Monday, October 29, 2007

The Browns Are Actually FUN Again

After slogging through year after year of boring, predictable and downright horrible football, my frustration level with the Cleveland Browns had just about reached the boiling point. As I would drag myself to the Stadium to attend their games week after week, I'd get the same feeling that I had when I was heading off to have dental work done.

That wasn't exactly the experience I was looking for when I shelled out money for season tickets year in and year out, but for some reason, I kept on writing the checks. Now I think I remember why. When done right, NFL football is a downright thrilling experience -- and for the first time in years, the Cleveland Browns are doing it right.

I'm not deluding myself into thinking this is a good football team. I've seen the defense play, so I'll leave that kind of hyperbole to the talk radio guys. But it is an extremely entertaining football team when it has the football, and what's more, it is a young team that fans have legitimate reasons to believe is going to get better with time.

A lot of people thought the Browns would have an interim head coach and a full blown a QB controversy raging by now. I was one of them, and after the team's horrendous performance against the Steelers in week one and the subsequent decision to trade the guy who'd won the QB job in training camp, I wouldn't have given you odds on the length of Phil Savage's remaining tenure in this town either.

Instead, the shake-up at the QB position appeared to be exactly what the doctor ordered, and has resulted in six weeks of the most explosive offensive display that we've seen in this city since the late 1980s, and by some measures, since the late 1960s. That being said, it isn't all sunshine on the offensive side of the ball. As the performance against the Rams proved, the team still has an uncanny ability to repeatedly commit penalties that leave them looking at 2nd or 3rd and long too many times. Braylon Edwards' antics with his helmet at the end of the 3rd Quarter also shows that the ghost of Dwayne Rudd is still hanging around, and that we should continue to expect various members of the team to periodically engage in conduct that suggests that they have somehow suffered severe brain damage.

While the offense is good and the play of the QB and receivers seems to get better every week, the defense is awful, and is ultimately going to be what keeps this team out of the playoffs this season. That point was really brought home yesterday, when the banged-up Rams, who are averaging less than 300 yards in offense per game, were able to put up almost 400 yards of total offense against the Browns. Most of it came through the air, particularly after Steven Jackson left the game in the second quarter.

Jackson's departure was particularly good news for the Browns, because as bad as they are against the pass, they may even be worse against the rush. There are a lot of reasons why Phil Savage may have decided to pass on signing Grady Jackson to bolster the run defense, but maybe the biggest thing that decision tells us is that the holes are so big and so numerous that he doesn't think there's much that can be done to improve that aspect of the defense this season.

Fortunately, the Browns defense stiffened at key times and forced some turnovers to keep the Rams from putting points on the board. Unfortunately, however, the team is going to face better offenses over the course of the next four weeks, especially when it travels to Pittsburgh and when the Texans come to town.

While I'm enjoying the Browns, the ineptitude of the defense and the inability to eliminate stupid mistakes on offense makes me very dubious of claims that this is a team headed for the playoffs this year. Check back with me in a month, though, because if the Browns manage to get through the next four weeks and still have a record above .500, then those playoff dreams may not be so crazy after all.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


This may just be the strangest play I've ever seen on a football field. It happened yesterday, in a Division III game between Trinity University and Milsaps College. Trinity was down, 24-22, with :02 left in the game. Sixty-one yards and 15 laterals later, they won the game 28-24. If you haven't seen it on Sportscenter, check it out:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Grady Jackson Is A Risk Worth Taking

The Atlanta Falcons' surprising decision to release veteran DT Grady Jackson has led to speculation that the Browns may have an interest in him. Jackson's advocates think he'd look mighty good in an orange helmet, and point to the fact that he led the NFL in tackles for loss last season, and that he already has 5 1/2 tackles for loss this year. Despite those numbers, other experienced Browns watchers suggest that Phil Savage has no interest in Grady Jackson.

Given the sorry state of the Browns defensive line overall, and Ted Washington's less than stellar performance at NT in particular, why not give Jackson a try? There are several reasons why the Browns might not want to sign Jackson. First of all, Atlanta may be a train wreck, but releasing a starting defensive linemen with statistics like Jackson's in the middle of the season definitely raises some warning flags that need to be checked out. I'd want to see the Browns do a lot of homework before signing Jackson under these circumstances, even if he didn't come with a lot of other baggage.

What "other baggage" am I talking about? Well, first there's the fact that Jackson is an enormous tub of goo with a reputation for being a talented but lazy player. He's listed at 362 lbs., but reportedly is closer to 400 lbs. With Jackson's obviously less than maniacal commitment to conditioning, it's probably no surprise that he's also got a history of injuries, including a chronically bad shoulder and dislocated knee suffered when playing for the Packers back in 2005.

