Friday, October 15, 2010

Steelers Beware--and Be Good

In way too many ways, the Cleveland Browns don't have a chance when they travel to Pittsburgh Sunday to play the Steelers. Even in the Browns' good years the Steelers dominate them at home, and this isn't a good year by any stretch--they are 1-3, the mirror opposite of the Steelers. Their quarterbacks are hurt, so they are starting their rookie, who has never played an NFL game. Their star running back, pretty much their entire offense so far, is hurting.

On the Steelers side, they have won 3 games with their 3rd and 4th string quarterbacks. They are out for revenge for their poor game losing to Cleveland at home last year. And, oh yeah, they are getting their quarterback back, Ben Roethlisberger.

Expectations are high, not only for this game, but James Walker at ESPN makes the case for them as the NFL's one dominant team. Though I anticipate that possibility, this snowballing of expectations could be trouble.

Apart from the Steelers not putting out the effort--which I think is unlikely--there are two main dangers which could combine to shoot up those expectations. The first is rust: Ben hasn't played significant minutes even in exhibitions, and he's playing in his first game of the season with a team that's coming off a bye week. Rust can translate into turnovers, and that can quickly become Cleveland points, as well as missed Steelers opportunities.

The second is Colt McCoy, the rookie quarterback for the Browns. At Texas, he won more games than any NCAA college quarterback ever. With the Browns he is an unknown quantity, and the unknown is not what defenses like. He could get them off balance and out of rhythm by being better than they expect and above all, unpredictable.

So on paper the Steelers should win in a blowout. But if Ben and the Steelers offense aren't sharp early in the game and don't score much, and Colt McCoy gets hot later in the game, then things could be a little too interesting.
Of Sports Past

Jeez, this is my de facto sports blog and it's just about the only one that doesn't have a post or two on the 50th anniversary of the 1960 World Series seventh game in Pittsburgh. But there are photos and words on that here, here, here (with some repetitions) and hell, here too-- just an easy click away, with links there to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette stories, including several they printed in the Oct. 14 editions of 1960, and some pretty neat video, including Mazeroski's home run.

Also in sports past, this month marked the passing of George Blanda, a professional football quarterback and kicker--for 26 years. He won a lot of games and holds all kinds of records. His last game was at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, when he was just shy of 49.

I remember seeing him play on TV, including some of his game-winning heroics for Oakland late in his career, but I watched him with particular interest because he was born in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, the same tiny town where my mother grew up--they went to the same high school, though at different times--and where my grandparents still lived when I was growing up. People had stories, none of which I remember, but in addition to being still remembered in Oakland, he was a hometown hero in Youngwood.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fun While It Lasts

The SF Giants escaped with a win in Atlanta to take the series and move on to face the Phillies. It's certainly sweet to defeat Atlanta, with its obnoxious and demeaning tomahawk chops, and payback for all that pain in Pittsburgh can never be enough. But the SF team nicknamed Torture should celebrate well, because they have very little chance against the Phillies. They squeaked past the depleted Atlanta team, getting few timely hits and a number of timely calls going their way. The Phillies have better pitching than Atlanta and much better hitting than Atlanta and the Giants put together. I'm sure SF will relish the underdog role and I wish them well, but I'm too old to invite the pain of watching them very closely. But if they get past five games...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

They Might Be Giants

The San Francisco Giants had everything going for them in the second game of their playoff series with Atlanta. They had an unaccustomed early lead of 4-0, and with Matt Cain pitching, that normally is very comfortable. Thanks to Tim Lincecum's brilliant complete game 1 after the off-days, their bullpen was rested, and they had the strongest stoppers and savers in the league. They were playing before a huge and enthusiastic home crowd, a sea of orange.

But their stoppers didn't stop and their saver didn't save. Yet in the bottom of the 10th, they still had a clear advantage: the bases loaded and one out for their clutch-hitting rookie catcher, Buster Posey. There was only one thing he could do wrong. If he got a hit or just a ball to the outfield, the Giants win. If he struck out or popped up, the Giants would still get another chance with the bases loaded. If he got a walk, as the previous batter had, the Giants win, and go up 2-0. And it did appear that the three pitches he saw were out of the strike zone. He swung at one and missed. He took the next. Then he swung at the third and did the only terrible thing it was possible for him to do, he hit into an inning ending double play. Atlanta promptly got a run in the 11th, the deflated Giants didn't answer, and the series was tied 1-1 going to Atlanta.

This is how Atlanta breaks your heart. It's how they did it to the Pirates in the 90s.

In the third game, the Giants again got a very strong pitching performance, from Jonathan Sanchez. And again, they failed time after time to get timely hits. They left tons of baserunners, and practically dared Atlanta to pull the game out in the late innings with the Giants up 1-0. And that's exactly what they did--with one swing, a pinch-hit homerun that barely got over the fence in fair territory, put Atlanta up 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth.

Fortunately the Giants did get a timely hit and a lucky bounce in the 9th, and their saver saved. Frankly I didn't expect them to win their first game in Atlanta, and they'll probably have to play better to win the series. The fact that they're in the driver's seat now--needing one more win, and with their ace Lincecum available for the fifth game if necessary--doesn't mean a thing when it comes to the Atlanta baseball club. They specialize in breaking your heart.