Let's go all the way back to the year 2000. The underdog New York Mets took on the indomitable and unconquerable New York Yankees. Out of the eight teams that qualified for the postseason that year, the Bombers had the worst record of the bunch. But they knew how to win. They would patiently lay in the weeds waiting for their opponent to make one mistake, take advantage of that mishap and eek out a victory. But if their opponent (in this case, the Mets) could strike early, and erase that aura of supremacy, underneath the cracks the Yankees were just an aging team that limped into the playoffs. In Game One, the Mets had the Yankees on the ropes, but Timo Perez, by not hustling around the bases, committed that one mistake, and the Yankees pounced and won the game. What if the Mets would have held on to win? The sense that "you can't beat the Yankees in a big game" would have disappeared. In Game Two, the unhittable Mariano Rivera and Jeff Nelson combined to give up five runs in the ninth inning on Mike Piazza and Jay Payton home runs. Instead of sneaking out of Yankee Stadium with a split and the Yanks thinking "uh-oh," the Mets went back to Queens down by two and an attitude of "we just can't beat these guys." Despite the Mets winning the third game, the Series was over.
Which brings us to the New York Knicks. Was Game One of their series with the Boston Celtics their best and only chance to win the series? Is it all over now? Will the Knicks play the Mets to the Celtics' Yankees? The Celtics have looked old, and with Carmelo Anthony and a gang of players gathered from the Island of Misfit Toys on the court, they could barely beat the Knicks. But the fact is, they did beat them. Because the Celtics know how to win. Of course, it's possible the Knicks can still win the series (well, they need a healthy Amar'e Stoudemire for that), but despite outplaying their opponent for much of the two games, the Knicks don't know how to close things out, while Boston can do that better than anyone. The ending to both games was a complete fiasco from the Knicks' point of view. In Game One, Anthony, playing the role of Timo Perez (or is it Armando Benitez?), didn't know the Knicks were out of timeouts (which was a mistake in and of itself), and just hoisted up a three instead of driving to the basket. And Stoudemire, who dominated in the fourth quarter, didn't touch the ball at the end. Of course, the refs helped the Celtics' cause, but that's just so much sour grapes.
And in Game Two, in spite of Anthony's heroics, almost single-handedly winning the game, was giving the ball to Jared Jeffries, the guy who averaged two points a game for the Knicks, the best course of action with the game on the line? And on the final Boston possession, the Knicks were again lost in space, when they let four seconds run off the clock before fouling Delonte West. Did the Knicks miss their golden opportunity in these two games? Or did they actually gain confidence with a pair of almost wins? Was Ray Allen drilling a three the basketball version of Derek Jeter gunning down Perez at home plate? Or will the Knicks rewrite the ending to this somewhat shaky analogy? Well, at least no one hurled a broken bat at Carmelo Anthony.
And now on to the other top stories in the world of New York sports.
Down But Not Out: Speaking of heartbreaking losses, after a rousing victory on Sunday (which followed an offensively feeble loss on Friday), led by mustachioed Brandon Dubinsky, the New York Rangers pulled a defeat out of the jaws of victory on Wednesday. Heading into the third period, the scene was set for a perfect night: The had not lost a game all season when taking a lead into the third period, the Garden faithful kept up their end of the bargain with loud chants of "Can You Hear Us?" and "Bou-dreau!" and the Washington Capitals and their goalie were shaky, not to mention having a tradition of choking in the playoffs. But then a wave of shock and awe hit the Blueshirts, and before you know it, the dream scenario turned into a nightmare. And the winning goal came via a fluke that involved Marian Gaborik back-checking of all things? The Rangers, of course, still had a chance in both overtimes (though thanks for getting in Dubinsky's way there, ref), and when Henrik Lundqvist robbed Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway, it looked like the Rangers may have gotten some momentum. But, to pull out another Mets memory from the past, Lundqvist's save goes into the annals next to Endy Chavez's acrobatic catch in the seventh game of the 2006 NLCS--a "there's no way we're going to lose now" moment that turned out to be a footnote in a gut-wrenching loss. If any team can forget about a defeat like that one, though, and come back with heart and character, it's this version of the Rangers. And Dan Girardi deserves some kind of award for blocking every shot that comes anywhere near him.
