I am finally back from China and settled in, so the top-five games list makes its return this week.
The U.S. Open and the first weekend of the college football season added variety and excitement to this week’s list. With the NFL season rapidly approaching, expect even more leagues to be represented next week.
5. MLB: Blue Jays 7, Yankees 6 (Aug. 30)
What appears to be a lost season for the Bronx Bombers took yet another negative turn Saturday, as they could not hold a four-run lead against the Blue Jays.
Damaso Marte continued his poor stint in pinstripes, allowing a crucial Adam Lind single in the decisive eighth inning on his way to receiving the loss. But this collapse was the doing of the entire New York bullpen: Of the four Yankee relievers to toe the rubber, only Jose Veras did not allow a runner to cross the plate.
New York’s road to the playoffs looks increasingly long by the day, and their goal may be just about out of reach. The Yankees are now seven games behind the rival Boston Red Sox in the American League Wild Card race with only 26 games to play. They also sit 4.5 games behind the Minnesota Twins, and now only two games ahead of Toronto.
If they don’t pull off a miraculous comeback, it should be a pretty interesting winter in the Bronx.
4. Tennis, U.S. Open: Novak Djokovic Defeats Marin Cilic in Four Sets (Aug. 31)
While perhaps not the most dramatic match of the Open’s first week—it didn’t even go five sets—the quality of the tennis in this third-round encounter was exceptional.
Djokovic’s powerful and precise groundstrokes dominated the match, but the lengthy Cilic did not go down without a fight. Cilic’s big serve and excellent wingspan—Djokovic had to hit as many as five or six perfect shots in order to win a single point—made every set a nailbiter.
Djokovic prevailed, though, and he is looking more like a legitimate title contender as the tournament progresses. He probably has the best hardcourt game in the world right now, and his semi-final match against Federer, if both players get that far, could potentially become a second passing of the tennis torch.
3. Tennis, U.S. Open: Kei Nishikori Defeats David Ferrer in Five Sets (Aug. 30)
This match had a very typical Open feel to it: Young hotshot gets out to quick lead with blistering early pace. Grizzled veteran starts to chip away, works his way back into the match. The match heads into the decisive fifth set.
But then the veteran is supposed to win. Especially when that veteran is ranked No. 4 in the world. Needless to say, Ferrer didn’t. It was Nishikori who won the big points, closing out the match 7-5 in the final set.
That guile is one of the reasons Nishikori and several other phenoms are about to become the next big thing in tennis. Players such as the aforementioned Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, and Ernest Gulbis will be challenging Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for years to come.
2. MLB: Phillies 8, Mets 7 (Aug. 26)
The Yankees aren’t the only New York team that can’t close out a game. The Mets blew a 7-0 lead against Philadelphia Tuesday in a game that could really come back to haunt them in September.
Jimmy Rollins was the catalyst for the Phillies, as he had one of the more complete games in recent history. Rollins had five hits, a home run, and three stolen bases in the 13-inning affair.
The Mets’ bullpen actually performed pretty well, allowing three runs in 7.1 innings after Pedro Martinez struggled. Instead, it was the Amazin’s inability to mount any offense after the fourth inning that cost them.
The Phillies now sit one game behind the Mets in the National League East, and it is unlikely that either team will qualify for the playoffs as a Wild Card. If last season, as well as this game, are any indication, this is a race that will come right down to the wire.
1. College Football: East Carolina 27, Virginia Tech 22 (Aug. 30)
Several big-name college football teams once again fell to lesser names on the season’s first weekend, and Frank Beamer’s Hokies were the first to do so.
It didn’t come easy for the Pirates, who were trailing 22-20 with less than two minutes to play before T.J. Lee returned a blocked punt 27 yards for the game-deciding touchdown.
Several of Virginia Tech’s holes—most notably the poor play of quarterback Sean Glennon—were exposed in the game, but give Beamer and his boys credit for scheduling this game.
East Carolina is one of the projected favorites in Conference USA. Essentially, they are a high-level college football “mid-major.” Playing a team like this on the road is exactly what college basketball analysts expect big-name teams to do. So why not football teams as well?
In a sport like football, where one bad loss can derail a season and end a team’s championship dreams, it’s much more difficult to schedule a game where a loss is both viable and would look bad on paper. Virginia Tech deserves substantial credit for doing just that.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for them this year.