Tag Archive | Championship

Why Pittsburgh Won Again

The Stanley Cup Finals are over a game too early! This postseason was one of the best ever. Overtimes were plentiful, heartbreak was everywhere, and the sport put on a show that no other league can. There’s just one issue: It ended before we got to Game 7 of the Finals! Aside from that disappointment, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators provided fans with a well played and exciting cap to the 2017 NHL playoffs. At the start of the series, I predicted a Penguins victory with the provision that it was a toss up decision. With the series over, let’s take a look at what led to Pittsburgh hoisting their second consecutive Stanley Cup. 

1. Predator’s Lack of Offensive Potence

The chatter before the series was about Nashville’s defensive unit going up against Pittsburgh’s hall of fame forwards. Both teams were injured in critical ways and tried to play to their strengths with their cores. Nashville won when their defensive unit could keep Pittsburgh off the puck. Unfortunately, the Predators did not have the forwards to keep pace with the Penguins lines. Nashville was short on the offensive end, which makes some sense as Pittsburgh sports two guaranteed Hall of Famers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and one borderline Hall of Famer in Phil Kessel. But there were two major pieces that could’ve lifted the Preds offense. 

24 year old Ryan Johansen was one of the best centers in the league this season. This postseason, he played in 14 games and collected 13 points. He was a major piece of the Predators attack. And he was not able to play in the Finals. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against the Anaheim Ducks, Johansen took a hit and felt unusual pain in his leg. He played the whole game, which went into overtime, showered, realized just how bad his leg was, and got himself to the hospital. He was diagnosed with Acute Compartment Syndrome in his left thigh and was shut down for the remainder of the playoffs. So Nashville was without a top center. 


There’s one other personnel issue that undercut Nashville’s chances for success. In 2012, Nashville selected Jimmy Vesey, a left winger from Harvard, with the 66th pick in the draft. Vesey played all four years inn Cambridge, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best collegiate player in 2016 and laying the foundation for Harvard’s hockey renaissance. Near the end of his time in college, the Crimson star was guaranteed a spot on the Predators regular season and postseason roster in 2016. However, Vesey informed Nashville that he was not interested in signing with them. He did not want to play in Tennessee and wanted to choose his own destination. He ended up signing with the New York Rangers. He helped the team to a playoff series upset over the Montreal Canadiens, but they lost in the second round to the Ottawa Senators. While Vesey watched, the team he spurned had a legitimate chance at the Stanley Cup. The Boston native wanted to determine his own landing spot. He got what he wanted, but for now, Vesey screwed up royally. He could have been competing alongside PK Subban and Mike Fisher for the Stanley Cup in his second year in the pros. 


Without two major potential pieces, Nashville was behind the eightball against the Pittsburgh forwards and they failed to overcome the deficit. Their defensive corps was good, just not the forwards. 

2. Controversial Stripes

Let’s deal with this now: Nashville got absolutely screwed by one of the worst officiating calls I’ve ever seen. To be fair, the Predators had plenty of opportunities after the blown call to score, including a 5 on 3 power play in the third period. But proceeding opportunities do not change the fact that the game should have been 1-0 Nashville in the second period. Early in the frame, Nashville had momentum, energy, and the crowd. Filip Forsberg fired the puck on net and it got through Matt Murray for Colton Sissons to put it home. Except the official thought Murray had controlled the puck and whistled the play dead, wiping the goal off the board. To repeat myself and ensure my position, the Preds had opportunities to score and take the lead later in the game, but those later chances do not excuse abysmal officiating. 


3. Pekka’s Poor Play

In the first three rounds of the postseason, 34 year old Pekka Rinne played the best hockey of his career. He totaled a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .943 save percentage, both among the best in the history of the NHL for a postseason. Against Pittsburgh though, Rinne was a mere mortal. He was pulled twice in the series, in games 2 and 5, and his GAA went up to 2.33 while his save percentage dropped to .888 for the series. The Predators needed exceptional play from Rinne to beat Pittsburgh and they did not get it, especially in Pittsburgh. His counterpart, Matt Murray, lived up to the pressure and performed admirably all series, with a shutout in the final game of the series. Pekka turned into a pumpkin before midnight while Murray got to dance at the ball the whole night. 


4. Steady Sullivan

Ever since getting the job as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan has been the most steady coach in the league. His team was outplayed by Washington for most of their second round series, and got destroyed by Ottawa in multiple games of that series. Sullivan saw the team through both of those roadblocks and led the Penguins to their second consecutive championship. He joins Toe Blake as the second head coach to win Stanley Cups in their first two seasons. Enjoy the stability of a BU Terrier favorite Pittsburgh!


