NFL: Week 4 Picks

5 undefeated teams remain as we head into week 4 of the NFL season.  I went 9-7 a week ago, bringing my season total to 26-22.

Bye Week: Philadelphia and Green Bay

Thursday Night Football

  • Dolphins @ Bengals: Miami barely squeaked by the Browns last week, while the Bengals were beat down by the defending champs at home.  The Dolphins got a big day from Jarvis Landry, but inconsistency continues to plague Ryan Tannehill, who threw a pick six in the win. Cincinnati got their running game going, but still lost to 1-2 for the first time in five years.  After two very good weeks, Andy Dalton couldn’t do much against the Broncos defense. I like the Bengals at home with another good rushing game to get their second win of the season. CINCINNATI WINS

Sunday Morning Football 

  • Colts @ Jaguars: London here they come! Indianapolis got their first win of the season last week, while Jacksonville is still looking for theirs.  Andrew Luck has the uncanny ability to turn a bad day into a big day passing the ball, but the Jaguars defense isn’t the problem so far, so he’ll need help.  Blake Bortles on the other hand, has been pretty awful for Jacksonville in his third year under center. So what happens this weekend across the pond? Give me a cleaner day from Luck to lift the Colts. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday 1PM Games

  • Bills @ Patriots: Three different quarterbacks have started for New England, but that hasn’t stopped the winning.  And as for the Bills, they got their first win over a team many think, myself included, are a playoff team destined for a deep run.  Both teams got big two-touchdown games out of their number 1 running backs, so look for another day of running the clock. The Patriots have to get through one more week without Tom Brady, and while they’ve done a great job doing so, and are very, very good at home, I’m taking the road team in this one. BUFFALO WINS
  • Titans @ Texans: It was a very bad week for Houston, who not only lost their Thursday game versus New England 27-0, they learned that JJ Watt re-injured his back and will be out the rest of the year.  Tennessee’s week wasn’t much better, as they scored just 10 points in their loss to Oakland. Both teams enter action having scored the same amount of points through 3 games, but of course that’s skewed with the Texans O-fer last weekend. Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have both thrown 4 interceptions so far this season, so whoever can limit mistakes has the edge. A Titans win puts them in a tie for the division early.  But I don’t think they get it, because I like the Texans skill position players better. HOUSTON WINS
  • Lions @ Bears: The Lions are 1-2, but haven’t struggled in the passing game, as Matthew Stafford has found a new weapon in Marvin Jones after Calvin Johnson called it a career in the off-season.   The silver lining there for the 0-3 Bears is that their defense has actually done okay against the pass so far this season.  Chicago got a pretty good game out of Brandon Hoyer, who finished 30-49 for 317 yards, though most of that came with the game out of hand already. Both teams have the ability to get the points in the air, and with two middling defenses, that shouldn’t be a problem.  So this game will be won in the trenches, and the edge there lies with the Lions. DETROIT WINS
  • Panthers @ Falcons: Carolina is another team I thought would have a great season, but has disappointed so far.  Thanks to the struggles of the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South, Atlanta finds themself atop the division early on in the season.  This dispite allowing 31, 28 and 32 points in their first three games.  The Falcons may not be getting sustained success in their ground game early, they are getting it when it counts.  Tevin Coleman has just 110 yards on the ground, but has 4 rushing touchdowns, including 3 on Sunday in New Orleans. Carolina entered action red-hot at home dating back to 2014, but we shut down by a red-hot Vikings defense a week ago.  I still believe in the Panthers defense, and as hot as Atlanta has been, I think Carolina gets the win on the road. CAROLINA WINS
  • Seahawks @ Jets: The good news for Jets fans? Ryan Fitzpatrick can only be better than he was a week ago. The bad news? He has to be a lot better against the top defense in the league. After scoring just 3 points against L.A. in week 2, the Seahawks exercised some demons putting up 37 against the Niners.  Russell Wilson was hobbled in the game, but still managed to leave with a nice lead.  Big games from Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin helped get the offense back on track.  New York can solace in the fact that they have had a pretty good run game all season, and while some of it came in garbage time, Seattle did allow the Niners to get over 130 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.  This shouldnt be as ugly for the Jets as it was last week, but it will still be a loss. SEATTLE WINS
  • Raiders @ Ravens: Baltimore finds itself among the undefeated teams heading into week 4, in large part thanks to their defense and a good day from kicker Justin Tucker.  The Ravens are second in total defense through 3 weeks of play.  Their opponents won their 2nd game by  forcing three turnovers, with a sack after entering week 3 having allowed the Saints and Falcons to walk all over them.  So based on defenses, Baltimore should have an easy win.  But I actually like Oakland’s offense a lot more, and as someone who thinks this is a playoff team, I’ll take the Raiders in the upset. OAKLAND WINS
  • Browns @ Redskins: Cleveland should’ve gotten their first win of the season in Miami a week ago, but an inability to stop the air attack, and three missed field goals left them at 0-3. They gave themselves a shot, but couldn’t take it.  Cody Kessler’s first career start wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good for Cleveland, though at this point, coming out healthy is huge for the Browns. Washington did get their first win, taking down the Giants on the road. After a couple lackluster offensive weeks, Kirk Cousins let it loose and got a number of big plays in the passing game to help get that first win and move back in the right direction to defend their NFC East title.  So can the Browns get their first win this week? Yes. Will they? I don’t think so. They stayed in last week thanks to mistakes by Tannehill, but Cousins won’t make those same mistakes. WASHINGTON WINS

