Saturday, June 13, 2009

Luis Castillo Helps Me Set New Standard For Misery

Yup, anyone who's ever read this or knows me figured that it was just a matter of time before I had to talk about my beloved New York Mets and their oh-so-very special way of murdering my hopes and dreams for them. Of course, you probably also figured that there's no way it would happen this early. I was waiting for at least September. But alas, here we are. A moment so simple for any other team becomes another source of heartbreak for a fanbase which (please no!) soon enters the Misery Hall of Fame (current occupants: Sabres/Bills, Chicago Cubs, Indians/Cavs/Browns). We should have owned this city throughout this decade. Yet, here we are, with one division title, one pennant, one loss to our crosstown rivals in a World Series, and the same little brother complex. Ugh.

With all of this in mind, and my immediate thoughts that Castillo's play last night would probably enter the pantheon of "worst moments of my career as a baseball fan," I had to ask myself- what are my absolute worst moments as a baseball fan? Well, self, I'm glad (not so glad) you asked. The following are my top five worst moments in the 21+ years I have been a fan of "America's Pastime". Enjoy, because I surely won't.

Maybe it's just because I was in a room full of Yankees fans. Maybe it's because I could have made the same play, as could have any other fan over the age of five, easily. Point is that it never should have happened. Really. Never. Plus, I feel like that will unfortunately be the defining moment in a Mets season that's not even halfway over. I pray I'm wrong here, but I'm sure other fans of the team will begrudgingly agree with me. It's a very bad omen for the outcome of yet another season (that's four in a row now) that started with so much hope. WHY?!?!

The only moment that did not directly involve the Mets. Honestly, I should have been rooting harder for the Red Sox to win the American League last year. For some reason though, that Rays story got me, just like so many others, and the result was calamity for me. Just a few months later, the same Philthydelphia fans would get to punch me in the mouth again when the Eagles beat my Giants in the playoffs, so maybe this is made worse by that. Regardless, watching the Phillies win the World Series before my more-deserving Mets could was an exercise in misery to the highest degree. Not sure what's worse- this decade of the Mets underperforming or the 90s, when I had to watch the Yankees and Braves win every year. It's a toss-up really.

The final straw in a season full of heartache, heartbreak and literally, one of the worst things a fan can ever experience. We Mets fans lost the "Ya Gotta Believe" mantra for good that day. A sad and somber thought. Things like this don't happen to us. We were the ones who did this to other people on a stroke of luck. Here, we sat the victims of the worst September collapse in the history of the modern game. God. What's worse is that the team gave us false hope by handing us one more shot with just a game to play. Then Tom Glavine decided that he would resurrect all the hate from his Braves days, which we had put away. He gave up seven runs in the first inning of that final game and we just knew it was over... with eight-and-a-half innings to go. A lot of people lost a lot of faith that day, myself included, and we've yet to get it back.

Jesus Christ. If 2007 was the hit that had us staggering, then 2008 was the knockout. Same situation, same results. For the second straight year we played ourselves out of first place, and for the second straight season, we had a shot to get ourselves into the playoffs on the final day. And we blew it. Against the Marlins. Again. Now, given the result of the Brewers game that afternoon, it wouldn't have mattered what we did anyway. But the point is that we did it again. The "Amazins" became the "Amazinly Bad at Maintaining Leads In Septembers," until proven otherwise. And to top it all off, Shea was closing. Beloved Shea Stadium. I don't care how bad it was, and almost every other real Mets fan will say the same thing. There wasn't a dry eye in that stadium, nor on my couch. Just a sad day all around.

Yadier Molina. Aaron Heilman. OhmyGodkillme. For the first time possibly ever, we Mets fans were riding high as can be. We were the best team in baseball. We won the NL East for the first time in 18 years. Murdered everyone all year. Pedro was lights-out. David Wright and Jose Reyes were our two fun-loving stars who would lead us to the promise land for years. We ran away with the division. The Dodgers couldn't even touch us in the Division series. The Cardinals were 83-79, a whopping 14 games below us going into the NLCS. We weren't the underdogs, we were the favorite. And no, I didn't look up a single one of the stats. The Mets cannot function as the favorites. It doesn't work. We paid the price, dearly, as did the wall outside of my room. After Endy Chavez's catch, which is still, without a doubt, the greatest catch in MLB playoff history, we BELIEVED. It was the METS we were talking about. The MIRACLE METS. The AMAZIN' METS. YA GOTTA BELIEVE. Well, we did. And then Aaron Heilman showed up on the mound. And Yadier Molina in the batter's box. And you, and I, and everyone else knows the rest. We were robbed of the World Series title that should have been ours. We couldn't even get ourselves to the series to win it though, which makes it all the worse. I don't want to talk about this anymore. At all.

When was I inspired to write something that would inevitably send me into spiraling depression and anger? Last night, while I had my head up against a wall, five seconds after staring in disbelief at a television screen. We'll leave it at that. Just know that there are other moments that gained consideration too. The 1999 bases-loaded walk. The day we traded Scott Kazmir. Piazza's shot to center at the end of Game 5 of the 2000 World Series.