5. Perseverant Penguins

The calling card for Pittsburgh all postseason was their ability to persevere and fight. They went the length of the hardest postseason in sports without their top defenseman, Kris LeTang, and lost Nick Bonino in the Finals. They used both goaltenders in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury almost singlehandedly beat Columbus and Washington after Murray injured himself during warmups in Game 1 of the postseason. Then Murray replaced Fleury in the Conference Finals against Ottawa when Fleury gave up 4 goals on nine shots in Game 3. And they went on to topple the Senators in Overtime. They then struggled to find a way to beat Nashville on the road in Games 3 and 4 of the finals. They outlasted Nashville, and created the opportunities to win. They killed a 5 on 3 late power play, scored off Rinne’s back, and escaped with the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup. 


One last thing, Crosby should not be a 2 time Conn Smythe Trophey winner. Phil Kessel was robbed of that trophey last year and this year’s award should’ve gone to either Evgeni Malkin or Jake Guentzel. 

All that said, congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on their second consecutive Stanley Cup. They fought through an incredible series of battles and deserve the win. Crosby has secured his position in the upper eschilon of hockey’s elite, and the Penguins earned the title in a sport not built for repeat champions. I feel for the Predators. They went on a deep run and established themselves as a bonafide hockey destination. They have a great team and will be a competitor in the West. I just hope they can rebound from the pain to start next season strong. And now we have to wait until autumn to get the glories of hockey again. 

Why Watch the 2017 NBA Finals?

Oh boy, another match up between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. We’ve never seen this match up before… OK we could see this coming from a mile away. The NBA postseason has been wickedly boring and predictable. From the standpoint of a general NBA fan, it was one of the worst postseasons in recent memory. Golden State swept their way to the finals while Cleveland dominated almost every single game they played, losing only one in the Eastern Connference Finals to the Boston Celtics. I’m honestly a little bored with this matchup and discussion surrounding it after the last year. So why watch the NBA Finals this year?

1. Rivalry

These teams don’t like each other. They’ve shown remarkable contempt for each other through the last year with remarkable acts of trolling and subversion. They’ve also stage memorable battles in each of the last two NBA Finals.  This Golden State team is built to defeat LeBron and the Cavs. If there is any series with anticipation energy and height in the last few years, this is it. There is bad blood, and these teams are designed to beat the other. Yay passion and desire still existing! 


2. Style of Play

Since breaking out in 2015, the Golden State Warriors have rewritten in the style of play in the NBA. They took Mike D’Antoni’s fast paced style  of play and took it to its logical next progression. Golden State was the first team to win a championship by predominately shooting three-pointers at a high clip. However the 2015 championship is looked at with a little bit of contempt. They never faced a fully healthy team in the postseason and yet still ran into trouble with highly to please units in Memphis and Cleveland. The next year when facing fully healthy teams in Oklahoma City and Cleveland, The Warriors barely scraped by OKC and were edged by Cleveland. If the Warriors lose this series to Cleveland, I think the NBA will move away from three point shooting as your dominant method of winning basketball games. Teams will start going to size and rebounding more with players like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love becoming much more desirable than players like Klay Thompson.

3. Are Curry and Durant that good?

The last three MVPs of the NBA are the stars for the Warriors, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Both have had exceptional success personally and team wise, seeing many playoff roster their careers.  However both have faced sharp criticism in recent years and rightly so.

Curry has won the last two MVPs , the last one unanimously, and has become the NBA’s most marketable player after LeBron.He’s a charming, kind, and respectable individual and not an athletic freak like Durant or James. Despite his personal success though, Curry has seen his image chipped at. He did not win the MVP of the 2015 files and was not a leading contender for that award. Andre Iguodala, the teams sixth man won the award and Klay Thompson was a more likely winner than Curry. The next year, after winning the MVP unanimously in the regular season, Curry was one of the reasons the Warriors lost in the Finals. Outside of game 4, his performance was painfully pedestrian and his game 7 effort, particularly his 4th quarter, were awful and gave the Cavaliers a chance to win their first title. If the Warriors lose the championship this year, Steph takes a major hit to his legacy. 


