And the answer is….Rudy May

Left-hander Rudy May is the last Yankee to lead the American League in ERA. May posted a 2.46 ERA in 1980 along with a 15-5 record.

May capped a run of three straight Yankee ERA leaders. Another southpaw, Ron Guidry (aka Louisiana Lightning), led the AL in both 1979 (2.78) and 1978 (1.74).

In the words of immortal Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen – “How about that?”

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Finally, Blueshirts are back in the Finals

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist exults as the Rangers advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

I began following the New York Rangers in grammar school. Back then there were just six teams in the NHL, and yet the Rangers missed the playoffs eight of nine seasons between 1958 and 1966. They weren’t very good….or else they weren’t quite good enough…and those would become  prevailing themes as I followed the Blueshirts through the years.

I went to my first hockey game in 1967, just days before Christmas, at the old Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue. The Rangers got blanked by the Boston Bruins that night, but the team was on the rise, thanks primarily to goalie Eddie Giacomin.

In 1972, the Rangers, fueled by superb goaltending and the GAG (goal a game) line of Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert and Vic Hadfield made the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in my lifetime. There they lost to Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the Bruins in six games.

Several years later Espo was traded to the Rangers, and with John Davidson between the pipes the  Broadway Blues knocked off the Islanders and made it to the Finals in 1979, only to lose to the Montreal Canadiens in five.

The Islanders dominated the early 80s winning four straight Stanley Cups. Meanwhile the Rangers title drought continued, often to the accompaniment of 1940 chants in visiting arenas.

The Messiah delivers

Before the 1991-92 season began, the Rangers acquired Mark Messier, below, from the Edmonton Oilers with the express purpose of delivering a Stanley Cup. And the Messiah delivered, with help from defenseman Brian Leetch, goalie Mike Richter and a stellar supporting cast.

I was in the house on June 14, 1994, when the Rangers ended a 54-year jinx, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 to win their first Cup since 1940. That night, a fan in the Garden unfurled a banner that read “Now I can die in peace.” We all felt that way.

But not even the great Wayne Gretzy could bring another championship to the Rangers. After reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 1997, the Rangers missed the playoffs seven years in a row.

A rookie goalie named Henrik Lundqvist arrived in 2005, and backstopped the Rangers to their first playoff appearance since 1997. The Rangers gradually built a team to support Lundqvist, making a big trade to acquire sniper Martin St. Louis just before the trading deadline, and now they are back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years.

Some playoff runs are expected. The 1994 Rangers had the best record in the NHL during the regular season, and were favored to win the Cup. This year’s team has been a surprise, taking New York fans along for the ride. New York has become RangerTown.

After beating the Flyers in the first round, the Rangers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Penguins, then topped the Canadiens in six to advance to the Finals. They’re now on the doorstop, on the verge of making hockey history.


The greatest calls in sports history

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes” Al Michaels makes the greatest call in sports broadcasting history as the American hockey team beats the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Call it the hearing test. You know a great call when you hear one. Some are signature calls from legendary broadcasters; others were produced by relatively obscure announcers. All capture a magic moment. Here are my top 10 favorites:

10. Matteau Matteau, Matteau

Classic call by Howie Rose on Stephen Matteau’s goal in the second overtime to help the Rangers beat the Devils in Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup finals. Gotta love the reference to Mount Vancouver.

9. Kirk Gibson’s home run

“I don’t believe what I just saw,” said Jack Buck after Kirk Gibson took Dennis Eckersley deep with two outs in the ninth, Game 1, 1988 World Series. Dodgers beat A’s, 5-4

8. The Immaculate Reception
When Franco Harris, right, caught Terry Brashaw’s deflected pass at his shoetops and raced into the end zone to give the Steelers a wildly improbable playoff win over the Raiders, NBC broacaster Curt Gowdy called it “the miracle of all miracles.”

7. The Giants win the pennant

“The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant.”  New York announcer Russ Hodges goes crazy describing the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Bobby Thomson’s dramatic, three-run ninth inning home run gave the Giants the National League pennant and broke the hearts of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

6. Cal vs. Stanford

Listen to the Cal announcers lose it during one of the most dramatic finishes in college in college football history when Cal beat archrival Stanford on the final play of the game. “The band is out on the field….the Bears have won.”

