Playoffs? Are you kidding me?

No one is kidding you. This is real. This is surreal. This is awesome.

Absolutely unbelievable. It's real. It's surreal. It's awesome.

This is happening. The Cincinnati Reds are the 2010 NL Central Division Champions. Remember back in early August when everyone wrote this team off after they were swept by the Cards in Cincy? That seems like a long, long time ago now. I can honestly say the sweep at GABP didn’t put an end to my postseason hopes for this team. They were only down a game and they had the easiest schedule in the majors. On top of that, the Cardinals had the second easiest, and they were downright pathetic against bad teams.
But forget about the past. The Cincinnati Reds are in the playoffs. They will be playing meaningful October baseball at Great American Ballpark. Read those two sentences again. Now pinch yourself. See? It’s real. It’s surreal. It’s awesome.
But when did you realize this was going to happen? I’ll take a few moments from that great post by my man Mo.
I realized this was going to be an awesome year when I watched the Reds beat the Cardinals in the Civil Rights Game with one of the coolest finishes in GABP history.
I don’t know why this would’ve made you think this team was going to make the playoffs, but this is still one of Thom’s better home run calls. But, hey, maybe that Jonny Gomes homer changed your perception of this team.
Maybe you realized they could upend the Cards when Tony LaRussa admitted Dusty was getting more out of Scott Rolen than he ever could.
Maybe when Jay Bruce, in the middle of one of the most frustrating slumps I can remember, knocks a two-run bomb off the NL’s best team’s best pitcher to win the game. Maybe that’s when you finally came around. Right?
Could it have been when they responded to being swept by that same team right before the All-Star Break–a weekend manager Dusty Baker called the season’s “low point”–then, instead of imploding, they turned around and won 8 of 13 out of the gate after the break?
I can tell you when I knew this team was going to get here. It was fresh off that embarrassing sweep at home, when this team refused to fold again. Instead, they won seven straight and 13 of 17 to close out the month of August and retook control of the division.
Then they really sealed the deal when I attended the middle game of the three-game set with the Cards at Busch Stadium. Coming from the Mizzou/Illinois game a few blocks away, I got there a little late. The Reds were up 4-0 when I got there. It seemed like there’d be no excitement aside from the fun I had cheering every time B. Phillips came to the plate (and booing when Y. Molina did anything). Then, Travis Wood took Adam Wainwright deep to left for his first career long ball.

Boom. T. Wood has left the building.

But maybe you still weren’t 100% sure, even then.
But maybe you knew it when Joey Votto got his first walk-off homer against the Pirates.

If that didn’t do it for you, then I assume you were like most of the baseball “experts” and analysts. You refused to announce the NL Central race over until the Reds finally wrapped it up. But if it took you that long, at least Jay Bruce made it worth the wait…

And it all led to this:

(special thanks to Jamie Ramsey at Better Off Red for the photos)
Dusty Baker pulls this squad together, does an amazing job in the locker room, never lets them fold and brings playoff baseball back to Cincinnati. It seems like a dream. But it’s real. It’s surreal. It’s awesome.
Here’s a really great article on the Reds skipper who, by the way, has signed a well-deserved two-year extension with the club.
It’s so rare that being a sports fan really pays off. Especially in Cincinnati. Think about it. Bob Huggins has the team primed and ready for a run at a national title, and Kenyon Martin loses his footing and breaks his fibula. The Bengals finally get to the playoffs after 15 years of pathetic football, and on the first offensive play, Kimo Von Oelhoffen plays the role of dream (and knee) crusher. Brian Kelly resurrects the Cincinnati football program, then promptly leaves for Notre Dame before the finish of the greatest season in school history. Ask Cavaliers fans if their loyalty has paid off. Ask Cubs fans (haha). Ask any sports fan. How often does your loyalty, your passion, really pay off? Not very often. That’s why this is so awesome. That’s why I, while watching Bruce’s walk-off on an ESPN GameCast, went nuts while staring at a computer screen. That’s why I have Marty’s call of Bruce’s homer on my iPod and get chills every time I hear it. This is why we care so much. We are waiting for moments like this. This is real. This is surreal. This is awesome.

So, what else is going on? The Bengals look as mediocre as ever. Whenever Carson puts up halfway decent numbers, they lose. Their offense isn’t even average…it’s bad. The defense looked horrible in Week 1, strong in Week 2 and Week 3, then couldn’t stop the freaking Browns this past week. That worries me. Especially when this team will play the likes of the Saints, Colts, Steelers, Ravens (again) and Jets this season. I was exceptionally optimistic at the beginning of the year. I thought the offense had the weapons it needed. Heck, it probably does. Shipley, Gresham, T.O., Ochocinco, Ced. If Carson is even half the QB he was before his knee injury, this offense would be scary good. Instead, Carson looks like a completely different person. Maybe it’s his health, maybe it’s confidence. Regardless, he’s not the same. He has the tools he needs. I used to believe he’d turn it around at some point. That we’d see the Carson of old. I’ve stopped believing that. It’s sad. Even more surprising, I think this team could still make the playoffs. Surprisingly enough, I really do.

