In case you were unable to get to a TV after a butt pat gone awry, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
After giving up a six-run lead, the Boston Red Sox finally put away the Tampa Bay Rays, 10-8, behind a Daniel Nava 14th-inning RBI single. The game was not without its controversy, as John Lackey hit Matt Joyce with a pitch, leading to both benches clearing in the sixth inning. "Yeah, it was on purpose," Lackey admitted after the game, "but it's not what you think. A couple years ago, James Loney's wife baked me these cookies when I went in for Tommy John surgery, and I needed the recipe, because I've been jonesing for these cookies something fierce, and I figured the easiest way to see him was to get the benches to clear. I mean, I was getting tired anyway. And sure enough, sea salt. That's the secret ingredient. Sort of a sweet and savory thing." When told Lackey's explanation after the game, Joyce exclaimed, "Sea salt! Of course! A sweet and savory combination. Makes perfect sense."
League sources are reporting that the New England Patriots will sign Tim Tebow to serve as the team's third quarterback, reuniting Tebow with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow when he was the head coach of the Broncos. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, when asked if he signed Tebow simply to gain access to the New York Jets playbook from last season, replied by staring directly at the reporter without blinking, before waving at the reporter to take a couple of steps back into a visibly out-of-place pile of long grass and discarded branches. When asked if the grass and branches were covering some sort of snare trap, Belichick groaned and said, "You win this round, but you'll never know how I got the Jets playbook for sure, will you?"
In case you were out living your own sports dreams by eating pretzels like Jason Alexander circa '94, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Los Angeles Kings once again showed that Staples Center is a fortress, extending their unbeaten home playoff record with a 3-1 win over the Blackhawks to narrow Chicago's Western Conference finals lead to 2-1. "Man, it's harder to win there than it is at a Staples," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. "I mean, you go in, and the prices are way higher than you'd find online, but it's like, I need index cards today and where the hell else can you get index cards? Then you end up wandering down an aisle and remembering that your wife told you the router was on the fritz, so you go to pick up a new one, but all the models are weird and overpriced. Then you get up to the counter, and boom, Jonathan Quick rejects your credit card. So you go to shoplift some highlighters. Which, and trust me on this one, only makes things worse."
Oklahoma avenged its defeat in last year's Women's College World Series by completing its sweep of the Tennessee Volunteers with a 4-0 series-clinching win. Oklahoma became the first WCWS champion to finish first in the nation in ERA and scoring, putting it in the conversation about the greatest women's college softball teams of all time. Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops differed in his assessment, however, saying, "Last year's model was definitely better; it's always better when you make it to the finals and lose. Builds character. Shows true greatness."
In case you were out grillaxing (grilling while attempting to fend off an ax-wielding dwarf) here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Tony Parker had 37 points as the San Antonio Spurs completed a four-game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies with a 93-86 win. Despite having only two first-half dunks, the Spurs outscored Memphis 52-32 in the paint, as they once again reinforced the old Popovichian adage, "Dunk for show, make relatively uncontested layups and midrange jumpers for dough."
We're heading back to Chicago as the Blackhawks overcame a second-period deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 4-3, to force a Game 7 in their Western Conference semifinal. The decisive goal was scored on a penalty shot by Michael Frolik, despite Red Wings coach Mike Babcock distinctly warning his goalkeeper Jimmy Howard: "I know his move, triple deke, hit the brakes, pause, glove side." Howard asked, "What if he goes stick side?" but Babcock insisted that Frolik was fancy and would go glove side. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, while Frolik did go glove side, he did not stop his action to grin at the opposing goalkeeper, keeping the entire audience in suspense before firing off his shot, instead taking it as part of a single fluid motion.
In honor of the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee coming up this Wednesday and Thursday, you will find one of the winning words from the last 10 years of competition in each entry. When they don't fit naturally — which will be always, if my prospicience can be trusted, since they're weird and useless for all practical purposes — I will heroically shoehorn them in like a stubborn cobbler.
Here now are the highlights from the upcoming weekend in professional American baseball.
10. How to Become Nationally Irrelevant — Move to Toronto (Saturday, BAL-TOR)
This is in honor of R.A. Dickey, who you may remember as the feel-good story of 2012 when he and his knuckleball amassed a 20-6 record and won the NL Cy Young Award. In New York.
Repeat: in New York.