Then there's the clubhouse cancer issue. Jackson has created distractions just about everywhere he's been in recent seasons. He feuded with his coaches in New Orleans, threatened a hold out in Green Bay a year after he signed his contract, and actually sued the Falcons last spring in an apparently successful ploy to extract more money from the club. Distractions like those are something the Browns definitely don't need.

Despite all of those issues, if he's healthy and motivated, Jackson's potentially a huge upgrade from what the Browns currently have at the NT position, and could help bolster one of the league's worst defenses against the rush. The Browns would be nuts to assume his contract (which pays him $1 million per year, runs through 2009 and includes roster bonuses of $2 million per year in 2008 and 2009), but if he clears waivers the team could do a lot worse than rolling the dice on Jackson for the remainder of the season.

If the Browns are serious about trying to make a run for the playoffs, they've got to do something to improve their run defense. Signing Grady Jackson right now may be their best chance to do that. Yes, Grady Jackson is a risk, but he's a risk worth taking.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's Choke Time Now!

The Indians choked in spectacular fashion this weekend. With only one game separating them from the World Series, the core of this team did exactly what they did two years ago during the last week of the regular season -- they laid down and died, too overwhelmed by the situation to perform in circumstances that were almost tailor made for them to succeed.

Nothing says "we have no heart" better than being outscored 30-5 in three straight ALCS games, particularly when you consider that the Indians had Cy Young candidates on the hill for two of those games. This team obviously has some talent, but until they find some heart, Ozzie Guillen's taunt will remain right on the money.

You choked, Tribe. Live with it. We have to.

Oh, and thanks for adding one more Cleveland joke to the nation's repertoire.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

You've really got to be shittin' me.

Paul Byrd was allegedly juicing. Nice timing, but Shapiro claims he was aware of the allegations.

So, now it's nut cutting time for the Tribe. Jake Westbrook faces the $100,000,000 man---Daisuke Matsuzaka, who's a question mark. Only C.C. has been as consistently bad as Dice-K in the playoffs. And Dice-K has really sucked. Of course, so had Schilling, but he dominated the Indians in Game 6.

Does anybody out there think Travis Hafner has one meaningful hit left in his bat? Shit, does anyone think Hafner will put a ball in play? He's simply killed the Tribe in the Boston series.
Well, now he has to stand up in Fenway. The cupboard is bare. It's not like Wedge can start someone else in that spot. The offense has to take charge because, unless Westbrook pitches spectacularly---and he's capable of it, the Tribe's gonna need a lot of runs. The bullpen, which had been a strength, is pretty beaten up.

What's all this mean? As Bette Davis once said, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

Keep Your Chin Up...

Because there's not a damn thing any of us can do to affect what happens tonight.

Sometimes a little fatalism goes a long way. I've heard that when the HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet missile during the Falklands War, the sailors on that sinking ship sang this little ditty from The Life of Brian to keep their spirits up while awaiting rescue:

I feel much better now, don't you? Oh yeah, and Go Tribe, or whatever.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Remain Calm! All Is Well!

Did you really think they'd hit Beckett? Me either. On the other hand, they're still up, three games to two, and they've proven during this post-season that they can win on the road -- and with all due respect to Boston fans, the environment they'll face at Fenway isn't as intimidating as what they faced at Yankee Stadium.

That being said, you can count me among those who say that Game 6 is a must win for the Indians. I don't like their odds in a Game 7 at Fenway Park. You just know that while Beckett probably won't start (although that's not guaranteed), he will be available, and he has a history of pitching very well on even two days' rest.

A couple of things about last night's game bother me. The first is the decision to send C.C. back out to face the top of the order in the 7th inning. He'd battled all night long against Pedroia, Youkilis, etc., and had just managed to work his way out of a bases loaded jam in the 5th inning. With C.C. already having thrown 106 pitches and all of the arms available in the pen, why send him back out to face those guys again?

What bothers me more than sending C.C. back out for the 7th, however, is the way the Tribe reacted to adversity last night. I'm specifically talking about the 8th inning comedy of errors. That was uncharacteristic of the way the Indians have played thus far in the postseason, but as I watched it, I got an uneasy feeling that the players may have felt that this was the shoe they'd been waiting to see drop over the past three games.

If my feelings about the Tribe's 8th inning funk aren't just the result of projecting my own Cleveland sports fan psychosis on to the Indians, then that worries me more than anything else. That's because for a young team facing an experienced playoff contender, confidence and swagger are big parts of the equation. If the Indians lose those, then they're in big trouble.

