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Thomas Pock's Great Revenge

I doubt Thomas Pöck is really the vengeful sort. But maybe he remembers those years he logged at UMass, posting impressive numbers while being for the most part ignored by the hometown Bruins.

The Rangers signed Pöck as an undrafted free agent in 2004, and he skated with the big club rather quickly due to the fire sale of defensemen Greg de Vries, Vladimir Malakhov, and Brian Leetch. The past couple years the offensively gifted defenseman has been the odd man out, shuttling along that lonely stretch of highway from Hartford to Manhattan.

On some level, his failure to succeed in the NHL is due to his crippling inability to realize that he is, in fact, a defenseman, not a winger, and that he needs to hit more people and get caught up ice less. He's a bit like current Ranger D Paul Mara, who has a propensity to jump into every play, even plays where he's not at all wanted.

Speaking of Mara, did any of you notice that the player he was traded for, Aaron Ward, skating for the Bruins today, had three hits today, all of which were against Jaromir Jagr? I'm surprised that #68 denies that he had anything to do with the disappointing Ward being run out of town at the deadline. The two quarreled, I would imagine, because Jaromir Jagr is going to the Hall of Fame and Aaron Ward sucks. Just a thought.

Today, he showed the Bruins what they missed right under their noses. The Rangers seemed throughout the game to lack the offensive cohesiveness that has been omnipotent during their recent hot streak. Henrik Lundqvist, consistently under heavy fire in net, made the mistake of allowing a long rebound to reach the stick of Marc Savard in the second period, good for the Bruins' only goal.

I was scared, maybe unjustifiably so, that the Rangers wouldn't score again. Ryan Hollweg had taken a rather stupid five-minute major penalty for boarding, which prompted the Boston Bruin announcers to defend Chris Simon's vicious hit. I knew the announcer, Dale Arnold, was going to take a cheap shot at Hollweg when he began a sentence with "Not to defend Chris Simon's actions, but. . . ." I hope you won't blame me for ceasing to pay attention there.

Maybe in all of the commotion and the Rangers' failure to score it was easy to forget that we were playing the Bruins. With a minute and change remaining in the third period, Pock roofed one over the enemy's backup goalie, Joey MacIntyre MacDonald and the Rangers were more or less home free. MacDonald actually played a very good game, surprising considering his Mike DeJean-esque relief effort during the 7-0 St. Patrick's Day Massacre last week.

Okay, they took a penalty in overtime, which usually spells impending doom for the Rangers (I would implore you to recall the most recent game in Atlanta), but when it got to the shootout, the Rangers did win, thanks to usual heroes Michael Nylander and Henrik Lundqvist, and the reluctant shootouter Jagr, who scored the deciding goal.

The Rangers go into tomorrow's clash against the rival Islanders poised to seize the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. This is fortunate, as a seventh seed would require the Rangers to play the second-seeded New Jersey Satanists (read: Martin Brodeur and 19 guys who should be pumping gas in Ontario), whereas the sixth seed allows the Rangers to play the very beatable Atlanta Thrashers in the first round.

Expect the normal team to be in uniform tomorrow (thankfully Chris Simon won't be for the Islanders), and perhaps the tensions will boil over. Get 'em, Colton Orr.

Not a good day for the Mets. Either squad. Thankfully, Major League Baseball doesn't believe in the wisdom of playing regular season split-squad games.

Not a good day for Chan Ho Pork (not a typo; it's an incredibly clever play on words), as he pitched three shutout innings only to find that the fifth starter job was no longer open to him.

Not a good day for John Maine, who has locked up the third starter spot, but apparently feels guilty enough about doing so that he gave up 12 hits and four runs in five and two-thirds against most of the actual Marlins. Aaron Boone, going into today's game hitting an epic .138, mashed Maine for three hits.

Not a good day for Jose Reyes, who fouled a ball hard off his foot (left) en route to a hitless game.

Not a good day for the projected starting outfield of Moises Alou, Carlos Beltran, and Shawn Green, who went 0-for-6 with a walk.

Call me a pessimist, but there's a week to make this team look good. It's uglier than Steve Buscemi right now.

I'll be back tomorrow with my projected roster for this season. And you can trust me as a prognosticator. I have online proof that I picked Duke and Notre Dame to be upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

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Sandis La Russa

Most people with a reasonable knowledge would find very little in common between St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa and former Rangers bum/wino Sandis Ozolinsh. Or Rams DE Leonard Little.

But Little's tale of DWI, where he killed a woman, repented, and then was arrested again on similar charges seems to be appropriate here for a fellow St. Louis sportsman.

Maybe Tony La Russa didn't kill anyone. But he could have. If his foot was heavy against the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal as the veteran manager passed out, the carnage would have been greater.

I can understand that people make mistakes, and that La Russa's BAC level was barely over the legal limit, but part of me feels a little schadenfreude in this. La Russa is revered within the game of baseball, despite having a somewhat creepy demeanor, and he has received great acclaim for his work with animal rights groups.

I'm just not sure I see it. Tony, you have one of the largest contracts for a manager in all of baseball. You've won four Manager of the Year awards. You also just won the World Series for the second time in your career. You can't afford a driver?

Your team drove away 2B Ronnie Belliard for suspected legal troubles. The Cardinals are supposed to be a family organization, dating back to before 1983, when Keith Hernandez was unceremoniously dealt to Flushing in part because of an ongoing drug problem.