You may have noticed after reading his name that we have not heard much from R.A. Dickey this season. Sure, he's lost some velocity, and that may not be as irrelevant as you think for a knuckleballer. And his stats — 4-5, 4.50 ERA — are much worse than last year. But I still have a few questions. First, how would he have done last season in a division where he'd be pitching about half his starts against teams that scored a combined 2,947 runs, as opposed to 2,724? And would his excellent story of overcoming adversity have been so prominent if he weren't pitching in New York? And would he have won a Cy Young that probably should've gone to Clayton Kershaw (well, OK, obviously not since he would've been playing in the American League, but you get what I'm saying)? This is all hypothetical, and predicting what might have happened is about as reliable as constructing a neanderthal Ursprache, but it does make you wonder. In any case, he was one of the best parts of last season, and here's hoping he's got some fireworks left in the old arm — the long-range kind, that can reach us across the border.
In case you were busy really getting inside the mind of Barry Zuckerkorn in preparation for the new season of Arrested Development, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The Los Angeles Kings are one step closer to defending their Stanley Cup crown after Jonathan Quick shut out the San Jose Sharks, 3-0, at Staples Center. The Sharks have now gone more than 96 minutes without a goal, which Kings coach Darryl Sutter credits to "playing a clean game, and keeping all the blood off the ice. Joe Thornton sees blood? Patrick Marleau? You've got a feeding frenzy on your hands. But right now they just keep skating by us, real passive, like we're not even there." When asked about the Sharks' home-ice advantage, Sutter added, "Oh, we're in trouble for Game 6. If you think [Sharks coach] Todd McLellan isn't going to gut a seal at center ice before the game just to get things going, you don't know McLellan."
Chris Kreider helped the Rangers avoid a sweep with an overtime goal in New York's 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins. The key moment in the game came in the second period when the Bruins, up 2-0 at the time, gave up a goal when goalkeeper and Klingon warrior Tuukka Rask fell over on a relatively well-defended Rangers breakaway. Rask was defiant after the game when asked if the defeat portended a Rangers comeback, saying, "Hab SoSlI' Quch! (Your mother has a smooth forehead!)" and then laughing heartily before eating what appeared to be a Targ heart out of a Tupperware container.
In case you were busy not making up with Sergio Garcia, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Detroit overcame a Patrick Kane third-period goal, as the Red Wings topped the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-1, to take a 2-1 series lead in their Western Conference semifinal matchup. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville held himself responsible for the loss, explaining, "I motivated our team before Game 1 by having them all watch Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Worked like a charm. Then I'm like, boom, stick with Scott, but emphasize teamwork: Black Hawk Down. But they all got hung up on the title. Mixed message on my part. OK, Game 3, Prometheus. Huge mistake. Movie makes no sense. Totally lost control of the team." When asked if there were any actual tactical or line adjustments he would implement, Quenneville said, "I'm this close to going with Thelma & Louise before Game 4 just to mix things up."
Baseball players' careers rarely show up as perfect bell curves. You might see a player break in with a big rookie season, only to stagnate or regress over the next few years. Then just when you're ready to write off that player's chances for stardom, the breakout comes.
This is the Carlos Santana story. This season it might also be the story of the Cleveland Indians, one of the hottest teams in baseball and one of the biggest surprises of the early season, hot on the heels of the powerhouse Tigers.
Santana broke into the majors mashing, hitting .260/.401/.467 in 46 games and looking like an immediate star, a worthy successor to Victor Martinez as the weak-gloved catcher who more than made up for his lack of defense with a huge bat. In Santana's sophomore season of 2011, his power-hitting ability translating well over a full season, as he bashed 27 home runs; he also hit just .239, walked less often, and struck out more often. Last year, he walked more often and struck out less often, but his power dipped, and his overall numbers suffered.
Before the season, I drafted in my head (but never published) a column on how the Cleveland Indians could win the AL Central this season. They’ve got a good offense, and a good bullpen, but one of the worst starting rotations you can imagine. So to make a run at the playoffs, the Indians, I thought at the time, would need to catch every break from a rotation of question marks: Brett Myers, Trevor Bauer, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Less than two months into the season, we can say pretty safely that those breaks aren’t going to happen. Myers is hurt; Bauer’s brief major league cameo featured a constellation of hard-breaking pitches that wound up farther from the plate than a pissed-off toddler’s dinner; Matsuzaka didn’t even make it out of camp; and while Jimenez has shown improvement in his past few starts, a return to his Cy Young form in Colorado is almost certainly out of the question.
