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[Posted Wed. a.m.]
Baseball Quiz: The Washington Post’s George Will does an annual baseball quiz for Opening Day and from time to time over the course of the season I’ll select from it. For now, name the most recent pitcher to have four consecutive 20-win seasons. Answer below.
5 Auburn vs. 1 Virginia
3 Texas Tech vs. 2 Michigan State
Jerry Brewer / Washington Post
“On the other side of this Final Four rainbow, Virginia will encounter peers – true peers – in Minneapolis, Auburn, Michigan State and Texas Tech have different playing styles, different coaching personalities and vastly different on-campus experiences, but a similar blue-collar ethos binds these teams. They have created something of an everyman’s Final Four.
“Many will lament the absence of celebrity because Zion Williamson and several other shooting stars didn’t earn the chance to pass through here on the way to the NBA. Many will stalk the television ratings, secondary ticket markets and other metrics to test the hypothesis that the Elite Eight, while thrilling, has robbed the NCAA men’s tournament of a more compelling conclusion. But these four semifinalists don’t have to apologize for being so talented, so tough and so clutch – and besides, what good is a sport if interest is confined to a handful of headliners?
“Variety doesn’t have to be boring. If you paid attention to the entire season, you know the only surprise participant here is Auburn, and the Tigers’ tournament success, as a No. 5 seed, should register as just a moderate shock. The other three, while they don’t play the fastest or score the most, flashed dominance all year and won regular season titles in power conferences.
“Still, there’s a level of newness to this bunch. Virginia is returning to the Final Four for the first time in 35 years. Auburn and Texas Tech are first-timers, period. Their coaches – Tony Bennett, Bruce Pearl and Chris Beard – are all rookies on this stage. And while Michigan State is a perennial contender making its eighth Final Four appearance under Coach Tom Izzo, the Spartans built their powerhouse with the same overachieving charm as the others. Like his current squad, Izzo’s best teams aren’t loaded with one-and-done prodigies and starting lineups full of NBA talent. Izzo can recruit that level on occasion, but during his 24 seasons at Michigan State, the program has specialized in player development and lived by the hard-nosed coach’s motto: ‘Players Play; Tough Players Win.’....
“As the Duke slayer, the team with the coach who has been here and won it all, Michigan State is a popular favorite, but the Spartans must get past Texas Tech, which is the most athletic and imposing team remaining. On the other hand, Virginia has been the most consistent team throughout the season. The lone certainty is that Auburn has the most difficult road. Then again, how can you not fear the Tigers after they beat Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in the past three rounds?....
“Now, it’s about the fight. That’s all. It’s about which team can come up with a good plan and then adjust when things go wrong. It’s about unappreciated things such as rebounding, defensive rotations and ball movement. You can’t pick a winner by looking at the team with the most NBA talent. You have to look at the subtleties of each roster.
“It’s a Final Four that accentuates Virginia’s undervalued positives, a Final Four that emphasizes there is more than the one-and-done way to build a great team. And when you realize that Villanova (twice) and North Carolina have won the past three championships with a similar approach, you can consider this more than an aberration. The streak will extend to four by Monday night.
“Welcome to the cutting edge, and welcome back to the old, classic model. Focused and persistent team-building wins. It always has, by the way.”
Ed Hardin / Greensboro News and Record
“The comet has crashed. And somehow, college basketball will move on without Duke.
“In one of the most shocking losses in school history, the Blue Devils fell to Michigan State 68-67 at the end of a brutal game and the end of a beautiful season.
“One of the most exciting young teams we’ve ever seen was pushed aside by an older and more physical team that took Duke out of its comfort zone and dared it to relax.
“The end came in complete chaos as the Blue Devils struggled for air in the dying seconds of the season.
“Now this team will join so many others in the ash heap of history, another one-and-done experiment that fell short, another young and exciting team incapable of taking the final step.
“Time will tell how this team will be judged, but it will certainly be remembered as one of the most entertaining teams we’ve ever seen.
