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What a Choke!

What a weekend for sports! The Boston Celtics knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers, in LeBron’s last chance before his upcoming free agency to show what he is made of. The Boston Bruins just died in a game 7 that was eerily similar to the series, as they went up 3-0 only to blow it and lose 4-3. The Celtics then went on to win game 1 in Orlando, at times dominating the Magic. Oh yeah, there was some baseball played too, but it wasn’t that exciting in comparison. With some rather big collapses happening, I decided to reflect on some of the biggest (as well as some of my personal favorite) collapses and chokes in history. With a lot of discussion about chokes in sports, I will start with what I used as a definition.

Choke [chohk] (verb,choked, chok·ing, noun) -A choke is a team failing to execute in a situation where they should be more than just a favorite to win. This often occurs in a situation where any par performance would have resulted in a sound victory. Some sort of failure on the team to execute is required. A choke may be viewed in the context of a single game, a series, or a season.

And with that, my top 13.

#13) 2010 NCAA Tournament: Kansas University loses to Northern Iowa in 2nd round

Kansas was not only the favorite to win this game but one of two favorites to win the tournament. Over 80% of ESPN Tournament Bracket players had either Kansas or Kentucky winning. Neither made the final four, but Kentucky wasn’t eliminated in the second round by a 9-seed. Brackets were decimated.

#12) 2007 ALCS: Cleveland Indians

Cleveland loves their collapses, as they were unable to hold a 3-1 series lead against the Boston Red Sox. For a team with 19 game winners C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, as well as future Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, this team was completely unable to close, allowing the Red Sox to steamroll themselves to their 2nd world series in four years.

#11) 1964 Phillies Phold

After a magical season including Jim Bunning’s perfect game (first in the NL since 1880), the Phightin’ Phils had a 6.5 game lead with 12 to play. After losing 10 games in a row, with the first seven at home, the Phillies had sunk to 3rd place, and would not be a part of any postseason activity. Phail.

#10) 2007/2008 Regular Season: New York Mets

The Mets have recently become the poster child for late season failures. In 2007, the Mets had a 7 game lead on September 12th, with 17 games left to play. The Mets only won 5 of those 17. They lost 5 of 6 to the 4th place Nationals. This one went down to the last game of the season, only to have Tom Glavine let up seven runs in the first culminating in a great collapse.

The Mets then went out and signed two time Cy Young Award Winner Johan Santana, figuring that this would compensate for any weaknesses associated with their collapse. They went into 2008 as surefire favorites to win the NL East, only to be once again eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of season. This was just the beginning of the issues for the Mets as they would plunge to 4th place and a 70 win season in 2009, a team that was once again predicted to contend for a playoff run.

#9) 2007-2008 Pursuit of Perfection: 18-1 New England Patriots

You may note that in my definition above I said that a choke may be defined as a season and I would like to make that distinction here. This was a choked season which is not to be confused with a choked game. The only reason that they make this list was the potential implications of being the greatest NFL team of all time by obtaining a perfect 19-0 record. The Super Bowl itself does not quite qualify to me as a choke. Sure, the Patriots were up 14-3 going into the 4th quarter, but the Giants’ 14 point run bordered on the miraculous. “The Helmet Catch” was a freak play, something one could probably not reproduce in many attempts.  It turned out to be a game where the clock operators were under as much scrutiny as any coach’s decision. There didn’t seem to be a failure on the part of the Patriots to win the game, but more like a spectacular drive by the Giants to put them over the top. The NFL, probably more any other sport, is one where any team can win on any given day. For this reason, I categorize failure to capitalize on the pursuit of perfection as a choke and not the game itself.

#8) 1942 Red Wings / 1975 Penguins

Any team that has ever been up 3-0 in a series and doesn’t win certainly falls into the choke categories. Both of these teams lost to the higher seeded team in the end, after failing to complete their respective underdog runs. For this reason, they get only slightly more credit than #7.

#7) 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (Hockey): Boston Bruins

They had four chances to beat out the somewhat injured and defeated Flyers, who became only the third hockey team to accomplish such a feat. I thought about ranking this higher, but let us not forget that the Bruins were not a very good team to begin with this season. Two months ago, there were questions as to them even making the playoffs. The Flyers were a lower seed than the Bruins, making this slightly worse than #8. Give it five years for all to settle in, and this will be grouped in the same category as the Wings and Penguins.

