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Return to Normalcy...Indy
***Add-On….4:00 PM ET, Wednesday***
Naomi Osaka Withdraws
--In a shocking, yet really not so, development, after I wrote Sunday that the world’s No. 1 had been fined $15,000 for failing to cooperate with the media at the French Open, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the event, opening up about her struggle with depression.
“This isn’t a situation I imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” Osaka said in a statement posted to her Twitter account on Monday. “I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis….
“I never never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” she continued. “More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. The truth is I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.”
She also apologized to the tournament organizers, as well as the tennis media, which she said has “always been kind” to her.
“Here in Paris, I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious, so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences,” she added. “I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for players, press and fans.”
Osaka, as I wrote last time, was hearing it after declaring she would not do any press conferences during the French Open.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health, and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” Osaka wrote then. “We’ve often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds, and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
Most in the sport make themselves available to the media or face the consequences.
Osaka’s problems go back to her 2018 U.S. Open win against Serena Williams, when Williams was accused of cheating by the chair umpire and the crowd turned on the umpire, wanting to see Williams gain a historic Grand Slam win. Osaka was in tears in the trophy ceremony, Williams trying to console her.
Pam Shriver, ESPN’s top tennis commentator and a Hall of Famer, wrote a letter to top USTA officials denouncing their role in a statement on Osaka’s sad withdrawal.
Shriver believes the tennis bodies acted insensitively.
“They needed to be more compassionate and supportive in the situation and deal with it behind the scenes,” Shriver told the New York Post in a phone interview. “They’ll never say it, but I’m sure they’d like to have it back. They lost one of the superstars of the game.”
Dan Wolken / USA TODAY
“Before anything else can be said about the controversy that overshadowed the start of the French Open and ultimately led to Naomi Osaka’s stunning withdrawal on Monday, it’s important to acknowledge that few of us can even pretend to understand what it’s been like to be her over the last three years.
“When you take a shy, sometimes awkward and mostly unknown young person who isn’t even 21 years old, turn them into a global sports superstar almost overnight, make them the highest-earning female athlete on the planet and have them represent a country that has never claimed a tennis player of such magnitude, there is no playbook. For some, it might come naturally. For others, you can imagine it being deeply uncomfortable and invasive, full of anxieties and pressures that can place undue strain on mental well-being….
“If Osaka was not in the right space mentally to compete under the pressure of a Grand Slam, withdrawing from the tournament is the best thing she could have done for her own sake. Her well-being is more important than any tennis match.
“Still, the way this mess has played out has done no favors for anyone involved. Osaka, after winning the last two Grand Slam events, won’t get a chance to make it three in a row and prove herself on clay, where she’s apparently had a crisis of confidence this year. The French Open will surely come off to many as insensitive for going to such great lengths to enforce its rules. And fans across the world who like watching Osaka play tennis won’t get the opportunity to do so on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
“There was, on all sides, almost certainly a more productive and diplomatic way to handle this. But whatever that path might have been no longer matters. This has now become the biggest story in tennis, something that in many ways transcends sports, and the consequences are going to reverberate for a long time.
“Osaka has always been an intensely compelling figure, someone who proudly embraces both the Haitian and Japanese parts of her heritage, identifies as a Black woman and challenges the status quo….
“But Osaka’s role as a change agent, at least in this case, has run into one of the fundamental tensions of being an elite professional athlete: How do you remove only the problematic parts while keeping the rest of it intact? It’s never going to be that easy….
“Athletes are entertainers, but they are not actors in a play. There is a unique emotional investment in sports because there’s an outcome, and it’s really hard to compete at that level and the stakes every time they play are very real.
“It’s certainly up for debate whether a 15-minute news conference is the best way to do it, but asking the athletes themselves what they experienced, what they felt and why the result occurred is part of the process of understanding not just what happened but what the people playing the games are about.
“Those questions, at times, can be annoying and repetitive and probably quite unpleasant. But in sports, asking them and answering them in good times and bad is part of what makes the show go on….
