he True Fans Bleed Blue and Orange: January 2007h

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Moment Number One: Endy's Catch Endures Him to Fans Forever

Allow me to set the stage. Game seven of the NLCS, Shea Stadium, 1-1 game in the sixth inning. The Mets sent out inconsistent 24 year old Oliver Perez to start the game, and it's remarkable that he has held the Cardinals to only one run over the first 5.1 innings of the most important game of his life.

Willie Randolph just visited the mound to talk to the young, firey right-hander. With Jim Edmonds on first base and one out Willie wanted to make sure that Perez could get out of the inning, and keep the Mets' hopes for a World Series alive. After Perez resoundingly said that he still has something left in the tank Willie walked back to the dugout, and Scott Rolen walked to the plate. Rolen, a perennial all-star every season, had hit .222 in the NLCS and had been struggling from a few lingering injuries. One pitch later my head was in my lap, as Scott Rolen ripped an inside fastball to deep left-field. I could tell it was a home run as soon as it left the bat. Or was it?

Endy Chavez, a Mets hero off the bench all season, leaped with all his might over the left field fence and remarkably made the catch. As soon as he caught the ball and preceded to double up a shocked Jim Edmonds Shea Stadium was as loud as it will ever be. In what was one of the most important catches in the history of baseball (had the Mets won it would have been more important) Endy Chavez cemented himself in nearly every playoff highlight film for the next 20 years. Unfortunately the Mets lost on a Yadier Molina home run to left field where he hit over Chavez's head as if to say "catch this".

Moment Number Two: Knicks Brawl Sparks Season

Down by 23 points with a few minutes left to go against the Denver Nuggets JR Smith was in the midst of a breakaway that likely would have ended in a dunk. However, instead rookie Mardy Collins committed a hard foul to Smith, Collins' second in as many days. Quickly Smith bounced off the floor and went to face to face with Collins, and an ugly game switched to an ugly brawl in a blink of an eye. Suddenly Nate Robinson, who had recently planted himself in the Knicks rotation --playing 25.2 minutes over his last three game--, violently pushed Smith away from his first year teammate. The rest is history.

The brawl, one of the most embarrassing moments at MSG in recent memory, made nation wide news. The quiet jokes from NBA fans at the Knicks quickly grew to an all-night special of laughs, featuring Nate Robinson and Mardy Collins. Robinson, most known for his flamboyant nature and amazing jumping ability was called a moron and a hypocrite on more than a few occasions. 10 games prior to the brawl Nate attempted a break-away dunk against the Cavaliers where he bounced the ball off the floor, and then preceded to travel. After the Nuggets game Nate proclaimed that the Nuggets were running up the score, and were show boating by doing reverse dunks. In fairness, Nate's attempt came in a close game, where the Knicks did not have a lead, so Nate was doing it more for the crowd reaction, as opposed to running up the score. Meanwhile, Mardy Collins was unfairly labeled a thug. To this day whenever I hear Mardy called a thug I become upset at the ignorance of the person. Anyone who has talked to Collins has said that he is a nice, good-hearted, gentleman--the exact opposite of a thug.

When it was all said and done and four Knicks players and eight total players were suspended the Knicks team suddenly began to play well. In the 17 games since the brawl the Knicks have gone an inconsistent 9-8. Since then Stephon Marbury has drastically turned his season around, while Robinson is finding it difficult to play even in garbage time (with the exception of the Miami Heat game, where he basically had to play).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Moment Number Three: LoDuca tags two Dodgers

The hype heading into the Mets' postseason were through the roof, and once game one rolled around on October fourth there weren't many Mets fans not glued to ESPN. The day before the series opener Orlando Hernandez suffered an injury that forced him to miss the rest of the postseason, and with a worried fan base John Maine took the ball for game one of the NLDS. Maine had been one of the Mets most consistent starters in 2006, despite being a rookie in NY. However, the playoffs are a different monster from the regular season.

So in the top of the second inning after veterans Jeff Kent and JD Drew singled to start the inning you couldn't help but worry. Suddenly Russel Martin bounced a ball off of the right field wall to struggling outfielder Shawn Green. However, instead of staying at third base and playing the inning safe the Dodgers sent Jeff Kent home, and the runner behind him, JD Drew. When Green made the relay throw to Valentin at second base Valentin smelled an out, and he gunned out Jeff Kent. After LoDuca tagged out Kent, JD Drew followed one second later with a dive into home plate, and LoDuca gladly tagged him out as well.