In other news, the Ryder Cup wrapped up this weekend in Wales. And before you stop reading because you don’t like golf, let me try to convince you to read on in the same way I tried to convince viewers to tune in on KOMU this past Friday morning…

See? You like America, right? So you’ll keep reading.
What a weekend it turned out to be. It all began in the rain early, early on Friday morning. Then play is suspended and the entire format changed. Courtesy of my brother over at WrongFairway.com, here’s what the changes meant:

* All 28 points will still be available.
* There’s no hiding anyone from alternate shot, all 12 are playing.
* No one will be playing in five matches, four is the maximum.
* Rookies Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson will be playing in every session, something Pavin probably didn’t foresee.
* There’s the possibility of playing the same foursomes group twice if the captain’s so choose.
* There will be a lot more action on the course.
* American viewers will get to see everything live.

Now I don’t know who was really expected to benefit from this format, but it seemed to be the Americans early on. They took a 6-4 overall lead into the third session. Then, the Europeans came out on fire. They talk about a golfer being in “the zone.” Well, there were 12 golfers on the European side who seemed to be in that zone. The previously unbeatable pairing of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were dominated by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, losing 6&5. Only two American matches went to the final hole. They lost one and tied the other. They lost Session 3 5 1/2 to 1/2. It seemed the U.S., barring a Brookline repeat, would lose the Ryder Cup.
But the Americans, down 9 1/2 to 6 1/2 going into Monday, weren’t going to go away easily. Even though the Europeans jumped out to early leads in nearly every match, the Americans fought back. Steve Stricker, easily the top performer on the U.S. side, started things strong with a 2&1 win over Lee Westwood in the first match of the day. Stewart Cink, who had been one of the most consistent performers for Pavin’s boys all week, pissed down his leg on 16, 17 and 18 to allow young Rory McIlroy to salvage a half point for the Europeans. Jim Furyk fights to take his match with Luke Donald to the 18th, then dumps a simple pitching wedge into the greenside bunker, and Donald wins that one 1up.
So, through the first three matches, the United States left an entire point out there.
On to the next trio of matches, where two of the three were completely uncompetitive. Dustin Johnson finally showed up, absolutely dominating Martin Kaymer 6&4. Maybe a little redemption for the PGA Championship? Ian Poulter then rolled over Matt Kuchar–who had been one of the world’s hottest golfers this season–5&4. Then Ryder Cup rookie Jeff Overton, who probably had the coolest celebration of the weekend…

…he makes the turn 2down and storms back to victory, beating Ross Fisher 3&2. When Overton turned that one around, there was a lot of hope for the Americans. They trailed 12-10 halfway through the singles matches. And they had some big leads up on the board.
In matches 7-9, the U.S. had the chance to really put the pressure on the European side. Unfortunately, they didn’t do that. Bubba Watson struggled mightily against “The Mechanic”, as Miguel Angel Jimenez won his first Ryder Cup singles match, 4&3. Then, the Tiger of old makes an appearance at Celtic Manor, shooting 9-under on 15 holes en route to a 4&3 dismantling of Francesco Molinari, including a tidy little eagle on the twelfth…

I especially like how Stevie hands him the putter before either one of them realize what happened. Then, knowing he’s crushed Francesco’s dreams, he laughs. Fantastic. Then, the most exciting finish to a match all weekend, in my opinion. Captain’s pick and Ryder Cup rookie Rickie Fowler makes a run that will go down in Ryder Cup history. 4down through 12 holes to Edoardo Molinari, Rickie had to turn it on. He won the 13th, but didn’t do much else until he absolutely had to. But when he had to, he came up HUGE. Fowler birdied 16, 17 and 18 to halve his match. His birdie on 18 had me out of my seat, screaming encouragement at the TV. That was when I thought the US was going to make the unbelievable happen again. After this amazing finish, I really believed America would retain the Cup.

After Fowler’s finish, everything hinged on the anchor match between Hunter Mahan and Graeme McDowell. Matches 10 and 11 were wrapped up before Fowler even got the final green, as Phil Mickelson finally did something, easily disposing of Peter Hanson, 4&2, while former Masters champion Zach Johnson took care of business against a struggling Padraig Harrington, 3&2. So, with one match remaining, the U.S. was only a half point away from bringing the Ryder Cup back home with them.
At the time, Mahan was only 1down to the U.S. Open champ from Northern Ireland. Mahan hadn’t played even remotely well all day, but he was still within striking distance of winning the Ryder Cup. Mahan missed a chance to cut into a 2down deficit on the 14th after McDowell missed the green, Hunter left his approach shot short and halved the hole. But then Hunter stepped up on the 15th, chalking up his first birdie of the day to cut McDowell’s lead in half. But, even though the pressure was apparently ridiculous–McDowell said the U.S. Open was like a back nine with his dad back home–Europe’s anchor man didn’t fold. Instead, he stepped up and birdied the 16th to go dormie. That putt and the reaction to it was probably THE moment of the 2010 Ryder Cup.

