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-It was a mixed night for both New York ballclubs. Let’s start with the positive if you can call hanging on for dear life against the lowly Padres that as the Mets did in a 6-5 win to kick off a vital six-game homestand on the right foot. Most of the offense was supplied by resurgent left fielder Fernando Tatis, who slugged two home runs including a huge two out three-run go-ahead shot in the home sixth which put the Mets up 4-2. The Mets tacked on a couple of key insurance tallies including a Nick Evans eighth inning run scoring double which wound up being the difference due to the pen. Though Aaron Heilman wasn’t helped much by his defense as he attempted to close out the game with Billy Wagner on the DL, he still served up a three-run homer to Jody Gerut which suddenly made it a nerve wracking one-run game with still a couple of outs to get. Jerry Manuel opted for Joe Smith to get the second out and then lefty Scott Schoeneweis came on to pop out Brian Giles to deep center on one pitch notching the save.

-Still, it was an important win snapping a four-game skid and allowing the Mets to regain some momentum as they also gained a game on the first place Phillies, who dropped an 8-2 contest to visiting Florida, who pulled within a game and a half while the Amazin’s are two behind. They need to go at least 4-2 on this stand against the Padres and Marlins to feel good about themselves as the stretch drive nears closer.

-There was no such encouraging news for the other New York team as the Yankees again lost in Texas- this time falling 8-6 despite a Richie Sexson eighth inning grand salami which at least made the outcome respectable. Truthfully, the Rangers aren’t a bad team and in fact are just a game and a half worse now than those Yanks in that wild card race. AL MVP candidate Josh Hamilton did some damage hitting his 27th home run off an ineffective Andy Pettite, who lasted only five while permitting five earned. Struggling rookie David Robertson and Brian Bruney provided little relief allowing three more Rangers to come home highlighted by a Chris Davis two-run double in the seventh that was the difference. The rookie knocked in half his team’s output as Texas captured the first two of the four-game set.

-That combined with a damaging walkoff defeat the previous night where Marlon Byrd got the better of Damaso Marte for a winning slam has New York seeing red. Boston won as Jason Bay had four hits and four RBI’s in an 8-2 win over the Royals increasing their WC lead to 3.5 over the Bronx Bombers. Oh btw…with the Twins and White Sox deadlocked in the AL Central both with superior records, the Yanks will also have to jump over them as well with Texas hot on the trail and even Toronto lurking in the background. They better get it in high gear soon or it really will be first October in 14 years without the Pinstripes closing out the House That Ruth Built for good earlier than expected.

-The worse news is that budding young ace Joba Chamberlain left Monday’s game in the fifth with shoulder tightness and already will miss his next turn in the rotation. Following an MRI, he’ll be reevaluated by Dr. James Andrews later today. Yankee brass and supporters better keep their fingers crossed it’s not too serious as they can ill afford to lose the 22 year-old former No.1 draft choice for an extended period. Especially when their staff is so thin after Pettite and rejuvenated vet Mike Mussina. Are you putting a lot of faith in veteran Sidney Ponson and the unheralded Darrell Rasner? Speaking of Ponson, he’ll face his former team tonight trying to give the Yanks a much needed jolt. So, who gets Joba’s next start? Ian Kennedy? He’s pitched well lately in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. You’d think it would make sense to recall the rookie and give him another shot over say Japanese failure Kei Igawa or <gulp> Carl Pavano.

-I’m no genius here but good California buddy Brian Sanborn informed me that ESPN SC showed the replay of Prince Fielder getting into it with teammate Manny Parra over and over again. Why must they always show such replays of something negative when a younger audience just might be watching all their shows? Because if you know the biz as I have come to, it’s all about the most evil word in TV. RATING$. They don’t care just as you watch. When is enough enough? Sad to say but we all know the answer…

-Brett Favre’s back with Green Bay but won’t be for long. The question is if you were them, would you deal the legendary quarterback who’s meant so much to their franchise to the bitter rival Vikings? Tough question to answer. Personally, I think they should call the shots here for the reinstated 38 year-old future Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. Don’t expect a happy ending made for Hollywood.

