April 11, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher (33) is congratulated by third base coach Rob Thomson (59) after hitting the game winning two-run home run in the tenth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Yankees defeated the Orioles 6 - 4 in ten innings. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
All weekend long, the New York Yankees had to hear about their slow start as it compared to the surprising fast start by the New York Mets. Well, now the Yankees know how the Mets feel much of the time ("Yankees! Yankees! Yankees!"). While the young, homegrown, energized Mets were building on the momentum of their inspiring opening-day start by Johan Santana and taking advantage of Citi Field's new dimensions, with a sweep of the Atlanta Braves, led by R.A. Dickey's solid performance, Lucas Duda's two-homer game, David Wright's sizzling start, Jon Niese's six no-hit innings, Ruben Tejada's four-hit game and the stellar work of the bullpen, and then beating the Washington Nationals in the series opener, keyed by Kirk Nieuwenhuis' first career home run and Daniel Murphy's defense and walkoff single, the Yankees were looking old, slow, overweight and creaky -- baseball's version of the Titanic (had to get an obligatory 100-year anniversary reference in here somewhere) -- when they were swept by the Tampa Bay Rays, after CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Mariano Rivera got rocked, they made base-running, fielding and managing blunders galore and couldn't get any big hits in the late innings (and I think I just set a record for the longest sentence ever written).
The Yankees recovered, of course, because, well, they're the Yankees. One advantage to having a veteran team is they are experienced and aren't prone to panic. And one of the most experienced players they have, Derek Jeter, led the team out of their morass. The shortstop sparked the offense with a 4-for-4 game while Ivan Nova threw seven quality innings in the 6-2 victory on Monday. On Tuesday, though Freddy Garcia was mediocre and threw five wild pitches (just in case anyone was missing A.J. Burnett), Jeter led off the game with a home run, Raul Ibanez won it with a 12th-inning ground-rule double and the bullpen tossed seven-plus scoreless innings, as they won, 5-4. And they did it again on Wednesday, overcoming a rough outing by Sabathia, but the bullpen threw four more scoreless innings and Nick Swisher was the hero du jour, with a two-run homer in the top of the 10th inning.
Meanwhile, the Mets, who needed a good start more than any other team to avoid a doomsday scenario, took their first "Well, that didn't last long -- these are the Mets after all" hit when Wright broke his pinky. They then sent out a Triple-A lineup in their first loss on Tuesday, as the previous night's hero, Murphy, botched three separate potential double plays, spoiling Dillon Gee's chance at a win. The offense failed again in Wednesday's 4-0 loss (which fittingly came on the 50th anniversary of the franchise's first-ever game), a matchup between Santana and Stephen Strasburg, and the bullpen walked seven batters, as the Nationals scored their runs on a wild pitch, two bases-loaded walks and a groundout, which was very 1962 Mets-like. Maybe Roger Craig should have relieved Santana instead of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. And the honeymoon is surely over for Jason Bay (ok, there really never was a honeymoon), as the Citi Field fans have made it clear with their booing that they want an annulment. Maybe Kris Humphries can give them some tips. The Mets are 4-2, though, and there's nothing wrong with that.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Rangers 4, Senators 2: The New York Rangers began the week with their coach being fined $20,000 after John Tortorella went on a rant about the Pittsburgh Penguins after Brooks Orpik's knee-on-knee hit to Derek Stepan. The large fine kind of proved Tortorella's point: The Penguins get special treatment. How dare anyone say anything negative about Pittsburgh? The Rangers then ended the regular season with a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, thwarting their attempt at attaining the Presidents' Trophy. On Tuesday, they signed former Boston College star Chris Kreider, who didn't play on Thursday, when the real season began, and much like the Yankees' captain did when he kick-started the Bombers' winning streak, the Rangers' captain kicked off the postseason by setting the tone with four bone-crunching hits in the early going and getting the Blueshirts on the scoreboard first, in the 4-2 victory. Ryan Callahan (goal, plus-1, seven hits, one blocked shot) plays playoff hockey every game -- it's everyone else that tries to step up and match his intensity. But what the Rangers feared most about the Senators -- their speed, up-tempo game and controlling the puck -- reared its ugly head for a large chunk of the second period, but, after Henrik Lundqvist kept Ottawa at bay, John Tortorella's timeout reversed the momentum, which resulted in Marian Gaborik scoring a goal-scorer's goal, Brian Boyle finding the back of the net and they poured it on in the third with a Brad Richards goal (set up nicely by Carl Hagelin). Ottawa scored two late window-dressing goals when the Rangers took their foot off the pedal, but Lundqvist was at the top of his game (30 saves), they were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, the defense did its usual job and Artem Anisimov chipped in with two assists. One down, 15 to go.
