The match no one wanted: Is Shane/Undertaker the new Bret/Vince?

 

In 2010, Bret Hart returned to RAW for the first time since the infamous Montreal Screw Job in 1997. People were pumped. He called out his longtime nemesis, Shawn Michaels, and the two hugged, putting years of bitterness behind them. It was a nice moment, despite Hart’s decision to wear jean shorts.

Then Hart called out his other longtime nemesis, Vince McMahon. The two also appeared to reconcile, but McMahon ruined the feel-good story by kicking Hart in the balls, kick-starting (#fireable) a feud for a Wrestlemania match.

I and many others were happy to see Hart once again involved with WWE, but I and many others also had no interest in seeing him go one on one with McMahon inside the squared circle. Hart, one of the greatest in-ring wrestlers of all time, was limited physically as the result of a stroke he suffered years earlier. McMahon, one of the great wrestling characters of all time, was limited physically by being a man in his mid-60s.

The feud was weird: McMahon refused to accept Hart’s challenge, then Hart was hit by a car, then McMahon changed his mind since Hart had a broken leg as a result of the accident, then Hart revealed that he faked the car accident and actually didn’t break his leg after Vince signed the contract. Actually, what am I saying: that’s a perfectly acceptable pro wrestling feud. But the whole thing felt off.

The match itself was … not good. And I was in the building for it! My first Wrestlemania (I’ve since been to two others, no big deal). I expected it to go for about five minutes, with Hart quickly dispatching of McMahon with the sharpshooter. Instead, it went for like 15 minutes, with Hart’s extended, dysfunctional family first coming out as though they had aligned with McMahon, then immediately turning on him and siding with Bret. The entire family basically destroyed McMahon who — while not the most sympathetic character in the world — was still an old man being pummeled.

The highlight of the match was McMahon finding a crowbar and yet somehow becoming less powerful with it, flailing aimlessly. Eventually, after teasing it about six times, Hart finally put McMahon in the sharpshooter and won the match.

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The reason I bring this up, other than the fact that this MLBlog hasn’t been updated in months and I’m bored, is the current match that appears to be slotted for the main event of this year’s Wrestlemania: Shane McMahon vs. the Undertaker in Hell in a Cell.

A few weeks ago, Shane McMahon returned to RAW for the first time in years (he has been pursuing another career outside of the WWE) to confront his dad, Vince, and his sister, Stephanie. I wasn’t watching, but my brother @poolhalljames sent me a text that said “SHANE O MAC!!!” People, myself included, were pumped. Then he sent me another text that said “He’s fighting Undertaker at Mania.” People, myself included, were puzzled. It’s great that Shane is back with WWE, but why the hell has he returned to wrestle, of all people, the Undertaker?

Now, there are some legit reasons this match is happening. WWE’s roster at the moment is decimated by injuries, with John Cena, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan (who had to retire due to concussions), Sting and Seth Rollins, among others, sidelined. And they’re holding Wrestlemania 32 at Cowboys Stadium, which means they need plenty of star power to get 90,000-plus people in the building. Also, I guess Naked Mideon is busy, as I would’ve personally gone with him vs. the Undertaker over Shane.

But, so far, this feud, like the one between Hart/Vince, has felt off. The stipulation for the match is, if Shane wins, he gets control of RAW. Why would Undertaker, a guy who shows up about five times a year at this point, care who controls RAW? No idea.

It seems at first they wanted people to just accept that Vince is the boss, and Undertaker doesn’t particularly have any reason to not beat up Shane, so he was fine doing it. But that didn’t really track. They then had Shane call Undertaker a “bitch,” which — someone calling another person a bitch has certainly fueled plenty of fights in human history — but I’m not sure if that’s enough for the main event of the Showcase of the Immortals. Last night, Vince announced that if Undertaker loses, he will never wrestle at Wrestlemania again. I kind of feel like that one won’t stick.

And, in the most egregious part of this feud so far, Vince called Shane the Undertaker’s most formidable Wrestlemania opponent of all time.

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All that being said, the match could end up being amazing. Shane, despite being a not-overly-intimidating-looking 46-year-old, is a maniac; the Undertaker, despite now resembling Frasier, is a legend; and I, despite being a super smart person, am often wrong, as last year’s Wrestlemania proved.

But it definitely won’t be as good as Asuka/Bayley.

