It’s a wonderful autumn Monday here in the city that never sleeps. Here are the hot topics fresh off a big sports weekend:
-Congrats to manager Terry Collins on guiding the Mets to a division title. Nobody takes more crap than the classy 66-year old baseball lifer. In an Amazin’ season, he’s done a great job. It was Collins who kept his team together until GM Sandy Alderson went out and got Yoenis Cespedes. It was also Terry who handled himself well following the Matt Harvey “innings limit” controversy created by evil agent Scott Boras. Once Collins had the talent, you see how it played out. The Mets ran away from the bumbling and stumbling Nats who embarrassed themselves Sunday. More on that later. Now Collins gets the chance to see if he can manage a team of aces to a third world title.
-Following that odd Harvey start where Collins pulled him after five scoreless in a brutal Yankee loss, he sent him back out there to get the ‘W’ in Saturday’s clincher. And Harvey threw 97 pitches allowing a pair of runs in six-plus while fanning six Reds in a 10-2 romp. He’s on board and will be ready for the postseason. That’s what it’s all about.
-After nine years away from October, Mets captain David Wright gets another crack at it. If there’s a more deserving player, I can’t think of one. After everything he’s been through including the uncertainty surrounding his bad back, he’s come back and hit a couple of satisfying home runs including the exclamation point in the ninth on Saturday. It’ll be fun to see if he can deliver on the best team the Mets have had since that heartbreaking conclusion in Game 7 of the NLCS. The pitching part is better with Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon with Jon Niese and likely Steven Matz going to the pen.
-The Mets are fighting for home field in the NLDS against the Dodgers. With LA limping to the finish line, the Mets are a game and a half up in the final week of the regular season. They would love to get that potential fifth game at Citi Field. However, I can’t help but wonder if the Dodgers will be an easy opponent.
-Obviously, they have a pair of aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke. So, they’ll have to work the count and get to the Dodger bullpen. A team weakness with the exception of closer Kenley Jansen. However, LA’s lineup doesn’t strike fear. Adrian Gonzalez is their most dangerous hitter. Corey Seager is the unknown. How much impact will the young phenom have? Joc Pederson has been a disaster in the second half. Dodger skipper Don Mattingly hasn’t hesitated to bench him against lefties. Obviously, he’ll face right-handers if he plays.
-Mattingly also isn’t sure about the availability of Yasiel Puig, who’s been out since Aug. 27 with a right hamstring strain. Justin Turner hasn’t been the same since returning from the disabled list. Howie Kendrick is a proven playoff performer with the Halos. So is Jimmy Rollins, who did plenty of damage to the Mets for the Phillies the last time they were relevant.
-If we’re comparing offenses, the Mets are deeper with Cespedes the headliner who carried his team to their first NL East crown since ’06. With Wright and Daniel Murphy along with Curtis Granderson and Travis D’arnaud, the Amazin’s boast some solid bats. Collins can also go to a righty lineup against Kershaw that features Michael Cuddyer and Juan Lagares. They’re hoping to have vet Juan Uribe (chest) for the NLDS. He’s gotten some big hits since coming over from the Braves. The wildcard is rookie Michael Conforto, who’s swung a good bat against righties with all eight of his homers coming off them. But he’s only had a dozen at bats versus southpaws.
–Wilmer Flores remains the turning point when he cried thinking he was traded with injured starter Zach Wheeler to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez. He’s been a steady and productive player since shifting to second with Ruben Tejada reclaiming shortstop. Lucas Duda has been streaky. He’s gone deep lately clubbing three dingers in the Mets’ last two wins over hapless Cincinnati. He is tied with Granderson for the team lead in homers (25). Oddly enough, he hits lefties better going .299-7-21 in 117 at bats. Most of the power has been supplied off righties with 18 home runs but a .227 average in twice as many at bats (317).
-Collins also has Kelly Johnson who can come off the bench as a pinch-hitter or play utility. The pen is a bit better since adding Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed to help set up flame thrower Jeurys Familia. The Mets’ depth on both sides should give them a decided edge.