I don't want to get too gloomy here. The Indians have a job to do, and I expect them to do it. I'd still rather be where the Tribe is than where the Red Sox are, but the Indians need to keep doing the things that got them here. Good pitching, good defense, and timely hitting characterized the Indians performance in Games 2, 3 and 4. Those were lacking in Game 5, but the Indians need to find the confidence to put that game behind them and get back to work.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Offensive? I'll Show You Offensive

Well, here we go again with the Chief Wahoo thing. Okay, let's stipulate that the Chief is a racist stereotype and should go. Really, he should. But you know what else needs to go? The constant denigration of this city and the people who live here that's been going on for more than a generation, and that's caused a hell of a lot more damage than some stupid cartoon character ever did.

Cleveland's a joke, huh? Well, we've stopped laughing. It's time to go on the offensive.

Folks, you are jackasses, pure and simple. You nitwits focus on some dumb logo and make the people of Cleveland out to be bad guys because of their sentimental attachment to it. Yup, we're all racist rubes here in funny, dirty, run-down old Cleveland. We can't hold a candle to more enlightened cities like New York or Boston, who've always led the way when it comes to matters of race.

Never mind that the Cleveland Browns kicked everybody's asses for years largely because they were actively signing players on the basis of talent instead of skin color, or that the Cleveland Indians were the first American League team to have an African-American player, and the first MLB team to hire an African-American manager, or that the Cleveland Cavaliers were the first NBA team with an African-American CEO, or that Cleveland was the first major American city to elect an African-American mayor.

We never hear anything about any of that. Instead, we get the stupid logo thrown in our face. What kills me, of course, is that the Tribe's opponent in this series is the freaking poster child for racism in sports. I know we were all supposed to blame Boston's 80 year title drought on a charming fable that they like to call "The Curse of the Bambino." Of course, the real explanation has a lot less to do with Harry Frazee and Babe Ruth and a lot more to do with the Tom Yawkey and his aversion to black ballplayers, doesn't it?

You heard quite a bit about the Curse of the Bambino back in 2004, but I don't recall anyone taking the time to discuss the racism part of the story, although it was out there for all to see. People just preferred not to focus on it. Of course, that's not the case when the city in question is a benighted place like Cleveland, Ohio, where the media ignores all achievements and puts every shortcoming under a microscope.

Enjoy your moral orgasm, America. Then go piss up a rope.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Another Weird and Wonderful Night

This entire series seems dedicated to proving the truth of the proposition that "baseball is a funny game." If I'd said before the game that Sizemore, Cabrera, Hafner and Martinez would combine for a 2 for 16 performance at the plate, while their counterparts at the top of the Red Sox batting order would go 7 for 16 with three home runs, you probably wouldn't have given the Indians much of a chance. For that matter, neither would I.

Terry Francona gambled on Tim Wakefield last night, and for four innings, he looked like a genius. In fact, but for Wakefield's deflection of Cabrera's infield hit -- which may have prevented a double play-- the Sox might well have escaped the 5th trailing by only a run. That didn't happen. Instead, the Tribe broke the game open by scoring 7 runs, 4 of them coming after the second out.

I was one of the lucky ones who got to see last night's game in person. I don't know if they talked about it on television, but it was interesting to see the change in approach to Wakefield that Tribe batters took in the 5th inning. Cleveland hitters had been sitting back in the box and swinging from their heels, but in the 5th inning they moved up in the box and assumed a wider stance in order to give them a better shot at making contact with Wakefield's floater. That adjustment, together with Wakefield's sudden inability to get the ball down in the zone, allowed the Tribe to feast on the knuckleball that had frustrated them in prior at bats.

And then, just as suddenly as they had awakened, the Tribe's bats went back to sleep. The Indians got a total of nine hits last night, seven of them came in their 5th inning explosion. Aside from that, Wakefield and the Boston bullpen combined for a two hitter. Like I said, it's a funny game.

It's hard to say enough good things about Paul Byrd's performance last night. It was another smart, gutsy outing from a guy who nobody was entirely comfortable with going into the postseason, and it kept the Tribe in the game long enough for their offense to put the game out of reach. Okay, the game didn't seem quite that out of reach after he and Jensen Lewis combined to give up the back to back to back home runs to Youkilis, Ortiz, and Ramirez.

It's kind of a shame that after pitching so well to keep the Tribe in the game through five innings, Byrd may have become a victim of the Tribe's success. After all, he sat through a 35 minute bottom of the 5th, and this extended period of inactivity may have been the biggest factor in transforming him into a launching pad in the 6th inning.

