In case you were busy finding a new locker room from which to ban stat sheets, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Kobe Bryant returned to action after rehabbing from last year's Achilles tear, but his Lakers suffered a rare home defeat to the Toronto Raptors 106-94. "It's OK that we lost," Bryant said after the game while sitting in the locker room. "Fear can be a very powerful motivator." Suddenly the lights in the locker room went out, and horrifying screams echoed through the facility. The lights flickered on briefly, and a young girl was standing with her back to Lakers guard Nick Young, singing, "Do you want to play with me?" in a sweet tone. Then the lights cut out again before quickly coming back on. The girl had turned around, and instead of a child's face, she had the face of Popeye Jones. "Do you want to play with me?" the little girl with Popeye Jones's face sang in a scratch baritone to a terrified Nick Young. The lights cut out again, before coming back on to reveal everything back to normal. As Nick Young curled into a ball on the locker-room floor, Bryant chuckled to himself by his locker, and said, "Yes, things will be all right. Fear is a very powerful motivator."
Hey there, casual golf fans! Have you seen strange references to Tiger Woods and someone called Brandel Chamblee as you've browsed ESPN over the last two weeks? Are you kind of curious as to what it's all about, but would rather not chase a series of links down the Internet rabbit hole until you reach the origin? Would you like a self-proclaimed Grantland golf expert, armed with snark, a know-it-all demeanor, and the courage to call you an idiot in the very title, to give you the full breakdown?
Well you are in luck, my friend. Because I am me, and you are you, and this story has somewhat amazingly dragged its boring carcass across the sports world for two weeks without dying. So let's feed this monster one last time, and then, if possible, kill it.
In case you were busy polishing the screenplay for your gritty new take on Entourage, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Jon Lester and Koji Uehara were too much for the Cardinals as the Boston Red Sox now stand one win away from their third World Series title in a decade after beating St. Louis 3-1. "Dus-tone," Red Sox infielder Mike Napoli called across the locker room to his teammate Dustin Pedroia after the game. "This beard thing has really worked out, huh?" Pedroia smiled and said, "Yeah, yeah man, sure has. Can't wait to win this ring and shave this bad boy off." "What?" a stunned Napoli replied. "Shave it? Nah, man, you can't. You're the Mighty Mighty Dus-tone, and I am Mike Skapoli and together we're beard bros forever." Pedroia looked away from his teammate and said, "It's my wife. She's serious. No offseason beards." Napoli nodded at his teammate, but his eyes betrayed his disappointment. "It's for the best," Pedroia assured him, but it took all of Napoli's nerve to force an awkward smile.
In case you were busy signing with the Vikings in order to guarantee a Super Bowl ring, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a game away from the National League Championship Series after Pedro Alvarez powered them to a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "Don't say anything," said Pittsburgh superfan Willie Langdon after the game. "Just no one say anything. This isn't happening. No one talk about this." When asked if he was excited, Langdon yelled, "Shh, shh, shh. No. Not excited. Why would I be excited?" before whispering under his breath, "You shut your damn mouth before this whole damn thing falls apart. It's built on Popsicle sticks and Silly Putty, and if you crush this dream I'll crush you."
Today's the day, Tony Romo thought to himself as he sat on the bench, helmet in his hands, feeling a feeling: pride? He was almost sure it was pride. He glanced at the scoreboard. 48-41. He looked at the field; his team's defense was outmatched. Didn't matter. Don't think about being a hero, don't think about being a hero. You become a hero by being a hero, not by thinking Be a hero. Also, maybe the defense will keep things together. Maybe. So just think about anything else. Like why do humans feel pain? Huh, that's a brain tickler. Think, Anthony, think why do humans feel pain?
In case you were busy fumbling your way to victory in Iowa, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Your newest NFL juggernaut is the Cleveland Browns, who have now won three straight after defeating the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, behind the play of reserve quarterback Brandon Weeden. "No! What happened to Brian Hoyer?" yelled world's saddest man Gary Pittson as he checked his fantasy team at 2 a.m. while finishing up an unpaid overtime shift of data entry at Telecommunications Systems Inc. Pittson then scanned the waiver wire looking for Weeden and moaned, "Poor Hoyer, he was all I had left in this world well, him, this job, and the hope of finding Brandon Weeden. Where is he? He has to be here!" Unfortunately for Pittson, longtime rival and world-class bassist Teddy Jackson's wife Sandra Carmone had already picked Weeden up because she thought he had a funny name. Also, he had been noticed by floor supervisor Whit Rickenbauer, who added a demerit for unauthorized Internet use to Pittson's permanent file with the company, putting his employment status in serious jeopardy.
Despite having less than his best command, Clayton Kershaw allowed only three hits, collected 12 strikeouts, and secured his first postseason win as the Los Angeles Dodgers easily defeated the Atlanta Braves, 6-1, to take the first game of their National League Division Series. Despite the loss, the Braves have to consider themselves lucky. Had Kershaw had his best stuff, he would have likely allowed no hits while getting two himself, collected 29 strikeouts, and secured three wins in the game, instantly eliminating Atlanta from the postseason, and advancing his Dodgers directly to the World Series where they would have played themselves reflected in a giant mirror.
