Posts Tagged ‘Playoffs’
College football is the most exciting regular season in American sports. Every single game matters. There is no playoff, and in some seasons, a single loss will take you out of the running for a title.
The NFL is a close second. The difference between teams in the NFL is so close, that frequently, one loss is the difference between getting in the playoffs and going home. Had the New York Giants, for example, beaten the Green Bay Packers last regular season, they, and not the Packers, would have gone to the playoffs. Instead, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, despite being the last NFC team to qualify.
In 2010, the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs on the last shot of the last game of the regular season. They went on to win the Eastern Conference Finals.
So why does it grind my gears when people insist on getting worked up about every Phillies loss this year?
Because baseball is different.
There are 162 games in each season, a little over 10 times the number of games in an NFL season. An NFL team is generally considered to have a very good season when it wins 13 or so games. It happens almost every year. In fact, most seasons have teams win 13, 14 even 15 games. Once, the New England Cheaters won all sixteen.
The most wins in baseball history is 116 by the 1906 Cubs (in a 154 game season) and the 2001 Seattle Mariners. This would be like an NFL team going 11-5 or 12-4.
Again, that happens every year in the NFL. It is far, far harder to do in baseball for a number of reasons.
A baseball season is a battle of attrition. It is a grind. Clearly, it is far less physical than football, but the season is also two months longer. While one loss in football is big, one loss in baseball really isn’t in the grand scheme of the season. There are so many games, that everything you can think of will happen to every team in a given season, even the best ones.
They will win some 1-0 games. They will lose some 1-0 games.
They will blow some people out. They will get blown out.
They will lose games that they shouldn’t. They will win games that they shouldn’t.
They will get out hustled sometimes. They will get out coached sometimes. They will just get beaten sometimes. It is impossible to maintain the same level of intensity for 162 games. No one can do it.
The way that teams are successful is by remembering not to get high on any win, and not too low on any loss.
The Phillies know how to do this. They have won four straight NL East titles, two of the last three NL Pennants, and a World Series three seasons ago. They didn’t do this by freaking out when Charlie Manuel pitches Joe Blanton, JC Romero, Kyle Kendrick and Denys Baez in the same game.
He messed up. It happens. It’s going to happen again.
People say that the offense isn’t good enough, the bullpen isn’t good enough. When Chase Utley, Dom Brown and Brad Lidge return, those people will freak about something else. Because when the Phillies are pounding people and winning 3 out of every four games, the game they lose 1-0 when Roy Halladay pitches a gem and loses will be the one they fixate on.
The Phillies are fine. They have the best record in baseball. It’s early in the season. And for those who say every game counts, I offer you this tidbit:
In the last 30 non strike seasons, guess how many times the NL East has been decided by a single game? Go on, guess.
In fact, it has been won by twenty or more games more often than it has been won by one. History, recent included, has shown that the Phillies are much better in the second half of the season. And they have the best record in baseball, with Wilson Valdez starting most nights at second base.
Think about that for a second.
I, personally, am very content with the way they are playing. If nothing changes, and they continues to win at the same pace, they will finish with 107 wins, nine shy of the all time record.
Chase Utley hasn’t played a single inning,
Neither has Dom Brown.
Or Brad Lidge.
And they have the best record in baseball, on pace for a team record 107 wins.
Get a grip, people. Seriously.
I got a haircut today.
What does that have to do with Brian Boucher, you might ask?
Stay with me.
When I moved from Philadelphia to the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia 21 years ago, I asked my dad three questions:
Where’s the subway? (He laughed.)
Where, for the love of all that is holy, am I supposed to get a freaking CHEESESTEAK in this god forsaken place? (He laughed again.)
Where am I gonna get my hair cut?
He didn’t laugh there.
For a black man, getting your hair cut is serious business. I can’t just walk into the Hair Cuttery and put nine bucks on the counter, despite what they tell you on TV. No, it takes a special set of skills to cut a brother’s hair properly.
Not that black folks’ hair is special, or anything. It’s just different.
Fresh out of high school, at the tender age of 16, I’d gone from the inner city to a place with no public transit, no cheesesteaks, and no black barbershops. That I could get to, anyway, I had no drivers license either.
My dad had been shaving his head, so it wasn’t an issue for him. But it sho’ nuff was for me. So, lacking any oasis in this wilderness, he volunteered to cut it for me.
I’d love for this to be a wonderfully horrifying tale of my hair being butchered, but the fact is, my dad is pretty good at cutting hair, as he is at most things. But still, it’s not cool for your dad to cut your hair for too long.
Six months later, a new barber shop opened within walking distance. We went to check it out, and stopped shortly after walking in.
It was fully owed and operated by Vietnamese people.
Now, for anything else, of course, this is not a problem. But my then 17 year old brain was not ready to handle anyone but a black man cutting my hair. I’d never done it before. Well, one time I had a black woman cut may hair, and it did not go well.
I looked at my dad, who had a grin on his face, then at one of the barbers, who told me, loudly, to come sit in his chair.
“Can you cut my hair?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, sit, sit,” he said.
I looked at my dad again, who leaned over and whispered, “Go on, I can fix it if I have to.”
So I sat in Mr. Li’s chair.