His one time rival and current team and it has more to lose though. Since entering the league in 2007, Kevin Durant has proven to be one of the most dynamic scorers the league has ever seen. He’s a 7 foot tall forward who can handle and shoot like a guard, block shots like a center, and lead a high-quality team in rebounding. He can do everything on a basketball court, except when the biggest games. With the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durrant went to the NBA Finals one time and the Western Conference Finals  and additional three times. Durant never win a title, with notable losses coming to the Spurs in 2014, the Heat in Durant’s only trip to the Finals in 2012, and blowing a 3-1 lead in 2016 to Golden State with a damning game 6 effort highlighting the lost title chance. To make matters more complicated, Durrant left a talented OKC team to play with the team that just knocked him out in order to take the path of least resistance to the Finals. Durrant look to join a super team to win the Title he desires. Durant has a poor postseason reputation and if the Warriors win with him being a no show or lose, Durant’s legacy gets torpedoed. 


4. Is LeBron the greatest?

I can’t avoid this. I absolutely hate the comparison between Michael Jordan and LeBron James for many reasons. However, it is one of the most compelling reasons to watch the series. Since entering the NBA, LeBron has Reed written in the record book. He’s already put himself in the conversation with Larry Bird, Magic, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Bill Russell, and Shaq as one of the greatest players ever. If he wins the series against a team that was designed to stop him, LeBron seals his place as a top three player in the history of the league. I won’t say who is the better player until LeBron’s career is done. I want to see the full scope of LeBron’s career before I can rank him historically. That said, LeBron’s performance in this series will dictate his historical ranking. 


Prediction

This series had better make up for such a disappointing postseason. I will be very happy if it does is a basketball fan. Much like my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals, I’m not sure who to choose. Golden State is more talented from top to bottom but the Cavaliers have the best player in the world on the floor. I think this will go six or seven games and if I were forced to choose a winner today, I would pick Golden State. LeBron definitely has the talent to lead his team to victory and the Cavs are a great team. I could just more easily see Golden State winning the series. PLEASE BE A GOOD MATCHUP!!!

Why Watch the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals?

This hockey postseason has been exciting, entertaining, and miles better than the disappointing NBA postseason. Pre-playoff favorites Washington and Chicago were beaten shockingly early, underdogs like Ottawa and Nashville thrilled their rabbid fanbases with deep runs, and the NHL has another example of their postseason as the best in the sports world. It’s been exciting, maddening, and worth every second! 

Tonight, the Stanley Cup Finals begin! We get a matchup between a perennial powerhouse and a new arrival. The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking for their fifth Stanley Cup and second consecutive cup. The Nashville Predators have only been in existence since 1998 and are making their first trip to hockey’s grandest stage. Both teams have rabbid fanbases, smart head coaches, and loaded talent. They will combine for an outstanding Finals series. So what are the things to watch the series for?

1. Repeat?    

The NHL has had regular competitors in the postseason recently, but no repeat winners. Chicago has three Stanley Cups this decade, LA has two, Boston has been to two Finals, and Pittsburgh is in their fourth Finals since 2008. However, there has not been a back-to-back champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. In fact, there has not been consecutive conference champions since 2008 and 2009 when the Red Wings and Penguins split the Cups. It is fitting then that Pittsburgh has a chance to be the first repeat champions in close to 20 years. Parity is the rule in the NHL, which makes what the Penguins are doing so remarkable. Pittsburgh will be remembered as one of the best teams of the modern age if they win the series. They will do what Chicago, LA, Boston, and every other great team recently has failed to do: win consecutive Cups. 

2.  Goaltending

The goalie is the most important position in hockey by far. Games have been decided by the net minders as far back as people have skated with vulcanized rubber. This postseason has been no different. Nashville had ridden Pekka Rinne to their first Finals appearance. The 34 year old Fin has played the best hockey of his career this postseason, with a 1.71 Goals Against Average and a .943 save percentage. Rinne has given Nashville their best season and will have to be big time against the powerful Penguins offense.


Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has had quite the adventure in net. Matt Murray won the Stanley Cup last year as the starter and was slated to open the postseason this year. Instead, he got injured and Marc-Andre Fleury was summoned to start. Turns out it worked. Fleury dominated Columbus and stole the second round series from the Washington Capitals, including a Game 7 shutout on the road. In the Conference Finals against Ottawa, Fleury got shelled in game 3, giving up four goals on nine shots in the first period. They replaced him with a now healthy Matt Murray, who has played superb hockey since getting back in, getting Pittsburgh back to the Finals. 


