After a break for international fixtures, including the final group games in the qualifying tournament for Euro 2012, the Premier League returns with a full slate of matches this weekend. The marquee game of the bunch is the first one that will be played, as Liverpool face their old rivals, Manchester United, in the early kick-off on Saturday. In the last round of games, there was the North London Derby, but these two North-West clubs might dislike each other even more than Spurs and Arsenal do. While there is no doubting the fans animosity towards each other in those games, with Manchester United and Liverpool the divide is not just between the clubs, but also the cities they call home.
In the days of the Industrial revolution, the two cities were in direct competition with each other for business. In 1894, when the Manchester Ship Canal was completed ships were able to bypass Liverpool and dock directly in Manchester, resulting in less revenue for the former’s merchants, which ultimately lead to job losses in the city. From here a rivalry between the two places was formed, nowadays it is framed in each city’s most successful football clubs. While Liverpool and Everton derbies mean a lot to families who are divided between red and blue; and Manchester United and City games have taken on a new relevance in the last two seasons, as both teams are in the upper echelons of the league and are competing for titles, it is Saturday’s game at Anfield that supporters of both clubs will most want to win.
When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at United in 1986, Liverpool were the dominant team in English football and, in 1990, they won their 18th league title. At that time, the Red Devils were sitting on a total of just 7 championships, and had not won any since 1967. Since the dawn of the Premiership era in the early 90s, Ferguson has revitalised the club and Manchester United have won 12 league titles since 1992/1993. As Liverpool have not won any in that time, they now trail their rivals in the overall title count by 19 to 18 – though they still can cite their 5 European Cup triumphs, compared with United’s 3.
The personnel involved with the two teams do not like each other either: when he started his reign at United, Sir Alex had talked about wanting to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch”; Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has many shirts he has swapped with opposing players displayed in his house, but none of them are from a Manchester United player; and recently retired Red Devil, Gary Neville, was famously antagonistic towards Liverpool, running the length of the pitch to celebrate a last minute winning goal in front of the away supporters in a game at Old Trafford in 2006. The two clubs will not do business together, no player has been transferred between the two teams since 1964. When Gabriel Heinze requested a move to Anfieldfrom Old Trafford in 2007, he was vilified by the United fans, the transfer was blocked and he ended up being sold to Real Madrid instead.
Manchester United have not won in the league at Anfield since 2007, having lost all of their last three Premiership away games against Liverpool. This season, Ferguson’s team have only dropped 2 points out of the first 21 available to them, and they will be looking to continue their good form against their old enemy this weekend. Liverpool have had a reasonable start to the season, and beat Everton in their last league game – a win on Saturday would take them up to 4th, with Newcastle not playing until Sunday. You can predict the winner of the game in this week’s poll question – found at the bottom of this article.
That game at St. James’ Park sees Newcastle taking on a Tottenham team who also won a derby game last time out, overcoming Arsenal 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Spurs have won their last four games, having started the season with two defeats to the Manchester clubs, and will be looking to strengthen their own quest for a top four spot this weekend in the North-East. In other games, Manchester City take on a still unbeaten Aston Villa side at Maine RoadCity of Manchester Stadium theEtihad Stadium; 15th takes on 16th at the Emirates when Arsenal host Sunderland; two of the newly promoted sides, Norwich and Swansea, play at Carrow Road; and two of the bottom three meet with Bolton making the short trip to Wigan. Fulham, who won 6-0 in their last outing, travel to Stoke; while QPR, the team on the wrong end of that thrashing by the Cottagers, hope to get back on track as they are at home to Blackburn Rovers. Bovril will be in short supply in the Midlands this weekend as there is a derby between West Bromwich Albion and Wolves; while Chelsea will look to keep the pressure on the top two of United and City by beating Everton at Stamford Bridge. After a delay of two weeks, it will be good to be back to a full round of Premier League fixtures again.
Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day in several countries across the world, including the United States and UK. This is a reminder that, despite some progress that has been made, especially in recent years, there is a large group of people who have been made to feel fear at being open about who they are. On one hand the US Military has now eliminated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, on the other, in the world of sports, homophobia is so prevalent that there are no openly gay athletes currently playing in any of the four major sports in America, nor in the Premier League in England. This is not because there are no sportspeople who are homosexuals, that is as ridiculous a thought as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that there were no gay people in Iran. While in the West we may have laughed off his claims, the culture and societal norms that have been established around the world of sports is such that people who compete in them who are gay do not feel comfortable being open about it with the wider population.
Week after week, Premiership footballers in the UK are exposed as having affairs, cheating on their wives with their brother’s
spouse, or sleeping with their teammates girlfriends – some of them go so far as getting a Super Injunction from the courts in order to keep their indiscretions a secret, but this is only done in order to ‘protect their marriage’ not because they believe the general public would renounce them for their behaviour. In the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger is still cheered on by his own fans, despite several rape and sexual assault investigations against him; Donte Stallworth pleaded guilty to a DUI manslaughter charge and continues to play, now for the Redskins. In the NBA, Kobe Bryant is still adored by Lakers fans, prefer not talk about the incident in Colorado in 2003, especially since he won another title for the team in 2010. It seems sports fans will accept anything from the players they worship, except being born gay and living an openly homosexual life.