-Remember when the Phillies were supposed to miss former center fielder Aaron Rowand, who left for greener pastures in San Fran? Truthfully, he’s not performing badly but given how well the gritty Shane Victorino is swinging the bat these days, they aren’t missing Rowand all too much:

Aaron Rowand

Shane Victorino

-Who would ever believe that Evan Longoria would become the leader of the first place Rays during his rookie season after signing a big extension? What a player!

-Alfonso Soriano missed all those games yet still leads the first place Cubs in homers slugging his 20th on a three hit, four-RBI night in an 11-7 victory over Houston. If he hadn’t gone down, 40 homers and 30 steals probably would have been locks.

-Daily News columnist Mike Lupica had another good piece in yesterday’s paper on long time Yankee catcher Jorge Posada having to be reduced to spectator status the rest of the way after undergoing successful surgery on his torn right labrum and capsule last week. It’s a good read with some very solid quotes from the 37 year-old veteran who’s been a huge part of the team’s success.

-As I noted in another entry, I really enjoyed the festivities of the final Yankee Old-Timer’s Day Saturday but when WCBS play-by-play man John Sterling actually referenced the weather holding off due to a rainy forecast as, “Once again, the sun is shining down on the Yankees,” that even got me. Talk about being overly dramatic.

Gee wiz.

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-The Yanks continued to play well out of the All-Star Break edging the A’s 2-1 on Jason Giambi’s seventh inning solo shot (20th) sweeping the three-game set in the Bronx allowing Joe Girardi’s club to get within four and a half of the Rays, who fell at home to the Blue Jays 9-4. Andy Pettite continued his turnaround outdueling AL All-Star Justin Duchscherer going eight innings allowing just one earned on four hits while not walking a batter and fanning nine to pickup his 11th victory.

The rival Red Sox are currently knotted at two apiece in the sixth looking to avoid a sweep in Los Angeles versus the Angels. A loss would allow the Bronx Bombers to pull within three of the wild card.

Giambi finished a perfect 2-for-2 reaching base all four times with a couple of walks along with the deciding home run to right off Duchscherer, who entered 10-5 with a 1.82 ERA. Once a key late inning reliever for Oakland, the 30 year-old out of Aberdeen, San Diego has made a seamless transition to the rotation becoming the team’s most reliable starter. Before this season, he had only started five games in his career with a couple coming with Texas back in 2001. A couple of years ago, he even saved nine games while fanning nearly a batter per inning (51 in 55.2). Now, he’s the ace of their staff with Rich Harden (Chc) and Joe Blanton (Phi) dealt to NL contenders for more prospects.

If only his team had a semblance of an offense. Somehow, they’re four over .500 (51-47) but trailing the Halos by eight and a half pending the game out West.

Maybe the A’s were just what the doctor ordered for the Yanks, who haven’t hit the way expected with Hideki Matsui possibly needing knee surgery and leadoff man Johnny Damon on the DL for the first time in his career pushing to return. It’s not like they scored a ton of runs the past two days following a 7-1 win in the opener. But they did what they had to to set the tone for another second half October drive.

Only with two teams in their division ahead of them making it an even more difficult challenge over the next couple of months.

-Meanwhile in Cincinnati, the Mets avoided losing three straight to the Reds by coming back to pull out a 7-5 10 inning win. Their hottest starter Mike Pelfrey didn’t have it today giving up three homers (entered with only four allowed all year) including Edwin Encarnacion’s tying fourth inning blast rallying the Reds from 4-1 down and All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips’ sixth inning go-ahead solo shot. But resurgent first base slugger Carlos Delgado drove home the tying run the next half inning with a runscoring single making extras a possibility.

Though the Amazin’s blew a chance in the top of the ninth with Carlos Beltran caught stealing third, they took advantage of the only miscue of the game committed by Encarnacion, whose throwing error allowed call-up Robinson Cancel, who doubled as a pinch hitter to score the winning run. It also let Jose Reyes advance to third and score an insurance run on a Delgado sac fly.

Billy Wagner struck out the side in the 10th including blowing an elevated heated past rookie center fielder Jay Bruce for his 24th save allowing the Mets to tie the Phils for first once again because they fell to Florida 3-2 on a Jorge Cantu walkoff base hit.

