There are no must games when you're a near-lock to make the playoffs. But the first game of tonight's Yankee-Red Sox series at Fenway Park has a little extra significance. Yanks ace C.C. Sabathia is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA against Boston this season. Sabathia is 17-3, 2.40 against everyone else. Take away the hated Red Sox and the burly lefty would be in the discussion with Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver for the AL Cy Young Award.
Sabathia needs to establish that he can beat the Red Sox if the Yanks meet their bitter rival in the postseason. The Yanks need their ace to be on his game in October. The rest of the rotation is shaky at this point. Yes, Ivan Nova and Freddie Garcia are pitching well. But Joe Girardi still doesn't have a surefire No. 2 starter for the playoffs. Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon have been erratic. A.J. Burnett is a mess.
The Yanks will have a tough time beating anyone in October if the rotation isn't solid. They have almost no chance of beating Boston if Sabathia continues getting shelled by the Sox. The Pinstripes are 2-10 against Boston this year. It's not just the pitching. They're hitting .225 as a team against the Sox and striking out at an alarming rate. Mark Teixeira has been especially weak.
So this Fenway series could be a good chance for the Yankees to assert themselves against their AL East rivals. The Sox and Yanks haven't met in the postseason since their historic meeting in the 2004 AL Championship Series. If they meet again, the Yanks need their ace to pitch like one.
Last year, the Bills allowed 425 points, the most they had given up in a season since 1984. They were last in the NFL in run defense by 15 yards a game over any other team. They were last in the league in takeaway-giveaway.
The nose tackle, Kyle Williams, got a $39 million contract extension. One of the inside linebackers, Paul Posluszny, got a $42 million deal from the Jaguars. Chris Kelsey got a $24 million extension during the season, Drayton Florence got a contract worth $15 million. Donte Whitner, who was on the field for more plays than any other Bill, received a three-year, $12 million deal from the 49ers.
Imagine the financial rewards if the Bills' defense had been good, or even average.
All right, it's time to open it up for discussion. Should I go on Twitter? The pressure is building. My best friend, Jeff Jacobs, who is the sports columnist at the Hartford Courant, has even gone over to the dark side. When the old school diehards begin tweeting, it's harder and harder to hold out.
I caught some of Sal Paolantonio on the radio coming in to work this morning. Sal Pal was talking about some of the traditionally poor NFL franchises who might surprise this season. He mentioned the Browns, who are gaining respectability under president Mike Holmgren and seem to have found their franchise quarterback in Colt McCoy. He picks St. Louis to win the NFC West.
Paolantonio said Jim Harbaugh has instantly "changed the culture" in San Francisco and expects them to challenge for the NFC West title. Hmm. I seem to recall pushing Harbaugh for the Bills head coaching job after Dick Jauron got fired, and suggesting he would be the perfect candidate to create a new culture in Buffalo. Oh, well.
Sal said Washington can't be dismissed with Mike Shanahan in control. So a lot of the weak franchises are making strides, at least in the opinion one a highly respected league observer. No mention of the Bills, of course. It seems they're becoming increasingly irrelevant on the NFL landscape. And really, how can you can it a "rebuilding" when they never built anything in the first place?
It can be a little scary when the Bills are absent from the national discussion. Fans like to think that Buffalo is this charming NFL outpost that means a lot to the people who run the sport. I'm not so sure about that. When the team is essentially ignored in the national media -- and let's face it, when you're bad and bereft of real stars, you don't attract much attention -- it makes you wonder if the NFL people really give a damn if Buffalo keeps its team or not.
We can explore this more in the chat. I'm back today at 1 p.m. No video. Word-only event this afternoon. I'll try to go long in my best TO style.
Fredonia's Jenn Suhr (formerly Stuczynski) gave an indication that she's getting close to top form by winning the women's pole vault in a Diamond League event Friday night in London. Suhr, who finished third to Russian rival Yelena Isinbayeva at Stockholm a week earlier, cleared a winning height of 4.79 meters, which converts to 15.72.
That's far from her best, but it was a significant improvement for Suhr, who jumped 15-1 to finish second in the nationals in late June in Eugene, Ore. That was good enough to qualify her for the World Championships later this month in South Korea. But Suhr was compromised in Oregon by poor health that has since been diagnosed as celiac disease, an allergy to gluten.
"This was a hard-fought battle and could be one of the biggest wins of my career," Suhr said via email after her win in London, exactly one year before the 2012 Olympics in that city. "It means a lot to me to get a win here in the UK. Hoping for the same result the next time I am herein London."
I'm always willing to tell Ralph Wilson how to spend his money. I've called him cheap on occasion. In tomorrow's column, I'll be advocating an extension for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. But I have to give the Bills' owner credit for his charitable impulses. Wilson should be applauded for donating $2.5 million to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The museum took a big hit when this year's Hall of Fame game, which had been slated for this weekend between the Bears and Rams, was called off due to the lockout. The museum lost $1.5 million in ticket revenue. The community of Canton was hurt as well. The $2.5 million donation from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation will ease some of that pain and help support construction of the Hall's $27 million "Future 50" Expansion and Renovation Project. Ralph's gift will help fund a new 10,000 square-foot research and preservation center, which will be named after the Buffalo owner.