Apparently, K-Rod wasn’t the only one who had the right to remain silent, so did the Colorado Rockies hitters yesterday at Citi Field. At a time when the New York Mets desperately needed a quiet, low-key victory, the team’s ace delivered just that.

Johan Santana never gave Mets manager, Jerry Manuel, the chance to take the ball from him and give it to the K-Rod-less bullpen Thursday.  Santana threw 9 shutout innings surrendering just 4 hits in the 4-0 Mets win.  The lefty fanned 10 Rockies, including the first three to start the game.

Now prior to the game yesterday, I thought the Mets should have gotten Ted Turner on the line to ask him if the team could star in a new Tyler Perry commercial showing this season’s highlights and having Jose Reyes at the end go, ‘TBS, very funny.’ 

Or maybe Omar Minaya, Mets General Manager, should have called up Vince McMahon at the WWE and asked Vince to trade K-Rod for the Undertaker.  After all, the Undertaker would fit right in with the dead Mets team playing right now.  Plus I have a weird feeling that if K-Rod were still on the team come September, he would not very much appreciate family members being present at the team’s funeral. (Just a hunch…especially his wife’s side, they’re a crazy bunch)

But these calls unfortunately were not made. (possibly because K-Rod smashed his father-in-law’s head into a telephone pole at Citi Field knocking out the Mets direct line)

But instead the Mets and their FREE K-ROD sign holding fans witnessed a gutsy, dominant pitching performance from #57.

Yes, the Mets are a joke right now and are slightly funnier to watch than ABC’s Rookie Blue, but just because the team is young and can’t buy back-to-back wins, that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate one of the game’s best pitchers. Keep doin your thing Johan, thank you so much for not going to the Yankees.

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MLB: At least we dont have Michael Vick!!!

MLB: "At least we don't have Michael Vick!!!"

Since the advent of the wild card berths into the Major League Baseball playoffs in 1995, many baseball fans have had reason to cry foul as their team was denied the wild card while a team with a worse record got into the playoffs by virtue of playing in a weaker division.  Most would argue that this is a sign of parity in the league and that these teams are few and far between.  However, if the season were to end today, both the Texas Rangers and the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays would finish with better records than the AL Central-leading Detroit Tigers, quite conceivably as a result of having to play teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mariners more often than the Tigers.  There is a simple solution to this: Eliminate one division from each league and have 2 wild card teams, that would be determined by best overall record, regardless of what place a team finished in their respective division.  

The basic setup for the 4 division system is simple enough, in fact, this is what it would probably look like:

AL East: New York, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit

AL West: Los Angeles, Texas, Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota, Kansas City, Milwaukee (Note: The Brewers would be moved back to the American League in order to have 15 teams in each league, which is the way it should be anyway, but that’s another topic entirely)

NL East: New York, Philadelphia, Florida, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

NL West: Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Los Angeles, Colorado, San Francisco, Arizona, San Diego

See? That wasn’t that hard.  Now obviously we run into 3 key issues under this system. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to all of these problems.

Problem #1: The West divisions are spread out a LOT more than the East.  Is that fair?
Solution: No, it’s not. That’s why MLB will redraft its schedule and create a balanced schedule where every team in both leagues play each other 11-12 times every year and interleague play, which has really lost its novelty anyway, will be eliminated from the schedule, because how many extra fans really were going to that Nationals-Royals series in the middle of a week, anyway?

Yeah, you better be listening! Now if only anyone could find you...

Yeah, you better be listening! Now if only anyone could find you...

Problem #2: Two of the divisions have 8 teams, but the other two divisions only have 7, what gives?!?
Solution: This isn’t a new problem, just look at the standings today, where you have a four-team AL West and a six-team NL Central.  This creates a unique opportunity for Major League Baseball to expand to 32 teams, though.  I would suggest Charlotte or Nashville for one team and Las Vegas or Portland for the other.  These are all cities that have showed interest in having pro sports in a greater capacity.  Also, by adding the two Western teams to the league, you can shift a team (I would suggest the Brewers since they played in the AL East before division realignment) back into a division that would be less difficult on them with respect to travel.

