In case you were busy preparing to take back a national park from the bears, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Jim Leyland's decision to move Austin Jackson down in the batting order could not have worked out better, as the Tigers outfielder broke out of his slump, reaching base in all four of his plate appearances in Detroit's ALCS-equalizing 7-3 win over the Boston Red Sox. Or could it have worked better? See, Jackson's suddenly hot bat raises this question: Why did Leyland demote his best hitter, costing him a valuable fifth plate appearance? Leyland clearly must now rectify his obvious mistake and move Jackson back up to the top of the order. However, because the outcome of every at-bat is at least somewhat dependent on the context in which it occurred, the question arises as to whether Jackson would have been able to succeed were he given a different set of at-bats. Which means that it's quite clear Leyland should bench Jackson for the remainder of the series lest he make another huge managerial blunder. But doesn't that theory apply to every offensive player on the Tigers' roster? Who is to say any of them can be expected to simply slot into a batting order and play baseball effectively? Which leaves Leyland with only one rational choice as manager: forfeit the remaining games of the series and resign in disgrace. So I think it's fair to say Leyland's decision to move Jackson down in the batting order could have worked out better.
Adrian Gonzalez hit two home runs and Zack Greinke threw seven strong innings as the Los Angeles Dodgers staved off elimination in the NLCS by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4. "How dare they?" asked Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after the game, as his lip quivered with rage. "We go to their stadium and we expect to be hosted with a little bit of decency. But no. Instead we're treated to home runs and fast pitching and no winning! Don't they know we deserve to win? Isn't that a thing they know? How much winning we deserve? We deserve it. Because we care and we're better and we're the best and honor and America!" Matheny then balled his hands into fists and exclaimed, "Ri-ooo! Poon-toe! Puuu-eeg!" as if swearing in short high-pitched bursts.
And that’s all well and good if you’re the sort of person who enjoys happy stories. But what about the other 99 percent of us? What about the fans who want to see a good old-fashioned debacle? Luckily, the NHL seems like it should have plenty of those to offer up too.
As we head toward opening night, here are some of the story lines that are simmering now, but have the potential to boil over some point during the season.
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 wondering what living Nicolas Cage's life would feel like, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The NCAA tournament got under way in Dayton as North Carolina A&T edged Liberty, 73-72. The win was a clear victory for Revisionist Bracketologists, who are well aware of the infringements on liberty that occur when advanced technology mechanizes our agricultural processes. However, the day's other game, in which the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders fell to St. Mary's, was a triumph for Conservative Bracketologists who respect religion's place in society and who do not support raiding, regardless of the color it takes. Fortunately, both groups found common ground in Kentucky's first-round NIT loss to Robert Morris, as John Calipari is both an affront to those who desire a more equitable distribution of finite economic resources and God.
In a Western Conference showdown, the Denver Nuggets proved their recent winning ways are no fluke beating the Oklahoma City Thunder, 114-104, on the road. "It's not fair," said Thunder forward Kevin Durant after the game. "It's our house. They should have to play by our rules." Scott Brooks lent his star forward a sympathetic ear, saying, "I hear you, Kevin, but be honest, what rules did they break?" Durant fought back tears as he said, "All of them." "Well, that's true," Brooks granted, before asking, "but were they punished for their infractions? Huh? How many free throws did you shoot tonight?" Durant was silent. "Come on, Kevin," Brooks implored. "How many?" "Sixteen," Durant said with a shake of his head. Brooks kept pushing. "And how many did you make?" "Fourteen," Durant said with a grin. Brooks rubbed Kevin's head. "That's pretty good, isn't it? Maybe they just came in here and played really well. And maybe, just maybe, we can learn from this and give ’em 'what for' come playoff time. Does that sound good?" Durant's grin stretched into a broad smile, as he stood up, visibly reinvigorated. "Yeah, Coach, it sure does!"
Sunday night was the premiere of the 22nd season of The Amazing Race, the round-the-world reality competition on CBS that turns pairs of contestants into far-flung Carmen Sandiegos as they vie for a seven-figure prize. And amid the usual crop of globe-searching souls this time around — the two hot blonde country singers; the nearly identical bespectacled doctors; the mulleted rednecks; the tear-jerking father-son pair — was the duo of Bates and Anthony Battaglia, hockey-playing American brothers.
