Sports Outside the Beltway

Yanks fail to clinch

by Brian Hoch -

The Yankees’ fight back to relevance was one filled with gritty and unexpected battles. It somehow seemed appropriate that they would have to fight one more before tasting some sweet celebration.

Dioner Navarro’s solo home run off Jeff Karstens in the 10th inning lifted the Devil Rays to a 7-6 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday at Tropicana Field, postponing a potential clinching game for New York’s 13th consecutive postseason appearance.

Buoyed by Alex Rodriguez’s grand slam and five scoreless — if not shaky — innings from Kei Igawa, the Yankees carried a four-run lead into the sixth inning, but New York’s bullpen gave it back. Edwar Ramirez allowed three baserunners and recorded just one out before light-hitting September callup Jorge Velandia reached Brian Bruney for his first career home run, a grand slam into the left-field seats that put the Rays up, 6-5.

Not to be denied, the Yankees tied the game against reliever Dan Wheeler in the eighth. Jorge Posada doubled to left and Robinson Cano singled to center, moving pinch-runner Bronson Sardinha to third base. After pinch-hitter Jason Giambi struck out, Melky Cabrera brought the tying run home with a sacrifice fly to left field.

New York’s first five innings on defense were dodgy, as Igawa — filling in for Roger Clemens, who was shut down for the remainder of the regular season with a left hamstring injury — made his first start since July 26. Igawa was not especially sharp, walking five and throwing a wild pitch, but he allowed just two hits while pitching out of trouble. Ramirez allowed Tampa Bay’s first run in the sixth on a Navarro double.

Rodriguez put the Yankees ahead early with his third grand slam of the season and the 16th of his career, a shot off Rays starter Jason Hammel in the third inning that clipped the top of the second “C Ring” above the left-field stands, bouncing back onto the field as four Yankees circled the bases. The home run was Rodriguez’s 53rd of the season, moving him into sole possession of seventh place on the Yankees’ all-time single-season home run list.

Johnny Damon contributed a career-high five hits and Derek Jeter extended his hitting streak to 12 games for the Yankees, who are trying to keep a streak alive of making the playoffs in every season of Joe Torre’s era as manager. They have not missed the postseason since the strike-shortened season of 1994.

Just looking at Brian Bruney makes me sick. The magic number remains at one…


Milton Bradley: Marked Man

Bill Jempty’s initial report from Monday seems to be merely the tip of the iceberg. Charges from Padres’ coach Bobby Meacham appear in yesterday’s San Diego Union-Tribune are adding a layer of intrigue to what appeared to be just Milton being Milton.

Then, shortly after Bradley arrived at first base via a single, he and Winters were exchanging barbs that, according to Padres first-base coach Bobby Meacham, were inflammatory on the umpire’s part.

Bradley said [first base umpire] Winters called him “a (expletive) piece of (expletive).”

Said Meacham: “In my 26 years of baseball, that was the most disconcerting conversation I have heard from an umpire to a player. The way Winters responded was bizarre. It was almost like he wanted to agitate the situation.

“I was appalled. That’s why the game stopped.”

Padres CEO, Sandy Alderson, who previously worked as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball, understands fully the consequences of the actions alleged against Winters. He also insists on getting justice for his team.

“We’re not going to sit by and see an umpire baiting a player,” Padres CEO Sandy Alderson said in the clubhouse yesterday after the 7-3 Rockies victory at Petco Park. “Umpires are not supposed to react as emotionally as the players. They are there to control and manage the game. They are not the game.

“The only thing we can do is make sure the league takes a look at this and makes sure it was handled appropriately.”

Alderson said there was “overreaction” on the Padres’ part during a series of eighth-inning confrontations that resulted in the ejections of Bradley and Black.

But he called “provocative” three actions by the umpires.

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton can shed some light on the subject, by confirming one of the two sides of the story. His silence is to be expected. Players work, eat, sleep, and live in the glare of the public eye. Avoiding additional spotlights is reasonable. And a desire to avoid repercussions on the field from Winters or the Padres would hardly be out of the ordinary. But Helton ought to tell the truth about what he heard.