“ ‘I feel bad for them,’ Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ‘They were deserving of special things. And they have had a special year.’
“But all season long, this was supposed to end differently. It was surely not meant to end in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and to Michigan State, of all schools.
“ ‘Our guys played their hearts out all year,’ Krzyzewski said. ‘With the tension and the schedule and everything else, they’ve handled things so beautifully.’
“But not today.
“Duke’s legacy has already been cemented in college basketball history. And so has Krzyzewski’s. But on Duke’s final play of the game, needing two points to tie and the best player in America on the floor, it was neither Duke’s nor Krzyzewski’s finest hour.
“Williamson never touched the ball.
“Let that sink in. With the game and a season on the line, Krzyzewski sent Williamson to press row, so far away from the play that Michigan State didn’t bother to fall for the decoy.
“RJ Barrett drove to his left because he can’t drive to his right, and everybody in green was waiting for it. Barrett’s shot was blocked, and he was fouled. But then he missed the first of two free throws, all but ending Duke’s magical run a week short of the Final Four....
“There was no magic this time. No rim to save them.
“Duke was exposed over and over in this tournament, and when Williamson left the game with his second foul in the first half*, it was clear to everyone that what was left was the remnants of an AAU team.”
*This was the key to me when I issued my harsh criticism last chat in the first moments after the game. Zion committed an inexcusable sloppy foul with Duke up 30-21 at the 4:34 mark. While he was out just a minute, Cassius Winston made a layup and a jumper to cut it to 30-25, and the momentum totally turned as the Spartans went on a 13-0 run for a 34-30 halftime lead. Williamson committed four of Duke’s 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Barrett was a TO machine with seven for the game.
“The show is over now.
“The comet has crashed.”
John Feinstein, in his CBS Sports radio blurb Tuesday said the same thing. Zion was great. He was a human highlight reel. He made some great plays on Friday and Sunday. Awe-inspiring ones. We haven’t seen the likes of him since our first looks at LeBron.
BUT...Duke didn’t make the Final Four. It had to. As Peggy Lee sang, “Is that all there is?”
In college hoops, you must make the Final Four with talent such as this.
But then you also need depth and Duke had none.
As for the contrasting ways of putting together a squad...Coach K having become a one-and-done proponent, a la John Calipari, while Tom Izzo’s squads are multi-year projects, Magic Johnson said of his school and Izzo:
“College basketball won today. You see the team that’s been together for a long time win, and maybe that will help guys to say ‘well, I’m OK to stay, maybe I’ve got to work on my talent and my game.’ Because Michigan State (has) got a team full of those guys, and they did OK today.”
Izzo, who gets the occasional super-prospect, but is more inclined to develop players over time, said:
“I think Jay Wright at Villanova set the standard for that. If you really look back from when we won it 20 years ago, and Gary Williams [Ed. Maryland], there were a lot of veteran teams. Mike, when he had (Shane) Battier and all those guys.
“Freshmen, it’s hard to be in these environments. No matter who you play during the year, there’s something about experience.”
--One day after Kentucky lost to Auburn in the Elite Eight, the school agreed to terms with head coach John Calipari on a “long-term contract” that would allow Calipari to “finish his career at Kentucky,” a UK spokesman said, details not disclosed. Earlier Monday, Seth Davis of the Athletic reported Kentucky had offered Calipari “what is essentially a lifetime contract” to remain as its head coach, amid interest from UCLA.
Kentucky granted UCLA permission to talk to Coach Cal about its open head coaching job, but then Kentucky offered a 10-year extension that would include a promise to serve as an ambassador for the university after his retirement.
USA TODAY reported that UCLA offered Calipari $50 million over six years. He was under an extension at Kentucky that runs through 2024 and pays him $8 million annually excluding bonuses and apparel contracts. Good lord. He had a $25 million buyout as of April 1, 2019, the highest among NCAA Division I basketball coaches.
And Wake Forest’s Danny Manning has his $18 million buyout, reportedly, which looks more and more insane with each passing day.
