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[Posted Tuesday p.m. As noted last week, the midweek columns will be brief as I deal with a family situation.]
Baseball Quiz: Since 1960, six players have won four or more batting titles. Name the only one who had more titles than All-Star appearances. Answer below.
--The Houston Astros are in New York to face the Yankees for the first time since they were nailed in the sign-stealing scandal, Houston having defeated the Yanks in the 2017 ALCS before winning the World Series. It’s too bad there wasn’t a packed house instead of the Covid-restricted crowd.
It’s 7-3 Yanks in the eighth, New York scoring four in the bottom of the sixth to take the lead, but there was a vicious collision in the frame involving the Yanks’ Rougned Odor and Houston’s Martin Maldonado. Odor’s knee injury didn’t look good, for starters.
--After I posted Sunday, the Mets beat the Phillies in the national television game, 8-7, as a seeming game-winning homer by the Phillies was ruled to have hit the right-field railing, turning it into a double and then the Mets’ Jeurys Familia closed the door after closer Edwin Diaz had been lit up.
So big win…until it wasn’t, because then Monday the Mets lost 6-5 to the Cardinals in St. Louis, after which the Metsies fired hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Tom Slater. The players were shaken up and shocked by the development.
The Mets entered play tonight batting .240, tenth in baseball, but last in home runs with just 18 in 23 games.
And the $340 million man, Francisco Lindor, is batting .163, hitless in his last 20 at bats, with a .209 slugging percentage.
The Mets game with the Cardinals was then rained out tonight, but the story was Jacob deGrom, scratched due to tightness with his right lat. An MRI revealed it was inflamed and he won’t throw for a few days, but hopefully that’s it.
--As feared, the Dodgers lost talented starter Dustin May for the season…Tommy John surgery, which means the team may have him back for the stretch run in 2022.
In spring training I was writing (like everyone else) of the talent pool the Dodgers had in the starting rotation – Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer, Julio Urias, May, David Price, and Tony Gonsolin, plus they have top prospect Josiah Gray waiting in the wings.
Price is also on the injured list with a hamstring issue.
Today, in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cubs, Clayton Kershaw lasted just one inning, shortest stint of his career, allowing four runs, throwing 39 pitches. Manager Dave Roberts said there are no injury issues. L.A. lost 7-1.
Back to Sunday’s 16-4 Dodgers demolition of the Brewers, I knew it was unusual to have two players on the same team with seven RBIs (AJ Pollock, 8, and Matt Beaty, 7), I just had no idea how unusual. It was the first time since 2007 and only sixth time overall since 1901.
--Shohei Ohtani was scratched from his scheduled start Monday against Tampa Bay after he took a fastball to his right elbow while hitting Sunday, but the injury wasn’t considered serious and he was in the lineup at DH Monday, slamming a double and 2-run homer, though the Angels fell to 13-14, falling to the Rays 7-3.
Ohtani has only thrown 13 2/3 innings thus far, though the Angels were going to be limiting him anyway, given this would be his first full season of pitching since 2016. He only threw 51 2/3 in his rookie year with Los Angeles in 2018.
--The White Sox lost Eloy Jimenez for months in spring training, and then fellow outfielder Luis Robert suffered a hip-flexor injury that is going to keep him out a lengthy period as well.
--And then there is Milwaukee star Christian Yelich. He was MVP in 2018 and runner-up in 2019, then beset with injury issues in last year’s short season, after signing a nine-year, $215 million contract extension in March, just as Covid was about to wreak havoc. Yelich ended up with just a .205 average, though he did play in 58 games.
So today, Yelich returned to the injured list for the second time this season with a bad back. Not a good sign in terms of his future. Mets and Yankees fans immediately think of David Wright and Don Mattingly, in this regard.
--Russell Westbrook had just the third game in NBA history Monday night with 20-plus rebounds and 20-plus assists – Wilt Chamberlain has the other two – as the surging Wizards got one step closer to clinching a playoff spot, and overcoming Indiana at No. 9, by outgunning the Pacers 154-141.
Westbrook had 14 points to go along with his career-high 21 rebounds and career-high-tying 24 assists, his league-leading 32nd triple-double of the season, giving him 178 for his career, three short of Oscar Robertson’s record, with seven games remaining for Washington.
Monday night I have to admit I stared at the box score for a while. This is a guy who is 6-foot-3 and he’s hauling down 21 rebounds?!
And Westbrook is playing his best down the stretch, the Wizards having won 13 of 16.
--The Lakers have been going through a roller-coaster of emotions. They lost to the Raptors Sunday, 121-114, watching LeBron James exit the game after aggravating the sprained ankle that cost him a month, which dropped L.A. to 36-28 and in danger of having to start the playoffs in the play-in round. But then they beat the Nuggets on Monday, without LeBron, and the playoff situation in the West is like this….