Ultimately, Rinne is the most consistent goalie in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has used both of their goalies, which normally doesn’t work out, but has for the Penguins. Nashville has the stronger individual net minder, but Pittsburgh is no slouch with both goalies. 

3. Contrasting Styles

These teams might have similar color schemes, but they do not play similar games. Nashville’s strength is from their blue line. PK Subban, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in an offseason trade for stalwart Shea Weber, can direct a power play better than most defensemen in the league. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm round out a strong unit that can control the blue line, limit shot totals, block shots, and create offense. The forwards can create offense, but Mike Fisher and Filip Forsberg are not dominating offensive stars. 


Pittsburgh, on the other hand is  a glass cannon. They led the NHL in goals per game this season and feature two sure fire hall of famers and one guy who’s got a more borderline case. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have won two Cups and have four Art Ross Trophies as the league’s leading scorer between them. The addition of Phil Kessel to their lineup last year had the same effect as adding Ron Francis to the 1991 Penguins, making them a Stanley Cup winner. The problem for Pittsburgh is that their defensive corps is limited. Kris LeTang is gone for the entire postseason, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, and Trevor Daley are not on par with Nashville’s defensive unit. Their respective personnel require different styles of play, which makes for an intriguing clash of play this series. 


4. Securing Legacy

This year is the 100th anniversary of the NHL and the 50th for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The NHL has featured a few star players that transcend the regular descriptions of excellence. Sidney Crosby is one of those players. Pittsburgh lucked into him when they won the lottery in 2005 for the top pick in the draft. Since then, Crosby has led the league in scoring, won MVPs, and led the Penguins to multiple Stanley Cups. If he wins another Stanley Cup, he climbs higher up the ranking of all time greats. Same thing for Evgeni Malkin. Phil Kessel also secures himself a spot in the hall of fame if he helps Pittsburgh to a championship. 


Nashville also has some legacy to fight for. PK Subban wants to secure his spot as one of the best defensemen in the game, Pekka Rinne wants his reputation as a top goalie to be solidified, and the Predators want Nashville to be a secure hockey market. That third one is the most important. Hockey has grown in popularity internationally, but still is struggling to keep up with basketball and football in the United States. The sport needs some cities in untraditional places to take to it for development. Nashville’s success in developing a rabbid fan base is already reason for being happy, but if they win the Stanley Cup, they would bring hockey in the south to the forefront. 


Prediction

I cannot tell you how excited I am for this series to start! I also cannot tell you what’s gonna happen. These teams play differently enough that the question must be who can dictate the rhythm of the game? If Pittsburgh can skate and shoot as fast as they’re capable of, this is a Pittsburgh exercise in domination. If Pittsburgh goes cold and Nashville can dictate a defensive and hard hitting game, Nashville’s got their first Stanley Cup. If I were forced to pick who will win, I’d guess Pittsburgh. They have the experience, the scoring, and the capable goaltender play. This postseason has reminded us to not take chalk on the predictions. I will watch this series with baited breath and see what happens. I hope you will too. 

Baseball Beginning Again

We’ve hit that most wonderful time of the year. Spring training has gotten underway and baseball season has begun! Yes, it is still early March, meaning that opening day is still a month away, but I am still happy to say that baseball is back! Even if there is snow on the ground. 

This year will be a bit different for me as a baseball fan, not for anything at the MLB level, but for a new fandom I’ve developed since working for the Whitecaps: college baseball. Of course the Red Sox are the top priority for my fandom. They are my favorite sports organization and I have high hopes for them this year. Last season was a phenomenal ride that ended with a painful loss to Cleveland. For 2017, there is plenty to be excited about. Dustin Pedroia patrols second and the defense, Pablo Sandoval has lost weight and looks more motivated to be a part of the team, and Mookie Bette is coming off a near MVP caliber season. And I haven’t mentioned the pitching yet, what with Porcello, Price, Rodriguez, and new acquisition Chris Sale forming a top level rotation. It will be weird watching the Red Sox without Koji in the back end of the bullpen, and I don’t know what to say about David Ortiz not being in the lineup. I’ve never known the Red Sox without Big Papi. He’s been at the heart of the Red Sox and Boston since 2003, and he is now retired. I will do anything I can to get into Fenway on June 23, when 34 will be retired. I’m still stunned that Ortiz is no longer playing, but I still have high hopes for my guys on Yawkey Way. 

And in case that wasn’t enough, I’ve got two other teams I’m following this year. Both are college teams with professional prospects. One is a DI team, one’s a DIII team. And I’m just a fan of one and I’m working for the other. 