Maybe La Russa isn't a drug addict, and maybe he isn't expected to be a role model for millions of kids. However, I tire of the sanctimonious praise that follows him from city to city during the season. Tony does everything right. He's a great manager. He's great within the community. He's an outstanding influence on the community. Doesn't that all look like bullshit now?

Remember in 2004, when the Diamondbacks axed their manager, Wally Backman, after four days on the job in part because of a DUI collar? Imagine if this was Willie Randolph, or Joe Torre. These men are professed as well to be some of the good influences within pro baseball, as well. Wouldn't we, with good reason, be up in arms about the disgraceful conduct of our team's leaders?

What's worse, baseball pundits opine about the extent to which steroids have permeated the game when drunken driving is far more detrimental to society. Steroid use is at least a victimless crime with consequences that solely affect the drug user. La Russa, terribly irresponsible in his conduct, could have killed anyone on the road.

Pardon me if I hope there was animal blood in that wine. Let's debunk this hero. Erase him from the ledger. No more puffball interviews between innings, where Jon Miller and Joe Morgan say nice things. Ask him if he's sorry. Ask him why he did it.

He won't say much. I don't care. Baseball will be one giant ego lighter.

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My Return

Well, the past few weeks have been somewhat hectic. Apologies to all, the whole thing.

At present, both Garden residents are in the throes of contentious playoff races, and my Mets are embarrassing the city of Port St. Lucie in a 6-14-1 Grapefruit League season that has seen very little sound playing of the game of baseball.

We have heard Willie Randolph discuss the potential tightening of camp, and with good reason. The notion that spring training games are meaningless has become a popular refrain in my household, and I have too often used the excuse that non-roster players are coughing up late-inning leads.

To a certain extent, these preseason games are meaningless, as in the three other major sports. There are always constants within this game: Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will hit 30 HR and drive in 100 runs, Tom Glavine will log 185 innings, and one or more of the former Marlins young guns (Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny) will spend time on the DL.

Nevertheless, maybe some of the sloppiness and poor offensive/pitching showing by expected contributors to the squad can actually be seen as a legitimate precursor to a regression for the Mets this year. They will lack the rotation force that is Pedro Martinez, and the bullpen can be expected to decline with the departures of Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford and the news that Guillermo Mota (steroid suspension), Duaner Sanchez (3 A.M. munchies), and Juan Padilla (real injury) will probably not be ready for opening day.

The starting rotation provides further cause for concern at first glance. Yet when one recalls that the Mets' opening day rotation of 2006, the dynasty-spawning season, included Victor Zambrano, Brian Bannister, and Steve Trachsel, it is hard to argue that this group is much worse. Moreover, Zambrano, Bannister, and Pedro were all injured by mid-May. Given that their replacements were such luminaries as Jose Lima, Jeremi (eventually Geremi) Gonzalez, Alay Soler, and then-unknown John Maine, can we really be all that disappointed with this year's crop?

As far as I can tell, this season's rotation will be unfortunately troubled by an inevitable regression from John Maine: his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a godly .225 last year, and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasts him for a more reasonable .276 BABIP this year. Maine's high home run rate does not bode well for him either, and one must inquire about whether his strategy of pitching with fastballs high in the strike zone will continue to hold up for him this year.

I worry further about Oliver Perez, for the most part because he has shown tantalizing potential upon which he has failed to deliver. Perez is more or less the Mets' version of Rangers C Matt Cullen. He has a ton of ability, but he often tends to display it against inferior competition. Last summer, I took a fiery and enraged approach to dismantling Perez, but I have a sliver of hope that he can develop into a semi-dependable starter.

The major issue for Perez is not his stuff, but rather the issue is his pitch selection. He oddly nibbles early in the count, despite having a filthy slider that baffles hitters from both sides of the plate and good heat. But when Perez gets behind, he grooves a sweet batting practice fastball that even Neifi Perez could drive over the centerfield fence. Unfortunately, when he doesn't groove that fastball, he just walks the hitters and grooves another fastball to the next guy.

Offensively, the Mets are stuck with a new set of problem child outfielders: Shawn Green and Moises Alou. The hardly dynamic AARP members have propelled themselves to absolutely woeful batting lines of .174/.208/.348 and .182/.229/.242, respectively. Don't forget that those statistics include a recent hot streak by Green.

In their places are younger upstarts Ben Johnson and Lastings Milledge, previously thought to be shopping for long-term mortgages on New Orleans real estate. Now Milledge's .375/.468/.550 line is the best in camp, and Johnson's .268/.333/.439 is not too shabby either. Add in the strong spring showings of Endy Chavez and David Newhan, and one must be pressed to ask if we really have to suffer through a whole season of "veteran outfielders" or "real team guys."

I would be inclined to say that the real spring training begins tomorrow, but that date is entirely arbitrary. The season begins April 1. Let's panic now, before the games actually count.


Rangers vs. A TEAM WITH UPSIDE at the Garden tonight. It's on OLN or VS or whatever the channel will be named next year. Seriously, isn't it weird thinking that earlier this year the Devils and Penguins were in the Rangers' dust? Oh, well, remember when Brendan Shanahan had by far the most goals in the league?

Still depressing. I have the Sidney Crosbys winning 5-3.

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