Sunday 4/425PM Games

  • Broncos @ Buccaneers: The Superbowl Champs are showing no signs of slowing down as they look to start the season 4-0.  Denver got off to a slow start last week against the Bengals, but came on strong late thanks to a big day from rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.  Siemian threw four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter for the win.  Not to be outdone, the Broncos are a top flight defense that held down Andy Dalton and their rushing attack.  They’ve got another tough test when they take on Jameis Winston this weekend.  The Bucs 2nd year quarterback is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes so far with 8, though he has thrown six picks to.  It won’t be a blowout, none of Denver’s games really have been, but it will be another win for the Broncos. DENVER WINS
  • Rams @ Cardinals: I’m shocked at the start the Cardinals are having at just 1-2. Carson Palmer has had a bad TD-turnover ratio through 3 weeks.   Arizona isn’t getting quite out of David Johnson on the ground, while their defense is allowing the 5th most rushing yards per game.  This is as good a week as any to get back to what they want to do in all phases as they take on their division rival Rams, who find themselves tied atop the division at 2-1.  Los Angeles has rebounded nicely from a shutout on opening day, winning their last two games.  The Rams tend to play up or down to their opponents, evident by a 9-3 home win over Seattle and a 37-32 shootout on the road in Tampa Bay.  Going off those results,  I’ll take the Cardinals at home in what should be a close game throughout between these two West foes. ARIZONA WINS
  • Cowboys @ Niners: Dallas couldn’t have asked for more from rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot through three weeks.  The Tony Romo-less Cowboys were a game-winning field-goal away from being 3-0 right now. Dez Bryant has a hairline fracture in his knee but is still expected to play this weekend.  San Francisco was manhandled in week 3, and still isn’t making a change back to Colin Kaepernick.  The biggest thing the Niners have going for them is Carlos Hyde has looked pretty good.  I like what the Caowboys have done this season, but I have a feeling about San Fran this week. It might be a bad feeling, but I’m rolling with it. SAN FRANCISCO WINS
  • Saints @ Chargers: It’s still early, but the Saints need to start picking up some wins quickly if they want to make the playoffs as I predicted they would as a wildcard team in the NFC.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  Drew Brees is already over a 1,000 yards passing, with an 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, though that one interception last week was a fourth quarter pick six for Brees.  New Orleans defense hasn’t been been able to stop anyone, as they’ve allowed the 2nd most total yards.  Worst at stopping the run, that’s where the Chargers will need to take advantage this week.  But without Danny Woodhead, San Diego needs Melvin Gordon to get going, so this is the perfect opportunity for that.  I like Philip Rivers, but I like Drew Brees more.  Give me the road team to get win number 1 this week. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Chiefs @ Steelers: What a defensive performance put on by the Chiefs this past week! Two defensive touchdowns and six interceptions helped Kansas City get the easy win over the Jets.  The offense wasn’t great, but they didn’t need to be with that showing on defense.  Alex Smith continued to show his game management skills, and why Travis Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league right now. They’ve got a desperate Steelers team thsi week, who didn’t score a touchdown in a week 3 beatdown by the Eagles.  After two very good weeks, DeAngelo Williams was stymied on the ground, so the rushing attack will gladly welcome back Le’Veon Bell from suspension this week. The biggest test for the Kansas City defense will be stopping Antonio Brown, but I don’t think it will matter much even if he does have a big day. KANSAS CITY WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Giants @ Vikings: This should be a battle of two unbeatens, but a late game collapse left the Giants at 2-1 heading into today.  Too many penalties, a couple late turnovers and allowing Washington to open up the field multiple times led to the home loss for New York.  They lost Shane Vereen to a triceps injury as well.  Eli Manning and company need to do more in the passing game, and they have the capability with three wide receivers.  The bad news for New York is that the Vikings are running on all cylinders right now.  Their defense has been relentless through three weeks, and despite losing starting QB Teddy Bridgewater before the season started, the offense has been very good.  Sam Bradford has come in and fit in better in two weeks then he’s done in the first few seasons of his career.  It’s going to be tough for the Giants on the road, but I like New York will figure things out and get back in the win column.  NEW YORK WINS