My fan team first. This summer, I hosted two players from the University of North Carolina. They are both high quality guys who will be drafted this year into professional baseball. They made my summer on Cape Cod nothing short of amazing and I have my college baseball team for life. My alma mater doesn’t have a varsity baseball team, so I’m forced to look elsewhere. And why not look at Chapel Hill for good baseball? 

I’ve been rewarded so far. The Tar Heels are 10-3 so far, only running into trouble against St. John’s and Long Beach State. My guys have also had excellent starts to their seasons. Both have played in and started all 13 games this season. Zach is off to a .317 start, and has the second highest on base percentage on the team. He’s hit well, fielded well, and is upping his draft stock early this year, especially after a remarkably quick recovery from TOS surgery this off season. While Zach has been excellent this year, his roomie and running mate, Logan, is tearing it up. He’s batting .367, has an OPS of 1.021, and is leading the Tar Heels in hits, total bases, and steals. He’s proving himself as a top draft prospect and they’re looking to lead UNC to the College World Series after a bitterly disappointing end to last year’s college campaign. Fan me is excited to have another team to follow, and for that team to have personal connections. I’ll see these guys in early April when they play at Chestnut Hill against the Boston College Eagles. 

As excited as I am for UNC, I am equally excited for a DIII team that I’m calling games for this year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology isn’t known for its athletics, but don’t be fooled. There are skilled athletes at MIT. Perhaps one of the best stories in baseball right now is being authored there. 

I called MIT baseball games last year, and had a front row seat to Austin Filiere lighting up his conference. He’s a career .427 hitter and can play the field very well. He also got to play in the Cape League this past summer against my Carolina guys. When the Harwich Mariners showed up, I checked the roster and saw Austin Filiere from MIT on there. I was dumbfounded. A DIII player facing off against the best that college baseball has to offer? He had better be good. Needless to say, he was. Filiere finished tied for the 2nd most homers in the league and totaled the most RBI for the team with the best record in the league. He was voted to the All-League team and proved to be a legitimate draft prosepect. 

This year has already started for the Engineers. They split a pair of games against Texas Lutheran. Unfortunately, Filiere did not look that good. He’s only hitting .167 through two games. I have no doubt that Filiere will right his direction. The Engineers were supposed to play at UMass Boston on the 5th and they’re supposed to play a double header against Southern Maine to open the season at home on Saturday the 11th. Considering that snow will be on the ground, they won’t be able to play until the 17th, when they take the road to Oglethorpe, Georgia. I trust that the Engineers will entertain and that their star player will get drafted this year. 

The snow is still falling, but baseball season is upon us! I am so excited to get into the swing of it, especially with two more college teams to follow. 

World Series Magic: Way to go Cubs!

I’ve been watching baseball since 2003. I’ve enjoyed the sport since the battles of the Red Sox and Yankees awakened my imagination and presented me with heroic figures, dubious villains, and a captivating and engaging story wrapped in an understandable and beautiful form. I’ve watched my team go from the most jinxed franchise in baseball to one of the most blessed. I’ve seen long time desolate franchises like the White Sox, Phillies, and Giants all become champions in recent years. I have even seen some of the most exciting and best baseball ever played in the history of the sport. After thinking about it, I’ve come to realize just how special Wednesday night’s game was. It confirmed my undying love for the sport of baseball. 

On Wednesday night, two denied franchises played in the seventh and final game of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians battled and fought to win each game, and the fight was never out of these teams. The Indians hadn’t won since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won since 1908. They played and managed desperately, they made a few mistakes along the way, and exhausted their bullpens and benches trying to win a championship. 

That second point is the most interesting to me. With all the excitement surrounding the game, people are brushing by the fact that the Cubs won almost in spite of Joe Maddon’s managing. He pulled Kyle Hendricks much too early. Jon Lester made him look good with his performance, thankfully, and then Maddon pulled him too early as well. And what’s worse, he pulled him for Aroldis Chapman, a guy Maddon had overworked and asked too much of beforehand. He threw 41 pitches in Game 5, which was fine, the Cubs needed to win that game and it was close. But he threw 21 pitches in Game 6, in which the Cubs led 7-2 when he threw. That over reliance on Chapman was almost a fatal mistake. Chapman didn’t have his location or his velocity and was exposed by Cleveland in the 8th. Watching that game with some friends, one of whom is a Chicago native and one of whom just badly wanted the Cubs to win, there were plenty of nerves and F-bombs to go around when Rajai Davis sent Cleveland into a frenzy and gave us this all time image of Lebron James going berserk. 