“The main thing now is that Osaka gets in position to return as soon as she feels well enough to do so. The issues this episode raised are going to linger, but at least we have a better understanding of the difficulties she’s been dealing with.
“Had everyone involved taken a deep breath and talked to one another, this probably could have been resolved in a much more orderly fashion. Hopefully, after her break from the sport, Osaka can be part of a productive dialogue on mental health and feel comfortable participating in all aspects of being a high-level tennis player again – including talking to the press.”
--With the Mets’ 10 postponements this season, they have generally played 6-8 fewer games than anyone else in baseball (save Washington, which has played 4 more than the Metsies), so New York is looking at a slew of doubleheaders the rest of the way.
That’s fewer starts for Jacob deGrom and that’s a shame. DeGrom tossed six scoreless, two hits, eight strikeouts on Monday against the Diamondbacks, the Mets winning their fifth straight 6-2 in Arizona.
DeGrom, 4-2, now has a 0.71 ERA, the lowest for a qualified starter through the end of May since Chris Short had a 0.64 ERA for the Phillies in 1964. In his eight starts this season, he has allowed no runs three times, one run four times and three unearned runs in a game at Coors Field in April.
In 51 innings, he has 82 strikeouts with just seven walks.
The Mets got a big lift with the return of Pete Alonso from the IL, as he promptly hit a monster home run, four RBI on the night.
DeGrom himself singled in a run with his ninth hit of the season and is batting .450.
Alas, Tuesday night, the Mets blew a 4-0 lead against the D’backs, 4-3 in the ninth, and after Arizona tied it up to send it to extra-innings, the Mets tallied a run in the tenth, only to have the pen, in the form of Trevor May, give up a game-winning two-run double off the bat of Josh Reddick.
So much for the five-game winning streak, eight-game streak against Arizona.
--After losing to the Rays Monday night at the Stadium, the Yankees had lost four straight, six of seven, while white-hot Tampa Bay has reeled off 16 of 17 to move to 35-20, 2 games ahead of second-place Boston, 5 ½ ahead of third-place New York in the AL East.
Monday, in defeating the Yanks 3-1, 41-year-old lefty Rich Hill (4-2, 3.32) went five scoreless for the Rays and is now 3-0, 2.04 against the Yankees this season.
Hill was 3-1, 0.78 ERA in six May starts, third-lowest ERA in a calendar month for a pitcher 40 or older.
As for the pathetic Yankees offense, they have scored two runs or fewer in nine of 12 games for the first time since August 1971.
Well, they bounced back Tuesday, winning 5-3 on a Clint Frazier walkoff homer in the 11th; Frazier having made a sterling game-saving catch earlier.
--The Orioles lost their 14th straight Monday, 3-2 to Minnesota, which has now beaten Baltimore 16 consecutive times, one away from Minnesota’s franchise record against one opponent. The Twins topped Boston 17 straight times in 1965-66.
The Orioles’ skid ties for second-longest in team history – they also dropped 14 in a row in 1954, the season the club moved from St. Louis to Baltimore. The Orioles’ worst losing streak came in 1988 when they lost their first 21 games of the year.
It’s the longest losing drought in the majors since the Astros lost 15 in a row in 2013.
But everyone I mentioned flipped the script and the Orioles broke their streak, Tuesday, 7-4 over the Twinkies.
--USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale had an extensive interview with Theo Epstein, now a consultant with Major League Baseball, and among the changes Epstein said you can count on is reducing the number of pitchers on a roster to 13 in 2022, with hopes of further reducing it in future years.
As Nightengale writes: “The strategy is simple. If you have fewer pitchers, you’ll need starters to go deeper into games. And if you pitch into the seventh and eighth innings, you’re not throwing as hard as you possibly can, knowing that five-inning stints by starters can devastate a pitching staff. We’ve gone from 5.34 pitchers per game in 1981, according to G. Scott Thomas’ research, to an average of 8.66 pitchers a game – an increase of 62%.