What makes the situation initially explainable is Bradley’s checkered history of causing problems along his career path. The Indians dealt him to the Dodgers, after they grew tired of his behavior. While in Los Angeles, Bradley called a LA Times reporter Jason Reid an Uncle Tom and a sellout. He also accused Jeff Kent, his then teammate, of discriminating against African American players. A charge Kent denied. Wearing out his welcome in LA, Bradley was dealt to the A’s who cut bait on the outfielder midseason and sent him to San Diego.

Winters meanwhile has 17 years of major league umpiring experience and has worked one All-Star Game, six Division Series, two League Championship Series and a pair of World Series. But an incident from 1998, as reported in today’s Union-Tribune makes the case that despite a sparkling record, Winters in no stranger to controversy.

In June 1998, the Giants’ Charlie Hayes snapped after hearing from Winters.

“He told me to go (expletive) myself,” Hayes told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The next one who says that to me, I’m hitting in the mouth.”


Reporters were denied access to Winters. After ejecting Hayes in 1998, Winters said Hayes “was popping off, and he continued to pop off after he popped up. He continued it long enough to where he was ejected. It was simple. I had enough.”

A scandal in officiating recently troubled the NBA. To avoid a similar circus, Major League Baseball needs to do something unusual. By being open in this process they can blunt criticism of a cover up and sort out what was said, by whom and in what order. Bradley, even with a checkered past, deserves fair treatment if he was baited. Fair treatment does not excuse his actions, for which he is paying a physical cost. Fair treatment is an acknowledgment of the truth, and if the allegations made by Bradley and Meacham are true, fair treatment is making sure that Winters is reprimanded accordingly.


OF Milton Bradley tears ACL after being thrown to the ground by Manager

Perhaps the most bizarre baseball injury since John Smoltz burned himself while ironing a shirt he was wearing at the time.

SAN DIEGO – Padres left fielder Milton Bradley will miss the rest of the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee when he was spun to the ground by his manager during a blowup with an umpire.

Bradley, who helped spark the wild card-leading Padres during the season’s second half, was ejected from Sunday’s game by first base umpire Mike Winters, then hurt his knee during a bizarre scene when manager Bud Black spun him to the ground to keep him from going after the ump in the eighth inning of a 7-3 loss to Colorado.

A torn ACL is a serious career for any player. In Bradley’s case maybe more so, he’s liable to lose what speed he had. Which the outfielder either doesn’t seem to have much or always underutilized in my opinion.


NFL Kickoffs Too Dangerous?

An NFL rule change may be putting players’ health in extreme danger, Nick Sando argues.

The league moved back kickoffs to the 30-yard-line several years ago to facilitate more returns. The decision made sense for those who enjoy watching 22 grown men converging at full speed. It’s better yet if the guy carrying the football somehow breaks free.

With the heightened excitement comes heightened risk.

Two weeks after Buffalo lost Kevin Everett to a presumably career-ending neck injury during a kick return, Houston carted off Cedric Killings following another collision in the kick-return game.

Killings reportedly had feeling in his extremeties, a very good sign. And the league was surely happy to see four touchdowns on kick returns Sunday. But at what price?

There’s a huge problem with making sweeping conclusions based on two incidents without any controls. How many injuries have taken place since the rules change as compared to in previous seasons? What other variables (turf, equipment, player size, etc.) are at work?


Patriots Cheating Scandal Could Get Worse

Gregg Easterbrook believes we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg on the cheating scandal involving the New England Patriots and that it could knock the NFL off its perch as the world’s most popular sports league.

And the Patriots’ cheating might have been more extensive than so far confirmed. Fox Sports reported that former NFL players believe Belichick had microphones installed in the shoulder pads of defensive linemen so the Patriots could tape other teams’ offensive audibles and line calls. Needless to say, putting microphones on players violates NFL rules. Andrea Kremer of NBC reported that several teams might charge the Patriots this week with having stolen playbooks from the visitors’ dressing room. The convenient “malfunction” of visiting teams’ headphones at the Patriots’ two fields under Belichick seems to have happened far too often to be an IT department error. The rumor mill says Belichick, Richard Nixon-style, has file cabinets of info on opposing coaches and assistant coaches – some gleaned honestly, some obtained by cheating.