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Brian Cougar

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The match no one wanted: Is Shane/Undertaker the new Bret/Vince?

Opening Week 2015: Nothing beats Bartolo

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(MLB.com)

“No one has more fun playing this game than Bart,” — SNY announcer Ron Darling

Sunday was the end of the first week of the 2015 MLB season, so I figured I’d go through some of my favorite clips from the week. The top, of course, was Bartolo Colon’s RBI single in the Mets’ win vs. the Braves on Sunday.

Before 2011, the main thing that popped into my head if someone mentioned Colon was the time Alex Rodriguez hit three home runs off him in the same game. Since 2011, Colon has become one of my favorite players of all time. Colon, at this point in his career, throws basically nothing but fastballs and still finds success. He rarely walks anyone. And, since signing with the Mets before last season, he gets to hit regularly in the National League. Last year, he had two hits — including a double! — in 62 at-bats. This season, in his second game, he notched his first RBI since 2005. And his helmet fell off. JOYOUS BARTOLO.

My favorite thing about A-Rod’s latest “comeback” is how little fans feel outrage as compared to the media. Now, plenty of fans still dislike A-Rod, but I feel like most of the people who don’t like him haven’t liked him much since, oh, 2004. I’m sure some turned on him when we first learned in 2009 that he did PEDs (during those loosey goosey times), but many had already sided on the pro- or anti-A-Rod side before that even came to light.

He got caught again, he served his suspension and now he’s back. Does A-Rod deserve sympathy? No. But unless the Yanks cut/somehow trade him/he retires, fans of the team are stuck with him through 2017. So hopefully he keeps hitting A-bombs until his hips fall off.

An arrogant person who is bad at his/her job is the worst. An arrogant person who is good at his/her job is fine. Matt Harvey doesn’t have much of a track record, but he’s pretty great. This past week, he made his first regular-season start since Tommy John surgery and, even though he wasn’t at his best, Harvey still K’d nine Nationals over six innings. I hope he wins the NL Cy Young Award this year, then allows eight runs in the NL Wild Card game so my younger brother Kevin and my friend Dan can argue about how good Harvey actually is for the rest of their lives.

Extra-innings game does not equal classic game. On Friday night, I left my apartment after the start of the Yankees/Red Sox series opener and took a bus/walked to a bar to meet up with my older brother Jim. I hung out with my brother for two hours, then took a cab to the bar my girlfriend works at. I waited on line for 10 minutes, then entered the bar, where I hung out for an hour. I took a bus home, then watched the Red Sox and Yankees play for another friggin’ hour.  Before the game ended, I — while not quite sober — tweeted this:

If you’re a Red Sox fan and Boston finishes one game ahead of the Yankees for the American League East title, you might look back at this game as a classic the Sox pulled out thanks to Mookie Betts. But, right now, the No. 1 thing Betts did Saturday morning was provide the decisive run that allowed us to all finally go to bed. And for that, he deserves to have a Hall of Fame career.

A quality first week for the 2015 MLB season. And I didn’t even mention Adrian Beltre adhering to the new MLB rules about pace of play (oh, wait).

Brian Cougar

Opening Week 2015: Nothing beats Bartolo

SMOKING GOOD: Sting makes for best 1-hour RAW yet

I hate three-hour RAWs*. Hate them. People complain about pace-of-play in Major League Baseball, but I’ll take the most boring three-plus hour baseball game over a three-hour RAW almost anytime. Even when a three-hour RAW is good it drags. Too much talking. Too many random matches or repeat matches. Too much of the fireable RAW commentary team (Michael Cole/JBL/Booker T).

As a result of this, over the past six or so months, I almost never tune into RAW when it starts at 8 p.m. I might briefly turn it on at some point during the first two hours, but I generally don’t. Some weeks I just skip the show all-together. But if I do watch, it starts at 10 p.m. (maybe I just really miss WAR ZONE**)

This week, that decision paid off. I got to see the great Paul Heyman as he valiantly (desperately) attempts to sell the Wrestlemania main event between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns (the fact that Heyman needs to try so hard to do this is a good sign of why it probably shouldn’t be the main event). I got to see an entertaining six-man tag match centered around the dopey feud for the now near-worthless Intercontinental title. I got to see Bray Wyatt cut a promo while holding an urn that contains the ashes of his favorite rocking chair. I got to see Seth Rollins (dubbed the new Shawn Michaels by noted wrestling historian @poolhalljames). And I got to see STING.