#6) 2010 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (Basketball): Cleveland Cavaliers

In a collapse that left LeBron James without a title in Cleveland, the Celtics may have not only made headlines for themselves, but they may have just cost LeBron a huge part of his legacy.  Cleveland was his city and his team. After numerous opportunities to make a championship run and numerous failures, one can accuse coaching, front office management, and the players themselves.

The fact is that LeBron will take the brunt of this, and Cleveland will suffer if he leaves. For a team that was the best home team in Basketball for several years, they squandered their last two home games. Boston may have earned this win with spectacular defense and a tremendously elevated level of play, but the fact remains that LeBron choked in his abilities to bring a championship to the Cavs.

#5) 1978 Red Sox

Boston held a 14 game lead over the New York Yankees, a lead that would dwindle only to be eventually erased after being swept in a four game set by New York, now referred to as The Boston Massacre. The Yankees forced a one game playoff tie breaker where Bucky Dent, who had hit an average of three HR’s per season in his career; hit a 3 run homer to lead the Yankees to a 5-4 victory over the Sox. The Yankees went on to win the World Series. Bucky ******* Dent.

#4) 1990-1994 Buffalo Bills

The only thing worse than being 0-4 in Super Bowl appearances (Vikings, Bills) is doing it in four straight years. The Bills made their first appearance in the Super Bowl in 1991, only to lose by one point to the New York Giants. They would repeat their Super Bowl run in the next three years losing to the Redskins, and then in back to back years to the Cowboys.

#3) 2003 NLCS: Chicago Cubs

Similar to #11, the Cubs squandered a 3-1 series lead. What makes this much worse than the Indians, was that in game 6, the Cubs had a 3-0 lead behind Matt Clement’s three hitter with just five outs to go. Lifetime Cubs fan Steve Bartman interfered with a foul ball off the bat of Louis Castillo, preventing Moises Alou from making the catch. The thread had been pulled, and the unraveling began. Bartman was escorted out of the stadium for his own safety, and has been ridiculed ever since. The Curse of the Billy Goat lives on.

#2) 1986 World Series: Boston Red Sox

It was game 6 and the Red Sox had a 3-2 series lead. After scoring two in the top of the 10th, the Red Sox had a 5-3 lead with two out. They were one out from their first championship since 1918, and one out from defeating the curse of the Bambino. A few hits later it was 5-4. Enter Mookie Wilson. Mookie Wilson was at the plate and fought out a ten pitch at bat. On the 7th pitch of the at bat, Bob Stanley’s wild pitch tied the game at five. Pitch number ten to Wilson was the infamous grounder through the legs of Bill Buckner, scoring Ray Knight to win the ball game. There is no guarantee that had Buckner fielded the ball that they would have won, however their inability to close out this game, as well as game 7, lands them in the #2 spot all time. I refuse to lower this on the list on the basis that the “curse” has been broken, or that Boston has more or less forgiven Buckner. At the time this was an epic collapse, and it should remain so when talking about it.

#1) 2004 ALCS: New York Yankees

The biggest collapse in sports history, as well as my personal favorite, was the New York Yankees failing to close out the Boston Red Sox after a 3-0 series lead with home field advantage. With a lead going into the 9th inning of game 4, Kevin Millar led off with a walk, off of arguably the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. Pinch runner Dave Roberts was Boston’s personal savior that night. The entire world knew that Roberts was stealing second, and after several pickoff attempts he went on the first pitch Rivera sent home. Safe.

This was the single turning point, as Bill Mueller would single him in for the tie. David Ortiz would then hit a two run shot in the 12th, giving the Sox their first win in the series. This was just a taste of what was coming. Rivera would blow the save again in game 5, this time with some help from Tom Gordon. Boston went on to win this game in the 14th where David Ortiz was the walk-off star again singling in Damon. Curt Shilling would pitch the “Bloody Sock” game in game 6 in Yankee Stadium, and the Boston bats beat up the Yankees in game 7 to cap the greatest comeback ever. Everything made this series epic. It was Sox/Yanks, it was Rivera, it was David Ortiz, it was long games ending well after midnight, it was the lovable idiots taking down the evil empire, and it was certainly the biggest choke ever.