It seems more than just an eerie coincidence that Belichick’s unethical behavior involves illicit taping, the same offense that made Nixon’s actions so sordid. The parallels to Nixon don’t stop there. Caught, Belichick – like Nixon – tried to hide the true extent of the prohibited acts; Belichick – like Nixon – tried to claim his prohibited action hadn’t been prohibited; Belichick – like Nixon – immediately stonewalled. It would be tempting to break the unhappy tone of this column with a Nixon joke – when the league plays Belichick’s tape of the Jets’ sideline, will there be an 18-and-a-half minute gap? But for all lovers of the NFL, there’s just nothing to laugh about now.

What else is there about New England cheating that the team or league isn’t telling us? Are the Patriots one bad apple, or is cheating common in the league? Worst, did the Patriots cheat in their Super Bowl wins? If New England was cheating in the Super Bowl, this will become the darkest sports scandal since Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox. If you don’t think Goodell and all owners, including Robert Kraft of New England, are in abject terror of any possible disclosure that the Patriots were cheating in the Super Bowl, perhaps you just don’t understand the situation.

The weasel wording of Belichick’s Nixonian statement shows the New England coach full of contempt for the NFL fans, and the NFL enterprise, that made him a wealthy celebrity. Belichick declared that his super-elaborate cheating system was only a “mistake” caused by his “interpretation” of the league’s rule. Wait, “interpretation”? The NFL rule bans teams from filming each other’s sidelines. There’s no room for interpretation, it’s a ban! Here’s the NFL policy, from a memo sent to all head coaches and general managers Sept. 6, 2006: “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.” Prohibited. There’s nothing there to “interpret.” Videotaping opponent’s signals even after getting this warning isn’t a “mistake,” it’s cheating. Belichick’s cheating was not some casual spur-of-the-moment blunder but rather an elaborate staffed system that took a lot of work to put into place and that Belichick worked hard to hide. And you don’t hide something unless you are ashamed of it.

This is indeed worrisome, especially combined with other recent scandals involving athletes and even referees in other sports.

During last night’s Cowboys-Bears game, for example, there were three absolutely dreadful calls against the Cowboys in the first half, along with several questionable calls and non-calls that seemed to go one way. It certainly crossed my mind that the fix could be in.

Those fears were allayed when the Cowboys pulled away and won in a blowout in the second half. Still, that it even struck me as a real possibility is bad news for the game.

It’s not just my boosterism kicking in, either. SI’s Peter King:

I think this is my advice to officiating czar Mike Pereira after viewing a day of football Sunday: You have got to talk to your crews this week about some of the biggest phantom calls in recent times. They were all over the place, particularly from Ron Winter’s crew Sunday night. A phony interference call on Terrell Owens and a terrible illegal-block-in-the-back call on Jason Witten … those calls just can’t be supported on video. And they weren’t the only ones Sunday.

Quite right. Just bloody awful. The question is whether the officiating is incompetent or rigged. Neither answer redounds to the League’s benefit.


Lindsay Davenport wins the Bali Open

Why is this special? The former #1 player in women’s tennis gave birth to her first child barely three months ago.

NUSA DUA, Indonesia – Lindsay Davenport won her first singles title after almost a year’s absence from the tour, defeating Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 Sunday to capture the Bali Open.

Davenport was playing her first singles tournament since having a baby in June. And the 31-year-old Californian eliminated some strong opponents en route to this title: second-seeded Hantuchova, top-seeded Jelena Jankovic and fifth-seeded Eleni Daniilidou.

“I’m a little bit in shock,” said Davenport, who won this event in 2005. “It’s just overwhelming and exciting. I swear this is probably the first tournament I’ve played in four years where I didn’t have anything wrong with my lower extremities.”

Davenport, ranked No. 1 in 1998, has won three Grand Slams in addition to a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. Her previous title came in Zurich, Switzerland, nearly two years ago.

She had not competed on the WTA Tour since reaching the Beijing quarterfinals in September 2006, when she lost to Amelie Mauresmo. She gave birth to her first child — a son, Jagger — with husband and former tennis player Jon Leach.