If you have not been watching WWE recently (and many weeks I would not blame you), Sting made his first appearance in WWE this past November at Survivor Series. If you are not up to speed on the history of Sting (and why the HELL aren’t you), he was the one major guy over the past 30 years to never appear in WWF/WWE. Sting was the biggest star in WCW for a while, both as “Surfer Sting” and the Crow knock-off you see at the top of this post, and after WWE bought WCW in 2001, he wrestled against Ric Flair to close out the final WCW Monday Nitro, then vanished (well, he wrestled for a smaller promotion, TNA, for several years, but if you don’t know the history of Sting there’s no shot you have ever seen TNA).

Since the end of WCW, there were occasional rumors that Sting was going to sign with WWE to fight the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, but it never happened. When he finally appeared at Survivor Series, it was to begin a feud with HHH (aka The Game aka The King of Kings aka The Cerebral Assasin aka the Connecticut Blueblood).

It didn’t really make any sense why Sting had any beef with HHH, other than that Sting is a good guy and HHH is a bad guy (I mean, I guess that’s a good enough reason). WWE randomly started calling him The Vigilante Sting (for this there is no good reason). HHH then decided the feud was about Sting being mad that HHH ran WCW out of business, which is a stretch for multiple reasons, the main being the fact that WCW went out of business because of the dopes running WCW.

I’ve enjoyed every Sting appearance in WWE. The Survivor Series one was slightly spoiled ahead of time because the Internet is a force of good and evil, but when Sting showed up at a WWE show for the first time, it was still surreal. At the PPV last month, HHH/Sting had a “confrontation” which Sting got the better of despite the fact that he had a baseball bat and HHH had a sledgehammer (although, to be fair, Sting’s baseball bat is up there with Excalibur). But Monday night was my favorite so far.

When Sting first started the Crow deal in WCW, it was during his feud with the nWo (4 life). The nWo would be ganging up on someone, then Sting would drop down from the rafters and start wrecking people.  It was great. On Monday, the Authority (HHH, Rollins, Kane, the Big Show and J&J Security … legends, all of them) surrounded the ring with plans to attack Randy Orton, who was all by his lonesome. The lights when out. When they turned back on, there was Sting. BASEBALL BAT TO KANE’S KNEE. JACKET CHUCKED AT HHH. STINGER SPLASH TO J&J SECURITY. SCORPION DEATHDROP TO ONE OF THE J&J SECURITY DUDES. POUNDS CHEST LIKE KING KONG. It was great.

To cap things off, after the show Sting spoke for the first time since coming to WWE, and he yelled that he feels “SMOKING GOOD!” I have no idea what that means, but if you ever ask me how I’m feeling and I don’t yell “SMOKING GOOD!” you should be concerned.

Brian Cougar

*As a way of keeping the show/wrestlers fresh, I would go back to two-hour RAWs, lose Smackdown (unless they were to go back to a legit roster split), keep NXT (of course) for the WWE Network, then have a one-hour show on Saturday mornings that’s highlight videos/a couple of goofy matches FOR THE KIDS. I’m sure none of this makes sense from a business standpoint.

**Back in the 1990s, for ratings purposes, the first hour of RAW was called Raw is War and the second was called War Zone.

SMOKING GOOD: Sting makes for best 1-hour RAW yet

Learn to Love It: Royal Rumble 2015

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(Photo courtesy of the WWE Network)

“Learn to love it!” — Ric Flair, predicting Batista would win the 2014 Royal Rumble.

In 2002, the score of the MLB All-Star Game was 7-7 after 11 innings. Due to the fact that both the American League and National League teams were out of pitchers, Commissioner Bud Selig ended up ruling that the game would end in a tie. People freaked out.

In the 2003 All-Star Game, the AL was trailing the NL, 6-5, in the bottom of the eighth inning. Hank Blalock strolled to the plate for the AL with Vernon Wells on second base and two outs. Blalock hit the ball out of the park. Wells scored. As Blalock was rounding third and approaching home plate, Selig ran out of the dugout, hit Blalock with a steel chair and declared that the game had ended in a 6-6 tie.