5. Havlicek stole the ball

Johnny Most, the gravelly-voiced play-by-play announcer for the Boston Celtics, makes his most memorable call in Game 7 of the 1965 NBA Eastern Conference finals. “Havlicek stole the ball. It’s all over. It’s all over.”

4. Secretariat wins the Belmont

Track announcer Chic Anderson has the call as Secretariat wins the Triple Crown in 1973 by an incredible 31 lengths. “Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine! ….An unbelievable, amazing performance.”

3. Foreman beats Frazier

Howard Cosell had some amazing calls, but was at his best in the 1973 heavyweight championship bout when George Foreman knocked out a heavily favored Joe Frazier. “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”

2.  Sandy Koufax perfect game

The great Los Angeles Dodger play-by-play man Vin Scully waxes poetic as Sandy Koufax completes his perfect game in 1965. In this recording of the ninth inning, Scully takes the listener on a word journey. “2 and 2 to Harvey Kuenn…swung on and missed, a perfect game.”

1. Miracle on Ice

Al Michaels is still broadcasting today, yet his most unforgettable call occurred 34 years ago in the tiny town of Lake Placid, New York. There a bunch of young American hockey players upset the Soviet Union in what ranks as one of the biggest upsets in sports history. “Do you believe in miracles?” says Michaels as the crowd counts down the final seconds. “Yes!!” The exuberance of the Team USA players and the stunned looks on the faces of the Soviets tells it all.


Rangers vs. Canadiens – Even then, even now

The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens appear as evenly matched for their upcoming Eastern Conference showdown as they have been throughout their long playoff history. As two of hockey’s Original Six franchises, the Rangers and Canadiens have split 14 previous matches in the NHL playoffs.

The lone Stanley Cup Final between the clubs occurred in 1979, when the Habs beat the Rangers in five games to earn their fourth straight Cup. New York won the opening game at the Montreal Forum, then the Canadiens countered with four straight wins. Montreal’s Gainey was hoisted by teammates, above, after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanely Cup Finals MVP.

That series marked the end of the Canadiens’ dynasty. Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer and goalie Ken Dryden all retired, and coach Scotty Bowman left to coach the Buffalo Sabres.

In their first playoff meeting in 1930, Montreal won 2-0 in the semifinals and went on to capture the Stanley Cup. New York returned the favor three years later, outscoring the Canadiens 8 goals to 5 in the quarterfinals (goals scored were a playoff decider in some of the early NHL playoffs), then beating Toronto in four games (3-1) for the Cup.

In 1956, 1957 and 1986 Les Habitants beat the Rangers in the semis – each time in five games — and went on to win the championship.

The last Montreal-New York matchup happened in 1996 in the quarterfinals. The Canadiens won the first two games at Madison Square Garden, but the Rangers rallied for four straight wins.

The first one, in Game 3, was the first playoff game ever at Montreal’s Molson Center, and New York’s Adam Graves scored both goals in a 2-1 win. Alex Kovalev and Pat Verbeek each had a goal and an assist in the Rangers’ Game 6 clincher.

None of the 14 playoff series between the Canadiens and Rangers have gone the full seven games. With this series a virtual toss-up (Montreal is a slight favorite with home ice advantage), that could change.

THE PICK: What else, Rangers in seven.


75 years later, Rangers stage a big comeback

It’s only been 75 years. For the first time since 1939 and only the second time in their history, the New York Rangers have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the 1939 Series A semifinals, the Rangers were down 3-0 to the Boston Bruins, then won three straight games. However their comeback hopes were dashed in Game 7, when Mel Hill, shown at right, scored in the third overtime for a 2-1 win.

Hill was the hero of the series. He scored two other OT game-winners, including another triple overtime goal in Game One, and earned the nickname “Sudden Death.” Hill’s record of three overtime games in the same series still stands.

The Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup that year, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games. Hill scored a goal in the Cup clincher, and wound up with six goals and three assists in the playoffs.

The Rangers would go on to win the Stanley Cup in 1940, then endured a 54-year title drought before winning a dramatic seventh game against the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.


How replay could change baseball history

In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, Jake Epping travels back in time in an effort to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Imagine if you could take instant replay back 100 years or more and influence baseball history.

