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Robbins Nest

Consider myself truly lucky to have worked at Greenwich Time, The Record (NJ) The New York, the Brooklyn Nets and MSGNetworks.com Equally blessed to have been a contributor on ESPN, SNY and YES. Ridiculously thankful to teach at Rutgers and NYU. Best of all, my love Nicole and my son Harry. I'm a mean-ass cancer fighter. Mean!

All the Healing We Need is Taking Place in Williamsport

ROBBINS NEST

credit twitter

By Lenn Robbins

This is what unfettered, 12-year-old joy looks like. These are the jerseys that humanity wears. This is where a ball and a bat and a glove meld into a glorious amalgam of inclusion and respect and compassion.

The Little League World Series has come at the perfect time for a world wound tight in anxiety and fear and hate.

From mass shootings, to trade wars, to tensions on the Korean Peninsula and Kashmir, to protests in Hong Kong, to leaders that lead only themselves – every morning dawns in doubt.

Except in Williamsport.

In Williamsport, the world’s best 12-year-old baseball players from Mexico to Elizabeth, N.J., from Chungcheong, South Korea to Coon Rapids/Andover, Minn., from Venezuela to Australia remind us why nostalgia beats in the chambers of the heart.

In Williamsport, it doesn’t matter if you have the crazy batting stance of Venezuela’s Deivis Ordonez or the cool “Jersey Shake” celebration of the Elmora Youth Little League team.

In Williamsport, you have players nicknamed ‘Chicken Little,’ yet on these beautiful summer days and nights, no kid fears a gunman bursting into their classroom.

In Williamsport, Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo blasts a two-run homer off the scoreboard and gives the ball to Japan’s shortstop because all of the Japanese players dapped him up.

In Williamsport, it doesn’t matter that Maddy Freking has long blond hair. It matters that she can throw strikes and make the force play at home.

In Williamsport, players on the Rhode Island team honor the memory of a Kentucky player they never met. Bowling Green coach Jef Goodnight lost his 10-year-old son Mason to a rare form of bacterial meningitis in 2017.

 Before Kentucky played Rhode Island, the New England champs touched Mason’s jersey which is displayed the Great Lakes champs’ dugout.

“We’re so fortunate to be here, and we went over to his jersey and I prayed and then I gave his dad a handshake,” Lucas Tanous, 11, told ESPN. “”It’s just so sad, but we all touched his jersey because I bet he was such a nice kid.”

In Williamsport, the Venezuelan players and coaches stop their walk-off celebration to console the Dominican Republic pitcher who gave up a two-run double in the bottom of the 6th.

In Williamsport, kids aren’t glued to their smartphones. They’re watching the next game or the previous game or sliding down the hill beyond the center field on cardboard boxes, like Cubs manager Joe Madden.

In Williamsport, the only fences are in the outfield. In Williamsport, 12-year-olds from around the world, open their arms to one another, not their mouths. In Williamsport, America’s pastime brings the world together.

In Williamsport.

Nick Saban Isn’t Happy: Lord Help the Tide’s Opponents

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

   Nick Saban, arguably the greatest head coach in college football history, is not happy. Which is truly an intimidating situation for every other program in the nation.

 Saban believes his players were undisciplined at times last season. He thinks his team’s preparation wasn’t as good as it should have been on occasion. He speculates that some of his players, now in the NFL, were thinking about themselves ahead of the team.

  Saban has spent the last the last six months talking about re-establishing the program’s standard of excellence. Yes, that is a scary narrative if your team faces the Crimson Tide this season.

  Mind you, Alabama went 14-1 and last season, not 11-3 or some other utterly unacceptable record in Tuscaloosa. It’s not as if the standard fell off the table. But when you’re Alabama, winner of 15 national championships, the standard is staggeringly high.

  So after getting embarrassed in the national championship game, a 44-16 beat down at the hands of Clemson, you better believe that Saban has done everything in his power to make certain the Tide is as disciplined, prepared and focused as any team in the nation.