Wait, no. In 2003, the year after the All-Star Game ended in a tie, MLB changed the rules so that the league that won the Midsummer Classic got home-field advantage in the World Series. The rosters were also expanded a bit, with Selig promising that a tie would never happen again.

Blalaock’s home run gave the AL a 7-6 win. The Marlins, the NL pennant winners that year, ended up beating the AL-champion Yankees in six games, with Florida clinching the title at Yankee Stadium.

Many people, in 2015, still hate that the All-Star Game decides home-field advantage in the World Series (… maybe this wasn’t the best analogy). But at least there haven’t been any ties!

In 2014, Daniel Bryan had become arguably the No. 2 star (after John Cena) in WWE, and many people were hoping that he would win the Royal Rumble and fight for the title at Wrestlemania XXX. For some reason, Bryan not only didn’t win the Royal Rumble, he wasn’t even part of the match. Dave Batista, a former champion who had recently returned to the WWE after a few years away, won the right to face the champion at Wrestlemania by tossing the popular Roman Reigns — more on him later — over the top rope.* People freaked out.

On Sunday night, WWE held the 2015 Royal Rumble**. Bryan, who recently returned from injury, was part of the match this year. He entered at No. 10, and the crowd in Philadelphia went bananas. Reigns — who’s still very popular — was the favorite to win, but most people assumed Bryan, at the very least, would be one of the Final Four. After about 10 minutes, Bryan was eliminated, before Reigns even entered the match.

Reigns, eventually, was victorious. The crowd was not happy, and they continued to boo even after the Rock, who’s related to Reigns, made an appearance to show his support. People watching at home freaked out, to the point that #CancelWWENetwork apparently trended on Twitter.

Vince McMahon has been running WWE since the early 1980s. He created Wrestlemania, and ran the company during the boom periods of Hulkamania and the Attitude Era. He outlasted all his major competitors, including WCW in the mid-to-late 1990s, and the company is bigger now than it’s ever been.

He’s also the one ultimately responsible for the past two Royal Rumbles.

Learn to love it.

Brian Cougar

* WWE eventually, due to fan outcry, allowed Bryan to fight for the title at Mania XXX, which he won. I guess they could go the same route this year.

** The PPV is worth seeing for the title match between Cena/Brock Lesnar/Seth Rollins. It was amazing. If you have WWE Network, the link to the event is here.

Learn to Love It: Royal Rumble 2015

The WWE Hall of Fame beckons the Macho Man! (finally)

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(Photo courtesy of WWE.com)

“East of the Pacific Ocean, west of London, England, south of Mars and north of hell!” — location of the Danger Zone, according to Macho Man Randy Savage.

Macho Man Randy Savage is, in the opinion of myself and many others, the greatest professional wrestler of all time. He was tremendous in the ring, had amazing charisma, performed god-like promos and was part of several classic matches.

His match with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at Wrestlemania III is arguably the best match in the history of the “Showcase of the Immortals” (Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at Mania 25 and Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13 are two of the others in the conversation). He’s one of a group of wrestlers (with Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Austin, the Rock, Undertaker, Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Hart, John Cena, maybe a few others) who’s well-known by people who don’t follow pro wrestling. And, on Monday, it was finally announced that he would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Now, unlike the Hall of Fame of other pro sports (yes, damnit, for the purposes of this post I’m referring to pro wrestling as a sport) where you have to be voted in, you’re only getting into the WWE Hall of Fame if A) Vince McMahon wants you in it and B) You yourself want to be in it. It made no sense that Savage didn’t gain entry until this year, after his death in 2011, and there are four possible reasons it took this long.

1) McMahon was still angry about Savage jumping ship to WCW in the mid-1990s, a time when WWE was struggling.

2) Savage, according to his brother, Lanny “The Genius” Poffo, refused to be inducted unless his brother and father were also inducted.

3) A scandalous rumor involving Savage that I’m not going to include here, but can easily be found out via Google (or BING).

4) Jack Tunney.

Now, from Wrestlemania III-VIII, Savage has in my opinion the greatest run in Wrestlemania history.

III) Bad-guy Savage brutally attacks Steamboat leading up to the event. The two go on to steal the show (one headlined by Andre/Hogan) with their legendary match for the Intercontinental Title, which Steamboat wins.

