The Yankees are neck and neck with the Tampa Bay Rays, which in the pre-Wild Card days would cause much more agita than it does now, as both of these powerhouses will most likely make the postseason. So with first place in the AL East so close, that got me to thinking about the great playoffs in New York history - not postseason, ALCS, NLCS, etc., but those 163rd (or 155th) game of the year tiebreakers. For here at the New York Week That Was, we not only look back at the news of the past week, but we also occasionally jump in a time machine, and go back into sports history. And much to the chagrin of the people around me, I often drift off into the past anyway, such as the time recently when I had to tell my daughter, who found me sitting quietly with my eyes closed, "Not now, I'm watching an episode of the Odd Couple in my head. It's the one where Felix and Oscar are contestants on Password. I know you'll understand." And I'm not saying I'm old, which leads me to obsess on days gone by, but I do almost qualify for a reverse mortgage, I know who Bert Convy, Ruben Kincaid and Larry Storch are, I've always assumed all those Harry Potter books and movies were about Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H and I've been known to occasionally refer to the TV as the talking picture machine. But anyway . . .
New York teams have been involved in four of these dramatic tiebreakers (13 total in major league history), and all four New York teams have been participants. Before divisional play began in 1969, three-game series were played to see which team would take the pennant. The very first one occurred in 1946, when the Brooklyn Dodgers faced the Cardinals. And in a bit of foreshadowing, Ralph Branca was the loser in game one, only lasting two and 2/3 innings. The star of the game for the Cards in their 4-2 victory was the mediocre catcher/great announcer Joe Garagiola, who went three for four and drove in two runs. In the second and clinching game, the Dodgers never stood a chance as they were pounded 8-4, and St. Louis kept on rolling, beating the Red Sox in the World Series. Next up came the most famous playoff of all - the 1951 classic featuring the Shot Heard 'Round the World. Guess who was the loser in game one? Yup, poor Ralph Branca. And he gave up a two-run bomb to Bobby Thomson to boot, along with one to Monte Irvin. He did pitch well, though, lasting eight innings and only allowing those three runs. But an Andy Pafko home run was all the offense Brooklyn could muster up. Game two was another story, as the Dodgers romped their way to a 10-0 win, behind a complete-game effort from Clem Labine and long balls hit by Pafko, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and Rube Walker. The third game is, of course, etched in baseball lore. For the three-game series, Thomson went five for 10, with two home runs and six RBIs. The two teams met again after they moved to California, in 1962, to see who would lose to the Yankees (it was the Giants), and, in fact, the Dodgers have appeared in the most tiebreakers over the years - five.
The Yankees' lone appearance in a tiebreaker was the Bucky Dent game in 1978. The shortstop's wall-scraping homer is one of the most famous in baseball history, but it was Reggie Jackson's tater (as he called them) in the top of the eighth that proved to be the game-winner. On the mound for Boston was Mike Torrez, who was the gift that kept on giving for the Yankees. The previous year, pitching for the Bombers, Torrez twirled two complete-game victories in the World Series, including the series clincher, and then moved on to Boston, where he gave up Dent's shocking home run. Thanks, Mike! The last New York tiebreaking playoff game occurred in 1999, when the Mets faced the Reds, as the two teams tied for the Wild Card. The stars of the game for the Mets, who won 5-0, were Al Leiter, who pitched a masterpiece - a two-hit complete-game shutout - Edgardo Alfonzo, who belted a first-inning two-run homer and an RBI double, and Rickey Henderson, who homered, singled and scored two runs. Will we ever see another one? I hope so.
Here are the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports, and in honor of this week's Emmys, they'll be given the award-show treatment:
Best Variety Show: The Yankees. They can win every which way possible - blowouts (11-5, 9-3), slugfests (12-9), pitcher's duels (2-1) and nail-biters (4-3), and do it with in-their-prime stars (Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia), young guys (Ivan Nova, Eduardo Nunez), role players (Marcus Thames, Kerry Wood) and even the snake-bitten Lance Berkman all making contributions. And because of that, the Yankees finally climbed into first place all by themselves this week after spending eight straight days tied with the Rays. It was only Bad A.J. Burnett (on Friday) who prevented them from winning every game this week.
Best Comedy: The Mets. Well, one thing you could say about the Mets before this week was that they were consistent. They were within one game of .500 every day of August until they lost on Aug. 31, sending them two games under. And now, after their mail-it-in series in Atlanta, it looks like they're heading into their downward spiral toward oblivion. With their anemic, lifeless offense, it was only great performances by Mike Pelfrey (on Friday) and R.A. Dickey and a patchwork effort last night that left them with a less-than-respectable but not downright putrid 3-4 record this week. And as Jerry Manuel twists in the wind and we wait to hear the prognosis of Johan Santana's strained pec, it's back to the future time for the team, with the call-ups of Lucas Duda (who beat himself up so much in the postgame interview after his debut on Wednesday that it seemed like he was doing his Chris Farley impression) and Jenrry Mejia, who is finally back to doing what he should be doing, which is starting.
