Who needs the winter meetings? Apparently not Major League Baseball’s general managers, who, while evidently hopped up on krokodil, executed a flurry of trades and free-agent deals a week before the sport's offseason confab at Disney World. The 48-hour swirl of signings and swaps saw Jacoby Ellsbury commit the ultimate heel turn, the Nationals further solidify their starting rotation, and the A's begin filming their audition tape for Hoarders: Bullpen Strong. Tuesday's action was largely a series of middling moves and “my garbage for your trash” trades, but taken cumulatively, the effect was, well, startling.
As with any period of great upheaval, the stunned citizenry must have questions. Let's try to answer five of them, starting with the big one.
Hockey gets a lot of things right, but I'm particularly fond of its awards. While the NHL has the usual offerings — MVP, rookie of the year, coach of the year — the league separates itself with some really creative honors. Plus, all the awards have cool names, like the Art Ross Trophy!
Baseball needs more of this. So before the post–MLB awards week haze sets in and we all try to forget that we've been arguing about Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for what feels like the last 65 years, let's create some hockey-style awards for America's favorite pastime.
The Bonnie Raitt Trophy
Description: The player who most gives 'em something to talk about.
2013 winner: Alex Rodriguez. Even though A-Rod only played in 44 games, nobody got the ol’ debate machine going this season quite like he did. Since at this point Yankees fans like criticizing Rodriguez more than they actually like baseball, we should probably just etch A-Rod’s name into the trophy (a guitar with a bat for the neck) for each of the past 10 seasons. Biogenesis, a drug scandal that feels like it was ripped from the pages of a bad John Grisham novel, certainly hasn't helped A-Rod. But while this year produced a particularly potent field of controversial ballplayers, if controversy were like hitting, A-Rod would be Ty Cobb.
In case you were busy finding out what really happened when your cousin broke your grandmother's collection of valuable plates, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha became the third pitcher to lose a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning this season, but still collected a crucial win as St. Louis beat the Washington Nationals, 2-0. A disappointed yet upbeat Wacha addressed the media after the game, saying, "The most important thing is that we won; the no-hitter was secondary. Now I'll take questions from anyone who isn't Fozzie Bear." But when the assembled media began to yell his name, Wacha stormed off the podium, yelling, "Stop following me around, you stupid puppet bear! You're ruining my life!"
The Yankees found themselves short on bobbleheads for Mariano Rivera Bobblehead Night, causing a commotion outside of Yankee Stadium while inside the stadium the team was short on power, losing 7-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays. "You can't have him, you can't," a wild-eyed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman yelled as he sat atop a stack of boxes of Rivera bobbleheads, armed with a shotgun and a bottle marked with three X's. When told by team president Randy Levine that he had to get off the boxes to allow the fans to have them, Cashman threw his bottle at Levine and yelled back, "Let's ask Mo. Do you want to go to the fans?" Cashman then pulled out one of the bobbleheads and tapped its brim. A heartbroken Cashman looked at the small nodding Rivera in his hands with wild eyes and said, "I thought you'd never do this to me. If I can't have you, no one can!" before firing his shotgun wildly into the stack of boxes below him.
In case you were busy trying to shake off seeing the Raider Rusher, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
For the first time in 21 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be playing postseason baseball after clinching at least a wild-card berth with their 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. "Congratulations, I'm so happy for you guys," Cubs manager Dale Sveum told Pirates manager Clint Hurdle after the game, "we're doing great too, really, really, really great. Me and Theo, and everyone here. We're really happy." Hurdle opened his mouth to talk, but Sveum continued to speak, "and we're happy for you. But really we're just happy, so, so happy. And sure, we don't have everything you have. Who does? I mean, Andrew, what a kid. What a kid. We know all about Andrew and his exploits. I mean, our Anthony is great, but he's no Andrew. No, no he isn't." Hurdle nodded sympathetically as Sveum briefly lost his train of thought. "I'm sorry, what was I saying? Oh yes, how happy we are here as Cubs. That's the important thing; that we're happy. And you're happy. Everyone is happy." Sveum smiled, content with his self-presentation, and Hurdle didn't have the heart to tell him that his jersey had been tucked into his underwear the entire time.