After Byrd departed, the bullpen came in and, aside from Manny's home run, pretty much shut the Sox down with another stellar performance. Lewis gave up the dinger, but after that retired the Sox in order in the 6th and allowed only a single hit in the 7th. Then Betancourt came on and retired Youkilis, Ortiz and Ramirez in order in the 8th, and did the same thing to Lowell, Drew and Crisp in the 9th.

Now, the Indians find themselves in the unlikely position of being up 3-1 on the Red Sox, and with a chance to close out the series here in Cleveland. But to do that, they've got to figure out a way to get past Josh Beckett, who made them look ridiculous in Game 1. The Tribe is tantalizingly close to getting back to the World Series for the first time in a decade, but they know the Red Sox aren't going to roll over. After all, having their backs to the wall is nothing new to these guys, most of whom were there for the miraculous comeback against New York in 2004.

I like the Tribe's chances, but despite the 3-1 lead, this one isn't over yet. Not by a longshot. Remember, baseball is a funny game.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Textbook Win

That, my friends, is how you beat the Red Sox. Six and two-thirds innings of solid starting pitching, followed by two and one-third innings of nearly flawless relief. Throw in Kenny's dinger and a couple of RBIs from Cabrera and Hafner, and the Tribe not only wins, but we get a full night of sleep to boot. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Tonight it's going to be Wakefield against Byrd. USA Today has a detailed breakdown of tonight's pitching matchup, but the real story as far as the media is concerned is Terry Francona's decision to start Wakefield instead of Josh Beckett. That particular decision is being second guessed by everyone from The Sporting News to the Manchester, NH Union Leader.

You just know that Fox's insufferable duo will spend just about every moment of pregame airtime and entirely too much time during the game itself discussing the profound implications of Francona's decision to go with Wakefield. My guess is that if you were of a mind to, you could probably come up with a pretty good drinking game based on the number of Grady Little references the Antichrist throws out during these discussions -- you know, sort of baseball's answer to "Hi, Bob!".

Of course, Tribe fans know what these portents of doom mean for the Red Sox -- Tim Wakefield will be spectacular tonight, with his knuckle ball dancing like [insert bad Bill Livingston metaphor here]. That's just the way things work out for the Indians. That means that the Tribe needs another quality outing from Paul Byrd to keep them in the game. Oh, and a few more hits would be nice too, if it's not too much trouble.

The good news is that not only is Byrd coming off of a very solid outing in Game 4 of the ALDS, but he also pitched well in his only start against the Red Sox this season. Byrd allowed only one earned run in six innings of work and came away with the win in the Tribe's 8-4 victory over the Sox on May 30th. Byrd is 4-2 lifetime against the Red Sox, with an ERA of 4.19.

The Indians are in a position to grab Boston by the throat tonight and take control of this series. I've always thought that for the Tribe to win this thing, the series needed to go no longer than six games. There's no profound insight behind that assessment; I just don't like the prospect of playing the post-curse Sox in Fenway Park in a Game 7. A win tonight would give the Tribe a real shot at making sure that scenario doesn't play out.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This Game Worries Me

The Miami Dolphins are not a good football team right now, and the Cleveland Browns should -- and damn well better -- win their game against them this afternoon. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to worry about this game, because it provides the Browns with an opportunity to stub their toes pretty badly.

The Browns should win because the Dolphins have a terrible defense, have just lost their starting QB for the season and haven't exactly been setting the league on fire with their offense. The Browns better win because going into the bye week with a 3-3 record will be quite an accomplishment, and give them a lot of momentum going into what is a relatively easy schedule for the remainder of the season. In contrast, a loss to the lowly Dolphins will deservedly be regarded as yet another missed opportunity for this team. It will highlight the Browns shortcomings, and help turn the bye week into another fan and media feeding frenzy about all of the things that are wrong with the team.

Why am I worried about the prospect of playing a 0-5 team? Several reasons, actually. First, although the Dolphins defense has been terrible, there's one team in the AFC with a defensive unit that's statistically even worse. Guess who? Yup, the Browns have a worse defense than the Dolphins. You can look it up.

Besides, if you take a look at the Dolphins defense, it still has several marquee players, including Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Kellen Winslow's best friend, Joey Porter. It strikes me as a unit that is going to wake up sometime, and when it does, watch out. The Dolphins defense showed some signs of that last week, when it managed to hold the Texans to only 74 yards rushing. Part of that resurgence may be attributable to the return of Zach Thomas, who missed a couple of games with a concussion.

