Today's Names to Know: Juan Uribe, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, James Harrison, Mark Schlereth, Dallas Clark, LeBron, Darron Thomas, BlogPoll, More.
While most folks are focused on the Yankees' will-they-or-won't-they hook-up with elimination, the NLCS is delivering an exciting series: Did anyone else have Juan Uribe (and the sac fly) as the hero? (Even more interesting: Off of Roy Oswalt, Phillies ace brought out of the 'pen.)
How about heroics from Pablo Sandoval? (You might have foreseen Buster Posey hitting terrifically, but a great stat: He is only the 2nd Giants player ever to have a 4-hit game in the postseason.)
And now the Phillies are where the Yankees were yesterday morning: Pushed to the brink of elimination, after their NL pennant seemed so... inevitable, just a week ago. And amping the pressure on tonight's rematch between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum.
Unlike the presumption that Cliff Lee will shut the door on the Yankees -- if/when New York even makes it to a Game 7 -- Game 1 of the NLCS allowed for at least one data point (if entirely unscientific) that Halladay starting doesn't equal an automatic shutout win for Philly.
But -- like CC Sabathia in NYC last night -- Doc certainly gives the Phillies their best shot at extending the series, sending it back to Philly and teeing up Hamels and Oswalt. (Of course, it's not like the Giants' pitchers have been slouches.)
It is easy -- too easy -- to look ahead to a Rangers-Giants World Series and pronounce that it will be the least-watched World Series match-up ever. That skips over the entirely exciting LCS round that would produce it. Hang in there: These series -- particularly the NLCS -- are worth it.
The Yankees regained some mojo yesterday -- they might even be able to force a Game 7 -- but they still have the "Cliff Lee Problem," and it is massive. It has to give the Rangers amazing confidence, even if they blow a 3-1 series lead and are forced into a Game 7, to know that Lee is the ultimate backstop. I try not to delve too much into pop psychology, but it seemingly would let them play Game 6 a lot looser. On the flip side, how can the Yankees NOT be looking past Game 6 and ahead to Lee and Game 7?
James Harrison is (almost certainly) not going to retire, but his sitting out of practice is a fascinating protest against the league's inconsistent crackdown on "big hits."
Must-Reads: ESPN's Mark Schlereth ripping the NFL for its fine of Harrison -- and the overall reaction to the dangerous hits. And here is PFT's Mike Florio with a clarification.
Dallas Clark: Out indefinitely with a wrist injury? As Peyton Manning's favorite target -- and a versatile weapon within the Colts' offense -- this hurts Indy's short-term prospects (not so much that they can't make the playoffs without him, but it would be hard to go far in January.)
LeBron Watch, Twitter Edition: I give him a lot of credit for using his Twitter feed to call out some of the more vulgar messages he has received.
That said, he is manipulatively picking the selectively hateful ones. I understand the point he's making. But what I would love to see is LeBron retweet the entirely fair criticisms, then react to them.
(By the way, SI's Peter King is the best at retweeting his critics. He showcases a healthy mix of dumb complaints -- to mock them -- and seemingly fair critiques.)
CFB Tonight: UCLA vs. No. 1 Oregon. If you haven't watched the fast-paced Ducks, this is a great chance. It also could be an upset alert -- UCLA has already knocked off Texas at Texas.
Heisman Watch: Cam Newton -- bulldozing his way through the season -- is the new leader in the HeismanPundit straw poll. He will inevitably stumble, but the question is whether one bad game would offset a season of dominance. He might hit "20/20" (TDs passing/TDs rushing) by the 10th game of the season.
I think it all comes down to the Alabama game, but consider that Tim Tebow won the '07 Heisman on a 4-loss Florida team, simply by rolling up such sick personal stats -- very reminiscent of Newton this season. (And in your irony alert, in case you didn't know: Newton backed up Tebow at Florida in '08.)
BlogPoll: You saw I was non-BCS-league heavy at the top of my ballot -- (1) TCU, (2) Boise, (3) Utah. The entire group saw it a little more conventionally: (1) Oregon, (2) Boise, (3) Oklahoma, with TCU 5th and Utah underrated at 9th.
Looking ahead to Saturday: Not to make up my mind before the games are even played (never!), but if Oklahoma beats underrated Mizzou and if Auburn beats LSU -- and it would be shocking if they didn't -- there is a good chance I will elevate them to 1-2 (as will the human BCS pollsters, almost assuredly).
As much as I like Boise, either win is better than the best win Boise will put up this year -- and both OU and AU have already racked up multiple wins (OU: Air Force, FSU, Texas; AU: South Carolina, Mississippi State, Arkansas) better than Boise's best this year. And both OU and AU have the chance for even bigger wins (OU: Nebraska; AU: Alabama) later.
Must-Read: This. Alan Schwarz earned my vote for Sportswriter of the Year a long time ago.