Peyton Manning led the Broncos to their 14th straight regular-season win as they easily beat the Oakland Raiders 37-21 at home. Things got even worse for the Raiders as quarterback Terrelle Pryor was knocked out of the game with a concussion, or as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell referred to it, "Terrelle who? What are you talking about? Never heard of the guy in my life, have you, Mark? Terrelle Pryor?" to which NCAA president Mark Emmert responded, "Nope, Roger. Me neither. Never heard of this 'Terrelle Pryor' before. Weird."
It must be nice to make the playoffs. As a long-suffering Yankee fan, I probably won't get to experience that joy this season, and it's been a long time — almost a full year — since we've even sniffed the postseason. With six games left on the schedule, the Yankees are four games behind Cleveland for the final wild-card spot, and with Texas and Kansas City sandwiched in between, it's all over but the shouting.
But hey, you know what? The shouting might not be all that bad. Because even though the Yankees' destination (sadness, golf courses, boring family life) might be fixed, that doesn't mean they can't ruin someone else's fun. In fact, they have three games this week against Tampa Bay, a hated rival. Between 1918 and 2004, Boston fans showed exactly how satisfying it can be rooting for others to fail in lieu of your own success. But actually playing a part in that failure? That has to be 10 times better. As FDR said, it's better to pull the trigger than to cheer the gun.
So let's look at a few teams that can alter the playoff landscape as we move toward Sunday and the end of the regular season. Here are your potential spoilers.
Only two more weekends left in the regular season, and to use one of my favorite clichés, these guys have EVERYTHING to play for! Let's get to it.
10. How the Nationals Will Destroy the NL Central (MIA-WAS)
At exactly the moment in the season when it was pretty much too late, the Nationals started winning like fiends. Going back to September 3, they've put together a 13-3 streak and salvaged a very remote chance of snatching the final wild-card spot. It's still a huge long shot; with nine games remaining, they find themselves five back of the Reds. We're at the point where one Reds-win-Nats-lose night will basically sink them. On the other hand, the Reds have six games remaining against the Pirates, and as long as Pittsburgh has a shot at the NL Central title, thus avoiding the wild card, they won't be laying down for anyone. The Nationals don't have it much easier, finishing with the Pirates and Diamondbacks, but they do have three games against the Marlins this weekend. In theory, it's not insane to imagine that they could be two back with six to play on Monday. And that's a very different outlook.
So, this is how the Nationals could destroy the NL Central. First, they finish in a tie with the Reds for the final playoff spot. That would result in a one-game playoff. If the Nationals won that, they would then play the wild-card game against whoever loses the Pirates-Cardinals battle for the NL Central for argument's sake, let's say the Pirates. If they won that game, and St. Louis maintained a lead in the standings over the Dodgers, the Nats would then play the third NL Central team in the divisional round. It could be a clean sweep! Five games, and a whole division destroyed! If that happened, I would add the NL Central massacre to this Wikipedia page over and over until they let it stay.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. How is it mid-September? Did we even have August this year? Are the playoffs really sneaking up on us? This is getting serious, gang. Each team has about 15 games left to win, lose, bargain, plead, suffer, and despair. There are only three weekends of regular-season baseball left, starting today, and here's something important: A fancy word for "third-to-last" is "antepenultimate." Armed with that knowledge, it's time for the antepenultimate weekend countdown. Join me!
In case you were busy getting bad news from Dr. James Andrews, because that guy has never once given good news in his life, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Miami starter Jose Fernandez dominated with his arm and bat, throwing seven stellar innings and blasting his first career home run, as the Marlins beat the division-leading Braves, 5-2. Fernandez's outing was not without controversy, however, as both benches cleared after Fernandez indulged himself by watching his home run. "I'm disappointed. He's a great kid, but he let this whole city down," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond after the game. "I mean, this is Miami. You can't just stand around in Miami to check out something because it looks good. This is a city all about hard work and discipline, not about showing off and preening."
New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter has been shut down for the remainder of the season, leaving new acquisition and defensive whiz Brendan Ryan as the Yankees presumptive starting shortstop for their playoff push. "Darn," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte as he high-fived fellow starter Hiroki Kuroda. "Man, that's tough for Derek. I'm gutted. Just totally gutted. For him." Pettitte then did a giddy shuffle and mimed a shortstop going confidently to his left for CC Sabathia's benefit, before adding, "Don't know how we'll get by without the captain."