The Browns offense, on the other hand, may find itself a little shorthanded this week. Joe Jurevicius and Jamal Lewis are both questionable. Jurevicius is clutch in the red zone, and his absence is going to be noticeable if he can't go. If Lewis can't play or isn't 100%, the Browns may have an unexpectedly difficult time moving the ball on the ground against Miami. (Update: Lewis is out.)

Then there's Miami's record itself. Yes, the Dolphins are 0-5, but they are 12 points away from being 3-2. They've lost by a field goal to the Redskins, the Jets and the Texans. The Dolphins just aren't as bad as their record might indicate. Finally, there's the Cleo Lemon factor. He did a decent job in relief of Trent Green last week, and the Browns pass defense is so terrible that it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him have a big day.

In the end, I think that the Browns just have too many weapons for the Dolphins, even in their depleted state. I think Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow will have big days, and that Jason Wright will do well enough to give the Browns a running game if Lewis can't go. But make no mistake about it, this is a game that can go terribly wrong for the Browns, and there may be a lot at stake for the future of this season if it does.

Browns 28, Dolphins 20.

Game On

The only people in the world who could possibly be more astonished with the outcome of last night's game than Tribe fans are the Boston Red Sox.

After all, everybody said that if the Indians didn't get solid performances from C.C. and Fausto, they'd find themselves quickly on the way to elimination. The Sox clobbered Sabathia and the Indians on Friday night in such a convincing fashion that the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy was proclaiming not only the "inevitability" of the Red Sox march to the World Series, but their status as "America's Team."

As the Red Sox watched Fausto Carmona walk off the mound after facing a single batter in the fifth inning last night, they must have felt that Shaughnessy had it about right. Sure, they didn't have the lead, and the Tribe had already gotten to Schilling, but with Carmona gone after four innings, Boston batters no doubt smelled blood in the water. As it turned out, they didn't have to wait long to feed, as Carmona's replacement, the usually terrific Rafael Perez, became a launching pad.

After back-to-back homers by Manny and Mike Lowell gave the Sox the lead, Perez was finished, and the Tribe turned things over to Jensen Lewis, a pitcher who had given up three hits and two runs in 2/3rds of an inning in relief of Sabathia just the night before. By now, the Sox had to feel that they'd already seen this movie, and were ready to post another half dozen runs or so and be done with the Indians for the night, and maybe for the series.

I guess nobody told Lewis the script, however, because instead of rolling over for Boston, he steamrolled them. Lewis got Jason Varitek to hit into an inning-ending double play to put a stop to the Red Sox rally in the 5th, and then retired five straight batters before yielding to Rafael Betancourt with two out in the 7th. Lewis was followed by Betancourt, who picked up where Lewis left off. The only blot on Betancourt's evening was what turned out to be a harmless single by Dustin Pedroia with two down in the ninth.

The Indians appeared to be on their way to wasting these terrific performances by the bullpen. Although the Tribe did manage to get a run across to tie the game in the 6th, they couldn't come through on a chance to take the lead in the 9th, when Ryan Garko grounded out to Mike Lowell with runners on first and second.

If you're like me, you started to feel that familiar sense of doom in the 10th inning, when Wedge decided to replace Betancourt with -- God help us -- Tom Mastny. While a guy with an ERA of nearly 5.00 doesn't inspire a lot of confidence against a lineup like Boston's, all Mastny did was retire Ortiz, Martinez and Lowell in order in the bottom of the 10th.

Then, finally, the long absent Indians' bats erupted, with the spark being provided by Trot Nixon, whose sole contribution up to this point in the season has been to make the pie in the face an Indians' tradition. He made a slightly larger contribution than that last night, when he singled to drive home Grady Sizemore with what turned out to be the winning run, and sparked a seven run rally that provided the Tribe with enough of a cushion that I wasn't even worried when Joe Borowski entered the game in the bottom of the 11th.

Okay, that's a lie. I was still worried to see Borowski walk out to the mound in the 11th, but after more than five hours of baseball, I was a lot more sleepy than worried. So I was just praying that JoBo would let all of us go to bed. Inevitably, he gave up a hit to the first man he faced, and let the Red Sox get a runner in scoring position, but then Julio Lugo grounded into a double play, and it was lights out for Boston, and lights out for me.

So, after two games in which their two aces didn't get past the fifth inning, and after which their stud middle reliever sports an ERA for the series of 54, the Indians find themselves exactly where they want to be. As for the Boston Red Sox, whose inevitable march to the World Series seemed so certain just a night ago, well, they can still come to Cleveland and close things out with a sweep. The only trouble is, so can the Indians.

