Every year, every major sport comes down to two teams. Usually, there's some sort of grandiose narrative framing that championship match-up. This year, MLB does not disappoint, and gives the people a trope they've come to expect: team on a roll, delivered through improbable circumstance, versus a team that is defying some odds.
The St. Louis Cardinals get to play the role of the former, shocking most casual fans with their astonishing run through the post-season and winding up only four wins away from the ultimate validation. The Texas Rangers, on the other hand, are a firm lock in the latter category, having raced to the World Series last year, after a long, long drought, and battling all year to get back.
When these two teams meet tonight at 6:05 p.m., they'll start things off in St. Louis, which has home-field advantage thanks to the National League’s win in the All-Star Game. The best of seven series follows a 2-3-2 format, ensuring that Texas' fans will be packing the stands in the middle of the series, regardless of the result.
David Freese is on a role.
There's the mini-drama over Lance Berkman, a free agent last year who was pursued by the Rangers, but ultimately spurned them for the Cardinals. There's the lockdown pitching of the Rangers’ bullpen, which is producing at a rate that is almost embarrassing for the starters. And, of course, there's the danger of St. Louis' powerful offense, combining Albert Pujols—perhaps the best hitter in baseball—with David Freese and the aforementioned Berkman.
Predictions, however, are hard to come by. These teams, with their varied styles and the differing ways they got to this point, play a somewhat even game. When forced to come with a prediction, though, I've got to go with the Rangers in seven games. These teams are so close, it's going to be a full series. We're going to see some beautiful baseball. But ultimately, only one of the familiar stories will get to be told. This is the year for the Rangers.
Fielder and Betancourt celebrate Betancourt’s two-run shot
There's no love lost between the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. Both teams engaged in trash talk throughout the season, which came to a boiling point in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. St. Louis controlled the tempo with David Freese’s three-run homer in the top of the fourth inning. But the Brewers went into their signature “beast mode” and delivered a six-run fifth inning. Prince Fielder's two-run homer, Ryan Braun’s two-run RBI double, along with a Yuniesky Betancourt two-run homer gave the Cardinals pitching nightmares. The 9-6 win was huge for Milwaukee, but the series is far from over as the teams split their season series. Despite barely making the playoffs, the Cardinals still have the pitching advantage and could easily win their home games. But they'll have to find a way to win Game 2 without their best pitcher, Chris Carpenter.
Whoever said real life couldn't mimic Rocky movies has obviously never seen UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar fight before. Edgar fought Grey Maynard on Saturday night for the third time to settle their rivalry. On New Year’s Day of this year, both men fought to a controversial draw that saw Maynard almost knock out Edgar in the first round. Edgar recovered and did enough to convince the judges to rule the fight a draw. Their third encounter shockingly resembled their second fight with Maynard nailing Edgar with a huge uppercut in the first round. Edgar survived and Maynard failed to take advantage. During rounds two and three, Maynard was conservative, allowing Edgar to pull even in the fight. Then during round four, Edgar made Maynard pay for a takedown attempt and finished the fight with a dramatic knockout to retain the title. After two failed attempts, Maynard will have to climb back up the difficult rankings to get another shot at the title. Edgar may get matched up with Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez or fight the Ben Henderson-Clay Guida winner.
Also in MMA, it looks like Anderson Silva maybe seeing Chael Sonnen back in the octagon sooner rather than later. Brian Stann was poised to become breakout fighter of the year with a win over Sonnen. But the 14-month layoff did not bother Sonnen as he dominated Stann with his wrestling, eventually submitting him with an arm-triangle choke. However, the impressive victory was not enough as Sonnen insulted Silva and challenged him to a fight during Super Bowl weekend. Sonnen even put his career on the line if he lost, but with a victory told Silva he had to leave the Middleweight division.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis runs all over the Jets
The New York Jets struggles continue as the New England Patriots used their running game to frustrate the Jets defense. Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a breakout performance with a career best 136 yards and two touchdowns to lead his team to the 30-21 victory. The Jets were down most of the game but managed to make a compelling comeback from 13 points down in the fourth quarter. But the Patriots used good clock management and sealed the game with a field goal with 1:03 remaining. Jets coach Rex Ryan shouldn't panic, despite losing his third game in a row; but losing one more could send the locker room into disarray.
