out of seven to complete the perfect season at 48-0.

It was hard to believe this was the same guy who had blown eight saves in 29 chances for the Houston Astros in 2007.

Phillies closer finishes the year 48-0

Lidge also had to erase the memory of a traumatic experience on his only previous appearance in the World Series – in 2005.

He gave up a walk-off home run to Scott Podsednik – only Podsednik’s second homer of the year – in Game Two and the Astros were swept 4-0 by the Chicago White Sox.

Lidge, a deeply religious man, was not interested in reflection. “I don’t care about that other crap,” he told a reporter who had the temerity to bring up the past. And why should he? He has a World Series ring now.

That the Phillies deserved to win there is no doubt. They’re a good team, if some way short of being a great team.

The Rays, meanwhile, have the potential to become a great team. They already have outstanding young pitching and the addition of 23-year-old David Price to the rotation next season will make them even stronger.

The only stumbling block is that they play in the same division as the Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

Having missed out on the playoffs completely this season, you can be sure the Yanks won’t want to play second fiddle to the Rays and Sox again next year. It should be an interesting winter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


WILL MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ever learn? The 2008 season is ending in farce as the Fall Classic turns into the Wet Blanket.

Game three of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays started at 10.06pm Saturday and didn’t finish until 1.47am Sunday.

Then, at 11.10pm last night, game five was suspended in the middle of the sixth inning due to driving rain.

Just bad luck with the weather or more a case of bad planning?

MLB commissioner Bud Selig obviously thinks it’s the former. “You can get warmer weather as the fall goes on. Like most things in life, you need to be lucky. Leo Durocher once said it’s better to be lucky than good. I think we’ve been pretty good, but we certainly haven’t been lucky.”

I’m sorry Mr Selig but you’re wrong. Baseball is a summer sport and when you play games on the East Coast in October, you’re asking for trouble.

The World Series – the showpiece event of the season – should be played at the end of September, or at worst the first two weeks in October.

What’s currently happening is an anti-climax. It’s football season now, as demonstrated by the fact that more people watched the Pittsburgh Steelers v the New York Giants than did Game Four at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday.

2009 season won’t end until November

Of course, there is absolutely no chance of the owners agreeing to cut back on the regular-season schedule of 162 games. That would mean a loss of revenue from television as well as the paying public.

But how about coming up with an alternative plan?

Doubleheaders used to be a regular event in baseball. Why not play two a month, preferably before a team’s rest day? That could reduce the regular season by as much as 12 days.

I know the players and coaches don’t particularly like them but the fans do, especially when they’re played at the weekend.

Something needs to be done to shorten the season. Yet, unbelievably, it’s actually going to be longer in 2009.

Spring training will be lengthened to accommodate the World Baseball Classic in March, meaning game one of the World Series won’t take place until October 28 with a possible game seven scheduled for November 5.

In England, November 5th is known as Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night, an occasion celebrated by firework displays.

It’s not exactly rocket science to figure out it’s far too late to be playing baseball.

Monday, October 27, 2008


DID THE JETS make a mistake in signing Brett Favre and has the gunslinger lost his nerve?

That’s a question many are asking after the Jets struggled to overcome one of the worst teams in the National Football League at the Meadowlands yesterday.

Favre, at 39 years of age deemed surplus to requirements by the Green Bay Packers, rode into New York amid a fanfare of publicity in August.

But, after he threw three interceptions during the Jets’ 28-24 hollow victory over former coach Herm Edwards’ Kansas City Chiefs, you have to wonder whether they’re any better than they would be with either Chad Pennington or Kellen Clemens at quarterback.

Favre has completed 15 passes for touchdowns, but he's also thrown 11 interceptions in seven games. That’s four more than anyone else in the AFC and a number matched in both conferences by only J.T. O’Sullivan of the 2-6 San Francisco 49ers.

