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[Posted Wed. a.m.]
Baseball Quiz: Since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, name the four players to hit .380 or better. Answer below.
--The Cavaliers did it again to the Raptors, sweeping Toronto a second straight season, 128-93 in Game 4 on Monday night, making it 10 straight in the postseason over the Raptors.
LeBron James had 29 points and 11 assists, 12 of 19 from the field, with Kevin Love continuing his recent great play, chipping in with 23.
Toronto has had 48+ wins each of the last five seasons, including an Eastern Conference best 59 this season, under coach Dwane Casey, but just can’t get over the hump...one of the more underachieving franchises in all of professional sports.
Tiger Woods was asked at a press conference to compare LeBron and Michael Jordan and he came up with this: “They’re both great in different ways. I think that, if you look at MJ, he was a prolific scorer and played defense like no other. He was always First Team All-Defense. But LeBron’s different. He’s like a hybrid of MJ and Magic (Johnson), which is so different, because he’s bringing the ball up a lot. MJ never really did that.
“He had (Scottie Pippen) as a point-forward a lot of times and you would think that’s kind of LeBron-ish. But they’re very different in how they help both teams. What MJ did, getting to the Finals and dominating the league like he did, he did it in a different way than LeBron’s doing it, just because of the nature of their body, the build, their game and their mental makeup.”
Also Monday, Philadelphia staved off a sweep with a 103-92 win at home, but Boston, up 3-1, can wrap it up Wednesday at TD Garden.
--Tuesday, the Rockets wrapped up their series with the Jazz in Houston, 112-102, taking it 4-1, as Chris Paul had a playoff career-high 41 on the strength of 8 of 10 from downtown. It’s thus the first-ever conference final for Paul, who hadn’t gotten his team past the second round in nine previous trips to the playoffs.
So Houston will take on Golden State, which won its series with New Orleans 4-1, the clincher Tuesday’s 113-104 win in Oakland. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 75 points.
--Detroit fired coach Stan Van Gundy after four seasons in which he was 152-176, missing the playoffs three of the four, including the last two. Seems like the Pistons could have made this decision weeks ago.
--In the college game, Kylia Carter, the mother of now-former Duke hoops player Wendell Carter, unloaded on the NCAA and the current system for big-time sports on Monday, during a “stunning” opening statement for a meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Washington, D.C.
As reported by Steve Berkowitz of USA TODAY Sports:
“After waiting through remarks of five other speakers, including St. Joseph coach Phil Martelli and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, Carter...launched into an emotional, personal indictment of the system.
“The problem that I see is not with the student-athletes, it’s not with the coaches or the institutions of higher learning but it’s with a system...where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do while those in charge receive mighty compensation,” she said. “The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place are slavery and the prison system. And now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that. So it’s difficult for me to sit here and not say that there is a problem that is sickening.”
Continuing: “I think the covers should be pulled back so everyone can see the truth and be aware of what’s really happening to the student-athlete and their families because once these students are recruited to these institutions of higher learning...at the end of the day, the talent is being purchased, but the talented are not receiving any of the benefit. The colleges are only recruiting the talented kids for their talent. They’re not recruiting them because they will excel academically at their institution. So (what) is the benefit of them going to that institution?
“I want them to go, but I want them to go for two years. ...Why can’t they go to college and get a two-year certificate in this professional sport that they are pursuing if they are that talented, so that they are aware and educated on the business of the sport. ...Why is there not something to protect these kids that look like my son and me – protect them as they pursue what their talent has allowed them to pursue.”
The Knight Commission, separate from the Commission on College Basketball, which was chaired by Condoleezza Rice, is chaired by former Education Secretary Arne Duncan (co-chaired). Duncan said his commission has essentially determined NCAA member schools are no longer capable of making meaningful change without fundamental change to the governance system.
