On Thursday, the New York Mets began their season, and on Friday, the New York Yankees will do the same, so as we start another year of baseball, we could get all poetic and misty-eyed with a sonnet-like post about new beginnings, the eternal hope of spring and the childlike innocence that comes with opening day. Or we could make profound pronouncements proclaiming baseball a metaphor for life itself, with opening day another chance to redeem oneself and right past wrongs, misdeeds and failures. Or we could throw out arcane opening-day trivia, such as John Wockenfuss is the only player in the history of the major leagues to take the field on opening day with the name "John Wockenfuss." Or we could just list numerous famous quotes about the first day of baseball, which sounds like a better idea.
"You always get a special kick on opening day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you're a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen." Joe DiMaggio
"An opener is not like any other game. There's that little extra excitement, a faster beating of the heart. You have that anxiety to get off to a good start, for yourself and for the team. You know that when you win the first one, you can't lose 'em all." Early Wynn
"There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League." George Vecsey
"A home opener is always exciting, no matter whether it's at home or on the road." Yogi Berra
"There are opening day pitchers, and pitchers who start on opening day." Roger Craig
"I love opening day. I think we all do, whether it's the players, coaches or front office. It's just a special day in our American culture. It's weaved into the fabric of what we are, and I think it's a great day." Bud Black
"There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family and baseball. The only problem -- once baseball starts, I change the order around a bit." Al Gallagher
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." Rogers Hornsby
"It's like Christmas, except it's warmer." Pete Rose
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Mets 1, Braves 0: Well, for one day at least, things are good for the Mets, as they continued to be an opening-day juggernaut (all-time record of 33-18), with their 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon in the newly configured Citi Field, which followed a touching, heartfelt tribute to Gary Carter. While the offense didn't take advantage of the moved-in fences, Johan Santana's outing was the most promising aspect of the win. Throwing five shutout innings (84 pitches), he only allowed two hits and two walks while striking out five. And while he cruised through four of his innings, he showed his signature competitiveness by getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. And the bullpen was just as good and tenacious as Santana, as Ramon Ramirez, Tim Byrdak, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco combined for four scoreless innings. While the offense showed little power, David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Josh Thole each had two hits, with Wright driving in the only run, which was scored by Andres Torres who reached base via a walk -- and that's surely a good sign for the on-base-percentage-challenged leadoff man (until he left the game with a strained calf, that is). It was a rough day for Ike Davis, Jason Bay and Lucas Duda, who went a combined 0-11, but even that can't spoil the Mets' first win of the year, as the sky held off falling on Queens for at least another day . . .
Rotation Set & Ready to Go: The Yankees' rotation sorted itself out as these things often do -- with an injury. Michael Pineda will begin the season on the DL with shoulder tendinitis (though there's no truth to the rumor that Brian Cashman blamed the Mets' overuse of Pedro Feliciano for Pineda's injured shoulder), so the rotation to open the season will be CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia. The Yanks finished their spring with a couple of wins in the Miami Marlins' colorful new stadium and a home-and-home with the Mets, in a sort of Mayor's Trophy throwback. The first game was a battle of fourth starters, with Ivan Nova getting rocked while Mike Pelfrey threw his second consecutive solid game (though third-starter Jon Niese got hammered, just before he agreed to a five-year $25.5 million extension), and Ike Davis hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth. The Bombers turned the tables on the Mets with an 8-3 win on Wednesday, though Freddy Garcia was roughed up in his four-plus innings, but Andy Pettitte threw one scoreless inning in his first game. Later on Wednesday, the Yankees traded pitcher George Kontos for catcher Chris Stewart and then surprisingly sent Francisco Cervelli down to Triple-A. Relievers David Phelps and Clay Rapada made the team to round out the roster. The Yankees open up the season on Friday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays, in their quest for their 28th World Series title.
Linsanity Shelved: The 24-hour stretch between last Friday evening when the New York Knicks took the court for their game vs. the Atlanta Hawks up to pregame on Saturday night was not a good one for the team. The Knicks' defensive fortitude was absent in Mike Woodson's homecoming down in Atlanta, as they lost to the Hawks, 100-90, with Carmelo Anthony tweaking his groin once again, affecting his play at the end of the game. Before they tipped off with the Cleveland Cavaliers the following night the Knicks made the ominous announcement that Jeremy Lin will be out for approximately six weeks with a torn meniscus (which later resulted in a "How much did you know and when did you know it?" accusation leveled at the Knicks for possibly withholding information until playoff tickets went on sale). With Amar'e Stoudemire already out (and reports surfacing that the Phoenix Suns knew all about his back issues), the Knicks' playoff chances took a big hit with Lin's absence on top of that. But hours after the Lin announcement was made, the Knicks took a page out of the New York Rangers' handbook, playing with hustle, effort and selflessness, and overcame all their missing players to defeat the Cavaliers, 91-75. Anthony continued his best stretch of the season, and he was helped by J.R. Smith, who put in a 20-point, nine-rebound, five-steal tour de force performance. On Tuesday, though, the "other" J.R. Smith showed up, the one who put the finishing touches on a complete collapse in the 112-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers when he was ejected from the game, and the hobbling Baron Davis' deficiencies at point guard were on display again. But on Thursday, the Knicks' up-and-down week ended with a resounding victory over the Orlando Magic (who were in the midst of the Dwight Howard/Stan Van Gundy soap opera), with all the good stuff returning again, as five players scored in double digits and Tyson Chandler completely dominated a distracted Howard.
