Wednesday, October 24, 2007

2007 World Series - Rockies vs. Red Sox

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

Last Tuesday (10/16) the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Red Sox 7-3 to increase their American League Championship Series lead to three games to one. "Why should we panic?" said Manny Ramirez a day after the game. "We've got a great team."

Ramirez received plenty of criticism for his easygoing and laid-back comments, but apparently he knew what he was talking about. After taking Games 5 and 6 in the ALCS to force a winner-take-all Game 7 in Boston, the Red Sox completed the comeback with an 11-2 win over Cleveland on Sunday night.

Dustin Pedroia homered and drove in five runs for the Red Sox, who return to the World Series for the second time in four years and the first time since their successful championship run in 2004. Kevin Youkilis went 3-5 with a two-run homer, and Jason Varitek added three more hits to help pace a Red Sox lineup that accumulated most of its 15 hits against Indians starter Jake Westbrook and an overworked Rafael Betancourt.

Looking shaky at times, Daisuke Matsuzaka managed to earn the win for the Red Sox after giving up only two runs in five innings. Matsuzaka, nicknamed Dice-K, gave up an RBI double to Ryan Garko in the fourth and a sacrifice fly to Grady Sizemore in the fifth. But after Dice-K left the game, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon combined for four scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Papelbon also managed to earn a two-inning save.

Leading 3-2 in the seventh inning, Pedroia homered to deep left-center to put the Red Sox up 5-2. The Indians led off the top of the eighth with two consecutive singles off of Okajima, but Papelbon relieved him and shut the door on the Indians rally by retiring Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez and Garko in succession.

With the momentum entirely on their side, the Red Sox blew the game open in the bottom of the eighth. JD Drew singled home Mike Lowell, and Dustin Pedroia hit a line-drive double into the left-center gap to score three more runs. Youkilis followed with a two-run homer that increased the lead to 11-2, sealing both the ALCS victory for the Red Sox and the Indians' fate.

The series loss for the Indians only adds to the frustration of a franchise that hasn't won a title since 1948.

The Red Sox will now face the surprising Colorado Rockies when the World Series begins on October 24th in Boston. Colorado has won 21 of its last 22 games, including impressive series sweeps of the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. The Rockies' exciting run has sparked a rallying cry of "Rocktober" from fans hoping for the franchise's first-ever championship.

In Game 1, the Rockies will hand the ball to starter Jeff Francis, who will surely be opposed by Josh Beckett, the ace of the Red Sox staff.

Colorado has been idle since its NLCS victory over the D-Backs on October 15th. Only time will tell whether the time off will help or hurt the Rockies and their recent stretch of outstanding play.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

When will it stop?

I feel kind of stupid. I should have seen this coming. During the MLB Playoffs this year, I actually stopped thinking about steroids and performance enhancing drugs for a few weeks. I was more worried about the collapse of the Yankees, another disappointing finish for the Cubs, how Eric Byrnes could figure the Diamondbacks were outplaying the Rockies while getting swept, the Indians-Red Sox series and its Game 7 tonight, and the crazy Rockies run into the World Series that NO ONE saw coming.

Instead, baseball fans, Sunday's biggest story leading up to Game 7 of the ALCS won't be the game itself; the story will undoubtedly be a published report that Paul Byrd of the Cleveland Indians apparently bought $25,000 worth of HGH and syringes.

Just as most other people, I'm tired of all of these stories. But I'm not mad at the sports media for publishing them -- this one is obviously on the players. I can't be frustrated with all of the discussion surrounding steroids when these stories keep surfacing and certain players are found to have cheated. I question the timing which the story came out, but it's still important nonetheless.

Come on, Paul Byrd using steroids? How credible can many of the players be if Byrd is using performance enhancing drugs? Just take a look at this ESPN interview with Byrd. Sure, good guys can cheat too, but how many of them are publishing their own books just like Byrd is, entitled "'The Free Byrd Project,' a finished manuscript that details Byrd's spiritual journey through the major leagues and the pitfalls that pious jocks must leap in navigating a ballplayer's lifestyle." It looks like he may need to add a chapter or two that deals with making HGH purchases.

