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The Baseball Season Is Gaining Traction
[Posted Sunday p.m. …other stuff going on in my life these days. It’s tough to keep my normal routine with these columns.]
MLB Quiz: Due to time constraints, I’m borrowing from the Yankees broadcast last night for this one. Cleveland’s Shane Bieber won the pitching triple crown last season (leading in wins, strikeouts and ERA). Name the last two in the A.L. before him to do so. Answer below.
--Mets fans had a real treat on Friday night as Jacob deGrom turned in one of the best pitching performances in team history, a 2-hit, complete game shutout of the Washington Nationals, with deGrom striking out 15 while walking none, New York winning 6-0. Oh, and deGrom had two hits and an RBI and is now batting .545.
In four starts this season, all deGrom has done is yield just one earned in 29 innings, 0.31 ERA, with a major-league record 50 strikeouts and just three walks. In his prior two starts he had fanned 14, tying a career-high, only to break it Friday.
DeGrom also now has a career ERA of 2.55, besting Tom Seaver’s Mets career mark of 2.57.
So you’d think the Mets would have a lot of momentum heading into Saturday’s game, and those of us watching were optimistic with Marcus Stroman, 3-0, 0.90, on the mound.
And then the game ended, literally, on the second pitch when right fielder Michael Conforto misplayed a soft single into a triple. Actually, if he had gotten a jump on the ball, he should have caught it for an out. Josh Harrison, instead, would score and the Nationals breezed 7-1, Stroman yielding five runs (four earned), Mets back to 8-8, momentum lost.
But today, the mojo was back! Taijuan Walker threw seven shutout innings, aided by some rare superb defense, and the Metropolitans shut out the Nats 4-0.
--The second-best pitcher in the game today, the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, outdueled the third- or fourth-best pitcher in baseball, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, 2-1 in Cleveland on Saturday night.
Cole struck out 11 in seven innings, improving to 3-1, 1.71, while Bieber, who struck out 9 in six, fell to 2-2, 2.48, as he yielded solo homers to Aaron Hicks and Rougned Odor.
In striking out nine, however, Bieber tied Hall of Famer Randy Johnson’s record with his 17th straight start of at least eight strikeouts.
Entering play today, the Yankees were showing signs of turning things around, winners of three straight to improve to 9-11. Their 6-11 start was the worst since 1991.
But unlike the Metsies, the Yanks lost their mojo, falling to Cleveland today 7-3.
--Incredibly, the Oakland A’s extended their win streak to 13 on Saturday in Baltimore with a 7-2 win over the Orioles. The team that started the season 0-6, 1-7, is now 14-7.
It’s the third-longest winning streak in Oakland history. The A’s won 14 straight in 1988 and set a then-American League record with 20 consecutive victories in 2002. [Cleveland broke that mark with 22 straight in 2017.]
Former Met Jed Lowrie hit a three-run homer for Oakland on Saturday; the second baseman now with 17 RBIs, batting .296, after a total of 7 at-bats over two seasons, 2019-20, for the Mets.
The Mets had signed him to a two-year, $20 million contract after Lowrie had a career year in 2018 with the same Oakland A’s…23 home runs, 99 RBIs.
But then Lowrie got hurt in spring training 2019, us fans kept being told his return was “imminent,” and all we got was seven hitless pinch-hitting appearances end of the 2019 season.
Lowrie claimed recently that the Mets wouldn’t allow him to get the knee surgery he needed. He then became a free agent in the offseason, got the surgery, the A’s had a history with him, he signed a conditional contract with them, and now he’s healthy and back playing every day. Classic Mets.
Alas, the streak ended, the Orioles winning today 8-1.
--The best rivalry in baseball intensified further this weekend, the Padres and the Dodgers, the four-game series in Los Angeles.
Thursday, the Padres prevailed 3-2 on the heels of a spectacular eighth-inning double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning.
Friday, Fernando Tatis Jr., on the same day and same park that his father, Fernando Tatis Sr., hit two grand slam home runs in the same inning 22 years earlier, did his best to match Dad with two home runs of his own, and against Clayton Kershaw, as San Diego took it 6-1. [It was the first time a father and son hit multiple home runs in the same ballpark on the same calendar date, according to Elias.]