I wanted the Cubs to win but I could just watch this gif on repeat for a while, it’s that good. 

After that momentary disaster, the Cubs showed, as I had been telling my Chicago friend, that these were not the same old Cubs from 1969, 1984, 1998, 2003, or any of the prior 108 years. This was a new, resilient team, and we would find out what these guys were made of. Chapman, despite being overworked, bounced back and shut out Cleveland the rest of the 8th and the 9th inning. Cleveland’s bullpen held strong too, despite allowing a runner to reach 3rd base in the 9th for the Cubs, and for the first time since 1997, extra innings were needed to decide Game 7 of the World Series. The Cubs offense rallied for two runs in the 10th, and their bullpen gave up one more run in the bottom of the inning. In years past, the Cubs would’ve folded under pressure and surrendered the lead and the championship. But this team was different. Kris Bryant slipped on the throw to first to end the game. Other years, that ball goes into the third row of the stands. This year? The throw is right on and the Cubs won.

The pub where we were watching the game had to close up before extra innings got underway, so I ended up listening to the rest of the game on the radio. Fine by me, Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone were better than Joe Buck and John Smoltz. Plus baseball was made for radio. Anyway, I listened to the game on the way home, and let out a joyous cheer when the final out was recorded. Not because I’m a Cubs fan because I’m really not. I have only one true baseball love and that’s the Red Sox. But since the Sox were not in it and because us Boston baseball fans understood the plight of Cubs fans, I wanted to see them win. I sat in my car and listened to the postgame interviews and tried to soak in the seemingly impossible dream that just became real. I wanted the Cubs to win, and I genuinely never thought they would win a championship. But here it was. They won. They deserved it. They won in spite of their manager’s maniacal use of his closer. And they beat a tough opponent that gave them everything they could’ve asked for. 

Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and every die hard Cubs fan. They deserve this championship and the chance to celebrate at today’s parade down Michigan Avenue. Congratulations also to David Ross and Kyle Hendricks, alums of the Brewster Whitecaps who were a massive part of winning this championship. I’m thrilled to say that an organization I’m a part of helped mold champions and broke the longest championship drought in sports history. Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians deserve all the respect in the world for playing honorably and reminding the world how amazing a sport baseball is. This was certainly one of the greatest World Series ever played (yes that countdown is next), and one of the alltime feel good stories in sports. Enjoy your championship Chicago! Ernie Banks and Harry Caray have popped the heavenly champagne already. 

Game 7: A Night to Exercise Demons

The baseball season began back in April. Eight months later, and the season has now reached its final night. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians will play the 37th deciding Game 7 in the history of the World Series. One of these two denied franchises will win their first championship in many years and the other will walk away from a long season in painful defeat. How marvelous. 

The excitement and anxiety that a game 7 can produce is unmatched in sports. A season full of attrition and magical performances culminates in a few games played between two great teams with the whole world watching. They both are fighting to win and, in baseball, playing the mental games that no other sport has. They’re trying to keep up with the other guy and not look dumb on the game’s biggest stage. Those are common elements of every Game 7, but this year’s matchup has some extra history attached to it. 

The Cubs and Indians are two of the most denied franchises in professional sports. Cleveland last won a World Series in 1948, beating the Boston Braves 4-3 at Braves Field in Boston (which is now Nickerson Field at Boston University).

Chicago, famously, hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They beat the Detroit Tigers in five games, closing out the series in Bennett Park in Detroit to win their second consecutive World Series. Since then, not much success has come to these Great Lakes area teams. 

After 1908, the Cubs went on to win seven more National League Pennants and lose every World Series they played in. They lost some of the most famous World Series ever played. The Red Sox beat them in 1918 before Boston sold Babe Ruth and induced the Curse of the Bambino, Babe Ruth called his shot against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1932, and  Goose Goslin hit a walk off double in game 6 of the 1935 World Series to put Detroit over the Cubs. 