IV) Because he’s so awesome, Savage becomes a fan-favorite. He goes on to beat Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase (with an assist/chair shot from Hogan) for his first world title.

V) After forming the greatest tag team ever (The Mega Powers), Savage/Hogan split up because Hogan gets a bit too friendly with Savage’s manager, Miss Elizabeth (aka, has LUST IN HIS EYES)/Savage is an insane, jealous human being. Hogan defeats Savage for the world title.

VI) The American Dream Dusty Rhodes/Sweet Sapphire (with Elizabeth) defeat heel Savage/Sensational Queen Sherri. OK, this wasn’t exactly a classic.

VII) Savage, despite hitting approximately one million flying elbows, loses to the Ultimate Warrior in a career match. However, after the match, Sherri attacks Savage and Elizabeth comes to his rescue. Savage/Elizabeth reunite, and people in the crowd legit cry tears of happiness. Later in the year, Savage/Elizabeth get married at Summerslam.

VIII) Savage wears a gold suit to battle Flair for the world title after Flair says Elizabeth was “mine before she was yours!” Flair/his executive consultant, Mr. Perfect, cheat the entire match before Savage wins his second — and last — WWE championship. The writer of this post watches this match at least once a year since 1992 (including RIGHT NOW). (Additional Wrestlemania VIII coverage courtesy of @SportsAngle).

Summary of that run: Best match at Manias 3-5, 7 & 8 … plus two world titles. Oooooh yeah! FREAK OUT, FREAK OUT.

The other great thing about Savage — he never lost his mystique. Now, that’s not to say his pro wrestling career ended on a high note: His final Mania match was against friggin’ Crush at Wrestlemania X, and the last thing I remember from his WCW tenure — which had some great moments — was Team Madness, which no one but hardcore wrestling fans who read this will know about. Savage basically vanished from the public eye around 2000 (outside of his appearance in the first Spider-Man movie … and his rap album). He didn’t have one last Wrestlemania moment. He didn’t host RAW. He wasn’t a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble. The final thing Savage did for WWE was an announcement for an action figure in 2010.

But if you ask most people what they remember about Randy Savage, they’ll remember a man SNAPPING IT TO A SLIM JIM. They’ll remember a man with his fingers pointed to the sky before delivering a devastating elbow drop. They’ll remember the CREAM OF THE CROP. They’ll remember the Macho Man. Dig it?

“Nobody does it better.”

Brian Cougar

The WWE Hall of Fame beckons the Macho Man! (finally)

Love your enemy: a Yanks fan on the greatness of Pedro

I am a Yankees (and Cowboys — love me!) fan, and therefore probably shouldn’t like Pedro Martinez as much as I do. The newly elected Hall of Famer spent the majority of his career with the Red Sox, then had a memorable run with the Mets and finished up his big league tenure pitching for the Phillies against the Yanks in the 2009 World Series. But Pedro, due to his electrifying talent and charisma, was part of some of my all-time favorite baseball moments, even when they involved him beating the Yankees or beating senior citizens who worked for the club.

1: Pedro outduels Clemens, May 28, 2000

Not only am I a Yankees/Cowboys fan, I am — still — a fan of Roger Clemens. I feel like most Yankees/Red Sox/Blue Jays fans don’t really care for him anymore (although I for some reason think Astros/Sugar Land Skeeters fans still dig him), but I look back fondly on The Rocket’s career, and I think my appreciation of him started with this game.

I remember, after getting home from the beach, watching the entire thing in the basement of my old house in Brooklyn. Unlike the Pedro-Clemens matchup in the 1999 American League Championship Series, when Clemens stunk and the Sox ended up winning in a rout, this time, they matched each other pitch for pitch until the ninth inning. It was also in old Yankee Stadium, so the atmosphere was electric and the seats behind home plate were filled the entire game. Then, in the top of the ninth, friggin’ Trot Nixon hit a two-run homer, and the Sox went on to win, 2-0. Nixon is up there with Curt Schilling, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis as my all-time least-favorite Sox players based solely on this home run.

