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Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010

Once More, Fate Intercepts Favre

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Jan. 20, 2008, Lambeau Field: Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers have the ball in overtime against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. Favre's third Super Bowl appearance is one scoring drive away. But Favre throws an interception, the Giants kick a field goal and a dream season dies. Six weeks later Favre announces his retirement, but the January failure clearly gnaws at him. In July 2008 he says he wants to return, starting a melodrama that leads to his exit from Green Bay.

Jan. 24, 2010, Superdome: Favre and the Minnesota Vikings are a few yards away from a field-goal attempt to beat New Orleans for the NFC title. But Favre throws an interception, the game goes to overtime, the Saints get the field goal and another great Favre story is over. At 40 he must think of retirement again, but he'll think of the interception, too. More drama is certain, but first the Observers discuss what may be—no, really—Favre's last game.

Frank: So, Mr. Packer fan, did you enjoy yourself?

Artie: Hey, Minnesota fans, how do you like the Brett Favre Experience now? The Super Bowl in your hands and, surprise, an INT!

Frank: Another of those "gunslinger" throws that were ecstasy and agony for Green Bay. But how about Favre's courage in staying on the field despite a ton of brutal hits? Surely you feel a little admiration?

Artie: None! He was playing up that ankle injury, like he already knew that it was gonna go bad for the Vikes. So he hobbles to the sideline, gets re-taped and hobbles back out. Between plays he looks like Walter Brennan in "The Real McCoys," but once the ball is snapped he's running all over the place.

Frank: So you're saying...

Artie: He knew he'd have an "out" when Minnesota lost. Not that he would say anything about it, but his fans and handlers would say, "If only Brett wasn't so banged up."

Frank: Well, he was banged up, right? Unlike the Packers, who never got near him in two games, the Saints mauled him.

Artie: Banged up but not badly hurt. I ain't buying it.

Frank: Gee, Favre used to be Mr. Gutsy.

Artie: That was different. He was wearing green and gold.

Frank: Well, I was impressed that he kept on flingin'. The ankle injury was in the third quarter but he took them to a tying touchdown and almost the winning field goal.

Artie: Big deal. He didn't finish the job, just like two years ago.

Frank: He does have a history of playing coy with injuries. Late last season with the Jets he had a torn biceps tendon but never left a game, and the team eventually got fined for never putting him on injury reports.

Artie: But then last summer, it was all, "I was hurt with the Jets."

Frank: So do you believe this final interception was really the final one?

Artie: He might say he's done, but who'll believe him until August? Everyone knows he doesn't want to do training camp, and the Vikes prostrated themselves for him this season. And maybe Roger Clemens still has stuff in his medicine cabinet that can, um, enhance conditions for a plus-40 athlete.

Frank: Wow, no residual good will toward Brett at all! Well, we've got a while until his next cue for the "Hamlet" soliloquy. In the meantime, it's nice for the Saints to succeed after all their terrible years. And I'm glad Peyton Manning got the Colts back to the Super Bowl in his fourth MVP season. He's a classy guy.

Artie: It was bizarre that the Jets probably wouldn't even have been in the playoffs if the Colts hadn't pulled their starters during Game No. 15.

Frank: I know the Jets had two great playoff games, but I don't think a team that went 14-2 should have to get past a team that went 9-7.

Artie: But watch out for those young Jets next season!

Frank: Let's spare people two weeks of TV gas-bagging and declare who'll win the Super Bowl. Namely, the Colts.

Artie: I say the Saints. Readers, if you've got a kid with a college fund, put it all on one of those.

‘Quality’: What a Concept

Artie: In October, general manager Doug Melvin said he wanted to add two starting pitchers for the Brewers.

Frank: Now he has, with Doug Davis returning from Arizona to join Randy Wolf and Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation.

Artie: "Mission Accomplished!" I hope that goes better for Melvin than it did for former President Dub-ya. The new pitchers are both lefties, and Manny Parra would make three, which I guess could be good.

Frank: Maybe not so good as it relates to the Cardinals and Cubs. St. Louis' big power is in two righty hitters, Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and the Cubs have a righty core in Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.

Artie: But Wolf and Davis, I've heard, aren't all that bad against righties for their careers.

Frank: Let's fire up baseball-reference.com... Davis has allowed a lower batting average to righties (.268) than lefties (.282). Facing Wolf, righties are .260 and lefties .222.

Artie: Wolf has a winning record (101-85), but Davis? He's 90-97, and in his three full seasons here the first time, he was the essence of mediocrity: 12-12, 11-11, 11-11.

Frank: Suppan-esque, as you would say—at least before Jeff Suppan got worse last year, helping create the rotation crisis.

Artie: Davis should start the first exhibition game in March, because if he does there's a chance—just a chance—it might be over by opening day. I don't want to say the guy takes a long time to pitch, but...

Frank: Amen to that. And Melvin gave the main reason when he said of Davis, "He's always been an ‘innings’ guy. His walks are high and he puts men on base, but he usually finds a way to get out of it."

Artie: His walks are high indeed. He led the majors last year with 103 in 203 innings.

Frank: Melvin went on to say, "He can be bad at times, but he knows how to go deep in games."

Artie: That was a quote from the Jan. 21 Journal Sentinel. But five days earlier in the same paper, Melvin said, "Our new thing is that we're not just looking for innings. We're looking for quality innings." Apparently with Davis, we're back to "an innings guy" with no mention of quality. Hey, I could give you innings for half the price!

Frank: "Our new thing is... quality innings." I can almost see some lowly Brewer employee sending an e-mail: "Mr. Melvin, I was just wondering, shouldn't we try to get innings out of pitchers who are good?"

Artie: Let's not forget that hot stat, the WHIP, for Davis. Walks and hits per inning—a Goldman Sachs figure of 1.492. Not exactly what you’d call "quality," ain’a?

Frank: And once these men get on base, he works even slower.

Artie: If it's a day game, pack lunch and dinner.

Frank: Still, the way the game is played these days the Brewers could succeed with a mediocre rotation. Going "deep into the game" just means lasting six innings. And if a team has a strong bullpen and good offense, that could be enough to win a lot of games.

Artie: If the 2010 rotation cuts a half-run off last year's 5.37 ERA, it could be a fun season.

Frank: On paper, Davis is a step up from Braden Looper. He gave up 25 homers last year, but that's way under the 39 that earned Looper a ticket out of town.

Artie: And Davis has gotta be better than Suppan, who has a good shot at becoming the baseball version of Dan Gadzuric—"Oh, is he still on the team?"

Frank: Davis' career stats at Miller Park are pretty good—19-14 with a 3.37 ERA and a WHIP of 1.29. Wolf has a 5.95 ERA at Miller Park, but over only eight games.

Artie: Hey, I know a righty whose career stats in Milwaukee are 14-6, 2.26 and a WHIP of 0.97. And he's an "innings guy"—4,970 worth.

Frank: Could his name be...

Artie: That's right, Bert Blyleven! He won't even turn 60 until next year.