  Oh yes, Alabama also happens to have one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Tua Tagovailoa, a ridiculous amount of depth and talent on both sides of the ball and a schedule that is fair by SEC standards.

  The 2019 season begins Saturday with Miami and Florida meeting at Camping World Stadium in Orlando (7:00 p.m.; ESPN), followed by Arizona at Hawaii (10:00 p.m.; CBSSN). Although Clemson and Alabama have dominated the preseason polls, neither are undisputed favorites. NYSportsExtra.com looks at the nation’s Top 25 teams, starting with The Tide.

  “I think that the key to us, the key to our success, is can we internally re-establish the standard of what we need to do to be the best team that we can be?” said Saban. “And that’s got to be something that’s done on a consistent basis, and it has to be able to sustain the season. And that’s a challenge for all of us.”

  The challenge for every other team is to find a way to beat ‘Bama.

  1. Alabama: Player Watch: WR Jerry Jeudy. Key Game: Nov. 16 at Mississippi State – Can ‘Bama respond the week after hosting LSU? That BCS Championship Game humiliation provides a lot of motivation. Skinny: Bama’s mindset – to physical dominate at every position – has proved hard to beat.
  • Georgia: Player Watch: RB D’Andre Swift. Key Game: Nov. 16 at Auburn – Showdown on the Plains. Skinny: Dawgs are sick and tired of looking up at Alabama. They have lots of company.
  • Oklahoma: Player Watch: QB Jalen Hurts. Key Game: Nov. 30th at Oklahoma St. – Bedlam. Skinny: Hurts replaces Kyler Murray who replaced Baker Mayfield. Can’t be that easy, can it?
  • Washington: Player Watch: Georgia transfer QB Jacob Eason. Oct 5th at Stanford – One week after hosting USC. Skinny: Chris Petersen has his teams consistently physically and fundamentally prepared.
  • Clemson: Player Watch: Key Game: Sept 14th at Syracuse – One week after hosting Texas A&M. Skinny: Yes, we know QB Trevor Lawrence is exceptional but the Tigers lost an NFL caliber line of defenders.
  • Michigan: Player Watch: RB Zach Charnonnet. Key Game: Nov. 30th vs Ohio State – Wolverines haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since 2011. Skinny: Michigan has been to Vatican; It hasn’t been to the CFP. Favorable schedule.
  • Florida: Player Watch: CB C.J. Henderson; Key Game: Oct. 12th at LSU – One week after Auburn, the Gators go to Death Valley. Skinny: There’s always talent in Gainesville but this is about Year 2 under Dan Mullen.
  • Ohio State: Player Watch: DE Chase Young.  Key Game: Sept 28th at Nebraska – Georgia transfer QB Justin Fields gets his first nerve-fraying road game. Skinny: Time for Buckeyes to get back to the CFP instead of worrying about trademarking, ‘The.’
  • LSU: Player Watch: SS Grant Delpit. Key Game: Nov. 9th at Alabama – If the Tigers want to get back to the SEC elite, no better place to start. Skinny: LSU always has some of the best talent in the country; does it now have discipline and coaching to match?

10. Notre Dame: Player Watch: OG Tommy Kraemer. Key Game: Sept 28 vs Virginia – One week after what figures to be a physical and emotional battle in Athens, can the Irish be ready for a resurgent Virginia program? Skinny: Coach Brian Kelly will need all the depth he’s built to handle this brutal schedule.

Maybe the Yankees Will Get the Pitching Help They Need. Maybe Not

08/15/19 Cleveland Indians vs New York Yankees at yankee stadium bronx ny yanks trail 11-1 after 4 1/2 inning #43 Jonathan Loaisiga ” spit the bit” after giving a 2 run homer in the 1st inning Neil Miller /nysportsextra

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

From the moment the trade deadline came and went and the Yankees did nothing to bolster their pitching, the narrative coming from the front office went something like this: We’ve got some guys coming back from injury that will help us.

Um.

One of those players returned Thursday night and the results were frighteningly playoff awful.