Think of the possibilities: Steve Bartman is absolved and the Cubs win the World Series. Armando Galarraga gets his perfect game. The Curse of the Bambino never happens.

Here’s 10 ways:

1908 – In a bizarre finish, New York Giants’ baserunner Fred Merkle is initially ruled out on a ninth-inning force at second base when he fails to run out a play where the winning run scored. But since the baseball, which is thrown into the stands, cannot be located, and Merkle returns to the field to touch second base before it can be recovered, replay overrules the call. The Giants, not the Cubs go on to win the National League pennant and the World Series.

RESULT: The history of baseball’s most star-crossed franchise goes from bad to worse, as the Cubs are denied their 1908 championship. Merkle’s Boner never happens.

1926 – Tony Lazzeri’s bid for a grand slam home run in the seventh game of the World Series against Grover Cleveland Alexander is originally ruled foul. However replay shows the drive into the left field stands at Yankee Stadium is fair.

RESULT: “Poosh em Up” Tony becomes a hero, old Pete Alexander’s heroics are forgotten, and the Yankees, not the Cardinals, win the Series.

1969 – When Baltimore relief pitcher Pete Richert’s throw on a bunt attempt hits J.C. Martin in the 10th inning, the ball bounds away and Rod Gaspar scores the winning run for to give the Mets a 2-1 win in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series. The umpires go to the replay, which shows Martin was running inside the baseline when he was hit. He’s out, and the runners return to their bases.

RESULT: There’s no Miracle with these Mets, as the Orioles rally and go on to win the World Series.

1975 – The Reds score the winning run in Game 4 of the World Series, as Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, bumped by Reds’ batter Ed Armbrister, left, on a bunt attempt, throws the ball away and Cincinnati goes on to win. Instead the play is reviewed, interference is called, and the Red Sox rally for a big win.

RESULT: Boston wins the World Series, ending a 57-year title drought. Curse of the Bambino – never heard of it. Umpire Larry Barnett is reviled in Cincy instead of Beantown.

1985 – Don Denkinger calls Royals baserunner Jorge Orta safe at first, sparking a ninth inning comeback win by Kansas City in Game 6. Replay is conclusive, Orta is out

RESULT: The Cardinals retire the Royals and hold on to win the World Series. Kansas City is still searching for its first World Championship.

1996: Derek Jeter’s home run to right field in the eighth inning ties the score in Game 1 of the ALCS, and the Yankees go on to beat the Orioles in extra innings. However replay clearly indicates that umpire Richie Garcia has missed fan interference by a 12-year-old kid named Jeffrey Maier who reached over the wall to touch the ball, and Jeter is ruled out.

RESULT: The Orioles hold on to win, then take the ALCS and World Series, denying the Yankees their first World Series win in 18 years.

2001: That man Jeter again. His signature flip play, right, catches Jeremy Giambi at the plate, and the Yankees survive to win Game 3 of the divisional playoffs. But replay shows that catcher Jorge Posada has missed the tag.

RESULT: The A’s win, ending New York’s three-year championship run. Oakland goes on to beat Arizona in the World Series.

2003: The life of Cubs fan Steve Bartman, top right, is about to change. From his seat on the left-field foul line, Bartman reaches out for a foul ball, preventing Chicago left-fielder Moises Alou from making the catch. Alou protests, the umpiring crew goes to replay, fan interference is called, and the batter is ruled out.

RESULT: The Cubs go on to beat the Marlins for their first National League pennant since 1945, then defeat the Yankees for their first World Series win in nearly 100 years. Bartman is absolved.

2010: Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga is one out away from a perfect game and baseball immortality. But umpire Jim Joyce rules Cleveland baserunner Jason Donald safe at first, and Gallarraga loses both the no-hitter and a perfect game. However, replay shows the runner is out.

RESULT: Galarraga gets his perfect game, and Joyce is off the hook.

2012 – Mets pitcher Johan Santana is working on a no-hitter when Cardinals’ outfielder Carlos Beltran hits a hard line drive down the left field line. It is initially ruled foul, but the camera shows the ball kicked up chalk when it hit the line. Fair ball.

RESULT: No no-no. Santana loses his no-hitter, which would have been the first in Met history.