But one place I (and just about everyone else) never even considered to look for a savior is in Scott Kazmir.
In case you were busy trying to prevent the refrain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind from morphing into the theme from The Sting in your mind, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Bruins overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit before completing the comeback with a Patrice Bergeron overtime winner as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the NHL playoffs in a heartbreaking Game 7. While congratulations are in order for Boston, it should also be noted that the devastating loss was taken well by the people of Toronto, who, luckily, are fairly agnostic toward the game of hockey and have a very limited history of suffering with the town's most popular team.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat dominated the Chicago Bulls on both ends of the court en route to an 88-65 win at United Center. Diminutive Bulls guard Nate Robinson, who had starred earlier in the series, was held without a field goal in the defeat, which he attributed after the game to being, "Yeah, shorter than everyone else. That's why. Guess after all these years that finally caught up to me. It wasn't at all because of Miami's defense combined with a little bit of fatigue. It's my genes. Thanks, Randy Newman."
In case you were busy finally piecing together why the Buffalo Bills' mascot is a Buffalo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
In a battle of reigning Cy Young winners, David Price's Rays upended R.A. Dickey's Blue Jays, 5-4, in 10 innings. The Blue Jays, preseason favorites in the hypercompetitive AL East, now sit at the bottom of the division with the second-worst run differential in baseball. Meanwhile, something deep stirs within Cito Gaston, and he rises to dust off the ol' Blue Phone, the one wired straight to the Rogers Centre, awaiting a call that he knows is coming soon.
The Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Minnesota Wild with a comfortable 5-1 win as they won their first playoff series since the Stanley Cup finals in 2010. "I guess fives are Wild," said Marian Hossa, who had two goals for the Blackhawks, after the game. When met with silence, Hossa explained, "In my native Slovakia, we have a game called poker in which sometimes, in smaller less serious games, some cards are deemed wild and can be used in a number of different hands. One might say 'Fives are wild' in Slovakia, meaning they can replace threes or fours or any other card. I was referencing that situation, and also the fact that we were playing the Wild and we scored five goals, which is wild." Hossa then furrowed his brow and promised to stop trying to make references that Americans cannot understand.
Coming into this season, Scott Feldman owned a career 4.81 ERA. It wasn't all bad, of course. You could blame some of those runs allowed on the harsh pitching environment at Arlington in which he toiled for eight years. There were flashes of strong results, such as the 2009 season that yielded a 17-8 record and 4.08 ERA — though even then his numbers weren't supported by strong peripherals. For fantasy purposes, Feldman's name wasn't one you had to remember at the draft table, unless you were in a really deep league.
Feldman's first three starts this year did nothing to change anyone's opinion. Lasting just 14 combined innings, he allowed 15 hits and 10 walks, for a 4.50 ERA. Except that ERA was a gift, the result of the stat's silly way of distinguishing "earned" runs from "unearned" ones. Turns out Feldman actually allowed twice as many total runs as he had earned runs — 14 in 14 innings. Throw in the weak contributions of the Cubs' offense and defense and you had a mediocre pitcher playing on a lousy team, someone you wouldn't think would be worth starting against anyone.
That's when the schedule gods smiled upon him. On April 26, Feldman got to face the Marlins, owners of the second-worst offense in the majors. He didn't dominate by any means. But Feldman's line — 6⅔ innings, seven hits, two runs, two walks, two strikeouts — proved enough to earn his first win of the year.
That was just the appetizer. In his next start, Feldman squared off against the Padres. He obliterated them, ceding just two runs on three hits, walking one, and striking out 12, en route to the first complete game of his career.
Sportswriters love telling people how unbiased sportswriters are, and a big part of that is rooting for stories, not individual teams. That’s pretty obvious. It’s much easier and much more fun to write about an unusual defensive play, or a no-hitter, or a walk-off hit, than it is to write about an arduous 12-5 yawner that stopped being close after the third inning.
And it’s not just writers who do this. Even without the professional self-interest, fans want to see the underdog overachieve. They want to see the unusual, the exciting, and they want the drama and uncertainty to last as long as possible.
