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Sports

So long Cleveland

LeBron James finally ended the ridiculous, shameful suspense Thursday night and announced that he is leaving the Cleveland for the Miami Heat, where he’ll join fellow All Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Great night for the Miami Heat. Bad night for the Knicks, who spent the last two seasons clearing out players in anticipation of winning the LeBron sweepstakes. Downright horrible night for Cleveland, which now adds yet another chapter to its 46 years of sports heartbreak (and a lot of heartbreak having nothing to do with sports) since the Browns won the city’s last title in 1964.

But the biggest losers were the media, which shamefully gave LeBron what he wanted by going along for this ride. After allowing LeBron to get his own primetime special to announce his decision on his terms and sucking up to him all the way, ESPN can no longer claim to be a real news source (if they still could anyway). They turned the news into a reality TV show.

So now our long national nightmare is over. It’s about time.


Let the debate begin

What a wild, fun day of action we had yesterday on Championship Saturday in College Football. It left us with five undefeated teams and the debate that will take place almost every year unless the NCAA finds it financially worth its while to institute a Division I-A football postseason tournament – who should play for the BCS National Title.

No. 4 TCU got to sit and watch as four other teams finished the regular season undefeated. No. 5 Cincinnati came from 21 points down to beat No. 15 Pittsburgh on the road, 45-44, to win their second straight Big East title, scoring the winning TD with 33 seconds remaining. No. 6 Boise State demolished New Mexico State to finish 13-0. And No. 2 Texas, despite being stymied all night by Nebraska’s defense and making Eagles coach Andy Reid look like a clock management genius in the final minute, got a 46-yard field goal as time expired to escape  with a 13-12 victory in the Big 12 championship game.

The big game yesterday, of course, was the SEC Championship Game, where No. 2 Alabama ended Tim Tebow’s hopes of winning a third national title at Florida with a resounding 32-13 victory. Since I don’t care much about either team, my favorite part about this result was that it spared us having to sit through the inevitable four-hour Tim Tebow ass-kissing session that would have been ABC’s broadcast of the championship game on January 7.

Speaking of that game, Alabama is definitely in, and in light of its performance yesterday will likely be a pretty big favorite. Since all Texas needed to do last night was win, no matter how close or how ugly, it too should be in. But that leaves TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State having done everything they could do and were supposed to do yet still having no shot at the national title. Worse yet, it’s very likely that TCU and Boise State could be pitted against each other in the Fiesta Bowl. Imagine that – you work all year to get into the BCS and presumably have a crack at college football’s big boys, yet instead you get another Mid Major.

And just imagine the chaos and complaints today if Texas had lost last night. Would the BCS honchos have allowed TCU to play for the national title? Would they have jumped Cincinnati above TCU? Or would have Florida, despite getting blown out, still had enough to jump back to #2 and get a title game rematch with Alabama?


Congresssman Runyan? Former Eagle running in 2010

Former Eagles offensive lineman Jon Runyan will retire after this season and run for Congress next year, the Associated Press Reports.

It has been rumored for a while that Runyan, 35, would challenge Democratic incumbent John Adler next year in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, which stretches across Southern New Jersey from Philadelphia’s east suburbs, through the Pine Barrens region to the Jersey Shore. Runyan made the challenge official yesterday. The district is very much a swing district, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index (CPVI) rating of R+1. Adler narrowly won the district by 3.4% in 2008.

“I look forward to a successful end to my career on the field,” Runyan said, “and a spirited campaign against Congressman Adler in 2010.”

Runyan hasn’t played since the Eagles let him go after having surgery on his right knee following last season. He signed a free agent deal with the San Diego Chargers yesterday, which he said would be his last NFL deal.


Yankees win title no. 27

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It took nine years, which admittedly is nothing by the standards of this Cubs fan (they haven’t even REACHED the World Series in my PARENTS’ lifetimes, and both are nearing 60). But that’s an eternity for Yankees fans. Last night, their “wait” ended when the Yankees clinched their 27th championship with a 7-3 win over the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series.

Hideki Matsui won MVP honors after getting three hits and six RBIs in the clincher. I wish he would have ditched the translator when he got the MVP trophy and for once sounded human. But he had a truly incredible night and is a class act.

Andy Pettitte started on three days’ rest and got the win – his third series clincher in this year’s playoffs. Mariano Rivera got the final five outs. Pettitte, Rivera, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter – the core remaining from the group that won four titles from 1996-2000 – got their fifth titles. And Alex Rodriguez, who finally had a very good postseason (albeit with a mediocre World Series), got the first title of his 15-year career.

I’m no Yankees fan. But I do have ties to the organization from covering the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate – the Trenton Thunder – from 2005 to 2007. Congratulations to Dave Eiland (pitching coach from 2005-06), Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke and everyone else in the organization who I had the pleasure of working with. I’m happy for those guys.

Only 3 1/2 months until pitchers and catchers report and we start the long slog known as baseball season all over again.


Back to the Bronx

The Phillies’ bullpen, and perhaps Charlie Manuel’s slow trigger, made it far more dramatic than it should have been. But the Phillies extended the World Series with a 8-6 victory in Game 5 last night in the final game of the season at Citizens Bank Park. Cliff Lee wasn’t as good as he was in his first four playoff starts, but he was more than good enough. And the Phillies’ offense finally broke out, in spite of Ryan Howard tying the Major League record for strikeouts in a single postseason.

