Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sox In Six

Two men on. Nobody out. Nobody crosses the plate.
Two on. One out. Nobody scores.
Next inning, two on. One out. No runs.
Bases loaded, two outs, one in. First baseman bobbles the ball. Doesn't matter. Nobody else comes home.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Don'ts of the World Series

There are things you don't do if you want to win a World Series game:

  • You don't leave your best pinch hitter on the bench.
  • You don't let a relief pitcher get his first major league at bat in the ninth inning of a World Series game because you're hoping to extend him, and then pull him one out later.
  • You don't make a lousy throw to third when there's basically no chance you'll get the runner.
  • You don't leave your starting pitcher in to face the top of the opponent's lineup for the third time, not when he's visibly tiring and you've got an army of flamethrowers waiting to come out of the pen.
  • You don't pitch Craig Breslow.
  • You don't trust Will Middlebrooks' D, because it looks like he flinches every time a ball comes his way.
  • You don't leave Jarrod Saltalamacchia out there in the late innings, not when you've got better defensive options.
  • You don't pitch to Big Papi. He's hitting over .700. The rest of the Red Sox are hitting sub-BJ-Upton.
  • You don't walk Stephen Drew. Ever.

Most of these are the little things, the things that happen in the heat of the moment or that seem kind of defensible at the time. But it's the little things that get you, especially when it's two teams so evenly matched. Something as simple as a rookie slipping cost the Cardinals game 4; something as simple as having David Ross in for defense would have prevented two bad throws to third, throws that cost the Red Sox games 2 and 3.

So the lesson is clear. Don't do these things. Don't give the opponent any advantage they didn't earn for themselves, not in a Series so evenly matched. 

To date, the Sox have not done a few more of these than the Cardinals. That's why they're up 3 games to 2. But they've made their share of mistakes, too, given away their share of gifts. If they do it again tonight, we're going seven. If it's the Cards who are feeling generous, then it's the first clinching celebration at Fenway since the Babe was a left handed pitcher.
But it all depends, not on what they do, but what they don't do.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Your Weekly ACC Roundup: Old Tropes Edition

As the weeks creep by, the narrative shifts.

A little over a week ago, it was "is this the strongest ACC football has ever been?" After all, the conference had 3 undefeated teams, including 2 in the top 5, and Virginia Tech sneaking up on the outside, with only a loss to the unstoppable juggernaut that is Alabama.

But that was two weeks ago. One of those undefeated teams got stomped like a grape at a wine festival. Another goes up against FSU next week after a few consecutive weeks of tightrope walking against inferior competition. And Virginia Tech, well, everyone ignored the warning signs of close calls against teams like East Carolina. Can't do that any more, I'm afraid. And now we're back to the "Gosh darn it, the ACC sure is unpredictable" days. Which is another way of saying "nobody's really that good."

So on to business, and the taking care of thereof:

Florida State 49, NC State 17 - Let's put it this way: I was so sure of the outcome of this one that I scheduled my birthday party for a bar across the street from State's campus for that evening. To be fair, the Pack put up more of a fight than Clemson did, but at this point it's like the old days of the ACC, where there's the former Free Shoes U. and then there's everyone else.

Georgia Tech 35, UVa 25 - It's not a surprise that Tech won this game. It's a surprise that they had to come from behind to do it, because Virginia is bad. Then again, fork over 5 turnovers and still win by double digits and you're doing all right.

Clemson 40, Maryland 27 - Now that Maryland's been exposed as the new Indiana, or perhaps Purdue, it makes sense that Clemson would roll up on them like that - particularly coming off the bludgeoning that Florida State delivered last week. On the other hand, allowing the Terps to hang around until the 4th quarter, and allowing them to run up 27 points, that's not a particularly good sign. Or as the great sage once asked: Name two things that are orange and don't show up in late October - The Great Pumpkin and Clemson's D.

Miami 24, Wake Forest 21 - And a near miss at that. Al Golden deserves all sorts of credit for keeping the Ibises unbeaten this far into the season, but you keep playing with fire, you're going to get blasted through sheetrock by a firehose sooner or later. Combined with the NCAA's pattycake disciplinary judgment earlier in the week, that's two gifts the U got within seven days. Next week, though, their luck's going to run out.