Kobe is a good crossover on this point, given that last season the NBA fined him for referring to a referee who had called a technical foul against him as a “fucking fag”. In his apology afterwards he said he did not mean to offend anyone and his words did not reflect his views about homosexuals; but this derogatory term was obviously on the tip of his tongue. If someone is not perceived as acting ‘manly enough’, be it in sports, on the playground, or anywhere, often they will be called “gay” – as if that is the worst possible thing in the world someone can be. As I mentioned in my thoughts on chanting in English football, Sol Campbell was subjected to homophobic songs by Tottenham fans when he moved to Arsenal back in 2001. It was not enough to call him Judas, traitor, a wanker or whatever else we shouted at him, the Spurs faithful decided that he must be gay also. Why? No racial epithet would be used in this manner – Sol Campbell is black, nobody at White Hart Lane would ever dream of using derogatory language in this regard toward him. Why do we tolerate prejudice toward someone based on their sexual orientation (or the one assigned to them by the crowd in this case), when it is no more their choice than the colour of their skin? What’s more – why is being called “gay” even an insult? It is no different from the US Constitution, which counted African-Americans as just 3/5ths of a person (until later amended), when homophobic slurs are used, people are tacitly (or explicitly) saying that heterosexuals are inherently better and worth more. Thankfully, in English football the clubs are clamping down on chanting that is homophobic, but people’s attitudes need to change along with it. Thus far, only one openly gay footballer has existed in Britain, Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 – but was subjected to abuse by fans and his own manager, Brian Clough, who asked him why he “kept going to those bloody poofs’ clubs” after it had been revealed in the tabloids Fashanu frequented gay bars. He killed himself in 1998 having been accused, but not charged, of sexual assault – according to the note he left behind he believed he was already presumed guilty as he was gay.
As a society we are obsessed with the binary gender code and seem befuddled when somebody doesn’t fit neatly into on or the other. In 2009, Caster Semenya won the 800m at the World Athletics Championships. Having been briefly lauded for her fantastic performance, she was subjected to the humiliation of the IAAF requesting she undergo a gender test, doubting that she was in fact a woman. There was no sympathy for Semenya, someone who has lived her whole life with a masculine look and high testosterone levels, but is indeed a woman. She was accused of cheating, subjected to infantile jokes at her expense, and was unable to compete again for many months while the IAAF determined if she would be allowed to compete as a female. This was such humiliation for a young athlete to deal with and showed a complete lack of empathy from the sporting world.
It is time for sports to change. And it is time for society to change – no more should 8 Republican candidates for President stand on the stage and say nothing when the audience at a debate boos a soldier for being gay. Supporting the troops should mean supporting all of them, supporting your team should mean supporting every player no matter what their sexual orientation. Haven’t we been through all this before with race? With gender? It has been almost 20 years since Sports Illustrated ran this story, saying Magic Johnson should speak for all those with HIV, after he had been cheered on Arsenio Hall’s show when he said he was “far from a homosexual”. Have we not progressed since then? I hope that a gay athlete will feel comfortable enough to come out very soon, and all others who want to be open about their sexual orientation will follow, without fear of taunts from small-minded fans or fellow players. It is time to make National Coming Out Day obsolete, because everyone should be accepted for who they are and there should be no need to “admit” to being homosexual, nor heterosexual, nor anything in-between.
Even a causal observer of the current GOP Presidential Candidate race will not have been able to miss Herman Cain talking about his “Nine Nine Nine Plan”. Under this policy, would-be President Cain (he was not a serious candidate a few weeks ago, but everyone still hates Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry has been going hunting at a place called…wait what? It’s named what? Im not saying that…but that must hurt his chances) would scrap the current tax code with all it’s deductions (save for charitable donations) and progressive rates, and replace it with three flat levies:
9% Corporate Income Tax (Currently 15%-35% depending on income levels)
9% National Sales Tax (Currently 0%)
9% Personal Income Tax – (Current Rates increase the more you earn, 28% on everything of $83k, 33% on income over $174k and 38% on amounts earned over $379,150)
So taking the last part first, a change from gradually increasing tax rates to a flat rate of 9%, sounds like a tax cut – but only if you are in the top bracket of earners. This is a plan for the rich and for corporations – who would not only see their tax rates drop, but Herman Cain has a proviso in his plan that there would be no taxes on repatriated profits nor on dividends, providing plenty of ways for the Exxon Mobiles and GEs of the country to continue paying no corporate income taxes, as has been the case in recent years. More numbers to prove this point:
*Numbers approximations from IRS calculator – no deductions/dependents considered, just raw numbers
Person A Earns $500,000 salary in NYC
Current Anticipated Federal Income Tax – $148,989
Under Cain’s 999 Plan – $45,000
Saving of $103,989 – meaning Person A will have plenty set aside to pay the extra 9% National Sales Tax on essentials – such as champagne, yachts and employing 1 (one) gardener
Person B Earns Minimum wage in NYC ($7.25 an hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year – $15,080 per year)
Current Anticipated Federal Income Tax – $558
Under Cain’s 999 Plan – $1357.20
Meaning Person B will have $799.20 less per year, plus will have to then pay 9% tax on those luxury items like food, shelter, water, etc. Luckily, there is a gardener position opening up in NYC and a second job may help offset that difference – careful with those shears though, Person B – you definitely cannot afford healthcare.
