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.
While the majority of the Bay Area stock chatter is about Twitter, there was an initial offering last week that was equally intriguing: Oakland Athletics tickets. Yes, tickets. Tickets to any event, especially postseason events, are essentially an IPO, with the price set by the team and the market bidding prices up or down based on demand. The buyers are fans rather than shareholders, and instead of a financial return, their primary investment objective is emotional return. The A’s one-run, walk-off win on Sunday night delivered in a big way for the 48,292 in attendance. It also created a very real financial return for the team. While franchises always reap meaningful revenue from postseason appearances, the A’s are maximizing their upside this year through the use of dynamic pricing.
The Detroit Tigers forced a decisive Game 5 in Oakland on Thursday, while the Boston Red Sox advanced to the American League Championship Series, as both teams eked out tight victories Tuesday.
Though Anibal Sanchez did struggle in Game 3, Detroit found itself facing elimination because its best hitters had done very little over the first three games of the series. The lineup's top five — Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez — had combined to hit just .211, with three extra-base hits and no home runs. This was an extremely small sample size, of course, and the Tigers owned the second-best offense in the league during the regular season. You'd figure the dry spell would end soon. But the Tigers aren't playing with the same lineup anymore. Not with injuries reducing Cabrera to a shadow of his recent self.
In case you were busy faking injuries to run down the clock at your office, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Boston Red Sox are in the ALCS after holding off the Tampa Bay Rays, who set a postseason record with nine pitchers in their 3-1 loss. Rays manager Joe Maddon was unable to hide his disappointment after the game, saying, "This one's on me boys. The pitching was fine; I kept going out there meaning to bring in better hitters. But my timing was a mess." Maddon then signaled to the press corps, replacing himself in the press conference with the team's pitching coach Jim Hickey, who shook his head and said, "He meant to bring in [hitting coach] Derek Shelton. Joe's going to be ruing this loss all offseason."
Nineteen-year-old San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl scored four goals, including a through-his-legs goal-of-the-year candidate, as his Sharks decimated the New York Rangers in a 9-2 win. Hertl, who pulled off the feat in his third NHL game, said afterward, "Well I hope this'll show the San Jose organization that I'm ready for a call-up to the big show. No rush, but I think this proves I have the skills to make it at the top." When told he was already at the top level of professional hockey, Hertl responded, "No. No. Please. Enough with the pranking of youngsters. There's no way the team we were up against was a top-tier team tonight. You're yanking me and it's rude."
We're only seven days into this year's MLB playoffs, and it's hard to figure out how things can get any better. Monday's events were so scintillating, so maddening, so ludicrous, that a dozen attempts at narratives have been tossed in the trash. Instead, we present 19 key moments from a quadrupleheader for the ages.
19. The Rays' defense has been terrible.
A Ben Zobrist throwing error led to the first Red Sox run of the game. It was Zobrist's second consecutive game with an error, after making four in 554 chances all year. Officially, that was the third error in three ALDS games for the Rays, after making just 59 in 163 regular-season games, the second-lowest total in the majors. Between those three miscues, multiple Green Monster adventures by Rays left fielders, and a handful of other mistakes that included a passed ball and a couple of errors in judgment, this ranks as one of the worst stretches for the Rays' normally solid defense in their entire six-year run of success. The Red Sox outplayed the Rays in every way over the first two games of this series. But Tampa Bay's shoddy defense made things worse, and threatened to push the Rays right out of the playoffs.
In case you were busy representing the University of Southern California in its quest to replace Lane Kiffin, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Juan Uribe hit the go-ahead home run and Brian Wilson earned the win as the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a spot in the NLCS with a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. "I called those guys before the game to wish them well," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of Uribe and Wilson, with whom he won the 2010 World Series. "And then I said, 'The queen strikes at midnight.'" When asked why, Bochy said, "Well as it turned out, nothing happened. Which is very frustrating given the massive cash outlay our team made on those two before they left." Bochy then cocked his head to the side and appeared to enter a strange trance before adding robotically, "That said, I can't recommend hiring Tom the Hypnotist enough. Did you know he can be reached at 1-866-HYPNOTOM for all your hypnosis needs?"
Jets quarterback Geno Smith led his team on a game-winning drive and sent the Atlanta Falcons to their third straight loss, 30-28, at the Georgia Dome. The Jets now sit at 3-2 while the Falcons are 1-4, proving that gambling on NFL football before the season is a good idea because it's easy to predict what will happen.