Jonathan Loaisiga got lit up by the Cleveland Indians in a 19-5 Yankees loss. By the time Loaisiga entered the game, the Yankees already were in the soup. One-inning starter/reliever Chad Green didn’t even last an inning, giving up two home runs in just one-third of an inning.

08/15/19 Cleveland Indians vs New York Yankees at yankee stadium bronx ny #57 chad green fires down the rosin bag after giving up a grad slam to indians #11 jose ramirez in the 1st inning Neil Miller /nysportsextra

Enter Loaisiga. He gave up four earned runs on another two home runs.

Loaisiga’s performance was understandable. He’s been on the injured list since May 8th with a right shoulder strain. Maybe he’ll be better in his next outing. Maybe not.

jonathan loaisiga Neil Miller /nysportsexta

Maybe the Yankees will get back Luis Severino. Maybe not.

Maybe they’ll get back Dellin Betances. Maybe not.

delin bentaces file photo nysportsextra/Neil Miller

Severino (right shoulder) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session, using all of his pitches. Betances (right shoulder impingement) also threw a bullpen session. If they can return, both will certainly need a few outings to gauge their playoff readiness. There are 39 games left.

severino /Neil Miller /nysportsextra

For Yankees fans, this loss brought back nightmares of that late-July stretch against the Twins and Red Sox when the pitching got blown up. That was prior to the July 31 trade deadline. This was after. The Indians scored their 19 runs on 24 hits, seven of which were home runs.

While the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros are considered the favorites to win the World Series, the Indians are a legitimately dangerous team; exactly the kind of team that could take out the Yankees in the ALDS or ALCS.

The Yankees (81-42) have shown remarkable depth and resiliency but they haven’t been tested the way the Indians have. Cleveland (73-49), once trailed the Twins by 11 and one-half games in the AL Central. Those teams now are in a virtual tie for the division lead.

The Indians starting pitching is so deep they felt confident trading Trevor Bauer (who the Yanks had eyes on) to the Reds. In return, they got Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes – instantly upgrading their lineup – and lefthanded pitcher Logan Allen.

Puig went 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored. Reyes went 2-for-6. The Indians are optimistic they’ll get Corey Kluber (broken forearm) back soon. They also might get Carlos Carrasco (leukemia).

But the Indians made moves before the deadline, making them a better squad. So did the Astros (Zack Greinke). Even the Dodgers acquired lefty sidearm reliever Adam Kolarek, who could be the kind of thrower that becomes a postseason star.

The Yankees made no moves. Maybe Severino, Betances and Loaisiga will return and round into form before the calendar reads, “October.” Right now, it’s looking like maybe not.

NOTES: Pete Alonso became just the third rookie in Mets history to drive in six runs in a game in the team’s 10-8 win over the Braves. He also tied Cody Bellinger’s National League rookie record of 39 home runs set in 2017. That record is falling like the stock market.

Mets Getting a Brutal Dose of Reality

#36 Mickey Callaway file photo Neil Miller /nysportsextra copyright 2019

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

When a team had been going as well as the Mets, when Citi Field had become a playground of thrills and chills, when the Wild Card had become a legitimate goal instead of a punch line, these last few games have served as a brutal reality slap.

Reality: Despite that amazing stretch in which the Mets won 15-of-16 they remain a flawed and thin team.

After Wednesday night’s 6-4 loss to the Braves in Atlanta, an eight-game win streak has been replaced by a three-game losing streak.

It was just this past Sunday that the Mets were even with the Washington Nationals for the Wild Card. This morning they are three games out of the playoffs, muddled with six other teams that are within 4.5 games of the two Wild Card spots.

After winning series against the Padres, Pirates (twice), White Sox, Marlins and Nationals, the Mets (61-59) are assured of losing their first series since July 18-21 when they dropped 3-of-4 to the Giants.

Suddenly, the Mets world seems dubious.

“We’re still in a good spot,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway told reporters. “It’s not the end of the world.”

It’s just starting to feel that way.

