WHAT ARE THE ODDS?
Though it probably only contributes to even more coloring agents being needed to keep the gray out of Buck Showalter‘s thinning thatch of hair, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ journey to the World Series championship this year has its roots in something rookie manager Bob Brenly pulled the very first day of spring training.
Rather than take any pages out of his meticulously prepared predecessor Showalter’s book regarding running a ball club, Brenly discarded the entire manual, telling his troops to “play hard” and let the rules and regulations fall where they may. He followed his own advice.
While baseball generally rewards preparation, Brenly’s seat-of-the-pants style of managing proved remarkably refreshing throughout the playoffs. During the NLCS, for example, Brenly went against the percentages in a key situation by sending up left-handed Erubiel Durazo against Braves lefty Tom Glavine rather than use the more experienced right-handed pinch-hitting specialist Greg Colbrunn—and Durazo promptly hit the game-winning homer.
Not all of his hunches worked. A fully rested Curt Schilling might have been able to toss a complete game victory against the Yankees in Game Five, and then Randy Johnson could have won Game Six, and that would have been that. (Especially when one considers that both Brian Anderson and Miguel Batista pitched so well in their starts.) Bringing in Byung-Hyun Kim back in Game Five after his 61-pitch debacle in Game Four was also pretty gutsy—and, as it turned out, pretty dumb, too, though it did result in a clear repudiation of Tom Hanks‘s assertion in A League of Their Own that “there’s no crying in baseball.” And yes, asking the Big Unit to come out of the bullpen on no rest in Game Seven was about as wishing-well a move as we’ve seen since another famed improviser, Tommy Lasorda, asked hobbled Kirk Gibson to go hit against Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 Series. As Chuck Berry said, ” ‘C’est la vie,’ say the old folks, which goes to show you never call tell.” Guess only Buck’s hairdresser knows for sure.
IN DEFENSE OF THE ISLANDERS
When the inconsistent Rangers travel to Uniondale this week for their first meeting with the Islanders, you can expect the Broadway Blueshirts to be somewhat green with envy.
The rebuilt Isles began the week with the Eastern Conference’s best record. How have they done it? While much of the focus has been trained on the Isles’ new top centers, captain Mike Peca and Alexei Yashin, and the scoring exploits of Mark Parish, the Isles’ defense and goaltending can claim the league’s fewest goals against. New goalie Chris Osgood has gotten most of the credit for that, including October NHL Player of the Month honors. But another important newcomer has escaped attention: assistant coach Jacques Laperriere. A former Montreal All-Star defenseman with a bit of a mean streak, Laperriere spent 16 seasons as a Canadiens assistant coach, preaching a simple defensive strategy that denies opponents high-percentage shots and limits rebounds. It led to great protection for Patrick Roy and two Stanley Cups. Along the way Laperriere mentored future stars like Chris Chelios, Mathieu Schneider, Craig Ludwig, and Eric Desjardins and got the most out of some very average defenders. He later did the same for the Bruins. So it’s no accident that Isles blueliners Roman Hamrlik, Kenny Jonsson, and Adrian Aucoin have enjoyed impressive starts, that the Isles are among the league leaders in fewest shots against (the Rangers, by the way, have surrendered the most shots by far), and that Osgood leads all NHL goalies in stopping 93 percent of shots he’s faced. It’s still early, but the answer to hockey’s most recent frequently asked question—”Are the Islanders for real?”—appears to be “Yes.”
NOT GUILTY OF TRAVELING
Knicks point guard Charlie Ward may be a literal reader of God’s Word, but apparently his own words aren’t so definite. After Ward was quoted in The New York Times Magazine last season as saying that the Jews had killed Jesus, he promised Chicago-area rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, that he would visit Israel in an attempt to increase his sensitivity to Jewish concerns. But Ward’s trip appears to be off. After not returning Eckstein’s calls for a while this summer, Ward told him that he was studying with another rabbi. (Ward’s agent did not return repeated calls from the Voice.)
• The song censors were out in full force recently at Madison Square Garden, all in the name of September 11 sensitivity. During a recent Ranger game, for instance, the p.a. blared Prince‘s ’80s anthem “Let’s Go Crazy” until it reached the line “We’re all excited, but we don’t know why.” Cut off was the next line: “Maybe it’s ’cause we’re all gonna die.”
• Most plausible explanation for the Yanks’ World Series loss: Fox’s virtual ads ripped a hole in the fabric of space-time.
Contributors: Billy Altman, Stu Hackel, Peter Ephross, Brian Dunleavy, Neil DeMause Sports Editor: Ward Harkavy