LONGSHOTS: Empire strikes back during annual visit
by Dave Long
It was a tough weekend to be in the Evil Empire for a person from New England. And that’s where I was last week for the annual summer trip behind enemy lines. And thanks to the suddenly reeling Red Sox, the last time I was that outnumbered with absolutely no ammo to fight back was the day in the bleachers at Fenway when Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin got into a fight as Boston swept the Yanks three straight while hitting 16 home runs off Yankees pitching.
Only this was worse. But in any event, I persevered and the following is my annual summer State of the Evil Empire report in descending order to the big story of the Yankees’ scorch and burn treatment of the battered Red Sox.
It wasn’t just the Yankees I had to deal with. I’m still hearing about the Giants over the Patriots in the Super Bowl — though the legal troubles of Plaxico Burress gave me a life preserver to hold on to. Even still, it was a battle.
And speaking of Plax. It’s been all downhill for the two guys most responsible for ending hopes of that undefeated season a year and a half ago. Burress has been indicted and the DA has stated he’s going to the slammer whether he cops a plea or not on the gun charge. And thanks to injuries David Tyree has yet to play even a down since that ball stuck to his helmet with Rodney Harrison chopping at his arms on the game-winning drive.
The big news in Giantland was Eli Manning and the brass agreeing on the biggest contract in football history. Aside from the fact that he’s not worth that, the local implication is he’ll be making a lot more than Tom Brady (and his brother) as Brady comes up for a new deal after 2010.
The Daily News had a box of the top six NFL salaries. Carolina’s Julius Peppers is first at $16.2 million. Brother Peyton is sixth at $14 million while Brady is nowhere to be found and Oakland DB Nnamdi Asomugha is somehow fourth at $15.155. Guess he can now afford to buy a vowel.
Over in the AFC, thanks to brash new coach Rex Ryan the Jets are talking trash. Tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson says he’s going to make his first pro bowl (about time) and delusional safety Kerry (no) Rhodes (scholar) says they’ll have the number one defense in football. Brave talk for a team that chucked away a spot in the playoffs by losing four of their last five. We’ll see.
The papers are on Vernon Gholston — who the Pats were rumored to have interest in on draft day before the departed Eric Mangini took him with the sixth pick. He then delivered four tackles TOTAL in ’08, while Coach B’s fall-back pick Jerod Mayo won Rookie of the Year.
In basketball Knicks fans were giddy over news that LeBron James announced he’ll be a free agent after this season. To their delusional way of thinking that opens the door for him to sign with the moribund Knicks for 2010. Yeah, right.
The big Below-the-Tarrier Line story of non-interest to most up here is that they’re taking credit for the Woodstock Festival on its 40th anniversary because the guys who ran it are from Long Island.
There’s also the year-long 40th anniversary celebration of the miracle Mets coming out of nowhere to win the 1969 National League Pennant and World Series. All the papers are running daily stories counting down the season. Saturday’s in the Post was about catcher Jerry Grote, and his sister and mother incredibly being swept up into the vortex of a Texas twister when he was 10 years old and surviving. I’ll bet no one on the impossible dream ’67 Sox had a story comparable to that.
From the alumni news department, not so old friend Julio Lugo was in town with the Cardinals, hitting a why-can’t-we-get-guys-like-that .362. They were also following Pedro’s comeback with the Phillies closely and made a big deal of him striking out 11 members of Yankees|AA affiliate Trenton Thunder. Guess the Yankees ain’t his daddy anymore.
But of course the worst was saved for the steamrolling of the Red Sox — with the opening day headlines kicking it off.
The locals were certainly brimming with confidence going into the series. The Daily News headline read “Yanks Primed to Win,” while the Post said “Sox Limp into Showdown.”
Both the Post and Daily News did elaborate position-by-position head-to-head evaluations. Most surprising was both saying it was even at first base between Victor Martinez and Mark Teixeira, even at second base between Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia. I’d go Tex and Pedroia though Cano’s got in the numbers game. They also had Kevin Youkilis at third base in both and the Post called it even between A-Rod and him. Me, I’d give it to A-Rod in a regular season game and to Youk, Mike Lowell, Frank Malzone and probably even Scott Cooper at third if it’s a post-season analysis.
The Post certainly didn’t waste any extra respect for John Smoltz in reporting he had been designated for assignment after Thursday’s pounding, saying “See Ya Smoltz” in the headline. Theo’s gamble didn’t pay off in the way he’d hoped, of course. Plus since Smoltz was paid $2.5 million per win it wasn’t cheap either.
As you might expect the New York Times was a bit more restrained after the 13-6 opening day, running the headline “Yanks First Win Against Boston is a Big One.” Although it did run a picture of four guys in white T-shirts in the front row behind the Yankees dugout spelling out the outdated insult “1*9*1*8.”
A big deal was made of Pedroia taking exception to the chin music served to him by Mark Melancon with a two-page spread that included the Varitek-A-Rod dust-up of 2004 and one of Pedro planting Don Zimmer’s face into the Fenway turf the year before.
Post columnist Joel Sherman was the one voice of reason in telling the fans “It Ain’t October” and not to get ahead of themselves in describing what the circumstances were like just 51 games ago when the Yanks’ pitching was in shambles, the Sox were rolling with a roster overstocked with starting pitching and the disgraced steroids slugger of that day was A-Rod. Now it’s completely reversed — which should show things can turn around again.
Of course that was only two games in before the sweep was complete. Now there’ll be no restraining the glee, making Sunday the perfect time to head back up here. So it was, all in all, another eventful visit behind enemy lines.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.