Saturday, Tatis went yard twice, again, and this time off Trevor Bauer, openly mocking Bauer and his own antics, as Tatis circled the bases.
But Bauer prevailed, 5-4, improving to 3-0, 2.54, with six innings of 3-run (two earned) ball, 9 strikeouts. Justin Turner, a last-minute re-signing in the spring, is batting .356 with 17 RBIs, proving yet again what a clutch performer he is for L.A.
Meanwhile, these two teams literally hate each other’s guts.
--Shockingly, former Mets lefthander Steven Matz is 4-0 with the Blue Jays after going five effective in Toronto’s 5-3 win over the Rays on Friday. This is the same Steven Matz who in nine appearances last season, was 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA, and he was even worse than that.
But he’s such a good guy, Mets fans are happy for him. He had his good moments with New York over the years…local boy, generous to a fault…
Frankly, if everyone was like Steven Matz the nation would be a better place. Not real exciting, he’s a very mellow guy, but I for one would like that.
--Neil Greenberg / Washington Post
“In 2020, MLB gave us a taste of what it would be like to have a universal designated hitter. Batters used to replace pitchers in the National League were on par with their American League counterparts and, unsurprisingly, performed better at the plate than pitchers had under the original rules.
“In 2020, an average American League DH batted .229 with a .724 OPS. The average National League DH batted .235 with a .731 OPS. The average National League pitcher, meanwhile, batted .131 with a .329 OPS in 2019. The difference between the two is equivalent to adding as many as 80 runs per 600 plate appearances to their team, compared with the average player.
“If this uptick in lineup production wasn’t enough to sway you to the rule change, the increasing velocity of fastballs should. Simply put, it has made it unfair to expect pitchers to bat in modern baseball.”
This year, pitchers combined average is .111 (as of Wednesday).
--It was April 7 and after a crushing 101-99 loss to the Celtics, the Knicks were 25-27 and reeling. What had been a promising, and rather shocking, season was on the verge of collapse.
And then the Knicks reeled off nine straight, including Saturday’s 120-103 win over Toronto at the Garden. The Knicks haven’t had this kind of run since 2012-13 when they won the Atlantic Division. And with the crowds back, even if only 1,900 due to Covid restrictions, the Knicks are turning each and every one of them into a true home court advantage, now 21-10 at the Garden this season.
Julius Randle continues to play like an MVP, 31 points, 10 rebounds Saturday, his third straight double-double.
And RJ Barrett, who it’s hard to believe doesn’t turn 21 until June 14, is improving by the week.
It’s a fun team to watch and the excitement in New York is warranted.
--The Nets welcomed back Kevin Durant today after his latest injury. And all the superstar did was score 33 points in 28 minutes, while Kyrie Irving had 34 points and 12 assists as the Nets beat Phoenix (42-18) 128-119. When James Harden returns, the stage is set for a big run in the playoffs. Remember, they must win it all.
So Brooklyn is in first in the East.
--It was last Monday that Steph Curry had 49 points in a 107-96 win over Philadelphia, Curry’s 11th straight of 30 points and it marked the best five-game stretch, 44.8 points per game, since a Kobe Bryant streak in 2007. Curry had a record 78 3-pointers, the most in any 11-game stretch in NBA history.
But it ended Wednesday in a 118-114 loss at Washington, Curry just 18 points on 7-of-25 shooting, including 2 of 14 on threes.
Curry then rebounded with 32, Friday, in a 118-97 win over Denver.
The Warriors occupy the last playoff spot at 30-30 heading into tonight’s late game against the Kings.
Bob S. passed on a piece by Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It would make perfect sense for the Warriors to ease off the accelerator, finish out of the playoff picture and put themselves in the best possible drafting position. But there’s a troubling issue to that strategy. You can’t fool around with logic when Curry has lifted his team, the NBA and the global basketball community into the world of fantasy.