In case you were busy getting so jacked for football that you passed out at 1:30, here's what you missed in sports last night:
Peyton Manning was at his best, throwing for an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns in the Broncos' 49-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens. "Yeah, but who has the biggest yacht?" asked monocle-and–top hat–wearing Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who signed an NFL-record $120.6 million contract in the offseason, while snacking out of a bucket of caviar. Flacco then blinked, allowing his monocle to fall to the ground, where it shattered. "Aww, crap, that was my dress monocle," whined Flacco, while bending over, which caused the top hat on his head to fall into a puddle of mud. "Gadzooks, my top hat," exclaimed Flacco before confessing, "guys, I don't even like caviar. And my yacht's hardly even a yacht. It's really just a big boat. Money isn't everything; why didn't anyone tell me?"
Stanislas Wawrinka dominated a woeful Andy Murray in a surprising 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 straight-set win over the tournament's reigning champion. A disheveled Murray, whose second serve was occasionally topping out at only 75 mph, asked after the match, "Does this mean I didn't win Wimbledon?" When told that of course it didn't, Murray smiled broadly, and added, "I thought not," before cranking up Van Halen's "Panama" on an old Sony boom box.
In case you were busy talking up how good your Achilles feels, because it feels really, really good, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Paul Goldschmidt's two home runs, including his third walk-off home run of the season, gave the Arizona Diamondbacks an 11-inning 4-3 win in their interleague battle with the Baltimore Orioles. "Guy's a regular Kirk Gibson with these clutch jacks," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said after the game. "Am I flattered by the tribute? Absolutely. It's nice to have your players respect your on-field legacy." Gibson then did his best Vin Scully impression: "In the year of the improbable the—" before being interrupted by Goldschmidt. "Hey skip, what are you talking about?" Goldschmidt asked his manager, to which Gibson replied with a smile, "Oh, just reminiscing about my own walk-off heroics. Dodger Stadium. You know, the story." Goldschmidt furrowed his brow and asked his manager, "You played? For the Dodgers? No kidding. Never would have guessed." A crestfallen Gibson turned away and said, "Yeah, kid, yeah. I played. Impossibly that happened."
The Oakland A's were denied a Chris Young walk-off home run after umpires were unable to confirm through instant replay that his blast hit the foul pole, before losing, 5-4, to the Houston Astros when Young struck out on the next pitch. Now you know that we here at About Last Night are all about provoking debate, and the use of instant replay in baseball is a big topic for sports debaters these days. We take the stance that we must keep the human element in the game, and what's more, enhance it. Enough with automated delivery of baseball images to people's homes. No more televising games. The game happens once. The events are witnessed by those in the stadium. Period. Everything else denies the tradition of the game that, may I add, predates television. Furthermore, we take the stance that there should be no still photographs of the game, which would only serve to create needless controversy about games that already happened. Eyewitness reports of the game should also be banned, along with any written records of the games or mentions of the game in conversation. When asked about specific games, fans and journalists in attendance should not reveal any information about what took place, but instead should turn and sprint away from those who would dare ask a question about what happened at a baseball game, and proceed to start a new life under an assumed identity. Only in that way can we ensure that our sacred baseball traditions are preserved.
In case you were busy hiding out in your ill-conceived meteor shower bunker, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Texas starter Yu Darvish came close to throwing a no-hitter in Houston, but had to settle for a 2-1 win over the Astros after it was broken up with a solo home run by catcher Carlos Corporan. "Carlos seems like a great guy," Darvish said after the game, his lip quivering. "I totally get why my no-hitter would go and fly off with him. It makes total sense to me. I just — I just wish I knew what I'm doing wrong. If I could change who I am, I would. Really. Every time I get close to a no-hitter, it pulls away, and I never see it again. Then another no-hitter comes around, everything seems like it's going great, and bam. Gone again. It shouldn't be this hard." Darvish then shook his head and smiled. "I guess that's what makes it worth it, right? If it were easy, it wouldn't be as meaningful. I get it. I really do. I really, really, really do."
Despite another late scare, David Robertson and the New York Yankees made Hiroki Kuroda's gem hold up for a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. Robertson, who was visibly relieved after the game, said of his performance, "This team needed a pickup, and I am glad I could bring it. Got some great love from my teammates plus a weird call from a dude calling himself Brosh-Dog saying I'm 'in on clutchtrueyanks.biz,' whatever that means. Then I got a follow-up text saying not to tell Alex about clutchtrueyanks.biz because that would ruin it. Then I got some texts from my family. Then more texts about not telling Alex about some dumb website. Really though, I'm happy for the team and for Mo, that I'm able to give him a day off so he can come back strong. And also I think that website gave me a virus."