There was a huge element of luck about his game-winning touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles, the receiver miraculously making a one-handed catch with the help of a ricochet off Chiefs’ cornerback Dimitri Patterson with one minute remaining.

That floated pass could easily have been interception No. 4. Fortunately for Favre, outshone for most of the afternoon by 24-year-old rookie Tyler Thigpen, making only his second start, there was some redemption. 

Veteran quarterback throws 11 interceptions

With road games coming up in Buffalo (5-2), New England (5-2) and Tennessee (6-0) in three of the next four weeks, defeat would surely have ended the Jets’ hopes of making the playoffs.

Even now, at 4-3, it’s hard to see the Jets winning many – if any – of those games on current form.

Coach Eric Mangini must also take his fair share of blame for allowing Favre to throw the ball so often against a team with the worst run defense in the league. He would have been better served allowing Thomas Jones and Leon Washington to soften up the Chiefs’ center before letting Favre attempt to go deep. It begs the question who's running the Jets...Mangini or Favre?

All this was in stark contrast to the way Eli Manning marshalled the New York Giant’s offense in their come-from-behind win in Pittsburgh.

It would have been easy for Manning and the Giants to become frustrated at having to settle for four field goals rather than touchdowns on their visits to the red zone.

But they didn’t panic, waited patiently for their opportunity, and scored 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull off a huge victory and hand the Steelers only their second defeat.

It wasn’t always pretty but the Giants proved once again that they’re capable of coming up with the big play when it counts.

That’s why the reigning Super Bowl champions have a realistic shot at retaining the trophy, while the Jets’ outside hopes rest in the hands of the all-too-fallible Favre.

Friday, October 24, 2008


OUR THOUGHTS and prayers are with Severiano Ballesteros as he fights for his life in a Madrid hospital.

The 51-year-old, five-time Major winner has just undergone a third operation to remove a brain tumor, diagnosed earlier this month.

Seve was to European golf in the 1980s what Tiger Woods has been to world golf in the 2000s. He won 49 times on the European Tour and nine times on the PGA TOUR, including three Open Championships and two Masters titles.

The swashbuckling Spaniard turned a new generation on to the sport with his ability to pull off spectacular shots from impossible positions. His imagination and exciting brand of golf made him a firm favorite with the galleries. He was almost an adopted son to fans in England and Scotland alike.

But, much more than that, Seve put a smile back on the face of golf. His love and passion for the Sport of Kings was plain for all to see. He was certainly one of the reasons why I took up the game.

Like Tiger, Seve was born to be a golfer. He learned to play the game on the beaches near his home in Cantabria, using a three-iron given to him by one of his old brothers. 

Vicente and Baldomero were also professional golfers, albeit less successful. So too is Seve’s nephew, Raúl.

Five-time Major winner facing biggest challenge

Seve burst onto the scene at Royal Birkdale in 1976, taking a two-shot lead into the final round of the Open, eventually finishing runner-up to Johnny Miller.

His first Major came in the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham St Annes when he finished three strokes ahead of Jack Nicklaus.

Seve also won the World Match Play Championship five times, but he wasn’t just a talented individual; he was a great team player too.

His partnership with fellow Spaniard José Maria Olazábal was the most successful in the history of the Ryder Cup, with 11 wins and two halves in 15 matches.

Seve’s magic heralded an era of dominance by Europe and he would later lead the European team to victory as non-playing captain on home soil. The 1997 event at Valderrama was the first to be staged in continental Europe.

He was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1999 and was also the driving force behind a new team competition – the Seve Trophy.

Seve’s appearances in the 1990s were sporadic due to back problems. Now he is facing the biggest battle of his life.

If his illustrious golf career is anything to go by, he won’t go down without a fight.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


THE WORLD SERIES is the climax to the baseball season…a celebration of America’s favorite pastime.

But if the powers that be at Major League Baseball are hoping to attract new fans to the game during the current Fall Classic, they can forget it.