Best Cancellation: Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy was shipped off to Texas this week for a six pack of long necks and 20 pounds of brisket, ending his brief career as a Met. After teasing us in his time in Queens last year and even the first few weeks of this season by actually being a competent hitter, he quickly regressed back into the old, tried-and-true Jeff Francoeur at the plate, which means he never met a pitch he didn't like. Sure, he has a cannon for an arm, a winning smile and is an expert in clubhouse chemistry, but he just isn't a good major league hitter. What will we miss most about the big lug? Those teeth. Oh that big, bright, spectacular set of choppers.
Best Guest Star: Dallas Braden. Alex Rodriguez's arch rival, Braden, came to town yesterday (though there's no word if his sassy, tough-talking grandmother made the trip, too). A-Rod, of course, broke one of many unwritten players' codes by trespassing on Braden's sacred ground, the pitcher's mound. The A's pitcher takes his codes seriously, and he has plenty of them outside of baseball, too. There's his "Get Off My Lawn!" code to the neighborhood kids, the "Get Off My Steps!" code for any intrepid salesmen that come to his house and he also has a "Get Out of My Head!" code for the voices that only he occasionally hears.
Worst Guest Stars: Oliver Perez and Jeff Wilpon. Two of the most unpopular men in Queens made appearances down in Atlanta on Monday, as, yes, things were so bad for the Mets that they let Perez take the mound. Of course he gave up a home run and walked two batters in one inning, making the Mets 1-14 in games that he has appeared in this season. He also whined that he's being treated unfairly by the team. I told my boss I'm ready to be given the Oliver Perez treatment at work, fair or unfair, and am willing to be paid $12 million a year to watch major league baseball games from a comfortable seat in the bullpen, and of course, I brought my translator, Joey Cora, with me to do the talking. My boss then sicced Nyjer Morgan on me, which cleared up any confusion I may have had on where they stood with my request.
Best Wardrobe: The Jets. Will Rex Ryan have to give Mark Sanchez his color-coded wrist bands back to him? After playing like a poised veteran against the Giants, Sanchez has the deer-in-the-headlights look again, like he did much of last season, when he was one of the worst QBs in the league (at least statistically, though in his defense, most rookie starting QBs are usually among the worst in the league). The Jets' offense looked sluggish again in their 16-11 loss to the Redskins, and on Thursday there were more turnovers and penalties, but more bright spots as well (though Sanchez didn't play). The Kellen Clemens situation was finally solved when he took a pay cut to stay with the team as the third-string QB. Darrelle Revis did not, though. And Calvin Pace is out with a broken foot, but now may only miss the season opener. Preseason is over, final cuts are coming and then on to the Super Bowl!
Best Remake of 24: The Giants. They're in a race against time to get ready for the season. With so many injuries, players playing out of position, a lack of cohesiveness, the same old short yardage problems and general rust, they need to improve quickly by Sept. 12 or the world will surely blow up. Ok, that's a bit dramatic - maybe they'll just lose their first game. They were awful in Saturday's 24-10 loss, but were somewhat better last night with a last-minute win over the Patriots (where have we heard that before?). As for the roster moves: Jim Sorgi? Gone. Sinorice Moss? Gone. Adrian Tracy? Gone. Kevin Boothe? Gone (at least for six weeks). The Matt Leinart rumors have floated around this week, and Jeff Hostetler and Norm Snead may get a phone call, but as of now Rhett Bomar is Eli Manning's backup. Here comes the season, ready or not.
Best Acting Performance While Under Oath: Roger Clemens. The former Yankee was arraigned on Monday on charges of committing perjury and pleaded not guilty. He even told the judge that he's not guilty of throwing that bat at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series, either - the incident was all just a rumor started by Brian McNamee. Speaking of criminals, Plaxico Burress was denied an early release from prison this week. That will just give him more time to spruce up his cell for Clemens.
The Legacy Award: The Knicks. They signed Patrick Ewing Jr. this week and invited him to training camp hoping he possesses just a touch of the magic that his father had. In related local team news, the Mets signed Tom Seaver Jr., the Islanders Denis Potvin Jr., the Yankees Whitey Ford III and the Jets Darrelle Revis Jr., though he hasn't even been born yet, which has infuriated Revis the elder.
(For in-depth analysis and discussion of the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets and Knicks, go to SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley, Amazin' Avenue, Big Blue View, Gang Green Nation and Posting and Toasting, respectively.)