1. Utah 47-18
2. Phoenix 46-18
3. Denver 43-22
4. Clippers 43-22
5. Lakers 37-28
6. Dallas 36-28
7. Portland 36-29
8. Golden State 33-22
9. Memphis 32-32
10. San Antonio 31-33
11. New Orleans 29-36
James made it clear he’s no fan of the play-in tournament.
“Whoever came up with that shit needs to be fired,” he said.
--The Knicks started their critical six-game road trip Sunday with a 122-97 romp over Houston, then won at Memphis on Monday 118-104 to advance to 37-28. Pretty remarkable, wrote this long-suffering fan.
NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship
All the action is in Cary, North Carolina, and five ACC teams are in the Sweet Sixteen – Clemson, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Pitt…play resuming Thursday.
St. Francis of Brooklyn advanced over Milwaukee and then tied 3-seed Indiana in the second round, only to lose on penalty kicks. Sorry, J. Mac.
Premier League / Manchester United
Following Sunday’s fan protest by Manchester United fans that forced the postponement of the match with Liverpool, I was reading a piece by David Conn in the Irish Times on the fans’ disgust with United, well-founded disgust, and it’s important to remember that the Glazer family, who own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bought United in 2005 in a leveraged buyout: the Glazers would not put a cent into United, but would take fortunes out. The family borrowed most of the money – 525 million pounds, from JPMorgan – and then they made the club and its supporters pay the debt off and provide a luxury living.
On the other side of town, you had Manchester City, the long-struggling rivals of United, yet today City was in the Champions League semifinal (advancing to the final after a 4-1 aggregate performance against Paris Saint-Germain) and on the verge of clinching another Premier League title.
[City will play the winner of tomorrow’s Chelsea-Real Madrid second leg.]
“At City, Sheikh Mansour’s executives, including the chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak, are in their day jobs senior political and business figures responsible for the strategic direction of Abu Dhabi, working for Mansour’s brother, the de facto ruler, crown prince Sheikh Mohamed.
“They always fixated on supreme success but their Premier League project attracts vast media profile and they also needed it to reflect well on their country and its ruling family.
“They did listen and learn, and they understood very quickly the sentimental loyalties of City supporters and the best, basic values on which football like to pride itself. Joining the dash for the European Super League was a rare major misstep in football by the regime.
“Hence disgruntled United fans look across to the club Alex Ferguson airily dismissed as noisy neighbors, and see not only the world’s greatest coach and a dream team reproduced from the Barcelona football system at its best, but a towering academy, and landmark investment in the neighboring community that has struggled for 40 years since many of Manchester’s industries closed down.
“At United, as the supporters predicted in 2005 and still emblazon on banners, the Glazers have put nothing in during 16 years of ownership, but their corporate machinations have drained out more than 1 billion pounds ($1.39 billion).
“Manchester United plc, re-registered in the Cayman Islands tax haven in 2012 and floated on the New York stock exchange, has always been an investment for them personally.
“The interest on 236 million pounds ‘payment in kind’ (pik) loans taken on for the takeover had reached 16.25% five years later, 67m had gone out of the club in interest alone in 2009-10, when they refinanced, costing the club another lump of multimillion-pound fees.
“The cash the club have started to provide for the five Glazer brothers and one sister is also far from cheap. In 2015 United announced that shareholders would be paid a dividend every year, and they have been: approaching 100m paid to the six Glazer siblings since then.
“In the most recent financial year, to June 30, 2020, which includes the early months of the Covid-19 shutdown, United’s revenues fell by 118m, and the club had a loss of 23m – but still paid the dividend, itself amounting to 23m, without which the club would have broken even.
“Ferguson’s genius got them through on the field in the early years when money was pouring out, but the Glazers have serially fumbled the challenge of replacing him.
“They appointed to run the club Ed Woodward, the banker at JPMorgan who had structured the takeover for them, including the high-interest piks, and they remunerated him extraordinarily well too.
“But the European Super League breakaway fiasco, pushed in England by Joel Glazer with John Henry, the principal U.S. owner of Liverpool, seems to have been too much even for Woodward to stomach, precipitating his departure.
“He remains a personable, professional chap, and it must have been deeply uncomfortable for him to hear UEFA’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, condemn him as one of the ‘snakes and liars’ who sneaked into the Super League two days after agreeing to the restructure of the Champions League.
“One U.S. investor in football told me some years ago that he genuinely struggled to understand the fans’ hostility to the Glazers, because what they had done was not illegal and was actually very clever.
“The overriding response to that was to lament again the Premier League failing to protect football and its great clubs from such cleverness, instead appearing to think they were being ever so clever and modern to wave it all through.”
--Separately, Jose Mourinho has a new job, just weeks after being fired by Tottenham. Mourinho takes over at AS Roma. He once led Inter Milan to the Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League Treble in 2009-10.
