What separates us humans from the animals? Is it our ability to use tools? Our larger brain mass? The fact that we have opposable thumbs? Our capacity for compassion, reason and empathy? Our moral compass? Feelings of guilt? While that list may seem like it's chock-full of logical answers to that philosophical query, those choices are all incorrect. What really separates us from the animals? A strong bullpen. If you were attempting to spend an enjoyable evening last Memorial Day weekend watching a New York Yankees or New York Mets game, with the way the bullpens performed for both teams, you might as well have had a car crash through the front of your house and careen into your living room only to discover that Boone Logan or Mike O'Connor was at the wheel. The two local teams' relievers turned a relaxing holiday weekend into a baseball nightmare.
Met relievers have gone from great to gruesome, while the Yanks' 'pen is in the midst of an identity crisis without Rafael Soriano around (not that he was any great shakes before going on the DL) and without a reliable lefty. The Mets had one of the best yet unexpected one-two punches in the eighth and ninth innings in Jason Isringhausen and Francisco Rodriguez, not to mention the excellent performances of Pedro Beato and Taylor Buchholz, but they blew consecutive leads last Friday and Saturday leading to heartbreaking losses. And out in Seattle, the Yankees' bullpen was doing the same, with even the mighty Mariano Rivera losing a game.
The Mets had no idea how their bullpen would shake out but from mid-April to mid-May they were one of the best in baseball, and were looking like shades of the Tug McGraw/Ron Taylor/Nolan Ryan/Cal Koonce tandem from 1969 or the John Franco/Armando Benitez/Turk Wendell/Dennis Cook group from 1999. With the addition of Soriano, the Bombers were hoping for another Rivera/Jeff Nelson/Mike Stanton/Ramiro Mendoza gang or even a Goose Gossage/Sparky Lyle/Dick Tidrow crew. But both 2011 editions are works in progress, with the Mets trying to get back to where they were, and the Yanks trying not to burn out the effective relievers that they have. The Yankees' problem was easily solved on Monday when Bartolo Colon threw a complete-game gem. And both teams won a few more games during the week in blowout fashion, but the Yanks' 'pen fell into line on Wednesday, and while Met relievers continued to give up run after run, they finally did their jobs in Thursdays inspiring come-from-behind win. The lesson: A weak bullpen doesn't just lose games -- it can also ruin holidays.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
A New Month: The Yankees only went 15-14 in May, but they're still in first place. In fact, the AL East is finally right side up now, with the Bombers on top, followed by the Red Sox and Rays with the Blue Jays and Orioles in their familiar spots holding up the rear. After two losses to begin the week, the Yankees recovered nicely with four consecutive wins, including a sweep of the A's. Even Nick Swisher blasted a key three-run homer on Thursday. Imagine if he gets going? So far the team has leaned on the over-the-hill gang of Colon and Freddy Garcia, and the hot hitting of Curtis Granderson, not to mention the recent power surge of Mark Teixeira. But if Swisher, Alex Rodriguez (with a little help from his cousin?), Derek Jeter and Russell Martin can all hit their stride, the Yanks may start to soar in June. We won't even bring up Jorge Posada. Speaking of Jeter, with his stolen base on Saturday, he's now the all-time franchise leader, surpassing Rickey Henderson. And it looks like every Yankee player will be an All-Star this year. Even Horace Clarke may finally make it this time.