Ostensibly, the two NCAA groups responsible for overseeing big-time sports – the Board of Governors and the Division I Board of Directors – need to have a majority of their members be independent from colleges and universities, as opposed to the current system, which is a “membership association with all of the inherent conflicts of interest...and self-dealing that makes it hard for it to show the courage it needs to make the needed changes that would re-establish public confidence in college sports.”
Stanley Cup Playoffs
--The Washington Capitals defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 in Game 6 on the road, taking the series 4-2, and thus advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1998.
But what makes this even more significant is that this is the first Washington sports team since ’98 to reach the conference finals in one of the four major North American Sports.
A two-decade streak. As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post wrote:
“In its two-decade life span, the streak had left bitter notes on Presidents’ Trophies, runaway National League East titles, blossoming first-overall draft picks and a phenom quarterback. It earned the label ‘D.C. Sports Curse,’ because karma provided order where logic could offer none. It turned regular-season joyrides into postseason gut-punches. It got coaches fired, tainted players’ reputations and made fans question their sanity. And now, it is dead.
“ ‘It’s almost embarrassing it’s taken this long for us to get past it,’ Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said Monday night, smiling in the victorious visitors’ locker room....
“Elsewhere, the idea of making the conference final does not infect a city’s collective psyche. But other places don’t have D.C.’s scars. Forty-four North American cities, including Las Vegas, which has only had one team for one season, had seen a conference finalist in one of the big four sports since Washington last saw one.”
71 seasons for the Capitals, Nationals, Redskins and Wizards. Washington’s four teams played 13 games in which a victory would have advanced them to a conference final round, and they had lost all 13.
--Speaking of Las Vegas, the amazing ride of the expansion Golden Knights continued, 3-0 winners in San Jose Sunday night (after I posted) to take the series 4-2 and advance to the Western Conference final. Just incredible.
They will go up against the winner of the Nashville-Winnipeg series, that one knotted at 3-3, Game 7 in Nashville Thursday (which will be nuts), after the Predators beat the Jets on Monday, 4-0, in Winnipeg...impressive.
--Into the December file goes Boston forward Brad Marchand, who as Tampa Bay was clinching the second-round series with the Bruins in five with a 3-1 victory on Sunday, kept his tongue to himself.
But Marchand is a “Jerk of the Year” favorite for his earlier antics in the playoffs, licking opposing players, and compounded matters by taking issue with a statement from the league, declaring he’d face supplemental discipline if he licked another opponent in the playoffs.
“I think it’s pretty stupid,” Marchand said. “The whole situation. If that’s what they want to do, then that’s what they want to do.”
What a freakin’ jerk.
--James Paxton of the Seattle Mariners became the first Canadian to pitch a no-hitter in his home country, shutting down the Blue Jays 5-0 last night. Paxton joined Dick Fowler of the 1945 Philadelphia Athletics as the only Canadians to throw a no-hitter.
Paxton, 29, has been up-and-down from the big leagues to the minors with Seattle for years and is 32-21, 3.30 ERA in his career. He had never thrown a complete game.
It’s the third no-no in the majors this year – the others being the Dodgers’ combined no-hitter against San Diego in Mexico last Friday, and Oakland’s Sean Manaea’s gem against Boston on April 21 in California.
--Meanwhile, the flipside of Paxton was the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy, who was horrific last night.
Bundy exited in the first inning, having faced seven Royals batters, somehow managing to give up four home runs – without recording a single out. That put him in the record books, as no pitcher in modern MLB history (since 1900) had ever before managed quite that combination of futility.
After starting the game by allowing an infield single to the Royals’ John Jay, the righty gave up consecutive home runs to Jorge Soler, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. Two walks followed and then Alex Gordon hit the fourth homer off Bundy.
Baltimore is 8-27, having lost 19 of 22. Yuck. Good seats available all season at Camden Yards.