In case you were busy spending your weekend working for the weekend, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
It took a three-hitter from Jake Peavy to finish the job, but the Los Angeles Dodgers finally dropped a series for the first time since June after losing the rubber match of their interleague tilt with the Boston Red Sox, 8-1. "Now seeing Jake Peavy here at Chavez Ravine as a member of our league is one thing," said irritated Dodgers legend Tommy Lasorda. "We let him in here all the time when he was down in San Diego. But this? This is an affront to nature. Peavy traipsing into our home, as a member of the miserable American League family? Why I never."
After a pitching duel between Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb left matters unresolved, an 11th-inning sacrifice fly from Curtis Granderson proved to be the difference-maker in a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays as the Yankees avoided a three-game sweep. "But the guy won't make the ultimate sacrifice," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said as he looked over his "thought wall," which contained a number of news stories about the Yankees, large numbers, and cutouts of indecipherable symbols, connected with different colored string. "Look, it all adds up; Curtis Granderson is 32 years old and is set to be a free agent next year. Free-agent outfielders are historically overpaid on the open market. I don't want to pay Curtis Granderson a lot of money, but I need him to play baseball for the Yankees because otherwise all we'll have is the rotting corpse of Vernon Wells." Cashman then pointed at a number of New York Post headlines referring to Wells thus, before continuing. "It all adds up! If Curtis Granderson pays the New York Yankees $63 million and seven of these hypercubes you can see here for the privilege of continuing to wear pinstripes next year, I can guarantee we'll be under the luxury tax and also in the World Series." Cashman then grabbed the lapels of his assistant and said, "He'll do it right? Right? Right? Tell me he'll do it. Please, I need this. Won't you look old Dollar Man in the eyes and tell me it'll all work out?"
In case you were busy reconfronting traumatic memories related to seeing the movie Daredevil in theaters, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Los Angeles starter Clayton Kershaw's phenomenal season continued in Miami, as he threw eight scoreless innings and lowered his ERA to 1.72 in the Dodgers' 6-0 win over the Marlins. Of course, after the game Kershaw referred to the start as "terrible for the first couple of innings. I didn't have command," as his campaign to make everyone who is not Clayton Kershaw feel bad about themselves (The ME-WIN-F-BATs campaign) continued to gather steam.
Suspended Brewers slugger Ryan Braun published a lengthy apology in which he confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs during his 2011 MVP season. But after all the lies, how can we really be expected to believe this confession? Is there anything more suspicious than a man who said he is innocent of a crime suddenly reversing course and admitting his guilt? What does Ryan Braun really have to hide? Perhaps his innocence? Maybe? Eh? Ehhhhhhh? No? No? I'm hearing no. OK, moving on
In case you were busy getting way too excited about preseason football, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens sent a message to the league with a 44-16 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason opener. That message: "Dearest League, has it really been seven months since we last corresponded? That fateful evening in the Newest Orleans feels like no more than a fortnight ago. Brother was set upon brother, darkness came down upon us all, and yet at the end of the evening, 'twas our manicured fingers gripping the statue of Lombardi aloft. Now time hath passed like sands through the fingers of an hourglass. So much hath transpired! Friends, once dear, have ambled off into the arms of others, or, in the case of King Lewis LII, have ambled out of arms altogether. Our dearest Skinny Joe has been handsomely rewarded with a chest of doubloons. But tonight we wanted to speak softly in your ear and remind you, the league, that we remain always your Ravens. With charms aplenty, Baltimore."
Normally I write a "top 10 contenders" post before each major, but after witnessing Tiger Woods's recent form, I decided it wasn't necessary. I'm convinced he's going to end his long drought and win this year's PGA Championship, "Glory's Last Shot," per the dramatic men on television. So rather than giving token lip service to nine other golfers, let's focus on the top dog. In my "Conversations With an Idiot" post Monday, I engaged in the stupid debate about whether Tiger was "back," and concluded that the answer was an unequivocal yes. Why? Because he's no. 1 in the world rankings, has won five tournaments in 2013 while nobody else has won more than two, leads the PGA Tour money list, and tied a course record at Bridgestone last weekend with a 61, which also tied his own personal best as a pro.
You may have heard that Tiger Woods shot a 61 on Friday at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, setting a course record and tying his best professional round ever. He went on to win the tournament by seven strokes over Henrik Stenson and Keegan Bradley, and will be the odds-on favorite to end his major drought with a victory at this week's PGA Championship. The Bridgestone win marked the latest success in an excellent year; by almost every measure, he's been the world's best golfer in 2013.
And yet throughout the sports media landscape, one question persists: Is he back?
This morning I was lucky enough to make a guest appearance on the fake podcast Conversations With an Idiot. We debated the hot-button issue, and the transcript is below. Please enjoy.