What looked to be a dreadful inning with a potential no out and bases loaded situation quickly turned into two outs with a runner on second. Two innings later Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd hit home runs to give the Mets the lead. In my opinion had Kent and Drew not been thrown out at home and either the bases were loaded, or both runners scored the Mets would not have won the first game of the series 6-5. Therefore, the incredible double play may have catapulted the Mets to the series sweep, and to an eventual game seven of the NLCS.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Moment Number Four: Wright's Walkoff Wins First Game Against Yankees

Every year the Mets and Yankees subway series are one of the most anticipated games of the season. In 2006 the first three games were played at Shea Stadium, and the banged up Mets rotation was forced to send out journeyman Geremi Gonzalez, against future hall-of-famer Randy Johnson. Gonzalez preceded to give up six runs over three innings including four before the Mets saw their first pitch. However, as they did all season the Mets battled back to score six runs during Johnson's five inning stint. All five runs came from home runs, a three run bomb by Beltran, and a two run opposite field home run by Nady. After the Yankees scored in the fourth inning and the Mets scored in the fifth inning the game remained tied at 6-6 until the bottom of the ninth.

Every Met fan hates Mariano Rivera (but should respect him) and when he came into the game in the bottom of the ninth the game appeared to be headed to extra innings. However, as much as every Mets fan hates Mariano Rivera they love David Wright just as much, if not more. Those two figures collided with two outs and runners on first and second. Wright took a cutter that drifted over the plate and smacked it over Johnny Damon's head.

As the Mets fans taunted their Yankee fan brethren we all knew that this victory would be cemented in our memories for a long while, because of who did it and who it was done to. The Yankees.

Moment Number Five: Mets Win Division After Long Draught

September 15th the Mets headed to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to play the Pirates in a three game series. The Pirates, the fourth worst team (based on record) in baseball, had already been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and all the Mets needed was a Philadelphia loss or a victory to officially advance to the postseason. As fate would have it the Phillies won all three games that weekend over their opponents, the Houston Astros. The Mets preceded to lose three straight games to three young lefty starters (the Mets nemesis all second half) leaving the magic number at one for the Mets next game. At Shea.

Shea Stadium was rocking on September 18th. In a game that was a microcosm of the entire season the Mets pulled out a victory over the Florida Marlins. With unlikely heroes Steve Trachsel and Jose Valentin getting standing ovations and curtain calls, respectively, in the same game the Mets could officially put a fork in the Braves, and the rest of the NL East.

Following the 4-0 victory the Mets seemingly partied all night, except for Pedro of course. The long awaited victory and celebration was a culmination of all of the hard losses, blood, sweat, tears, and poor roster moves for the Mets organization compiled into one big party. The Mets fans spent their night drinking, partying, and trash talking to every Braves and Yankee fan they knew. It certainly was a terrific night to be a Mets fan.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Moment Number Six: Triple OT Victory Over Suns Leads Knicks to Six Game Win Streak

2006 started off on the right foot for the Knicks, winning the first six games of the new year. In a game that tallied over 273 points the Knicks had four players who scored at least 23 points (Lee, Curry, Marbury, Crawford), and two players (Lee and Curry) with 15 rebounds. Incredibly the Knicks had no player foul out of the game, while the Suns, who eventually lost in the Western Conference Finals, had four. Once the thrilling triple overtime game ended (140-133) the Knicks season seemed to be looking up.

Considering the Knicks won only 23 games all last season, the six game win streak accounted for 26% of the victories. In what effectivley became known as "the streak" the Knicks blew out the Washington Wizards and the Cleveland Caviliers during the streak, both teams made the playoffs. In addition, the Knicks won an overtime thriller against future Western Conference Champions, the Mavericks. The Knicks were catipulted by the spectacular play by their perennial stars, Marbury, Curry, and Crawford.

Marbury averaged 23.3 ppg and 9.3 assists. While Curry gave us a glimpse of this season, averaging 17.2 ppg and 7.8 rebounds. Marbury's partner in crime, Crawford, was not able to play all six games due to injury, however in his four games he averaged MVP type numbers, with 25.8 ppg, 7.5 rebounds, 4 assists, and shot a terrific 49% from the field.