Terry Collins Is Mad As Hell and He's Not Gonna Take it Anymore: The scrappy, overachieving, undermanned, Terry Collins-inspired Mets were doing their best to hang in there, but their sloppy play, bullpen meltdowns and lack of execution were too much for their new manager to take. Unlike cackling Jerry Manuel, Collins doesn't view playing baseball poorly as a laughing matter. And whether it was a coincidence or not, the Mets dug down and came up with a resounding comeback win the day after his tirade. It was the second biggest comeback win in franchise history, tying the memorable 2000 victory against the Braves, and one run short of the record set in 1972 against the Astros. The Mets went 3-4 this week, which sounds about right for this group. Their 14-13 May record was almost identical to the Yankees', but that mark is almost a miracle considering how much went wrong for them. Just look at one of the games from this past weekend: They had a shortstop playing second, a second baseman playing third, a third baseman playing first, a center fielder playing right and a converted first baseman playing catcher. Just as he was setting the world on fire, Jose Reyes, who was leading the league in everything except nose hairs, had to go on the Bereavement List due to the death of his grandmother. Even the players on the field aren't healthy, with R.A. Dickey pitching through a partially torn plantar fascia. And the off-the-field news keeps getting worse, as Ike Davis has been shut down and will be wearing a protective boot for three weeks. What's next? Leprosy for Daniel Murphy? Fibromyalgia for Ruben Tejada? So what should we expect from this group? Well, at least Collins expects professionalism and execution. And they may not have All-Stars as their manager stated, but they do have a couple of first-year players who are putting themselves in the Rookie of the Year conversation, though, in Justin Turner (just named NL Rookie of the Month) and Dillon Gee (5-0).
Overrated: A smattering of Yankees once again top Sports Illustrated's most overrated player poll. Alex Rodriguez is the king, with Joba Chamberlain coming in second and Derek Jeter third. Being New Yorkers, they get a heavy dose of attention paid to them, for good or bad, so that plays into the results. And money, of course, is a big factor. Is A-Rod worth $32 million a year? Not even close. Is Jeter worth $15 million these days? No. So those two at the top kind of make sense. Jayson Werth comes in at No. 4, so salary obviously plays a role. But how does Chamberlain fit into this? Doesn't one have to be highly rated to begin with to be overrated? Joba's an inconsistent middle reliever. Who thinks he's more than that nowadays? It must be his fist-pumping, twirling antics and high jinks that cause his peers to think so lowly of him.
A Two-Out Rally Is Needed: Bad news on the Gary Carter front. He has Stage 4 brain cancer and his tumors are malignant and inoperable. They are treatable, though, with chemotherapy and radiation. So there's still hope. And there's always hope when it comes to the Kid. Should the Mets retire his No. 8? It probably should have already been done (along with No. 17), so do it now Wilpons.
R.I.P. Andy Robustelli: The former defensive end of the New York Giants passed away this week, at the age of 85. After playing five years for the Los Angeles Rams, Robustelli was sent to the in exchange for their first-round draft pick, and it turned out to be one of the greatest trades in Big Blue's history. The undersized lineman became an instant leader of the defense, and helped lead the Giants to the 1956 NFL Championship in his first year with the team. He was a six-time All-Pro, seven-time Pro Bowler and only missed one game in his 14-year career (nine with the Giants). He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971, and was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor last year.
Winnipeg Rangers acquired 20-year-old defenseman Tim Erixon from the former Atlanta Flames for two draft picks), but at least I don't have to look at those garish Thrasher uniforms anymore when they play one of the local teams. Should the new Winnipeg team take the Jets name back even though the Phoenix Coyotes are an extension of the old WHA franchise? Can they come up with some type of Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens deal? Or can the Coyotes pretend that they sprouted from the WHA's Phoenix Roadrunners? If the New York Islanders are forced to move to Kansas City, should they become the Scouts, though that was the original New Jersey Devils' moniker? Would it be too confusing if the Yankees went back home to Baltimore and renamed themselves the Orioles, with the present-day Orioles briefly going back to being the St. Louis Browns and finally reverting to the identity they started with in 1901 -- the Milwaukee Brewers? Of course, today's Brewers would have to go back to being the Seattle Pilots, which means the Mariners need to relocate. How about they join the NBA as the Supersonics? The San Jose Sharks can stay where they are but change their name to the California Golden Seals. And somebody needs to be the Quebec Nordiques. How about the Florida ? But who will become the Spirits of St. Louis? Ok, this is all getting confusing. Maybe Winnipeg should pick another name besides Jets after all.Redux? The Atlanta Thashers are moving to Winnipeg. Sure, this news doesn't really have anything to do with New York (though in actual New York hockey news, the