“The job evolved from trying to go into the seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” Epstein says, “to missing as many bats as you can for five innings. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because now teams are completely changing their pitching development. Instead of developing starters that can go through a lineup, three or four times, you’re developing pitchers who just throw as hard as possible with this crazy spin rate to miss bats.”
--We note the passing of All-Star reliever, former Cy Young Award winner, Mike Marshall, who died Tuesday. He was 78. No cause of death was given.
In 1974, as the Dodgers’ top relief pitcher, he appeared in 106 games, still the major league record. He pitched in all five games of the World Series that year, yielding just one run in nine innings, though the Dodgers fell to the Oakland A’s.
Marshall won the NL Cy Young Award as the league’s best pitcher that year, the first relief pitcher to win the award. He ranked among the top five in Cy Young voting four times, unusually high finishes for a reliever.
The ironman pitched in 13 consecutive games in 1974, pitching the final four innings one day and the final inning the next. He threw 208 1/3 innings in ’74, one of three seasons in which he appeared in at least 90 games. [Only five men in major league history have appeared in 90, even once.]
Marshall attributed his endurance to a self-taught regimen he adopted in 1967, after his rookie season left his pitching arm so sore he could not lift his arm high enough to shave. He ordered X-rays, studied high-speed film and determined that he was throwing the ball all wrong. He could minimize stress on the arm, he concluded, if he delivered the ball by turning his hand to that his wrist rotated into his body and his thumb pointed down, not up.
Marshall was a man ahead of his time. The Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer, for example, has worked independently with private coaches to refine his game and win the NL Cy Young Award last year.
Marshall eventually gained a doctorate degree in kinesiology.
--After Game 3 and Anthony Davis’ back-to-back 34-point efforts, the Lakers were up 2-1 on the Suns and looked to be in great shape.
But then Davis suffered a groin injury in Game 4, the Lakers falling 100-92, and he was still sidelined in Game 5 in Phoenix, the Suns rolling 115-85 for a 3-2 series lead.
All you needed to know was the Lakers committed 16 turnovers to just four for the Suns. This series is over…LeBron incredibly frustrated and ticked off that no one stepped up to fill the void left by Davis’ absence.
--The Nuggets weathered a performance for the ages by the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard to take a 3-2 series lead, after a 147-140 double-overtime thriller in Denver on Tuesday.
Lillard played 52 minutes and shot 17-of-24 from the field, including 12-of-17 from 3-point range, 55 points in all, but it wasn’t enough. The 12 threes broke the playoff record of 11 set by the Warriors’ Klay Thompson in 2016 in Game 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Lillard scored just 10 points on 1-of-10 shooting in Game 4, but Portland blew out the Nuggets 115-95.
--The Nets wrapped up their series against the Celtics in five, 123-109 Tuesday in Brooklyn. James Harden had a triple-double…34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists.
In Game 4, a 141-126 triumph for the Nets, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Harden combined for 104 points, Harden also with 18 assists.
--Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid has a small lateral meniscus tear in his right knee and is out for tonight’s Game 5 against the Wizards. The 76ers lead the series 3-1.
--Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks, on the fan who ran onto the court during the third quarter of Game 4 between Washington and Philadelphia on Monday.
“It’s unfortunate one fan here and there ruins it for everyone,” Brooks said. “There’s great fans in Boston and New York and Philly and DC, Utah. But there’s some that just need to, you know what, stay home. Your thinking is barbaric. Stay home. We don’t need you. We don’t need your dollars. Just stay home. Get away from us.”
Brooks questioned how effective a ban can be.
“Banning them and this and that,” he said. “What does that mean? Is there facial recognition that you can’t get a ticket on the secondary market and don’t shave for a week and wear a hat and still come in. I don’t know if there’s criminal charges, but they’ve got to get something on their record, and they’ve got to get exposed and they have to pay money out of their own pocket.”
Nancy Armour / USA TODAY
“The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed so many of the fault lines in our society. Disparities in health care. Economic inequality. A lack of access to child care. A failure to take mental health issues seriously. The systemic racism that underpins everything.