--The Women’s Final Four is set, the semifinals Friday. Overall No. 1 seed Baylor will face 2 Oregon, and 1 seed Notre Dame goes up against rival 2 UConn. For the Huskies, it is their 12th consecutive Final Four, a remarkable achievement.
Separately, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma stirred things up Tuesday when he said many coaches have become “afraid” of upsetting players because they might transfer and/or report the coach for verbal abuse.
“The majority of coaches in America are afraid of their players,” Auriemma said. “The NCAA, the athletic directors and society has made them afraid of their players. Every article you read: ‘this guy’s a bully. This woman’s a bully. This guy went over the line. This woman was inappropriate.’
“Yet the players get off scot-free in everything. They can do whatever they want. They don’t like something you say to them, they transfer. Coaches, they have to coach with one hand behind their back. Why? Because some people have abused the role of a coach.”
On March 26, Georgia Tech women’s coach MaChelle Joseph was fired after a montlong independent investigation of the program; she had been placed on administrative leave after Georgia Tech players said Joseph, who spent 18 seasons running the program, created a ‘toxic’ and ‘hostile’ environment.
--In the race for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, all four lost Monday; Miami, Brooklyn, Detroit and Orlando. So heading to the last 4 or 5 games of the season....
6. Detroit 39-38
7. Brooklyn 39-39
8. Miami 38-39
9. Orlando 38-40
--Russell Westbrook did something extraordinary Tuesday night in a 119-103 Thunder win over the Lakers. He became just the second player in NBA history to have a triple-double that was a triple-20...20 points, 20 rebounds and 21 assists...the only other player to do so being Wilt Chamberlain in a game in 1968.
Westbrook is going to finish the season with a third-straight triple-double, averaging 23 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.5 assists. And he’s already third in NBA history with 135 career triple-doubles, with 31 this season.
--The Washington Wizards fired longtime executive Ernie Grunfeld after a miserable 16-year run at the helm of one of the crappier franchises in North American sports.
The Wizards never won 50 games under his watch as team president, and never advanced past the second round of the playoffs. In fact, this is hard to believe but the Bullets, err, Wizards, haven’t won 50 games since the 1978-79 season.
--Bryce Harper made his return to Washington Tuesday and he proceeded to have an All-Star / MVP quality night, blasting two doubles and a towering home run in the eighth, an estimated 458 feet, just days after hitting one 465. Harper had been struck out by Max Scherzer his first two times up, to the delight of Nationals fans, who serenaded the player they had adored for seven seasons with boos, including during the video tribute the team classily put on the board.
What last night showed is that Bryce Harper was officially a Phillie, for the next 13 seasons. Washington has a villain for 9 or 10 games a season, the Phillies have a guy who they hope will help lead them to multiple World Series.
And as of Wednesday morning, Philadelphia is 4-0, Washington 1-3.
The Nationals also suffered what could be a huge blow, as shortstop Trea Turner, who played in all 162 games last season and is a critical cog in the offense, suffered a broken right index finger while attempting to bunt. It’s not known how long he’ll be out.
--The Mets improved to 4-1 with a 6-5 win Tuesday in Miami. Good early vibes for my Metropolitans, but then we started out last season 11-1, before going 33-62 over our next 95, on the way to a 77-85 campaign. That said this is an entirely different team, and mindset.
Mets fans are super excited over the prospects for rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, who has started out 7-for-18 with three doubles, a homer, and six RBIs.
--It’s far too early to make any judgments on how the baseball season is going to reveal itself, but if you are a Yankees fan, you’re already worried sick. First, Giancarlo Stanton was put on the 10-day disabled list for a bicep strain, which means he’s shut down during that time before resuming ‘baseball activities,’ so he’ll be out for weeks.
And then the Yanks announced that third baseman Miguel Andujar, who had such a terrific rookie season in 2018, suffered a tear in the labrum of his right shoulder that could end his season, Andujar suffering the injury Sunday as he slid back into third base on a snap throw from the Orioles’ pitcher. For now, the team is optimistic the injury can be treated without surgery, but if after a few weeks the condition is the same, they’ll have to go that route.