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Really RedSox.com?

I was perusing redsox.com as I do several times a day, as I typically enjoy that over espn or any 3rd party sites for my red sox official news.

Over the past few months of the offseason, I’ve been looking at the Red Sox Stat Leaders area, I saw the following.

Woahhh! Good for you Mr. David Ortiz! You managed to slump for pretty much the first half of the season, and still lead the club in RBI and HR!

But wait a minute… no you didn’t…

Somebody had more home runs than David Ortiz! Jason Bay! So naturally, I want a reason why. Is Bay being left off the list because he left as a free agent?

In addition, Jason Bay AND Victor Martinez had more than 99 RBI. Alright, I get it, Martinez might not be on the list because he only had 41 RBI as a Red Sox, the other 67 came as an Indian. But Bay? Was he snubbed here too?

So RedSox.com, I ask you this…

What’s up with the Bay stats missing?

Are you trying to avoid the fact that the most productive RBI and HR machine we had left?

Regardless of how I feel about him,  his leaving, or any aspect of it, give the man the respect he deserves for his performance in Boston!

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Modern Day Ruth

Before reading this post, read this one, as I’ll give all the credit to the On Deck Circle for this topic.

It really got me thinking about how the game has changed. Our athletes our now celebrities, and scrutiny of every move leads to a PR fiasco of epic proportions. See Tiger Woods or Alex Rodriguez. Good for you George Herman, you got your flappers and floozies in pre-TMZ times. You could drink, smoke, and fornicate to your hearts content in an era where people didn’t care what you did outside the diamond.

So how would your career had gone 80-90 years later?

My first question is really, would you even had made the majors? I know this seems silly, he is after all, BABE RUTH! But think about it, he wasn’t the most athletic build, and given his behavioral tendencies, would he have been able to compete with the lifetime driven athletes of today?

Now, if he put up numbers, of course he would make it. Anyone who hits that many dingers gets noticed. So now you have made the modern MLB, and you are “theoretically” putting up the same numbers you did then. Now what?

Now many of ODC’s points come in to play, and oh how many of them are spot on. This guy would be the most loved/hated controversy in baseball. Every fan would love him for every HR, and hate him for his poor ability to be a roll model and responsible face of the game. He would be more controversial than Manny Ramirez, Ocho Cinco, and Terrel Owens combined.  It would be that fiery balance of love and hate that would get him more sportcenter time than Brett Favre. He would be a marketing locomotive, barreling forward at an unbelievable pace, getting money anywhere he could. He would be the face of every razor, car, and deodorant commercial there is.

He would most certainly be accused of steroids, even if his figure was less than built. It’s just the nature of the beast. Then again, who knows, his personality may have been one to say, “What the hell I’ll do it.” Imagine the disgusting numbers he would have put up if he did. 100 HR season?

Most importantly, I don’t think he would play for the Red Sox OR the Yankees. NL teams only. You have a pitcher who can hit like that, some NL team would pay the big bucks. Then again, who knows, he basically didn’t pitch after going to the Yankees in 1919 so maybe he would sacrifice that aspect of his game again. I doubt any major league club these days would say, “Oh, you just had 5 seasons of sub 3 ERA? We are going to have you hit full time.”

It’s tough to see a team out bidding the Yankees, but his true value is in the NL, hitting and pitching. If he did play in the AL, can you imagine him closing for the Yankees? After a game where he hits 3 HR’s and 6 RBI, he walks in from first base to the mound for the save. That’s a scary thought. MVP forever.

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Why I love baseball, and the Sox

Here we are, a little more than a week into spring training, and just as I expected, not a whole lot to talk about. The biggest stories have stemmed from injuries to Jose Reyes and the odd one day retirement contract of Nomar Garciaparra.

The combination of the Nomar story and Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate ’10 which had an interesting “Why I hate the Yankees” segment, made me want to write about why I love baseball, and why I love the sox. As a side note, Matt, I have had food thrown at me in Yankee stadium as well. Nachos to be exact.