Bates Battaglia was selected by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the 1994 draft — that's like being a living snapback hat, really — and scored 198 points in a career that included stints in Colorado, Washington, Toronto, and Carolina (where he had his career-best season in 2001-02). His brother Anthony was a college hockey player who has remained in various minor leagues ever since, losing his two front teeth somewhere along the way. With their giant arms, they're intimidating — though compared with the group of Battaglia Brothers from whom they are descended, they're practically teddy bears.
The brothers, longtime Amazing Race enthusiasts, submitted themselves for that most universal of reasons: watching the show, they figured they could do all of that. In the premiere they traveled to Bora Bora, skydived and built sand castles, flirted with the country singers, and (spoiler alert!) finished second overall, despite missing the earlier of two fights out of LAX. Already a good showing, and one that prompted the thought: Which of the other countless hockey relatives out there would make for good reality TV? Let's take a look at these real-life hockey families, and the fake (FOR NOW!) reality shows where they could thrive.
In case you were busy finally figuring out the trick to seeing the hidden image in those Magic Eye posters, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
LeBron James became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points on better than 60 percent shooting from the field in six consecutive games as the Miami Heat beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 117-104, at home. "What's with these newfangled statistics?" asked elderly Miami resident Saul Zinman. "Points? Shooting percentage? When I played, we only had two statistics in netball — bouncy passes and bloody noses, and I led the Staten Island Pantaloons in both. Also, all the teams used to be named for types of pants: The San Francisco Denim Men, the Columbus Corduroys, the Weehawken Torn Trousers. I bet you three nickels there's not a single team left named after a type of pants."
There's nothing else in sports quite like the goalie mask, a literal blank slate upon which a goalie — often regarded as the quirkiest guy on his team — gets to broadcast his id to the world. The result, over the years, has been a crazy and compelling collection of cryptic symbols, animal imagery, shout-outs to grandmas and/or sports heroes, terrifying cartoons, and lots and lots of airbrushing. This year, of course, is no exception. Here, we take a look at some of this season's best goalie helmets. (As always, feel free to render your own judgments in the comments!)
Best Literary Reference
"This may be one of the most scary mask[s] I've ever created," uber-popular mask designer David Gunnarsson wrote on his website, describing Dallas goalie Richard Bachman's new look. "We wanted the mask to have the same uncomfortable feeling you have when you just wake up after a nightmare." The helmet features images from The Shining — the famous twins, Jack Nicholson's terrifying eyes — in honor of Stephen King, who once used the nom de plume "Richard Bachman." ("There was a novel by Richard Stark on my desk so I used the name Richard and that's kind of funny because Richard Stark is in itself a pen name for Donald Westlake," King explains on his website, "and what was playing on the record player was "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" by Bachman Turner Overdrive, so I put the two of them together.") It's really too bad we don't have a helmet depicting scenes from King/Bachman's best work, The Long Walk, but I suppose psychological terror is kinda tricky to airbrush.
Here’s a general rule about hockey fans: They hate just about everyone.
If you’re an NHL player, it doesn’t take much for hockey fans to turn against you. Sidney Crosby? Too whiny. The Sedins? The whole twin thing is creepy. Alexander Ovechkin? Once he scored a goal and then looked happy about it, so screw that guy. Basically, if a player has ever signed a big contract or won a fight or expressed an opinion, some large bloc of fans have already added him to their enemies list.
But every once in a while, a player manages to stick-handle through the neutral zone trap of hockey hatred and break in alone on the goaltender of positivity and — holy crap, that was a terrible metaphor, but I’m leaving it in because you get the point.
Anyway, here are a dozen of the NHL’s most universally admired active players, the reasons we love them, and a suggestion for why we should all just turn against them now and get it over with.