-So the fireworks finally erupted in the Nats’ dugout Sunday. Fittingly, it came in a ugly 12-5 loss to that world beater Philadelphia. Following a Bryce Harper at bat in which he didn’t run out a routine fly out, Jonathan Papelbon took him to task as he got back to the dugout. Paplebon had a good point about the 22-year old superstar who didn’t show much leadership even though his team was eliminated a day before. However, Papelbon attempted to choke Harper causing teammates to quickly come to the NL MVP front runner’s aid. That’s unacceptable but expected from a hot head like Papelbon. It led to a four-game suspension from major league baseball and the Nats suspending him for the rest of the season. A sad commentary on a frustrating season for the Nationals.
-Of course, clueless skipper Matt Williams didn’t say much after this. Why would he? He was a superb player for the Giants, Indians and Diamondbacks. But is overmatched as a manager. With the Nats underachieving so badly with 80 wins, he’ll no doubt lose his job. It’s not just on Williams. But rather the organization as a whole. They need to change the attitude and leadership. It’ll be an interesting off-season.
Tragedy is something we each must deal with. It’s an unfortunate part of life. For the students and teachers of Warren Hills Regional High School in Warren County, they’re grieving the loss of quarterback Evan Murray.
The 17-year old senior passed away Friday Sept. 25 after suffering a injury during a game. He was helped off the field and gave a thumbs up to cheers from fans and teammates. Everyone was shocked by his death. It was later revealed that he suffered a lacerated spleen with “massive” internal bleeding. The news came down this afternoon.
It’s a very sad tragedy. I can’t imagine what his parents are going through. My condolences go out to his family, friends and the Warren Hills community. A local New Jersey kid who played the sport he loved is gone way too soon. It shouldn’t be. There has been overwhelming support from teammates, students, teachers and parents.
Last night, we did another show on Hard Hits Network. It was hosted by yours truly. I was joined by sidekicks Justin Felix, Colin Cannaday and the one and only Brian Sanborn returned. John “JPG” Giagnorio is MIA. Nate Sousa continues to tease us about joining the fracas. And Rob Davis continues his Kraze ways of “retirement” channeling his inner Sanborn.
Plenty was covered including a surprise 80’s song featured on a popular movie soundtrack. Justin throws out a classic Simple Minds song, “Alive and Kicking,” taking the crew to yesteryear. Justin, Derek and Colin discuss some other 80’s stuff along with favorite beers.
The Mets close in on their first division title since ’06. Meanwhile, Sanborn reminds Derek that “his Giants” are about to be Eli-minated. What do the guys think about October? Meanwhile, the Felix Boys aren’t impressed with Big Blue’s first win over the Redskins. Plus a look at some games on tap for Week 3 of the NFL and another big college football weekend.
Other highlights include Sanborn revealing a new war against something hip and Derek highlighting the Devils tweaking the Islander fan.
The Yankees needed a win in the worst way possible to have any realistic chance of catching the Blue Jays. After losing the opener of a three-game series 4-2 to David Price, what they got was another clutch performance from 22-year old first baseman Greg Bird. Bird was indeed the word in a big 6-4 Yankee 10 inning win over the Jays at a loud Rogers Centre. His three-run home run off Toronto reliever Mark Lowe made a winner of closer Andrew Miller after he blew just his second save.
With the game knotted at two, Carlos Beltran stayed red hot going yard off Liam Hendricks to put the Yankees in front in the eighth inning. But the Jays wouldn’t go quietly. They loaded the bases against set up man Dellin Betances before he got Edwin Encarnacion to chase a low breaking ball out of the strike zone. Betances recovered from a bout of wildness walking two straight Jays to load the bases. It’s been a bit tougher for him this month with his command not as sharp. But he battled through relying on two 98 MPH heaters to set up the big strikeout of Encarnacion.
