First things first: Two words. Dick Vitale. OK, maybe three-plus. "You're awesome, bab-e-e-e-e-e." One of the signature lines of college basketball's liveliest and perhaps zaniest color analyst was on full display as the Tampa Bay Rays won at the Trop last night. A season-ticket holder since 1988, the ESPN fixture threw out the first pitch at Game 2 (a game they won) and was going crazy from his seat near the end of the Rays' dugout. Oh, baby. He does get entusiastic. Check out Vitale talking about intimidation on the basketball court.
Add Rays: Joe Maddon has got to be AL manager of the year, bringing the young team this far. In second place: Joe Girardi for surviving the Yankees his first season. Wait, maybe not. Maybe he is in last place for taking the job in the first place and thinking he could do better than Joe Torre.
Speaking of Joe: Girardi, that is. Where is he these days? (A rhetorical question perhaps.) The guy who complained bitterly about the Marlins' front office, took the team to what I think was a fourth-place finish, became NL manager of the year, then was hired by the Yankees, who finished a disappointing third. Last week, Girardi was in Tampa for the Yankees' organizational meetings. Tampa. Perhaps the Steinbrenners were watching the Rays and whispering to GM Brian Cashman: "Wow, maybe we hired the wrong Joe. ..."
Red Sox Nation: There were no more miracles in the stocking. But Boston fans should be saluted. They never gave up believing. So close, and yet there was one David Price standing in the way. From the pitcher's mound, he may not have looked intimidating to earlier Boston heroes J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek. But Price was able to shut the Red Sox down in the 8th and 9th innings of the deciding Game 7 to lock up the AL title for his Rays. Maybe it was the devil that did it. From "Damn Yankees" to Tampa Bay (no more Devil in our name) Rays?
One last Rays: It wasn't all that long ago that Rays catcher Dioner Navarro and last night's winning pitcher Matt Garza got into an argument and had to be separated. That was back in June.
Add Vitale: He is known for his "Vitale-isms." Here is a (mostly food-related) sampling.
Blender: an unselfish player
Cream puff delight: coach who plays an easy schedule
Doughnut offense: team without a center
Drillin' Reggies when they need Pete Roses: taking long shots when they need short shots
M&Mer: a mismatch
Strawberry shortcake: NCAA tournament time, when the underachievers get their just desserts. (And desserts isn't a typo. It's a joke. We hope.)
Hmmmm. Would the Yankees be Strawberry shortcake?
Just win, baby: Wasn't watching the Oakland Raiders-New York Jets game fun in the fourth quarter despite the lack of offense on both sides? For one thing, it is always fun watching Brett Favre try to pull out another victory. For another, it is fun hearing Dick Enberg say his signature, "Oh my..." after Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning 57-yard field goal for Oakland. Enberg is one of the play-by-play announcers in Steve Springer's sportscaster poll. If you haven't voted yet and you like Enberg, just click and vote. The next poll will be color analysts. Voting on play-by-play guys ends Wednesday night. We'll do color analysts beginning Friday. And that will include Dick Vitale.
Just win: The Ducks continue to struggle, and it's becoming a struggle to watch. As Times staff writer Dan Arritt points out, the team's fifth loss in six games was one of missed opportunities. Again. Are the Ducks strawberry shortcake? Way too early to tell.
Just keep winning: The Kings, on the other hand, are not last in their conference, the place they were at the end of last season. The Ducks have that honor right now. In fact, the Kings are in second place in the Pacific division. The surprise of that division? Rob Blake of the division-leading San Jose Sharks. The twice-an-ex-King defenseman is playing well. Blake, who was drafted by the Kings in 1988 and has spent a total of 14 seasons with them, has so far had the biggest difference in the plus/minus category. Last season, he ended with a horrible -19. So far with the Sharks, he is a +3.
-- Debbie Goffa
Photo: Dick Vitale doing what he did during most of last night's Game 7 of the ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. Cheering (despite talking on the phone). Credit: Elsa / Getty Images