#36 Mickey Calloway file photo Neil Miller /nysportsextra copyright 2019

But that’s no reason to lose sight of the long view. No true Mets fan, I’m referring to the Mets fans that have seen the annual hope in April evaporate by the dog days of August, really believed this was a playoff team.

They might have been talking themselves into believing in a miracle but the flaws were too glaring to ignore. The bullpen was awful. The offense was anemic. The depth was shallow. The manager was suspect. And the vaunted starting pitching wasn’t living up to expectations.

We’ve seen several of those warts these last three games.

* Uncloser Edwin Diaz continued his train wreck of a season in the 7-4 loss to the Nationals.

#39 Edwin Diaz file photo Neil Miller / nysportsextra copyright 2019

* Starter Zack Wheeler was off in a 5-3 loss.

#45 Zach Wheeler file photo Neil Miller /nysportsextra copyright 2019

* Seth Lugo, whose been as good a reliever as anyone in baseball, got scorched Wednesday night.

* Callaway still is trying to convince the world he made the right decision pulling Steven Matz in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s loss when the Long Island native had thrown just 79 pitches.

And during this three-game streak the Mets lost their best hitter, Jeff McNeil to a hamstring injury.

#6 Jeff Mc Neil bats file photo Neil Miller/nysportsextra copyright 2019

Now that the Mets have completed the cream puff portion of their schedule, the flaws are popping out all over once again. Even during the amazing run, one of the players most responsible for that success, was planting the seed that this Mets turnaround wouldn’t necessarily yield the desired result this season.

“At the end of the day or at the end of the year, we are going to be in a really good spot,’’ Alonso told reporters in early August.

The truth is the Mets are in a really good spot going forward. If they resign Wheeler, which they absolutely should, the Mets will have the best rotation in the game. Alonso, McNeil and Michael Conforto are big time hitters.

Bolstering the bullpen, adding another bat and depth, and finding another manager should be high on the offseason to-do list. If the Mets do that, 2020 could be special.

Is this season over? Of course not. Is the possibility of the playoffs kaput? No.

But reality can be a brutal slap. Just brutal.

The Undisputed Greatest NFL Players of All-Time

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  Antonio Brown is having issues with his feet and helmet. Tom Brady is selling his Massachusetts house. Dak Prescott reportedly wants $40 million a year. Daniel Jones, booed just a few months ago, is headed to the Hall of Fame. So is Jarrett Stidham. And Kyler Murray has wrapped up the MVP.

Lord is it great to have the NFL back!

With Week 2 of the preseason upon us and Fantasy Football Owners cutting off all communication with loved ones, we offer you the best NFL players of all-time, position by position.

Feel free to vent!

OFFENSE

QB – Tom Brady: Pats – Yes, Dan Marino had a stronger arm. And you can make an argument for Joe Montana with the ball, down six, with 90 seconds left. But Brady has set a new standard.

RB – Jim Brown: Browns – The greatest offensive player of all time.

RB – Walter Payton: Bears – Made the stiff arm and the dead leg the envy of all backs.

TE – John Mackey: Colts, Chargers – Tony Gonzalez as better numbers Kellen Winslow was a better deep threat. But for receiving, blocking and toughness, Mackey gets the nod.

WR – Jerry Rice: 49ers – The master technician had DB’s beat at the line of scrimmage.

WR – Randy Moss: Vikings, Raiders, Pats, Titans, 49ers – At 6-4, 210, he redfined the WR position. Imagine if he played his entire career with Brady?

OT – Anthony Munoz: Bengals – Simply physically and mentally dominant, missing just three games in his first 12 seasons.

OG – John Hannah: Pats – If a cornerback had a choice of meeting a train or a pulling Hannah, well, it’s not a no-brainer.

C – Jim Otto: Raiders – Arguably the toughest player of all time, he underwent some 40 surgeries during and after his career.

OG – Bruce Matthews: Oilers, Titans – Mr. Versatile; started at all five OL positions – and dominated.

OT – Jonathan Ogden: Ravens – 6-9, 345 pounds of strength and athleticism.