The Mets will host the Phillies for a huge three-game series at Shea starting Tuesday with ace Johan Santana going against new Phillie pickup Blanton. The other series match-ups include returning Brett Myers from a Triple-A stint facing John Maine and a battle between old and young lefties with crafty vet Jamie Moyer taking on Oliver Perez.

Winning the last two games, the Marlins sit half a game back and will play host to the struggling Braves for three beginning tomorrow.

-With four hits, his 33rd stolen base and 11th triple of the season, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes now has a club record 63 three-baggers for his career surpassing Mookie Wilson. Forty have come in the past three years.

-It’s too bad about Greg Norman shooting a 77 to finish tied for third in the British Open after making a bid to become the oldest PGA player to win a major. Oh well. The dream ended but he still has had a good year marrying former American tennis star Chris Evert. Padraig Harrington might’ve repeated as British champ but the comebacking 53 year-old part-time golfer was the story of the weekend. He made it interesting without Tiger.

-Interesting story written in today’s Sunday News by Filip Bondy on David Beckham’s MLS impact where attendance and jersey sales are up and included more than 46,000 at Giants Stadium to check out the second-year British star’s Galaxy battling the Red Bulls to an entertaining 2-2 tie last night. It’s a good read.

-I hope when I see Dark Knight this week, I’m as blown away as everyone else was by the late and gone too soon Heath Ledger’s Joker.

-You know. All the talk about Ledger’s performance and then dying sort of reminds me of Brandon Lee in The Crow. Only difference was he died while shooting a scene when they discovered that those weren’t blanks near the dramatic conclusion of one of the better movies I’ve seen. What ashame that Sarah played by the promising Rochelle Davis never returned to another set again following his tragic death. As good as the acting was by everyone in the only Crow there should’ve been made, she was great as the victim’s younger sister and looked to have a bright future. Such was the impact of Lee’s death on the young actress.

-With the Knicks playing in Las Vegas for their usual summer tournament, this is the high for Knick fans. Where running the table last year and winning the championship was universally celebrated. Not exactly the vision of a third NBA title every normal local hoop fan had in mind.

-It’s already been a week too long without Bobby Murcer.

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Bush league move by classless organization

The plug was officially pulled on Willie Randolph nearly an hour ago. Reported by the Daily News, word came down on WFAN’s overnight show via Tony Paige at around 3:20 AM.  

For a silly reason only known to Mets management, they waited until the team flew across the coast 3,000 miles away and won their first game of a six-game road trip 9-6 over the Angels on the bat of Carlos Beltran’s two home runs. Ironically, it was their third win in four pulling them within a game of .500 (34-35).

How does this make sense? Firing Randolph after a win is one thing but having the nerve to allow him to fly with the ballclub and get a final ‘W’ before giving them the axe is bush league. Or as he referred to it as Omar Minaya sharpening the machete three weeks prior.

As it turned out, Willie was ultimately proven right about the untouchable Mets GM giving him a vote of confidence being the “kiss of death.”

Sadly, the proverbial writing was on the wall when rumors resurfaced heading into the weekend via WFAN SI baseball reporter Jon Heyman who hinted that the former Yankee second baseman’s job could be in serious jeopardy. Why they waited until after they flied out to the Pacific is baffling. The timing just seems eerie. Already on Paige’s show in the last half hour, both FAN beat reporter Ed Coleman and Daily News Met beat writer Adam Rubin have trashed the move referring to it as “bush league” and “classless.”

Also out along with Randolph are pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto. Former White Sox skipper Jerry Manuel will take over managing duties on an interim basis while Ken Oberfell, Dan Warthen and Luis Aguayo were all promoted.

Not only was this a move the organization knew they were forcing Minaya into but the GM was non-committal as to whether Randolph’s staff would be in uniform for last night’s game. There’s a right and wrong way to handle this kind of stuff. Sadly, the Amazin’s led by the dumb and dumber Wilpon duo chose the wrong path and come out looking pretty small.

The only salvation for Randolph is that the awful last month where the dark storm clouds were hanging over his head ready to strike at any moment are finally over. Perhaps that’s for the best. Clearly, this classy a man didn’t deserve the kind of second rate treatment he received. It had a similar feel to how lowly Hank Steinbrenner and nerd Randy Levine mistreated Joe Torre last year making him feel unwanted and wisely walking away before winding up across the coast in Dodger blue.

