Tuesday, September 19, 2006

LET'S HAVE NOMAH TALK ABOUT FOOTBALL BEING THE BEST SPORT

Last night should settle, once and for all, the baseball vs. football debate. Baseball's better.

Sorry if that came on a little strong. Maybe it's better to play it safe and say the game last night/early this morning with the L.A. Dodgers hitting four consecutive home runs in an eventual extra-inning win over the San Diego Padres merely highlighted everything that the National Football League is not, especially when contrasted with one of the worst Monday Night Football games ever (Jacksonville 9, Pittsburgh zilch).

Take it from yours truly, though, had it been a Yankees-Red Sox game, it would get rehashed and deconstructed for days on end. It was good enough to make you forget this is the wild-card era and the Southern California rivals are really just jockeying for playoff seeding, and that one of the teams chasing them employs Barry Bonds.

If you live in the Atlantic, Eastern or Central time zones, you probably didn't see the Dodgers-Padres game. It may not come up in conversation among the sports fans at your workplace. It ended too late for the score to get into your morning newspaper, and the websites you check out probably all have the football game as the lead story.

Yours truly is on vacation and thus was still wide awake around 2 a.m. Eastern when Nomar Garciaparra hit a two-run moon shot off Rudy Seanez -- who looked for all the world like he wanted to be anywhere else at that moment -- to give the Dodgers an 11-10 win and wrest first place in the NL West away from the Padres. About 20 minutes earlier, San Diego had been poised to hop on the Interstate with a 1½-game lead.

The Dodgers came back from not one but two four-run deficits. Five of their final nine hitters homered, with San Diego's Trevor Hoffman, who will likely become baseball's career saves king some time next week, giving up first-pitch homers to Canada's own Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson for the final two of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back jacks that tied the game 9-9 in the ninth. (Hoffman came into the night 56-for-58 in save opportunities against the Dodgers through the years.)

That overshadowed -- and rendered meaningless -- some gritty relief work from the Padres' Clay Meredith, who came into a tie game with the bases loaded and none out in the sixth and didn't allow a run to score. Meredith was in line for the win before the Dodgers came back.

Never mind that it was the first time in more than 40 years that a team hit four consecutive home runs. It was certainly the first time it ever happened in a game where first place changed hands. Did you ever read that Thomas Boswell column where he listed 99 reasons why baseball is better than football? Between the Dodgers-Padres dramatics and the stinky, stinky football game, about 85 of them were on display last night.

For all the hype, bells and whistles surrounding the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville contest, the two AFC heavyweights couldn't muster a single touchdown between them. The Jaguars won 9-0. How bad were the Steelers on offence? So bad the game was essentially over once it reached 6-0. Save for the close families of both teams' punters, hardly anyone could have found much to enjoy in that game.

Sure, there are isolated examples, and sometimes defence can dominate in any team game. That said, there really seems to be a parallel here. You have an 11-10 baseball game in mid-September between two rival baseball teams involved in a playoff race and a 9-0 early-season football game that may or may not make a difference in either team's season. Of course, it's latter that more people noticed, because the NFL knows how to blow its own horn. So be it.

Let's just say that while baseball sometimes bears the worst of football -- especially when Fox is broadcasting a game -- the best broadcasters keep it simple, and no one does that better than Vin Scully, the Dodgers play-by-play man since their Brooklyn days. Scully isn't perfect. He said the journeyman reliever Seanez has had a "tremendous career" at one point last night. He still knows how to be profound in just a few words.

He let the pictures tell the story last night, when Dodgers fans who had started leaving the stadium in disappointment after the Padres tacked on three runs in their half of the ninth to go ahead 9-5. When Jeff Kent hit an 1-0 pitch from Jon Adkins over the centre-field fence for the first of the four straight home runs, you could see fans who had reached the parking lot pause, realizing it wasn't over. When J.D. Drew homered, chasing Adkins and ushering in Hoffman from the bullpen, you could see more fans who had given up trying to rush back to their seats.

Martin, the rookie catcher, promptly greeted the careers saves leader to be with a homer, and then Anderson clouted a pitch over the right-field fence -- so far back that Brian Giles, the outfielder, didn't bother to run -- to complete a 5-for-5 night and tie the game 9-9. Soon after, there was a shot of a Dodger fan speaking into his cell phone, presumably telling his friends, "Hey, make sure you're watching this."

An inning later, after Garciaparra, who had sat out the past two games, both L.A. losses, with an injury, homered to win it, Scully let two, maybe three minutes pass, as the camera panned over celebrating players and fans. Then he had the perfect line: "I forgot to tell you... the Dodgers are in first place."

How often are you going to see a team hit four home runs in a row, in the middle of a pennant race? How often do you see a team come back from more than three scores down twice in the same game, in any sport.

No, not every night is like that in baseball. Not every NFL game is as paint-peeling boring as last night's Monday nighter. It just goes to show, however, which of the two games is better, especially when it comes to reminding you why you got into sports in the first place.

Previous Dodger-related posts:
Oh, The Profanity! Or, Don't You Dare Talk To Tommy Lasorda That Way! (June 4)

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to neatesager@yahoo.ca.

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