Tag Archives: MLB

The 5 Best Games of 2016

 

Welp. If you’re reading this you’ve managed to survive one of the weirdest, most divisive, celebrity-death-filled years in human history. Congrats…I think? 2016 was full of surprises to say the least, and we’ve reached the squares of the calendar that remind us of our favorite and least favorite parts of the year we’re leaving behind.

Most best-of lists you’ve read this month are focused in the arts–best albums, films, books–and admittedly, it’s tough to put together a sports-focused list that makes any sense. Hell. I felt like anything more than five would be long-winded and guarantee I’d overlook some great game that I probably didn’t even see. Perhaps that’s still the case–I watched every game on this list. 

This short list was created without any difficult decisions, and using simple criteria: The games needed to be nationally viewable, meaningful, (they’re all postseason contests,) and entertaining AF.

With every effort to be as objective as possible, these are the five most entertaining games of 2016.

5. NFL Wildcard Playoff, January 9th–Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

There’s nothing better than a rivalry game in the NFL–except when it’s also a playoff game.

This game had everything–violence, rain, a quarterback knockout followed by a triumphant return, a comeback, another comeback, and an iconically bitter IG post to sum up one star player’s disappointment.

These two teams genuinely hate each other, and it showed in January when the Steelers stole this playoff game from the bengals, and literally needed police protection to escape from Cincinnati.

Whether it was a coach grabbing a player’s dreads on the sideline, Martavis Bryant’s summer-saulting-butt-catch, or vontez burfuct’s attempt to murder Antonio Brown— this game was ugly and beautiful all at once.

The Steelers baited the Bengals into emotional self-immolation–low-key, this may be Mike Tomlin’s best effort as an NFL head coach–and won on a chip-shot walk-off field goal after the Bengals committed 30 yards of penalties on a single play.

4. American League Wildcard, October 4th– Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays 

While this game didn’t quite have the drama of the greatest inning of all time, in which the Blue Jays participated a year earlier–it was a fantastic baseball game. 

The Baltimore Orioles survived the first ten innings at Rogers Arena–this being the second game on this list in which a visiting player was assaulted with a full beer–but the Blue Jays won in the eleventh when Edwin Encarnacion walked-off against Ubaldo Jimenez while the game’s best closer sat idly by, awaiting a chance to pitch that never manifested itself. 

After watching how two league champions used their best relievers throughout the postseason, Buck Showalter’s decision not to use Zack Britton in this game will be second-guessed in Baltimore for years to come.

3. NFL Divisional Playoff, January 16–Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

It wasn’t the Super Bowl, but let’s face it–unless you’re a hardcore football nerd, or won money gambling, Super Bowl 50 was pretty boring.

This NFC divisional playoff game was not the most well-played game of the postseason–but it was easily season’s most enthralling.

This game was fucking insane–Multiple hail-marys, a coin that didn’t flip, playoff overtime. 

Needing a touchdown and an extra point just to tie, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers found himself taking a snap on 4th and 20 from HIS OWN DAMN END-ZONE with no timeouts, and under a minute to play. Even mister-I-bang-Olivia Munn-while-launching-game-winning-passes-and-negotiating-world-peace-with-my-dope-ass-mustache couldn’t overcome this hopeless situation. This game was fucking OVER.

Consider that prior to this play, during the previous two seasons, teams had attempted to convert on forth-and-twenty 36 times with a success rate of ZERO.

THIS SHIT WAS RIDICULOUS.

Not only does mister hero-face convert the 4th and twenty, seconds later–with zeros hanging on the game clock–he goes ahead and completes ANOTHER HAIL MARY to tie the game. 

The part of my soul which hates Aaron Rodgers as much as Cancer, Soccer, and Mayonnaise combined (and if you know me, I reaaaallly hate mayonnaise,) wanted to vomit–but god I love American football. And chaos.

This shit was riveting.