Now, the Mets have no more excuses and neither does a fanbase who had favored getting rid of the manager despite the improvement it showed in his three-plus years even capturing the NL East for the first time since 1988 getting within a game of the World Series two years ago.

Unfortunately, Randolph’s tenure will best be remembered not for how close they came but rather for the awful collapse last September blowing a seven-game lead with two weeks left to the Phillies to miss the playoffs.

Even with his team underperforming, Willie always kept a straight face and calmly answered questions when the situation had to be extremely stressful.

Is this the right move for the Mets going forward? We won’t know the answer until three months from now. They’re capable of playing much better. Maybe the change will work sparking energy.

Once the skipper goes, that usually means the players or guy who organized the roster are next. The pressure’s on the personnel to perform. If they don’t and miss October again, you could see an entirely different roster next year.

For now, it is what it is. Bush league.

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-It was a tough night for the baseball locals as both the Yanks and Mets dropped close ones. In the Bronx, Joba Chamberlain got into trouble in the eighth serving up a two out pinch hit three-run job by one-time Bomber David Dellucci to blow a win for Andy Pettite in a stinging 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Indians. Only difference was this time there were no killer gnats. It was the first home run Joba had allowed at the Stadium in his brief career. Called on to protect a one-run lead after Kyle Farnsworth had recorded the final two outs of the seventh, the 22 year-old flamethrower from Nebraska issued walks to Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta. Following the second out, he got to two strikes on Dellucci but the well traveled gritty veteran got around on a 96 MPH heater on the inside of the plate driving it into the short porch. It wasn’t a bad pitch. Just a great piece of hitting by Dellucci, whose fourth dinger of the season snapped a three-game Yankee win streak.

-With Joba showing his human side, lost in the shuffle were good nights from Pettite along with struggling sluggers Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano. The only damage Pettite gave up was a Peralta two-run homer, going six and a third on two earned, five hits while walking one and fanning six. As for Giambi, the veteran first baseman drove in two of three runs including a tying opposite field double. Cano drove him home with an RBI single to left for just the second baseman’s ninth RBI. Maybe that will get each going.

-As for the Mets, they suffered their own tough loss at the hands of former Yankee skipper Joe Torre’s Dodgers, who stayed sizzling with their 12th win in 13 thanks to a come from behind 5-4 win at Dodger Stadium. The Amazin’s got off to a quick start when right fielder Ryan Church took Dodger starter Hiroki Kuroda yard in the first inning. Willie Randolph’s ballclub increased the lead to 3-0 when they took advantage of a Kuroda throwing error plating two more runs courtesy of Luis Castillo’s RBI single followed a couple of batters later by Jose Reyes RBI base hit.

An inning after a Juan Pierre runscoring single got the Dodgers on the board, Moises Alou executed a double steal swiping home to restore a three-run lead. However, it was shortlived thanks to a memorable night for Dodger rookie third baseman Blake DeWitt. The 22 year-old former 2004 first round pick came up with a huge two out two-run third inning hit off ineffective Met starter Nelson Figueroa to slice the deficit to one. Two frames later also with a man on and two out, he drove a Figueroa pitch to deep right. A hustling Church couldn’t haul it in allowing Russell Martin to score the tying run.

What he didn’t know was that the ball was still in play. Thinking it had cleared the wall, he didn’t get up right away. By the time he did, it was too late as the sprinting DeWitt came around to score on third base coach Larry Bowa’s signal for an exciting inside the park home run. A night before, he had slugged his first career major league homer the conventional way. This time, it was his speed which victimized the Mets and wound up being the winning run due to outstanding relief work from Hong-Chih Kuo (W, 3.2 IP, 1 H, BB, 8 K’s), setup man Jonathan Broxton (1 IP, 1 H, 2 K’s) and closer Takashi Saito, who stopped a two out Met rally by freezing Castillo on a nasty slider to end the game.

Dodger pitchers struckout 12 Mets including David Wright looking with the tying runner Church in scoring position to end the Met eighth. The Mets stranded 21 runners in dropping their second straight in L.A. They’ll send John Maine (3-2, 3.48 ERA) to go against Dodger ace Brad Penny (5-2, 3.19 ERA) looking to avoid a sweep this afternoon (3:10 ET, WFAN, SNY) with an early start time out West.