2: Pedro chucks Zimmer, 2003 ALCS, Game 3

Clemens vs. Pedro again! Everyone remember this one. I watched this game with a few friends at Jeremy’s, a bar by the South Street Seaport known for its giant styrofoam beers and the bras that adorn the walls/ceiling. I recently rewatched the extended clip from this incident, and I had completely forgotten how messed up the pitch Pedro threw to Karim Garcia in the fourth inning that got everyone heated was. He unleashes a fastball right behind Garcia’s head, leading Garcia to, understandably, make this face:

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Then, in the bottom of the fourth, Clemens threw a pitch that was high and inside but nowhere near Manny Ramirez’s head, and things got real crazy:

I was standing at the bar waiting for a beer when Pedro threw Don Zimmer to the ground, and a random woman grabbed my arm, looked me in the eyes and yelled, “What are we gonna do?!” I had no answer.

3: 2003 ALCS, Game 7

Once more, Clemens vs. Pedro! Clearly they should have gone into the Hall of Fame together. I was a junior in college (University of Scranton 4 life), and had a night class scheduled for when this game occurred. My newswriting teacher had received an advanced copy of the movie “Shattered Glass” (Hayden Christensen in his greatest role) to show us, and she said if we missed class, it counted as two absences, which would have screwed with my grade.

I actually showed up to class early, but immediately decided my duties as a Yankees fan were more important than my duties as a Communications Major, so I left. Right move! As after a terrifying 7 1/2 innings, Grady Little left Pedro in too long, the Yanks rallied, and Aaron Boone eventually did that thing he’s famous for. I ended up emailing my teacher and told her I skipped class because I felt I couldn’t miss the game. She basically called me an idiot, but understood. I think I ended up with a B- in the class.

4: Summer of Pedro, Shea Stadium 2005

No 2004 games will be on this list, how dare you. After graduating college in ’05, I returned home to Brooklyn and spent the summer putting on a solid 25-30 pounds thanks to too many Bud Heavies and Bubba Burgers. I also went to several Mets games with my younger brother Kevin, and we tried to go whenever Pedro was pitching at Shea. I know the Mets have had several impressive pitchers since 2005 (Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon), but that first summer Pedro pitched for the Mets was the most fun I ever had watching games at glorious, gone-but-not-forgotten Shea Stadium. Two specific moments stand out:

1) In the middle of an inning that season, the sprinklers went off on the field. Most pitchers facing that situation would either run away or pout (I feel like Mike Mussina would’ve pouted), but Pedro stuck his head right in front of a sprinkler to cool off, then walked around with a goofy smile on his face.

2) On June 7 vs. the Astros, Pedro had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning. This was during the Mets’ infamous run of never having thrown a no-hitter, and a buzz was starting to build. In the break between the bottom of the sixth and the top of the seventh, a few dudes — Mets fans — sitting down the aisle from Kevin and I started discussing the fact that Pedro was throwing a no-no. Not only were they breaking the rule of “Don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s happening” (settle down all you “Duhh, you can’t actually jinx a no-hitter by talking about it” people), they were predicting which player on the Astros would end up getting the hit! I specifically remember them guessing it would be Brad Ausmus, Houston’s light-hitting catcher. Kevin, not surprisingly, was becoming enraged, but he, surprisingly if you know him, did not start screaming at them. With one out in the seventh, Chris Burke hit a home run. Pedro ended up throwing a complete game, striking out Burke to end it. Now that I think about it, Kev might have started screaming at them after the home run.

I currently live in Boston, and over the past few months I’ve occasionally had people commenting on my Yankees gear while I’m out and about. The conversations have tended to be them going, “I hate the Yankees, but Derek Jeter is all class.” With me responding, “I don’t care what you think about Jeter, as long as you love and respect Bernie Williams.” That second part might not be true.

As fans, it’s natural to hate the players on rival teams, but in the case of guys like Pedro Martinez, it’s OK to love them a bit, too.

— Brian Cougar

Love your enemy: a Yanks fan on the greatness of Pedro

Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts

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RIGHT NEXT TO MY CAT IN BRIGHTON, MA — On Thursday night, Derek Jeter played his last game at Yankee Stadium. Captain Clutch — damn right I’m calling him Captain Clutch — came up to the plate in the ninth inning with the game tied, a runner on second and an entire crowd chanting his name. He hit the first pitch to right field — right-field hits are what will pop into my head if I’m ever asked to describe Jeter, along with jump throws and a certain flip throw — and the Yankees won the game. It was a magical end to a Hall of Fame career (yeah, I know, he might play at Fenway Park this weekend).

