In case you were busy regretting your attempt to introduce that exchange student living in your home to the joyful simplicity of America's pastime, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A weird weekend in the World Series left the Cardinals and Red Sox knotted at two games apiece, after Saturday's game ended on an obstruction call that handed St. Louis a 5-4 victory, and Sunday's game closed with a Koji Uehara pickoff in Boston's 4-2 win. "What a weekend!" declared MLB rules aficionado Peter Greggsman. "The only way it could have been better is if one of these stadiums had been a dome, so we could get some catwalk interference in there." Greggsman's demeanor then darkened, before he added, "The real tragedy though is that the World Series can't end on an infield fly call. No game can." Greggsman then pounded his fist on his Hardball Times Baseball Annual and cried to the heavens, "Oh founders of baseball, you've cursed us with the possibility of perfection, yet made it as impossible to witness as a local game without digital cable! Damn you apocryphal Abner Doubleday! Damn you straight to the fictional hell you belong in!"
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson amassed 329 receiving yards, the second-most in NFL history behind former Rams receiver Flipper Anderson, as Detroit came from behind late to stun the Dallas Cowboys 31-30. Meanwhile, back at his New Jersey home, Anderson cracked a bottle of champagne as the game ended. Not because his record was preserved; that would be incredibly tacky. Who would do that? No, he popped a bottle of champagne because it pairs well with the panko-crusted halibut he whipped up for his wife as a special Sunday treat.
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 out filibustering an impending breakup, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
UCLA won its first national championship in baseball, defeating Mississippi State, 8-0, to sweep the best-of-three series. "Eat your heart out John Wooden, you pompous old owl!" shouted Bruins coach John Savage in the postgame celebration. After he realized the severity of his words, he tried to convince reporters that he'd said "Doc Gooden." When reached for comment, Gooden was thrilled that the caller wasn't an angry probation officer.
Yankee legend Ichiro Suzuki hit a walk-off solo shot to give the Bronx Bombers a 4-3 win over the Rangers. I don't have a joke here, guys. The spectacle of Ichiro rounding those bases in pinstripes, the pride of New York in the twilight of his career, is too poignant to spoil with humor. Because that's how we'll always remember him, you know? As a Yankee.
In case you were busy anxiously looking over your shoulder like a wraith was following your every step, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Lord Stanley smiles upon Chicago again, as the Blackhawks scored two stunning goals in the final minutes of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final to earn a series-clinching 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins. Patrick Kane was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, an honor that Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask mournfully referred to as "Rask! Rask! Rask!" before letting his head fall back and bellowing out a final, tragic "Rask!" as his counterpart, Corey Crawford, skated around Rask's home ice with the Stanley Cup held high over his head.
Rafael Nadal is out of Wimbledon in the first round after falling improbably in straight sets, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4, to Steve Darcis of Belgium. The defeat outranks Nadal's second-round exit last year as the most stunning early-round exit at Wimbledon for a top seed among people who totally forgot that Nadal exited last year's tournament in the second round. For these people, this loss was a perception-rattling affair, a seismic shift in the world of tennis, akin to the shock associated with LeBron James's recent ability to get the NBA Finals monkey off of his back, and yesterday's cathartic Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship.
Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons question NBA draft prospect Shabazz Muhammad about the controversy over his age, as well as his backpack and his reaction to a teammate hitting a game-winning shot. Check out a short clip below, followed by Brett Koremenos’s scouting report and the full-length video. Watch all the NBA Job Interviews here. And watch this space for more NBA Job Interview videos, featuring Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose, and some of the best young talents from the 2013 NBA draft class.
If you think the Heat-Spurs series is the most exciting championship being contested this weekend … well, you're fooling yourself. Out in Nebraska, eight college baseball teams will be vying for a trophy far less celebrated than the Stanley Cup, with a media presence a fraction of the size of the NBA Finals. But if you like baseball, or sports, or America, you'll love a week's worth of insane, high-intensity baseball, featuring some of the big leagues' stars of the future and some really likable kids with funny names. The College World Series combines the high skill of the professional game, the adorable unpredictability of Little League, and the insane intensity of March Madness. There's nothing quite like it in sports, and in a moment of great fortuitous corporate synergy, every game will be televised, live, on the ESPN family of networks.