-As usual, the Roger Clemens saga has been beaten to death by the usual suspects. This is probably Mike Lupica’s version of a wet dream. Like this nerdy columnist doesn’t have a few skeletons in his closet? Come on. Obviously, the Rocket is a liar. The question is does anyone really care anymore?

-Think recovering Ranger Sean Avery was exaggerating when he told the NY Post’s Larry Brooks that he thought he was done? Just saying.

-So it turns out A-Rod fainted when his wife gave birth to their child. It just makes him more normal even if he makes all that dough.

-The talk about that filly Eight Belles wanting to race in last Sunday’s Kentucky Derby is a travesty. Like it had a choice. I must not have realized it could talk. It’s about horse racing and gamblers getting rich off poor innocent horses such as Eight Belles, who had to be jettisoned on that very track where favorite Big Brown won the first leg of the triple crown. Gamblers don’t care what happens to these horses who basically put their lives on the line. Maybe it’s time for us to rethink this brutal sport. Sure. It gives us excitement. But something’s very wrong.

-LeBron just bricked another shot and lost the ball off his leg. Just thought you wanted to know.

-Tell ya one thing. If that’s the best the East has, it should be a cake walk for whoever comes out of the West. I’m still betting on Kobe’s Lakers.

-How special is Chris Paul? Two splendid games in uncompetitive second halfs against the defending champion Spurs has the Hornets thinking big. I still have to believe Gregg Popovich will get his team back in this one. Never count out Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

-TNT’s Ernie Johnson happens to be the coolest studio host in all of sports. Who else would wear a fisherman’s hat during the end of a segment with Kenny Smith and not bust out laughing?!?!?!?!?!

-It was 25 years ago yesterday that Darryl Strawberry debuted with the Mets. What a talented player he was. The Amazin’s most exciting first round pick lived up to the hype slugging catastrophic homers which defied logic. Remember when he hit one off the light beam in Montreal? Or what about in the old Astro Dome? Straw was just awesome. You never missed an at bat because you wanted to see what the powerful right fielder out of Los Angeles could do. He made you believe anything was possible as did teammate Dwight “Doc” Gooden. In eight seasons at Shea, he slugged 252 homers and stole 191 bases. He never hit lower than 26 dingers in an era when 30-or-more was considered great. Something Straw did three times including 39 in back-to-back seasons (1987, ’88). The 1983 NL ROY was robbed of the MVP in 1988 losing to Dodger outfielder Kirk Gibson. The eight-time NL All-Star (Mets-7, Dodgers-1) also finished third in 1990 which turned out to be his final season in Queens.

The question is how great would he have been if drugs and alcohol didn’t hound his career? He was a flawed superstar who somehow wound up back in NYC getting a second chance with the Yankees, where the baby face produced some nice moments including a towering blast to cap off the ALCS against Baltimore on the way to a second World Series in a decade. Only this time with the AL New York team. There also was a pinch hit ninth inning walkoff against the Royals where then WPIX’s Bobby Murcer actually predicted it. I also recall being at a three home run game against the White Sox with buddies. Special to say the least. I also was at Gooden’s no-hitter against Seattle with a good buddy. That we saw it for nothing due to snow in the home opener was pretty darn cool.

In many ways, Strawberry and Gooden will always be linked due to on field performances and off field disappointments. What if they had stayed on the field all the time? How great could they have been? We’ll never know.

-And finally, on that very theme comes the story of Cubs closer Kerry Wood. It was 10 years ago yesterday that as a rookie, he tied Roger Clemens’ strikeout record by fanning 20 Astros at Wrigley Field in just his fifth outing. To hear Houston hitters tell it in the Daily News baseball writer Anthony McCarron’s well written column, they had no chance against the wiz kid who at the time was 20 looking like a Cy Young fixture at the top of the Cubs’ rotation. He’d win 13 games in 26 starts losing just six while posting a 3.40 ERA and striking out 233 batters in 166-plus to win NL ROY and get them back to October. Then the next year, Wood’s elbow snapped and he missed all of 1999 and was a shadow of the promising hurler he once looked like drawing favorable comparisons to a young Clemens and Nolan Ryan.