It's the last weekend of the regular season, which means it's also the last MLB Weekend Top 10. That would be sad, in its way, if I weren't just drowning in Coca-Cola right now. I don't have any emotions except alert, and so I can't write a proper eulogy for the Top 10 until this tremendous wave of energy has crested and fizzled, at which point it will be too late. However, I can damn well make a list that correctly counts down from 10 to one. It's my main ability, and I'd like to exercise it now as we search for whatever bits of drama remain in an underwhelming playoff race.
10. The Last Champagne Party (CHC-STL)
Do you think the Cardinals waited to clinch the division until the last series on purpose, just so they could celebrate in front of the Cubs and really rub it in? I, for one, hope so. I also hope they invite Steve Bartman to the game and let him throw out the first pitch.
In case you were busy clapping politely when you lost the best featured actress in a miniseries Emmy, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Trent Richardson scored on his first touch in a Colts uniform, and the San Francisco 49ers' early-season woes continued, as they fell 27-7 to Indianapolis at home. "So the master has become the teacher," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said to his former quarterback Andrew Luck after the game, before realizing his mistake and sputtering out, "I mean, shit, wait, no, let me try that again." But Luck was too embarrassed for his former coach and instead backed away from Harbaugh awkwardly, before exchanging an extended secret handshake with Colts head coach Chuck Pagano while Harbaugh looked on, fuming.
Despite giving up 30 straight points through the second and third quarters, Cincinnati's defense came up big late, returning a fumble for a touchdown and disrupting Green Bay's passing game as the Bengals came from behind to grab a 34-30 win over the Packers. When asked if he'd do anything differently were he to have the chance, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, "well, I told the guys at halftime, whoever gets to thirty first wins this game." McCarthy shook his head and added, "I thought it was clear that I wasn't suggesting the rules of the game would change, but for some reason people seem to take what I say quite literally." McCarthy then looked directly at the media with an expressionless face and asked, "Am I not fun? I think of myself as being a fun guy. I enjoy fun things like pencils and reference books. I wish people saw me as I saw myself: a barrel of pencils."
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.
Jonah Keri talks to San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Susan Slusser about the streaking A's. How has Oakland gone from league doormats to odds-on favorites to win two straight AL West titles? Who's the face of the franchise when you have a mostly anonymous roster? If there's a new Moneyball, what is it? And what does the future hold for the team's stadium saga? We cover all that, plus examine the role of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, with help from the BBWAA's acting president.
In case you were busy reinventing the kneel-down, much to your own detriment, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
In a battle of the league's best defenses, the Seattle Seahawks leveraged a record-setting home-field advantage to pull away from the San Francisco 49ers and stake an early-season claim as NFC West favorites with a 29-3 win. "LET ME ANSWER YOUR QUESTION WITH A QUESTION," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll shouted in his postgame press conference, before being asked a question. "THAT WAS A FUN WAY TO WIN A GAME." After a reporter told him that wasn't a question, Carroll yelled his signature catchphrase, "PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL PETE CARROLL," before doing a set of jumping jacks so vigorously that he disappeared into the fabric of space-time itself.
In a Manning family battle, Peyton's Denver Broncos put together a big second half en route to a 41-23 win over Eli's New York Giants. "It's a good win, but it's just a win. I don't take any extra pleasure in beating my brother," Peyton said after the game while sitting on Eli's chest. Peyton then added, "We're 2-0 now, and our ultimate goal is getting to New York and winning a Super Bowl," as he licked his index finger and stuck it into Eli's ear. Peyton concluded his statement by saying "proud of my teammates today, proud of the coaching staff and their game plan, go Broncos," before grabbing his younger brother's wrist and making him hit himself, while cruelly asking Eli, who had already suffered through a four-interception game, why he was hitting himself.
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 2011 and 2012, Coco Crisp did something very odd: Despite turning 32 and 33 in those years (his birthday is in November), he stole more bases in those two seasons than during any other two-year stretch of his career. Crisp would be the first to tell you that he’s much slower in his 30s than he was in his 20s. But years of honing his base-stealing technique made him into a master of the craft, someone who ranked among the league leaders in steals, while rarely getting caught.
Crisp turns 34 this year, and he is stealing bases at a slower rate. Yet in his 12th big league season, he’s again doing something he’s never done before. He’s bashing more home runs, and the first-place A’s are flourishing as a result.
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.