October 10, 2005
Roger Clemens:
For those astounded by El Duque's sick relief in Chicago's clincher on Friday, it was TOPPED by Rocket's no-backup 3 IP on 2 days' rest yesterday.
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Longest. Playoff Game. Ever.
Houston kind of won in 5 games, if you count the second 9 innings as a whole new game.

I can't agree this was the best non-World Series playoff game ever, but it WAS the best LDS game ever. ("2nd Guessing" must-read; see Q It Up.)

Rookie Chris Burke's walk-off shot was memorable for its improbability. (Is "Joey Devine" not one of the most ironic names in MLB history?)

But Clemens' relief (on two days' rest!) was what took the game (and his own legend) to another level.

For all Clemens' Cy Youngs and his place as one of the top starting pitchers ever, this stint in relief qualifies as the most impressive moment of his career (caveat: IF the Astros go on to win the title).

Next: Cards-Astros NLCS. Rematch of 2004's NLCS, which was eclipsed by the ALCS but one of the best LCS series of all time. Total toss-up.

Yanks, Halos Go 5
Win or go home: For all the drama of the White Sox' Game 3 or the Astros' Game 4 wins, there's nothing like a winner-take-all game in the playoffs.

And "all" is right: You know you want to see the Yankees lose, because of the Boss-led New York drama that will undoubtedly rock the offseason.

Then again, now that the Red Sox have been bounced, if the Yankees lose, the playoffs will lack that nationally recognized brand. You know you'd miss them.

Meanwhile, with the winner of this game having to fly directly to Chicago, give the edge to the White Sox to jump out to a fast start in the ALCS. (Contreras announced as Chicago's G1 starter.)

Keep reading for a Red Sox post-mortem three seasons in the making!

NFL W5: NFC Stinks
The entire NFC is worthless: Dallas trouncing Philly just confirms it; the Eagles' backslide into 3rd place in the NFC East symbolic of a conference without any juice.

The previously unbeaten Bucs?
Couldn't handle a 41-y.o. QB.
(How can you NOT love Vinny?)

Previously unbeaten Redskins?
Couldn't handle the altitude.

The Falcons? Schaub subbing for Vick was an advantage.
Atlanta still lost.

Carolina barely held off Arizona. Kyle Orton has virtually no grip on the Bears' offense. Green Bay just got its first win. And the 49ers? Don't even ask.

Right now, there isn't a team in the NFC that seems qualified to be labeled a Super Bowl contender.

Vinny Testaverde: Ageless QB wins for NY (13/19, 163 yds)
Joe Jurevicius: With no help, SEA WR stars (9-137, 1 TD)
Matt Schaub: 298 passing yds in ATL loss. QB controversy?
Braves: Fourth year in a row they've been bounced via LDS
Najeh Davenport: 2 TDs vs. NO, but out for season? (ankle)
John Daly: Can't hold off Tiger for title in AmEx Champ.
NFL W5: AFC Rules
Meanwhile, there are a half-dozen AFC teams that could be the best team in the NFC. The AFC is carrying the league.

Are the Pats back? Just in time to pick up the regional fan slack from the Red Sox disappointment, the Pats prove the doubters wrong and win yet another game on Adam V's foot.

(Next week: at Denver?! I'm not saying they haven't earned it, but has there ever been a more difficult first 6 weeks than the Pats have had?)

In the other Game of the Day, the Jaguars didn't expose the Bengals as much as they established themselves as a bonafide contender in the AFC. The pressure of prime time? Not for Byron Leftwich.

Great MNF showdown: PIT/SD: No offense in the NFL is clicking like San Diego's right now. They'll be an even bigger test for the Steelers than the Pats were. (9, ABC)

Red Sox: What next?
Red Sox Nation can revert to their default state: Bitter. Love the revisionist "We knew this was coming all along" from players, local media and fans. Classy.

The Sox didn't create a dynasty; in fact, their LDS flameout (and subsequent breakup this winter) only secures their place as an East Coast version of the Diamondbacks. One-hit wonders.

Damon. Mueller. Millar. Timlin. Maybe Ramirez (which would be crazy; Big Papi will set the record for walks without Manny hitting behind him).

The biggest free agent? Theo. If I was new D-Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, I'd offer Epstein $5 million a year to be Tampa GM.

The pitch is simple, and RSN confirmed it this weekend:

In Tampa, things can only get better, but in Boston, it will NEVER be as good as 2004. Never. It's the curse of unprecedented success.

Penn St.: For Real!
I've been among the many over the last few years arguing for Joe Paterno to step down. Even though he still looks a little like a confused grandparent out there at times, he's at the helm of a top 10 team.

Beating Ohio State proves Penn State is for real. Freshman sensation Derrick Williams is one of the top 3 most talented players in all of college football. And the Lions are officially THE surprise of the season.

(Of course, you know what all the "JoePa is back!" talk will mean: Penn State is going to get waxed at Michigan next week, even though UM is down.)

CFB Weekend Wrap
USC is still No. 1, but every week they continue to let inferior teams hang around, their grip slips. (And credit Rose contenders Texas and UGA for decisive wins in "Prove-It" games.)

Quickie Top 10 Ballot:
1 USC | 2 Texas | 3 VA Tech
4 Bama | 5 UGA | 6 Notre Dame
7 FSU | 8 Miami | 9 Penn St
10 UCLA (NOT: Wisco, OH St)

Trendy Heisman: LenDale White
For the second straight week! USC has a backfield like Auburn's last year: White and Reggie Bush could both be top 3 NFL draft picks.

Looking Ahead to Next Week:
USC at Notre Dame: Before the season started, this looked like a mismatch. Now, giving Charlie Weis two weeks to prep seems unfair.

Bobby Cox:
Worth asking: What good are division titles if you can't get out of the first round of the playoffs? "Just get in" becomes unsatisfying after a while.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Page 2 Critics
MLB Second Guessing
NFL Top 5
NFL's only unbeaten left
Like they never left...
Edge to MNF winner
"Quality win" at home
Lost mo, but still 4 Ws

Cards sweep Padres: Well, technically, the Padres finished the playoffs with an overall record under .500 (82-83).

El Duque for ALDS MVP: His relief performance, particularly in the 6th, was perhaps the clutchest ever in the ESPN Era. (Until Clemens!)

Chicago's sweep was as shocking (based on pre-LDS expectations) as 2004's Red Sox comeback. Few gave the White Sox a shot; no one thought they'd sweep.

Which of these statements is crazier: (1) Matt Schaub is better suited to run the Falcons' O than Mike Vick. (2) Atlanta should consider a platoon.

NBA preseason: Spurs vs. Heat. What better way to test the questionable chemistry of the new-look Heat than to play the defending champs?

NBA pre, part 2: Cavs. vs. Wiz. Think Washington's players will have a stray elbow for ex-teammate and new LeBron running buddy Larry Hughes?

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