PK – Justin Tucker: Ravens – He’s missed one PAT. One out of 242. And has nailed 90-percent of his field goal attempts.

KOR – Gale Sayers: Bears – In an injury-shortened career, the Kansas Comet averaged 30.6 yards per return and was the most breathtaking open-field runner ever.

PR – Devin Hester: Bears, Falcons, Ravens, Seahawks – The epitome of a cocky, electric Miami athlete; you sat up whenever he received a punt and headed upfield.

DEFENSE

DE – Reggie White: Eagles – No lineman was better against the run and pass. Or classier.

DL – Mean Joe Greene: Steelers – He wasn’t the meanest. But he was the ultimate disrupter for the Steel Curtain.

DL – Bob Lily: Cowboys: Headliner of the Dallas Doomsday Defense.

DE – Deacon Jones: Rams, Chargers, Redskins – Quarterbacks saw him in their nightmares. And in their waking hours.

LB – Lawrence Taylor: Giants – The greatest defensive player of all time.

MLB – Dick Butkus: Bears – Sorry Joe, Butkus was the meanest player of all time.

LB – Ted Hendricks: Colts, Packers, Raiders – Until LT came along, The Mad Stork was the standard for an OLB. Exemplary nickname.

CB – Deion Sanders: Falcons, 49ers, Cowboys, Redskins, Ravens – Arguably the greatest athlete to play the game in Prime Time, or any other time.

CB – Mike Haynes: Raiders – The most physical corner to play the game. NFL has become a passing league because of the style with which he played.

SS – Ronnie Lott: 49ers – Warning: Go over the middle at your own peril.

FS – Emlen Tunnell: Giants – Turned the safety position into an offensive threat with 1,282 yards in interception returns.

P – Ray Guy: Raiders – Didn’t just flip the field, he flipped the game.

Special Teams – Steve Tasker: Oilers, Bills – The 5-9, 183-pound, 9th-round draft pick made ‘Gunner’ a cool position with his hustle and hitting.

MANAGEMENT

Coach – Bill Belichick: Browns, Pats – 1. Sixteen AFC East titles. 2. Six Super Bowl championships. 3. Notice how many players leave N.E. for more money but never play as well? Notice how many players come to N.E. and have their best years?

GM – Tex Schramm – Not only did he draft some of the greatest players of all time (Lily, Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker) but he was one of the first to scout small schools. And we wouldn’t have the combine if not for Schramm.

Pinch Yourself: The Mets Are Never Out of a Game

Credit twitter

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

 When was the first time you pinched yourself Friday night?

Was it when Todd Frazier’s three-run homer left Citi Field faster than the Mets can print playoff tickets? Or was it when Michael Conforto launched the most thrilling single of the season, driving in Juan Lagares with the winning run in a stunning, thrilling, unbelievable 7-6 win over the Nationals?

Or was it Saturday morning when you awoke on planet Earth and it was confirmed that the Amazin’ events of last night were not a dream?

Conforto really was running shirtless in the outfield after the giddiest players not in the Little League World Series celebrated in short center. Dominic Smith, his injured left leg resting on a scooter, was violating some obscure city driving ordinance by tearing out to join the celebration.

“It felt like the playoffs with the stadium packed,’’ Conforto told reporters.

Yep, it felt like the playoffs. It felt like the playoffs In Citi Field not Yankee Stadium, where playoffs feel like an annual rite. The fans that call Citi Field home don’t enjoy October baseball very often. But they got a taste of it Friday night, and man, was that delicious.

Trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the ninth against the best National League team they’ve faced since the All Star Break, J.D. Davis doubled against Nationals closer Sean Doolittle. Wilson Ramos singled to center.

Frazier came to the plate with visions of going deep.

“Pretty much,’’ he admitted later.

Frazier should be charged with baseball abuse for how criminally he crushed Doolittle’s pitch. Game tied, 6-6.

“You don’t feel like you’re out of a game when you’re on a run like this,’’ said Frazier.