--The Yankees and Red Sox resumed their rivalry Tuesday at the Stadium, New York taking it 3-2, win No. 16 in their last 17, both teams now an MLB-best 25-10. Giancarlo Stanton went deep twice, and Aaron Judge had the deciding RBI single in the seventh to break a 2-2 tie.
The games between these two the rest of the season could be delicious (unless you’re a Mets fan like moi).
--Speaking of the Metsies, now 18-16 following a 7-2 loss last night to the pathetic Reds (9-27...good seats available in Cincy, too), at least they were able to pick up a real baseball player in dealing pitcher Matt Harvey to the Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco.
Mesoraco was an All-Star for Cincinnati way back in 2014, but has suffered one devastating injury after another since. He’s still just 29, however, and if the Mets can keep him on the field, this could be an all-time steal.
Meanwhile, no doubt all Mets fans will be following Harvey’s efforts in Cincy.
--Nice game by Houston’s George Springer Monday night. In the Astros’ 16-2 pounding of the A’s, Springer went 6-for-6, including 4 runs scored, and a three-run homer that traveled 462 feet! But he had three attempts at a triple for the cycle and couldn’t do so. Springer was just the second Houston player in its history to have six hits in a 9-inning game, the other being Joe Morgan back in 1965.
But I thought it was interesting that in the history of the game, 255 have hit for the cycle, and only 105 have had a six-hit game (again, nine innings), according to ESPN Stats and Elias.
--After I posted last time, the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani improved to 3-1, 4.10 on the mound, with 6 effective innings, 2 earned, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts (98 pitches) in an 8-2 win over the Mariners on Sunday.
At the plate, he is 20-for-60, .333, 4 homers, 14 RBIs. As Ronald Reagan would have said of his fellow Southern California resident, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
--Also, I didn’t have a chance to note Max Scherzer’s performance on the 20th anniversary of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout performance by recording 15 strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings against the Phillies, though Scherzer picked up a no-decision, 1 earned, 2 walks, 15 Ks, 111 pitches.
--The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is optimistic his stint on the disabled list will be brief. “This is the first shoulder [injury] I’ve ever had...I’ve been fortunate as far as that goes...luckily the MRI came back pretty clean. ...That’s a good sign, and hopefully it won’t be too long.”
But the fact is Kershaw, despite a fine 2.86 ERA, has labored in his seven starts. The future Hall of Famer, as every fan of the game knows, can opt out at the end of the season, but a team would have to be nuts to give the now-oft-injured lefety, say, five years and $200 million. He’ll earn $70 million over 2019 and 2020 under his existing contract and should his health improve, no doubt the Dodgers will treat him fairly in granting him an extension.
Houston leads MLB in pitching with a 2.64 ERA. Arizona is next at 3.08. Houston’s starting staff has a 2.34 ERA, with Washington next at 3.22.
Justin Verlander 4-1, 1.17
Gerrit Cole 3-1, 1.42
Charlie Morton 4-0, 2.16
Dallas Keuchel 2-5, 3.53
Lance McCullers 5-1, 3.72
Yup, J. Mac...not too shabby.
--Major League Baseball announced the Yankees and Red Sox will play two games in London next year, at London Stadium, the site of the 2012 Olympics. While I don’t like gimmicks such as this, only because it is Boston and New York, the atmosphere there could be interesting.
On to the Preakness....
The day after his big Derby win, trainer Bob Baffert was beaming as he led his horse, Justify, out of Barn 33. “He came out of it really well. I mean he’s full of himself. ...Today he’s been a handful. He knows that he’s a stud. He’s so beautiful. He’s got the body. When he came out of the stall, he was pulling me around. Usually they are a little bit tired.”
Baffert said Justify will stay in Kentucky this week, before heading to Baltimore for the Preakness, May 19.
The 65-year-old trainer, in asked to compare American Pharoah and Justify, said, “I don’t think Pharoah really ran his best race (in the Derby)....but I think Pharoah came back in the Preakness and ran the best Preakness ever.”