NFL: Week 3 Picks

We’ve reached week 3 of the season, and still have 8 undefeated and 8 winless teams. There have also been a lot of big injuries early that will have a big impact on week 3 and beyond.  As for my picks, I’m 18-14 through 2 weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking going into week 3.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo left with a shoulder injury for New England, who still managed to move to 2-0.  This was thanks in large part to Garoppolo’s 3 touchdown passes before his injury as well as a big performance from LeGarrett Blount in the run game. The Texans took down the Chiefs on the strength of their defense to move to 1-1, a stark difference from their 33-0 loss to Kansas City in the playoffs.  Without Garoppolo, I think the Texans will do enough to get another win to start off the week 3 action. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Ravens @ Jaguars: Baltimore got very lucky in week 2, as they overcame a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to improve to 2-0.  Cleveland never scored again, while Joe Flacco brought his team back with a 25-45, 302 yard performance.  Their opponents have been disappointing to me so far.  While I didn’t think the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs this season, I thought they’d be better than they’ve shown, starting 0-2 again after They crossed midfield only six times and committed three turnovers. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Both teams enter 1-1 after losing in week 2, and are looking to keep pace with the 2-0 Vikings.  The Packers lost their game in the 4th quarter, turning the ball over twice, while allowing Rodgers to be sacked 5 times. Detroit also lost their game in the 4th quarter when they were outscored 13-0 by the Titans, including a 93-yard game winning drive.  The Lions didn’t have a go to back in week 2, losing Ameer Abdullah to an injury.   So who gets back in the win column this week? I’ll take the Packers at home with a much-needed big day from Eddie Lacy. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington won the NFC East a year ago, but have opened up this season 0-2.  Struggles in the red zone and an inability to force turnovers meant a loss in a back-and-forth affair with Dallas last week. New York’s offense moved up and down the field pretty easily on Sunday, but also struggled in the redzone, and had too many turnovers in the 1st half.  But the defense and special teams stepped up and they moved to 2-0. So who takes this division matchup?  Give me the home team to get over their redzone struggles and take advantage of Eli Manning’s league leading completion percentage, which should be even better as the Giants receiving core dropped at least 5 balls in week 2. NEW YORK WINS
  • Browns @ Dolphins: For the 5th week in a row (dating back to last season), Cleveland will be starting a different QB.  Someone should tell them this isn’t baseball, there’s no starting rotation in football.  Even with the QB carousel, the Browns almost, and should have, pulled out their first win in week 2.  They were up 20-2 on the Ravens, thanks in big part to their ground attack, but fell late.  Miami isn’t in any better a position than their week 3 opponents, as they enter action at 0-2 as well.  The Dolphins were down big early to the Pats, but made a comeback after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury.  Cleveland will be in this game until the end because Miami has had issues stopping the run early.  But even of Isaiah Crowell goes big on the ground, I still think they pull out the win at home. MIAMI WINS
  • Vikings @ Panthers: Minnesota will now be without their starting QB and running back for the rest of the season after Adrian Peterson went down in their game on Sunday night. The Vikings defense looked stong against Aaron Rogers in week 2. As for Carolina, they rebounded offensively in week 2, but they still struggled a bit on defense, allowing the Niners to score 27.  They’ll be without their running back Jonathan Stewart, but were picked up by Fozzy Whittaker on the ground.  Despite the 27 points allowed, I like the Panthers chances of stopping Sam Bradford and the new Vikings weapon and league receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. CAROLINA WINS
  • Broncos @ Bengals: Andy Dalton has gotten off to a nice start this season, leading the league with 732 passing yards, so here’s a good test for the Broncos league leading defense.  CJ Anderson is having a good start to the season, and we’ve seen the Bengals give up the most rushing yards per game to start the season, so he should be able to help eat a lot of clock for Denver. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bills: Arizona rebounded from a tough week 1 loss by handily beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Cardinals led the league in total offense, while the Bills dropped to 0-2 despite putting up 31 points of their own in week 2. Buffalo has let their offensive coordinator go, so they really need this game.  Too bad I don’t think they’ll get it.  Look for a big game from running back Daniel Johnson. ARIZONA WINS
