The Natural would have been a much different movie if a bleeding Roy Hobbs hadn't hit a pennant-winning home run, dramatically shattering the lights in the process, but instead struck out (which he did in the novel). The hero had to act heroically to save his team, and with it, ensure a happy ending. Sometimes the best player on the team has to perform like the best player on the team (even if he digests a poisoned éclair). The last few weeks we've seen the best players on each local team perform at their highest level, leading their respective teams to victories, and in some cases they've almost singlehandedly been responsible for their teams' wins, though none won the pennant and none of the stars snuck out of the hospital after being poisoned (though one local player, Plaxico Burress, did have a gunshot wound to recover from like Roy Hobbs, though he wasn't shot by Barbara Hershey -- The Natural would have also been a much, much different movie if Hobbs was out clubbing with Antonio Pierce and shot himself in the leg, resulting in his abbreviated baseball career).
We saw what can happen when an Alex Rodriguez goes AWOL or a CC Sabathia doesn't pitch like the ace he's supposed to be or a Johan Santana misses the season or a David Wright breaks his back or a Jose Reyes tweaks a hammy -- their teams lose. But in the month of October, we've witnessed the opposite, a group of stars playing like stars. With the New York Jets teetering on the brink, with a 2-3 record, in the midst of a three-game losing streak and their offense producing one three-and-out after another against a woeful Dolphins team, Darrelle Revis, the best player on Gang Green's roster, intercepted a Matt Moore pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. It was not only a game-changing play, but also a season-changing one. The play brought relief to the team, and stemmed the tide until the offense could get some rhythm and start putting points on the board, and ultimately beating Miami. Revis picked off another pass later in that game, and the following week, he did it all again, intercepting a second-half Philip Rivers pass, and rambling 64 yards before being brought down. Mark Sanchez quickly followed with a touchdown pass to Burress for the eventual winning points. Revis was the most talented player on the field in both games, and he played like it as well.
With a rejiggered offensive line, an inexperienced group of receivers and a plethora of injuries surrounding him, Eli Manning has been counted on by the New York Giants to carry the load for the team. And he's been doing just that. He tried to do too much last year, and interceptions and fumbles galore were the result. This year he's eliminated those mistakes from his game (for the most part), and has been his usual intelligent, efficient self, constantly adjusting plays at the line of scrimmage and being the on-field leader that he's paid to be. His fourth-quarter, come-from-behind drives are routine now, doing it twice in the last three games with wins over Arizona and Buffalo, and he was possibly one Victor Cruz slip away from another one vs. Seattle. Manning's not just along for the ride -- the Giants are 4-2 and in first place because he's playing like the best player on the team.
A similar phenomenon is happening on the ice. The New York Rangers have struggled in their trip around the world, which mercifully came to an end on Monday night in Winnipeg. But after seven games, and with no offense to speak of, no power play (until Monday's two-goal explosion) and a thin defensive corps playing on their heels, the Rangers have amazingly accumulated eight points, and have a 3-2-2 record as they're finally allowed to come home. How did they earn those initial six points? Two words: Henrik Lundqvist (and two words got them those last two points as well: Martin Biron). The King has covered up for all the deficiencies in front of him, pitching a shutout in the team's first win of the year in Vancouver, getting them an overtime win in Calgary and salvaging two points in their first two games in Sweden. He has a 1.83 GAA and .942 save percentage in a half dozen games. And Biron did his Lundqvist impression on Monday, enabling the team to end their road trip with a winning record. If either would have been just average, the Blueshirts could be looking at an 0-7 mark right now.
The New York Islanders have their superstar-in-waiting taking that big step this year and dropping the "in-waiting" part of that phrase in the process. John Tavares has 10 points in seven games, and his eight points in back-to-back wins the other week were his coming out party. He's stepping up and playing like a No. 1 draft pick, and leading his young team, with his linemates, P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson, joining in on the fun. It's the rest of the team (goaltenders notwithstanding) that needs to follow Tavares' lead and start producing if they want to be more than a .500 team. The New Jersey Devils have two in-their-prime star forwards in Ilya Kovalchuk (six points in seven games) and Zach Paris (three goals and an assist in seven games), who led the way during the team's three-game winning streak earlier in the month, which included back-to-back shootout wins with the duo scoring both shootout goals in the pair of victories. But it's old, wily veteran Patrik Elias who's been the team's best players (not counting Johan Hedberg, filling in admirably for Martin Brodeur). He's moved into the center position, and leads the team with seven points. With an injured, aging Brodeur, centers dropping like flies and a hodgepodge of veterans and youth, the Devils need Elias, Kovalchuk and Parise to thrive this season, and that's what they've been doing.
There are certain times when a star player has to step up, take over and lead his team. A Darrelle Revis interception can turn a game around, a superior Eli Manning game can cover up for his teammates mistakes in other areas, Henrik Lundqvist standing on his head can steal a game or two (or three), a John Tavares explosion ensures an Islander victory and a Patrik Elias multi-point game can save the Devils. Football and hockey are not one-man sports, but sometimes teams need their best players to carry them and make big plays at the right time to win games. Revis, Manning, Lundqvist, Tavares and a trio of Devils are playing like superstars, and their teams are getting a boost because of it.