In case you were busy getting weird on eBay with some Stanley Cup memorabilia, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Another day, another win for Atlanta, as the Braves overcame an early Bryce Harper home run before topping the Washington Nationals, 2-1. The game was not without controversy as Harper was hit by the next pitch he saw, punishment for violating Statute 34.1.92 of the unwritten rulebook of baseball, which reads, "Thou Shalt Not Be Bryce Harper." The rulebook, which exists only in the frozen brain of Ted Williams, cannot be changed or challenged except, ironically, by written authority of Major League Baseball and its partners.
The NBA schedule was announced on Monday, with the reigning champion Miami Heat opening the season at home against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls. From there every team will play 82 games, half at home, with its schedule distributed among other professional basketball teams and the Philadelphia 76ers, who have decided to field a team headlined by Kwame Brown and coached by no one. "We know that our fan base has the capacity to be patient while we retool and rebuild," said Sixers GM Sam Hinkie while his pants were being set on fire by Philadelphia superfan Gene Fallows. "And we hope to see growth from our young, OW OW HOT HOT HOT MY LEG!"
In case you were busy letting down the thousands of people who retweeted you by not getting yourself arrested at a public event, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Despite being suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball for violating the league's drug policy, Alex Rodriguez's appeal of the suspension allowed him to play his first game of the season, in which he went 1-for-4 in the Yankees' 8-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. "Tough game, but it's good to be out there with all my friends, fighting the good fight," Rodriguez said as he sat desperately alone both physically and spiritually at the team's postgame press conference. "I'm at home when I'm with my teammates, and while I've made some mistakes, we all agree that the punishment I'm facing is unfair. Right guys?" Rodriguez then nodded confidently while saying, "Sure thing, Alex. With you to the end," in a falsetto out of the corner of his mouth. Rodriguez then pulled out an acoustic guitar, and yelled, "OK boys, all together now," before launching into an off-key rendition of "This Land Is Your Land."
In more positive baseball news, Jeremy Guthrie threw a shutout while Kansas City's offense exploded in a 13-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. Guthrie, despite the win, was fuming after the game, saying, "'This Land Is Your Land'? Seriously? Son of a bitch besmirches the game, and now he besmirches my family's good name? He better hope he's suspended before the next time we face the Yanks."
Even a well-reasoned midseason trade can come back to haunt a team that is interested in winning now. If giving up three future All-Stars and missing the playoffs anyway is the worst-case scenario, what’s the best?
In June 2004, the Houston Astros were not exactly looking anything like a playoff juggernaut, bouncing between fourth and fifth place in the NL Central, looking up the standings at a Cubs team that was five outs away from making the previous World Series and a St. Louis club that would go on to win 105 games. Still, the Astros were only about five games out of the division lead.
The headline on ESPN.com right now is "A-Rod decries mix-ups, lobbies for Fri. play." My question is, do you think A-Rod knows what "decries" means? It strikes me as such a funny word to use in the context of a guy who allegedly owns pictures of himself painted as a centaur (and if he doesn't, he still let someone take this one). Anyway, the whole bizarre saga took an even stranger turn when A-Rod sought the advice of a second doctor (who never actually met him) because he didn't trust the Yankee team doctor. The second doc said his quad muscle was fine, and he could play pronto, and now A-Rod wants to be in the lineup tonight. Which implies, of course, that the Yankee team doctor was lying about the injury at the behest of the team, presumably to keep him off the roster so the Yankees could collect insurance rather than pay out his exorbitant contract themselves. It makes sense, because now the Yankees only have to sideline him long enough for Bud Selig to levy a Biogenesis/PED suspension on him ("all but assured," per CBS's Jon Heyman), which could happen any day. So the odds of the Yankees actually letting him play are somewhere in the neighborhood of nil, and it's hilarious that they might be lying about his quad to save money. Of course, they'd love it if A-Rod would just shut up and ride lamely off into the sunset, but what happens when you want A-Rod not to be annoying? A-Rod gets annoying! Because after all this, A-Rod has accepted the Yanks rehab plan. I'm a Yankees fan, but personally I hope he brings Cashman and the team doctor and whoever else down with him. My ideal team is just Jeter and Mariano playing 2-on-9, with Eduardo Nunez as the mascot.