2015 Top 10 Sports Stories: American Pharoah Ends Great Drought With Triple Crown

Proving how many major storylines emerged in New York sports in 2015, take a look at some of those that didn’t even make our Top 10 of the year list.

Serena Williams losing a chance at the Grand Slam in Queens didn’t make the cut. Neither did anything having to do with the Knicks and Nets, the Rangers and Islanders, golf, boxing/MMA or Chris Mullin’s return to St. John’s.

With that in mind, here are our Top 10 stories from 2015, in descending countdown order, as chosen by the Daily News staff:

Year in Review: The Biggest Sports Stories of 2015

10. BLATTER INFECTION: FIFA CORRUPTION EXPOSED

Best of Botte: “What if I told you it was revealed Sepp Blatter once dated Irina Shayk, and that #USMNT scored 3 unanswered goals to beat Netherlands on the same day?” (Twitter, 6/5/15)

The Daily News was all over the downfall of Sepp Blatter and the numerous arrests in 2015 in the corruption scandal engulfing FIFA, world soccer’s governing body.

BEST SPORTS PLAYS OF 2015

FIFA President Sepp Blatter becomes the face of controversy in a FIFA corruption scandal that leads to many high-ranking official to be indicted.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter becomes the face of controversy in a FIFA corruption scandal that leads to many high-ranking official to be indicted.

(CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/REUTERS)

Following a series of raids in Switzerland on May 27, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch unsealed a 47-count indictment accusing 14 FIFA figures — nine members and five sports marketing executives — of fraud, racketeering and money laundering, with at least four others pleading guilty.

In December, 16 more soccer officials from Central America and South America — including a former president of Honduras, a Guatemalan judge, and the current president of Brazil’s soccer federation — were charged in a 92-count indictment by the Justice Department with what Lynch described as a scheme to solicit and receive more than $200 million in bribes in return for the media and marketing rights to international soccer tournaments and matches.

“The scale of corruption alleged herein is unconscionable,” Lynch said on Dec. 3.

Still, Blatter has, to this point, avoided indictment. The suspended 79-year-old FIFA president, was re-elected to a fifth term on May 29 but vowed three days later to step down only to later declare later in June he “did not resign.”

Blatter, who did not even attend the Women’s World Cup in Canada, was suspended by the federation in October.

“I own a golden cross that has been blessed by Pope Francis,” Blatter said. “I believe I will go to heaven one day.”

Sports scandals throughout history

9. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, WITH SCOTT BORAS AS THE JOKER

Best of Botte: “Boras on cell phone: ‘Get Matt out of the game right now!’ Terry: ‘Uncle Leo?’" (Twitter, 11/1/15)

Was there a bigger lightning-rod sports figure in New York in 2015 than Matt Harvey?

TOP 10 VIRAL SPORTS VIDEOS OF 2015

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progress.

Matt Harvey returns from Tommy John surgery amid an innings limit controversy that reaches a boiling point shortly before the postseason.

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Not A-Rod, not Carmelo or Porzingis, not JPP nor even Francesa warranted or competed for consistent back-page headlines more than Harvey, the purported Dark Knight of Gotham who came back strong from Tommy John surgery only to be embroiled in a chaotic firestorm over innings-limits waged by uber-agent Scott Boras all the way into the World Series.

Boras later tried to laugh off the mess he created as “a misunderstanding,” but the Daily News thanks him for providing so much tabloid fodder and controversy down the stretch of the Mets’ near-storybook run.

It all started in August, when Boras publicly called out the Mets for putting Harvey “in peril” if he pitched beyond the 180-inning mark supposedly outlined and suggested by Dr. James Andrews, who performed the reconstructive surgery on Harvey’s right elbow in October 2013.

That statement set off a series of uncomfortable moments for the Mets and Harvey, who exacerbated the confusion by botching his subsequent press conference in which he was ambiguous over whether he planned to shut himself down or pitch in the playoffs. Privately, the Mets were furious, mostly at Boras, over what they believed was an undermining of the plan they believed was in place to limit the pitcher’s workload while also readying him for a potential postseason run.

Soon after getting criticized for leaving a start against the Yankees after five scoreless innings on Sept. 20, Harvey seized control of his situation and followed through on a vow to be “all-in” and pitch in the postseason by earning wins against the Dodgers and the Cubs in the NL playoffs before making two more starts in the World Series against the Royals.

Harvey even convinced manager Terry Collins (“No way, no way”) to let him start the ninth inning with a 2-0 lead in Game 5 of the Fall Classic.

And while we all know how that ultimately worked out, a few more days of Harvey headlines are always appreciated around here.