  • Raiders @ Titans: Oakland has not been able to stop anyone through two weeks, something I wasn’t expecting, allowing 70 points so far.  Tennessee has actually done a very nice job on defense.  Both teams are 1-1 heading into this game, but I still like the Raiders better.  The Titans offense hasn’t shown the big play ability the Raiders have, so Oakland should be able to hold them down better than they did with New Orleans and Atlanta. OAKLAND WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Rams @ Buccaneers: LA’s defense showed up in week 2, Tampa’s did not.  The difference between these two teams is the offense.  While the Bucs went from scoring 4 TDs to 1, I feel more confident about their offense than the Rams, who have scored just 9 points in two games.  The best chance the Rams have is if their defense can do what it did a week ago, and good game out of Todd Gurley. That being said, I’ll take the home team in this one. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: This is a big (albeit early) NFC West battle between two 1-1 teams.  San Francisco followed up a surprise week 1 win with a defensive breakdown against Carolina.  Seattle had one of their worst offensive games in this recent stretch of Superbowl quality teams, scoring just a field goal against the L.A. Rams. I can’t see the Seahawks being held down again, especially by the Niners.  Russell Wilson should be able to dominate in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Steelers @ Eagles:  I never thought this would be a game where both teams have a chance to move to 3-0, but here we are.  DeAngelo Williams has been huge for Pittsbrgh in the abscense of Le’Veon Bell, who is out one more week due to suspension. Philadelphia has gotten about as good as you can ever hope to from a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who hasn’t turned the ball over yet. It should be a good game, but I will go with the experience in this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jets @ Chiefs: Two teams I picked to make the playoffs in the AFC face off in Kansas City this weekend.  New York picked up their first win last week, thanks to the offense.  Off-season acquisition Matt Forte finished with 100 yards rushing, and three rushing touchdowns. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both finished with 100 receiving yards as well.  The Jets defense wasn’t as impressive as it was week 1.  The Chiefs hope that’s the case again this week, as they couldn’t get much of anything started against Houston. A lot went right for New York last week, and I can’t see them doing quite that well against Kansas City’s defense as they did against Buffalo.  If this were a home game for the Jets I might choose differently, but it’s a home game for the Chiefs, so I’ll go with them this week.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Colts: San Diego is 2-0, Indianapolis is 0-2.  I really thought that the Colts would be able to do better than they have on defense, but they haven’t. San Diego has looked very good on offense to start this season, Indy has been very up and down. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Cowboys: Chicago is 0-2 despite holding early leads in both week 1 and week 2.  And now they’ll be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler due to a thumb injury.   Their best hope to beat the Cowboys is to continue limiting the passing game, as the Bears rank 4th in the NFL allowing 224 yards a game.   As for Dallas, they picked up their first win thanks to another clean day from Dak Prescott and a big night on the ground. The Boys were already a better team than the Bears before the Cutler injury, so give me Dallas at home to move to 2-1. DALLAS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints: Atlanta picked up their first win against an impressive Raiders team in week 2, while New Orleans dropped to 0-2 after a game winning field goal by the Giants.  Atlanta hasn’t had any problems scoring this season, but their defense has struggled at times.  New Orleans’ defense was much better in week 2, forcing 3 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.  I picked the Saints to make the playoffs, so this is a huge game for them.  If they want to get their first win, they have to figure out how to run the ball.  The Falcons tend to be very inconsistent, so give me New Orleans at home in a shootout. NEW ORLEANS WINS

The Big E Comes with 4 Games Remaining

Andy Pettitte honored pre-game Wednesday September 25th.  Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter present him with a plaque at home plate.