We all know that, these days, television controls the major sports. It’s not just coincidence that the break between innings is exactly the same duration as the commercials!

Host broadcaster FOX Sports pay handsomely for the exclusive television rights to the World Series and want the games to start during prime time.

But if an 8pm start time isn’t already bad enough, they then insist on spending more than 30 minutes on fluff in the pre-game show.

The first pitch of Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies was not thrown until 8.45pm at Tropicana Field last night.

With the game lasting three hours and 23 minutes, it was not until just after midnight that Phillies closer Brad Lidge induced the final out.

Game time far too late for young fans

How many kids were watching? What self-respecting parent would let their child stay up to that time with school the next (or should I say the same) day?

Come to think of it, what hard-working adult really wants to stay up beyond the witching hour on a Wednesday night? I, for one, am feeling tired today.

The only people favored by the scheduling live on the West Coast. And how many of them are actually interested in an all-East Coast contest?

Now I understand that TV schedules are decided a long time in advance and that FOX were no doubt hoping for an East-West match-up, notably the Boston Red Sox v LA Dodgers World Series.

But surely there should be some degree of flexibility? A game time around 7pm is the norm for East Coast teams. 

The bad news is that the start time will be no earlier than 8.30pm throughout the Series. And with so much on the line, the games will only get longer as the Series progresses.

MLB will, as usual, make a lot of money from the Fall Classic. But they will have wasted an opportunity to sell the sport to the audience of tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


IT’S NOT EXACTLY the World Series TV chiefs were hoping for. Manny and the Dodgers v Red Sox Nation would undoubtedly have drawn higher viewing figures.

Anyone who picked the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies to contest the 2008 Fall Classic should buy a lottery ticket immediately. They’re either clairvoyant or plain lucky.

The Phillies have won the World Series only once – in 1980. Before this year, the Rays had never even appeared in the post season.

But while the Sox, the Cubs, the Angels and all the other more glamorous teams have fallen by the wayside, two of baseball’s lesser lights have earned their place in the final purely on merit.

Both won their division, the Phillies overcoming the more fancied New York Mets and the Rays going from worst to first, winning an astonishing 97 games to finish ahead of both the Red Sox and New York Yankees.

The Phillies brushed aside the Dodgers in the NLCS while the Rays held their nerve to oust the defending champions, Boston, in the ACLS.

No-hopers Tampa can overcome Phillies

Rank outsiders with the Vegas oddsmakers before the start of the season (200-1), the Rays are now favorites to win it all.

Perhaps we should have seen it coming in July. After all, the winning pitcher in the All Star Game was the Rays’ Scott Kazmir and the losing pitcher Brad Lidge of the Phillies.

That game could prove very significant. It gave the AL champs home advantage…and that may be decisive in what is likely to be a very tight series.

Cole Hamels, possibly the best starter on either side, takes the mound against Kazmir in game one tonight. It’s then Brett Myers v James Shields, Jamie Moyer v Matt Garza and Joe Blanton v Andy Sonnanstine.

Hardly household names but someone, maybe Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Evan Longoria or B.J. Upton, is going to emerge a hero in the next nine days.

The Phillies are the fresher team, having completed victory over the Dodgers in five games last Wednesday. The Rays have the momentum, having won a monumental game seven against the Red Sox on Sunday.

I’m taking the Rays to win in six and complete a fairy-tale ending to their dream run. Mind you, they had better score early. The Phillies are 84-0 this season when leading after the eighth inning.

Monday, October 20, 2008


ROGER GOODELL has been quick to take action against players breaking the National Football League’s code of conduct. 

Now Goodell needs to intervene and end another act of unsportsmanlike behavior.

I’m referring to the now-common practice of coaches calling a timeout in an attempt to “ice” the opposition kicker before he attempts a key field goal.

Tom Cable, interim head coach of the Oakland Raiders, used the ploy eight seconds from the end of normal time against the New York Jets yesterday. It backfired. 