Byrd is not a power pitcher, but he has been pretty successful in the playoffs this year. Maybe that's part of the problem -- anyone could be using certain substances, not just guys who jack home runs, throw 100 mph fastballs, or look like they have been using something. Even the extremely religious guy (Byrd) who says and seems to do all of the right things may have needed a little extra help to latch on to another organization and stay in the league a little bit longer.

Over the last few weeks and months, names like Gary Matthews, Jr., Jay Gibbons, Scott Schoeneweis, Rick Ankiel, Neifi Perez, Guillermo Mota, and others have been listed as possible HGH or steroid users. Ankiel was actually part of one of the best stories in baseball this year until the report was published that he had ordered HGH shipments a few years ago. All the positive and uplifting feelings surrounding his name quickly faded afterwards. Barry Bonds is the guy everybody points to, but there has never been any concrete evidence that he used steroids. When will the big names surface and will anybody be shocked when they inevitably do come to light?

Again, I hate talking about steroids. I love baseball, but these little controversies are ruining the game. I'm sure Fox is going to blow up the story tonight, and I'm hoping it doesn't take away from the game.

And I'm going to try and not be surprised when other names are released in the future. You just never know whose name will be tossed into the fire next.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Cherishing the moment

(Written on 10/11/07 for my composing processes class... still not completely satisfied with it...)

Few feelings for sports fans can rival the moments when their teams accomplish great feats. The sport doesn’t matter; the team doesn’t matter. All that counts is recognizing the exciting road it took for teams to get where they finished.

Over the course of sports history, hundreds of different teams and millions of fans have had the opportunity to bask in the glory of their teams’ successes, victories, and accomplishments. When teams have strong seasons, such as ones that end in playoff berths or simply steps in the right direction, both fans and players are encouraged and excited. The highest level of achievement is accomplished when teams have everything clicking and have all their pistons firing in order to capture a championship. But when that moment is over, nothing can replace it but another season capped off with a similar ending.

The sports world is constantly changing, and one year’s champion may be next year’s big disappointment. Very rarely is anything guaranteed in sports and enjoying certain moments remains extremely important.

But most fans are greedy -- and deservedly so. If they can't have their own teams win, then they more than likely want to be surprised. They don’t want the same teams winning over and over again; they want parity.

To try and recapture moments of past glories, fans frequently latch on to any current underdog team or story. Not many people outside of a certain team’s fan base want to see a favored team win. Some organizations spend millions of dollars to form winning teams, and they’re expected to win. They’re supposed to roll over all competition along the way, but few fans may feel fulfilled when heavily favored teams do win. Who, after all, really wants Goliath to beat David?

Teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox still get pleasure out of winning games, but the rules are different for them based on the pressure from their fans and the sports world. The sports media also plays an important role by constantly discussing large market teams and adding even more pressure to the equation. These two teams have the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball, and if they finish with anything less than a championship, then the entire season is a lost cause. The journey is no longer important for them -- only the result.

For other winners in sports from previous years, including, to name a few, the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, and Indianapolis Colts, the ride was just as important, if not more so, than winning the championship. These teams all have expectations to win games, but different and more difficult standards apply for the Yankees and Red Sox.

The Yankees, with a payroll over $200 million, are currently talking about making wholesale changes after being ousted from the playoffs by the Cleveland Indians. Their current manager, Joe Torre, may not return, and several players will test the free agent market and assuredly travel elsewhere. Red Sox fans, too, will feel devastated if their team gets knocked out of the playoffs. They will demand answers and wonder exactly why a championship was not delivered.

Winning, obviously, is the overall goal for every single team; however, doing so every year is impossible. When fans expect their teams to have a spectacular season every year and give them memorable moments every game, they allow disappointment to swoop in and bring anger and frustration along with it.

Sports should be fun to both watch and play. They’re challenging, especially at the highest level of competition, and they’re supposed to entertain and bring excitement to everyone involved. Instead of enjoying their teams’ success, some fans demand victory at all costs and are worried about nothing else.

Eventually for most teams, good experiences arise at some point or another. As a fan, hope for victory but never forget to appreciate the special moments that occur.

Some time may pass before they return.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bobcats football -- Homecoming

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

In their latest matchup against NAIA opponent Southern Virginia, the Bobcats fell behind by 14 early and were unable to maintain much offensive rhythm as they turned the ball over five times. Playing without senior tailback Shanorm Young, the Bobcats pulled within eight in the 4th quarter, but the Southern Virginia offense drove down the field for a late touchdown to seal the game and pull out a 35-20 win.

