LONGSHOTS: Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
by Dave Long
In the late great TV show M*A*S*H thereís an episode where Colonel Potter is shooting foul shots at a makeshift basket to relax after a rigorous stint in the O.R. As he runs off a streak of 15 straight Maxwell Q. Klinger happens by and starts telling one and all the Colonelís going for the camp record of 31. As the growing crowd counts him down toward the record the excitement builds. None of it, however, pleases the increasingly testy Colonel, who goes from a guy trying to relax to one with the weight of the world now on his shoulders.
Ultimately he succumbs to the pressure and the disappointed crowd retreats after the quest ends one shy of the record. Even though it was 1950 when almost everyone shot foul shots underhand, it wasnít all that realistic. Itís more likely actor Henry Morgan had to do it that way because heíd never seen a hoop before that scene. Still it was a pretty good Hollywood example of the captivating quality a streak can have on those who follow them. And also how the presence of a streak affects those trying to make it grow.
Streaks were in the news last week, which ended in a mixed bag. The good news is that the winning streak of your Manchester Monarchs lives on, as a 3-2 win over Springfield Sunday made it 12 straight. Central Basketball, on the other hand, got hit with the Hippo Sports curse, as after writing about its amazing 46-game winning streak over three years last week it came to an end at Nashua South on Friday. And then there were the Boston Celtics setting a team record for futility with 15 straight losses and moving to within five of the NBA record by reaching 18 on Sunday night.
All three had a lot of people talking, as streaks good and bad really do catch attention. Probably the greatest was Joe DiMaggioís 56-game hitting streak. It captivated an entire nation in the days when there was no 24-hour news cycle or minute-by-minute updates from Sports Center. Still the public found ways to see if the streak lived another day, even though it took a lot more effort than going to a Palm Pilot for instant results. Like at Fenway where brother Dominic DiMaggio was kept in the loop by attendants listening to the radio inside the Green Monster. TheyĎd yell to Ted Williams in left when something happened, who in turn would then shout over to Dom in center what happened.
That streak had two real magical qualities. First it let DiMaggio completely overshadow Williams during the 56-game span even though The Kids out-hit Joe D in EVERY offensive category. It also catapulted the Yanks on a run where they clinched the pennant on the earliest date in history and by the largest margin after languishing at .500 until it began.
I suspect once the Yanks got rolling in 1941 they felt pretty much invincible and Iím guessing thatís what the Monarchs have been feeling since they entered the Zone two months ago. They are blowing away the division when top scorer Noah (thing or two) Clarke isnít even among the top 30 scorers. Their version of DiMaggio is goalie Jason LaBarbera. Heís been the backbone of a defense thatís given up an AHL-low 121 goals. Itís not just him, of course. He sat out Saturdayís sandwich game of three played at the V over the weekend and Barry Brust stepped in to pitch his own shutout. The 3-0 win vs. Worcester kept a scoreless streak alive that reached 172 minutes before ending in Sundayís 3-2 win over Springfield. It suggests the guys along the blue line, and up front as well, are playing the kind of D that lets a team allow the fewest goals in its league and thatís show you win.
Like when things go well and you expect things to go right, when they go bad, players wait for the sky to fall at the most inopportune moment. Thatís the case with the Celtics, who still have won more titles than anyone in NBA history despite last winning in 1986. That memory makes the whole thing seem surreal, but they are a train wreck first derailed by injuries to anyone who mattered. Itís not the only reason, as inexperience, not being able to close games out and some players turning out to be not as good as the brass (and I) expected have conspired to put them in the Greg Oden sweepstakes. The question is, if it ever ends, will it beat down the young guys for good or make them tougher.
In a way thatís what the Ms will face this spring. Their stellar season and confidence building streak are on a collision course with the franchiseís woeful record in the playoffs. Itís true there are many new players who shouldnít be affected, but I still think it creeps in and is about getting over the hump where winning round two will be easier than round one. Thatís the way it was for the Red Sox in 2004, who easily swept the Cards after surviving the devastating loss of 2003 and the tong war with the Empire the next year. Thatís why I think itíll be different this time around. The Monarchs have what the Sox had in 2004 ó the best defense. In baseball itís called pitching. In hockey itís goaltending. Thatís what wins come playoff time, so I like their chances.
The championship is what was on Doc (10) Wheelerís mind too and not the 46-game streak after it ended. Heís right that the goal of a championship-caliber team is to win the last game. But as the years go by and, itís clear what an astonishing accomplishment winning 46 in a row is for anyone and that, of all of us who have tried to do it, only a handful have ever pulled it off.
So it is, without question, something to enjoy and savor.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).