Good, now that I've sold you, let's meet our contestants.
Outfitted in a scarlet tie, and in front of a gold backdrop, Pat Haden stepped to a podium yesterday to usher in a new era of USC basketball. In the past decade, Los Angeles’s lesser collegiate program has been decidedly inferior. Since the 2005-06 season, when Tim Floyd became USC’s head coach, the Trojans have won exactly three NCAA tournament games. The program’s recruiting prize from the Floyd era, O.J. Mayo, spent one year in Los Angeles, where the revelation of improper benefits forced the Trojans to vacate every win collected during his stay. In the four seasons Kevin O’Neill spent as coach after Floyd’s departure, the Trojans made the tournament once.
That sputtering is what inspired many of Haden’s opening remarks during his brief statement yesterday. “USC basketball should be relevant,” the school's athletic director said. “USC basketball should be relevant. But let’s be honest, it has not been relevant for a while.” What better way to achieve relevancy than hitching your wagon to March’s most relevant story? The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles were the GIF’d and fawned-over darlings of the NCAA tournament’s first two rounds, and in doing so, Andy Enfield became the maestro of fun. It was a word used more than once by Haden in the first news release about Enfield’s hire. Dunk City (which USC has since stopped using, per FGCU’s request) was moving in down the street from Lob City.
Except for those in the habit of learning about the fourth coach down NBA benches, no one knew who Andy Enfield was three weeks ago. Florida Gulf Coast was a 15-seed that finished second in the Atlantic Sun and lost to a Lipscomb team with a 7-11 conference record — twice. One hot point guard and one annual Hoya disappointment later, Enfield is receiving the keys to Troy.
To paraphrase Chris Rock, desperation is the worst cologne. And when it comes to the post–NCAA tournament coaching carousel, the landscape of college basketball feels cloaked by a cloud of metaphysical Drakkar Noir. The absurd time crunch and constant influx of hot new names on a daily basis make the whole process feel less like a protracted mating dance than an outwardly raging, inwardly fraught frat party, with nothing but overeager overtures and the progressive, unmistakable lowering of standards as the night continues.
It’s nearly impossible to look cool in these situations, but somehow, USC has done it. Now, we could just flat-out admit that Andy Enfield was a mortal lock for the Trojans all along — as a guy who achieved his life ambitions of “totally killing it” in the tech and finance games and marrying a Maxim cover girl, he was already a role model for the USC student body even before anyone knew he coached basketball. But as everyone from Old Dominion to Minnesota made eyes at Enfield over the past couple weeks, USC came out of nowhere on Monday night and pulled an "Is That Yo Chick?" move. Who cares if Enfield is grabbing this job off the back of just two wins, or that USC’s basketball team is on probation as often as Gucci Mane? They look cool, unlike these five programs who might need to hire Phil Jackson to counteract the effects of a coaching search that reeks of desperation.
Today is the first of March, and so I wish you a Happy March Day. March Day is the lesser-known cousin of May Day, which is a pagan holiday celebrated on May 1. But March Day is far more important because it means we're getting close to the most essential time of year: The Madness. When 64 become one, all shall be revealed. Hail March Day, for The Madness Is Upon Us.
(If there's ever an apocalypse that wipes out most of humanity, I hope the only thing future societies recover from our time is the paragraph above, with absolutely no context.)
Time for the top 10 games of the weekend. Note that a week from Sunday, the regular season is OVER.