A widely quoted statistic by the Republicans at the moment is that 50% of Americans pay no federal income tax (we’ll ignore the fact that they pay payroll taxes, social security, medicare, etc), and the view from the Right is that everyone should be paying something rather than increasing the rates on the rich job creators in the top two brackets. During the debt ceiling debate, part of President Obama’s plan was to raise the marginal rates on these top earners in order to generate $700bn more in revenue over the next ten years – the GOP hit back claiming that this money should be taken from the bottom 50% of the country who do not pay any federal income taxes. Well, according to the most reliable news source available in the US, The Daily Show, that half of the population of the United States controls a massive 2.5% of the wealth. To put it another way, their total assets are worth $1.45trillion, meaning that in order to generate the same amount of additional revenue, the Federal Government would need to take away half of everything the bottom 50% have. Apparently this is a fairer way of spreading the burden than increasing the highest rate of taxation back to 38% – or the same number it was prior to the Bush tax cuts came into effect in 2001.
Adding to this, the Cain administration would add a 9% National Sales Tax – meaning the poorest Americans would be hit with an additional tax on everything they buy with their net income – this is not a levy that is coming from their gross income, but something that increases the cost of all expenditures on the money they have available after the Federal Income Tax has been deducted from their wages. Remember also, this National Sales Tax would not be instead of State Sales taxes, President Cain would have no control over the rights of states to decide their own rates and thus this would be additional on top of the 8.875% in New York City (where you have City tax as well), 7% in Mississipi, 0% in Delaware…
NineNineNine may have a catchy name for a tax plan, but it perhaps should have been used as a sales device in one of Herman Cain’s former jobs, CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He could have offered a 9″ Pizza, with 9 pieces of Pepperoni guaranteed, for $9. It’s just not a fair plan, and it will decrease revenues massively – because taking 9% more from 50% of the population who have only 2.5 % of the wealth, does not balance taking 26% less from the richest 1%, who own 42% of the wealth. It does not make mathematical sense, and it does not make sense philosophically. John Rawls, in “A Theory of Justice”, used a device called the Original Position. The idea is, that the fairest way to determine how society should be constructed would be to have a person in this Original Position – deciding how everything should be setup without knowing what their position within the society would be. If you were to be in such a place, would you really design a system where you had a very small chance of controlling a significant amount of the wealth, yet everyone would be required to pay the same federal income tax rates? If everybody started from a level playing field, then there would be more of an argument for this, but there is no doubt that the United States is designed to benefit the richest 1% and they maintain that control by lobbying the Government and through campaign contributions – indeed, in the last election President Obama garnered more donations from banks than his opponent, Senator McCain. Wall Street not only knows which of their own products are toxic and to bet against (mentioning Goldmans Sachs no names specifically), they also know which candidate is most likely to win and therefore is in most need of their convincing donations.
This is why the Occupy Wall Street campaign is happening, with people taking up residency on the streets of Lower Manhattan. They want to send a message that this divide between the top 1% and the rest of the population is not fair. Fox News and the right-wing blogosphere has gone out of its way to paint these people as incoherent anarchists who want to destroy capitalism and move towards European Socialism. Glenn Beck likens them to the Brown Shirts of the Nazi Party (to be fair, he does have Nazi Tourettes and thinks anything he disagrees with is “exactly what happened in 1930s Germany”). Or they have been described as hippies – the great unwashed – and have been charged with all of the stereotypes that come with that label. Maybe it is not the best way to go about initiating change, but what they are asking for is a return to the tax rates of the 1990s, under which the US economy was strong, and proper regulations on Wall Street banks – as opposed to the impotent Dodd-Frank bill, which has implemented very few regulations and has just been used by financial firms as a mechanism with which they can compete for new business. Good luck to the Occupy Wall Street protestors, they are exercising their Constitutionally protected right to petition the Government – when did all those who support the Tea Party and hold the Constitution with such reverence, forget the First Amendment?
Or are they just too busy misunderstanding the Second Amendment? (That, though, is an argument for another day)
Breaking Bad just ended its fourth season with an explosive finale – I am going to avoid mentioning any of the events that occurred so this will stay spoiler free – I just want to talk about how mad it made me. Being an avid fan of the show, I had high expectations for this season, but feared that it would not be able to live up to the standard set by the first three. What made me angry though, is how truly awesome this season’s episodes have been and how I now have to wait until next year for more. But that is not all – Breaking Bad’s qualities remind me of what disappoints so much about other TV shows: Vince Gilligan (the creator and primary writer) credits his characters with such intelligence and will never take an easy way out to maintain the status quo to prolong the life expectancy of the series.