Tiger Woods, who became a father this year, got twenty times the attention Ms. Davenport got. It isn’t really fair either. Any father out there knows, the mother carries the greater load when it comes to parenting before and after birth. Pro athletes who can succeed at both have my admiration.(Trivia time- Name the last two LPGA Hall of Fame inductees that are also mothers?)

Congrats to Lindsay on proving she can still win at pro tennis.


Weekly Miami Dolphins Prediction

So far I am 2-0 in picking winners for 2007 after being 11-5 last season.

The Miami Dolphins(0-2) are playing at the New York Jets(0-2) this afternoon. A meeting between the team I followed when growing up and one I follow today. These twice annual matchups sometimes leave me hoping for a tie.(Something that did happen in a 1981 game between the teams)

Miami hasn’t looked impressive at all this season. The same however can be said for the Jets. One troubling trend I see for Miami, has been their quick abandonment of the running game. Last week the team didn’t rush once in the last 22 minutes of the game. Head Coach Cameron defended it, saying Miami at the time was 7 points down. Seven points down with a quarter and a half of football left and its time to be one dimensional. This and another recent remark of the coach’s leave you wondering if Miami’s coach is just being stubborn. My gut impression is that Miami is going to ride Trent Green down the toilet this year. Not that Miami is going to be any good, but going 4-12 on the arm of an over the hill QB is some how supposed to be a way to build for the future? I don’t think so.

The Jets-Dolphins series often rides on who is playing at home. This year won’t be any different. My prediction- New York 24 Miami 17.


ESPN Football Coverage Sucks

About a year ago, I explained why Monday Night Football on ESPN Sucks. After watching the network’s college football coverage the last two weeks, though, I think we can strike the “Monday Night” from that: They suck all the time now.

The last two Saturday nights, the Alabama Crimson Tide has been on ESPN. Since I don’t live in Alabama any more, that used to be a good thing, since it meant I got to see the games. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true anymore, since ESPN is apparently now run by the people who bring us the Olympics and decided long ago that people aren’t actually interested in the sporting events being covered but, rather, other stuff.

Last week, Alabama played Arkansas in a roller coaster game. Alabama went up by three touchdowns, let Arkansas back into the game, went up by three touchdowns again, and then collapsed to give Arkansas a big lead. Alabama fought back, though, to a thrilling victory with just 8 seconds left on the clock.

A pretty exciting game, right?

Apparently, though, ESPN didn’t think people tuned in late on a Saturday night to watch a college football game would find that stimulating enough. So, they brought in some gal from the women’s soccer team, which were in the middle of a big tournament overseas. And they yapped with her, via telephone no less, for several minutes right during the most critical part of the first half game action. No play-by-play of the game. Often, no cameras on the game, either, since fans would obviously rather see close-ups of the idiot game announcers and a picture of the head of the woman’s soccer player who wasn’t even in the damn booth.

And it got better.

We got to hear about Todd Blackledge’s adventures eating barbecue in Tuscaloosa. With actual footage of him looking at the menu and ordering food. While the game was on!!!

And, to top it off, they brought the annoying woman soccer player back in the second half to interrupt yet more game action.

Last night, Alabama and Georgia played in another close, exciting game that went into overtime.

Again, however, the cameras were on the announcers almost as much as on the game action. Again, we got treated to watching Blackledge eating grilled meat, this time at the pre-game tailgating parties. And some old announcer guy who’s so frail he can’t actually travel one state over to watch a football game was on the telephone for like half an hour yapping about his career while we were missing live football action.

The producers are also too inept to manage game breaks and commercials. Several times, we missed kickoffs, major plays, and other game action because they switched over to show ads or update us on other games and didn’t get back in time. And, each time, they pretended that it hadn’t happened, blithely carrying on as if we hadn’t missed anything.

I’ve been watching football on television for more than thirty years now. I’ve watched local games sponsored by local insurance companies that were better. I’ve literally never seen coverage as bad as what ESPN has put on the last two weeks. It’s absolutely frustrating.

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Alabama Loses to Georgia in OT

Well, so much for Nick Saban restoring Alabama to glory in his first year. Neither the offense nor the defense were very good last night in regulation but they managed to capitalize on some Bulldog receivers who couldn’t catch the ball to limp into OT tied 20-20. They finally fell to Georgia in overtime after a pitiful offensive showing forced them to kick a field goal while an even worse defensive performance gave up a 25-yard TD on the very first play.