Freshman tailback Anton Wade started in place of Young and ran for 102 yards and 2 TDs. Senior quarterback Andre Dixon also added a rushing TD of his own along with 85 yards on the ground and 103 through the air.

The key for the Bobcats, though, was losing the turnover battle. During the second half, Frostburg State fumbled on three consecutive possessions, leading to two Southern Virginia touchdowns.

The Bobcats (1-5) have struggled this season, but they look to salvage part of their season heading into Saturday's Homecoming game against NAIA Union (Ky.).

In last year's game against Union, the Bobcats pulled out an exciting 7-3 win on the road. After three scoreless quarters, the Bobcats surrendered a field goal midway through the fourth quarter. With a little over two minutes left in the game, the Bobcats sent a huge rush and blocked Union's punt and returned it 15 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown.

In that game, the Bobcat offense outgained Union's 255-175, and the defense forced Union to punt nine times. But they didn't force any turnovers and turned the ball over themselves twice on fumbles, keeping the game close until the end.

With only two home games and this Homecoming game being the last of those two, the Bobcats need to score points this year in order to keep the pressure on Union's defense. So far this season, though, the offense has had its share of problems. Unable to lead a balanced attack, the Bobcats have had to rely on a rushing game which has more than doubled the output of the passing game (957-467). The Bobcats have been outscored 185-64 and a whopping 91-16 in the first half. Scoring so few points has put tremendous pressure on the defense, often forcing them to stay on the field longer and play significant minutes.

But even though they've had their struggles, the Bobcats refuse to fold. In the loss to Southern Virginia, they never rolled over. They cut into the Knights' lead a few times and were right on the verge of evening the score if not for a few untimely turnovers and penalties.

The Bobcats won't be able to attain a winning record this year, but they won't give in or stop trying. They desperately want to win their last home game of the year and will give everything they have for a win on Saturday.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

MLB playoff fever

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

Note: This article was written and submitted on Friday, October 5th, so some of these teams may be eliminated by the time this is published.

It’s October again and the Major League Baseball Playoffs are back. Most of the teams in this year’s playoffs, seven in fact, were not in last year, including the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Phillies, Rockies, Red Sox, Angels, and Indians.

Each team has its own certain identity or blueprint for how they want to win games. For example, the Rockies, already up two games to none on the Phillies, are one of the best offensive teams in the league, and they hope to get enough strong pitching from their starters and relievers to seal the deal. The Angels, on the other hand, are forced to rely on solid pitching, good base running, and timely hitting because of some recent injuries.

Every playoff team has some unsung heroes as well – some players who do not get most of the credit but still need to perform in order for their team to win. Making statements like “Alex Rodriguez needs to finally get some clutch hits” or “the Phillies need Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard to lead the way offensively” do not really add much to the discussion because they are obvious statements.

All of the playoff teams need their stars to perform. The game goes much deeper than that, and in order for each team to advance in the playoffs, they will need a helping hand from the following players:

Chone Figgins, OF, Angels – Though they lost the first game, the Angels are not done yet. Vladimir Guerrero and Garrett Anderson are the team’s main power threats, but they are a little banged up right now. Figgins needs to create some chaos at the top of the lineup and steal some bases. The Angels may just be the best base running team in the American League, and they will need to disrupt the Red Sox’s starting rotation to move on.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox – Similarly to Figgins, Pedroia hits leadoff and has had an outstanding season. However, besides getting on base and setting the table for David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Lowell, Pedroia is a solid defensive second baseman. By leading with both his bat and his glove, this rookie must have a strong October for the Red Sox to go far.

Rafael Betancourt, RP, Indians – Betancourt usually pitches the eighth inning out of the Indians’ bullpen, and he is probably their best reliever. The Indians have a solid one-two combination of C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona in their starting rotation, but the bullpen performance may just determine the Indians’ fate against the Yankees and their formidable lineup. Unless, of course, the Indians hit like they did in game one and score 12 runs every game.

Joba Chamberlain, RP, Yankees – Chamberlain, a 22 year old rookie, has been lights out ever since his promotion to the Yankees in August. The Indians have a great lineup, and if the Yankees grab the lead, Chamberlain’s job is to get the ball to Mariano Rivera. Rivera may not be the same pitcher he once was, though, and Chamberlain should be prepared to shoulder a significant workload.