In a previous piece, the schedule was such that it led to a comparison of Breaking Bad and Entourage – this time the show I watched immediately prior was Dexter – again it is an uneven matchup between the two. The Showtime series about a serial killer was fantastic to watch in the first season, but success was, in the end, its downfall. Since it became popular, the creators and network understandably want to prolong the run of the show – but this results in never changing the formula and taking no risks with character or plot development. The supporting cast in Dexter are only there to give some respite to Michael C. Hall in his portrayal of the title anti-hero – in Breaking Bad, those who first appeared to be light relief end up being complex characters and major players in the storyline (such as Hank or Saul).
If you examine the synopsis of the series without seeing any episodes, you would expect Bryan Cranston’s Walter White to be a more likeable character than Hall’s Dexter: the former, a chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer starts cooking meth to provide for his family before his inevitable death; the latter, a serial killer who kills other serial killers. But the writers go out of their way to make Dexter someone the audience can get behind, whereas there are no such considerations for the protagonist in Breaking Bad. We all know what Walter has done and at this point he is a fairly unscrupulous guy, yet somehow we’re still rooting for him.
So, Breaking Bad has got me mad, for being so damn good – and soon it will end forever- which is how it should be, but why can’t other shows match its standards? Why has the only series that is better – The Wire, of course – also ended and thus I have no new episodes to anticipate? I have to accept the timely end of these shows- as they peak. If they petered out, like so many once-great shows (can you say The West Wing or 24), or if there was talk of a movie, or a new season (a la Arrested Development) their integrity would be compromised. Breaking Bad is so well written, well acted, superbly scored and keeps me guessing in all the right ways – I’m already missing it.
If you are going to predict sporting events, you either need to get them spot on, or completely wrong – there is no fun in being as accurate as a coin toss and getting 50% right- as I have been thus far in my NFL picks (32 and 32 against the spread going into Week 5). Luckily, I was nowhere near being average with my picks for the divisional series of the MLB playoffs. As you can see here, I made the following prognostications:
Phillies over Cardinals in 3 – Actual Result – Cardinals in 5
Diamondbacks over Brewers in 5 – Actual Result – Brewers in 5
Rays over Rangers in 5 – Actual Result – Rangers in 4
Yankees over Tigers in 4 – Actual Result – Tigers in 5
A big OH for four, making me about as useful as A-Rod in October, and 39% less accurate than Punxsutawney Phil . One small caveat, I did state in the preview for the Yankees/Tigers series that my head was saying Detroit but my heart was picking
New York. I could also try and fall back on the pre-season predictions of virtually all of the major baseball writers who projected a World Series between the Phillies and the Red Sox – the former falling at the first hurdle in October, the latter suffering the biggest collapse in baseball history. (Note that every single pundit picked at least one of Philadelphia or Boston to make the World Series, if not both) But I digress, I could not have been more wrong, so now it is time to let you know who will miss out on making the World Series when they are cursed by my predictions.
Detroit Tigers vs Texas Rangers (Rangers have home-field advantage)
This really is a hard one to call, the two teams regular season records were separated by a single game – the Rangers winning 96 to the Tigers 95 – but Detroit did win 6 out of the 9 times they played against each other this year. Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander is without doubt the best player in this series and, as manager Jim Leyland held off bringing him in to game 5 against the Yankees, he will be available to potentially pitch three times against Texas. Unlike last year, when they had Cliff Lee to take them all the way to the World Series, the Rangers do not have an ace pitcher this year. What they do have is a balanced lineup and have been playing consistently well all year – plus they took care of the rampant Tampa Bay Rays in their ALDS matchup. In the Tigers favour, their closer, Jose Valverde, has not blown a save all season and the team has not lost a game in which they have led after the 7th inning all season – with Joaquin Benoit as the setup man in the 8th before Valverde takes over to finish the job. Because of this ability to shorten the game by 6 outs , I’m picking Detroit to make their first World Series since 2006 – when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 5.
Prediction – Detroit in 6
St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers (Brewers have home-field advantange)
On August 26th, the Cardinals were 10.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the battle for the National League Wild Card – now they are four wins away from returning to the World Series, 5 years after they last won it all. In Pujols, Berkman and Holliday, St. Louis has a formidable middle of the order that will be difficult for the Milwaukee pitchers to navigate. Their hero in the deciding game against the Phillies, Chris Carpenter – who pitched a complete game shutout for the win – will not be available until Game 3 this time around, meaning Jamie Garcia (13-7, 3.56 ERA during the regular season) will probably get the ball for the series opener. The Brewers also used their number 1 starter, Yovani Gallardo, in the series clincher against the Diamondbacks on Friday night, so it will fall to Zack Greinke to try to get Milwaukee off to a winning start at home. In Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers also have formidable 3-4 hitters and this matchup may come down to who takes care of business in front of their own fans. After knocking out the Phillies – who had a starting pitching staff including Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, not to mention the best regular season record in all of baseball this year – I cannot pick against the Cardinals.