Bou-dreau! Ok, was it desperation or gamesmanship that made Washington coach Bruce Boudreau insult a whole city? Or did he take too many shots to the head by the Hanson brothers during his small supporting role in Slap Shot? Even he realized he stuck his foot in his mouth when he later said, "I might have made a mistake by saying what I said." The coach of the other New York playoff opponent, Doc Rivers, knows what he's talking about though, when he stated, Madison Square Garden is "special to every single player because it's the only arena left that has a memory. All of the other ones have been blown up. This is the one that Frazier and Ali fought in . . . This is the arena where all that stuff has happened, and players know that."
The Magic Is Back (Well, Jason Bay Is): The fun finally returned to Citi Field on Thursday night. David Wright broke out of his slump, Ike Davis belted a towering home run, Mike Nickeas hit his first big-league dinger, Bay blooped a double and added a Little League home run, Chris Capuano was excellent and Terry Collins got himself ejected, putting a spark into his team. Is this the game that turns their season around? The Mets are off to the third worst start in franchise history. They've been so bad it's like 1962 or '64 all over again. Of course this year's team was supposed to have a few players with actual talent on its roster, unlike those years. Before Thursday's much-needed win, the team's bad play was turning Citi Field into the dullest place on Earth. Met fans might as well have been watching the games as if they were Stanley from The Office--occasionally peeking out over their crossword puzzles to see if anything interesting was going on. But what did they see? Daniel Murphy trying to steal third base with no outs while down by three. Scott Hairston misjudging one fly ball after another. Angel Pagan getting thrown out at home on a wild pitch. Jose Reyes getting doubled off of first in the ninth inning down by one. The bullpen melting down game after game. Wright striking out at a record-setting pace. And the team suffering yet another doubleheader sweep. The always articulate R.A. Dickey gets it, though, when he said after Wednesday's loss, "We can't just keep telling ourselves that we're better than this. We may not be. And we've got to be honest about that and identify what we're doing wrong and do it better. That's the only way you have any real growth." Can we make him the first player-manager since Pete Rose back in the '80s? While Bay made his season debut on Thursday, Pagan went down with an injury and Bobby Parnell was sent to the DL with numbness in his middle finger. If the Mets can't build on their victory over the Astros, by the end of this frustrating month, Met fans will also suffer from numbness in their middle fingers saluting their favorite team.
Business as Usual: There were no heartbreaking games, moments or starts to a season for the Yankees this week. But an unfathomable loss did occur. Mariano Rivera blew a save. That's right Mariano Rivera blew a save. That happens about as many times as Jared Jeffries hits game-winning baskets (Jeffries did play a good game otherwise, so I should get off his back). The Bombers are in control of the surprisingly mediocre AL East, as they went 3-2 this week. They continue to launch home run after home run, with Curtis Granderson now on a role, and their reclamation project pitchers are giving them some impressive outings. After putting Phil Hughes on the DL because he just wasn't that good (are the Yankees allowed to do that?), Bartolo Colon filled his slot and started and won his first game since 2009. And that followed Freddy Garcia's effective, easygoing performance. Compared to the other local teams, the Yankees are living on a cloud of peace and tranquility.
Are You Ready for Some Football? After some guesswork that the New York New York Jets would open up the season against each other in a 9/11 tribute, the NFL schedule-makers will instead be sending Big Blue down to Washington, DC, while Gang Green opens up at home against the Dallas Cowboys. It turns out, the and Jets will square off on Christmas Eve day, therefore completely ruining the holiday for at least one fan base. And both teams have night games galore, which means many groggy Mondays for each team's fans. But with the NFC East playing the AFC East this year, the Giants and Jets could really help (or hurt) each other this season. Of course, there actually has to be a season for all of this fun to eventually take place.and