Jay Feely, who had missed from 52 yards on his first attempt, made no mistake second time around to send the game into overtime.

Fortunately for Cable, it didn’t matter in the end. He was rescued by his own kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, who converted from 57 yards with two minutes and 30 seconds left in overtime.

Janikowski was denied a game-winning field goal against Denver last year when it was ruled that Broncos coach Mike Shanahan had called timeout before he kicked the ball.

Some you win; some you lose. But either way, surely this is a source of embarrassment to the NFL?

The kicker converts the field goal and his teammates run on to the field to congratulate him, only to discover he has to do it all again.

I can’t imagine TV chiefs are too happy either with this sense of anti-climax at the end of a three-hour transmission.

More than 25 percent of NFL games are determined by three points or less, many in the final seconds.

The team attempting the field goal obviously should be allowed to call a timeout. Their opponents should not. 

It’s time for Goodell to exert his influence on the NFL’s rules committee.


BITTERSWEET is probably the best word to describe events in St Petersburg, Florida, last night from the perspective of a New York Yankees fan.

The good news is that the Boston Red Sox won’t be winning the World Series for the third time in five years.

The bad news is that the Tampa Bay Rays are for real. Now the Yanks don’t have just one serious rival for the American League East pennant, they have two.

It took guts, courage and determination for the Rays not to crumble after throwing away a seven-run, seventh-inning lead in game five at Fenway.

Most impartial observers expected the Sox to complete another remarkable comeback in game seven. But they hadn’t counted on Matt Garza giving the Boston batters only crumbs to feed on.

Having overcome both the Evil Empire and Rex Sox Nation during the regular season, it would have been simply awful had the 2008 Rays been remembered for choking in the playoffs rather than going from worst to first.

Chamberlain, Hughes an embarrassment

Now they are not only looking forward to their first appearance in the World Series but they have a great chance of winning it all against the National League champions, the Philadelphia Phillies.

Major League Baseball’s big spenders, and in particular the Yankees, can learn a lesson from this Cinderella story.

Joe Maddon’s upstart Rays have the second-lowest payroll in baseball. They have spent just short of $44 million this year, compared to the Yanks’ $209 million.

Not only that, but they have invested in young talent and built a team that, if it sticks together, will be a force for the next ten years.

In fairness to the Yankees, they did give youth a chance this year. But while Garza, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton were making the headlines for the right reasons this weekend, two of the Yanks’ young pitchers were hanging their heads in shame.

Joba Chamberlain was arrested for speeding and DUI in Nebraska while in the Arizona Fall League, Phil Hughes gave up eight runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings pitching for the Peoria Javelinas against the Scottsdale Scorpions.

That’s a real sting in the tail in a year when the Yanks weren’t even second best but third rate.

No doubt Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners will attempt to restore the balance in the normal way: by throwing even more money at the problem. 

In these days, when the checkbook dominates most sports, isn’t it great that one of the little fish can still make a splash.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


HE MADE such a big impression in Los Angeles that they renamed Dodger Stadium Mannywood.

He made such a bad impression in Boston that they were willing to run the best slugger in modern-day baseball out of town.

Now the question is: Where will Manny go next?

Rearrange the letters of his Christian name and you get NY-MAN. The New York clubs are among those that can afford him.

After hitting .410 with 21 home runs in 61 games for the Dodgers, Manny has restored, if not increased, his market value.

His brief love affair with Dodgers’ fans no doubt infuriated the Red Sox, the team he jilted.

And worse still, it means that someone is going to give the 36-year-old a megabucks contract for the next three years or more.

Who said crime doesn’t pay? What Ramirez did in Boston, allegedly feigning injury and giving Terry Francona and his teammates less than 100 percent, was nothing short of criminal.

Boras sure to drive hard "bargain"

That he will do it again, there is no doubt. But his numbers are such that one club – probably many clubs – will be willing to take that chance.