There are no Premiership game this weekend, as there is a break for International fixtures, so instead of the usual review/preview, I wanted to address something that has come to the fore this week. In the analysis of last Sunday’s North London Derby, one theme has been discussed more than any other, the chanting that happened between the two sets of fans. Tottenham’s win over their arch-rivals, despite having not played as well as they can, has been overshadowed by a discussion about the unacceptable nature of the chants that came from the stands during the game, with all of the coverage condemning both sides equally for what was sung:
There’s only one Arsene Wenger
There’s only one Arsene Wenger
With a packet of sweets and a cheeky smile
Wenger is a fucking pedophile
And to the Arsenal manager every time he stood up, until he retook his seat:
Sit down you pedophile, sit down you pedophile
It should have been you
It should have been you
Killed in Angola
It should have been you
I understand that I could be seen as having a bias here, being a Spurs fan, but I would not blindly accept songs that are in any way racist, homophobic or involve tragic events. During the Champions League games against Real Madrid last year, the Spurs fans directed this to their now striker:
His father washes elephants
His mother is a whore, Adebayor
This is not something I would have ever sung and would not defend, it is obviously offensive, racist and involves a personal slur against the guy’s mother – at their best, chants are tribal, provide a group identity for the fans, and are sometimes witty, this was none of these, just hateful.
Perhaps the Wenger chants can be described in the same light, but there is actually a footballing reason that these songs started. The Arsenal manager pursued an aggressive youth recruitment policy when he was new to the club, which culminated in him signing 15 year old Jermaine Pennant from Notts County for £2m in 1999. In contrast, the Arsenal fans song was relating to this incident last year, when gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Togo national team in Angola, 3 of the party died including someone sitting two rows in front of Adebayor.
What bothers me most is the hypocrisy of the coverage – whilst Spurs fans have been singing the songs about Wenger in every derby game for more than 10 years, they are only mentioned now that the Arsenal supporters sang something even worse. On Grantland this week, Chris Ryan’s recap talked about how all he could think about was the chanting and how distasteful it was from fans of both clubs, moments after he eulogised the 3-3 game last season – a match at which those same Wenger chants were sung as always. Also, they are not based on anything real – if Spurs fans actually thought the Arsenal manager was a pedophile they would want him to be sent to jail, not simply to sit down.
I am confident most Arsenal fans are right-minded enough to realise that singing about a tragic incident is way beyond the line and would not join in with such songs anyway. There is plenty of good rivalry between the two clubs without needing to resort to celebrating murder, and this goes for fans of all teams. Manchester City sing about the Munich Air disaster, which took the lives of 23 people, including 8 Manchester United players, in 1958. Numerous chants are directed towards Tottenham fans relating to the holocaust, due to the club having a traditionally Jewish fan base, the worst of these being opposition supporters hissing – alluding to the gas chambers that the Nazis used to murder 6 million people during World War II. I have heard this in a few different grounds, but the most surprising was West Bromwich Albion – a club from the Midlands who Spurs have no natural rivalry with and very little recent history of even playing against.
While I would never want to eliminate the chanting – a great part of football, particularly in Britain – there needs to be a line drawn between what is acceptable and what is not. Just because you pay to enter a stadium, it does not give you the right to be racist, homophobic or down right evil. Perhaps it is time for the Wenger chants to be stopped also, the original reasoning having been long forgotten by many. There is plenty of material available to sing at any club without needing to rely on these vehicles of hate – a few examples us Spurs fans have sung in recent years:
To Chelsea fans – a club who are now rich but in the late 1980s got only 8,000 people to their home games:
Where were you when you were shit?
To Arsenal fans – who fail to generate much noise at home:
In church, it’s just like being in church
To Manchester United fans – many of whom live in Kent, not Manchester, at White Hart Lane
Home in ten minutes, you’ll be home in ten minutes
And to Sol Campbell, who defected to Arsenal in 2001 and who has been the subject of so many hateful, homophobic songs (even though he is, in fact, not gay, as if that matters) – but this song, to the tune of She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes, celebrated his replacement, Ledley King:
You can stick Sol Campbell up your arse
You can stick Sol Campbell up your arse
You can stick Sol Campbell, stick Sol Campbell
Stick Sol Campbell up your arse
Singing we’ve got Ledley at the back
Singing we’ve got Ledley at the back
Singing we’ve got Ledley, we’ve got Ledley
We’ve got Ledley at the back.
Admittedly, none of these lyrics are particularly clever, nor are they appropriate for fans of all age, but they are fairly innocuous and refer to football-related happenings, not murder or hate. The best chants are obviously the ones that are good-natured and celebrate your own club, like this.