It’s probably foolish to try to read anything into two days’ worth of games, especially when half the players in the NHL are still trying to get back to pre-lockout form. But that’s no reason not to try, so here are 10 random observations from the NHL’s opening weekend:
The Blues made a statement
The St. Louis Blues entered the season as a trendy pick to win the Western Conference. They looked the part Saturday, pummeling the Detroit Red Wings, 6-0, and outshooting them, 17-2, in a first-period display that played out as a near-perfect depiction of Ken Hitchcock hockey.
The game also featured the breakout performance of opening weekend, with Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko scoring a pair of goals, including a filthy individual effort in his NHL debut. The 21-year-old 2010 first-round pick has spent the last few seasons in the KHL, and could make a major impact if he can bring consistent production to a Blues offense that wasn’t exactly intimidating last year.
But while Tarasenko could be the league’s next big star, let’s hold off on the hype until we see him do it against an NHL-caliber defense.
With the NHL season finally getting under way Saturday, one of the most critical early factors will be conditioning. Who’ll be ready to hit the ground running on Day 1, and who’ll need some time to get back to his usual output level?
That doesn’t just apply to players — fans will also have to ease themselves back into regular-season shape. For example, the NHL is serving up 13 games Saturday. That’s just way too many for a typical fan who's still shaking off the lockout rust. Try paying attention to every one of them, and you’re going to tear a groin.
Pace yourselves, hockey fans. Here are five games to focus on during the NHL’s long-awaited opening day:
So what was it that made YOU finally lose your mind over the NHL lockout? For me, it was a charity hockey game in Atlantic City meant to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief!
Not that there was anything wrong with the Operation Hat Trick game or its cause. On the contrary, by all accounts last Saturday's game was a wonderful event, filled with tri-state-area-and-beyond NHL stars, attended by diehards who chanted "We want hockey" again and again, held in happy proximity to slot machines and comped beverages, and responsible for raising a half-million dollars. And despite being a no-contact exhibition game, it contained plenty to entertain the crowd: At one point, Steven Stamkos was awarded a penalty shot on Henrik Lundqvist.
There comes a time each year when the best and worst of the NHL is on display, from its quirky personalities to its self-aware mockery to its godawful taste in music. And tonight is that night: Get excited for the NHL Awards, live from Las Vegas! (The players certainly are: Earlier this week, Henrik Lundqvist "hosted" a party at one nightclub that featured both incredibly phallic glow sticks and Paul Bissonnette dancing on a raised platform, and I spotted several other NHLers still going strong in the Wynn casino when I finally went to bed at 3 a.m., hundreds of dollars poorer and having been utterly humiliated by my dice-throwing skills.)
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Bobby Valentine apologized to Kevin Youkilis a day after questioning his physical and emotional commitment to the team. Youkilis sat out with a groin injury as the Sox fell to James Shields (8 1/3 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs) and the Rays 1-0. Despite the apology, Valentine's original point about physical commitment seemed to hold true after the game, when Youkilis was spotted doing his famous "groin dance" for a group of female fans.
I can't say for certain, but there's a pretty good chance that the New York Rangers' John Mitchell was haunted by some fever dreams last night: Think something along the lines of Elephants on Parade, except with the Cheshire grin of Marc-Andre Fleury in place of all the Dumbo heads.
Fleury was in net Thursday night as the Penguins came to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers, who held a six-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Division (and the Eastern Conference). By the end of the night, though, that gap had narrowed to four, as the Penguins defeated New York 5-2 based in large part on the play in net by the goaltender colloquially known to teammates as Flower. He stopped 29 of the Rangers' shots, five of which belonged to poor Mitchell, who was robbed every which way by the 27-year-old netminder. After one sequence in which Fleury, already down on his side after making some pad saves, managed to glove an attempt by Mitchell, the Rangers forward couldn't help but take out his mouth guard so he could laugh.
New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will almost certainly be taking home the Vezina Trophy this season as the league's top goaltender. He's no. 1 in save percentage (.938) and shutouts (eight), and is second in goals-against average (1.82). With the Rangers contending for the overall best regular-season record, he'll also probably be getting more than a few votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.
Still, even Lundqvist has managed to drive his coaches a little bit crazy.