Dodgers fans made it clear to ownership that they want Manny back in 2009. “Manny stay, Manny stay,” they chanted last night when it became apparent that their team was not going to come back against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Frank McCourt, owner of the Dodgers, was non-committal, and who can blame him? After all, Manny’s agent is Scott Boras, a name that sends shivers up the spine of owners and general managers alike.

Boras has earned a reputation of stealing from the rich and giving to the richer. This time last year, he was advising Alex Rodriguez to opt out of the final three years or his contract.

In the end, Rodriguez bypassed Boras and re-signed with the Yankees. Yet Boras still ended up laughing all the way to bank after his client agreed a 10-year deal worth a “basic” $275 million with potential add-ons of $30 million.

“It takes two to tango. We’d love to have him back, but we’ll begin to discuss those things,” said McCourt.

Boras is surely to lead the Dodgers and other suitors a merry dance as he does the best for his client.

Manny was only half-joking when he said: “I’m just going to leave everything to God.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


THEY DID IT LAST YEAR. Heck, they were in even worse predicament against the New York Yankees in 2004 and still won the World Series.

This time, however, there are very few reasons to believe that the Boston Red Sox will be able to overturn a 3-1 deficit against the Tampa Bay Rays and emerge as American League champions.

Fenway Park is one of the hotbeds of baseball. But, for the second successive night, the upstart Rays scored early and often last night to silence the crowd.

As Yogi Bera once said: It ain’t over till it’s over. The Red Sox were in exactly the same position against the Cleveland Indians last year and managed to win the last three games. And, of course, Yankees fans will need no reminding that they rallied from 3-0 down in the 2004 ALCS.

But, in the words of center fielder Coco Crisp: “We’re not playing Cleveland. It’s a totally different team.”

The Rays are riding the crest of a wave. They are a team of destiny; the 50,000-1 no-hopers ready to pen one the greatest stories in the history of American sports.

Not even losing the first game of the series 2-0 at Tropicana Field could shake their confidence or belief. 
So what can the Red Sox do now to stop their momentum? Well, they will at least have game one winner Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound tomorrow night.

Kazmir goes for glory in game five

Matsuzaka was supposed to be the No. 3 pitcher for the Red Sox in the series. But with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester both getting shelled, he has assumed the role of their ace.

Lester didn’t pitch that badly in game three. He was simply victimized early by the hungry Rays hitters. Beckett, however, was a shadow of the man who allowed just one run in seven innings of game one of the 2007 World Series against the Colorado Rockies, setting the Sox on their way to a series sweep.

Reports say he has an oblique injury and, clearly, he is considerably less than 100 percent fit. Starting him in game six – if it goes far – will be a major gamble.

The Rays, meanwhile, have switched pitchers for game five, moving Scott Kazmir ahead of James Shields.

The reason, according to manager Joe Maddon, is that Kazmir has had more success pitching at Fenway while Shields has been very good at home.

In my opinion, it’s a smart move. Kazmir struggled in game two at the Trop, giving up five runs on six hits. If the Sox do manage to extend the series, now they are going to have to beat Shields, and probably Matt Garza, on their own artificial turf.

Not only do the Sox have pitching problems, but they’re not hitting either. Big Pappy (0 for 14 before a meaningless triple) is not the threat he was without either Manny Ramirez or Mike Lowell in the line-up. Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia are not getting on base. 

Compare that to the hot hitting by B.J. Upton and Evan “Long Ball” Longoria, who has homered in each of the last three games.

The Rays look much sharper in the outfield too. They’re making the Sox look like an aging, tired team.

That enthusiasm and energy now looks sure to propel them to their first World Series. And from rank outsiders, the Rays are now favorites to win it all. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008


AS YOU may already know, the English and the French are not exactly bosom buddies.

So when a Frenchman claims that English football is losing its identity, it’s not exactly going to endear him to fans across The Channel.

But do you know what? Michel Platini, president of Uefa – the governing body for European football – is spot on in his criticism.