In the summer of 2004, right before the start of my senior year of college, I was at a baseball field in Bergen Beach with my younger brother, Kevin. He wanted to play catch, field some grounders, have me throw him some batting practice so he could get ready for his sophomore year playing baseball at the University of Scranton, noted Division III baseball powerhouse. I did not play baseball at the University of Scranton. There was a time when I thought I might play collegiate baseball, but when I arrived at the UofS my freshman year, I decided I was done with baseball. Not due to any dislike of the game, I was just 18 and figured I had better things to spend my time doing.

When Kevin and I finished practicing, I picked up a bat and stepped to the plate. I told Kev, a lefty, to throw me one pitch. If I hit it over the fence, I would try out for the Varsity baseball team my senior year. He threw a pitch. I hit it over the fence. (Kevin might deny this, but it’s how I remember it).

We returned to school, and despite my friend Steve telling me that baseball practices and games would get in the way of all the drinking I could do senior year, I tried out. And I made the team! I mean the coach told me outright that he was going to keep me on the roster because he wanted to have an extra catcher to catch bullpens and there was an outside chance he might have me catch when my brother pitched, but, either way, I made the team! No matter how shitty the team, making one is a good feeling.

And it was fun. There were early practices, I quickly realized I was not very/any good at baseball anymore, and we had to run laps on occasion, but it was fun. Playing catch, taking swings in batting practice, team parties, my buddy Dennis hating nearly everything. Despite the fact that it was, indeed, cutting into my senior-year drinking time, I had a great time. I also barely played — rightly so!

The last home game of the season, we played at Red Barons Stadium (which is now home of the Triple-A RailRiders, if I’m not mistaken). One of the cool things about playing at a Minor League stadium was the fact that the bullpen was located all the way out in right field, so the pitchers and catchers could straight up lounge with no coaches around. We goofed around, chewed on sunflower seeds (or dipped tobacco like true badasses) and, every once in a while, I had to help a pitcher warm up. Our team stunk, we were playing a team that started this 6-foot-3 dude who threw gas and we were losing. In the last inning, Dennis — who was also a senior — ran out and said, “McGrath, you’re batting this inning.”

“What?”

“You’re batting this inning.”

“Why?”

“It’s Senior Day.”

“Ohhhhh.”

“You’re definitely going to strike out.”

“Thanks, Dennis.”

So I ran from the bullpen to the dugout. I had no idea it was Senior Day, not that I would’ve asked my parents to drive up from Brooklyn for the game, despite the fact that they probably would have since my parents are great. But, hey, an at-bat is an at-bat. I had actually had one previously, but it went like so:

Me in the on-deck circle, to my buddy JP: “I don’t care if the first pitch is over my head, I’m swinging at it.”

First pitch: Over my head. Me: Swing.

Second pitch: Don’t remember, but it was a strike.

Third pitch: Pitcher threw a curveball. I thought to myself, “That’s a nice curveball.” Strike 3.

So I had experience at the plate that year, but not much. I put on a batting helmet, grabbed a bat and strolled to the plate. I was leading off. As I approached the plate, I heard one of the guys on the team, Steve, say, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I thought to myself, “Imagine McGrath hits a home run!” I stepped in the batter’s box.

Now, as previously noted, the dude pitching was like 6-foot-3 and threw gas. I’m not gonna call him the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, but I’m not not going to, either.

First pitch: Slider. Nasty slider! I did not swing. Strike 1.

Second pitch: Slider. Garbage slider. Slider that bounces two feet before the plate. I swing. Strike 2.

Third pitch: Slider. Most garbage slider ever thrown. Slider that bounces five feet from the plate. I swing. Strike 3.

However …

The slider was so garbage and bounced so far from the plate, it bounces over the catcher’s head. I, rally starter that I am, sprint down the first-base line and am safe at first.

First-base coach: “What the hell was that, McGrath?”

Me: “Whatever. I’m safe.”

Next batter: Hits into a double play. End of my baseball career.

Later that night, I was talking to my friend Dan’s younger brother, who was visiting, and he told me that he attended the game. I asked him if he saw my at-bat. He said, “Yes, that was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

My baseball career ended with arguably the worst at-bat in collegiate baseball history. Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium ended with him hitting a walk-off single. Baseball is glorious.

Brian Cougar

Glorious endings: Walk-offs and strikeouts