As we all recover from the revelry of St. Patrick's Day and try to shake off the cobwebs that have formed in our brains from all that green beer, we look back at the week in New York sports and, just like that leprechaun we thought we saw on Thursday who kept giving us the stink-eye, we wonder, did that really happen or did I just get too hammered and imagine the whole thing? Is Johan Santana already out for the season? Or is it just more New York Mets injury controversy? Didn't that end with the ousting of Omar Minaya? Or is the media to blame this time? Are Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo really still on the team? Was that really A.J. Burnett pitching well, not walking any batters and not even hitting anybody in the head? Did the New Jersey Nets really have a five-game winning streak, trying to pull a New Jersey Devils on us? Did they really beat the Celtics? And just a few days before St. Patrick's Day? Are the Devils really only six points out of a playoff spot? But they lost twice to the lowly Ottawa Senators? Did the New York Knicks really lose a pair of games to the Pacers? Did the Knicks and New York Rangers raise their ticket prices--and the Knicks' went up 49 percent? Well, that feels real enough. I haven't been able to afford to go to a sporting event around here in almost a decade. We can now use the old John Lennon line when the Beatles played a concert attended by the Queen: "Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewelry."
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports (and I think these were all real).
The Dream Is Over: They tried to win it for D.J. Kennedy. They tried to win it for Chris Mullin. They tried to win it for Mark Jackson. They tried to win it for all the ghosts of St. John's players past. And in the first few minutes, it looked like the dream may be extended. But then Gonzaga happened. The Red Storm's opponent took over the game, and they proved to be the better team, winning 86-71. Like always, the Johnnies fought and clawed their way back with their usual fierce determination, but it just wasn't enough. Dwight Hardy led the way with 26, but with no Kennedy they didn't stand a chance. But the season was not a disappointment--instead it was a resurgence. They beat Duke, they beat Pitt, they beat Marquette. And Steve Lavin made St. John's matter again. The end? This is just the beginning.
End of the World: Sure, the Denver Nuggets are 9-2 since the trade, the Knicks' defense resembles a matador convention and when they lose three games in a row they look like the worst team in the history of basketball and the end of the world is upon us, but all their troubles melt away when they can drain a franchise 20 three-pointers (with Toney Douglas tying the team record with nine--it must have been the shoes). But what happens when they don't pour in all those threes? They have to actually play defense, which they haven't proven they can do yet. There's no effort, no philosophy, no coaching, no clue as to what to do on that end of the floor. Carmelo Anthony stated this week that their schemes are too complicated and confusing. That was breaking news since no one knew they even had any defensive schemes. Should we not even imagine what the Knicks would look like if they acquired Deron Williams instead of Anthony? Of course, no one besides the Nets actually knew that Williams was available for the plucking. At any rate, the Knicks are an absolute roller-coaster ride right now, flying high one night, plunging to the depths of despair the next. We'll just have to give them some more time to figure things out.
The New Devils: Unlike the Knicks, the Nets are playing defense and don't seem to have any problem playing together as a team. Of course, they don't have any pressure on them and their roster wasn't overhauled as much as the Knicks' was. But they're coming through in tight games, overcoming deficits and making stops at the end, as we saw during Friday's overtime win over the Clippers, in which they came back from a 20-point deficit, and Monday's surprising and overly impressive victory over the Celtics. Williams has been everything he's cracked up to be, and his supporting cast has all upped their game as well. Hey, it's kind of good to be the Nets right now. Yeah, they lost to the Bulls, but even the Devils lose once in a while, too.
Back in Business: The Rangers are slowly beginning to resemble the first half Blueshirts once again, now that they've won four out of their last five. Will they ride this wave right into the playoffs? They won another shootout game on Saturday, beating San Jose, and they defeated the New York Islanders once again, on Tuesday. Marian Gaborik is scoring, Henrik Lundqvist is playing spectacularly, Brian McCabe notched his first goal as a Ranger, they're healthy, they're scoring power-plays goals, they're continuing to score shorthanded goals (thanks, Brandon Prust) and they're doing their forecheck thing, their battling for the puck thing and their outworking their opponent thing. And a couple of teams behind them have lost a few games lately. It's all in their hands now.
The Rising: The Devils were cruising along, with each game like a broken record--but a good broken record (does anybody even know what the term "broken record" means anymore?). They defeated Atlanta twice this past week and also beat the Islanders in overtime. The same questions have surrounded them the last month or so: Will they run out of time? Will the teams ahead of them lose enough? But then on Thursday, it happened again. Apparently the team's kryptonite is the Ottawa Senators. The loss was a crushing blow to New Jersey, but all hope is not lost of course, the defeat just makes things a little harder for them. In good news, Travis Zajac broke Ken Daneyko's franchise record for consecutive games played, when he appeared in his 389th straight contest on Thursday night. Hey, he's only 25, will he get to Doug Jarvis' all-time record of 964? After this year, he would have to play just under seven full seasons to overtake Jarvis' mark.