Game on, America's Team, game on. Welcome to Cleveland and Jacobs Field, home of Ray Chapman's ghost and 10 billion Canadian Soldiers. Enjoy your stay.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Better Kind of Bad

Over the past eight seasons, most of the Cleveland Browns' losses to the league's elite teams made you long for some kind of mercy rule. Sunday's game was different. Sure, the Browns made the kind of mistakes that you just can't expect to make against a team like New England and still be in the game, but they weren't pitiful.

I'm not looking to have a parade for the Browns or anything (although my pal Vinny may deserve one for nearly nailing the final score in his pre-game prediction), but not being pitiful against the Patriots is more important than it looks. It's possible for a bad team to string together a couple of decent weeks, and we've all seen that mirage in the past with Browns teams. But when you go to New England and actually make the Patriots break a sweat, you're getting better.

You've got to look past the Browns' three first half interceptions, one of which took a likely score off the board, and a late fumble that handed the Patriots their final touchdown, to find evidence of improvement. But if you do, I think there are plenty of reasons for optimism.

For example, Derek Anderson passed for 287 yards, which was the league's fifth best performance last week, and Braylon Edwards had 110 yards in receptions, which was good for fourth in the league and tops in the AFC. Six different Browns had multiple receptions on Sunday, and five of them caught at least one pass over 15 yards. Despite missing Jamal Lewis, the Browns still rushed for nearly 100 yards against one of the NFL's stingiest defenses.

Offensive stats like these against a team like New England are even more impressive when you realize that most of them came after the Browns spotted the Pats a double digit lead. New England's defense came hard with blitzes, and sacked Anderson three times, but Rob Chudzinski's offense was still able to move the ball and score touchdowns.

Defensively, the Browns still have big problems just about everywhere, and I'm not even going to try to spin their performance against the Patriots into a positive. Sure, the turnovers put the defense in a bad spot, and the Patriots scored only one touchdown in the second half. But Tom Brady was still Tom Brady, the Patriots rushed for almost 150 yards without Laurence Maroney in the lineup, and whenever New England needed a score, they got one.

If you'd like someone to tell you how the defense's performance against the Patriots shows that it's improving, read Steve King's story at the Browns website, and enjoy your stay on Fantasy Island.

Despite my concerns about the defense, I think you do need to give both sides of the ball some credit for what was perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the game, and that's the fight that the team showed in the second half. In recent years, we've seen several instances where the Browns responded to a team getting a big first half lead by, well, there's no other word for it -- quitting. Many of those performances came against division foes like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

That could've happened on Sunday, but it didn't. The Browns spotted the Patriots a 20-0 lead, and still came out swinging in the second half. That's the kind of effort you would expect from a professional football team, and for the first time in years, we may actually have one of those here in Cleveland.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Is Ray Chapman Behind This?

Check this out. Is that spooky or what? I was a reasonable man until the bugs showed up, but I've got to admit, I'm starting to wonder.

Look, I couldn't agree more with the sentiments expressed by the Cleveland Fan's Paul Cousineau -- the Tribe's a damn fine baseball team, and they were flat out better than the Yankees. On the other hand, I watched the better team lose the 1997 World Series, and also saw the two best Cleveland Indians teams of my lifetime get blown out of the water in the first round in 1996, and not even make the playoffs in 2000.

It may be nuts to think that the Indians 2007 performance is attributable to something that's more likely to be a topic for the Art Bell show than for Baseball Tonight, but it makes as much sense as any of the other explanations I've heard for the last 59 years of baseball futility.

There Go The Yankees!

Remember when A-Rod got his first hit of the ALDS in Game Three? That was enough for Caray to shriek hopefully, "Here come the Yankees!" Sorry, Chip, but "There go the Yankees!" And you and everybody else in the media will just have to deal with it. Meanwhile, almost everyone here in Northeast Ohio will just sit back and revel in it.

Remember when they used to make comedies based on the silly idea that the Tribe would beat the Yankees in a playoff series? Well take a look at who's laughing now. The Indians not only knocked the Evil Empire out of the playoffs in convincing fashion, but also appear to have driven a stake through the heart of what the Yankees "amen corner" in the national media still call the "Yankee Dynasty."

How a team that hasn't won a World Series since 2000 qualifies as a "dynasty" is beyond me, but I'll let others worry about that. I've got my mind on the ALCS.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hey Wedge, WAKE UP!

Westbrook's getting knocked around. First Cano; now Cabrera. Get him out 'cause I don't feel so confident at NY tomorrow with Byrd on the hill.