In the ninth, the Yanks had a great opportunity to pad their lead. After Chris Young walked, a Didi Gregorius ground rule double put runners in at second and third with nobody out. But a medium fly out by Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t enough to score Young, who was nailed at the plate thanks to a great throw by Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista for a 9-9-2 double play. Following a Brett Gardner walk to put runners on the corners, Alex Rodriguez flied out to end the threat. That would nearly prove fatal.
One thing about these Jays. They go down swinging. With virtually an entire lineup possessing enough power to go deep, you can’t blind for a second. After Miller got Justin Smoak swinging, he served up a meatball to Dioner Navarro, who belted his fifth dinger into the left field seats. The Jays nearly ended it loading the bases. That included a puzzling move by Yankee skipper Joe Girardi who elected to intentionally walk Matt Hague. Thinking Miller would face lefty hitting Ben Revere, Girardi didn’t anticipate that Jays manager John Gibbons would send up Russell Martin to pinch hit. Miller pitched him carefully missing high and away which allowed AL MVP front runner Josh Donaldson to come up with the bases packed and two outs. With the crowd going nuts, Miller bounced back getting Donaldson chasing sending the game to extra innings.
In the 10th, Brian McCann bunted against the shift reaching base on an errant throw. Amazingly, it was scored a hit. In a better move Girardi sent in Rico Noel to pinch run for McCann. He can fly. With the threat of a steal, the Yankees hit and run with Slade Heathcott, whose swing was interrupted by Navarro’s glove resulting in catchers interference. That put two runners on with no out setting the stage for Bird. After working the count back to 2-2, he drove Lowe’s low fastball out to right for a game-winning three-run home run. It was his 10th of the season. He’s hit homers in three straight and has five in the last seven with 11 RBI’s.
With no one else to go to, Girardi sent Miller back out to get the final three outs. It wasn’t without a loud thud with Encarnacion clocking his 35th long ball slicing the deficit to 6-4 with one away. But Miller got the next two batters to finally give the Yanks a well earned victory which pulled them within two and a half games. The rubber match is tomorrow with Ivan Nova facing Marcus Stroman. We’ll see if Nova can get himself righted subbing for Masahiro Tanaka.
Aside from Bird continuing to impress, Luis Severino gave the Yanks six solid frames of two-run ball with three walks and three K’s. A better outing than last time when the Jays lit him up for six earned and two homers in two-plus. He did allow a solo shot to Kevin Pillar and a game-tying Smoak RBI single. But the results were positive for the 21-year old righty.
One question for Girardi is whether Miller will be available. He threw 42 pitches and 26 for strikes. Maybe if it’s a save situation, Betances gets the chance instead. He threw 20 pitches (10 strikes), That’s assuming Nova can actually match Stroman and the Yankee offense can score enough runs. We’ll see.
Following all of Sunday’s action, I hosted a show on the NFL Week 2. I was joined by John “JPG” Giagnorio, Justin “JNF” Felix and Colin Cannaday as we broke down the league’s action. In epic fashion, the Giants blew another 10-point lead falling to the Falcons 24-20. Eli Manning was the goat. The Giants offensive leader must perform better when they host the Redskins Thursday night in a must win.
The NFC East is there for the taking with the Cowboys losing star quarterback Tony Romo to a broken collarbone. He could be out between 8 to 10 weeks. Dallas already is minus Dez Bryant, who now looks like he’ll miss more time after surgery on a broken foot. The Boys still got it done against the hapless Eagles who were booed out of their own stadium in an ugly 20-10 loss. New quarterback Sam Bradford turned the ball over three times with two picks and a lost fumble. Former Cowboy DeMarco Murray continued to struggle with his new team running for only two yards on 13 carries. In two weeks, he has totaled 11 yards on 21 rushes. The Redskins got a win over the Rams making the Giants and Eagles the only 0-2 teams in the division.
Other highlights included Tom Brady torching the Bills for 466 yards along with three touchdowns giving him 399 for his career in the Pats 40-32 win at Buffalo. The Packers sent the Seahawks to a second straight defeat with a 27-17 home win avenging last year’s excruciating loss. Aaron Rodgers completed 25 of 33 passes for 249 yards with two touchdowns.