To say it’s been a difficult season for UNM is a massive understatement. With former coach Mike Locksley getting axed and battling another controversy, dealing with rival New Mexico state looked impossible, to say the least. To UNM's credit, 30,091 fans showed up to support interim coach George Barlow’s chance to salvage the rest of the season. The new-felt optimism quickly disappeared as New Mexico State quarterback Matt Christian dominated the Lobo defense with three passing touchdowns in the first half. When the second half started the Lobo offense showed some signs of life, scoring 21 points. But the defense was unable to stop NMSU as the Lobos suffered its third loss in a row to the Aggies. Despite the lopsided 42-28 loss, the Lobos showed some positive signs, with quarterback B.R Holbrook making decent decisions and moving the ball. There's not a lot of positive signs to take away from an 0-5 start to the season, but the Lobos need to focus on the fundamental basics in order salvage something out of the disaster.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks engaged in a slug fest during game two of the National League Divisional Series. The teams combined for 22 hits, in a game marked by shifting momentum. During the fifth inning, Arizona seemed set for a comeback victory with Justin Upton tying the game with a two-run homer. But in the sixth, a Jonathan Lucroy bunt and Nyjer Morgan's two run single contributed to the Brewers scoring five runs in that frame. With the 9-4 victory the Brewers take a commanding lead in the series as they head to Arizona on Tuesday. Milwaukee is not exactly used to success of this kind, as the 2-0 series lead is the first in franchise history. If the Brewers can pull of its first sweep in its history, it might give them the momentum needed to move toward a World Series victory.
When Rex Ryan was coaching the Ravens, Baltimore was the most dangerous defense in the NFL. Ryan continued improving the defensive side of the ball with the New York Jets, but on Sunday the Jets got a rude awakening. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez looked like he was in a horror movie, suffering multiple hits and giving up three defensive touchdowns. The Ravens defense caused so much havoc, it covered up Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s mediocre 10-31 throwing performance. With the 34-17 loss, the Jets are now on a two-game losing streak and have a date with their heated rival the New England Patriots. The Ravens proved they're one of the top teams in the AFC, while the Jets looked terrible and should set the stage for another memorable Rex Ryan tirade.
Many of the signatures on Art Duran’s memento belong to players lost to time: Ray Katt and Al Aber, for instance. Four scribbles, however, were done by Baseball Hall of Famers: Leo Durocher, Bob Lemon, Al Lopez and Monte Irvin. What is most important to Duran, 77, is that he gained this souvenir during a game, not at some memorabilia show or off eBay.
Baseball wasn't always played by steroid-addled freaks. Babe Ruth hit more than 700 home runs and was drunk, smoking a cigar, eating a hot dog and cavorting with underage prostitutes the whole time. And that was just on the field. Lots of people say it’s boring, but they’re wrong. It’s a game of anticipation.
Man, I never would have thought I would be here. I was certain they were going to roll. I was afraid for my friend's long-term well-being and then, magically, a week ago it all came together. The Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays in a best of 5 series—without winning a single game at home. (This, oddly, made them still without a home playoff win in their entire existence until their current series.)
Now, they've embarked on the journey that all Davids must undergo if they want to take down baseball's ultimate crown: that perpetual Goliath, the New York Yankees.
As a baseball hater, when October inevitably arrives each year, I usually turn my rooting interests the way of the Yankees. They're usually pretty good, they win a good percentage of the time, and they're at least somewhat entertaining, especially given their links to Jay-Z.
Now, however, I'll have to root against my pseudo-team. And I'll be happy to do so. Despite any troll comments online, the Texas Rangers' story only gets better and better to me. Turns out, when they clinched the American League Division Series in game five, the team celebrated with ginger ale before breaking out the champagne. Why? Slugger Josh Hamilton is a recovering alcoholic. Plenty of smart-mouthed sports fans made negative cracks about that in the last week, but imagine being him and seeing your teammates holding back on their celebration out of respect for you. My fandom of the Rangers begins at that noble point.
Count Cliff Lee, their pitcher extraordinaire, as reason No. 2. With an ERA of 3.18, through the regular season, he ranked sixth in the American League this year. He's been in the league a mere eight years, and made it to the World Series in 2009 with the Philadelphia Phillies, only to fall to the New York Yankees. Added intrigue to an already interesting storyline? Count me in. Through the fourth game of the American League Championship Series, Lee's pitching at an insane 1.26 ERA and hasn't lost a single game he's started.