Inevitably the Knicks won only 10 games after the streak ended against the Raptors, however those six games showed us what the team was capable of doing when playing it's best, something we have seen much more this season. We have already had a few more memorable streaks this season. Hopefully they'll be a few more.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Moment Number Seven: 16 Inning Game Ends After Beltran's Blast

In what turned out to be his first of two walkoffs during the 2006 season Carlos Beltran ended an exciting 16 inning game on May 23rd. In a game that included 15 walks, 28 strikeouts, 17 runs, 14 pitchers, 5 home runs, 27 hits, and 23 men left on base the Mets left with a depleted bullpen, but a W in the win column.

After Steve Trachsel allowed six runs over five innings (glad he's gone, huh?) the Mets managed to stitch together 11 more innings of two run baseball, with the only two runs allowed coming in the seventh inning, both by Aaron Heilman. Trachsel's counterpart, recently traded Gavin Floyd, pitched five innings of five run baseball, before Ryan Franklin (the Phillies were using a closer by committee at the time due to an injured Tom Gordon) gave up three runs in the eighth which led to eventual extra innings. The story of the game was Ryan Madson's effort out of the bullpen. Madson, in what turned out to be his second best game of the season, pitched six shutout innings before allowing a walkoff home-run in his seventh inning of work to Carlos Beltran in the bottom of the sixteenth inning.

However, for Met fans nobody cared about Madson's extraordinary effort out of the bullpen, all they cared about was Carlos Beltran, and the new Mets that they would get to know and love over the next few months. Certainly this game at the end of May was a foreshadow to how the Mets would bounce back through adversity all season long, until the last pitch was thrown. As Gary Cohen said during Beltran's blast "and we're going home!" and the Mets were determined all season to make sure their opponents would be saying the same thing come playoff time.

Moment Number Eight: Beltran's Walkoff Caps Great Comeback

When the Cardinals came to Shea at the end of August there was buzz that the series could be a potential NLCS preview, little did we know that it actually was. The Mets had previously lost two out of three games to the Cardinals in mid-May, and the Mets were searching for revenge against the eventual champs. A game that included Carlos Delgado's 400th home run (grand slam), a six run comeback, and a showcase of the future second and fourth place MVP finishers. Albert Pujols schooled John Maine, destroying two pitches for home runs, one a grand slam, the other a three run home run. Pujols accounted for all seven runs of the Cardinals, putting him over the 100 rbi mark for the sixth time in his six seasons. Despite the fact that Pujols finished above Beltran in the MVP race, and had the overall better night the Mets centerfielder was one better on August 22nd.

Entering the bottom of the ninth former Met Jason Isringhausen entered the game to close out what the Cardinals thought would be a series opening victory. Isringhausen, a former Met part of Generation-K, was dealt years ago, only to burn the Mets and become one of the better closers in baseball. However, 2006 signified the beginning of a new Mets franchise, and what Beltran did clearly showed the Mets were no longer going to make mistakes. After LoDuca hit a single to lead off the ninth Carlos Beltran stepped to the plate. Beltran, who was crucified by Mets fans a season before, only to respond in 2006 by having one of the greatest season the Mets have ever seen, had yet to have a crowning moment as a Met. That would soon change. As Beltran rocked his bat back and forth in a 6-7 game Gary Cohen, the Mets SNY broadcaster, set the scene, and concluded by saying "one swing can win it for New York." Cohen could not of been more right, literally one pitch later Beltran told a Jason Isringhausen fastball to about-face, sending the ball into the Mets bullpen.

With Beltran skipping up the first base line pointing to the fans we all knew that Beltran has arrived. Beltran's 102nd and 103rd rbi's were his two most important of the season, because Beltran has become a Met, and has displayed his sixth tool. Beltran portrayed his ability as a "five tool talent" all season, but on August 22nd, as was so often all season, Beltran showed a very rare tool. Beltran was clutch.