Platini is concerned by the influx of foreign owners and players to the Premier League and believes it has gone too far.

Manchester City is the latest club to be sold to “Johnny Foreigner,” the Abu Dhabi United Group, which is back by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, buying out previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand.

“I think it is not good. I think the Qataris should invest in Qatar,” said Platini. “If you bring people from Qatar and there is no one from Liverpool or Manchester, where is Liverpool or Manchester?

“They should develop the football in each country. Can we (Uefa) do something about it? I will try to.”

Manchester United owned by an American

No fewer than nine of the current 20 English Premier League clubs have overseas owners.

They are led by Manchester United, who were bought out by American Malcolm Glazer in May, 2005.

At the time, United fans campaigned vociferously against Glazer, who also owns NFL franchise the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But their protests soon died down when Glazer pumped millions of pounds into buying some of the world’s best players, helping the Red Devils win the Champions League – the top club competition in Europe – in May of this year.

Tom Hicks of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and George Gillett of the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team, are joint owners of Liverpool, although their relationship has recently shown signs of breaking down.

Randy Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns, is chairman of Aston Villa while Russian oil tycoon Roman Abramovich has pumped billions into London club Chelsea.

There’s hardly an Englishman in sight

The foreign invasion is not limited to the boardroom. Five of the teams have foreign managers.

Former Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari returned to club management with Chelsea in July while Gianfranco Zola, the ex-Italian international, took the reins at West Ham United last month.

Frenchman Arsene Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal for the last 12 years while Liverpool (Rafael Benitez) and Tottenham (Juande Ramos) are managed by Spaniards.

The team squads/rosters are packed with international footballers. Only three of Arsenal’s 27-man first-team squad were actually born in Britain.

The net result is probably the best league in the world and the most exciting football. But the only thing English about it is the grass the games are played on and, of course, the fans.

“You have to have identity; that is where football’s popularity lies,” adds Platini, who may push for Uefa to put a limit on the number of foreign players each club can sign.

The influx of foreign owners, managers and players is also hurting the England national team, which, by the way, is now managed by an Italian, Fabio Capello!

England failed to qualify for the finals of the 2008 European Championships and has not won a trophy since 1966.

Uefa is a powerful organization and Platini an influential man. But, football is no longer the working man’s game. It’s big business.

The Premier League clubs generate total revenues close to two billion pounds sterling each year and you can be sure those who run them won’t appreciate a Frenchman sticking his nose into their business.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


ROGER CLEMENS will recover from the effects of Hurricane Ike. But the former New York Yankees pitcher will never regain the reputation he lost amid the steroid storm and sex scandal that made front-page headlines earlier this year.

Hardly a day went by when Clemens’ picture wasn’t featured prominently in the tabloids. But, in the last six months, he’s gone from The Joker to The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Clemens is rarely seen in public these days as he deals with the fallout from his flawed testimony to Congress, his legal action against former trainer Brian McNamee, and allegations of a long-running affair with country singer Mindy McCready.

According to reports, McCready recently entered rehab after suffering a nervous breakdown. 

Clemens, meanwhile, took another battering last month – this time from Hurricane Ike.

Fox Sports reported that Clemens, and his wife Debbie, have been clearing up after losing 20 trees in their yard and suffering minor flooding in their Texas home.

Ex-Yank has become a baseball pariah

Clemens, still the subject of a Judicial Investigation into possible perjury during his evidence to Congress, has been conspicuous by his absence.

He was persona non grata when the Bronx Bombers played their final game at Yankee Stadium on September 21st.

There was not a single mention of Clemens throughout the celebrations, which included a video montage of the Yanks’ greatest pitchers.

Clemens, who won two World Series rings with the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, was said to be “heartbroken” by the snub.

It remains to be seen whether he features among the 300 former players scheduled to take part in the official closing ceremony at Yankee Stadium on November 9.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, who was also ignored during last month’s festivities, has already indicated that he will attend.

