Monday, May 31, 2010
He Has the Cano-Do Attitude
By Tony Mangia
AL EAST TIGHTENS UP
A week ago, baseball fans---including me---were hoisting the Tampa Bay Rays on their shoulders and proclaiming them the best team in baseball. Young, fast, and with good starting pitching. They could possibly win 120 games. Yankee fans were left scratching their heads after after dropping 5 0f 7 against the Rays, Red Sox and Mets. They looked old and tired. Nobody, including old reliable Derek Jeter, was picking up the slack. Then, two things happened--the schedule and Robinson Cano.
Two old Yankee ego-boosters--the Minnesota Twins, who dropped 2 of 3 in their new stadium, and Cleveland Indians who arrived at Yankee Stadium and gave the home team another lift. Nothing lets off more steam than wins against your favorite punching bags. The upcoming timetable includes the cellar-dwelling Baltimore Orioles, twice, and the pitiful Houston Astros. Ten of the next thirteen games are against losing clubs. Only Sybil-personality Toronto has a winning record but they are, of course, the Blue Jays.
Seven days and everything has tightened up in the AL East--arguably the best division in the majors. Boston has a little hot-streak going while the Rays have cooled. Only 5 1/2 games separate all four teams. It's going to be a long, hot ride this summer.
ROBINSON CANO LIVING UP TO ALL THE HYPE
Yankee second baseman, Robinson Cano, is smoking up the place. He opened up the week with a grand slam against the Indians and continued a torrid hitting spree. Check out these stats: second in the league in batting .362, fourth in runs scored with 36, 37 RBIs and tops with 71 hits. He also leads the Yanks with 10 home runs and a muscular .607 slugging percentage. Cano had always seemed to squander his natural abilities in the past. He is , sometimes, one of the most complete players in the game. He has the skills to be the best second baseman in the majors, but has always frustrated purists with his immature attitude and major hitting lapses. Cano's play in the field this year has been exemplary. He looks like a Gold-Glover and seems comfortable as the team's slugger---until A-Rod and Teixeira get their mojos back. Right now, he only knock on Robbie is his base running. He still stands around admiring a hit one minute and, in the next, over runs a base. Cano could finally fulfill the Hall-of-Fame credentials he seemed destined to a couple of seasons ago. He looks like he is really enjoying the game, too.
CORE FOUR ENCORE
So much for the pundits predicting Jeter's demise after he got some timely hits in the week gone by and boosted his average to a more Jeteresque .297 . The same goes for Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Rivera has a relatively low 10 saves this year, but last week picked up three---including two in one day against the Twins. Catcher, Jorge Posada looks like he's ready to return after two weeks on the DL. He says the walking boot he had been sporting was removed and, after a short rehabilitation stint in the minors, he'll be ready for the Blue Jays series.
The Yank's starters---Pettitte, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett--have been spectacular so far. They are a combined 18-4 with a 2.86 ERA. C.C. Sabathia still struggles and Javier Vasquez is only worth his snuff against NL teams. So that means he's good for what---3 wins this season? The real problem continues to be the bullpen. Joba Chamberlain continues to disappoint and Dave Robertson's great stuff of last season is junk this year. Pitching coach Dave Eiland says C.C. has corrected the throwing problem and it was just poor pitch selection. Is Chamberlain the most hot-and-cold pitcher in the bigs? I guess "The Joba Rules" haven't panned out as planned.
Red Storm Rising
It was a good week for St. John's University. Basketball coach Steve Lavin has already gotten a commitment from California high school hoops stud, Dwayne Polee and has surprised the experts by attracting the interest of other west coast blue-chippers . The team has announced it will open the season in The Great Alaska Shootout. The prestigious early season tournament will be a great gauge how far the Red Storm's veteran team will go in the upcoming season.
The Red Storm baseball team won the Big East Tournament by sweeping #10 Louisville, twice, and #18 Connecticut in the final to get an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. The Johnnies (40-17) have been streaking the past few weeks and should make a good run for the regionals. Freshman pitcher, Kyle Hansen (younger brother of Pittsburgh Pirate, Craig) was awarded the Jack Kaiser Award for the tournament's most outstanding player. It marks a record sixth conference tournament baseball title for St. John's.
Ex-St. John's star, Ron Artest, made the biggest three-point shot since he drained two against Duke to end Blue Devils home court winning streak (against non-conference opponents) at Cameron in 2001. Artest owned the Dukies in the final minutes of that game. The other night, Artest hit a last second trey to win the pivotal game five against the Phoenix Suns. The L.A. Lakers went on to win the series in the next game. In true Artest style, his timing wasn't as good the the next day, and he showed up late for the Lakers practice.
Congrats to another ex-Redmen basketball star, Walter Berry, and now---college graduate. The 1986 National Player of the Year received a baccalaureate degree from the university on Friday---27 years after his freshman year.
Now It's Known as U Con
The NCAA has slammed the University of Connecticut basketball program with eight major violations and specifically cited coach Jim Calhoun by claiming he "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance." I'm not sure what that means but anyone who follows college basketball must be shaking their heads and asking, "What took so long?"
The Huskies have two NCAA championship banners hanging in their gym won before the current allegations between 2005-09. The violations center around calls and text messages to recruits. Big East coaches, in the past, have accused Calhoun of sending third-tier coaches or assistants to hype UConn to already verbally-committed recruits---a violation. I remember Calhoun giving players "season-long" suspensions for breaking team rules and criminal laws, only to quietly reinstate the offender just in time for the opening of the Big East schedule.
Calhoun is a Big East bully, with a five-year, $13 million contract, who always boasts his teams bring $12 million annually into the school. Funny, he never mentions the 30% graduation mark of his players.
Three years, seven months and 27 days until Super Bowl XLVIII in the Meadowlands. The temperature over/under is 34 1/2 degrees. Snow? 6/1 odds. Global warming is a handicap. I like the Florida organizers who claim the awarding of the game to Jersey was fixed. Yeah, everything and everyone in the Garden State is like The Sopranos.
Just wondering who the half-time act will be? Jersey boys, Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi will probably battle it out with Wyckoff's own favorite-sons, the Jonas Brothers. What about the cast of Jersey Boys? The opening act could be Coolio, Ice-Cube and Ice-T or or Foreigner singing "Cold as Ice." Wait, instead of half-time musicians, what about Ice Capades? Won't need a rink---just use the frozen turf. Better yet, the NHL could have their All-Star game. This way people will actually watch it. I'm thinking big. What about a Frank Sinatra tribute or, maybe, a Jimmy Hoffa extravaganza. Give each spectator a commemorative shovel to dig around the old stadium's fifty-yard line. Come to think about it, maybe the fix WAS in.
"Now boys, don't get caught watchin' the paint dry!"
Filmdom lost a real legend over the weekend, Dennis Hopper, 74. His career spanned six decades and, in that time, has any actor had a part in more groundbreaking films than Hopper? Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and as the nitrous oxide huffer, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. The list goes on: Cool Hand Luke, True Romance...Sports fans will remember Hopper as the town drunk turned assistant coach, Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch in the fact-based film, Hoosiers.
Based on an underdog Indiana High school team that won the 1954 state championship, Hoosiers is regularly listed on critics top sports films of all time. Hopper got his second Oscar nomination for the role of Shooter. It's sad to say that, with all the cookie-cutter, pretty-boy actors of today, it will be hard to find a actor who can play strange as well as Dennis Hopper did. R.I.P.