I wish I could write that the magic from Friday night's Indians' victory will carry over to today's Browns game against New England, but I can't. I don't see how the Browns win this one. Despite whatever Karmic powers are at work in the City by the Lake, I think cheaters prosper this time.

Bellyache will get the win and then have the opportunity to mumble a few inane remarks at the post game conference.

New England 34
Cleveland 13.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Up 2-0 over the Evil Empire

"O God, thy arm was here;
And not to us, but to thy arm alone, ascribe we all!
When, without stratagem,
But in plain shock and even play of battle,
Was ever known so great and little loss
On one part and on the other?
Take it, God,
For it is none but thine!"

~~~Henry V, William Shakespeare

Like the Rhino, I have no explanation for the invasion of the midges, but I'm glad it happened. Joba Chamberlain was the most dominant set-up man in baseball this season. Period. The Tribe and the midges stole the game from him.

I was there again. It was a great game. Television couldn't have captured the joy and anxiety of every single pitch. Five hours after it began, the game left me exhausted but happy.

Again, I saw a few celebrities. The Professor was there, and I spent some time talking to him. He and I suspected that the national media was deifying Wedge for his use of small ball. In this case, the praise was deserved. Hats off to Wedge. It kept the pressure on NY all night.

I also literally almost bumped into a few of the Yankee wives and paramours. Naturally, they were tall, almost impossibly large-chested, small-waisted, well dressed, loaded with jewelry and smokin' hot. Some Tribe employee was ushering them past the maddening crowd as the game ended. I initially thought about engaging in a little frottage with a few of them---a sort of nasty welcome to Cleveland, but was too tired to put up with the all but certain beating by the cops and attendant hysteria. So, I just smiled, glanced down one's ample cleavage and moved along.

Ahh. The beauty of being up 2--0.

Build The Canadian Soldiers Monument Now!

I guess entymologists call them Chironomus plumosus (Linnaeus), but we know them as Canadian Soldiers, and as far as I'm concerned, they will be honored guests in Northeast Ohio from now on. Sure, they fly into your eyes, ears, nose and mouth and die all over everything, but their heroic efforts on behalf of the Cleveland Indians last night have forever transformed them from pest to benefactor.

Our heroes arrived just in time to torture and distract Yankee reliever Joba Chamberlin enough to let the Tribe cobble together the tying run in the 8th inning. The Indians continued to shut down the Yankee offense, and, well, you know the rest.

You've got to wonder if something is going on here. I've lived in Northeast Ohio for more than 20 years, and I've never seen Canadian Soldiers show up in October. Hmmm...

Whatever the reason for their intervention, we need to show our gratitude to our insect allies. Remember when the Tribe was attempting to sign Thome to an extension, and they talked about putting a statue of him up by Jacobs Field? If last night's bizarre events turn out to be the first sign that the hand of destiny is at work here, then I vote that the Indians take that money and build a monument to our annual visitors from the Great White North.

From now on, you guys are always welcome here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

One Down, Two To Go

If you'd told me before last night's game that C.C. Sabathia was going to give up a home run to Johnny Damon during the first at bat of the first inning, walk six and get pulled after five innings and 114 pitches, I don't think I'd have put a lot of money on the Tribe.

So much for the conventional wisdom. C.C. may not have dazzled his future teammates with his command last night, but he had to have impressed them with his guts. Sabathia may have struggled, but never stopped trusting his fastball and he never stopped challenging Yankee batters. For fans of a team that saw their best chance for a World Series championship in the past 60 years slip away because Jose Mesa refused to trust his best pitch when he was struggling in a key situation, C.C.'s performance was heartening, to say the least.

Nowhere were C.C.'s guts more on display than in his epic battle against Jorge Posada with the bases loaded in the fifth. After spotting Posada a 3-0 count, Sabathia responded with a blazing inside fastball that Posada fouled off. He continued to give Posada a steady diet of heat and ultimately sent him down swinging with a 96 mph fastball high in the zone.

Sabathia then got Matsui to ground out to end the inning, at which point the Indians then proceeded to give C.C. more run support in a single inning than they gave him in the entire month of August. From the fifth inning on, Game 1 of the ALDS turned into a combination of a bad baseball video game and "turn back the clock to 1995" night, with the Tribe shellacking every Yankee pitcher as they coasted -- yes, coasted -- to a 12-3 win.

All in all, it was a great night. In fact, perhaps the only negative was LeBron James, who appears to be taking advice from O.J. Simpson's image consultants. Okay, LeBron, we get it-- you're a Yankee fan. That's nice, and you're welcome to root for whoever you want. But you're also Cleveland's most high profile athlete since Jim Brown, and for you to publicly flaunt your allegiance to the Yankees during your SNL gig was a pretty low rent move. Even more disappointing was your decision to top that by showing up at Jacobs Field with your Yankee hat on and mugging for the Fox (oops, I meant TBS) cameras. Yeah, we were all witnesses, and we weren't impressed.