UNC 34, Boston College 10 - Clearly, da Sawx gots all da karma this week. BC had established itself as, if not good, then at least solid. UNC had established itself as a speed bump. Mind you, they still can't stop the run, but when you hold the opposition's QB to passing yardage Sammy Hagar probably couldn't drive, well, you're going to win a game now and then. UNC's schedule is relatively soft the rest of the way, so Larry Fedora might be able to salvage a faintly respectable final record. But the empty seats visible in any picture from Saturday's game will tell  you this season's already lost.

Virginia Tech 10, Duke 14 - Yes, it's a great win for Duke. Yes, they're bowl-eligible for the second year in a row for the first time EVER. It's a big deal, I'm very proud of them, such nachas, etc. But. For all the national yammering, Virginia Tech simply isn't that good this year. The fact that they dropped this game to a team that converted precisely zero - that would be "0" - third downs and gave away 4 turnovers says that Virginia Tech was in no way ready for prime time. Good teams let lesser opponents take a swing, absorb the punch, and come back and win. Overrated teams go 4-18 on 3rd down conversions against a team that couldn't stop Pitt.

Navy 24, Pitt 21 - Speaking of which...

So next week the big show is down Florida way, with FSU taking on Miami, and presumably taking them apart as well. Everything else is in-conference, with the UNC-NCSU grudge match being perhaps the biggest game on the docket.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Hint of Obstruction

There are two lessons to take away from last night's game 3 of the World Series (3, if you count "don't let your short reliever who has never batted before in the major leagues get his first big league at-bat against a flame-throwing demon in the 9th inning of a World Series game because you're expecting to get another full inning out of him and then pull him after just one out).

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Kids Are All Right

It's been a long time since Grambling football was in the news. Sure, Coach Eddie Robinson was a legend, and they made a splash when they hired former Washington QB Doug Williams as coach, but historically black colleges don't traditionally show up on ESPN's College Gameday.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Source of Great Pride

It is a source of great pride to those of us here at Sportsthodoxy that multiple readers have found their way here after Googling "Clemsoning".

That is all.

A Last Gift To Boston

This is how you lose a trip to the World Series.

You take a first-and-third, no outs situation with the other team's starter on the ropes, and you turn it into a Fine/Howard/Fine-level production on the bases that gives away two outs.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

An Open Letter To My Fellow Phillies Fans

Dear Knuckleheads, Knuckledraggers, and Nucky Thompson Impersonators:

If you are so offended by the fact that a Phillies player - in this case Domonic Brown - expressed a rooting preference for a team other than the Iggles that you are demanding he be run out of town or wishing physical harm upon him, then you need to seek psychiatric treatment immediately. Mr. Brown owes neither the Eagles nor you his football fandom; he is obligated to do his best during baseball season to help the Phillies win - which he did to good effect this year - and that's it. And seeing as he's one of the few position players the Phils have left with a pulse, your idiotic loyalty test would only serve to inch the Philberts closer to '61 Mets territory. So knock it off.

Alternately, take up cross-stitch. You'll find it soothing.

Weekly ACC Update: The Great Clemsoning

Usually, when members of a particular conference beat each other up all season long, it's taken as evidence by supporters that it's a strong conference with a lot of good, evenly matched teams.

This only works, however, if the games are close. When the scores come back 56-0 and 51-14 instead, it's hard to argue that there's league parity. Which brings us to Saturday, and The Great Clemsoning.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

No More Collisions

Over at ESPN, Buster Olney has a piece about why there's going to be a ban, sooner or later, on home plate collisions. This is, by and large, a good thing: It will likely reduce gruesome injuries like the one Buster Posey had a couple of years ago, it will remind people that the point is to touch home, not to pancake the catcher, and it will almost certainly reduce concussions. And, let's face it, those hits always occur when the runner's dead meat, and his only hope is to body-slam the ball out of the catcher's mitt. In other words, it's bad baseball.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Owners Take All The Risks (Of Prosecution)

Let us consider Zygi Wilf.

Wilf, owner of the Minnesota Vikings, and his brother and his cousin, are bad people. They are bad people who defrauded their business partners out of a great deal of money. The legal ruling against the Wilfs, in a case which they have been dodging for two decades, nailed them for fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and violation of racketeering laws.