Why do I love baseball? Man that is a question of a million answers. The biggest reason probably being that I played. I played and I loved it. I played, and I wasn’t good for a long time. I remember my dad promising me batting gloves as soon as I got my first hit, which took me maybe half a season to get. With time, I got better, I worked hard, and eventually got pretty decent at hitting as well. I was fast too, like really fast. Rickey Henderson fast.

I beat out more ground balls in little league than anyone. I led off a lot of games before I had the strength to get the ball over an infielder’s heads. There was value in my abilities when I was not the best athlete, and that made it fun. I have distinct memories of my first layout in center field, much like Jacoby Ellsbury. When I caught the ball, the man on second had already crossed the plate, making it an extremely easy double play.

Which by the way, I can still do…

Aside from playing the game, I loved to watch it. I loved to watch it since my dad took me to my first game at Fenway. I loved the stats, standings and analysis in every way possible. I checked the paper every morning for the new stats. (I became a math major down the road). I loved the dirt dogs, the guys who worked hard. Trot Nixon, Pedro Martinez, and Nomar.

I remember the epic debates in the late 90’s as to who the best shortstop ever was. Nomar, Jeter, or A-Rod. I argued hard for Nomar every time. Funny what 12 years can do to the perception of a players career.

I loved the vigor and love these guys showed on the field. I hated that their passion always seemed to be dominated by the Evil Empire. I loved these guys for the same reasons I love Dustin Pedroia, and John Lester.

These guys play the game the right way. The play hard, work hard, and give the effort that I gave as a kid. These players not only won my loyalty for the last 2 decades, but have won it for long after they are no longer with the team.

With less than a month left until the regular season starts, and not much happing story wise in baseball, I guess it’s time to go watch some march madness to hold me over!

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Giddy!

The first spring training games are around tomorrow and I’m giddy! I don’t even care that they are split squad games and the results don’t mean a thing. It just means one thing, we are that much closer to opening day.

Spring training is tough as a fan, mainly because it is very hard to gauge what is really going on. The media coverage is controlled, and teams usually aren’t giving it “important game” status. What I mean by that is lineups vary, players experiment with mechanics, and coaches play people who typically have to compete for their spot on the roster. This makes winning a bad metric for… wins?

Winning aside, these are the storylines of Red Sox Spring Training 2010.

1.  How the new players do.

Obviously this is the focus of any team in any year. We have Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro as big players on this team this year, and all of them will be under the media microscope. They will have every at bat analyzed. As said before, players work on mechanics and as a result, their statistics matter a little less. New players like Jeremy Hermida, Boof Bonser, Casey Fien, Bill Hall, and Jose Iglesias all are competing for backup roles and spots on the roster. Casey Kelly and Lars Anderson, while not new to the organization, have the potential to cement their future value to the team. As non-roster invitees and minor league youngins, they are not likely to make the big league club right out of the gate, but certainly can be auditioning for some call-up time down the line should there be a need for it. The players who have uncertain futures are the most interesting stories here, because they have the most potential for surprising everyone. Beltre, Cameron and Scutaro don’t need to be so harshly judged until the season is underway.

2. Pitching!

Nothing gets me going more than knowing we have enough pitching to run two major league teams. 6 Men to start, going to be exciting to see how it plays out for a 5 man rotation. Per a previous post, I think Daisuke will sit out a few weeks to start to make sure he is strong and ready.

Our relief core is seemingly just as strong as last year, though I am disappointed to see Takashi Saito go, I think Bard is going to be a force in 2010. We still have one of the best pens in the game, and I look forward to seeing how the last few roster slots line up.  

3. Ortiz

Ortiz will be in the media crosshairs due to his poor ’09 start. I’m not willing to pull any triggers based on what he does this spring, but my guess is he doesn’t have much more than one month into the regular season to show he won’t be repeating that start.

4. Lowell

Poor Mikey. I love this guy, and love what he has done for us the last few years. It’s a shame it went down like this, but I think he has to, and will be traded. I would love for him to stick around as a backup, but I don’t think that’s good for the team chemistry. He won’t be happy, and unhappy players drag down other players. Tic Toc, it’s a matter of time on this one. He is auditioning for other clubs at this point.

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