“Let’s have the Warriors creep into the playoffs and discover what Curry might do. Of course it wouldn’t bode well; nobody would bet 10 bucks on a deep playoff run. But I ask you: On nights like the ones Curry has offered – without fail, for three weeks now – couldn’t the Warriors shock any team in the league? The answer hastens from “no way” to “don’t put anything past him….
“(Head coach Steve) Kerr casually called up Mozart and Picasso for the sheer sensation of beauty. I’ll go with Allen Iverson, that fiercely motivated basketball genius who willed an average 76ers team into the 2001 Finals; Bernard King, with his unstoppable jump-hook from 6-12 feet; George Gervin, putting all other finger-rolls to shame; Magic Johnson on the break, a standard as yet unmatched, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, setting records with a sky-hook that looked so simple but has not been duplicated.”
So, yes, we want Steph in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Wizards have suddenly reeled off seven in a row, 9 of 10, to improve to 26-33, and with a game against the Cavaliers tonight, they sit in the tenth playoff spot. That’s a good story, as Russell Westbrook racks up triple-double after triple-double, 28 on the season after Friday’s 129-109 win over Oklahoma City. He has 14 in his last 16 games, and is now just seven behind Oscar Robertson’s career record 181.
--Terrance Clarke, a promising freshman guard for Kentucky this past season, died in a car accident in the Los Angeles area on Thursday. He was a solo occupant in a vehicle that ran a red light going “at a very high rate of speed” at approximately 2:10 p.m. PT.
Clarke’s vehicle struck another car that was preparing to make a left-hand turn. His car then hit a street light pole and ultimately a brick wall. Clarke was driving a Genesis and was not wearing his seat belt properly, according to the LAPD. The driver of the other vehicle was unhurt.
Clarke announced last month that he was entering this year’s NBA draft. He was in Los Angeles preparing for the draft. Clarke played just seven games this season for the Wildcats, limited by an ankle injury.
--The NFL Draft is here, Thursday thru Saturday.
But as the big day approaches, we have this story that the Baltimore Ravens could let Lamar Jackson just leave for free agency rather than give him the big contract extension he is expecting.
Some have the theory it is best to cycle through different quarterbacks every 4-5 years to always keep one on a salary-cap-friendly rookie contract, though no team has actually tried it because of the difficulty in drafting the right QB.
The Ravens have two first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) and could use them to move up. They seem to have their eyes on Justin Fields.
Jackson otherwise would probably receive something like the four-year, $156 million contract the Texans gave last season to Deshaun Watson. Because of Jackson’s scrambling style and skinny body, there are legitimate concerns he can hold up over the long-term.
Jackson is 30-7 as a regular-season starter (1-3 in the playoffs), 68 touchdown passes vs. 18 interceptions, 102.6 PR, plus back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
--Steve McMichael, a star defensive tackle on the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl championship team, says he has been diagnosed with ALS.
The 63-year-old McMichael told the Chicago Tribune in an article published Friday that he is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease. He has been experiencing tingling in his arms for some time that he figured was a neck or spine issue stemming from his playing days or his work as a pro wrestler. A neurosurgeon at the Mayo Clinic suggested in September he had ALS. McMichael sought other opinions and in January, doctors in Chicago confirmed the diagnosis.
McMichael was an All-Pro in 1985 and 1987 in his 13 seasons with Chicago. He played in a franchise-record 191 consecutive games from 1981 to 1993 and ranks second to Richard Dent on the Bears’ all-time sacks list with 92 ½.
--The NFL issued a new rule on uniform numbers. Quarterbacks, punters and place-kickers are to wear numbers 1-19, defensive backs 1-49, and then running backs, tight ends and wide receivers 1-49 and 80-89. Offensive linemen can wear 50-79, defensive linemen 50-79 and 90-99, and linebackers 1-59 and 90-99.
Tom Brady blasted the rule, saying it was “DUMB.”
Meanwhile, NFL owners tweaked the onside kick rules.
The original change was made in 2018 to make kickoffs safer and the consequence was onside kicks became significantly more difficult to recover.