Problem #3: The balanced schedule is economically unfair to small-market teams who will have to place more money into travel costs that could otherwise be used on acquiring players. Isn’t this just a way for the bigger clubs to push the smaller ones around?
Solution: Yes, this is why two things would need to be put in place in order to preserve the competitive balance of the game. First would be an increase in the amount of revenue sharing between clubs, so as to offset the slight increase in travel expenses.  Second would be the institution of a salary cap system that operates like the NFL’s, one that increases on a yearly basis and has probably been one of the major reason that the NFL is by far the most balanced league out of the major American sports.  This will put teams in position to be more competitive and will lead to increased attendance for teams that are struggling, thus creating record revenues for MLB.  (Note: Of course, I say this without doing any true research, but fundamental economics would suggest #2 and #3 as true. This is also one of the first times I have actually applied my major to something, so now I can’t say I’ll never use that economics degree.)

So there you have it, in a nutshell.  Of course I say this all while assuming that baseball will not kill itself via syringes and tainted records, but until that happens, MLB and its commissioner-in-hiding Bud Selig should seriously consider division realignment, lest we run into another 2006, where a team that played about .500 all year wins the World Series and gives great merit to the argument that the the MLB regular season doesn’t matter.

 

Its a good thing baseball dont know how to fight otherwise both teams would have no players left

It's a good thing baseball players don't know how to fight otherwise both teams would have no players left

Friday night at about 11:30 p.m. I was on my way home from my job in Manhattan. All along the way I could see fans in Red Sox and Yankees gear, but neither side was really looking overly happy.  I was a little confused by this, I mean it was Yankees-Red Sox in the Bronx in the middle of a crucial four-game set and yet, it looked like the game had to be over. There were about 100 fans from the game on the 4 train with me at the 161st Street/Yankee stadium stop.  Then I took a look behind me to peek into the new Yankee Stadium, and saw a still packed house and the game still going on.  I go to the Yankee fan sitting next to me and ask “Hey buddy, the game still going?” He replied, “Yeah, 0-0 in the 13th, where the (expletive) have you been?” At this point, I thought I was having an aneurysm on the train, my heart starting beating faster and I actually got up and started pacing around the train like a madman.

I turned my phone on to get score updates and I was immediately bombarded with texts about the game, many of which came from a Red Sox friend via Twitter (gotta love technology!). I got home at about 12:10 a.m. and immediately turned the TV on and proceeded to go into war mode, yelling orders at the TV, delusionally thinking the players would hear me.  Finally, at 12:35 a.m, Alex Rodriguez hit the game-winning two-run home run and I went into a frenzy.  But when I think about it, if it was any team other than Boston, I don’t know if it would have mattered half as much, and I don’t think I’m the only Yankee partisan who looks at it the same way.

For whatever reason, Yankees-Red Sox has the ability to transcend the ballparks the teams play in.  The rivalry has built and destroyed relationships, led to numerous fights on the field, in the stands, and on the trains to and from the parks, and has even been a cause for murder, yes, I said murder.  But why is it like this? Why the insanity, the fanfare, the hate, joy, heartbreak?  It’s because to New Yorkers and Beantown natives these teams are everything, and there’s good evidence to support that claim.  

In 2001, after the 9/11 tragedy, the Yankees found themselves in their 4th consecutive World Series, and the City of New York was caught up in Yankee fever in a time of despair.  I was fortunate enough to be at Game 4 of the Series and to this day can only remember the raw emotion as Ronan Tynan sang “God Bless America” and the tears that followed it, just as they did after Game 3 the previous night.  I also remember the solace turning into absolute pandemonium when Tino Martinez tied the game with a two-run home run and again when Derek Jeter hit the game winning homer in the 10th, which gave him the “Mr. November” moniker. It was at that moment that I realized that I was witnessing something much larger than a game. This was important. The Yankees are as big a part of New York as the Empire State Building or Times Square.  It was THAT big.