He has been cutting my hair ever since. He cut it for my baptism. He cut it for my wedding. He has even cut my sons hair from time to time.
It wasn’t the best haircut I’ve ever had, but it was far from the worst. It was fine.
Since that time, I’ve moved several times, still in Northern Virginia, and now I live 25 miles away from the ageless Mr. Li. I still go there occasionally, when I have time, like today. Why?
Because I know what I’m going to get.
Since then, I’ve tried other places. Some were ok, some were amazing, some were awful. But none were ever as relentlessly consistent as Mr. Li.
Which brings me to Brian Boucher.
Look, Boosh is never going to steal a series for you. You know what you are going to get with him in each game: he’s going to be steady, he’s going to make a couple fabulous saves, he’s going to get beat on a great shot, and he’s going to give up one where you go, “Aw, shoulda had that Boosh.”
Which, with the level of talent the Flyers have, will be good enough to beat Buffalo tonight and Sunday.
Occasionally, Boucher will get run out of the building. But that’s rare.
Occasionally, Boucher will stand on his head and pitch a shutout. But that’s rare.
Bottom line is, just like one of Mr. Li’s haircuts, he’ll be fine. And over time, you come to appreciate that consistency. When I sit in Mr. Li’s chair, and he says to me with his heavy accent, “Same ol’, same ol’?” I know what I’m getting. And I know it’ll be good enough.
Better than that actually.
Sometimes it takes stepping back from something to appreciate it.
Are there other goalies with more talent? Sure. There are better barbers than Mr. Li around here. But I like the fact that I don’t have to wonder if it’ll be good. I know it will.
Just like I know Brian Boucher will be. We don’t need him to be great. We need him to be him.
Which is pretty good.
Just like Mr. Li.
Mike Richards has been the Flyers captain for the last two seasons now. Last offseason, the Flyers signed Chris Pronger. Many people wondered if Pronger, a future Hall of Famer who has his name on the Stanley Cup, would be named captain.
Then 24 years of age, Richards remained captain.
The questions kept coming as the Flyers started off slowly, so slowly, in fact, that they got their coach, John Stevens fired.
There were lofty expectations for this team before the season. The Hockey News picked them to win the Stanley Cup. There was a buzz, an excitement about the team. It fizzled through uninspired play, injuries, and a freakish winter in the Mid-Atlantic.
When the Flyers were mentioned, the most common response was, “When do pitchers and catchers report?”
A lot of the blame for that was laid at the feet of Mike Richards. As The Captain, frankly, it comes with the territory. The issue here was two-fold. One, he’s so young, and two, the large, large shadow of Chris Pronger.
The team got hot. Then they got cold. Then they stumbled to the finish, making the playoffs on the final play of the regular season, a shoot out save by Brian Boucher.
(By the way, do the Flyers have a Hot Tub Time Machine or something? Boucher was as good as he was in the 2000 playoffs until he got hurt. I gotta get me some of that.)
You know the story. They manhandled the Devils in 5 games. We won’t rehash the historic comeback against Boston. (Sigh. Click here if you must.)
Then came the most storied franchise of them all. The Montreal Canadiens. There are those that say that they are the New York Yankees of hockey. Those people would be wrong. The Yankees have nothing on Les Habitantes.
I have watched Yankee games, in the old and new Yankees stadiums. I get nothing from it. No emotion. No love. No respect. I hate the Yankees.
Watching a game at the Bell Centre (or the old Forum) gives me goose bumps ON TV. That is hallowed ground. It is indescribably loud ON TV. Have to go there before I die. Suffice it to say, I have an enormous amount of respect for the Canadiens.
But I digress.
The Flyers took game one in a rout, 6-0. Game two was a rout on the scoreboard also, 3-0. But it was a lot closer than that. The Habs outplayed the Flyers for at least the first half of the game, but had nothing to show for it. Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton, apparently channelling the spirit of the 1987 Ron Hextall, was outstanding.
Then came Game three.
In the Bell Centre.
Montreal in a laugher, 5-1. And it wasn’t that close.
Now here is where the young captain comes in. How does your team react to getting its breakfast, lunch, dinner and fourthmeal(tm) handed to them?
Chris Pronger thought it was funny. He was terrible in game three.
In his defense, he tends to laugh like that after games, no matter the result.
The Captain wasn’t laughing.
“That was just an old-fashioned (butt)-kicking and they handed it right to us right from the get-go,” he said. “I don’t know if we thought we just had to throw our sticks on the ice and it was going to be easy.”
That is a disturbing statement.
What makes you think that you can go into hockey’s most hallowed ground and “just…throw (your) sticks on the ice” and beat a desperate Montreal team?
I was concerned with the way the Flyers lost. Sloppy in their own end, terrible giveaways, Leighton coming back to earth, it was bad from beginning to end.
How do you react?
How did the Captain react?
He was angry. Which is a good thing.
He added, “You always say you want to move on to the next game and forget about the last one, but maybe, hopefully, we can take this bitter taste in our mouth into the next game.”
They’d better. See, after the Comeback and going up so convincingly in the first two games, The Captain and his boys have gotten our hopes up. At first, we were content with getting into the playoffs.
Now we want the whole thing. Can The Captain deliver?
We will find out Saturday on that hallowed ice.
I say yes.
Flyers 4, Canadiens 2.