Andy Pettitte honored pre-game Wednesday September 25th. Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter present him with a plaque at home plate.

Well, the 2013 Yankees gave it a run, but in the end, there were just too many teams to jump.

An 8-3 loss to Tampa was enough, but Cleveland beat Chicago, making it official.  The Yankees will miss the postseason for just the 2nd time in 19 years.

Their latest loss featured what will most likely be Phil Hughes’ last appearance in pinstripes.  Drafted in 2004 out of high school, Hughes has been a disappointment this season.  He had one good year as a starter, and was a key player in the bullpen in the 2009 World Series run.  But as he enters free agency, look for the 27-year-old to move on.

Joe Girardi had a quick hook with Hughes again, taking him out with no outs in the 3rd inning.  Hughes didn’t get help from his defense in the inning, but it meant a 14th loss none the less.  David Huff came in in relief and down just 3-2 in the 6th, let Tampa put up a 4 spot to put the game away.

Eduardo Nunez had a good game for the bombers, going 2-4 with his 3rd homer of the year.  He’s also played a much better 3rd base of late, after playing much of the year at short in the absence of Derek Jeter.

No Mariano Rivera, much to the chagrin of fans at the stadium.  It now means Thursday will be the closer’s final game at the stadium, followed by the final series of the year in Houston.

The final home-stand has been all about Rivera, but pregame the bombers took some time to honor Andy Pettitte, who will be hanging it up (again) when the season ends Sunday.

The race for the wild card now stands between the top seeded Rays, Indians and Rangers who trail Cleveland by just 1 game. The Orioles and Royals were also eliminated Wednesday.

So as I said earlier, this is just the 2nd time in 19 years the Yankees will not make an appearance in October, both under Girardi.  The last time it happened was his first season as manager, in 2008.  The following year of course the bombers won the world series.  But don’t expect that to happen again.  This team has a lot of holes to fill.  The lack of a postseason berth isn’t surprising given the large amount of injuries and inconsistent starting pitching that occurred.  More on that and other Yankees news in my season recap coming after the finale in Houston.

Saying Goodbye to Number 42

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

At 24, I haven’t seen too many down years for the New York Yankees.  I know how lucky I am for that.  And if you want to know why I’ve been blessed to see so many World Series wins, look no further than the last man to wear the number 42, Mariano Rivera.

The greatest closer in baseball is hanging them up after the season if over, which will be Sunday unless the bombers get a lot of help the final week of the regular season.  After 19 years in the majors, 23 as a member of the Yankees organization, Rivera is ready to leave the game he loves so much behind.  And it’s a game that loves him maybe even more right back.

After announcing his retirement prior to the start of the 2013 season, Major League Baseball vowed to send him out the right way.  And they held up that promise.  Every road team the Yankees visited this year, in his final game of the year there, those teams presented Rivera with gifts.  Gifts to say thank you for being such a class act and a legend among men.

Some of the more memorable gifts include a sandcastle from the Rays, playing off Rivera’s nickname the “Sandman.”   Or how about the chair presented by the Minnesota Twins made entirely of broken bats, something Mo’s cutter did to hundreds of hitters over the years?  In his last trip to Fenway, the arch rival Red Sox paid tribute by presenting Rivera the visitors bullpen rubber, and the 42 used on the Green Monster when he entered games.  Of all the gifts, I bet Rivera appreciated the check presented by each team to his foundation, because if there is one thing Mo loves more than baseball, it’s giving back to those around him.

Then there’s what the Yankees did for their beloved closer Sunday in the Bronx.  For years Rivera came out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” so why not have the band set up on the field and have number 42 walk out to it live? Add to that retiring his number in monument park, a check for $100k to his foundation, a crystal replica of his glove, another chair made of bats and a retired number for his wall at home, the Yankees made sure they told Mo thanks in the best way they knew how.  It all happened in front of a packed stadium crowd, as well as many of Rivera’s former teammates including the man who caught more than half his saves, Jorge Posada.

Why so much fan fare?  How could you not honor a man who has done nothing but produce consistent excellent play for nearly 2 decades, while being an upstanding ambassador of the game.  The 43-year-old is the Major League leader in saves, a 5-time World Series winner and is the only man to throw the final pitch of more than 2 World Series, doing so in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Jorge Posada by far has caught more of Rivera’s 652** career saves, being apart of 379 of them, with 22 catchers total on the receiving end of a final pitch from Mo.  Other numbers that scream first ballot Hall-of-Famer: Rivera’s 2.21 ERA, way less than a hit per inning, and a WHIP of 1.  71 homers in almost 1,283 innings, or 1 every 18.  44 saves in 2013 mark the most in the final season of a closer’s career, this despite blowing a career high 7 games this year.  With 5 games left, Rivera carries an 82-60 record into retirement.