Just 3 years later, I was witness to something that most people previously thought was impossible.  Facing a 3-0 deficit to my Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, the Boston Red Sox mounted the greatest comeback in playoff history, winning four straight to stun the baseball world en route to the Sox first World Series win in 86 years.  Much like New York in ’01, Boston in ’04 was a city united by its baseball team, as it always has been.  I would go on to meet Red Sox fans who, when asked about how winning that first title felt, would still break down into tears…two years after it happened. Red Sox fans’ passion for their team is unmatched by any other fanbase in the league.  Baseball is a New Englander’s religion, and they are taught early and often that the Sox are their team, the people’s team.  Much like I said about the ’01 Series for Yankees fans, the ’04 Series for Sox fans was THAT big, maybe even bigger.

So when you look at it that way, it’s simple to see what makes this rivalry exactly what it is. Two groups of people brought up to be passionate about two opposing sides that meet so regularly in important games.  The results of the games breed the contempt that the two groups have for each other in the heat of battle and beyond.  Winning isn’t a want, it’s a need for the fans, and that desire to win the games translates directly into the moments on the field, which were just added to by another classic moment early Saturday morning. Fans can only hope for more of the same in the next 2 months as these teams seem destined to meet each other again in make-or-break games for both teams.

Even Pirates fans have seen enough of the losing ways of their team

Even Pirates fans have seen enough of the losing ways of their team

Once again the MLB trade deadline has come and gone, and it was not without its share of big moves including Cliff Lee to the Phillies, Victor Martinez to the Red Sox, and Jake Peavy to the White Sox (finally!).  Most analysts at this point will explain what this does for the immediate success of your team for the rest of the season.  However, what they shy away from is the impact that it has on the team that gives up the big name player to a contender.

 

Enter the Pittsburgh Pirates.  A team with a fairly storied history, playing in the first World Series in 1903 (They lost to the Boston Americans, now the Red Sox) and the home of Hall of Famers including Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.  In recent baseball times, however, the Pirates have been nothing more than a doormat for National League teams and a stopping place for young and talented players who go onto bigger and better things, leaving the Pirates fans bewildered as to why that player was ever traded. The 2009 season looked like it could be a turning point for the downtrodden Pirates, though.   Playing in a less-than-stellar NL Central, Pittsburgh was managing to hang around in the race through the end of May, which came as a surprise to most.  The young talent the Pirates ownership had promised for the last decade was starting to look like it was developing and the Pirates were looking like dark-horse contenders.

On June 4th, Pittsburgh found itself at 25-28, 5.5 games out of 1st place, but playing fairly well.  By June 5th, the Pirates season was basically put to an end.  GM Neal Huntington accepted a trade from the Braves for All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth, which was the beginning of the selling off of 10 players from Pittsburgh’s opening day roster for prospects or less in some cases.  Since June 4th, the Pirates have gone 19-30, fallen to 11 games out, and hold a record that is only better than the Padres and Nationals in the NL.

The question is why? The Pirates basically replicated what they did from the previous year when they traded Jason Bay to the Red Sox and Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees.  It gets to the point where it’s an assumed that the Pirates won’t even try to win in a season, instead hiding behind the mask of being a “small-market” team.  If we learned anything from the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, it’s that it is hugely important to hold onto those top level prospects when they hit the Major League level and not be tempted to trade them away for anybody. Hopefully someday the Pirates will look at what the Rays did and right their ship because their players, fans, and the city of Pittsburgh deserve far better.

 

After the McLouth trade, even Pirates players had seen enough.  Jack Wilson was vocal in his criticism of the organization and he and Freddy Sanchez’s subsequent refusals to sign extensions led to their own trades.  What more will it have to take to make the Pirates front office understand that firesales turn away new players, fans, and ultimately winning baseball from their team?

