In “Rocky 3” (for my money the most entertaining flick in the series) reporters ask Clubber Lang, played by the inimitable Mr. T, for his view of his upcoming heavyweight title fight with Rocky Balboa.
His response: “My prediction? Pain.”
It remains the most accurate forecast in the history of real or fictional sporting events.
For example, I listened to all the football experts on ESPN radio predict this past weekend’s college games. All thought Brigham Young would manhandle visiting Florida State. FSU won, 54-28. Some thought host Toledo would cover the spread against Ohio State, which promptly put a 38-0 whupping on the Mud Hens. I doubt the geniuses who offered those “lead-pipe stone-cold locks” are reminding folks about their picks this week.
I also thought I had good pitching on my fantasy baseball team. But I drafted Joba Chamberlain, who has made Boston’s decision to take Clay Buchholz one draft pick ahead of him look good; Kevin Slowey, who suffered a season-ending injury; A.J. Burnett, who has been mediocre at best; and Nick Adenhart, may he rest in peace.
Either Skip Brush or Karl Neuse will emerge victorious in the fantasy league; may the best man win. Of course, any prediction on my part would be foolhardy; I’m just hoping to hold off hard-charging Jim Daily for fourth.
But the mention of Joba and A.J. brings us to the point: Their team, the New York Yankees, has steamrolled all in their path since the All Star break. They have a chance to become one of the elite teams in major league history to compile a .700 winning percentage since that checkpoint.
So, are the Bombers invincible? Hardly. Ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia was seen getting lit up in last year’s National League Division Series by the Phillies, a performance that followed his 2007 playoff campaign, when the Red Sox hammered him in the American League Championship Series. Burnett is the inconsistent No. 2, and No. 3 Andy Pettitte, who recently skipped a start to rest his shoulder, hasn’t finished a season with an earned-run average less than 4.00 since 2005.
That said, the Bombers catch the ball well and have easily the best lineup in the game. It’s not hard to see them slugging their way to the AL pennant if their pitching is just mediocre and if A-Rod doesn’t have another weird A-Rod moment.
Then there are the Angels, who play in California and are named after two municipalities, apparently because of a court-ordered joint-custody arrangement. They pitch well — John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders are a respectable front three. They field well. They score runs.
And if they get past the Red Sox in the first round — a problem for them, historically — they have fared exceptionally well against the Yankees. Manager Mike Scioscia owns a career 51-39 record against NY after Monday’s win. But the bullpen has been shaky, and their style of manufacturing runs doesn’t always work against better teams in the postseason. And one wonders if their record is inflated playing in a weaker division.
The Sox, despite their dreadful, rain-soaked loss on Monday to the Royals, approach the postseason with the best pitching, supposedly the recipe for October success. Lester has been the best hurler in the league since May. Beckett (if he’s really back in form) is a proven postseason winner. Buchholz has strung together a half-dozen good starts, and even Daisuke Matsuzaka has looked good again. The bullpen may be the league’s best, and shortstop Alex Gonzalez has solidified the defense.
However, the jury is out on whether the Sox can hit good pitching. And if the team insists on playing catcher Jason Varitek (below .170 since the All Star break), the offense will be hamstrung even further. I can foresee a lot of 3-2 losses.
So, who knows? Maybe the Twins will surge past the Tigers in the final week-and-a-half and then stun all the favorites in the playoffs before facing NL Wild Card winner Colorado in the World Series. Stranger things have happened, like a team blowing a 3-0 lead in an ALCS.
Given that it’s baseball, and the fact that the teams followed locally — the Yanks and Sox — have question marks, Mr. T had it right. The only safe prediction is that at least one team’s fan base will feel pain. And quite possibly both.