Baffert felt Justify ran a terrific Derby (much better than his win in the Santa Anita Derby, which was the race that convinced your scribe the colt was winning at Churchill Downs).
Of the Derby runners, only Bravazo (trained by Wayne Lukas), who finished sixth, appears headed for a rematch in the second leg of the Triple Crown. I wrote last time that Good Magic, the second-place finisher, definitely wasn’t running, but trainer Chad Brown has hedged on his participation. Brown said Sunday, “You run a horse back in two weeks off an effort like this – even if he’s not going to run for a while – it doesn’t mean it’s good for the horse long term. That said, his sire [Curlin] came back in two weeks and won the Preakness.”
Brown said he’d wait a few days back in New York with his horse before committing to bringing Good Magic to Maryland. [As I go to post, Good Magic was supposed to have a workout this morning at Belmont Park, after which Brown would decide what to do.]
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who ran four horses in the Derby, probably isn’t taking any of them to Baltimore (he just hates the race unless he has a Derby winner). Pletcher’s Vino Rosso is already scheduled for the Belmont. No word on whether third-place finisher Audible will be there as well.
Last-place finisher Mendelssohn returned immediately to Ireland. His owners never intended to run him in the Preakness, regardless of the Derby outcome. [The owners of Pimlico, where the Preakness is held, breathed a sigh of relief that Mendelssohn didn’t win on Saturday. That would have been embarrassing...and a killer for the gate.]
Back to Bob Baffert, all of his previous four Derby winners went on to win the Preakness, including American Pharoah, War Emblem (2002), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997).
Baffert has now won a total of 13 Triple Crown races in his Hall of Fame career, just one behind D. Wayne Lukas’ record of 14.
By the way, the Los Angeles Times’ John Cherwa reported that none of the 20 horses in the Derby field emerged with anything worse than cuts and bruises, which is good to hear. It’s such a brutal sport.
--I know some of you saw the story of the woman in Texas, who on an $18 bet, won $1.2 million on Saturday, but for the others, she made a Pick 5 wager at the Retama Park racetrack in Selma, Texas, in which she nailed the first four race winners correctly, and then picked Justify to win it all.
It was the first time at this particular track that someone bet as little as $18 for such a huge payday.
The majority owners of NASCAR, the company that operates the racing series, are exploring options that include the sale of a majority stake.
The France family has controlled NASCAR since its founding by Bill France Sr. 70 years ago, but now the family has enlisted investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to identify a potential deal for the company. [This would be a fun one to work on, for so many reasons, including the challenge of it all.]
Grandson Brian France is the series’ current CEO and Chairman. No agreement of any kind is certain, though it would involve International Speedway Corp., the two sharing some executives.
Also, Brian France and the Smith family, which operates Charlotte Motor Speedway, are linked to a possible bid for the Carolina Panthers.
Everyone connected to the sport, though, is rather shocked to hear talk the France family is interested in selling out. But there is money still out there for motor sports. Last year, Liberty Media bought Formula 1 Racing for about $4.6 billion, which is serious money.
Whatever you do, guys...don’t get rid of the Monster Energy Girls!!!
--At the Players Championship this week at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are matched up the first two rounds (along with Rickie Fowler).
The two have played together 35 times on the PGA Tour and Tiger has the edge, 16-15-4. [Golf World says 16-16-4.] They are known to needle each other constantly, but Woods always has the upper hand in the exchanges, using just two words, “Big picture,” referring to his 79 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors vs. Phil’s 43 and five.
--I didn’t have a chance last time to note that Bernhard Langer won the Champions Tour event on Sunday, the Insperity Invitational at The Woodlands (Texas), his first of the year at age 60, and the 37th of his Champions Tour career, trailing only Hale Irwin’s 45. College classmate Gary Hallberg finished T-17, not that we are the same age. [cough cough...cough...]