Here’s a look at some of the names that current Pirates GM Neal Huntington and former  GM Dave Littlefield traded away this decade, starting with this year:

2009 – John Grabow (CHC), Tom Gorzelanny (CHC), Freddy Sanchez (SF), Jack Wilson (SEA), Ian Snell (SEA), Adam LaRoche(BOS, now ATL), Nyjer Morgan (WSH), Sean Burnett (WSH), Eric Hinske (NYY), Nate McLouth (ATL)

2008 – Jason Bay, Damaso Marte, Xavier Nady, Salomon Torres

2007 – Rajai Davis, Mike Gonzalez

2006 – Craig Wilson, Oliver Perez, Kip Wells, Sean Casey

2005 – Rob Mackowiak, Dave Williams, Mark Redman, Matt Lawton, David Ross, 

2004 – Leo Nunez, Arthur Rhodes, Jason Kendall, Kris Benson, Jeff Keppinger

2003 – Brian Giles, Randall Simon, Jeff Suppan, Brandon Lyon, Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, Mike Gonzalez (again), Mike Williams, John Wasdin

2002 – Chris Young, Mike Fetters, Damaso Marte (again)

2001 – Gary Matthews Jr., Jose Silva, Todd Ritchie, Mike Williams (again), Terry Mulholland, Jason Schmidt, John Vander Wal

Instant Replay Becomes Part of Major League Baseball

By: Sean Speirs

     Major League Baseball’s Commissioner Bud Selig has finally surrendered. 

     This Thursday, our nations past time will catch up with every other major national sport and include instant replay technology.  This new move is set to last through the rest of the season and post-season (while ideally being re-evaluated during the winter off-season).

     What’s the catch?  Instead of a “play-by-play” instant replay that one may see in an NFL game, the MLB’s instant replay will be used strictly for disputed home run calls, such as over the outfield fence foul balls and fan interference with potential home runs.

     In an interview with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Selig admits that he is “old fashioned”.  “I love the sport the way it is,” Selig said, “but the time has come for this [instant replay].”

     Unfortunately, for some baseball teams who lost because of radical home-run calls, the “time” for change has come a little too late.

     The heavy demand to include some sort of instant replay in baseball has been ongoing, and in retrospective, could have been useful in certain games in the sports’ past.  However, due to some die-hard baseball fans (including Selig) and umpires in the World Umpires Association, the sport’s pure and old-fashioned regulations were to be untouched.

     However, in mid-May of this baseball season, umpires began to call too many mistakes concerning disputed home runs hit by Mets Outfielder Carlos Delgado on May 18th and Yankees Third Basemen Alex Rodriguez on May 21st.  In these particular instances, it was not until these umpires watched the tapes after the game where they noticed that their official rulings were wrong.

     Whether or not this little technological boost will make a difference in baseball, only time will tell.  What is for sure though is that Selig is not looking to expand instant replay past home run calls (such as for pitches and tag-outs).

     “My opposition to unlimited instant replay is still very much in play,” he said to Nightengale.

     So while behind-the-plate and foul-line umpires can sigh in relief, the MLB should still remember (an be a little ashamed) that it was the last national sport to bring in instant replay to assist officials. 

     Although baseball games may be a little longer with the new instant replay process (crew chief umpire waits for an “overturned” call on a disputed home run by a retired umpire/supervisor who is watching a broadcast video feed of the game in a media office), officials are human and cannot be perfect.

     When all is said and done, instant replay in the MLB is bound to shake up the nostalgic feel of baseball, just not as bad as how the use of anabolic steroids already changed the sport.

     At least Selig is starting to understand the accessible technology around him.

     To the MLB: Welcome to the 21st Century…It’s About Time.

By Sean Speirs

IMAGE FROM YAHOOSPORTS.COM

Hey SportsZone fans and readers,

Welcome to “SZ: Questions of the Week”.

This feature on SportsZone’s webpage is where fans/readers will be able to answer sports questions that will be posted every week.  Readers will be able to give their opinion and might even debate with our very own panelists (who will answer the same questions), as they do on-air during the academic year at American University.  If you see a posted question that you want to take part in answering or see an absurd answer that you think is wrong,  let your voice be heard and leave a comment.  This is your chance to join the interaction and debate that is seen onSportsZone every week, only on ATV.