The Monday Night Football game features the Jets visiting the Colts. How will Andrew Luck respond to a loss at Buffalo? T.Y. Hilton is questionable. Antonio Cromartie is expected to play for the Jets.
On the first autumn Monday, we take a look back at a busy sports weekend.
-For five innings, Matt Harveyshut down the Yankee offense holding them to a single infield hit while walking one and fanning seven on 77 pitches. Then Mets skipper Terry Collins pulled the plug due to the “innings limit” imposed by evil agent Scott Boras. Then Collins watched helplessly as the Yanks erupted for five runs in a ugly sixth off rookie reliever Hansel Robles that included two errors- one from Daniel Murphy on a Jacoby Ellsbury infield hit and a David Wright miscue on a 95 MPH strike from Robles on a bad Brett Gardner bunt that should’ve nailed Ellsbury at third. If Wright makes the tag, who knows how the inning plays out. Instead, a two-run Carlos Beltran go-ahead double followed along with a two out Dustin Ackley three-run bomb.
-The Mets pen turned in a comedy allowing 11 runs (7 ER) in three consecutive innings highlighted by a opposite field Greg Bird three-run blast that made it 11-1. It was predictable once Harvey exited. Whose fault is it? It’s hard to blame Collins when he’s been put in an uncomfortable position. Blame Boras and his client who have put future interests ahead of this special season at Citi Field. Harvey is at 176.2 innings with potentially two starts left before the postseason. How will he be used? If they’re saving him, the Dark Knight better deliver in October.
-The loss sent Amazin’ fans into panic mode. Despite their team still comfortably up on the Nationals by six games with 13 games left, they still are concerned about another collapse. Unlike ’07 and ’08, it remains highly unlikely. The Nats would have to go 11-2 while the Mets would have to finish 5-8 to force a one-game playoff. Given that their next opponent is the lowly Braves starting tonight, reducing a magic number of eight shouldn’t be a problem. After playing three against Atlanta at home, they travel to Cincinnati for a four-game series and visit Philadelphia for three. The final three come against Washington at home Oct. 2-4. The Nats probably can only lose once to have any realistic shot. They host close rival Baltimore for three and then the Phillies for three. They then play a make up game at home versus the Reds before visiting the Braves for three. Then comes the final series at the Mets.
-For the Mets, even with the Harvey distraction they have six starters with Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, Jon Niese and rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz all part of the rotation. In other words, Collins has plenty of options.
-On the flip side, it was a successful weekend for the Yankees who took the final two games and actually gained two games on the first place Blue Jays cutting the AL East deficit to two and a half entering a pivotal three-game series at Toronto later tonight. They can thank the ageless Beltran who drove in five in the two wins including a three-run bomb off Syndergaard into the upper deck in Saturday’s 5-0 shutout. In the second half, Beltran has hit .302 with nine dingers and 28 RBI’s. Not bad for the former All-Star outfielder who most thought was done at 38. He can still get it done.
-The Yanks also had to be pleased with Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia. Both delivered well pitched games. Pineda pitched shutout ball into the sixth before manager Joe Girardi went to Justin Wilson, who fanned the final two batters to get out of a jam. After lumbering in a long first using 32 pitches but only permitting one run on a Wright RBI double, Sabathia settled down going six allowing one earned on five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts to finally win for the first time in 11 starts. It was his second straight good outing. He got a no-decision against the Rays on Sept. 14 after permitting no runs in six and two thirds while having six K’s. Sabathia attributes the recent success to wearing a knee brace. It’s nice to see the 35-year old southpaw able to contribute.
-Every time I watch Bird at bat, I come away very impressed. The 22-year old former 2011 fifth round pick has shown good patience at the plate working counts while making solid contact. With his eighth home run and two walks, he reached base three times Sunday night. In fact, the future starting first baseman has reached base in eight consecutive games hitting in all but one. He’s 8-for-29 with three homers, seven RBI’s, four runs scored with five walks. There’s a lot to like about him. It’s early but he’s done a solid job replacing Mark Teixeira.
