Sure, The Scout is not the greatest movie ever made nor is it the best example of reality as we know it, but it has Albert Brooks in it, along with Keith Hernandez, Bobby Murcer and George Steinbrenner, so it has that going for it. It's the story of a scout who is banished to the outskirts of Mexico after his latest find for the New York Yankees is so nervous and overwhelmed by his first start in Yankee Stadium that the youngster vomits on the mound and runs off never to be seen again (Brooks' character talked that prospect out of going to college and instead signing with the Bombers by saying, after a comment by the prospect's mother about Lou Gehrig's terrible disease, that the Yankee great "got that in college not with the Yankees" and Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb all had tutors in the dugout with them). But Brooks finds the prospect of all prospects in Mexico, who can throw 112 miles an hour and can hit like Mickey Mantle. But that young pitcher also freaks out at Yankee Stadium in his debut and ends up climbing up onto the roof, only to be talked down by Brooks: "What's the worst that can happen? You lose." "That's not so bad since half the players lose every day," answers the pitcher, who then goes back on the field and throws a perfect game on 81 pitches, with 27 strikeouts, in the first game of the World Series no less (there's one of the not-so-realistic parts).
What's the point of that movie review? There's much more to the game than talent. There's confidence, nerves, anxiety, feelings, guts, courage, fright, focus and determination to take into account. Players are human beings with brains after all, not machines, and some, like A.J. Burnett, who is the Rolls-Royce of head-case starting pitchers, can't seem to consistently keep their arm and head in sync and aligned properly. Some are can't-miss prospects who miss for one reason or another. Some are phenoms, like Dwight Gooden, who become derailed by demons as well as injuries. Some take awhile, with years of struggling, before a lightbulb goes on, and they finally get it. For many pitchers, there's a rocky road to success, or success never comes at all. And then there's Mariano Rivera. Confidence? Nerves? Anxiety? Guts? Courage? Nothing bothers him; a World Series game is the same as spring training.
Rivera's greatness is not just in his talent, but in his consistency and longevity. He amazes in his year-in, year-out productivity. While other closers (and relievers in general) are chaotic, inconsistent, flaky, flighty and emotional, and are often described as "adrenaline junkies," Rivera is like a metronome -- he throws that cutter the same way over and over and over, and batters just can't hit it, and he never gets flustered or loses his cool or lacks for confidence. He blew a save in the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, but did he go downhill from there? No, it's been the same even-keeled Rivera for 10 more years -- steady and solid as a rock. And he doesn't come with any shtick or show. There are no Jose Valverde histrionics, no Al Hrabosky Mad Hungarian routine, no Rob Dibble mad man performance nor a Brian Wilson side show for Rivera. He's cool, calm, collected and dignified.
And his greatest feat of all may be his postseason legacy: A 0.71 ERA in 94 games, with a 0.77 WHIP, 42 saves and an 8-1 record. He's the best ever at what he does, and he didn't need the saves record to prove it -- but he has that now, too.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Dominating: All the come-from-behind wins and last-second miracles are exciting and thrilling and show the tenacity and mental toughness of the New York Jacksonville Jaguars, 32-3. The Jags' offense was the gift that kept on giving, as the Jet D picked off four passes in the game, setting up the offense nicely. Antonio Cromartie was the star of the game, with two picks and a couple of long kickoff returns. Muhammad Wilkerson notched his first NFL sack, which also resulted in a safety. Dustin Keller (six catches, 101 yards, touchdown) was the offensive star, taking advantage of the double teams the receivers saw, while Mark Sanchez was inconsistent, as was the running game. And there are issues on the offensive line, as Nick Mangold will be out this week against the Raiders with a high ankle sprain, and Wayne Hunter had another tough day on Sunday. But it was the D that won the game for Gang Green, and they made sure that the Jaguars never had a chance on Sunday afternoon while making Rex Ryan proud at the same time., but it's nice to have a good old-fashioned blowout victory once in a while, as well, and that's just what they accomplished on Sunday, destroying the
Winning Ugly: Speaking of gifts by the opponent, the St. Louis Rams gift-wrapped Monday night's game and presented it to the New York in the form of fumbles and incompetence, despite Sam Bradford shredding Big Blue's secondary for 331 yards, with Aaron Ross being the main culprit in Bradford's field day in the air (and Ross, along with Deon Grant -- who now finds himself embroiled in Fake-Gate -- made the boneheaded play of the game by not touching Danario Alexander after he caught a pass, fell to the ground, got up and ran to the one-yard line). The offense was a three-and-out machine for a large chunk of the game, and Eli Manning floated an interception that foiled a great drive that began the game. But both the defense (who did stop the run all night long) and offense made big plays when it counted, which turned the game into a somewhat easy victory. Michael Boley made the heads-up play of the game, scooping up a dropped lateral and running it back for a touchdown (and celebrated by heaving the ball at an innocent bystander's face), and he also deflected a red-zone pass that forced the Rams into a field goal. made a big tackle during a goal-line stand. Justin Tuck made his season debut and recorded one-and-a-half sacks. Domenik Hixon made a spectacular, juggling catch in the end zone. And Manning settled down to finish 18-for-29 (62.1 percent), for 200 yards, and two touchdown passes. But, of course, there are more injuries to report, as Hixon has a torn ACL and is out for the season yet again, and Mario Manningham is questionable for Sunday's game against the Eagles. But it looks like Michael Vick will be playing, which is what Antrel Rolle and a few other have said they wanted -- a chance to beat the best (for all the trash talking Rolle does, he would be a great fit for the , wouldn't he?). This, of course, could end up falling under the heading "Be careful what you wish for."