Thanks: Sean Speirs and the SportsZone Crew

Questions of the Week: Week 1

1) The NBA playoffs have finally reached the Conference Finals.  In the East, the Detroit Pistsons are up against the “Big 3’s” Boston Celtics (a great analysis of the matchup has been written by Sean “Beard” Wagman–see below).  Meanwhile, in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers are facing the defending champions San Antonio Spurs.  Of these two series, which teams will we see in the NBA Finals?

2) The Yankees are in an ongoing slump this season, capping it off with their recent loss to the New York Mets this past weekend.  Without A-Rod, the Yankees are 8-12 this season.  Should this team start to worry, or is this a repeat of the Yankees we saw last season (same type of slump, but came back strong to make it into the playoffs)?  Who is to blame, the players or new manager Joe Girardi?

3) Believe it or not, among all the other sports, the NHL is still going on and its Stanley Cup Finals time as the Detroit Red Wings (going for their fourth Cup since ’97)  take on the Pittsburgh Penguins (in the finals for the first time since ’92).  Who will be crowned victor in this epic series and why? 

Red Sox Pitcher Jon Lester Pitches No-Hitter

By: Sean Speirs

As Boston Celtics fans had a sigh of relief this past weekend, Red Sox fans were witnessing poetry in motion.

 

Last night, 24-year-old Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester proved once again that he is not done pulling off miracles, as he threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals in a 7-0 win at Boston’s Fenway Park.  Lester, who has a win-loss record of 3-2 and a 3.14 ERA, ended the night with nine strikeouts, two walks and one error with a total of 103 pitches thrown.

 Jon Lester Pitching Against Royals--MSNBC.com

Lester’s shut-out marked the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history, which is the second most shutouts by any team. However, this accomplishment is not the only feat that this pitcher has pulled off in his life. 

 

In 2006, Lester was diagnosed with cancer, most notably a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Throughout the following year, Lester continued to condition himself into proper pitching form as he was getting chemotherapy treatment.  With such dedication and multiple treatments, Lester conquered this rare disease, which was completely cured.

 

After a full recovery, the young lefty pitcher proved his true heart and strength to the fans of Boston last October, when he had his first Red Sox postseason start against the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series.  Lester threw five shutout innings to win the game and seal another championship season for the Boson Red Sox.

 

In conjunction with Lester’s pitching streak against the Royals last night, much credit still goes to the rest of the Boston Red Sox team, as outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Julio Lugo, and first-baseman Kevin Youkilis backed up Lester with impressive fielding plays that kept the shut-out game going.

 

Once Lester’s final pitch, clocked at 96 mph (the fastest pitch of the night), struck out Royals’ second-baseman Alberto Callaspo, the Red Sox team came together and lifted Lester in the air as fans congratulated him with a standing ovation that was ongoing since the seventh-inning.

 

While Lester puts down another astonishing achievement within his list of life accomplishments, this game will not only forever be remembered by Boston fans as another reason why the Boston Red Sox are “the best in the league”, but it will also be rightly viewed as an inspirational story for any athlete playing in a competitive sport while juggling life’s obstacles. 

 Lester after pitching no-hitter--YahooSports.com

According to columnist Jeff Passan, during the news conference after the game, Lester said, “I threw a couple [no-hitters] in high school…but [this] one is a little different.”

 

Little does he know, this game will never compare to any others he has pitched.  The road Lester had to endure to reach such a life career will be one of the top encouraging stories in sports history. 

 

If anything, Lester’s tale teaches those to never give up; something that all athletes need to understand when standing toe-to-toe with competition.

 

Sean Speirs

 

SportsZone Fact:  Unfortunately, for the Kansas City Royals, this is not the first time they have been told “no-no” from a pitcher.  Their first given shutout was delivered by pitcher Nolan Ryan in 1973 when he played for the California Angels.  That same no-hitter game was marked the first out of seven no-hitters Ryan will go on to pitch throughout his career.

 

Images Courtesy of MSNBC.COM and YAHOOSPORTS.COM