-The Yanks need to take two of three from the Jays in this series. The pitching match-ups don’t favor them. Adam Warren opposes David Price tonight. Rookie Luis Severino gets a chance at redemption tomorrow. Ivan Nova replaces Masahiro Tanaka, who will skip a start after suffering a Grade 1 sprain in his right hamstring while running to first after a bunt. Girardi didn’t think it was too serious. Hopefully, it isn’t because we all remember what happened Chien-Ming Wang’s career while running the base paths.
-You knew it was coming. Once Eli Manning lost the football on that crucial third-and-goal with the Giants going for the kill up 20-10 on the Falcons, another Giants collapse was coming. Should it come as any surprise? The team GM Jerry Reese put together is a mediocre one that finds ways to lose games. That’s two consecutive weeks they’ve blown 10-point leads in the fourth quarter. After the Cowboy debacle, here they were allowing Matt Ryan to drive his team down twice for touchdowns against a invisible defense that doesn’t scare anyone. But this isn’t as much about them as it is about Manning, who made costly mistakes. He didn’t protect the football when at worst, Big Blue should’ve come away with a field goal that would’ve made it 13. A week after he screwed up royally mismanaging the clock, Manning was a goat again. There also was a mind boggling delay of game penalty out of a timeout that put the Giants in a 3rd-and-12 which of course they didn’t convert. Then there were errant throws on the final drive which can’t happen after your best player Odell Beckham Jr. draws pass interference at midfield that gives you a chance.
-Speaking of Beckham, Jr. how special is he. That catch and run for a 67-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty. He caught seven for 146. Most of it came in the first half. Why? The Giants at least did a good job using ex-Patriot back Shane Vereen, who had eight receptions for 76 yards. But outside of him and ODB Jr. they got virtually nothing. Consistently inconsistent tight end Larry Donnell did manage a TD catch that put them ahead 20-10 four minutes into the second half. That was it. On a day Manning’s numbers said otherwise finishing 27-for-40 with 292 yards and two touchdowns, he wasn’t good enough. Now comes a must win against the Redskins at Met Life Stadium on Thursday night. And the Skins won beating the Rams after they stunned the Seahawks, who also are 0-2 after falling to the Packers.
-The problem for Big Blue is they don’t make the big plays on either side of the football. In what should be proud coach Tom Coughlin’s swan song, they are a losing team that doesn’t know how to win. If they did, we’d be talking about a totally different story with a 2-0 mark. Instead, they’ve lost in epic fashion twice by a combined five points.
–Julio Jones is also pretty special using a combination of size and athleticism to beat secondaries. Prince Amukamara did a good job limiting him until that huge 37-yard reception he got burned on that set up Devonta Freeman’s go-ahead score from two yards out with 1:14 left. Jones finished with 13 catches for 135 yards.
-It’s sad that on a day they honored the 25-year anniversary of the Super Bowl XXV team, the Giants couldn’t get a win. For a successful franchise that’s won four Lombardi Trophies, they sure have had a lot of bad losses. Add Weeks 1 and 2 to the regrettable list that includes the 49ers playoff choke, the Vikings one in ’97, the Eagles countless times and the Boys.
-How unpredictable is the NFL? The Seahawks are 0-2 as are the Ravens and Saints, who lost at home to the Bucs. New Orleans has now dropped six straight at the Super Dome. The Seahawks should bounce back and I’d also expect Baltimore to be better even without Terrell Suggs. The Saints are a franchise in decline. Even with Drew Brees throwing for record numbers, they’re one dimensional.
-The Jets have a good one later at the Colts on Monday Night Football. It’ll be interesting to see if they can beat Andrew Luck coming off a ugly loss at Buffalo. They have a shot ifRyan Fitzpatrick doesn’t make mistakes and the defense gets to Luck. The Jets will need success on the ground from Chris Ivory.
-If it was six years ago, Frank Gore and Andre Johnson would be a scary combo added to T.Y. Hilton.