A Little Easter Magic: Carmelo Anthony finally had his New York Knicks magic moment on Sunday, when he scored 43 points and hit all the big shots to beat the Chicago Bulls in an overtime thriller, 100-99. Yes, Tyson Chandler was all over the floor (literally), with his nonstop hustle, and Iman Shumpert continued his second-half renaissance, but it was Anthony who stole the show with his game-tying three-pointer just before regulation ended and nailing the winning points in overtime with another three. With Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire out, the Knicks are now Anthony's team but he can't do it alone, as there was nothing magical in the second half of the home-and-home against the Bulls, with the Knicks getting shellacked, 98-86. Anthony's 29 points were about it for the once-again stagnant offense, while Chandler was alone on defense with 15 rebounds and nobody helping him out. But on Wednesday, with more grit and tenacity than magic, the Knicks defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in a must-win, playoff-like clash, coming back for a 111-107 victory. Anthony again led the offense (32 points), with J.R. Smith hitting a big shot at the end making up for his otherwise woeful shooting performance, and Chandler (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Shumpert (16 points, five assists, six rebounds, three steals) again were stellar, as the Knicks extended their small lead over the Bucks.
On to Florida: The New Jersey Devils closed out the regular season in style, with their sixth consecutive victory, a 4-2 win over the Senators on Saturday, giving them 102 points (and being the fourth team in the Atlantic Division to compile over 100 points, which is the first time in NHL history that has happened, though the Central Division joined them as well), and they also set a new penalty-killing record, with their 89.6% mark. New Jersey's first-round series with the Florida Panthers is their next challenge, with the first four games scheduled for the upcoming week: Friday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Ilya Kovalchuk, for one, is very confident: "If we play our best, nobody can beat us."
Prokhorov vs. Cuban: Though they won two games out of three (beating the Washington Wizards on Friday and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, while losing to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday), it wasn't a great week for the New Jersey Nets. Brook Lopez has been shut down for the year, Gerald Wallace strained his hamstring in the overtime win against the Cavs (in which Gerald Green was the star, with a season-high 32 points) and the Nets were officially eliminated from the playoffs with Tuesday's loss. The colorful Mikhail Prokhorov was in town, though, and he had this to say about the possibility of Deron Williams jumping ship to play for Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks, "Let the best man win. If he wins, I'll crush him in a kickboxing throwdown." And the owner gave a short state-of-the-team address: "The Nets, like the arena, is still under construction. It's in the building stage. And I'll keep my prediction for the championship. I'll do my best, together with my partners, to make the Brooklyn Nets the champions of the NBA."
The End: The New York Islanders ended their season on Saturday with a thump -- a 7-3 trouncing at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They finished with 79 points, which is a six-point improvement over last season, but they also had 79 points two seasons ago as well as four seasons ago, so they seem to be stuck in a holding pattern. At least they have John Tavares, so they have that going for them. And they get the fourth pick in the draft this year.
Big Blue Newbies: The New York Giants made a trade for OLB Keith Rivers. They sent the Cincinnati Bengals a fifth-round draft pick for the former first-rounder. Big Blue also signed offensive lineman Sean Locklear and cornerback Antwaun Molden.
Isiah Thomas: The former Knicks coach was fired from FIU last Friday, where his teams compiled a 26-65 record in three seasons, as he continues his post-playing streak of being a complete failure at everything he does. If James Dolan considers bringing back Thomas in any way, shape or form for even a minute, we know the Knick owner is 100%, certifiably nuts (though most think of him that way anyway).
And that's the New York week that was.