In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
- Ladies and gents, it occurred to me this morning that you might be in the mood for a change. Today, and today only, I'll be offering a true, legitimate opinion on each sports story. And just for kicks, tomorrow I'll run the best over-the-top angry e-mail I receive at TobaccoRdBlues@gmail.com. I can't print anything too crass or crude, but if you keep it clean and really get deep into the fake outrage, you may find yourself on this page.
- Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in four sets to win the U.S. Open, his third major title of the year. Opinion: We can all pretty much agree that Djokovic is having the best year in tennis history, at least by the numbers. But after watching him take three majors and pound two of the greatest players of all time into submission, I legitimately think he's playing the best tennis in history. Even Federer at his peak, I think, didn't reach this level. What Nole did against Nadal yesterday was stunning; he didn't just beat him, he wore down an indefatigable force of nature. It's become a cliché that Nadal is the most resilient guy in tennis, but that cliché was confirmed yet again. His effort to win the third set was astounding, and, at long last, I thought it might be more than Novak could handle. Not so. Rafa punched himself out, but only because he had no other choice. The Djoker is now as tough as the toughest dude in town, and clearly more skilled. The signature memory of his year will always be the wonderful semifinal shot on match point against Federer, an incredible coming-of-age moment that also revealed the weaknesses we see in Roger the Great from time to time: prissiness, arrogance, and the tendency to wilt under the really oppressive kind of pressure. What a fascinating major.
- With Boston off, the Tampa Bay Rays cut the wild-card lead to three games with a 5-2 win over the Orioles. Opinion: The most compelling series of the entire regular season begins on Thursday, when the Rays and Sox meet at Fenway for a four-game set. Other than the possibility of the Angels sneaking up on Texas, it's the last playoff race with any real suspense. All Boston has to do is split; 2-2, and the wild card is theirs. Seven of their last 10 games are against the Orioles, while Tampa plays the same number against the Yankees. But if the Rays take three or four, it's coming down to the wire.
- Tom Brady threw for 517 yards — no misprint — as the Patriots topped the Dolphins 38-24. Opinion: The Patriots, and Belichick especially, are at their best when angry. During the near-undefeated season, you got the sense they were perpetually pissed off. I think that's why they ran up so many scores. After losing to the hated Jets in the playoffs last year, they've got the mojo back. Be scared.
- Sebastian Janikowski tied a record by nailing a 63-yard field goal to close out the first half as the Raiders beat the Broncos 23-20. Opinion: Along with Jason Elam (1998) and Tom Dempsey (1970), he's the third guy to hit from 63. What I'm about to say is going to to sound a bit trifling, I know, but I'll say it anyway. Should we count the two kicks made in Denver? Janikowski and Elam made theirs in the thin air, while Dempsey booted his in New Orleans. I'm pretty sure I'm not mangling science when I say that balls go farther in thin air due to less resistance. That's the basis of the whole Rockies home run phenomenon, and they don't put footballs in the humidor before the game. In my mind, Dempsey is the true record holder. Roger Goodell should make everyone mad by putting an asterisk next to Elam and Janikowski's kicks in the record book.
- The Yankees overcame the significant talents of Felix Hernandez, touching him up for nine hits to beat the Mariners 9-3. Opinion: The Yankees' next six games, against Seattle, Toronto, and Minnesota, loom quite large. Two reasons: First, their last 10 games are against Tampa and Boston, a brutal finish that would be a lot less brutal if they had the East wrapped up and could take it easy (the current lead is four games). Second, the worst possible scenario for any AL team is facing Justin Verlander and Detroit in a short series. The way things stand, the winner of the East will get Texas, a much less formidable opponent. By surging to a lead over the next week, before the final grind, the Yanks can make their lives a lot easier.
- Speaking of Detroit, they won their 10th straight last night, a 14-4 rout of the White Sox. Opinion: Doug Fister was such a sneaky-good pickup for the Tigers, and evidence that there are no secrets left in baseball. Fister's record in Seattle was abysmal, but he was getting some of the lowest run support of any starter in the American League. His other stats were great, and now he's raking with Detroit. In his last five starts, he's 4-0 with 36 strikeouts, four walks, and a 0.74 ERA. Opponents are batting .167 against him. That single trade made Detroit the most fearsome team in the AL.
- Last night, Manny Ramirez was arrested for battery after he allegedly slapped his wife. Opinion: Not since Kirby Puckett have we seen a guy's image go from solid to horrible in such a short time. The last five years have not been kind to the fun, wacky Manny image, have they? Meanwhile, David Ortiz gets more and more likable (hell, I'll say it: delightful) with every passing season. Go figure.
- Serena Williams was fined $2,000 for her outburst at the U.S. Open in her final loss to Samantha Stosur. Opinion: There was quite a bit of talk on the Internet yesterday about the racial and gender politics of the public's reaction, and frankly it all seemed misguided. Let's reduce this to the basics: Serena's worst moment came when she unleashed this little tirade on the umpire: "You're a hater, and you're just unattractive inside. What a loser." It's just so ugly and petty that it makes you squirm, and it was clearly borne of her frustration at struggling against Stosur. McEnroe at his worst was never that personal; calling someone a disgrace and an idiot feels tame, by comparison, because it's limited to the realm of umpiring a tennis match. There was something really mean-spirited about Serena's rant, and that's what ruffled everyone's feathers. She came off like a spoiled brat, and it's not the first time. The racial/gender stuff is, in this case, nothing but a clever red herring for her apologists. This is a human issue.
- A 59-year-old Dallas Cowboys fan used an illegal taser on Jets fans who were antagonizing him at MetLife Stadium this weekend. Opinion: Hey man, that's not cool.
- The Giants somehow hit three home runs on the way to beating the Padres 8-3. Opinion: One of the greatest unsung races of this baseball season is the battle between San Francisco and Seattle to see who has the game's worst offense. As of last night, the Giants have scored 500 runs to the Mariners' 503. This one's coming down to the wire! The really cruel part of all this for Giants fans is that their pitching staff is fairly incredible from front to back. They've allowed 514 runs, the second fewest in baseball behind the Phillies, and they'd be a terrifying opponent in the playoffs. Instead, 2011 goes down as a lost season in San Francisco.
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