The story had a happy ending, though. Thanks to Larry Fitzgerald–who probably secured a bust in Canton, OH on this Saturday night–the Packers lost in overtime, and their fans were made to suffer in the worst possible way. Which was totally awesome.

2. Game 7, NBA Finals, June 19–Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors 

I will share two of my dirtiest sports secrets here:

A: In my younger days, I loved the Cleveland Browns. The loins of Clay Matthews Sr. may have produced one of my most hated athletes on earth–but he was one of the best middle linebackers ever to play the game. Also, Bernie Kosar is one of my childhood heroes. 

I once wrote him a letter and–undoubtedly from some Browns PR intern–received an autographed photo in return.

B: I really don’t care about basketball, and despite being a native Chicagoian–Michael Jordan had zero influence on me.

While pounding down a bag of Doritos, I watched ESPN’s, “Believeland,” two nights before Game 7 of the NBA championship. 

My roommate is originally from Cleveland, and loves basketball.
These are probably the only two reasons I chose to watch game seven of the NBA finals, rather than a nationally televised Cubs/Pirates Sunday night game (although I did tune in briefly, and was lucky enough to see Willson Contreras hit a home run in his first major league at-bat.)
This game was on some next-level shit, and I’ll never forget it.

To watch this game in the company of a great friend, whose interest in sports spawned at least partially from my own geekary, was fascinating entertainment in spite of my general lack of interest in its outcome.

However, for pure competitive drama, there are few games that will ever compare with this one–an entire city hanging on its outcome while a native attempts to right the wrongs of history and overcome his own misgivings.

Opine what you will about LeBron James, but the passion with which he played this final game of the NBA season was thick enough to tar your roof. 

This championship meant everything to a city that hadn’t experienced one in over half a century, and appreciating its beauty from a competitive and sociological perspective was immensely satisfying. Not to mention the difficulty of overcoming a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series…

1. Game 7, World Series, November 2–Chicago Cubs @ Cleveland Indians 

Obviously it was difficult to be objective when choosing the best game of 2016. However, while there have been some amazing games seven in the history of American sports, this was arguably the greatest game ever played. 

In any sport. 

Ever.

There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe game seven of the 2016 World Series.

If someone were to write a fictional depiction of what actually happened in Cleveland on the night of November 2nd, it would be disregarded as over-the-top, melodramatic bullshit. 

But it did happen. Real-time.

There’s a reason this was the most-watched World Series game in decades, and if you weren’t on your feet or the edge of your seat for most of it, you’re either taking too many drugs or not enough of them.

Obviously we expected a dramatic conclusion once The Cubs erased a 3-1 deficit to force a decisive final game between the teams with the two longest championship droughts in baseball. I’m not a religious person, but I’ve imagined that before Corey Kluber took the mound to deliver the game’s first pitch, the Baseball gods held a quorum during which it was deemed necessary–regardless of the outcome–for fans of both teams to squirm in agony for a few hours. 

“Guys. I got this. How bout’ right before the tenth inning starts…rain delay. BOOM. Not a long one or anything–just a few minutes. Make em’ really sweat that shit.”

Game seven of the 2016 World Series was a microcosm of all of the cool stuff that sports are to those of us who care about them–the essence of competitive spirit, displayed by fifty dudes who wouldn’t have quit if the game lasted until 2017. 

I can’t imagine a better game ever being played, but there’s always next year.

Be Thankful for Arrieta..

If this is truly to be the year in which the Cubs right all of the wrongs–undoing the pain of an endless pattern of disappointment–regardless of how good they are, winning the World Series of baseball will require some luck. Or at least the avoidance of bad luck.

Playoff baseball is a crapshoot, a dart toss and a small sample rolled into a few cold weeks of October. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 regular season games, only to see their record tying effort rendered meaningless in five short games against the New York Yankees. 
Before the season began, I started telling people the Cubs would win 120 games. About this prediction, I was only half joking. These Cubs could win more games than any regular season team in baseball history and follow up with a heartbreaking October. 