No. 1: On Tuesday night, the Rangers' blue-collar, shot-blocking, hard-working, all-in approach paid off in the form of clinching the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. And it helps to have the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy on their roster in Henrik Lundqvist, who was brilliant, making 37 saves, in the 5-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Clinching in Philadelphia after completing the season-series sweep against the Flyers was the icing on the cake. The Blueshirts have 109 points this season, which is tied for second most in team history. In other news and games this week, Ryan Callahan won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award for the third time, they defeated the Montreal Canadiens on Friday, lost to the Boston Bruins on Sunday and fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday (with Martin Biron playing in his 500th game), but Derek Stepan was the recipient of a very questionable knee-on-knee hit by Brooks Orpik, which sent John Tortorella, who called the hit "cheap and dirty," into a postgame tirade: "I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there, so I'm anxious to see what happens with the league with this. There's no respect among players. None. It's sickening. They're one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this all the time and look what happens. They'll whine about something else, won't they, starting with their two [blanking] stars?"
In: The New Jersey Devils threw themselves a party down in North Carolina on Saturday, when they clinched a playoff berth with their 5-0 romp over the Carolina Hurricanes. Hall of Fame-bound goalie Martin Brodeur notched a shutout, David Clarkson scored his 30th goal of the season (and on his birthday no less) and 10 players recorded at least one point, as the team redeemed themselves after last year's playoff-less season. Now they need to ensure that they won't be the one-and-done postseason bust they've been the last few years. In other games this week, they defeated the New York Islanders, 3-1, but they lost Jacob Josefson in the process, who broke his wrist, but Zach Parise played in his 500th NHL game, and on Thursday, they edged the Detroit Red Wings, 2-1, to earn their 100th point and Brodeur set yet another record, passing Patrick Roy with his 14th 30-win season.
Out: While the Devils were celebrating on Saturday, the Islanders were consoling themselves after being eliminated from the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season with their 6-3 loss to the Bruins. Their unhappiness carried over to Sunday, when they were defeated by the Ottawa Senators, 5-1, and to Tuesday, when they lost to the Devils, but on Thursday, they ended their home schedule with a 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets, thanks to a last-minute Michael Grabner goal. And not to be outdone by the Rangers and Devils, the Islanders had a player playing in his 1,000th NHL game -- Steve Staios.
One Step at a Time: With every passing day it's looking like the New Jersey Nets hit the jackpot with their acquisition of Gerald Wallace. On top of his smart, hustling play on the court, and making key defensive plays in crunch time, as he did in Friday's come-from-behind 102-100 victory over the Golden State Warriors (and credit to Gerald Green for scoring the tying and winning points), he's become an instant team leader and veteran mentor for the still-learning-how-to-win Nets. Now the question is, will he and Deron Williams be the cornerstones to build around when the team is playing in Brooklyn. They won their third in a row on Saturday, defeating the Sacramento Kings, 111-99, but lost to the Los Angeles Laker, 91-87, on Tuesday and to the Portland Trail Blazers, 101-88, on Wednesday (without Williams, who had the stomach flu).
It's Not Unusual: The New York Jets signed Australian rugby player Hayden Smith to be a potential backup tight end, as they continue their unorthodox offseason (though, I guess, nothing's unorthodox for the Jets these days). We'll just assume that Smith won't be thrown into the quarterback mix, but you never know what surprises Gang Green has up its sleeve.
R.I.P. Giorgio Chinaglia: The soccer legend passed away on Sunday at the age of 65. After starring in Italy, Chinaglia was the first in-his-prime superstar to jump to the NASL, in 1976. He eventually teamed with Pele and Franz Beckenbauer to form a precursor to the Miami Heat's dream team, but a true international version, which helped get soccer noticed in the U.S. There was nothing bland about Chinaglia, as he was a more conceited version of Joe Namath, the classic bad boy who loved booze and broads. The colorful, party-loving star scored 242 goals in his Cosmos career in 254 games.
And that's the New York week that was.