“And perhaps most disheartening of all, how little we think of one another.
“The rash of abuse directed toward NBA players recently has been shocking, seeming to be a departure from the normal bounds of good behavior. But, really, it’s an extension of the disregard that’s been shown to flight attendants, store employees, public officials, even some of our ordinary, fellow Americans.
“There is an ugliness in our interactions that should horrify and embarrass us, but is instead celebrated by a country where it is increasingly OK to do whatever you want and to hell with everyone else….
“One of the best qualities of America has always been the celebration of our differences. We are a melting pot, almost all of us tracing our roots to somewhere else, and those distinct cultures, traditions and histories only served to enrich our shared experiences.
“We could disagree about politics, religion and whether LeBron James is the greatest NBA player ever or not even the best of his generation, yet still find common ground as Americans.
“But it’s getting harder and harder to agree about anything. Even something as simple as wearing masks, our easiest way of preventing the spread of Covid-19, became weaponized. Rather than being a way to protect ourselves and show concern for our neighbors, they became a way to declare ‘freedom’ – complete with obnoxious, sometimes abusive behavior to make a nonsensical point….
“The polarization in this country, the demeaning of those who look, speak or love differently, has been growing for years, if not decades. Whether we have been active participants in this degrading of our society or haven’t said loudly enough that it’s wrong and won’t be tolerated, we all bear a responsibility for it.
“Because whether we are willing to admit it or not, deep down, we know better.
“We know dumping popcorn on someone’s head, as a fan in Philadelphia did to Russell Westbrook, is immature. We know spitting on someone, as a fan in New York did to Trae Young, is disgusting. We know making racist and vile comments, as fans did in Utah did to Ja Morant’s family, is reprehensible. We know throwing a water bottle at someone, as a fan in Boston did to Kyrie Irving is dangerous….
“The abuse being heaped on NBA players isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s a reflection of where we are as a society.
“ ‘I’m tired of it,’ Brooks said. ‘We all deserve better.’
“We do. But in order for that to happen, we have to be better. And it starts with each one of us.”
--Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who is the winningest coach in Division I men’s basketball history, leading the Blue Devils to five national championships in his 41 seasons, is planning to retire after the 2021-22 season, according to multiple sources.
Associate head coach Jon Scheyer has been tabbed as Coach K’s successor, spending the coming season as ‘coach-in-waiting.’
Stanley Cup Playoffs
--I wrote last time that it was shocking Montreal was in a Game 7 with Toronto on Monday night. Toronto, after all, was 35-14-7 in the regular season, Montreal just 24-21-11, and the Maple Leafs had taken a 3-1 series lead.
But here we were, in Toronto, the pressure on the Maple Leafs all over again. A team that hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, nor a playoff series since 2004.
And form held yet again, Toronto falling to Montreal 3-1, in the first playoff meeting between these two rivals in 42 years.
Just an incredible choke job. Consider, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, Auston Matthews, who had 41 in 56 games, had just one goal in seven contests against Les Canadiens. Star winger Mitchell Marner, like Matthews in the top five in scoring for the season, went goalless. [Marner is now scoreless in his past 18 postseason games.]
The Maple Leafs have lost eight straight in series-clinching games. And they’ve lost a winner-take-all game in four straight postseasons.
It’s really staggering. But the “Curse of the Toronto Maples Leafs” continues.
Meanwhile, kudos to Montreal and goalie Carey Price, who was outstanding when it mattered most. I watched every minute of this one and as one of the analysts on the telecasts put it, the Canadiens invested in a netminder, Price, while Toronto invested in stars on offense. Come playoff time, Toronto’s formula hasn’t worked.
NCAA Men’s Golf Championship
--So the 30 team qualifiers played three rounds to determine the last 15, and those 15 then played a fourth round to determine the final eight for match-play.