In 2020, only three onside kicks were recovered on 67 attempts. Prior to 2018, the average during the previous two decades was 19.7%.
So this week the owners voted to adopt a suggestion from special teams coaches to limit the number of players in the setup zone to nine.
--In college football, LSU, which is struggling to recover from an ongoing sexual harassment scandal that involved allegations against former coach Les Miles, is in the process of scrubbing star running back Derrius Guice’s name and statistics from the LSU record book and banning him indefinitely from the athletics program.
Guice was charged in three separate domestic violence incidents in 2020 and two women accused him of sexual assault while he was a freshman in 2016. A third LSU student alleged in 2016 that Guice had taken a partially nude photo of her without her knowledge and showed the pictures to his teammates.
An independent March report from Husch Blackwell detailed systemic failures by LSU to appropriately report incidents of athletic-related sexual misconduct and abuse.
--I have to admit that with other stuff going on in my life these days, I didn’t watch any of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans until Sunday, and just a little at that. This is the team play tournament and it provided Tony Finau yet another opportunity to finally capture his second PGA Tour event since his lone triumph at the Puerto Rico Open five years ago.
Finau and teammate Cameron Champ were tied in second with the Marc Leishman / Cam Smith duo, one behind leaders Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
And in a playoff, the Leishman/Smith Aussie duo beat South Africans Oosthuizen and Schwartzel.
Finau and Champ flamed out…finishing T17.
--Tiger Woods posted a photo of himself on crutches and with a small cast covering his right foot and ankle while at his backyard practice area in Jupiter, Florida.
The photo was posted Friday afternoon on Instagram, the first of Woods since the accident.
In the caption under the photo, Woods said the work being done on his three-hole practice course was coming along faster than his recovery.
Premier League…death of Super League
--First, as I was going to post last Tuesday, we learned that the Super League was falling apart, within about 48 hours after it was launched, and it formally crashed on Wednesday.
Under intense pressure from fans, as well as many players and coaches, the league collapsed, with all six Premier League teams – the Big Six – saying they would not be among the first 12 to agree to the new Super League.
Nine of the 12 ended up withdrawing, while Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus have not yet abandoned the project.
Liverpool’s principal owner John Henry (who is also a principal owner of the Boston Red Sox) apologized in a video on the club’s website and social media on Wednesday. “It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans,” he said. “I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days. It’s something I won’t forget. And shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have.”
Manchester United’s co-chairman Joel Glazer (whose family also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) apologized in an open letter to supporters for failing to show respect for the English game’s “deep-rooted traditions.”
“We continue to believe that European football needs to become more sustainable throughout the pyramid for the long-term. However, we fully accept that the Super League was not the right way to go about it,” Glazer wrote.
The Daily Telegraph proclaimed a “victory for fans,” while the Times of London said the clubs involved had bowed to “fan fury.”
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, the Super League chairman, said the 12 clubs that agreed to join originally have “binding contracts” and “cannot leave.”
“I don’t need to explain what a binding contract is, but effectively the clubs cannot leave,” Perez gold newspaper AS.
“Some of them, due to pressure, have said they’re leaving. But this project, or one very similar, will move forward and I hope very soon.”
No doubt, big changes are still coming in the world of European soccer in terms of revenue distribution, for starters. The Super League was just a horrible idea, especially at this time.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said today that all 12 teams will face consequences for initially joining the Super League but that some teams will face lesser ones for quickly opting out.
“Everyone has to take consequences for what they did and we cannot pretend nothing happened. You cannot do something like that and just say: ‘I’ve been punished because everybody hates me.’ They don’t have problems because of anyone else but themselves. It’s not OK what they did and we will see in the next few days what we have to do,” Ceferin told the Daily Mail.
--In recent key Premier League action, Chelsea defeated West Ham 1-0 in a huge contest, while Liverpool laid an egg in tying Newcastle 1-1. Manchester United and Leeds then played to a 0-0 draw today.