Spoiled: The only thing left for the Islanders, besides their players continuing their development and playing for future jobs, is to play the role of spoiler. Unfortunately, they didn't do a very good job of it this week. They did beat the Bruins, 4-2, on Friday, but they were defeated by the Devils on Saturday in overtime and were walloped by the Rangers on Tuesday. In roster moves: He's back (yet again), as Rick DiPietro was activated, while Nathan Lawson and Justin DiBenedetto were sent down to Bridgeport.
And the Winner Is: Luis Hernandez? As the Mets continue with their American Idol-like second base competition, reports have surfaced that Terry Collins prefers Hernandez. No matter what the team does, they're not going to get much from that position. Daniel Murphy is the best hitter, but is potentially the worst fielder. Hernandez may be the safest choice, providing mediocre to average production. But if they just want someone who can turn a double play and catch the ball, maybe he's the man for the job. Things may come into focus a little more on Friday when a round of roster cuts will be made. But what should they do? First off, release Castillo. Start the season with a combination of Brad Emaus and Murphy. That way they don't have to send Emaus back to Toronto and they can see what they have in both, while Murphy would also be a valuable bench/utility player. Send Justin Turner and Hernandez down to the minors. If Hernandez is scooped up on waivers, who cares? If Emaus and Murphy fail, go to plan B, and bring up one of the other guys, or maybe even Reese Havens will actually be healthy at the time and be a possible call-up. Plan C: Edgardo Alfonzo. Other Mets highlights this week: Ronny Paulino finally arrived in camp. On Sunday, Perez made his spring debut as a LOOGY, and the one batter he faced popped the ball up into the sure hands of Castillo. Perez faced three batters on Tuesday, walking one but getting the other two out. The Met starters are starting to get stretched out, with Jon Niese throwing four and 2/3 scoreless innings, followed by a five-inning, four-run outing, Chris Young lasting five and 1/3 innings (he has a spring ERA of 1.88), while R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey both pitched five innings in their games, though they let in a combined eight runs. And Carlos Beltran resumed baseball activities, which for him means just putting on his uniform in the morning and waiting to see if he tore one of his knees apart or if a leg fell off in the process.
The Greatest (Ever!): The results of a Sienna College poll reveal that New Yorkers think that Derek Jeter is the "single greatest athlete" in New York history. He finished ahead of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Joe Namath and Lawrence Taylor, among, well, everybody else. Even Carmelo Anthony received some votes. So either the pollsters surveyed the most uninformed people in the history of New York or they all consisted of 14-year-old girls. Though the website causes some confusion as in one spot it says "favorite" athlete. If that's the case then the result makes perfect sense. I mean my favorite New York athlete is Turk Wendell, Bobby Murcer or Ron Johnson depending on which day you ask me, not to mention John Olerud, Bob Tucker and Gilles Villamure. And none of those guys are in the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, the only real competition in New York Yankees camp is the battle for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Oh, and to see which overweight player would get injured first. The winner in that heated contest was Joba Chamberlain, who has an oblique strain and may not be ready for opening day. Ivan Nova made his case for a rotation spot on Wednesday with six no-hit innings. While Freddy Garcia was roughed up on Sunday, giving up four runs in two and 2/3 innings. Burnett pitched competently and confidently in his start, letting in two runs in four innings without a walk. Though he doesn't stand a chance to make the team (yet), 20-year-old Manuel Banuelos tossed two and 2/3 shutout innings in an emergency start against the Red Sox. And Brett Gardner was given an audition in the leadoff spot on Thursday.
R.I.P.: Rick Martin wasn't a local player, but Buffalo's in New York, right? So that's close enough. Martin passed away on Sunday at the all-too-young age of 59. In the left winger's 10-plus-year career, he was a five-time 40 goal scorer and twice topped 50. He played on the fabled French Connection line with Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert, and they led the Sabres to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in the franchise's fifth year of existence. Buffalo lost to the Broad Street Bully Flyers, but the Sabres did defeat the powerhouse Canadiens in the previous round. Martin had a wicked slap shot, and was a seven-time All-Star. He is another great that left us too soon, eh? In other non-New York but sad news, former Oakland A and Pittsburgh Pirate Mitchell Page passed away on Saturday, also at the age of 59. He missed out on the 1977 AL Rookie of the Year by a whisker, when he put up this line: .307/.405/.521, to go along with 21 home runs, 75 RBIs and 42 stolen bases. He played parts of eight major league seasons, but, unfortunately, that was his best year. And former St. Louis Cardinal and St. Louis Brown shortstop Marty Marion died at the age of 94 on Tuesday. He was an eight-time All-Star, three-time World Series winner and onetime NL MVP. He also managed the Cards, Browns and Chicago White Sox.