But the two injuries give call-ups Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade a huge opportunity.
Meanwhile, a return to form for the 2016-17 edition of Gary Sanchez is critical to the Yankees’ success this season, after Sanchez had a miserable 2018, with 18 homers and 53 RBIs to go with a .186 batting average, .697 OPS.
Contrast that with his first two seasons.
2016...20-42, .299 BA, 1.032 OPS in just 201 at-bats
2017...33-90, .278 BA, .876 OPS in 122 games
But he’s had trouble fielding, as in he commits a ton of passed balls, though he has a canon for an arm. Yet thus far in his first four games, Sanchez had two costly throwing errors, but two home runs.
GM Brian Cashman is under the microscope for his decision to double down on Sanchez for 2019, rather than pursue then-Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, who ended up being traded to the Phillies.
Well, Tuesday, closer Aroldis Chapman suffered a meltdown in the ninth inning at home against Detroit, taking the loss as he gave up two runs, the Tigers winning 3-1 to drop the Yankees to 2-3.
Red Sox 1-5
--The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger vowed during spring training that he was going to come back strong from a down 2018 on the production front, vs. his spectacular Rookie of the Year 2017 campaign.
All Bellinger has done to back this up is blast five homers and drive in 12 in L.A.’s first six games.
--Continuing the recent trend, the Atlanta Braves and outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. are finalizing an eight-year, $100 million contract extension; the contract starting this year.
The 21-year-old won the National League Rookie of the Year award last season, batting .293 with 26 home runs and 64 RBIs. He will be the youngest player to receive a $100 million contract, and it means Atlanta has him through his age-30 season.
Acuna wasn’t set to become an unrestricted free agent until 2024, but the Braves would have been paying him handsomely in arbitration in the years leading up to that time.
--The Red Sox and shortstop Xander Bogaerts have agreed to a seven-year, $132 million extension, including the $12 million the 26-year-old was scheduled to make this season, then $120 million over the final six years. Bogaerts can opt-out following the 2022 season, when he will be 30 years old.
Bogaerts hit .288 last year and set career bests with 23 homers and 103 RBIs, while helping the Red Sox win a franchise-record 108 games in the regular season and a World Series championship.
--Former Mets pitcher, now broadcaster, Ron Darling, has written a new book, “108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game,” and in it he writes that former teammate Lenny Dykstra shouted racial slurs at Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd before his first at-bat in Game 3 of the 1986 World Series. Dykstra, who is one screwed up dude, then threatened to sue Darling, with former teammates such as Dwight Gooden and Kevin Mitchell saying they never heard Dykstra say the slurs to Boyd.
“I heard what I heard and I put it in the book for a reason,” Darling said Tuesday. He said other members of the ’86 Mets have texted him and said “they have my back.”
Darling writes that Dykstra was “shouting every imaginable and unimaginable insult and expletive in his [Boyd’s] direction – foul, racist, hateful, hurtful stuff’ when he was in the on-deck circle before leading off the game.
Dykstra then homered after the alleged slurs, which Darling writes were “worse than anything Jackie Robinson might have heard.”
Dykstra strongly denied Darling’s statements, saying “It’s all a lie.” He then said he’d “drop him like a red-headed f---ing stepchild” if he sees him.
Darling said he had heard about Dykstra’s threats.
“Those are uncomfortable. No one wants to be threatened,” Darling said. “I don’t think at this point I would say anything to Lenny Dykstra, not a thing after these threats.”
Darling adds: “(If) you read the entire chapter, it’s really how ashamed about my complicitness in these kind of things that happened in those times where that seemed like the right way to compete.”
So then I’m doing errands Tuesday afternoon when, out of nowhere, “Oil Can” Boyd calls into WFAN and the bottom line was, he didn’t hear Dykstra say it, but he believes Darling and believes Dykstra could have said those terrible things. But Boyd was not bitter, saying he appreciated how tough a player Dykstra was.