Last but not least, I default to the somewhat bizarre case of the Rangers' sad luck. Having made it to the playoffs only three times before this year, they've always been eliminated by, you guessed it, the New York Yankees. Now, with a chance to get back at the bully in the ALCS, there's a lot to root for. Game 4 was played in New York yesterday, with the Rangers walking all over the Yankees, for the second night in a row. The Rangers lost their first home game last Friday, but proceeded to win (their first postseason home victory in the history of their franchise!) on Saturday. Things stayed cheerful for the Texas boys in New York, and with the win last night they're only one away from their first ever trip to the World Series.
Tune in today at 2:07 p.m. on TBS as the Rangers try to wrap things up in New York.
Last week, I wrote about my friend's lifelong love for the Texas Rangers, and today they began their playoff battle. A team that, as I noted, had previously won only one playoff game in their entire existence, started the journey on the road. The Rangers played the Tampa Bay Rays and were firmly in command the whole time. Listening on the radio while at work had an old-school effect not only on my buddy at work, but on the rest of us as well, constantly checking in with him for updates, despite the fact the the ever-present Internet was (as always) a mere click away.
Seeing my buddy after work was like seeing a kid after their team wins its first game. I'm not sure I can stand much more of his happiness, but I'm definitely rooting for it.
All that joy was, if not erased or negated, kind of deflated a mere five hours later, though. As I stopped by Marble Brewery to pick up a growler after work, I eased up to the bar to see another baseball game on. The Philadelphia Phillies were playing the Cincinnati Reds, but the game was pretty much over. It was the top of the ninth, and the Phillies were up 4-0, pitching. There wasn't much chance of a Reds comeback and yet, to my right was a guy in a Phillies jersey, watching the TV in rapture.
I hope I won't be mischaracterizing this man to say that, as the game wrapped up, he looked like he was liable to cry in joy. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of cheering happening on the TV as well, so I couldn't help but ask my fellow drinker: "Did the Phillies do something more special than winning the first game of the playoffs?"
He replied that Roy Halladay, the pitcher for the Phillies, had just proceeded to pitch only the second no-hitter in MLB playoff history. Only accomplished once, 54 years ago this Friday, a no-hitter in the playoffs is better than almost anyone would have predicted for Halladay's first experience in the playoffs. He'd never made it there before, despite playing in the big leagues for 15 years.
And with that, the Texas Rangers' moment in the sun was eclipsed suddenly, unexpectedly and totally, by a pitcher on a tear. Here's to both the Rangers and Halladay's continued success. Follow along on the radio. You'll be glad you did.
The Albuquerque Isotopes had the game all but licked last night—until the inning that mattered the most. The evening was hot, and the crowd was feeling great, cheering the team on. As night wore on, it began to smell of rain, but the ’Topes were still up. It wouldn't last.
Albuquerque held the Iowa Cubs to a scoreless first half of the first inning. Rafael Furcal, on loan from the Dodgers, got the scoring started with a great hit that should have been only a double, but thanks to a misread by the I-Cubs outfield, turned into a triple, putting him in scoring position.
Iowa answered back in the second inning, but that was the only time it was close: Albuquerque led (or was tied) at every point in the game, until the ninth. The ’Topes blasted four runs in the second inning, three of them after a controversial double play was recalled.
In the third inning, the Cubs still played victim and didn't score a single run, but John Lindsey hit a monster double that looked like it was going to sail over the back wall but dropped just short.
The massacre slowed a bit in the fourth inning, when the 'Topes scored only one run, but by that point it was 9-1, good guys on top. The Cubs started their comeback in the fifth inning, scoring two runs, but the teams traded runs after that point—the Albuquerque scoring three in the sixth, and Iowa doing the same in the seventh.
The crowd enjoyed the baseball tradition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and cheered on the chile race (green won after an early collusion took down the rest of the field). Then things turned sour for the former Dukes.
In the ninth inning, they gave the game away. Allowing nine runs, the crowd turned from its playful, celebratory mood to curses and repeated calls to remove the pitcher or improve the defense; anything to stem the bloodletting. As more and more fans got up and abandoned the hope of a rally, they started to talk about the season's home closer, tonight at 6:35 PM.
The Isotopes lost to the I-Cubs, 15-13. With playoff hopes firmly out of reach, the focus at tonight’s game will hopefully be more relaxed, and the ’Topes will be able to say goodbye to the 505 for the year on a positive note.