HARPER: METS CAN MAXIMIZE MATT HARVEY VALUE'S WITH TRADE

8. AYE, CARLI! LLOYD U.S. WOMEN WIN FIRST WORLD CUP SINCE 1999

Best of Botte: “Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999. #USWNT” (7/5/15)

New York’s famed parade route fittingly was renamed the Canyon of Heroines.

Carli Lloyd’s hat trick in the World Cup championship game gives the U.S. Women’s National Team its first World Cup title since 1999.

Carli Lloyd’s hat trick in the World Cup championship game gives the U.S. Women’s National Team its first World Cup title since 1999.

(Elaine Thompson/AP)

A women’s sports team was feted with a ticker-tape Broadway celebration for the first time ever in July after Jersey girl Carli Lloyd and the U.S. women’s soccer team captured their third World Cup title — and first since the legendary Mia Hamm/Brandi Chastain squad in 1999.

The 2015 title match on Fox became the largest TV audience for soccer — for men or women — in U.S. history, with more than 22 million Americans tuning in over the course of the game.

“When they brought home that trophy, they also brought back a message about the power of women, about the strength of women, and about the need to create a more equal society for all,” Mayor de Blasio said at the parade before presenting each of the players with keys to the city.

>WHERE ARE THEY NOW: 1999 WOMEN'S WORLD CUP SOCCER TEAM

Lloyd netted a hat trick in the first 16 minutes — including one goal from midfield — of a 5-2 pasting of Japan in the championship game on July 5 in Vancouver, prompting the former Rutgers star to quip to the Daily News’ Wayne Coffey: “I feel like I blacked out for the first 30 minutes of that game.”

The Best Daily News Back Pages of 2015

In fact, while big names such as goal scorers Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan and troubled goalie Hope Solo garnered most of the pre-tournament attention, it was glue players such as Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and an unheralded back-4 defensive unit that backboned the Americans to the championship — with Lloyd awarded the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s most outstanding player.

“I'm a Jersey girl,” Lloyd said at the parade. “But New York City, you guys are awesome.”

7. GENO KNOCKED OUT OF JETS QB JOB

Best of Botte: “All over $600? The Jets, ladies and gentlemen. Just yeesh.” (Twitter, 8/11/15)

Geno Smith had been a punching bag for Jets fans the previous couple of years, but nothing like this.

Gang Green’s maligned quarterback was sidelined for more than two months – and lost his starting job to the smartest guy in the room, Harvard guy Ryan Fitzpatrick — after getting sucker-punched on Aug. 11 by teammate IK Enemkpali over a $600 debt owed by Smith from a missed charitable appearance over the summer.

Geno Smith loses his job as Jets quarterback after being punched in the jaw by teammate I.K. Enemkpali — all over $600.

Geno Smith loses his job as Jets quarterback after being punched in the jaw by teammate I.K. Enemkpali — all over $600.

(New York Daily News)

"There was an altercation in the locker room," new coach Todd Bowles revealed after that day’s practice in training camp. "Had nothing to do with football. Something very childish. He got cold-cocked, sucker-punched whatever you want to call it, in the jaw."

Smith’s broken jaw required surgery. Enemkpali was immediately released and signed by — who else? — former Jets coach Rex Ryan in Buffalo.

Oh, and the journeyman Fitzpatrick surprisingly has kept the Jets in playoff contention. Smith has thrown passes in just one game — a loss to Oakland on Nov. 1 — when Fitzpatrick suffered a thumb injury on his non-throwing hand that required surgery during the Jets’ bye week.

Smith later claimed the reports that the Enemkpali fight was over a debt was “the biggest misconception in America,” and insisted that he didn’t “regret anything.”

Jets fans probably feel the same.

6. EVERYBODY LOVES A-ROD

Best of Botte: “Yes, ARod is becoming a beloved broadcaster, but Jeter is marrying a girl with a talking horse. He still wins.” (Twitter, 10/28)

The feel-good, comeback story and reunion of 2015?

Of course, it was none other than Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees.

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Alex Rodriguez feels renewed love in the Bronx as he turns back the clock to hit 33 home runs at age 39 after serving a year suspension for PEDs.

(Robert Sabo/New York Daily News)

A-Rod mostly let his bat do the talking during his return from a one-year PED suspension — belting a surprising 33 home runs and reaching two monumental baseball milestones. He even became the improbable breakout TV star of the postseason with an impressive debut as a studio analyst for Fox Sports.

"I would be at home probably talking to the TV anyway watching every World Series game,” Rodriguez told Mark Feinsand of the Daily News in late October. “I love baseball, so it's just great to be conveying what I see through my lens to the fans."