Meanwhile, the book skewers all manner of folks, which kind of has us Darling supporters scratching their heads...as in is this worth it for him? He blasts former teammate Ron Hodges, talks about shortstop Kevin Elster’s sexual exploits, obliterates manager Frank Howard, relief pitcher Calvin Shiraldi, and even former announcer, and legend, Bob Murphy.
The Threat to Horse Racing
Joe Drape / New York Times
“Horse racing is among America’s oldest sports and perhaps the only one ever run out of the White House: Andrew Jackson operated a stable there during his presidency. Yet the multibillion-dollar industry is reeling as the Kentucky Derby approaches, with the death of yet another thoroughbred at the premier Santa Anita Park in California amplifying anxiety over whether the sport will continue in the state.
“On Sunday, a gelding named Arms Runner fell during a face, sustaining a catastrophic injury to its right front leg that required the horse to be euthanized. It was the 23rd equine fatality since Dec. 26, and it came on only the third day of racing at the track since it had halted competition on March 5.
“ ‘I’m concerned about the publicity we’ve been getting,’ said Bob Baffert, the Hall of Fame trainer who won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015 and with Justify last year. ‘This is our March Madness. But we’re having the wrong kind of madness. We feel like we’re all under the gun. We should be under the gun. You can’t defend a horse getting hurt.’”
Santa Anita Park is holding one of the big races of the year this Saturday, the Santa Anita Derby, an important steppingstone for 3-year-olds hoping to line up for the Kentucky Derby on May 2.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which owns the track, said: “We know what the stakes are and understand that we might be the place that kills horse racing in California. Yes, we are worried, but we are confident that the track is safe and have gone the extra mile on rules that put us more in line with the rest of the world. We got to keep our doors open.”
Needless to say, the deaths at Santa Anita have been a rallying point for the animal rights movement, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom to form an independent panel to investigate how the track, breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and veterinarians treat the horses.
It’s unfathomable to think what would happen if there is a death during the Santa Anita Derby, or anywhere on the card that day. But consider that $12 billion is bet annually at North American racetracks and more than $1 billion generated in breeding sheds and sales auctions. A ban on thoroughbred racing would put tens of thousands of people out of work.
“I think it’s pretty depressing and fraught with danger for the sport,” said Stuart Janney III, the chairman of the Jockey Club and a breeder and owner of the 2013 Kentucky Derby champion, Orb. “But I also think it is the valley we have to pass through to get to a better place. We can’t let these tragedies be in vain.”
Joe Drape notes:
“No one expects the scrutiny to let up. The Louisville Courier-Journal last week proclaimed Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, one of the ‘deadliest racetracks in America.’ The newspaper reported that the track had lost 43 thoroughbreds to racing injuries since 2016, an average of 2.42 per 1,000 starts, which was 50 percent higher than the national average during the same span.”
Tuesday, California Senator Dianne Feinstein called for suspension of races at Santa Anita until an investigation is complete.
Big goings on since Sunday, with Arsenal defeating Newcastle 2-0 to climb into third place, while Manchester United fell to Wolverhampton Tuesday, 2-1, a huge loss for United.
With Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham playing today, Wednesday, we have....
1. Liverpool 32 games – 79 points
2. Man City 31 – 77
3. Arsenal 31 – 63
4. Tottenham 31 – 61
5. Man U 32 – 61
6. Chelsea 31 – 60
--Graeme McDowell won the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic, his first PGA Tour title since 2016, fourth overall, as the 39-year-old vows he will return to elite status. McDowell beat Chris Stroud and Mackenzie Hughes by one. But because the event was opposite the WGC Match Play Championship, it doesn’t carry an automatic Masters exemption.
--Kevin Sutherland won his second Champions Tour event in a seven-hole playoff over Scott Parel in Biloxi, Miss., that ended Monday due to darkness after the first five holes of sudden-death on Sunday.