The fact that last night got itself into the top 5 speaks some real volumes about it. I hate you, Luis Castillo. I've never
really liked you since you came to the Mets. You have rightfully earned your place amongst the greats in my collection of Mets whom I will always want to throttle. So say hello to Kenny Rogers, Armando Benitez, Heilman, Victor Zambrano, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Guilermo Mota, Benny Agbayani, Braden Looper and Brian McRae for me. I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody, so please, feel free to let me know. I'm sure I'll get over this... eventually.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Look Back at the 2009 NBA Finals

I know, I know, it's only been two games.  But it's over.  If you've caught any portion of Game 1, and the final quarter and overtime of Game 2, you see it just like I do.  I'll avoid harping too much on Game 2's collapse exclusively, but still, some points need to be made in regard to it.  What follows, as much as it pains me to say it, is my case for why these NBA Finals (which never should have happened this way) are now officially over, in favor of the Los Angeles Lakers.

1. Things like Courtney Lee's miss at the end of regulation just don't happen to championship teams- or even teams that have a shot at a championship.

To me, this is the strongest point to be made, probably because it requires the least statistical qualification.  How many teams that have won a title in any sport have you ever seen something like this happen to?!  I can't think of one, unless you try and make a case for the 2004 Boston Red Sox (which you might be able to pull off).  Still, that Red Sox team closed the door when they had to- the last four games of that series.  The Orlando Magic, with that single play, created a microcosm of their playoffs as a whole, save the Cavs series.  How many times could they have put away the Philadelphia 76ers, but collapsed?  The Celtics?  Numerous.  Those series could have been over a lot earlier than they lasted.  The Magic were the better team, yet failed to capitalize on that fact.  In this series, they may not be the best team on the floor, but still, had a chance to even the series at one game apiece.  Instead, they proved that they are just not ready for this.  At all.

2. Even with Rashard Lewis (and Turkoglu to a point) playing out of their minds, Orlando still can't beat the Lakers.

If this playoffs has done nothing else, it's elevated Rashard Lewis' stock to a level I, nor many others, could have ever imagined.  Ignore the first game's stats (the entire Magic team had a horrible line) and look at what he pulled off in Game 2.  He finished up with 34 points, 11 boards and 7 assists.  He hit clutch shots.  He did everything you could possibly ask of a so-called "number two" guy, and yet Orlando still lost.  The only thing that can explain it is...

3. Dwight Howard has been a virtual no-show, furthering everyone's perception of him as overrated.

I'd say that I could take some heat for this, but well, I just don't see that happening.  The proof's right there for everyone to see.  Actually, it's been there for quite a while- Howard's entire career to be exact.  Howard can consistently put up double-doubles.  In that regard, I'll admit, he's a virtual machine.  But, how much are those double-doubles actually worth?  Do his, in particular, actually impact the game, or are they just statistics that pile up due to minutes and positioning, rather than actual skill?  Not to say that Howard isn't skilled.  He's probably (definitely) the best center in the game currently, but what does that really say?  

I won't tear up his game like others, namely ESPN's Bill Simmons, have , but I will whole-heartedly agree with these voices.  Howard has no moves in the post, and he does nothing better than anyone else.  he's simply a very large human being who sits under the net, on both offense and defense, and the results of said tactic allowed for him to put up 20 and 13 all year.  He's 6 of 16 shooting in the Finals.  He's turned the ball over nine times, and as a matter of fact, has made it a habit of turning it over two or more times per game this playoffs (it's happened in 16 of the 21 games).  If he's truly the best at his position, and one of the best young stars in the game, where is he now?  Stars pick their teams up.  He's not even a LeBron James who has to do it himself.  He has not one legitimate supporting cast member, but TWO!   Unless he picks it up, he doesn't look like much of a star to me at this point.

4.  And this is the worst: The Lakers are simply... (ugh) Better.

This is probably the most brutal point I've had to make yet in this space.  I hate the Lakers, as many know.  So if I'm saying that they are, indeed, the best team in this series, without a doubt, I'd bet they are.  Kobe Bryant's not even playing up to snuff by his own standards, as even Lakers coach Phil Jackson said himself.  That doesn't mean he's not having a good series.  He's playing pretty damn well, actually- 69 points in two games, all while getting covered pretty thoroughly.  But it's still not the type of play we've come to expect from Bryant at this juncture of his career.  Still, and this is the scary part- it doesn't even matter.

Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are absolutely tearing it up out there at the moment.  They're taking advantage of defensive focus on Bryant, and the Magic have no answer.  The fact that I've said "Lamar Odom is one of the most important players in this series" with a straight face is already the most mind-blogging quote of the month, and it's only the eighth.  Plus, did you see Kobe at the post-game press conference?  Theatrics or not, he was stoic after that big win.  (I'm paraphrasing here) "Nothing to be happy about.  We've still got work to do." Sounds like somebody who wants to win an NBA championship.  Now.

As much as it pains me to say it, it's about time, Kobe.

I'm going to say Lakers in five games, but I wouldn't mind seeing it go a few more.