Last week in the NFL, the Cowboys gave away another late lead, to lose a game they had seemed destined to win. Having lost to the Jets in week 1 after a Romo fumble and a blocked punt, this time the Cowboys literally threw away a seventeen point lead, their quarterback throwing three interceptions – two of which were returned by the Lions for touchdowns. The Eagles also were victims of a comeback, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 24-23, dropping Philadelphia to 1-3 for the season. Elsewhere, the Patriots bounced back from their defeat to the Bills in Week 3 to beat the Raiders in Oakland; the Packers were powered by four throwing touchdowns from Rodgers, who added two more with his feet, in their 49-23 demolition of the Denver Broncos; the Ravens thrashed the Jets 34-17, in a game in which neither quarterback, Sanchez nor Flacco, distinguished themselves. The Giants and the Redskins both won, leaving the two tied atop the NFC East with records of 3-1; Washington beat the St. Louis Rams, who remain winless alongside the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts, who have still not been able to cope with the loss of their quarterback and leader, Peyton Manning.
Week 5 is the first to include bye weeks, so this round gives a rest to Cleveland, Dallas, St. Louis, Miami, Washington and Baltimore. For teams that are playing, NFC North rivals the Bears and Lions play each other in Monday Night Football in Detroit; the Packers travel to Atlanta to face a Falcons team they defeated in the playoffs in convincing fashion last January; . In another rematch from January’s postseason, the Jets and Patriots meet up again in Boston, Tom Brady looking to gain revenge for New England’s defeat.
Last week 8-8, season 32-32 – this week I’ll provide a reason for each pick
Home teams in bold
Bills + 2.5 over Eagles – because Buffalo is 3-1, Philadelphia 1-3 and the line is just wrong
Bengals +2.5 over Jaguars – because Cincy has a good defence and I do not think Jacksonville will win the game, let alone cover
Titans +7.5 over Steelers – because I do no see Pittsburgh covering when their QB is injured and they have been unconvincing thus far
Chiefs +2.5 over Colts – simply taking the points – Kansas City has looked much improved in the last two weeks, and Indy are still winless.
Raiders +6.5 over Texans – Houston has not played particularly well thus far and yet are 3-1, meanwhile Oakland has lost to New England and a tough one in Buffalo, but I can see them at least covering this spread.
Vikings -2.5 over Cardinals – because the coin came up tails – I could not pick between these two woeful teams.
Saints -5.5 over Panthers – New Orleans has been quietly putting together good results since their opening day loss to the Packers. They’ll continue that run here.
Giants -9.5 over Seahawks – I do not think the Giants can cover this spread, yet I do not think that Tavaris Jackson can keep Seattle this close…changed my mind several times but decided that the NFC West is so bad, I had to take New York.
49ers -1.5 over Buccaneers – because although I do not trust Alex Smith, despite him leading San Francisco to last week’s win over the Eagles, Tampa Bay played Monday night on the East Coast and have a short week before the West Coast game on Sunday.
Chargers -4.5 over Broncos – I would have taken San Diego at 9.5 let alone -4.5
Patriots -9.5 over Jets – because Brady will be out for revenge, and will doubtlessly get it, as well as the Jets looking very ropey in their last two games.
Packers -5.5 over Falcons – because Green Bay is the best team in the league, and I’m biased.
Bears +5.5 over Lions – I think this will be a close game, so taking the points.
Bottom 9th – Granderson up to lead off the inning, and he fouls the first pitch off; takes a ball outside to even the count at 1-1 and another low to move ahead 2-1. A called strike makes it 2-2 – I’m not sure I have been this nervous with a Tigers pitcher on
the mound in the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium since Billy Chapel’s perfect game…meanwhile Granderson flies out and the Yankees have 2 outs left to save their season. Cano swings at the first pitch, but the ball safely lands in Austin Jackson’s glove and we have 2 down. Alex Rodriguez is the batter faced with keeping the season alive and he is quickly down 0-2 and it’s down to the final strike. He swings and misses and that’s it, the Tigers win and will face the Rangers in the ALCS. The Yankees season ends earlier than hoped for – and only 8 days later than Boston’s.
So the Yankees season comes down to this, the bottom of the 9th in Game 5 of the ALCS, down 1 run. I am trying to invoke the spirit of 2001, when they came back from 2 runs down, 2 outs in the 9th, in back-to-back games of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Top 9th – The greatest closer in baseball history is in for a non-close situation, Mariano Rivera, who needs 5 pitches to get through a perfect 9th. In the bottom of the inning the Yankees have Granderson, Cano and Rodriguez due up to face Detroit closer Valverde, who has been perfect this season, converting all of 49 of his save opportunities
Bottom 7th – This season, the Detroit Tigers were 79-0 in games they led after the 7th inning…bollocks. The TBS commentator points out this could be Jorge Posada’s last at bat as a Yankee – hopefully he will have plenty more in the ALCS and World Series to come though. In a rare show of speed, he nearly beats out an infield grounder, but he does not so there is one out. Russell Martin is up next, who has looked very uncomfortable at the plate tonight, this series, and basically since April when he was crushing the ball. He swings at pitch that is down low and way outside to fall behind 0-2, before finally showing some patience to get it all the way back to a full count – but then strikes out looking – backing up a text I just sent to a fellow Yankees fan that next season Jesus Montero should be the full time catcher. Gardner then hits one in the gap to left field for a two out single – on the first pitch to Jeter, the runner takes off from first but the Yankees captain crushes the ball, it goes high, far and…is caught at the wall to end the inning. We head to the 9th; Detroit 3 New York 2
David Robertson is in to pitch the 8th inning for the Yankees, their 6th pitcher of the night. Robertson gets Cabrera to strike out and then retires Martinez on a pop-up to the catcher and Brandon Inge on a ground-out to shortstop – inning over.