Standings after 32/33 of 38…Played – Points
1. Man City…33 – 77
2. Man U…33 – 67
3. Leicester…32 – 59
4. Chelsea…33 – 58 …Champions League line
5. West Ham…33 – 55
6. Liverpool…33 – 54
7. Tottenham…33 – 53
8. Everton…32 – 52
Unfortunately I missed one of my favorite races of the year, the event at Talladega Superspeedway, which Brad Keselowski won in overtime, his 35th career victory.
Dr. W., my Draftkings lineup blew up early.
--A tiger shark attacked a Hawaiian woman Tuesday morning, and she was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
The 57-year-old suffered a 2-inch puncture wound in her left knee (ouch!), the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.
--A Montana wilderness guide died after he was mauled by a grizzly bear likely defending a moose carcass near Yellowstone National Park, wildlife officials said.
Charles “Carl” Mock, 40, was attacked last week while fishing north of West Yellowstone near a campground.
Mock “sustained significant scalp and facial injuries” during the attack, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.
Mock was alone when the attack occurred, though he did have bear spray with him. It is unclear if he deployed it, the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks agency said.
The day after the attack, wildlife experts surveyed the area and encountered a bear that charged the group.
“Despite multiple attempts by all seven people to haze away the bear, it continued its charge. Due to this immediate safety risk, the bear was shot and died about 20 yards from the group, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks said in a statement.
Officials found a moose carcass within 50 yards of where the attack on Mock occurred, indicating the bear, an older male weighing at least 420 pounds, was defending its food source.
More than 700 grizzly bears live in the Greater Yellowstone region, according to the National Park Service.
Males can grow up to 700 pounds and the animals can live up to 30 years, the Park Service said.
Eight people have been killed in grizzly bear attacks in the Yellowstone region since 2010.
--So it was 9:00 p.m. last night, the Mets having played at 4:00 p.m., the Yankees at 6:00 p.m. and their game over, and there was literally nothing of interest on for me so I settled on the U.S. Open axe-throwing championship on ESPNNews.
Heck, I had never watched an axe-throwing event, and I won’t ever watch another, but I spent one hour to conclusion Saturday and the only reason I’m bringing this up is because the winner, Mike Kump, is truly one of the biggest jerks on the planet. [As in the total opposite of Steven Matz.]
If the world was full of Mike Kumps, I’d have to tell Johnny Mac to send the sword, parcel post.
--We note the passing of Les McKeown, the former lead singer of the 1970s Scottish pop sensation the Bay City Rollers. He was just 65.
McKeown was born in Edinburgh to Irish parents and joined the Bay City Rollers in late 1973, replacing founding lead singer Gordon “Nobby” Clark. It wasn’t until McKeown’s arrival that the group found mainstream success.
As I’ve written in the past, the group was supposed to be the next Beatles, appearing on Howard Cosell’s variety show, Saturday Night Live, in a satellite-linked performance that garnered huge ratings. I sure remember watching it. After reaching superstardom earlier in the UK, their debut hit in the U.S. was the #1 “Saturday Night,” followed by the #9 “Money Honey” and #10 “You Made Me Believe In Magic.”
But that was essentially it as the group flamed out, the band splitting up in 1978. They reunited in 2015 for a string of sold-out performances.
Top 3 songs for the week of 4/24/76: #1 “Disco Lady” (Johnnie Taylor) #2 “Let Your Love Flow” (Bellamy Brothers) #3 “Right Back Where We Started From” (Maxine Nightingale)…and…#4 “Boogie Fever” (Sylvers) #5 “Sweet Love” (Commodores) #6 “Only Sixteen” (Dr. Hook) #7 “Welcome Back” (John Sebastian) #8 “Show Me The Way” (Peter Frampton) #9 “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen) #10 “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” (Elvin Bishop…among my all-time faves…last four tunes salvage a ‘B’ week…)
MLB Quiz Answer: Prior to Shane Bieber in 2020, the last two in the A.L. to win pitching’s triple crown were Justin Verlander in 2011 (Detroit) and Johan Santana in 2006 (Minnesota).
The last two in the N.L., by the way, are Clayton Kershaw in 2011 and San Diego’s Jake Peavy in 2007.
Next Bar Chat, late Tuesday p.m.