Of course, the Cardinals would have the ultimate revenge, striking Beltran out in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded and two outs in game seven of the NLCS. Sorry, had to stick that in there.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Moment Number Nine: Larry Brown Fired, Isiah Hired

After becoming the Knicks coach in July of 2005 Larry Brown was fired at the end of a dismal 2005-2006 season. Someone who was once the Knicks savior was suddenly being blamed for all 59 loses, and nearly all of the Knicks problems. Brown, who was hired to a massive contract spanning five seasons. However, Madison Square Garden President James Dolan and General Manager Isiah Thomas had become fed up with how Larry Brown aired the team's dirty laundry throughout the media. As a result of the turmoil in New York between Brown and his players, as well as the dreadful season he had just lived through Brown was fired by the Knicks.

However, with four years left on his contract there would certainly be controversy over how much Brown should be paid. After a long hearing between Isiah, Brown, and commissioner David Stern it was determind Brown would not make the full amount he was due on his contract. Reportedly Brown breeched part of his contract when he aired the Knicks' dirty laundry to the New York media.

Once Brown was out Isiah Thomas took over as the head coach, putting him in place of the team he constructed. So far through 33 games this season Isiah Thomas has put together one more W than Brown did through 33 games the year before. However, there are four differences between this season and last.

  1. The wins the Knicks have put together are solid victories, that follow a game plan. As opposed to last season when wins came because the Knicks quite frankly, got lucky.

  2. The Knicks have had to deal with a brawl that suspended four players, while already dealing with two injuries. Isiah has been able to not only work through the brawl but be a better team because of it.

  3. Seemingly every player is happy with their roles on the team, and nobody has complained, yet.

  4. The Knicks have played significantly more games through January 1st than the 2005-2006 Knicks played, therefore the Knicks will have stronger legs as the season wears on.

Not only have the Knicks played better, but Eddy Curry has shown signifcant improvement, David Lee has cemented himself as one the best rebounders in the league, and Stephon Marbury has recently returned to his old form. Things are certainly looking up, but the Knicks still have not shown "signifcant improvement" in their record, so hopefully what is paradise in the clubhouse becomes paradise on the court.

Moment Number Ten: Balkman drafted over Williams

Entering the 2006 draft the Knicks fans were abuzz as to which player Isiah Thomas was going to add to his already impressive draft day resume. Isiah's main, and some would argue only, skill as a general manager is selecting top notch draft talent. In 2005 Thomas selected Nate Robinson, Channing Frye, and David Lee all in the first round. Since then all three players have made their own personal mark on the league. Channing Frye by averaging 12.3 points per game and 5.8 rebounds and finishing on the all NBA Rookie Team. Nate Robinson won a controversial, yet exciting, Slam Dunk Competition, edging division rival Andre Iguodola. Robinson also escalated the very recent brawl at Madison Square Garden that promted all seven suspensions. David Lee, meanwhile has emerged as the Knicks most consistent player, and one of the best rebounders in all of basketball. So entering the 2006 draft it was a large question mark as to what Isiah will do to help the Knicks bleak looking future.

"With the 20th selection of the 2006 draft the New York Knicks select Renaldo Balkman from South Carolina." I still remember David Sterns saying the words to a packed house of suddenly dissapointed Knicks fans. Isiah optioned to select Balkman over UConn's Marcus Williams (currently averaging 6.6 points and 2.9 assists a game backing up Jason Kidd) and athletic guard Rajon Rondo from Kentucky. Balkman, who was originally projected as a second round talent could have been selected with the 30th overall selection, and the Knicks still would have been able to select Williams or Rondo, both of whom wound up in the hands of division rivals.

Isiah's excuse? The Suns were apparently very high on Balkman, and he would not have been available at the 30th overall pick. Thomas proclaimed Balkman was a mixture in playing style of Ron Artest and Dennis Rodman. Since the controversial selection Balkman has somewhat silenced the critics, averaging nearly four points and four rebounds in his fifteen minutes a game. Balkman has shown signs of become a terrific shot blocker in the league, averaging close to one block a game, an impressive mark for a SF who doesn't even play a third of a game. In addition, Balkman has shown a keen abillity to bring the ball up the court, and has displayed a solid passing abillity for a man his size. It appears Balkman would have been a terrific steal with the 30th overall selection, but with the 20th selection with some other talents available Balkman will probably remain a mistake.

True Fans Hits One Year Birthday

Tomorrow, January 2nd, will be True Fans' one year anniversary. In honor of this accomplishment I will be counting down the top 10 moments from 2006 for the Mets and the Knicks.

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