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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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Rocky Balboa vs. Clubber Lang

Posted 04-11-2009 at 04:39 PM by TommyJohn
Updated 04-12-2009 at 06:41 PM by TommyJohn

Few, if any, sportswriters or prognosticators gave the Knights any sort of prayer of competing with the Mets in the NLCS. The smart money held that the Mets were simply the better team. This was the team, after all, that had blown away the National League two years ago, running up a record of 108-54, far outdistancing all other competition in the division that year. The Mets didn’t exactly play like a destructive machine in the postseason-a hard fought LCS with the Houston Astros went six games, with Game 6 being a nail-biting see-saw affair that saw the Mets finally take the pennant after 16 innings; and in the World Series against the Red Sox the Mets were a strike away from losing before staging a miraculous comeback that would have Red Sox fans comparing their trials and tribulations to Job of biblical lore.

In 1987 the Dynasty-In-the-Making that everyone had predicted hit a bump in the road-92-70, a drop off of 16 games. They had rebounded in 1988, with a few tweaks, to go 100-60. Included in those 100 wins were 10 over the Knights, who only beat them once-and it took a complete game, 1-0 shutout by Tom Schmidt, who drove in the game’s only run, to do it. Two of the Mets wins had been back-to-back 19-7 and 16-4 blowouts. The Mets just seemed to have the Knights’ number in 1988.

Another thing working in the Mets’ favor was that this was essentially the same squad of brawling, carousing, hard-partying, womanizing players that had won it all in 1986. Team stars such as catcher Gary Carter and first baseman Keith Hernandez still remained and had good seasons. Outfielder Darryl Strawberry and pitcher Dwight Gooden were two young superstars at the peak of their powers; young, gifted individuals all but ticketed for enshrinement in Cooperstown by fans and the media. They had both had great seasons: Strawberry terrorized NL pitching to the tune of 39 HRs and 101 RBI. Gooden hit a slight bump with his drug troubles in 1987. Still he went 18-9 with a 3.19 ERA and 175 strikeouts.

The Knights didn’t do too shabby. They had power in first baseman David Lee, and Tom Schmidt had come into his own with a tremendous year on the mound. Jermaine Rich had 21 home runs and 88 RBI. The Knights had no real superstars except for Lee and Schmidt, but just blended well together. Still, to hear and read the media and get a load of all the experts, New Orleans didn’t stand a ghost on the bayou’s chance of keeping the New York Mets from the inevitable destiny of their second World Series title in three years.

The New York press was especially disdainful of the Knights’ chances against the Mets. George Vecsey of the New York Daily News wrote that Schmidt might carry the Knights to one win, but other than that, the Mets were head and shoulders over the weak Knights. Vecsey snorted that the NL West was notoriously bad that year, pointing to the fact that the Mets had thrashed both the Knights and Dodgers-they had lost only two games to both teams the entire year. Vecsey picked
“the Mets in a runaway-four games to one.”

Other scribes in New York and elsewhere felt the same way. The New York Times writer picked the Mets in a sweep. The NY Post openly wrote about the coming World Series as if the NLCS wasn’t even going to occur. Scribes in other cities similarly picked the Mets-the Knights were no factor at all. Los Angeles Times revered columnist Jim Murray lamented the fact that the Dodgers weren’t going to be in the series and opined that “outside of Justin Wilson and people south of Baton Rogue” no one was going to care about the series. New York vs. Los Angeles would have riveted the whole nation, wrote Murray. All over the country, people’s heads would explode at the thought that LA would be battling NY in anything-who could they possibly hate? What was there to root against? But now that it was New Orleans instead, no one could possibly care, no one.

One sportswriter begged to differ. Bernie Lincicome of the Chicago Tribune was known for his negativity and his hatred for New York and all things about it. This series, he said, was a classic battle of Good vs. Evil-he likened it to the movie Rocky III-the Knights were lovable, undervalued underdog Rocky Balboa, the Mets were his snarling, snorting, loudmouthed, arrogant opponent Clubber Lang, played so memorably by Mr. T. It was up to the Knights, he said, to deliver baseball and America itself from another reign of terror by the Mets. Lincicome, like many, had enough of the arrogant, bullying Mets. The Knights, he pointed out, may not have been all boy scouts, but they came across as a humble, decent bunch-the type that respected their opponents and said “Hi, Mom” when the cameras were on them. The Knights were as American as George Washington, Ronald Reagan, and the flag. The Mets were the Prince of Darkness-Hitler, Stalin, and the Soviet Union all rolled into one. Lincicome topped off his column by picking the Mets to win in five games. “Clubber by a KO, and it won’t be close. This ain’t the movies.” He wrote.

The Mets shared the sentiments of the gentlemen of the press corps. Darryl Strawberry, when asked how the Knights matched up against his team, said “they don’t. We are, hands down, the better team. They are the best that a weaker division could offer.” He was then asked what Knight pitchers he expected would give him trouble. Strawberry laughed and walked away.

Gary Carter was also in no mood to be charitable. The Met catcher’s cocky, arrogant attitude seemed to personify the whole club. He was also asked how the series seemed to match up. Carter said “well, they’re a….um…good team. I suspect they’ll be trying to win.” He then chuckled. “I wish them luck.” He laughed.
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