--This story made the rounds Tuesday. Jake Owen, country singer and avid golfer (I saw him in Calgary, opening for Kenny Chesney at the Calgary Stampede years ago), wasn’t a big fan of The Match, the 18-hole pay-per-view event won by Phil Mickelson over Tiger Woods – with a winner-take-all payday of $9 million on the day after Thanksgiving.
So Owen, a day after The Match, held in Las Vegas, was at Jordan Spieth’s wedding, which Mickelson also attended. Owen told Barstool Sports’ Fore Play podcast recently that he ran into Mickelson and made it clear that he didn’t think The Match came off as billed, and that he thought he should get his money back.
“So I walked over to him,” Owen said on the podcast. “I was like, ‘Hey, Phil, you owe me f---ing $29.99!’ I was like, ‘For wasting four hours of my life with the s---tiest golf I’ve ever seen! You guys hype this whole thing up about the big match? You guys couldn’t even make three birdies between the two of you? I want my $29.99 and apologize to me for some s--- golf!’”
In a story that he confirmed via Twitter, Mickelson took out a wad of $100 bills, put one down and said, “I won 90,000 of these things yesterday. Take a 100 and go f--- yourself!”
Owen has been a partner of Spieth’s at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and other golf events and said alcohol played a role in approaching Mickelson.
--It happened...after just eight games and less than one season into the Alliance of American Football’s existence, league owner Tom Dundon decided to suspend operations. Pretty sad tale, especially for the players. Hopefully some of them showed enough in their performance to warrant positions in the NFL, or at least invitations to training camp.
--Mick Jagger will undergo heart valve replacement surgery this week in New York, the reason for the cancellation of the Stone’s latest tour. Jagger discovered he was not in a “sufficiently healthy” condition to go on stage during a pre-tour physical.
--I have to admit I knew nothing of rapper Nipsey Hussle, shot to death the other day in South Los Angeles. But the more I read and hear of him, it is indeed a real tragedy, a guy attempting to make a difference...who had made a difference in his native community.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times: “He once gave a pair of shoes to every student at an elementary school in Hyde Park, where he owned a burger joint, a fish market and a barbershop. He helped fund upgrades to the campus playground and offered jobs to his struggling neighbors. If someone lost a loved one to gun violence, he would sometimes chip in for the funeral.”
The shooting came a day before Hussle was scheduled to meet with LAPD chief Michel Moore and Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff “to talk about ways he could help stop gang violence and help us help kids,” the commissioner said.
By all accounts Hussle was a good father to his two children.
In a Times interview last year, Hussle said: “In our culture, there’s a narrative that says, ‘Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers. And that’s cool, but there should be something that says, ‘Follow Elon Musk, follow [Mark] Zuckerberg.’ I think that with me being influential as an artist and young and coming from the inner city, it makes sense for me to be one of the people that’s waving that flag.’”
A suspect was arrested, with investigators believing the shooting was the result of a “personal matter” between the suspect and Hussle.
The above-mentioned Russell Westbrook dedicated his triple-20 effort to Mr. Hussle.
Top 3 songs for the week 4/6/74: #1 “Hooked On A Feeling” (Blue Swede) #2 “Bennie And The Jets” (Elton John) #3 Sunshine On My Shoulders” (John Denver)...and...#4 “Seasons In The Sun” (Terry Jacks) #5 “The Lord’s Prayer” (Sister Janet Mead) #6 “Come And Get Your Love” (Redbone) #7 “Dark Lady” (Cher) #8 “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” (MFSB featuring The Three Degrees) #9 “Mockingbird” (Carly Simon & James Taylor...dreadful...) #10 “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” (Gladys Knight & The Pips)
Baseball Quiz Answer: Dave Stewart is the last to have four consecutive 20-win seasons, 1987-90, for Oakland. He didn’t win more than 12 any other season, but in those four years finished 3, 4, 2, 3 in the Cy Young race, and he was a fine 168-129 in his career.
Next Bar Chat, Monday.