It looks awkward here, but the reaction to this putt was cool.

Needing a Rickie Fowler-esque 17th and 18th, Mahan stepped to the tee at the par-3 17th with an inordinate amount of pressure on him, even after McDowell missed the green. With a chance to put his mark on Ryder Cup history, Mahan mishit his tee shot and left it short. Still, the chip was definitely makeable. Then Mahan stepped over that chip, and the pressure was (apparently) too much. He chili-dipped the chip to the front edge of the green, then missed a tough putt to keep the slightest bit of hope alive. After all the drama through the first 11 matches, it was upsetting to see it end like that. It was especially tough because, even though the U.S. missed countless opportunities all weekend to get the half point they needed to retain the Cup, everyone will remember Mahan. That wasn’t lost on him. His reaction during the post-match pressers told everyone a lot about this event. These guys want to win it as much as anyone else. If you ever questioned that, Hunter Mahan should have removed all doubt.

The emotion of the Ryder Cup is unlike any other in sports

Here’s Shane Bacon’s Ryder Cup Report Card for the American and European sides. I think most all of his grades are pretty spot on. Even Mahan’s D-. But still, you’ve gotta feel for the guy. He apparently volunteered to put himself in the position to have all the pressure on him. I give him credit for that. His play wasn’t even close to what he’s capable of, but he still managed to stay within striking distance of the unflappable McDowell. And, in the end, he succumbed to pressure you and I could never imagine. I feel pressure if I’m putting for 20 bucks on the 18th on a Sunday with my dad and his buddies. I don’t want to let the one or two guys on my team down. Mahan, on the other hand, had the hopes of a country on his shoulders, as well as the result of a tournament in which his 11 teammates, captain and vice-captains had given everything they had to get a win. Throw in the way McDowell played and the 40,000-plus people cheering your every mistake, and it’s really not all that surprising he fudged up. But that’s not the way this Ryder Cup should be remembered. If anything, credit McDowell for his putt on 16. Remember it for the “finest moment” of Colin Montgomerie’s storied golf career. But don’t remember it for one the world’s best golfer’s mishap. That ain’t fair.

Another thing I think is worth touching on about the Ryder Cup…tweeting. The Europeans did. The Americans didn’t. I get why Captain Corey Pavin wouldn’t want his guys tweeting the whole time, constantly checking their phones. But it provided such a neat insight on the European side, where Monty let his guys tweet, with only a few restrictions. Ian Poulter took full advantage, and he let all of his followers have a look inside the Ryder Cup. I’ve never been Poulter’s biggest fan, but he took a step up in my eyes this past week. He said he likes to tweet what’s going on because he feels like he owes it to the fans. He thinks they’d like a look inside his day-to-day, so he gives it to them. That’s cool. My favorite of his tweets came during the rain delay during Session 1. The Europeans were out signing autographs, so Bubba Watson (who, despite his average performance this week, has replaced Mike Weir as my favorite golfer in the world) decided to come out on the U.S. balcony and throw American badges into the crowd. Classic Bubba!

I’d like to give you an in-depth breakdown of the MLB Playoffs, but I’m no expert. I think the Reds can beat the Phils. They’ve beaten Halladay and Oswalt this season. They’ve got the best offense in the NL. Philly hasn’t had their Opening Day lineup intact much at all this season. The Reds took 2 of 3 from Philly at GABP, and lost four extremely close games in Philadelphia. Based on the seven games between the teams this year, this series could go either way. Seriously. I think Philly’s pitching is better than the Redlegs’ pitching, but it’s not going to be as easy as people think. I’d bet it goes five, but I think the Reds lose in some tight games to the team that winds up winning the World Series over the Yankees.
So, my picks go like this: Philly over Cincy//San Francisco over Atlanta//Texas over Tampa//New York over Minnesota
Then…Philly over San Francisco//New York over Texas
And finally: Philly over New York
But I won’t break it all down. Because I’m no expert.
But I can give you a breakdown of the Playoffs commercial on TBS, though. The Red Sox and Cardinals each make an appearance, but you don’t see the Reds once. That’s crap. Speaking of crap, in ESPN’s video review of the MLB season, we see the NL Central Champs only once, and we never even see the NL MVP. That’s a crock.
But at least they didn’t put the Cubs in it. Even though I did see this great commercial for Cubs fans looking to remember the 2010 season.

But seriously. Joey Votto had better win the NL MVP. The guy’s been consistently good. All season. At home. On the road. In the clutch. With runners in scoring position. On defense. In the locker room. He’s done everything you could ask of a guy. His season could be summed up in ten pitches…

MVPs have at-bats like that. Joey Votto is the NL MVP. Plain and simple.

It’s good to be back.
ALTIORA.

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~ by nchaney3 on October 5, 2010.

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