LeBron, if you want to go to the games, please have the decency not to publicly rain on Cleveland's parade. Find yourself a nice loge to park in, and just go away until the NBA season starts. I think I speak for everyone when I say we've seen enough of you for a while. We love you, man, but you're being a jerk.

So after last night's impressive display, the Indians find themselves up 1-0 with Carmona taking the hill this afternoon. That's a nice position to be in, but we also need to keep history in mind. All too often, Cleveland's postseason offensive eruptions are followed by games where the Indians can't beg, borrow or steal a run. Remember 2001, when the Tribe followed up its 17-2 annihilation of the Mariners in Game 3 of the ALDS with a 6-2 defeat in Game 4? Or how about the 1998 ALCS, when the Tribe smashed four home runs in Game 3 to beat the Yankees 6-1 , only to follow that up with a 1-0 loss?

This series is far from over. In fact, it's just begun. Still, all things considered, I'd rather be an Indians fan than a Yankees fan this morning. That's a situation that we haven't found ourselves in too frequently, so I plan to enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More Ghost

I watched the Taylor v. Pavlik fight again last night. After seeing the shots in super slow motion, I'm even more amazed that Pavlik survived the second round, let alone that he won the fight. Taylor just pounded him for a couple of minutes. Even after the round ended, Pavlik walked into the ropes, missing his corner by a good ten feet.

That kid really has guts.

Monday, October 01, 2007

How High is Up?

If you expected the Cleveland Browns to be 2-2 four weeks into this NFL season, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. We all knew there was some talent on this team, but we also knew that there were glaring weaknesses at key positions, and we saw every last one of them against Pittsburgh in week one.

With the QB position apparently in complete disarray after the Steelers game, who would've thought we'd manage not just to be competitive, but to take not one, but two games from Central Division foes in three weeks? The Browns have won more divisional games in September than they won during the entire 2006 and 2005 seasons.

The Browns face Bill the Cheater next week, but they follow that with two games against teams (Miami and St. Louis) that currently sport 0-4 records. Following those games, they quickly get thrown back into the fire again, with a game at home against the Seahawks followed by road games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. After that, they play only one more team that had a winning record last year (the Jets), and while the Steelers found out yesterday that teams like Arizona are definitely improving, that part of the schedule still looks a lot less intimidating than the first six games of the season.

So with the Browns unexpectedly standing at .500 and more than halfway through the most challenging part of their schedule, it's fair to ask the question, how high is up for this team? Don't go printing the playoff tickets just yet, but if the offensive line stays healthy, then the answer may be quite a bit higher than we all thought it might be, possibly even 8-8.

Right now, the Cleveland Browns offense ranks 4th in the league in points scored. That's a truly remarkable turnaround, and there are a lot of reasons for it. Certainly, the coaching staff and Rob Chudzinski in particular deserve a lot of credit, and I've got to concede that the change in the QB position helped as well, but I think the biggest factors in the improvement on the offensive side of the ball are what is starting to look like a vast improvement in the offensive line, and the addition of Jamal Lewis.

It's amazing what a fun game football is when the fat guys knock people down and running backs punish people who try to knock them down. Jamal Lewis is fourth in the league in rushing and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. But it isn't just the running game that's opened up. Braylon Edwards is starting to show that there is more to him than just a mouth, and his 20.8 yards per catch average is currently the fifth best among all NFL receivers. K2 ranks second among tight ends in receptions and in yards per catch, and all Joe Jurevicius seems to do is show up and catch a touchdown pass every week.

At this point in the season, the turd in the punch bowl is the Browns defense, which has been underwhelming. Although the Browns defense turned in its best performance of the season yesterday, there are still holes just about everywhere, especially the defensive line. That's reflected in the fact that the Browns currently rank 30th in the league against the run, and 29th against the pass. Yikes.

But let's worry about the defense later in the week, huh? They spanked the damn Ravens yesterday, and that's something they haven't managed to do a whole lot. So let's allow ourselves a little optimism on Monday morning about a team that most of us thought would be 1-3 or worse heading into week five. Predicting an 8-8 record is a bit of a stretch, but for that matter, so is a 2-2 record after four weeks.