So in the spirit of lasting drama, everyone ought to be rooting as hard as they can against the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers are kind of old news, with two consecutive division titles in their pockets. They rely heavily on slow guys who walk and hit home runs (and if you’re going to do that, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are two pretty good slow guys to have), and they’ve got a starting rotation that might be better than all the other rotations in the division. To balance those strengths come two glaring weaknesses. First, the bullpen has been quite good so far this year but is built on a foundation of quicksand. Second, they have the kind of defense one might expect when a lineup has a lot of slow guys who walk and hit home runs.
Now, none of this makes the Tigers particularly objectionable. The reason you should root against them is that they’re by far the best team in baseball’s worst division, and they’re starting to pull away in the standings.
In case you were busy dusting off the old Maypole a few days early so you can really get your Maypole dancing where you want it in time for May Day, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Denver kept its playoff hopes alive with a chippy 107-100 win over the Golden State Warriors. Both Warriors coach Mark Jackson and guard Stephen Curry complained about the Nuggets' physical play, and forward Kenneth Faried was singled out for a few illegal screens committed in the first quarter. "Is it illegal to commit an illegal screen?" Faried asked after the game. "Is jabbing a smaller man in the chest with your elbow, just to make him think all of a sudden, against the rules of basketball? Is it?" When told that it was, Faried responded, "Oh, it is? Really? Oh, man, I had no idea. I'll clean that up in the next one. My bad, Steph."
If the Los Angeles Kings are going to defend their Stanley Cup crown, they'll have to do better than their 2-1 opening-game defeat to the St. Louis Blues. Kings goalie and noted hockey satirist Jonathan Quick, whose careless giveaway led to the winning goal in overtime, said after the game, "I was caught in reverie, devising a modest proposal whereby the people of St. Louis might avoid the blues: They could eat their young. And then I thought maybe I could just let them score. And before the thought was even finished in my head, it had happened."
The baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain's private journal.
Wednesday, April 17: vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
I'm not gonna lie. I'm disappointed that the medical staff has decided to scale back my rehab. But you just have to trust that they know best about some things. Not everything, but some things. They have their MRIs and their CAT scans and their X-rays, and as far as you know, the machines are telling the truth, they're not programmed by the Red Sox or Orioles to slow down your recovery. Still, you always think you know yourself better than anybody else. When you're a professional athlete, you have to be in perfect tune with your body, to listen to whatever it's trying to tell you. Sometimes you're going through your warm-up, and your hammies might whisper, "We're a little tight today." Or your ribs say, "That last swing wasn't great, might want to be careful." Or maybe your ankle, the one that cost you and the team the postseason, the one that's keeping you from rejoining the guys as fast as possible, goes Hey, slow it down a little. Things aren't optimal down here. Better safe than sorry.
Stating the obvious, strikeouts are a wonderful thing for a pitcher. Retire a batter by your own hand and you don't have to sweat the vagaries of luck, defense, park effects, and all the factors that can conspire to ruin a pitcher's day, through no fault of his own. More broadly, strikeouts are a great predictor of success: Other than the occasional Carlos Marmol, the top strikeout pitchers in baseball often double as the top pitchers in baseball, period.
But that doesn't mean pitchers can't find success in other ways. In 2011, Jim Johnson shook off a career full of mostly unimpressive results to become one of the league's top setup men; few noticed because he lacked the glory that comes with getting the last out of games. Given his first extended shot at closing last year, Johnson flourished, marking just the 12th time in history that a pitcher had racked up 50 or more saves. The Orioles played a ton of close games last year and famously posted the best record ever for one-run games, which played a big part in Johnson's gaudy save totals. But Johnson himself was responsible for much of that success, and not because of his strikeouts. The right-hander's 15.2 percent K rate ranked just 219th among 270 pitchers with 60 or more innings pitched last year. His 62.3 percent ground ball rate, on the other hand, ranked 6th among those same 270 pitchers, his tidy 5.6 percent walk rate ranking 45th. If you walk very few batters and induce a ton of grounders, you're simply not going to put many men on base, nor allow many extra-base hits. Sure, you'll be susceptible to a few five-hoppers sneaking through the infield. But if that's the worst of a closer's problems, he's probably going to put up a bunch of big seasons.
He might not fit the profile of the fire-breathing ninth-inning man. But Johnson is one of the game's best, his hold on the closing job is rock-solid, and there's no regression monster lurking around the corner.