Ah yes. The Run. Perhaps that’s the title of the second half of the Mets season. The Run.

With Citi Field still reverberating from Frazier’s blast, more magic. Joe Panik, making his Mets debut, singled. He was erased on Lagares’ bunt. Jeff McNeil flied to right. Amed Rosario singled to left.

Up came Conforto, the former first-round pick in the 2014 draft and closest thing the Mets have to an elite bat. His hard, rising blast to right cleared Adam Eaton’s head and mayhem came to Queens.

The win marked the first time this season the Mets won a game in which they trailed after eight innings. Forty-four times the Mets had failed in that situation. But on this night, the Mets told themselves, and their fans, they are not the same old Mets.

They had won for the 14th time in 15 games, a feat not accomplished since 1990.

As the fans erupted in euphoric celebration, the Mets hopped the dugout railing and made a run for Conforto. Pete Alonso, not quite sure what to do in such scenarios, pulled off Conforto’s jersey.

The Mets are now one-half game out of the Wild Card and one and one-half games behind the Nationals for the first Wild Card.

“Right now, we’re firing on all cylinders,’’ Conforto said. “Our confidence is just building with each win.”

Go ahead. Pinch yourself.

Contenders or Pretenders: Time for the Mets to Declare

08/05/19 Miami Marlins vs New York Mets at citifield queens ny #20 pete alonso celebrates on a go ahead homer in the 7th innning Neil Miller /nysportsextra copyright 2019

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

  Miracle Makers or Dream Teasers?

 The time has come for the Mets to declare.

They are the hottest team in baseball, having won 14 of their last 15. They have gone 20-6 since the All-Star Break. They are a season-high 12 games above .500. They are one-half a game out of the Wild Card.

One-half a game.

This weekend they face the question on everyone baseball fans’ mind, on their mind: Are the Mets contenders or pretenders?

The Washington Nationals, also a team once enduring a bust of a season, come to Citi Field for a three-game series  starting on Friday.  The Nat’s own the first Wild Card with a 61-53 record. The Nats were 19-31 on May, 23rd after getting swept by – the Mets. It was a four-game sweep.

Man, did the Nats turn it around.

Man, did the Mets turn it around?

#20 pete alonso file photo Neil Miller/nysportsextra copyright 2019

“You got to slay the giant so to speak,’’ rookie slugger Pete Alonso told reporters after Wednesday’s 7-2 dusting of the Marlins. “You have to go through these tough teams in order to get to the playoffs and when you get to the playoffs it’s just going to be that much harder.

 “If we keep playing the way we are, we’ve hit well, our defense has been awesome and our pitching has been light’s out, so I think that’s going to be a really tough combo.’’

This is the time to see just how tough are the Mets. They say their early-season struggles only made them tougher, closer, more confident. But were they tough players in a soft stretch.

Those 20 wins have come against the Marlins, Twins, Giants Padres, Pirates and White Sox.

If the season were to end today, only the Twins would be in the playoffs. The Marlins and Pirates occupy last place in their respective division. The Padres are half a game out of last place in the NL West.

The Giants, like the Mets, became buyers, not sellers at the trade deadline. They just got swept by the Nationals. Yes, the Nats already revealed one surging team to be a fraud.

Are the Mets next?

#36 mickey calloway in the dugout in the 3rd innning file photo Neil Miller nysportsexta copyright 2019

“What we’ve done is not easy but it’s in the past,’’ manager Mickey Callaway said. “Our focus is on the next game. The things that we’ve been through are going to allow us to be a better team than we otherwise would have been down the stretch. We’re trying to accomplish something as a team together that can be very special.”

Special? Yes. Magical? Perhaps.

The National were expected to be in the playoff discussion. They Mets were not.

The Mets recently lost Robinson Cano to a torn hamstring. The Nats will be without Bryce Harper, who just went on the Injured List with a bruised knee.

The field is even. Are the two teams? It’s time for the Mets to declare.

“We’ve got a chance to do something really great,’’ Alonso said.

They really do.