Like Barry Bonds, two years his junior at 44, The Rocket has yet to officially announce his retirement from baseball. 

Neither player could find a club willing to take them last season. Now it seems that no one wants to be associated with baseball’s two social outcasts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


WHAT PRICE Eli Manning and the New York Giants to repeat as Super Bowl champions?

Well, the odds against them retaining their title have shortened considerably since the start of the season.

The British bookmakers clearly regarded the Giants’ win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII as a fluke, quoting them as 25-1 outsiders.

But, after winning their first four games, they’re now second favorites (at a best-priced 9-1) behind the Dallas Cowboys (13-2).

It says something for the strength of the NFC East that the Washington Redskins (12-1) are third favorites.

It also gives you an idea of the challenges that lie ahead for Tom Coughlin’s team, who face divisional rivals five times in their remaining 12 games.

With their next two opponents being the struggling Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, Big Blue has a good chance of making it six out of six.

However, it gets tougher after that as a visit to Pittsburgh is followed by a home showdown with the Cowboys on November 2.

This time last year, there were serious doubts being raised about whether Manning Jr. would make the grade as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Now he’s being talked about in the same breath as his brother, Peyton, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and the other elite players in his position.

Eli Manning now an elite quarterback

Manning came of age in the Super Bowl. Now he’s exuding confidence and living up to his pedigree.

Success doesn’t seem to have changed him. He’s still an unassuming kind of guy…and the Giants are an unassuming kind of team.

Amazingly, the retirement of running back Tiki Barber, and the broken leg suffered by tight end Jeremy Shockey in 2007, actually made the Giants stronger. They lost their two superstars, but gained unity and a sense of purpose.

Now, this year, they have managed to overcome the retirement of Michael Strahan and the loss through injury of Osi Umenyiora. So far, at least.

They have three battering rams in Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. And they can beat you in the air too, with or without Plaxico Burress. Domenik Hixon and Sinorice Moss proved that against Seattle last Sunday.

The Giants’ strength is their depth. Whenever one man goes down, they seem to have another to replace him. Every week, someone new emerges.

Some would say they don’t have the explosive power of the Dallas offense. I’m not sure Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren would concur.

It’s more than a year now since the Giants lost a road game (45-35 against Dallas in Texas Stadium). They go for their 13th consecutive road win in Cleveland on Monday night.

They look a sound bet to achieve it and if you took a punt of them before the start of the season, hold on to your ticket. You’ve certainly got a value bet.


MIKE SCIOSCIA is one of the smartest managers in baseball, but I’ll bet he’s feeling near suicidal today.

For the third time in five years, Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels – the best team in baseball this season – were outfoxed by Terry Francona and the Boston Red Sox.

Want to know how big a part psychology plays in sport? Well, just look at the recent results of games between these two teams.

The Angels owned the Red Sox during the regular season, winning their last eight meetings.

But when it comes to the American League Divisional Series, the tables are well and truly turned.

Before their 5-4 win on Sunday, the Angeles had suffered 11 consecutive losses and two straight playoff sweeps.

Now it’s 12 out of 13 after Scioscia picked the worst possible time to play small ball.

While Scioscia will no doubt argue that’s what enabled his team to win 100 games this year, there’s a time and a place.

The ninth inning of Game Four of the ALDS at Fenway Park, with the scores tied at 2-2, was neither the time nor the place to attempt a suicide squeeze.

Scioscia lets Sox off the hook

All the momentum was with the Angeles. Francona had himself blundered by taking the unhittable Jon Lester out after 109 pitches, enabling LA to get back in the game.

After LA had scored two runs in the eighth, pinch hitter Kendry Morales led off the ninth with a double and Howie Kendrick then bunted pinch runner Reggie Willits over to third.

Manny Delcarmen had fallen behind Erick Aybar 2-0 when Aybar attempted to bunt and missed, leaving Willits stranded in no man’s land between third and home.

