Thursday, October 11, 2012

Great call all around

Call it gutsy, foolish, a no-brainer, Yankee manager Joe Girardi pulling Alex Rodriguez for pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez in the ninth inning of Wednesday night's Game 3 of the AL division series against the Orioles was one of the boldest moves I've ever seen.

The fact that Ibanez hit a pinch-hit, game-tying homer run in the ninth and then won it with another homer in the 12th is irrelevant.

Yes, irrelevant.

We all know how the Alex Rodriguez of 2012 is not the Alex Rodriguez of 2007, 06, 05, 04 ... He is a shell of his once great self.

He does, however, had nearly 650 lifetime homers and was hitting third in the lineup. I know many will argue, and I wouldn't disagree, that he shouldn't be hitting there — if at all — but he was hitting third.

Give Girardi credit for the move. Give Ibanez credit for the heroics. But also give credit to A-Rod for being the teammate he is. He could have very easily been the negative Nelly and pouted and moaned, but there he was celebrating like a high-schooler when Ibanez's shot dropped in the right-field stands.

I know what you're thinking, "well, how is he supposed to react?" Fair point. But he could easily have been sitting stoically in the dugout, or half-heartedly celebrating what could be the pivotal Yankee win this postseason. Anyone remember how he took being dropped to eighth in the lineup in the 2007 playoffs. He even said after Wednesday night's game, he didn't know how the Alex Rodriguez of 10 years ago would react.

I am defending A-Rod a bit because I think he has received too much of the criticism of his lack of production on a team that, right now, has many players not producing. His contract and the fact that people just don't like him hurts him even more in these situations.

That said, Girardi could have played it safe, sent his future Hall of Fame slugger (yes, I believe — steroids and all — he remains a Hall of Famer) up in the ninth to try and tie it. Instead, he bucked conventional wisdom and Ibanez came through.

No matter the outcome, Girardi's call deserves praise.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What a finish

Was it the Medinah miracle or colossal collapse?

That's what went through my head as I watched Europe complete its improbable comeback over the U.S. in the Ryder Cup.

Lost in the Jets' debacle, Giants' heartbreak and Yankees' quest for another playoff berth, golf's biggest event (yes, bigger than the Masters I believe) had an unbelievable finish. In the team event, held every other, year, the U.S. had what was seemed to be an insurmountable 10-6 lead after day two of the three-day showdown.

A total of 28 points are at stake in the Ryder Cup. Players competed in foursomes and four-ball matches in four sessions the first two days, with 12 singles matches played on the final day. The U.S. has always been thought of as having the deeper team, so the prevailing wisdom has been the Europeans need to build enough of a lead over the first four sessions to hold the Americans off in the end.

Most thought — myself included — when the U.S. built a 4-point lead heading into singles play, the Ryder Cup was as good as won.

Boy were we wrong!

The Europeans played brilliantly on Sunday, while the Americans seemed off their game (to say the least). The Americans were unable to match the intensity and shot-making of the Europeans and when Martin Kaymer converted a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole to win his match and secure the Cup with what would turn out to be a 14 1/2-13 1/2 win, the Americans were left in shock.

It's easy to play the blame the game. There's a lot to go around. Tiger Woods, the world's No. 2 golfer, won 1/2 point for the entire event. Captain's picks Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk came up small in the clutch, as did Phil Mickelson, who lost the final two holes in his match against Justin Rose to turn a 1-up lead into a 1-down defeat.

You could probably name the rest of the 12-player U.S. squad as co-conspirators in the loss.

You could also look at the miraculous putt Rose made on the 17th hole against Mickelson; the inspiring play of Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia; as well as the steady (when not spectacular) play of world No. 1 Rory McIlroy as the real reasons behind the European victory.

No matter how you choose to look at it, this Ryder Cup will go down as one of the most memorable of all time. It made for riveting televsion.