Monday, August 31, 2009
The regular season is winding down. Playoff spots are up for grabs. New heroes emerge each night. Teams are fighting tooth and nail for the right to be one of those eight representatives competing for the sport's ultimate prize in October. You guessed it...I'm talkin' about the WNBA. Our lovely ladies of dribble, the Detroit Shock, are trying desperately to secure a berth in the Big Dance so they can have the opportunity to defend their title. After an extremely rocky stretch following the exit of Bill Laimbeer, the Shock are finally playing ball again, winning 4 of their last 5. They are currently just a half-game out of the last playoff spot, and things seem to be shaping up perfectly for one last push toward the finish line.
Tweety Nolan is finally starting to look like the Tweety we all know and love, putting up 34 in the overtime heartbreaker at San Antonio over the weekend. The hard-nosed Kara Braxton is also making an impact, making up for the decreased production from Cheryl Ford, who always seems to be battling some kind of knee or leg ailment. Didn't the Mailman teach his little girl anything about durability and body maintenance? Rick Mahorn, in his first year as the man in charge, seems to be figuring it all out and settling on a solid rotation. In all likelihood, the ladies will not be hoisting a second straight championship trophy this fall, but it sure would be nice to at least have them as part of the mix when the playoffs get started. Otherwise, it will be a cold, hard, winter for the players, the coaches, and the rest of us Shock fanatics in Detroit.
(I wish I knew how much sarcasm there really was in that last paragraph. I'd like to say it was mostly tongue in cheek, but that wouldn't be entirely honest. I'm a WNBA fan, so sue me. No, really...please sue me. I deserve it.)
Don't Believe Everything You Hear
Came across the Oakland A's postgame show for a couple minutes (not proud of it) with the hosts talking about how unbelievable the team's defense had been that day. The analyst was praising the club for their sparkling glove work that afternoon, and how they knew it was going to be critical in a matchup of two great pitchers. They went on to show a number of nice plays. Cliff Pennington at short...Eric Patterson in left...Mark Ellis with a cute little grab in short right. These studio guys were practically giddy watching these highlights, and seemed ridiculously excited that the A's had picked up a rare road win in Anaheim. Only, next thing we know, the guy is saying, "But despite all that, the Oakland A's come up on the short end today by a final score of 9 to 1." It's not often you hear an announcer go on glowingly about a team's performance in a game in which they were basically mercied. What's the A's slogan gonna be for 2010?? "We might lose 100, and we might get outscored by double digits most of those nights, but gosh darn it, we're going to make one or two above average defensive plays every game, and that's pretty much all we're concerned with at the moment." As Jerry Seinfeld used to say...'Good luck with allll that.'
Semi-Biased US Open Prediction
We all know that Roger Federer is the most dominant tennis player of all-time. Rafael Nadal is also a force to be reckoned with, and is said to be looking sharp after some time off recovering from a knee ailment. Andy Muray is always looking to make his first mark on a Grand Slam, and there are a host of others looking to blaze through that treacherous seven-round gauntlet that is the US Open. But the HSL is staying patriotic on this one, and throwing his support behind Andy Roddick.
It's not meant to be a "gutsy" prediction by any means. Roddick is the #5 seed and is coming off a number of finals appearances in the last couple months. He got edged out at Wimbledon by Federer, and was ousted in close matches two straight weeks recently by the up-and-coming Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro. But the US Open always remains Roddick's best chance at regaining his place in the tennis spotlight. It was the site of his single Grand Slam triumph, when he smoked Juan Carlos Ferrero to take the title in 2003. He receives absurdly passionate crowd support every time he hits the court, often playing his matches under the lights in the final performance of the evening, when fans tend to be at their loudest and most vocal. Many would say that the gut-wrenching loss he suffered at Wimbledon is simply too much to overcome in such a short period of time. Some would argue that he is too reliant on his rocket-launcher serve, and that when the chips are stacked highest, he is unable to win key break points necessary to be a Grand Slam champion.
Well, I think it is Roddick's time to reenter that elite level. His draw sets up well, with his first big challenge possibly coming in the quarters against Novak Djokovic, who Roddick bested just a few weeks back. Of course it will be no picnic if he has to take on the Federer Express in the semis, but Wimbledon showed us that on a fast surface, they are near equal. With the boisterous crowd behind him in the Big Apple, it will be Roddick's time to shine once again.
Brother Sam's Un-Shining Moment of the Weekend
Flipping around, ESPN popped up and Sam took quick note of the golf tournament going on and the word "PLAYOFF" at the top of the screen. "Leave it!" he screamed at me. I sat there shell shocked for a moment, as I knew full well that this was an LPGA event. I wondered to myself, "Did Sam make his request with this knowledge at his disposal, showing a willingness to watch 20-30 minutes of women's golf, and if so, does this trump his bizarre Little League comment from last weekend where he openly compared 11-year old tikes to major league Cy Young winners?" I don't know the answer to that, but I do know this. The channel was changed immediately, and he left the room without hesitation. You connect the dots...
Down the Stretch they Come
While the Chicago White Sox continue their pratfall and the Minnesota Twins slowly creep back towards .500, the Tigers just keep finding ways to win games. Sunday afternoon was one of those days. It looked like a loss all afternoon. Justin Verlander was sharp, but not quite his usual dominant self. He was touched up for a pair of long balls in the 4th, even surrendering an oppo-zoppo blast to the previously homerless Akinori Iwamura. But as has been the case often with these Tigers in the 2nd half, they dug down deep and found their hero in the form of Placido Polanco and his high-arcing shot just over the left field fence.
In the grand scheme of things, with the Chisox and Twinkies both struggling mightily and fighting just to remain in the conversation, it wasn't the most important victory of the season. But it was a win that speaks to this team's fighting spirit and their late inning resolve that seems to be increasing with each turn of the calendar. This month alone has seen a Brandon Inge walk-off homer against KC, a pair of comeback wins against a solid Mariners team, and now this dramatic heist job against a Rays squad thirsting for a return trip to the postseason. Nobody can argue that there are holes up and down this roster. The everyday lineup routinely contains one guy with a batting average over .275. Aubrey Huff constantly looks like he just woke up from a nap. The back end of the rotation has been a mess all year long. The middle relief, aside from the suddenly dominant Brandon Lyon, has had its share of issues.
But despite all that, they just keep going out and winning ballgames. The good news is that in a division where 85 W's should be more than enough to grab a coveted playoff berth, the Tigers look to be in supreme position to play October baseball for the second time in four years (after a 19-year hiatus). The bad news is that waiting in the first round are the terrifying New York Yankees, who are playing something like .970 ball since the break. But first things first...there's a 1:05 game today. Somebody needs to go rouse Mr. Huff...
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