It proved to be the turning point of the game as the Sox went on to clinch victory and an ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays with Jed Lowrie’s walk-off single.

“With a 2-0 count, I felt he had to get a ball around the plate,” explained Scioscia afterwards. “Erick is one of the best bunters we have. It was a buntable ball. Erick just didn’t get it done.”

To be fair to Scioscia, if the squeeze had worked as planned, he might well have been hailed as a hero in the newspapers this morning.

But it didn’t…and you have to question the wisdom of his decision.

I’m no proponent of the bunt. You only get 27 outs in a normal game and I hate giving one away for free.

The Angels had three chances to bring Willits home from second. By bunting him to third, they reduced that to two. They were also drastically decreasing their chances of scoring more than one run and, remember, the Sox were up last.

Sour grapes from Lackey

It was a textbook move and meant the Angels could take the lead with a reasonable length flyball. Surely, with Aybar ahead in the count, Scioscia would have been better served letting him swing away?

“That’s our style of baseball,” said John Lackey, LA’s starting pitcher. “That’s what got us here.”

“We are a better team than they are. The last two days, we shouldn’t have given up anything.”

Wrong on both counts John. What got you there was playing smart ball rather than small ball.

And to say you’re better than Boston given your post-season record against them sounds like sour grapes.

The Red Sox have managed to overcome the departure of Manny Ramirez at a crucial stage of the season, a hip injury to third baseman Mike Lowell and a less than 100% healthy Josh Beckett.

They will have their hands full against the Rays, another team who dominated them during the regular season.

It’s the young upstart against the wily old pro. And the Sox have served notice that you’re going to have to beat them by conventional means.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


THERE’S NO DEBATE that Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees made a big mistake not trading for Johan Santana last winter.

Now there’s a danger that Cashman and Co. will make an even bigger mistake by relentlessly pursuing this winter’s top free agent – CC Sabathia – whatever the cost.

With Santana, the Yanks, despite their many injury problems and lack of hitting, would probably have made the playoffs.

But while Santana (29) and Sabathia (28) have several things in common – namely, they’re No. 1 pitchers who overpower hitters with their velocity and movement – they’re built very differently.

Santana, who stands 6ft 0in tall and weighs 208lbs, is a cruiserweight in baseball terms. At 6ft 7in and 290lbs, Sabathia is a super heavyweight.

Santana pitched 234.1 innings this season for an ERA of 2.53. Sabathia has thrown 253 innings (ERA 2.70) and he’s not done yet.

CC may have too many miles on the clock

It was largely thanks to Sabathia and his ability to pitch well on short rest that the Milwaukee Brewers scraped into the play-offs as a wild card. Now they’re asking Sabathia to pitch in game two against the Philadelphia Phillies, again on three days’ rest, so that he’s available to go in game five should the NL divisional series go that far.

The Brewers, who don’t have the financial clout to compete with baseball’s billionaires for Sabathia’s services long term, have certainly got their money’s worth since acquiring him from the Cleveland Indians in a trade at the start of July.

Any potential bidders, even a club as desperate for starting pitching as the Yankees, must be wary that his heavy workload might take its toll next season.

So far, Sabathia, the American League Cy Young Award winner in 2007, has proved remarkably resilient. His 94-98 mph fastball, 10-to-4 slider and excellent command will lead to one club breaking the bank to give him a long-term contract worth more than $20 million a year.

Reports say that Sabathia, who is a building a house in Orange County, California, favors playing on the West Coast and in the National League. That would no doubt be a big disappointment for Cashman and the Yankees. Yet it could prove a blessing in disguise.

They might well be better served signing a younger, less exposed pitcher (someone like 24-year-old Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals), who has a better chance of staying healthy for the next five to seven years.

Sabathia may be the Rolls Royce of pitching…but even a ‘Roller' can break down when it’s got that many miles on the clock.