The fans in the Bronx welcomed A-Rod back to the Stadium almost immediately, aided by a strong start with five homers in April. The next dinger on May 2 tied Rodriguez with Willie Mays on the all-time home run list with 660. And after initially balking at paying A-Rod a $6 million marketing bonus for reaching the milestone, the Yanks eventually settled the dispute by agreeing to make $3.5 million in charitable donations.

Rodriguez also went deep to become the 29th player to reach 3,000 career hits on June 19.

The Yanks, who lost to Houston in the AL wild-card game, even helped him negotiate to get his milestone ball back from the fan who snared it and held a ceremony to honor the achievement before one late-season game.

See, you really can go home again. And A-Rod needs just 27 home runs in 2016 to tie Babe Ruth.

BEST AND WORST SPORTS COMMERCIALS OF 2015

5. AMERICAN PHAROAH WINS TRIPLE CROWN

Best of Botte: “A vial of American Pharoah’s race-used sweat is only $49.95 at Steiner Sports.” (Twitter, 6/6)

The talking horse of Derek Jeter’s fianceé Hannah Davis wasn’t the only stallion to make big news in 2015.

American Pharoah makes history at the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

American Pharoah makes history at the Belmont Stakes, becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

There had been 13 horses to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes since Affirmed last won horse racing’s Triple Crown in 1978.

None of those horses were the great American Pharoah — who, with a wire-to-wire romp at the Belmont Stakes on June 6 — became the first in 37 years to complete the mythical trifecta.

“Breaking from post-position 5, American Pharoah quickly got to the front and never looked back, wiring the field under jockey Victor Espinoza to become horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner,” the Daily News’ Jerry Bossert wrote.

For legendary trainer Bob Baffert, Pharoah finally was his first Triple Crown champion, in his fourth attempt to complete one on Long Island.

“It’s very emotional,” Baffert said. “I just feel like I have a very special horse, and he’s the one that won. It wasn’t me, it was the horse.”

Espinoza also was denied the Triple Crown in 2002 aboard War Emblem and in 2014 with California Chrome.

“I knew we would win in the first turn,” Espinoza said. “I tell you, I had the best feeling ever when he crossed the wire.”

For good measure, American Pharoah also won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 in his final race before retiring to stud — finishing his career with just two losses in 11 races.

4. FAREWELL YOGI: YANKS LEGEND DIES

Best of Botte: “Yogi had a 7-year span (1950-56) in which he finished third, first, fourth, second, first, first and second in AL MVP balloting. Incredible.” (Twitter, 9/23)

Yogi Berra, the beloved 10-time World Series-winning catcher with the Yankees and the famed mind behind several timeless and quirky quips about baseball and life, died on Sept. 23. He was 90.

Yankees legend and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra dies at the age of 90.

Yankees legend and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra dies at the age of 90.

“We will always have what he left for us: The memories of a lifetime filled with greatness, humility, integrity and a whole bunch of smiles,” former Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Berra won three American League Most Valuable Player awards with the Yankees in the 1950s and appeared in 13 World Series in 18 seasons in pinstripes (and one with the Mets), landing him in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and his No.8 in Monument Park at the Stadium.

Berra perhaps was better known for his numerous quotable one-liners, known as Yogiisms. They included: “It ain’t over till it’s over,” “Nobody goes there anymore — it’s too crowded” and “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Berra, who enlisted in the Navy at age 18 and was part of the Allied invasion of France in 1944, also posthumously was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November.

Sports Stars Lost in 2015

“Yogi Berra was an American original — a Hall of Famer, jovial prophet and a humble veteran,” President Obama said. “We’ll miss you Yogi, but your legacy ain’t over.”

Giants icon and longtime Monday Night Football broadcaster Frank Gifford and legendary four-time Stanley Cup champion Islanders coach Al Arbour also passed over in 2015.

3. DEFLATEGATE: BRADY WINS AGAIN. OF COURSE HE DOES

Best of Botte: “Coming to CBS this fall: Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Allison Janney and David Ortiz in America's No.1 new drama, PSI: New England.” (Twitter, 5/23).

After hearing every imaginable joke about his balls, Tom Brady, as usual, had the last laugh.

Aw, nuts!

In the silliest controversy of the year, Tom Brady defends himself after the Colts accuse the Patriots of deflating footballs.

In the silliest controversy of the year, Tom Brady defends himself after the Colts accuse the Patriots of deflating footballs.

(New York Daily News)

More than seven months after Brady and the Patriots were first accused by the Indianapolis Colts of deflating footballs beyond league parameters in their AFC playoff game in January, the New England quarterback had his four-game NFL suspension for what became known (ad nauseum) as “Deflategate” spiked by a federal judge on Sept. 3.