Swisher is 3-11 lifetime against Benoit, but all 3 of those hits have been home runs, and all have come in his last 6 at bats against the Tigers’ pitcher. Great eye from Nick Swisher to leave a pitch just outside, to even the count at 2-2 – but then chases one high and outside and he strikes out to end the inning.
Cano taps one back to the mound, but a kind bounce takes it away from Benoit and the bases are loaded with Alex Rodriguez coming up next. The tension is getting to everyone, Detroit manager Jim Leyland is shown popping some sunflower seeds in to chew on – when did they stop him chain smoking in the dugout? After much delaying, Benoit gets around to throwing some pitches, and he gets ahead of Mr. April 1-2, who then strikes out swinging. Teixeira watches five straight pitches out of the zone, the fourth was called a strike erroneously, but that’s enough to walk and force in a run. Detroit 3 New York 2 – bases still loaded – Swisher up.
Bottom 7th – the start of the inning is delayed as Tigers’ left fielder Delmon Young is forced to leave with an injury, he is replaced by Ryan Rayburn. Gardner leads off for the Yankees, who have 9 outs left to try and turn this around and force a rematch of last season’s ALCS versus Detroit. Scherzer is all over the place and yet works back from a 3-0 count to strike out Gardner – the Yankees left fielder doing that frustrating thing of not swinging at the 3-0 pitch even when it is a fastball down the middle. Jeter is up next, 0-3 tonight but he breaks out of that with an infield single – forcing Detroit manager to pull Scherzer for setup man Joaquin Benoit with Curtis Granderson on deck. During the commerical break we are reminded how awesome guacamole, and by extension avocados, are. We are then forced to watch new pitcher remove a BandAid from his cheek, apparently at the request of Yankees manager Joe Giradi. The reasoning behind him asking for it to be taken off may be questionable, but the decision by TBS to show it being pulled off in close-up and high definition, is completely indefensible. When play resumes, Granderson singles to right and the Yankees have two on with just one out.
Soriano works a 1-2-3 inning in the 7th, meanwhile Suman asks if I agree with ESPN’s gamecast which suggests the Tigers have a 69% chance of winning from this point. If 2001 taught me anything in post-season baseball, it is never count out the Yankees until the final out.
After a brief adjournment, in the shape of me putting my four-month old to bed, the sixth inning is uneventful with neither side adding to their run totals. Soriano now pitching for the Yankees, Scherzer for the Tigers
Bottom 5th – The Tigers have brought in Brandon Inge at third base, Don Kelly moving to right field to replace Magglio Ordonez – a defensively minded move. Jeter grounds out for the first out of the inning, followed quickly by Granderson who flies out to left. Up next is Robinson Cano who hits one high, it is far, it is…GONE! Home Run New York Yankees and they are on the board, Detroit 3 New York 1. A-Rod grounds out to end the inning
Top 5th – As predicted (see 9:12pm) CC is in to pitch in the 5th inning, but does not start well and gives up a full count double to
leadoff hitter Austin Jackson. Kelly then makes Sabbathia work before striking out and then Delmon Young follows suit, two away. The Yankees then intentionally walk Miguel Cabrera, preferring to face Victor Martinez instead. The strategy backfires though as Martinez hits a single which centre fielder Curtis Granderson bobbles, allowing Jackson to score easily from second base: Detroit 3 New York 0. CC strikes out Ordonez to end the inning, but the Yankees really need to put some runs on the board in the bottom half of this inning.
Bottom 4th – Alex Rodriguez – just 2-13 in this series – works a leadoff walk to start the inning, followed by Tex flying out. Swisher then hits a single to give the Yankees 2 runners on with 1 out, with Jorge Posada coming to the plate. The long serving Yankees catcher turned DH makes Fister work before smacking a single to centre to load the bases. Still just one out and Russell Martin is up next – who pops up for the second out. Brett Gardner now has the responsibility of making this rally count for something, the bases still loaded but two men down. Gardner works the count to 3-2, fouls one back before popping out to third base – it remains Detroit 2 New York 0
Avila hits a single to right off Logan’s first pitch to give the Tigers two men on with just one out in the fourth inning. Supposed left-handed specialist Boone Logan then gets right handed Peralta to fly out to Swisher in right field, before striking out the switch-hitting Santiago.