Racketeering, for those of you not up on your decades-old Dennis Farina cop shows, means "mob-type stuff". Violating racketeering statutes in New Jersey means you really had to work at it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Sometimes, you just sit back and watch a master at work.

Case in point: Charles Pierce on Koji Uehara. And beards.

The Week of 5 (Or 7) QBs

In recent days, a big deal was made out of the fact that there were going to be 5 ACC-pedigree quarterbacks starting games for NFL teams this weekend. (Note that the 5 includes Russell Wilson, who finished his college career at Wisconsin, but let it pass, let it pass.) This was taken by ACC partisans as evidence that the league is indeed a rising football power, as that's a lot of quarterbacks to be starting games. By comparison, the Big 10-ish had 5 (Henne, Brady, Foles, Pryor and Brees), the Big East/AAC had none, and whatever conference Delaware is in had 1. (So did the Ivy League, but don't tell anyone, 'cause they'll freak.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Peraltasaurus Rex

As per Peter Gammons, Red Sox players are privately kvetching that Jase Robertson failed to properly inflate their raft when they were going muskrat hunting, wait, that's not it. They're kvetching that Tigers SS Johnny Peralta, having served his 50 game suspension for PEDs, is now allowed to play. The concern is apparently that they don't know what residual steroids are still in his body, making them wonder if at any moment he could completely Hulk out and turn on a Craig Breslow slider with gamma-irradiated fury.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Weekly ACC Football Roundup: Pack It Up Edition

For three quarters, Clemson was in serious danger of Clemsoning all over themselves again. Up against a feisty but underpowered Boston College team - remember, these guys got creamed by Kiffiny USC - they were down 14-10 going into the late stages. Then, finally, they realized that they were ranked #3 in the country and BC wasn't, and that was that. Still, it was a nice effort for a BC team that seems to have found its second win, and which will probably finish better than expected.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why David Goes Down

Malcolm Gladwell's latest exercise in reverse-engineering hypotheses to fit his cherry-picked data is all about David and Goliath, but there's a key point he missed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Denial of League of Denial

The pushback has already begun.

Predictable, really - its just too easy a target. Sure, Frontline's documentary on the NFL, League of Denial, was a damning piece of seamless investigative journalism. How seamless? Even Deadspin, whose stock in trade is to try to take anyone else's investigative journalism to pieces to clear the decks for their own, couldn't manage a swipe. (Correction: they've added one.) Sure, it made things very, very clear that the NFL was well aware of the dangers of traumatic head injury to its players and yet did everything in its power to prevent players from learning about the issue. And sure, it was very clear about what those consequences were. Just ask the family of Mike Webster.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Your Weekly ACC Update: Don't Fear The Turtle Edition

Last Saturday, while hanging out at a burger place waiting for my order, I noticed a factoid scrolling across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. It said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that ACC teams were 54-6 against non-conference opponents. Which, I must confess, impressed the hell out of me, as I hadn't realized they'd played 60 or so games against out of conference opponents.
Then the tag rolled by, and it a crucial factoid emerged: that was in reference to field hockey.
So without further ado, here's what happened this week:

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Durham Bulls Backup Catchers Strike Again

This guy. No, the one on the right.
Saturday night, it was Stephen Vogt. Tonight, it was Jose Lobaton, another guy who used to be a backup catcher for the Durham Bulls.

And by now, you should know the story. Next-to-last guy off the bench. Not exactly known for his hitting. In there, with two outs, against the closer who'd just had the single best season in the history of closing. (Yes, better than anything Mariano Rivera did. Ever. Look it up.) Hoping against hope to pick up his closer, who'd just choked up a hard-won lead. 

Naturally, he golfs it pretty much dead center, to the point where some butterfingers fan in what looked to be an Elliot Johnson jersey Bucknered the ball into the 10K gallon fish tank next door.

First postseason walk-off hit in Rays history. Fourth straight elimination game they've won. The conquest of the unhittable closer. All the stuff that's so unlikely as to never, ever happen.
Except it happens every year. Welcome to the playoffs.

Monday, October 07, 2013

On a Walkoff Win By The Bay

Why so serious?
Here's the situation.