Their last trip to the Fall Classic was in 1945 and it ended with a crushing game 7 defeat at Wrigley to Detroit. In a series heavily affected by the recently concluded World War II, the Cubs and Tigers played the last Series before many of Baseball’s stars, like Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, and others, returned to the field from battle. It featured players who wouldn’t get a chance to play Major League Baseball otherwise, and they actually produced a pretty good series. It went the distance with Game 7 at Wrigley Field but the Cubs ran out of pitching and caused their own curse. William Sianis, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, attended the 4th game of the World Series. He took his pet goat with him to the game (yes this was allowed back in the day, kinda). The goat’s odor was unsettling to many fans around and Sianis was asked to leave. He famously proclaimed that the Cubs would never win again. The Cubs only won one of the four games played at Wrigley Field that series and lost the Series. They started Hank Borowy in both games 6 and 7 (again, yes they did that back then) and Borowy ran out of steam. He only faced 3 batters in game 7, gave up 3 singles, and Detroit got 5 runs in the first inning. The Tigers won 9-3 and until this year, Chicago had not been back to the World Series since then. 

Cleveland’s record in the postseason is not much better than the Cubs. After their 1948 Championship, the Indians were most famous for playing in a cold football stadium referred to as the “Mistake by the Lake”. Cleveland Stadium was famous for feeling empty with 40k people, which felt even colder and more empty during the lean years of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. there was one failure in the 50’s that stung Cleveland badly. In 1954, the Indians won 111 games, a then American League record, and faced the New York Giants in the World Series. They didn’t win a single game. They became a footnote to Willy Mays magnificent catch in game 1 at the Polo Grounds. 

After being swept, they didn’t make it to a postseason series until the 90’s. The Indians made a dramatic turn around in the mid 90’s, becoming one of the best franchises in the sport. They got a beautiful new stadium in 1994 and won 100 games and the AL Pennant the next season. The Indians would make the playoffs every year from 1995 until 1999, and set a record for the longest sellout streak at Jacobs Field (Now Progressive Field). However, that era is marked by three painful defeats. First, Cleveland went to the World Series in 1995 and lost to the Atlanta Braves in 6 games, with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux leading the way over the Tribe. 

Cleveland returned to the World Series in 1997 and faced the expansion Florida Marlins and combined for one of the greatest series ever played, capped by a legendary game 7 in Miami. Cleveland took a 2-1 lead into the 9th inning, and looked to win a championship on manager Mike Hargrove’s birthday. And then things unraveled. Jose Mesa took the hill in the bottom of the 9th, and surrendered a run on a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Extra innings followed and the 11th inning still stings for Cleveland fans. Bobby Bonilla led off the inning with a single, and after a botched bunt, Craig Counsel grounded the ball over to 2nd base for a tailor made double play. Except Tony Fernandez (a 4 time Gold Glove winner who set a record for best fielding percentage for shortstops and drove in the only two runs of the game for Cleveland) committed an error and the Marlins were in scoring position. A few batters later, Edgar Renteria drove a single into center field and the Marlins won. Cleveland walked off the field shell shocked. 

Two years later, they looked to threaten the powerhouse New York Yankees for the AL Pennant. They led the Red Sox two games to none in the division series and looked to take down New York in the ALCS, except they didn’t get that chance. Boston came back and forced a decisive game 5, and after a few barn burning innings early, Pedro Martinez came out of the bullpen and threw 6 innings of no hit baseball to win the game and the series for Boston. Cleveland would rebuild their team and the dominant 90’s teams were done. Cleveland had one more chance to win in 2007, but blew a 3-1 series lead against the Red Sox and Terry Francona (their current manager), and missed out on the Fall Classic. 

I made a prediction for the Division Series earlier this year. I declined to make predictions for the League Championship Series and the World Series and I will NOT make a prediction for tonight’s game. I will appreciate the game, enjoy the competition, and be happy for the fan base and team that wins. Both of these franchises have long and checkered pasts. One of them will win and end their pain. The other will add another chapter to their agony. And it all depends on how the ball bounces in one game. How marvelous. 

There Goes Papi

I’ve been attending and watching sporting events for almost my whole life. I’ve had almost every emotion possible. I’ve been at ease watching my team annihilate the opposition, dejected when my team stinks, shocked by heartbreaking losses, tense in close and meaningful games, and thrilled by exciting victories late. The one emotion I haven’t had before is being sad. I’ve been dejected, but I’ve never had a sense of true sadness while at a game in my life. That was, until last night at Fenway Park. 

I waited until the first inning started to buy tickets, knowing that they would drop like a rock, and picked up seats for fairly cheap. After that, I went with my friend, another life long Sox fan, and off we went to the tense atmosphere of playoff baseball in Fenway Park. We knew the potential for the Red Sox to stage a stellar series comeback, given their history in the 2000’s. We also knew that if they lost, the last active player from our youths would retire and our childhood sport fandom would in essence be over. 