Top 4th – Jas asks if we are likely to see CC tonight (again you can post comments below, or e-mail email@example.com) – if it stays close I expect either the 5th of 6th inning would be made for the big man – with the 7th, 8th and 9th likely to be the tried and tested formula of Soriano, Robertson and Rivera. For now, Phil Hughes is still on the mound and he gets Victor Martinez to pop up to catcher Russell Martin before Ordonez hits a single to right. Giradi has seen enough and calls for lefty specialist Boone Logan to come in to face Avila, Phil Hughes trudges off – his night, and possibly season, finished
…Granderson walks on a 3-2 pitch, giving Robinson Cano an opportunity with two runners on and two outs. Cano fouls back a couple of pitches on a 2-2 count, while TBS shows us Spike Lee screaming his encouragement from the stands, but the second baseman ends up flying out to centre.
Bottom 3rd – Russell Martin leads off the inning, but grounds out to third baseman Don Kelly, followed by Brett Gardner hitting an 0-2 pitch to centre field for a single. Fister holds Gardner close at first and at the same time strikes out Derek Jeter for the second out. Could really use a home run from Curtis Granderson right now who led the Yankees with 41 in the regular season…
Top 3rd – the shortest leash for Nova – Hughes is in to pitch the top of the 3rd inning for New York. The man YES play-by-play guy, Michael Kay, insists on calling Phil Yooose – strikes out Jackson and Kelly before giving up a long single to Delmon Young which bounces off the right field wall, but the next batter, Miguel Cabrera, grounds out to shortstop Derek Jeter and the inning is over.
Bottom 2nd – Alex Rodriguez is called out on strikes on a pitch that looks outside, but TBS’s graphic shows it’s right on the corner. Mark Teixeira is up next and smacks a ground rule double to deep right, giving the Yankees their first hit of the night, but that is followed by Swisher grounding out to short to leave the Yankees with two outs. Jorge Posada, who coming into tonight’s game is hitting .400 in this series with 4 walks and was also hit by a pitch, strikes out looking to end the inning.
Top 2nd – The commentators tell us that Nova didn’t give up a home run in the first inning during the regular season…which I guess is meant to make us Yankees fans feel better that he gave up 2 tonight? I’m not sure how many doubles he gave up in the second, but Ordonez, who’d fought off several pitches, hits one to left field. The Yankees already have Phil Hughes getting ready in the bullpen – Nova understandably on a very short leash in this win-or-go-home game. Avila grounds out to second base, advancing the runner to third with only one out. Jhonny Peralta is up next, a man who does not even know how to spell his own first name, and he grounds out to Alex Rodriguez at third, who can hold Ordonez before throwing to Teixeira for the out at first, two away. Ramon Santiago, Detroit’s second baseman works the count full to 3-2, fights off a fastball away before striking out on a fastball inside. Good work from Nova to survive the leadoff double – still Tigers up 2-0
Bottom 1st – Jeter hits a sharp ball down the first base line but is robbed of a double by an athletic play by Miguel Cabrera who gets to the bag before the Yankees captain for the first out. Granderson strikes out on three pitches, followed by Cano grounding out to short – three up, three down for New York.
Top 1st – Nova gets former Yankee Austin Jackson to strike out swinging, but then gives up back to back home runs to Don Kelly and Delmon Young…this does not look good. Cabrera strikes out followed by Victor Martinez grounding out to Robinson Cano to end the inning, but the damage has been done. Detroit 2 New York 0
Game time! My accompanying beer of choice for the night: Brooklyn Lager
Two things – this page will not auto-refresh, so you’ll need to hit F5 or reload to get updates – and answer tonight’s poll question – who wins?
1. CF A. Jackson
2. 3B D. Kelly
3. LF D. Young
4. 1B M. Cabrera
5. DH V. Martinez
6. RF M. Ordonez
7. C A. Avila
8. SS J. Peralta
9. 2B R. Santiago
Pitcher – D. Fister
1. SS D. Jeter
2. CF C. Granderson
3. 2B R. Cano
4. 3B A. Rodriguez
5. 1B M. Teixeira
6. RF N. Swisher
7. DH J. Posada
8. C R. Martin
9. LF B. Gardner
Pitcher – I. Nova
I’ll be covering the crucial winner-takes-all game 5 of the ALDS between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees – first pitch is scheduled for 8pm ET tonight. If you have a comment or question relating to the game, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
The pitching matchup tonight is a repeat of the non-starters of game 1: Ivan Nova and Doug Fister came in as relief pitchers in
the second inning for CC Sabbathia and Justin Verlander respectively, after the series opener had a rain delay of 23 hours. Nova had a great second half to the year, despite having been briefly sent back down to the minor leagues in July, and has become their de facto ace, with CC having struggled since the end of August. Meanwhile, Fister was with Seattle until a mid-season trade rescued him from there – his 3-12 record improved to 11-13 after his move to the Tigers. An ERA (Earned Run Average) of under 3 shows that his problem was run support with the Mariners, rather than his own performance, nevertheless Fister did lose his only start against the Yankees during the regular season, and took the loss in Game 1.