But as good as Rivera was in the regular season, no man shined brighter in the postseason.  In the Yankees most recent World Series run in 09, of the 8 teams to make it to the playoffs, 7 blew saves, 1 did not.  That’s right, Rivera was perfect en route to winning their 27th championship.  According to Sports Illustrated,  Rivera’s postseason records include most games pitched (96), most saves (42) and lowest ERA (0.70, minimum 30 innings pitched).  Not too shabby for a guy who used an orange carton as a mitt as a kid in Panama.

What are some of personal favorite memories?  I will never forget him collapsing on the mound as Aaron Boone rounded the bases during his walk-off homer in the 2003 ALCS against Boston.  Or his 500th save against the Mets.  How about the one two break the record, passing Trevor Hoffman with 602 saves.  I think my favorite though was his first and only career RBI, a bases loaded walk of all things against the Mets.  The smile on his face when he went to first was priceless.

So as the season winds down (5 regular season games to go), the story of Mariano Rivera the baseball player comes to an end.  But while stars fade, legends never die.  Rivera will forever be in the annuls of Major League Baseball history.   As the last man to wear the number 42 (which was retired across baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson), Rivera’s number will reside in Monument Park for ever.  No man will ever fill his shoes.  The Yankees must move on, and it will be difficult.  You have to be encouraged by a guy like David Robertson, who can strikeout any one at any time, and more importantly has the mental makeup to be a closer.  Like Rivera, he doesn’t bad outings affect him, and rarely does he put back-to-back bad outings up.  He has the nickname “Houdini” for being known to create jams for himself, but he usually gets out of them.  Gone are the days of having a security blanket like Rivera, but that doesn’t mean whoever comes in next for New York, whether it’s Robertson or someone else, that they can’t be effective.  It just won’t be the Sandman.

I will always be grateful for being able to see Rivera pitch.  And I can’t even say in his prime, because he is still a  top flight pitcher.  I will tell my children and my grandchildren that I saw number 42 pitch.  He will forever be Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in Yankees and Major League history.

Thanks for the memories Mo.  Enjoy life after baseball.

Celebration Gives Way to a Bad Loss

On a perfect day in the Bronx, the Yankees organization, their fans and baseball said goodbye to number 42.  Mariano Rivera was honored pregame with everything from former teammates returning, his number retired in Monument Park, a $100k check for his foundation and a live rendition of “Enter Sandman” performed by Metallica as Rivera walked out from the pen.  It was a perfect way to say goodbye to a guy who’s been perfect on and off the field for New York for nearly two decades.

Not to be forgotten, Andy Pettitte took the mound for his final appearance in the Bronx.  The leagues oldest starter announced his retirement, for the 2nd time, on Thursday.  

Pettitte carried a no hitter though 5 innings, and held a 1-0 lead thanks to a Mark Reynolds solo homer.  Too bad it wasn’t enough.  The no-no was broken up in the 6th thanks to San Francisco’s rookie shortstop Ehire Adrianza.  It was his first career home run, in just his 7th at-bat. 

Pettitte would leave with one on and no outs to a rousing ovation in the 8th.  It was another perfect and well deserved moment.

Unfortunately for Pettitte and the Yankees, David Robertson came in and allowed the inherited runner to score, dropping Pettitte’s record to 10-11 on the year.  His final start will come in Houston.  Mariano would enter one final time.

But there want any magic left for the Yankees bats, and they fell 2-1.

For New York, it wasn’t how the day was supposed to end.  But more importantly, it’s a loss that really hurts New York’s slim playoff chances.

The Rays won again, so even if the Yankees can sweep them this week, they’ll still be a game back.  That’s because the Indians won again, so the bombers are 4 back with just 6 games to go.  The Royals jumped ahead of them again as well, with Texas still in between them and a playoff spot.