Sure enough, the Red Sox found themselves down two in the bottom of the 8th inning with a runner on base, two out, and David Ortiz up to hit. Naturally, we felt pretty good about it. And then Cleveland pitched around him with an unintentional intentional walk. Hanley Ramirez singled in a run, and then Ortiz was taken out for a pinch runner. He left to upraorus applause and adulation. Unfortunately, he was denied a proper happy ending. The Red Sox failed to tie the game in the eighth and got two more runners on in the 9th and failed to score then. When the game ended, I had this crushed feeling of, “It’s over. The season, the chance for a championship, the fun times at the ballpark, but especially the career of a legend. It’s all gone.”

At that moment, I sat down in my seat and was the saddest I’ve ever been at any game I’ve ever gone to. I filled out my scorebook with what had happened, and looked around the ballpark. There were so many people standing in shock. They all knew, as I did, that we would never watch David Amèrico Ortiz Arias step to the batters box ever again for the Boston Red Sox. We didn’t want it to end. We stood and waited. We chanted at the top of our lungs: “We Want Papi!” And “Thank you Papi!” and best of all “We’re Not Leaving!”. We waited for what felt like an eternity. 

And then a tall, looming figure stepped out of the Red Sox dugout and took the field. The Fenway Park sound guys played this music from The Natural, and every person there watched this legend as tears filled every eye in the yard. Surrounded by reporters, he looked around the park with tears in his eyes. He didn’t care about the people taking pictures a few feet away from them, he wasn’t there for them. He walked out to the pitchers mound to say thank you to the people in the stands. He tipped his cap to us, and we cheered and yelled “Thank you David!” until we just couldn’t speak or make anymore noise. We all knew what this man did for the Red Sox, the region, and ourselves. We could do nothing, but applaud the efforts and heart of this champion. And then he stepped off the mound and off the field, back through the dugout and into the clubhouse to remove his equipment for the final time. 

I’ve been following the Red Sox since 2003, a diehard fan since 2005, and a Boston area resident since 2012. In that time, David Ortiz went from a mediocre left handed hitter to productive hitter on a record setting offense to postseason folk hero to legendary slugger worthy of record alongside the greatest to ever play the game. I grew up watching him play every single day for six months of my year every year from 2003 on. I was 8 when he took over the DH spot from Jeremy Giambi. I’m now 22 and I’m watching the last of my childhood baseball heroes walk away. And when David walked out and tipped his cap to us, I cried. I’ve never shed a tear at a game before. But that was the end of my childhood baseball fandom, and I was so sad to watch it end. 

As I’ve explained before, David Ortiz is the most important Red Sox player ever. Not the best, but the most important. He took the Red Sox from being a team that would be just good enough to entertain and just bad enough to fail spectacularly in the biggest game of the season to being a champion. The 2004 World Series is the most important trophey in the history of all Boston sports without any hesitation. And David Ortiz was at the heart of it. When we cheered David, we were thanking him for his efforts on the field and his transformation of the organization we root for. He turned us into winners. And I mean that line quite literally. 

Athletes can only do so much to directly impact our day to day lives. They play a game and entertain people. They aren’t doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, or anything that directly helps a city in that manner. Any impact that can be is up to the person watching the game and athlete in question. Athletes can inspire fans and make them realize their own potential. They see the exploits on the field and think: “If they can handle all this pressure of all these expectations and perform like that, then I can handle my issues and do it the way they do.” 

Watching the Red Sox from 1919 to 2003 was to expect failure. You follow a team for so long and see so many failures while that guy (in this case the Yankees) gets every break and does so well, and it rubs off on your psyche. When David showed up and played with his swagger and championship mindset, he changed the Sox from fearing the big moment and the Yankees to wanting that pressure. That rubbed off on the fan base too. It rubbed off on me. I looked at Ortiz as an inspirational figure for my youth, looking to his triumphs for inspiration to deal with personal struggles and problems. He gave me the confidence to handle my issues with a championship swagger and attitude. I’ll always have him to personally thank for that. And me tipping my cap to him was my way of saying thank you. I’m sure I’m not the only person with that sense of gratitude or impact given by him. 

Thank you David Ortiz, champion, hero, and Boston Red Sox legend. You’ve changed a city, a team, a fan base, and filled our lives with so much joy. One standing ovation from all of us Red Sox fans would not be enough to thank you for all that you’ve done. But it’s all we could give you last night. Thank you. We will miss you, and love what you gave us forever.