The ruling by U.S. District Court judge Richard Berman came just in time for Brady to play from the start of the season in defense of the fourth career Super Bowl title he won over Seattle on Feb. 1.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft had agreed to surrender two draft picks and pay a $1 million fine to settle the controversy, but Brady opted to fight the league when singled out for punishment by commissioner Roger Goodell.

The months in-between featured a series of comical moments, including Brady’s initial press conference on the topic, which was quickly mocked by Saturday Night Live.

"Everybody has a preference,” Brady said in January. “Some guys like them round. Some guys like them thin. Some guys like them tacky. Some guys like them brand new. Some guys like old balls.”

Pats coach Bill Belichick also held one presser in which he transformed into Bill Nye the Science Guy and dropped a “My Cousin Vinny” reference, not to mention the texts about Brady that were revealed from Pats staffers John Jastremski and Jim McNally, who were suspended and later reinstated for their roles in the controversy.

"I feel like I've always played within the rules,” Brady said. “I would never do anything outside the rules of play."

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Deflategate on the Back Page

2. YOU DOWN WITH JPP? KABOOM!

Best of Botte: “JPP really blew up that play. Yeah, I said it.” (Twitter, 12/6).

Hey kids (and Pro Bowl defensive ends), don’t play with fireworks.

Jason Pierre-Paul becomes the center of controversy after he blows his finger off in a July 4 fireworks accident.

Jason Pierre-Paul becomes the center of controversy after he blows his finger off in a July 4 fireworks accident.

(New York Daily News)

Giants defensive star Jason Pierre-Paul did just that celebrating the Fourth of July and it cost him parts of a couple of fingers and a large chunk of the $14.8 million franchise tag Big Blue had tendered him earlier in the summer.

The Daily News published the first photos of Pierre-Paul’s mangled right hand on Sept. 17, with JPP defiantly tweeting: “I can’t think of the last time my index finger got me a sack.”

After initially stonewalling the Giants front office about the severity of his injuries, JPP eventually was signed on Oct. 27 to a one-year deal worth just $1.5 million guaranteed (plus playing-time incentives).

He missed the first eight games of the season before returning on Nov. 8, wearing a cumbersome wrap covering his right hand. The former first-round pick didn’t have any sacks in his first appearances, although his mere presence seemingly helped a pass rush that mostly was nonexistent in his absence.

“I’m still the same JPP,” Pierre-Paul told the Daily News’ Ralph Vacchiano in November. “You can’t take things for granted. They can be taken away from you just like that. But I’m very excited going out there because I got a second chance to do what I love, you know? It could have been taken away, but God spared me. Each moment that I'm out there, I’m giving it my all.”

Sports' lamest injuries

1. THE METS (THE METS!) MADE THE WORLD SERIES!

Best of Botte: “So, Theo Epstein’s team might need to come back from an 0-3 hole in the LCS against NY to try to end a really long WS drought? Never happen.” (Twitter, 10/20, personal record 699 RTs).

It was perhaps the peak of frustration for Mets fans, the late-July night Clayton Kershaw nearly no-hit a you-can’t-be-serious lineup that featured John Mayberry hitting fourth and Eric Campbell right behind him.

The Mets acquire Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline as the power-hitting outfielder catapults them into the postseason for the first time since 2006.

The Mets acquire Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline as the power-hitting outfielder catapults them into the postseason for the first time since 2006.

(Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

But then came Wilmer Flores’ tears, Carlos Gomez’s hip, Yoenis Cespedes’ arrival and mind-blowing home run binge, David Wright’s return, Michael Conforto’s promotion, Matt Harvey’s and Scott Boras’ soap opera and its subsequent cancellation, the continued emergence of closer Jeurys Familia, ace Jacob deGrom and rookies Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, the Nationals’ complete implosion, Chase Utley’s slide, Ruben Tejada’s bad break and Daniel Murphy’s historic October run.

Yes, Terry Collins and the Mets took New York on a wild ride soon after that sorry night against Kershaw, regularly knocking the Yankees and the other local sports teams off the back page into November.

World Series in Pictures: Royals are 2015 champs, beat Mets in five games

The run featured beating Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young winner, and co-ace Zack Greinke once apiece in the opening round of the NL playoffs against the Dodgers and a sweep of the Cubs in the NLCS before the buzzsaw Kansas City Royals ended the dream with a five-game ousting in the Mets’ first World Series appearance since 2000.

"It hurts and it stings," Wright said when it was over. "We're going to hang our heads for a little bit. But when we look back at this days and weeks from now, it will put a smile on our face.

“When I look back at this year, it was the best time I ever had on a baseball field.”

Source : http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/top-10-sports-stories-2015-article-1.2468588

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