-Even with losing Tony Romo for at least eight weeks and star receiver Dez Bryant for roughly the same, the Cowboys remain the team to beat in the NFC East. A strong offensive line and improved defense should keep them around. They had no trouble blanketing ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray, who’s finding out it’s a lot harder without a good line after being held to two yards on 13 carries. In two weeks, he’s rushed for a grand total of 11 yards on 21 carries.
-What exactly does Chip Kelly see in Sam Bradford?
-Great college football Saturday with Ole Miss upsetting Alabama 43-37 in a wild one that even featured a hilarious blooper with Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly throwing one up for grabs after feeling pressure and having his prayers answered by receiver Quincy Adeboyejo for a 66-yard TD. After trailing by 20 in their own barn, the Tide never gave up with QB Jake Coker rallying them with two straight scores to cut the deficit to 30-24. But a great play by Kelly which saw him sucker the Bama secondary before threading the needle to Cody Core for a 73-yard TD proved pivotal. Kelly also hooked up with LaQuon Treadwell for a 24-yard score that made it 43-24. To Bama’s credit, they made it interesting with another Coker led drive setting up a Derrick Henry score. They then recovered the onside kick and scored again to cut it 43-37 with over four minutes to go. But after a Ole Miss drive stalled, Coker threw a interception for the Tide’s fifth turnover. They made too many mistakes to win.
-Stanford also sent USC to its first defeat with an impressive 41-31 win at The Coliseum in another great rivalry game. They were led by QB Kevin Hogan, who chewed up the Trojans’ secondary going 18-of-23 for 279 yards and two TDs. Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey also impressed with a career best 115 rushing yards on 26 carries and Remound Wright ran for three scores. Even when USC’s Cody Kessler going 25-of-32 for 272 yards and three scores, it wasn’t enough. The Trojans never could stop the Cardinals.
-Ohio State remained undefeated in ugly fashion defeating Northern Illinois 20-13. It was the second straight week Cardale Jones was replaced. The BCS hero only completed four passes in nine attempts throwing two picks. J.T. Barrett relieved him finishing 11-of-19 for 97 yards with a TD and int. They should get some competition from Michigan State.
-Notre Dame also stayed unbeaten taking care of Georgia Tech 30-22. CJ Promise ran for 198 yards and three scores and Will Fuller caught six passes for 131 yards and a TD.
-Heisman front runner Leonard Fournette torched Auburn for 228 yards on the ground with three scores in the Tigers’ 45-21 blowout win. That included a 71-yard run plus a 40-yard TD run that made it 24-0 LSU.
In the never ending NY Daily News saga, more well known writers lost their jobs. They include baseball columnist Bill Madden, Filip Bondy and Wayne Coffey. All were outstanding.
As we noted last night, Madden was a lifer who started covering the Yankees in ’78 before graduating to a columnist in ’89. Bondy had been a fixture always putting together interesting columns on a variety of subjects including tennis and soccer. He also delved into hockey once failing to comprehend why blocked shots mattered under former Rangers coach John Tortorella. Even if he missed the point entirely, he was a quality writer. More than one can say for Phil Mushnick, who repeatedly bashes easy target Mike Francesa in the rival NY Post. Is there an angrier person than Mushnick?
Coffey was a favorite of mine specializing in Sunday front page stories on sports athletes who had to overcome many obstacles. It is sad to see him go. He tweeted goodbye earlier.
Got whacked by the NY Daily News after 30 years. Deeply touched by the outpouring. Don't look for my story in The Players' Tribune.
What it boils down to is in today’s world of social media, these writers have become expendable. Especially with the News losing so much money. How can they afford to keep them? Mike Lupica is one of the highest paid writers in the country. There’s still a chance he could stay on in a lesser role. Neither side commented on contract negotiations.
Other esteemed Daily News fixtures who were laid off include Roger Rubin, Hank Gola, Stephen Lorenzo and Teri Thompson. It’s a sad time when so many people lose jobs for the only place they knew.