Two weeks ago, when I predicted that Michigan would beat Ohio State on the road, and Minnesota would do the same to Indiana, I was hit with an avalanche of Big Ten fans insisting that I didn't know what I was talking about, and that IT WAS REALLY, REALLY HARD TO WIN ON THE ROAD IN THE BIG TEN. It was repeated so often that I started to wonder what the hell goes on in Big Ten gyms that makes them so different from everywhere else. Are the visiting players poisoned in some subtle way before the game? Does the home team get an extra player? Do they flash the lights and pump loud metal music into the visitors locker room, like the torture scenes in Homeland? What was this damn mystique?
I really wanted to be cynical about the whole thing — sure, it's not easy to win on the road, but it's no harder in the Big Ten than anywhere else — but then Michigan and Minnesota had awful first halves, came up short in their second-half comebacks, and the avalanche quickened. Big Ten road games were like land wars in Russia, said the legions. Then the anti-ACC comments trickled in, and I bunkered down in defense, accepting the Big Ten Road Logic against my better instincts.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Mason Plumlee had 21 points and 15 boards to lead no. 1 Duke to a 76-54 win over Elon on the same day that the nation's no. 2 high school recruit, Jabari Parker, committed to the Blue Devils. Parker is a Mormon, and sources report that his choice has given Mitt Romney a sliver of hope that someone else might take over the "Mormon Devil" nickname. Unfortunately, because Parker is a 6-foot-8 post player, it has already been confirmed that his nickname will be "The Hook of Mormon."
When my wife read Friday's post, she asked me why I cared who was the beefiest or bulkiest player in the country. And I have to tell you guys I didn't have a good answer. Let's move on to this week's epiphanies and observations.
Before we get going, I want to announce that I'm taking nom-nom-inations for the 2012-13 All-BeefyBulky Team. I was inspired to do this after watching Nebraska's Andre Almeida do battle in a losing effort against Creighton last night. At 6-foot-11, 314 pounds, the Brazilian Almeida is a man of some size, and the eye is immediately drawn in his direction when he's on the floor. Like the elderly couple entranced by the painting of Kramer, we cannot look away.
I was going to put together my own All-BeefyBulky team, but frankly, I haven't done the legwork. The country's elite teams are stocked with perfect physical specimens of varying height at every position, and my mental Rolodex couldn't produce five worthy BeefyBulksters. And this is not something you want to rush. The BBs represent the real America, and we can't risk choosing the wrong men. So far, my All-BB team has just two members:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
A last-minute drive came up short when no. 3 Georgia opted not to spike the football inside the 10 and instead mistakenly completed a pass to the 5-yard line, allowing the clock to run out and giving no. 2 Alabama a 32-28 win in the SEC championship game and a spot in the BCS title game opposite Notre Dame. Georgia coach Mark Richt insisted that he kept trying to yell at his team to spike the ball, but that his vocal cords felt painfully constricted, while video footage of the Alabama sideline shows Nick Saban reaching across the field with one hand at that exact moment.
I'm one of those people who adhere to a strict famine-and-feast diet on Thanksgiving Day. I'll starve myself throughout the day, trying to not let the aromas floating in from the kitchen drive me insane, just so I can gorge myself like a crazed animal when 4 p.m. rolls around. From an informal poll of friends and family, it seems like this is a pretty common tactic. I'm ashamed to admit that I had to eat an apple to hold myself over at noon, but otherwise I held firm. And the feast was glorious. I didn't stop eating until midnight, when my wife hit me with a pan and knocked me into a deep, 18-hour slumber.
The whole Thanksgiving situation is a lot like the first two weeks of college basketball. The morning starvation is the offseason, when you want to avoid lesser temptations like recruiting updates or NCAA investigations or Tony Parker's eight-month press conference. Sometimes you need to check in on those things just to hold off the hunger, like with my apple. And then, when the season finally arrives, it's a delicious cornucopia of tournaments, amazing matchups, surprising players, and crazy upsets. I can't stop watching. I can't, and I won't! I've now binged on college basketball for two straight weeks, and from the depraved den of hoops gluttony, I bring you my 25 November epiphanies.