That’s what injuries can do unfortunately. At least he’s still closing for the same team which selected him fourth overall 13 years ago. In 15 appearances this season, Wood’s 2-1 with a 4.24 ERA converting five of seven saves while fanning 16 in 17 innings. I’m rooting for him to have a good year.

-You don’t think the Phillies wish they could have that Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia deal back. Do ya?

-Big ups to former Baby Bomber pitching prospects George Kontos, Zach McAllister and Dellin Betances. All three are pitching extremely well rising up the Yankee charts. The other night, Kontos who only pitched Staten Island to a repeat with a dominant seven innings two summers ago K’d a season high 11 in five innings to notch his first win with Double-A Trenton. He’s 1-3 with a 3.79 ERA in seven starts with 33 K’s in 35.2 IP. Eighteen strikeouts have come in the last 10 and a third showing the promise the former Northwestern product has.

McAllister continues to perform very well. Sunday, the 20 year-old former 2006 third round pick went seven strong allowing no runs on six hits with a walk and four K’s to improve to 4-1 with a miniscule 0.92 ERA. In 39 innings with Single-A Charleston of the South Atlantic League, the Chillicothe, Illinois native has permitted 26 hits walking only five while whiffing 29 with a batting average against of .190.

Betances also has fared well with Charleston matching McAllister with his fourth victory in seven starts despite a season high seven walks Monday. The 20 year-old former Grand Street High School standout from Brooklyn, New York is 4-1 with a respectable 2.92 ERA with only a .171 BAA. In 37.0 frames, the former Yankees’ 2006 eighth round pick has given up 21 hits while walking 28 and K-ing 45. If he can improve his command, the lanky 6-8, 245 pound hard thrower with a mid-90′s fastball and wicked curve could crack the Yank rotation as early as 2010.

It’s always nice to see a few players I had the privilege of covering doing well. As we draw closer to another New York-Penn League season in mid-June, we’ll have more prospect updates. Stay tuned! :D

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McAlarney overcame anxiety

There’s been plenty written about Kyle McAlarney. The Notre Dame junior guard who was kicked out of school last year for marijuana possession back in December 2006 wasn’t sure he’d ever return to South Bend.

Even if Coach Mike Brey was extremely supportive and visited him as a friend out at the former Moore Catholic standout’s home, nothing was set in stone. Especially with the distraught McAlarney looking at other college options to resume his basketball career.

What wasn’t known was the amount of psychological damage the whole episode caused for the Staten Island kid who took responsibility for his actions and felt the heavy burden.

Still, our whole community was pulling for one of our own, who had made good playing Div. I ball from many a day practicing that outside shot which defies logic to this day. Just ask Jim Boeheim.

There was a special Sunday column in the Daily News on Kyle’s struggles with anxiety when he didn’t know what was wrong. As someone who’s dealt with similar issues over the past year, I could certainly relate to what he went through. It’s never easy to comprehend what’s going on.

You just want to get things righted. Much like McAlarney, I’ve also rectified my situation and am doing much better.

I definitely recommend the article above as it really is informative and details McAlarney’s dramatic turnaround leading to a great junior season where he and teammates will look to make a run in the Eastern region as the No.5 seed. A possible Sweet 16 showdown could come down against the top seeded Tar Heels.

But all of this was so far away 14 months ago as to hear McAlarney tell it:

“There are so many things that felt like rock-bottom that it’s hard to say,” said McAlarney, who starred for Moore Catholic High on Staten Island. “I’m not sure any of them was worse than the first game after my arrest. I remember watching ESPN and seeing my name across the bottom: ‘Kyle McAlarney suspended on marijuana charges.’

“But walking out of the tunnel onto this court in plain clothes, behind my teammates, and being able to feel every eye in the place on me was maybe the harshest. I sat on the bench and I knew that the TV cameras would be on me and that the announcers would be talking about the biggest mistake of my life.”

All that kind of stuff had to be extremely difficult to deal with. That’s why how he’s handled his issues off the court is commendable. It’s never easy to go public with anxiety. I have found that the more open you are about things, the better you’ll feel.

It’s good to see McAlarney doing so well. That’s the most important thing. Best of luck to him and the Fighting Irish in the Big Dance!

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