Yorvit Torrealba, C, Rockies – Mentioning Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki in this spot would be easy to do since they are arguably the heart and soul of the Rockies, but Torrealba plays a vital role as well behind the plate. He handles a relatively young pitching staff and calls a great game. He can also hit for power occasionally, and he has been known to perform well in the clutch.

Phillies Bullpen – The Phillies are down two games already and are in big trouble. They had both of their home games taken from them, and they will have to win the next three games to take the series. The Phillies should not have trouble scoring runs in Colorado, but they will need solid contributions from their entire bullpen if they are going to run the table. And for goodness sake, do not put Jose Mesa back in the game.

Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks – This choice may seem like a bit of a cop out, but the D-Backs have Doug Davis and probably Livan Hernandez as the second and third starters in their rotation. The D-Backs need to take advantage of every start Webb makes throughout the playoffs and win each game at all costs, as they did in game one against the Cubs.

Rich Hill, SP, Cubs – The Cubs are down two games to none after an awful performance on Thursday night by Ted Lilly, and now the series shifts to Chicago. The Cubs are seemingly backed into a corner and will definitely need a strong performance from Rich Hill to pick the team up. If Hill can get the job done, then Zambrano may return to pitch game four with motivation and the crowd on his side. The Cubs have taken some tough losses in the past, and a great game from Hill may help to reverse this team’s previous misfortunes.

For everyone watching the playoffs on TBS, enjoy the games -- and the endless Frank TV and Dane Cook commercials.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A little professionalism please

(Written for The Bottom Line)

The Oklahoma State football team won last Saturday, but many people would have figured otherwise after Head Coach Mike Gundy’s angry press conference following the game.

Gundy, holding a newspaper and having an intense look in his eyes, immediately started to voice his displeasure with a recent article published in The Oklahoman.

The article, written by columnist Jenni Carlson, discussed Junior quarterback Bobby Reid. In her column, Carlson described an off the field incident between Reid and his mother on Friday, September 14, after a game against Troy. She also noted attitude problems and a lack of toughness in regard to injuries as reasons for Reid possibly losing his starting job to Sophomore Zac Robinson.

Carlson criticized Reid for not handling pressure better than he has so far this season. She also wrote about seeing him laughing on the sidelines in the fourth quarter during that same game against Troy, which the Cowboys happened to lose. She believes he has the talent, but he just hasn’t been able to put everything together.

Most of Gundy’s anger was obviously directed at Carlson for attacking Reid’s character and his actions off the field. Gundy said he was annoyed with “certain people downgrading college athletes who are good people.” Gundy also questioned why the editor allowed the column to be published in the first place.

In a rant that lasted a little over three minutes (check YouTube), Gundy made a few haphazard points of his own. He referred to Reid as a “kid” and said he shouldn’t be penalized for trying to do right. He also tried to defend his position by saying that since Carlson wasn’t a parent, she did not understand how it felt to have a child made fun of for failing at something. When Gundy was finished with his shouting, he left in a huff with hardly any mention of his team’s big comeback win over Texas Tech.

Gundy had another press conference on Monday, mainly to discuss his actions from Saturday. “I don’t say things for people to disagree or agree with me,” he said. “I say them if I think they’re right.” What did he think Carlson did in her column?

To be fair, both Carlson and Gundy made mistakes. Carlson certainly made several loose connections when trying to use some of her observations of Reid off the field to explain why he has struggled on it. She barely commented on Reid’s performance during games, and she instead chose to focus mainly on other circumstances. Perhaps she wrote something that really should never have been published. And Gundy, driven by irritation and emotion, went into his press conference without first trying to regain his composure. He had an agenda to go and defend Reid, which is exactly what a good coach is supposed to do. But Reid is 21 years old; he’s not a kid. He has a full athletic scholarship to play football and is probably highly regarded among the student population at Oklahoma State. But regardless of whether openly criticizing college athletes is acceptable, Reid can handle the responsibilities.

If Gundy had gone into the press conference under control and made his feelings known in a calm and respectable manner, not only would he have been taken more seriously, but he may even have come out on top of the debate.

Instead, he added fuel to the fire and made the controversy take on a life of its own.