First and third, none out. Bottom of the ninth, tie game. Your offense has done nothing against a rookie all game. Your starter is gone and your pitcher is gassed. The guy at the plate has power.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Great Moments In Sports Talk Radio: Contract the 2009 Rays

Many of us, in our day to day jobs, are asked to do a little research. We are impressed with the importance of actually knowing what we're talking about when we're asked to get up in front of people - whether they be customers, co-workers, upper brass, or professional peers - and talk. Not taking this responsibility seriously (or, as professional peers of mine refer to it, "talking out your ass"), is the sort of thing that tends to bring negative performance reviews, audience disapproval, and occasional changes in work address.

Friday, October 04, 2013

One the Hard Way: Rays

This is how you do it the hard way.

You tie one hand behind your back by keeping your best prospect and probably second-best power hitter, the guy you traded your #2 starter and a key pen arm for, down on the farm for nearly half the season to tweak his service time clock, gambling that you won't fall entirely out of the race without him.

You go into the season with first base, one of your big bopper slots, manned by a guy who never was a serious threat to hit 20 homers, and whose offense has been sliding for years. This guy, whom you signed off the scrap heap, got let go by your biggest competition when they really didn't have any other options at first base.

You take chances on guys who are, frankly, jerks, because jerks come cheap, and you need cheap, and there's nobody better at straightening them out than Joe Maddon. And so Yuni Escobar arrives and appears to remove his head from his hindquarters, and Delmon Young comes back and shuts up and just hits like he never did in Philly.  

You run a shuttle back and forth between Tampa and Durham, cycling Archers and Torreses and Odorizzis and more back and forth and in and out while your former Cy Young winner's arm starts barking and your former Rookie of the Year falls apart, all the way down to A-ball.

You enter the final series of the season needing only to take care of business against the sad-sack Blue Jays, a team running on impulse power, and you promptly woof away a couple of games. Your best defensive outfielder makes a Charlie Brown play, and a huge lead evaporates, and suddenly it's the last day of the season and you need to win -on the road - to make sure you don't go home.

And you build another lead, and that one starts to evaporate, and everyone in baseball who loves your story and wants the underdog to win is thinking "oh God, here we go again."
But you pull it out, which earns you the right to go on the road again for another must-win, against a team that thumped you thoroughly in your home stadium, and that has what seems like more money invested in its pitching staff than you have in your payroll. And you send your former Cy Young guy out there, except he's got an ERA in their ballpark that looks like a Boeing jet designation, and they're getting their big bopper back off a 50 game suspension just in time to face you. You get there, and you take a lead, and then you get hit by an epic screw job of a bad call that costs you at least one run, and you're pretty sure you're going to need that run because this place is a launching pad, and the game is a long way from over.

Except your starter gets mad and just deals. Every pitch feels like it's coming from a place of rage. And your last-guy-on-the-bench outfielder, the speed-and-defense guy whose botched pickup of a routine grounder is what led to you being here in the first place, he steals a run for you in the 9th, and you win.

Which gets you the right to get on another plane, and fly to another team's stadium, and play another must-win.

Which you do, against a flamethrowing rookie and a deep lineup full of guys who have been there before, even if the team hasn't.You run a DH out there who couldn't hack it on the sinking ship that was the 2013 Phillies, and he slams a first-pitch home run, the fifth time he's done that in the playoffs. Nine playoff home runs for Delmon Young, five on a first pitch, and yet Ernie Banks never sniffed the post-season. Life, as they say, isn't fair. This time, though, the unfairness works your way. Your kid starter scuffs and ducks and dodges and gets double play balls when he has to, and then suddenly it's done. 

You've won. You've passed the wild card stage. And that gives you the right to get on another plane, to go to another city, to stare down the barrel of another loaded gun.

But this time you get a day off first. Sounds like heaven.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A Rock For The Forgotten In The City of Three Rivers

It was, in the end, just one game.

But it was one game after 162 other games. One game in a place where that team and that city hadn't been for two decades. It was a team that had every reason to be tight or nervous or relieved that they'd just gotten that far after twenty years of futility. And yet, they weren't.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Your Weekly ACC Roundup: Arr, Pirates Edition

And so, week 5, with the drama of an in-state rivalry that only one side wanted to play...