In case you were busy buying gray-market signatures of 20-year-olds off eBay, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he has beleaguered slugger Alex Rodriguez penciled in to start Monday, despite rumors of an impending multiyear ban due to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. "Oh lord, Alex is a goner," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, outfitted in a garish naval uniform. "Girardi's pencil-ins are just a sack of lies. 'Sure Brian, I know you're down, hey, why don't we pencil in some time where you can come over and spend some time next Saturday on my boat with the family?' And then Friday rolls around and he texts me saying his daughter has 'scarlet fever,' and he'll pencil me in next month. Well, I showed him. I've been sleeping on his boat for weeks. Call me Captain Cashman." After a pause, Cashman bulged out his eyes and yelled, "Now! I'm your commanding officer!"
The Atlanta Braves stayed hot, winning their 10th straight game, 4-1, over Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies. Craig Kimbrel, who recorded the save while lowering his ERA to 1.25, said, "Remember when I looked mortal for a week back in early May? That was a test. Some of you passed. Some of you did not pass." When asked what he meant, Kimbrel looked serenely into the distance and said, "For all there is a time when judgment will come. I promise only that the believers shall be spared any suffering." Kimbrel then picked up a water bottle full of wine and smiled.
Every now and then, we will attempt to write the worst sports column on earth. Today: Let's talk about Phil Mickelson and what comes next.
GULLANE, Scotland — Phil Mickelson delivered a round for the ages on Sunday. You want clutch? How 'bout a bone-chilling 66 to rally back and win the British Open. You want highlights? Phil birdied four of the final six holes on Sunday. Pick one.
"The great players just seem to be able to pull it off," Paul Azinger said Sunday. "Think of the shots Phil Mickelson's hit coming down the stretch. He is a true champion."
That's right, a true champion. Phil's impressed me. He's got nothing left to prove to any of us.
But as I watched the magic unfold on Sunday, I kept coming back to a nagging question.
It never seemed to make sense, why Phil Mickelson would travel to the United Kingdom each summer to lose two tournaments on courses he didn't especially like and admittedly didn't know how to play. Perhaps it was to see the sights of the realm? He's probably seen them by now. So … golf? Why?
In the past, American golfers who didn't jibe with links-style play would just stay stateside for the week. Rather than spend the annual, workmanlike fortnight barely or not even making cuts on the old sod, Mickelson would've been better off at home, practicing for the PGA Tour's loaded August schedule and enjoying his beloved Five Guys hamburgers. Seeing Phil Mickelson hoisting the Claret Jug would be like seeing Michael Jordan winning the pennant.
Then Mickelson turned 43, suffered one of the most piercing losses of his well-pierced career, and popped over to Scotland — to win the Scottish and British Opens in consecutive weeks, the latter by a comfortable margin. They are his only two wins in the U.K., and what's most unusual is that he rarely looked out of his comfort zone. It makes you wonder why the owner of the best short game of his generation could never figure out links-style courses before.
There's a simple lesson behind Mickelson's great play of late: Getting rid of the driver isn't a bad idea! Especially on dry, fast courses where the balls rolls, and rolls, and rolls.
Today, 156 golfers from all over the world stepped on the first tee at Muirfield with hopes of winning the third major championship of the year. Somewhere in the back of their minds, they'll also be hoping to avoid what Steve Stricker did on the last day of the previous major. It was something that professional golfers rarely do, especially when there's a camera trained on them. On the second hole of the final round of the U.S. Open, Stricker hit an honest-to-god shank.
This was a surprise for a number of reasons. In a sport that's already vanilla, Stricker warrants nary a sprinkle. He's a steady player who doesn't hit the ball a long way or take a lot of Mickelsonian chances on the course. He was also hitting a shot, a layup, that, with its shared basketball terminology, suggests the kind of thing that should come easy for a pro.
Don't you hate those people who get all sentimental about the British Open, just because golf was born in Scotland and the windy, damp, overcast atmosphere of the year's third major harks back to that romantic era when shepherds tending their flocks would take a moment to hack away at the feather-filled leather balls buried in the thick fescue off the coastal sand dunes?
Then you came to the wrong place, because I'm one of those people, and the British Open is my favorite major. I'm about to get real corny on you, but there's something spiritually satisfying about the Open Championship that is missing everywhere else. There are philosophical differences between the three American majors (snooty, democratic, and inferiority complex, in that order), but the British Open is the only physically unique major. It's a departure from the manicured greenery of the States and a return to the rugged links golf of the sport's origin. This year's host course, Muirfield, overlooks the Firth of Forth and subjects the players to the harsh winds we've come to expect from these venues. A premium will be placed on low ball flight (thus avoiding the worst of the winds), straight drives (thus avoiding the miserably thick rough and treacherous pot bunkers), and the ability to stave off the one-hole disasters that can pierce your balloon of hope. Ernie Els won the last Open at Muirfield, in 2002, with a score of -6, but the scores of past winners show that if the weather is mild, negative double digits are on the table. But who goes into a British Open expecting mild weather?