Sports

A FATAL BLOW TO LIBERTY

Liberty guard Crystal Robinson didn't hesitate when asked to sum up her team's season in a word. "Grueling," she said. Then she added, "We were up and down, up and down, which is not usually our norm." And sometimes they were up and down within the same game, especially in Sunday's 61-59 OT loss to Charlotte that dashed the Liberty's hopes for a playoff berth.

It's the second time in the WNBA's seven years that New York (16-18) is not having a postseason. It wasn't just the loss of Becky Hammon to an ACL tear in early July that made the season so difficult. Teresa Weatherspoon's role shifted as the 37-year-old point guard saw her minutes diminishing, and the inexplicable doldrums of forward Tamika Whitmore left energy vacuums that Robinson and Vickie Johnson could not fill by themselves, though they tried mightily. (The team's fifth starter, Tari Phillips, stepped up often—she had 17 points and 13 rebounds on Sunday—but occupied an emotional universe of her own.) Then there was the calendar. From mid August until Sunday, the Liberty played nine games in 15 days, three of them right in a row.

"We set a record" playing those back-to-back-to-back contests, said coach Richie Adubato, wishing for a better best in the stat book. To make it next year, the Liberty will need more scorers, of course. Hammon should be back.

But who knows if Weatherspoon will. She has not uttered the R-word in front of reporters, but rumors are beginning to buzz. And if her mentor, Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore, really is lured out of retirement, no doubt he'd hire her as an assistant faster than you can . . . well, as fast as she used to be on the court. —Alisa Solomon


PITCHING A FIT

Guess the old adage about owners resembling their pets is true when it comes to Mike Mussina. The Yankee hurler went from AL Player of the Week (having thrown 17 shutout innings in his previous two starts) to the Orioles' bitch last Saturday, when he surrendered six earned runs to seal New York's 7-2 loss. The canine in question—not Moose, but the champion show dog he co-owns—is an Irish setter that often trains in the pitcher's home gym. ("I can't believe a dog is working out on my treadmill," Mussina observed last winter.)

Alas, despite numerous victories during the regular season, Ch. McCormick's Bard of Armagh failed to go all the way in 2003, having missed the deadline for the elite Westminster Kennel Club competition ("the World Series of dogs," as one handler put it). Let's hope his master doesn't meet the same fate.

Speaking of dogs, Jeff Weaver (8.61 ERA in his last four games) was finally relegated to the bullpen over the weekend, in favor of a newly blazing Jose Contreras. "I will be in the rotation from now until the end of time," Weaver rashly declared back in May, before he descended into an on-field shame spiral of glove-biting, arm-flailing, and grimacing worthy of long-gone Yank prospect Randy Keisler. (Weaver's particular specialty is mouthing "Fuck!" so emphatically after a runner scores that his lips can be read from any seat in the stadium.)

And it only gets worse for the spazzy starter: When reliever Gabe White comes off the DL—i.e., any day now—Weaver will likely be optioned to Triple-A Columbus. "I won't pitch in the minor leagues—that's crazy," the petulant beanpole snapped last week. The Yankees keeping Weaver around after this season, instead of trading him for a proper right fielder—now that would be crazy. —J.Y. Yeh


WE ARE THE WORLD

Did you know it's 4,925 miles from Shea Stadium to Athens, Greece? Or that the newt is Ireland's only indigenous reptile? Those were some of the countless factoids that flashed across Shea's video board during the Mets' annual slate of ethnic nights a couple of weeks ago. (In addition to Greek Night, there were Italian Night, Irish Night, Hispanic Night, and Jewish Day—Asian Night was canceled because of the blackout.)

The announcing of batting orders in Yiddish on Jewish Day drew a few appreciative laughs, but after a few "ethnic" games, the folk dancing in traditional costumes had a cookie-cutter feel to it. And while thousands of fans waving Colombian, Puerto Rican, and Dominican flags flocked down to the box seats for a concert, the acoustics weren't so hot. But the fans didn't seem to mind.

"We come to Irish Night every year," said tailgater Kim Cleary of Suffern. "It's become a family thing." The fact that the Mets themselves are pretty multicultural didn't hurt. A lot of Asian fans showed up for Jae Seo's start, even if it was Hispanic Night.

Buoyed by Mike Piazza's return, the games averaged more than 31,000 fans, eclipsing the Mets' season average, and the team went 5-0 during the week.

No wonder warm feelings flowed in all directions. On Hispanic Night, fan Anibal Torrenegra, a Colombian married to a Dominican woman, beamed with pride as he yelled "Dominica! Dominica!" after José Reyes knocked in a run. When Roger Cedeño's 29th birthday was announced a few innings later, the beleaguered Venezuelan outfielder received a rare cheer. —Peter Ephross

 
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