Alabama - Georgia Photo 2007

Georgia halts Alabama’s run at comeback with TD pass (Paul Gattis, Huntsville Times):

The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday night handed the Crimson Tide its first loss under coach Nick Saban, getting a 25-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Mikey Henderson for a 26-23 overtime victory.

“Obviously, we’re very disappointed about the outcome of the game,” Saban said. “There are a lot of lessons about the way we played in the first half. I was concerned with the intensity we prepared for and the focus and the concentration we had in practice. We harped on it and I think it showed in our first-half performance.”

Georgia led 10-3 at the half and dominated the game over the first 30 minutes.

“That was the worst we’ve played all year long,” Saban said of the first half, “not only in terms of our ability to execute but also the intensity and the toughness. The look in our eye wasn’t what it needs to be.”

No. 16 Alabama tied it at 20-all on a 6-yard touchdown run by John Parker Wilson with 1:09 left to play to overcome a 20-10, fourth-quarter deficit. But the Tide offense could manage only a 42-yard field goal by Leigh Tiffin in overtime for a 23-20 lead and Georgia immediately went for the win.


So, just a week after its last-second touchdown that beat Arkansas, the Tide (3-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) tasted the bitter side of such a loss as a stunned sellout crowd of more than 92,000 at Bryant-Denny Stadium looked on.

Loss to Bulldogs should snap Tide fans back to reality (Ian Rapoport, Birmingham News)

It was a week filled with boundless optimism from fans and seemingly endless national attention.

All the while, in his quest for realism, University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban used every opportunity to deliver his message: Don’t pay attention to any of it.

Assume players and fans understand now.

All it took was the 16th-ranked Crimson Tide’s 26-23 loss to No.22 Georgia in overtime Saturday night in front of a soldout crowd of 92,318 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The image of Bulldogs receiver Mikey Henderson beating UA cornerback Lionel Mitchell for a 25-yard touchdown pass in overtime will contribute to Saban’s message. Not that it makes a loss like Saturday’s any easier to swallow.

“I always talk about getting better when you win and not getting distracted by external things like where you are ranked or what people are saying off talk radio,” Saban said. “Sometimes you get a little relieved and satisfied with what you’ve done and you’re not as willing and as hungry to do it the next time.”

With Georgia up 20-10 in the fourth quarter, Alabama marched back with a Leigh Tiffin 22-yard field goal with six minutes left and a 6-yard scramble by quarterback John Parker Wilson with 1:09 left. When a 47-yard field goal attempt by Georgia’s Brandon Coutu went wide left, it was on to overtime.

Alabama had the ball first, but managed only a field goal. Henderson’s catch, on Georgia’s first play, ended it.

“That’s the advantage when you play defense first, you know what you need,” said Saban, after his first loss at UA. “Their guy made a good throw and they beat us one-on-one. It wasn’t bad coverage, but it wasn’t good enough.”

Not by a long shot.

It was too much to expect for Saban to come in and fix all that ailed the Tide in one season, especially since he came in near the tail end of the recruiting cycle. Still, the nature of college ball is that you can dream about championships until losing the first game.

Of course, the down side of the college game is that one loss, even early in the season, effectively ends any hope of a title, mythical or otherwise. If the team learns from the loss and gets better, they could conceivably play for the SEC title, which would be an awesome consolation prize. They’ll have to knock off LSU to do that, however. After last night’s performance, that sure doesn’t seem likely.


Yankee Game of the Year?

Quite possibly, as they outlasted Toronto 12-11 in a five-hour barn-burner.

Just after the Yankees and Blue Jays finished swapping 23 runs, 35 hits and untold amounts of energy and frustration on Saturday afternoon, a common fatigue settled over the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium.

It was a satisfying kind of tired — after all, the Yankees had erased three deficits, slapped together a how-to guide on resiliency, and ultimately prevailed. That takes a lot out of you.

That is, unless you’ve already had time to recharge.

“I’ve been in here for like four hours,” said a wired Phil Hughes, fully iced, dressed and showered long before the game’s end. “I’ll have a little more energy for tomorrow.

A game I’ll be attending…


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