Record Slam Lifts Yankees

Bad legs and all, Alex Rodriguez still hit his record breaking 24th grand slam over the right field wall to break a 1-1 tie in the 7th en route to a 5-1 win over the San Francisco Giants,

The slam broke a tie with Lou Gehrig for the most in major league history. This record may have a metaphorical asterisk given Rodriguez’s steroid use and pending suspension, but as it stands, he stands alone atop the grand slam list. ARod had been slumping ever since straining his hammy then hurting his calf, but he still managed to come up big late for the bombers.

CC Sabathia looked like his old self, going 7-plus innings of 1-run baseball. The win lifts his record back over .500 to 14-13. David Robertson came on with one on and no outs and got out of the inning 1-2-3. Mariano Rivera came in to close it out, even though it wasn’t a save situation. The Sandman was just as effective as ever, retiring the side in just 8 pitches.

It was a must win game for many reasons, as there are now just 8 regular season games left. The Rays and Orioles are playing each other, a win guarantees New York of gaining on one of them, and maintaining a gap with the other.

Add to that the Indians are playing the leagues worst team in the Astros, and the Rangers and Royals are also playing each other. Cleveland was able to take advantage, moving into a wild cars spot thanks to losses by card holder Texas. Baltimore also lost. Tampa moved into the top wild card spot. So the yankees are 3 back of Cleveland, who they won the season series against. They’re also just a .5 game back of the o’s and royals. But the Yankees can only focus on themselves, and they did what they needed to do. Take care of your own business and hope for help, a lot of help.

Game 2 of the series pits Ivan Nova agains Ryan Vogelsong for the defending champs.

Andy Pettitte announced before the game that he will be retiring for a second time when the season comes to an end. He’s had a good season, but said it’s one that has left him “mentally and physically” exhausted, so he’s hanging them up for good. The oldest starter in the league will make his final home start Sunday, on Mariano Rivera Day. Seems only right since the two have combined for the most win-saves in MLB history. And his final start, if the yankees can’t find a way into the postseason, fittingly enough will come against the only other team he’s ever played for, the Houston Astros. 255 career wins and a major league record 19 postseason wins for Pettitte to go with 5 World Series wins and 8 appearances.

Running Out of Gas, Running Out of Time

You’ve heard this story before, Hiroki Kuroda gives the Yankees a chance to win, but the offense and pen can’t deliver in a 6-2 loss.  The problem this time is with 9 games left, there isn’t time for New York to work things out.

Kuroda struggled early, allowing 2 on in each of the first 3 innings, giving up 2 in the 3rd.  But he stuck with it, and gave the Bombers a chance to win the game, going 6 innings of 3 run ball.  But as it has happened often the last month, the bullpen wasn’t up to the task.  Joba Chamberlain,  whether he’s brought into close games or blowouts, the righty has struggled all year.  With two on and no outs, Chamberlain surrendered a 3-run homer to Adam Lind, blowing the game open.

The Yankees offense was stagnant once again, managing to get nothing but a Curtis Granderson solo shot off Jays starter Todd Redmond. 

It was the bombers 5th loss in their last 6 after a big series win over Baltimore, which put them just a game out of wild card.  But now another tough loss to the Jays could mean the end of the line for the 2013 season.  After starting the season 12-1 against their AL East foes, the Yankees are just 2-4 in their final 6 against Toronto.  Down 3.5 in the Wildcard, you can look at those 4 losses as being the difference.  Of course there are other games to point to, a blown sweep opportunity to Baltimore last month.  A sweep to the sox in Chicago.  4 losses to the Mets in June.  Yet somehow, with 9 to go, 3.5 with 3 to go against Tampa, they’re not mathematically out.  But there are 2 other teams between the and the Rays, so it would probably mean winning out and hoping the Orioles and Indians lose a lot.

Focus shifts back to the Bronx for what could be Mariano Rivera’s final 6 home games.  The closer will be honored Sunday before their finale with the Giants.  The hope is to make the last 9 count, force their way into a Wild Card, and give their first ballot hall-of-fame closer one more shot to do what he does best, perform in October.

CC Sabathia has had a down year, but he needs to put that behind him and give New York his best start of the year tonight.  The defending champion Giants are a shadow of the team they were last season, but they’re dangerous and want to play spoiler to finish their season on a high note.  They’ve got former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum going, and he always has the chance to put up a big performance.  

Making that’s worse is that the rays and orioles play each other this weekend, meaning any loss means dropping down further. The Yankees are the point where just winning a series isn’t good enough.  They have to look at each game as a must win.