I don’t mention the possibility of an October collapse cynically–my intention is quite the opposite. Even considering the Cubs crazy-good start to the season, it’s a bit presumptuous to assume in May that these Cubs will be a playoff team. But I am very confident in that presumption, and I intend to enjoy the ride however deep into the calendar it travels.

These Cubs have the opportunity to correct the misfortunes suffered by generations of Cubs fans, and there are plenty of incidents which need correcting.


 
Any Cubs fan of my generation will probably tell you that the infamous game six and resulting loss of the 2003 NLCS was the worst thing that ever happened, but if you pull the lens back to view the big picture, the greater disappointment was that the Cubs had so few rolls of the dice with the talented core that collapsed in that series. Just as we’d begun to expect ritualistic playoff baseball on the North side, the Cubs had sunk back into irrelevance. The two major reasons for the organization’s success in ’03 can also be implicated for their failure  to follow up with with another autumn dart throw–Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.  

In July of 2013, the Cubs acquired Jake Arietta from the Baltimore Orioles–along with Pedro Strop and his left leaning flat-brim–for veteran pitcher Scott Feldman and Catcher Steve Clevenger. Arietta was viewed by the Orioles as a failed fifth round draft pick–all stuff, no results. In nearly 350 innings with the Orioles, Arrieta posted an ERA in the mid-fives, and showing no sign of progress at the major league level. Jake arrived at Wrigley’s doorstep like a baby in a basket–stealthily and without much fanfare, he and Strop joined the organization under baseball’s ubiquitous umbrella term, “prospect.” Even the most educated of Cub fans were likely unaware of Arietta’s existence before the deadline deal was announced.  


Kerry Wood and Mark Prior had eerily parallel beginnings to their respective Cub careers.
Both players zoomed through the minor league system–Wood arriving with the big club in 1998, and Prior making his first major league start in 2002 only months after being selected with the second pick of the MLB draft. Each had incredible success in their first full major league season. 

Prior undoubtedly had his best year as a professional in 2003, winning 18 games for the NL central champions. Wood arguably did his best pitching in 1998 when he led the team to its first ever wildcard berth, was elected the National League’s best rookie, and pitched perhaps the most dominant game in baseball history. 

Even before their wildly successful campaigns, fan expectations of Wood and Prior were unreasonably high. After watching Wood suffer through injuries in 1999, and 2001, Cubs faithful were even projecting those expectations on Prior’s future health, buying–incorrectly–into a widely held notion that Prior was impervious to arm trouble due to his physical build and throwing mechanics. 

Prior was first injured in 2004–and in spite of some dominant performances at the end of that season–was never the same nearly unhittable monster he was before the 7th inning of that ill-fated game six. Prior and Wood will forever be linked together in Cubdom–not so much for who they were, but who we wanted them to be.  

We wanted Prior and Wood to be consistently dominant pitchers who were fun to watch, logged a lot of strikeouts, won a lot of meaningful games, and occasionally threw some no-hitters. And even as it should have become clear that neither pitcher would ever live up to our expectations, we just sort of pretended they were the aces we expected, as if we could somehow will them into being the players we so desperately wanted them to be. 

Cub fans are sometimes delusional. It’s a defense mechanism. Without these delusions, the painful truths would have, by now, broken us completely.

There’s been a lot of discussion about whether Arietta will be a Cub beyond this season. That remains to be seen. Joe Maddon would remind us to live in the present–the present is a very good time to be thankful for Arietta, because he is exactly the pitcher we wanted Wood and Prior to be.  
Be thankful because he is the anti-towel-drill. Because you can’t wait to watch him pitch again. Because He’s already won 2 postseason games, and completed a pair of no-hitters. 

Because he came from out of nowhere.

And thanks again, Baltimore. You guys are the best.