In a massive game with relegation implications on Tuesday, Southampton basically secured their spot in the Premier League for another season and simultaneously relegated West Brom with a 1-0 victory at Swansea City, who are now about to join the Baggies in the Championship League.
Swansea is now three points behind Southampton with one to go and it’s looking bad for the Swans.
I wanted to watch this game but had some family obligations that precluded it, but it seems Swansea had a golden opportunity (2) in the second half and then Southampton scored the lone goal at the 73-minute mark.
So picture, with everything on the line in this one, including literally $100 million+ for staying in the Premier League, visiting Southampton was forced to change its hotel at the last minute; the hotel said they followed “normal procedures” after an illness outbreak.
Swansea’s seven-season stay in the Premier League is likely coming to an end.
16. Southampton 37 games – 36 points (-18 goal differential)
17. Huddersfield 36 – 36 ...plays Chelsea today (-29 GD)
18. Swansea 37 – 33 (-27 GD)
19. West Brom 37 – 31
20. Stoke 37 – 30
If Huddersfield loses to both Chelsea and then Arsenal on Sunday, and Swansea beats Stoke, Swansea would sneak past for survival on goal differential.
Reminder, all 20 teams play at the same time Sunday for the finale.
[Today, Tottenham hosts Newcastle in a game with huge Champions League implications, the Spurs up just two points on Chelsea for the final spot. Should both Chelsea and Tottenham win, though, this sets up an unreal Sunday...with Liverpool suddenly in jeopardy.]
3. Liverpool 37 – 72
4. Tottenham 36 – 71 ...Champions League line
5. Chelsea 36 - 69
--The only reason why I bring the following tragedy up is because of the location. But a mother and her two young children from Florida died after their car hit an alligator in South Carolina. After hitting the gator, the car hit a tree and caught fire.
The thing is, you can see this happening on some rural roads in the state, like in the Kiawah or Hilton Head Island areas, specifically. But this happened on I-95 (near the Interstate 26 exit). The mother hit the animal around 12:50 a.m. You would just never think about this on an interstate. Deer, yes...an alligator?! It’s just not fair.
--New Jersey sports betting fans have been waiting for weeks on a Supreme Court ruling that is expected to legalize sports betting in my state, finally. A recent Seton Hall Sports Poll found 55 percent of U.S. residents favor legalizing wagering, compared to 35 percent who don’t.
But 48 percent feel such betting would tarnish the integrity of sports events, compared to 42 percent who don’t.
Rick Gentile, director of the poll, which is sponsored by Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business, said, “It’s outrageous when you think about it. It comes close to saying, ‘We don’t care about the legitimacy of the games, what matters is being able to bet on them. A majority favors gambling, and by a slimmer margin think the games might be fixed as a result.”
The survey also found 62 percent believe sports betting should be controlled by individual states, while 27 percent say the federal government should oversee it.
Officials at Monmouth Park racetrack say they’d be ready to take sports bets as soon as two weeks after a ruling.
Top 3 songs for the week 5/6/72: #1 “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (Roberta Flack) #2 “I Gotcha” (Joe Tex) #3 “Betcha By Golly, Wow” (The Stylistics)...and...#4 “Rockin’ Robin” (Michael Jackson) #5 “Day Dreaming” (Aretha Franklin...one of my faves of hers...) #6 “A Horse With No Name” (America) #7 “I’ll Take You There” (The Staple Singers) #8 “Doctor My Eyes” (Jackson Browne) #9 “Look What You Done For Me” (Al Green) #10 “Back Off Boogaloo” (Ringo Starr)
Baseball Quiz Answer: Four since Ted Williams hit .406 to bat .380 or better....
Tony Gwynn, .394, 1994
George Brett, .390, 1980
Ted Williams, .388, 1957
Rod Carew, .388, 1977
It’s pretty amazing to think that Williams hit .406 when he was just 22, and then hit .388 when he was 38.
Next Bar Chat, Monday.