--Bobby Unser, three-time Indy 500 winner and a larger-than-life, colorful character in racing, died at his home in Albuquerque, N.M., Sunday at the age of 87.
Unser was best known in racing for being the first driver to win the Indy 500 in three different decades, 1968, 1975 and 1981. He is one of just 10 drivers to have won the Greatest Spectacle in Racing more than twice, a list which also includes his brother Al Unser Sr. (1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987). He was also the uncle of two-500 winner Al Unser Jr.
Unser was born Feb. 20, 1934, in Colorado Spring, Colo., the third of four brothers, and when he was a year old the clan moved to Albuquerque, which quickly became forever tied to the racing dynasty.
Mario Andretti said Monday he knew Unser wasn’t doing well. He’d been talking to Unser and people in their tightknit racing circles. Mario said he’s been reminiscing on all the days he and Unser spent together.
“Just working…trying to kill each other on the track and having a beer later,” Andretti said. “The rivalry we had, there was a lot of comradery with that for sure.”
One of the most notable rivalries between the two ended in the most controversial Indy 500 finish ever in 1981.
It was the last pit stop for Unser and Andretti and the race was under caution on Lap 149. When the two pulled out of the pits together, Andretti said he watched Unser pull off an illegal move.
Bobby accelerated out of the pits, ahead of the pace car, instead of blending in with the field. Unser ended up winning the race and denied having done anything illegal.
Unser was the ‘unofficial’ winner, but the next morning, Andretti was declared the victor. Five months later, after court proceedings, Unser was given the win back.
But Andretti wouldn’t give up the ring.
--If you’re an NHL fan, you might have seen the despicable play of Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, who twice body-slammed Rangers star Artemi Panarin in Monday’s 6-3 win over New York. As Larry Brooks wrote in the New York Post:
“The NHL’s ultimate decision whether and for what duration to suspend Tom Wilson for twice body-slamming (Panarin), who will miss the final three games of the season, to the ice after the Washington recidivist went upside a prone and defenseless Pavel Buchnevich’s head with a sucker punch during a second-period incident at the Garden on Monday will not be a reflection of Wilson, but instead on the league, itself.
“This was not only bush-league stuff from this notorious headhunter who has been suspended five times in his NHL career, it was frightening how close his initial body slam of Panarin, on which the Washington winger grabbed a chuck of hair to gain leverage, came to causing calamitous damage.
“Had Panarin’s head, rather than shoulder, hit the ice full force, the NHL might be presiding over a death.”
It’s awful to watch. And yet all Tom Wilson received was a $5,000 fine for punching Buchnevich. Wilson will not face a hearing for throwing Panarin to the ice.
The fine is the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement. Brooks wrote the guy should be banned from the NHL for life.
--Mike Weir won his first PGA Tour Champions event Sunday at The Woodlands, Texas, his 14th start on the Champions circuit, which also snapped a winless streak that had stretched to 13 years, six months and two days.
--I meant to tell this story after I saw that Pine Valley Golf Club finally decided to allow women to join last week.
The perennially rated No. 1 course in America has moved with the times. Women previously could play only as guests on Sunday afternoons. There was a time when women were not even allowed on the property.
Way back, Jack Nicklaus was on his way to Atlantic City for his honeymoon when he drove by Pine Valley and asked to play.
Nicklaus said he wasn’t aware it was only for men, and his bride, Barbara, had to wait outside the fence while he played.
Pine Valley has been able to stay the way it has because outside of hosting the Walker Cup twice, it hasn’t hosted a major tournament and can stay under the radar.
Top 3 songs for the week 5/5/79: #1 “Reunited” (Peaches & Herb) #2 “Heart Of Glass” (Blondie) #3 “Music Box Dancer” (Frank Mills…godawful…)…and…#4 “Knock On Wood” (Amii Stewart…ugh…) #5 “Stumblin’ In” (Suzi Quatro & Chris Norman) #6 “In The Navy” (Village People…) #7 “I Want Your Love” (Chic…getting second shot this Saturday…talk to me a few weeks after…) #8 “Goodnight Tonight” (Wings) #9 “Take Me Home” (Cher) #10 “He’s The Greatest Dancer” (Sister Sledge…heading to summer school, after end of junior year at Wake…and this wouldn’t go well either…but I had a good time!....D+ week…)
Baseball Quiz Answer: Bill Madlock won four batting titles and only made three All-Star teams, which is startling. In 1976, Madlock won the title but Cubs teammate Steve Swisher got the honor.
Roberto Clemente…4 batting titles, 15 All-Star appearances
Miguel Cabrera…4 / 11
Wade Boggs…5 / 12
Rod Carew…7 / 18
Tony Gwynn…8 / 15
Next Bar Chat, Sunday p.m.