The series returns to New York for Game 6 on Wednesday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Thursday. I predicted Yankees in 6 before this series started and have no reason to think differently now. I don’t think Pedro Martinez will fool the Yankees again like he did for much of Game 2. And while Andy Pettitte will be on short rest, he and the Yankees offense should be good enough.


Yankees are One Away

The Yankees’ millions may not have been able to buy them reliable middle relief. But they have the vastly superior closer, and it was enough to put them on the brink of their 27th championship with a 7-4 victory last night in Game 4 of the World Series.

After Joba Chamberlain flushed a win for C.C. Sabathia in the bottom of the eighth, Johnny Damon worked out a two-out single in the top of the ninth after a lengthy at-bat against Brad Lidge, who had blown away the first two hitters of the inning. Damon stole second, then alertly took third when Jimmy Rollins tried to bait him to run when Lidge wasn’t covering third base. Damon then scored two batters later when Alex Rodriguez doubled to left. Jorge Posada tacked on two more insurance runs with a base hit, and Rivera needed only 8 pitches in the bottom of the ninth to get the save.

It will be up to Cliff Lee, so dominant this postseason, to keep the Phillies alive in Game 5 tomorrow night. But even if he does so, the Phillies are toast. Game 6 would be a rematch between Pedro Martinez and Andy Pettitte (albeit with the latter on short rest) and Game 7 would be Sabathia against either the struggling Cole Hamels (who said following Game 3 that he can’t wait for the season to end) or J.A. Happ, who has started once in the last month.

It’s just a matter of time until the Yankees parade down the Canyon of Heroes and A-Rod never has to hear about his postseason failures again.


Game 3 is UGLY for Phils

You know your starting pitcher is having a lousy night when he gives up an RBI single to a pitcher from the American League, one who can probably count the number of at-bats he’s had all season on one hand.

Yup, Cole Hamels didn’t have it yet again last night. After starting off well, he got torched for five runs in the fourth and fifth innings as the Yankees regained home field advantage in the World Series with a rain-marred 8-5 win in Game 3 last night at Citizens Bank Park.

Included in that aforementioned carnage were home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, Pettitte’s RBI single and clutch hits by Jorge Posada. Pettitte threw 51 pitches in the first two innings, giving up three runs. But he was great over his final four innings to get the win.


Burnett comes through for Yankees in Game 2

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After two good performances and one mediocre one in his first three playoff starts, A.J. Burnett delivered a gem last night when the Yankees most needed one, pitching seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball with nine strikeouts in the Yankees’ 3-1 victory over the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series. It was his first career playoff win.

Amidst the expected taunts of “Who’s Your Daddy?” from Yankee fans, Pedro pitched well himself, certainly much better than I expected from him. He left two batters into the seventh inning, allowing six hits and only three runs (one of which scored after he left) and striking out eight. But solo home runs by Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui and Burnett’s own dominance were too much to overcome.

Of course, there were more umpiring blunders. Ryan Howard turned a line-drive double play despite replays showing he fielded the ball on a hop. And Chase Utley was called out at first to end the top of the 8th inning despite replays showing he beat the throw to first.

The series moves to Philly for Game 3 tomorrow.


Everyone gets to play in the postseason in NJ high school sports

I have spent more than five years covering high school sports in New Jersey, either as a full-time newspaper reporter or as an occasional stringer. And I don’t think I am the only one who has a big problem with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (NJSIAA) decision to open up many of its state tournaments to teams with records under .500 this fall.

With the exception of football, wrestling and a couple of other sports, the requirement for state tournament qualification in New Jersey was a .500 record. But this fall, with the exception of football and volleyball, the NJSIAA is allowing all teams, regardless of record, to petition their way in. The result, at least in field hockey,  is a 0-17 field hockey team getting into the same state tournament as a 15-2 team.

Anthony Coleman gives the NJSIAA’s rationale in today’s Times of Trenton:

The NJSIAA said the change was needed to fill brackets because of the realigning of conferences. Teams feared not qualifying because their conferences were too strong. In addition, in certain sections, so few teams reached the .500 plateau.

The latter problem has occured before, both in field hockey and other sports. But as Coleman mentions in the story, the NJSIAA solved this by combining brackets. So why this drastic change now?

Last I checked, high school sports are played by high school-age kids, which means they’re close to being adults (and in some cases actually are at this point). They’re certainly mature enough to accept the fact that the deck isn’t always going to be stacked equally for everybody. Some people are going to face more obstacles than others with the same goal. It’s just how the world works.

The state tournament is supposed to be a reward for a successful season, or at least a .500 one. It’s not supposed to be an entitlement just because you finished under .500 but played in a tougher conference.


Lee leads Phils in Game 1

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Cliff Lee did it again for the Phillies on Wednesday, pitching a complete-game six-hitter and out-dueling Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia in a 6-1 victory in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

Lee improved to 3-0 in the playoffs. He struck out 10, including three against Alex Rodriguez. Sabathia was good too, but the two solo home runs he gave up to Chase Utley were too much on this night.

Alarming for the Yankees are their relievers not named Mariano Rivera. Phil Hughes, Dave Robertson and Brian Bruney combined to give up four runs in the last two innings, squashing the Yankees’ hopes of a comeback.

A.J. Burnett has a lot of pressure on him in Game 2.