Champs: With their doubleheader sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, and with Jorge Posada coming up with the clutch hit, the Yankees have clinched their 16th AL East title (17 if you count 1994). Unfortunately, they gave the Red Sox a life line in doing so, but maybe the Bombers would rather have Boston in the playoffs than Tampa Bay and their pitching, anyway. Though the Yanks had a clinching hangover loss on Thursday, which didn't help Boston. Most pundits picked the Sox to win the division, making the Yanks underdogs of sorts, but it would be a stretch for anybody in the locker room in the Bronx to pull out the "Nobody believed in us" card. At any rate, Boston's collapse made life a lot easier for the Yankees, and with the team's six-month search for reliable starting pitchers to go along with CC Sabathia (who just missed out on earning his 20th win on Wednesday) the division title was an impressive accomplishment. The other big news this week in Yankee Land was, of course, Rivera setting the saves record (and he didn't stop at 602, notching another one in the first game of Wednesday's twin bill). The classy reliever was slightly embarrassed by all the attention he's been getting and is glad the whole thing is over and everyone can get back to focusing on team goals. Juxtapose the humble, team-first Rivera with the just-doesn't-get-it Burnett, though, and there's a chasm as big as the old Yankee Stadium's center field. "Heaven forbid I give up a couple of hits," Burnett stated after being pulled in the fifth inning of Rivera's record-setting game. "I didn't get through the fifth because I wasn't allowed to get through the fifth. So it wasn't that I couldn't get through the fifth." Ivan Nova (seven and 2/3 shutout innings on Tuesday) has cemented his place in the postseason rotation, but the rest of the options are not very appealing at this point: Burnett can't be trusted in a meaningless game, let alone an October one, Phil Hughes was scratched from his last start, and Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia are running out of steam.
The After Effects: After the four-game debacle with the Washington Nationals, Terry Collins went on a tirade chastising his New York Mets for packing it in for the season. And whether it was a coincidence or not, the rant worked. The Mets went down to Atlanta, usually a place where Met teams go to die, and beat the Braves 12-1 in the first game of the series, lost a pitcher's duel on Saturday, but took two out of three thanks to the heroics of youngsters Ruben Tejada (four RBIs) and Lucas Duda (insurance home run) on Sunday. And they put a dent into the Braves' wild card lead as well. But when they moved on to St. Louis, all the rants, speeches and tirades couldn't help them, because when you have an unreliable bullpen who can melt down quicker than a Lou Brock stolen base, there's not much a team can do to overcome that. Well, there is one thing you can do: Score six runs in the ninth inning, which is what the Amazin's did on Thursday, thanks to big hits by Tejada and Willie Harris along with a spectacular game-ending catch by Jason Pridie. Apparently, they haven't given up after all. Off the field, Sandy Alderson made headlines when he visited the SNY broadcast booth and stated that it was very likely that the dimensions of Citi Field would be reconfigured for next season. If old Yankee Stadium was The House That Ruth Built, with its short right-field porch perfectly suited to the Bambino's swing, the new park in Queens is Not The House That Wright Built, as David Wright's opposite-field shots consistently fall into the waiting gloves of outfielders. The psychological effect on the team alone should be worth moving in the fences. And with a lowered left-field wall, maybe we can see some Endy Chavez-like catches once again. Of course, it will also affect the pitching staff -- closer fences mean more home runs but also less ground to cover for the fielders resulting in more outs.
Hockey's Back: There's trouble brewing for the New York Rangers. Elite defenseman Marc Staal is suffering from headaches, which are the result of a February check he took at the hands of his own brother, Eric. (Was the elder Staal grounded for this by their mother? When my older brother pushed me off the living-room couch I happened to be using as a trampoline and I smashed my head open on the coffee table decades ago, my mother was none too pleased). Staal's being held out of preseason games, and with the mystery surrounding concussions, who knows when he'll be 100 percent and able to play again. Nonetheless, preseason hockey kicked off for the Blueshirts and New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night, and it was the Devils who prevailed, with Patrik Elias scoring the game-winner in overtime, tipping in a pass from Zach Parise. Petr Sykora, playing on a tryout basis at center, recorded the first Devil goal (assisted by first-round draft choice Adam Larrson, who impressed with his overall play in the game), and Dale Weise (on a feed from Artem Anisimov) was the lone goal scorer for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist played 31:13, and let in the Sykora goal, while Martin Brodeur didn't play. The New York Islanders have named Mark Streit captain. He's the 13th in team history, with Ed Westfall being the first and other franchise legends, such as Clark Gillies and Denis Potvin, also wearing the "C." And defenseman Andy MacDonald participated in a full practice on Thursday for the first time since training camp began.