As I wrote last time, Wake Forest was T6 heading into Monday’s play. We have a history of flaming out royally in such situations and, boy, did we suck. Try +23 in the fourth round to finish T13 with Clemson (+20) at a total +36 on the Grayhawk Golf Club course in Scottsdale, AZ.
I mean that blows, sports fans.
On the individual champion front, that also was determined Monday, Turk Pettit of Clemson winning by one over Bo Jin of Oklahoma State. It was Pettit’s first college win in the biggest championship of them all.
Arizona State, with a masterful -5 in the final round, overcame a huge deficit to prevail over third-round leader Oklahoma State, which shot +12.
And now today, Wednesday, we are down to 3-seed Pepperdine and 4-seed Oklahoma in the final.
Pepperdine defeated No. 2 Oklahoma State in one semifinal, while Oklahoma knocked off No. 1 ASU in the other semi.
NCAA Lacrosse Championships
--The Boston College women’s team claimed its first NCAA Tournament championship in its fourth straight trip to the final with a 16-10 victory over Syracuse on Sunday.
And in the men’s final, Monday, Virginia outlasted Maryland, 17-16. The Terps scored with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to a single goal. And then Maryland won the ensuing faceoff and sprinted downfield, Luke Wierman launching a shot from a few feet away, but the ball ricocheted off of Virginia goaltender Alex Rode’s chest and the Cavaliers survived.
UVA is a back-to-back champ, seven titles overall.
Worth looking up the 5-minute summary on YouTube.
--After I posted Sunday, I settled in to watch a lot of the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Kyle Larson gave Hendrick Motorsports its 269th career Cup Series victory, passing Petty Enterprises for the most in NASCAR history. Petty Enterprises held onto the record since 1960.
Twenty drivers have combined for Hendrick’s 269 wins.
It was also the sixth win in 16 races this season for the team – and this one wasn’t close. Larson led 328 of 400 laps and all four stages for his second win of the season.
50,000 fans were in attendance, after 135,000 had attended the Indy 500 earlier in the day.
--Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit is facing disqualification after testing on a second postrace sample confirmed the presence of the steroid betamethasone, lawyers who represent the horse’s owner and trainer Bob Baffert said.
Mandaloun, the horse that finished second in the Derby, is now poised to be declared the winner.
Medina Spirit finished third in the Preakness Stakes after passing a drug test to be allowed to race, but is not entered in the Belmont Stakes this Saturday after Baffert was suspended from entering horses at New York racetracks, pending an investigation into the horse’s first failed postrace drug test.
Even if Medina Spirit is disqualified, bettors who backed Mandaloun to win in the pari-mutuel pool will not be refunded or paid, despite potentially having the eventual winning horse.
--Sergio Aguero is moving from Manchester City to Barcelona when his current contract expires on July 1, Barca announced Monday.
The 32-year-old, considered to be one of the greatest players in Premier League history, has signed until the end of the 2023 season with a buyout clause set at $122 million!
The Argentine superstar will link up with his international teammate Lionel Messi, who is not only one of the top three or so footballers of all time, but he’s also godfather to Aguero’s son.
However, I thought Messi wanted to leave. But what do I know?
--ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said Tuesday that he hasn’t been able to taste or smell since he tested positive for Covid-19 back in late December.
Herbstreit tweeted in part: “Haven’t tasted a meal since last December. After 5 months…is this my new normal or will taste and smell come back???”
--Taylor Swift’s “Evermore” viny album sold a record 40,000 copies just three days after its May 28 release – already surpassing the biggest single-week sales record since MRC Data began tracking in 1991.
The title had previously been held by Jack White’s “Lazaretto,” which sold 40,000 copies in the week it launched in June 2014.
Sales of vinyl LPs and 45s are in the midst of a comeback, up 23 percent in 2020 from the prior year, according to data released by the Recording Industry Association of America in February.
Fans now seem to want to actually own physical albums, instead of just downloading or streaming music.
Next Bar Chat, Sunday, June 6.
[Posted Sunday p.m., prior to Nets-Celtics and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600]
Another ‘Add-On’ will be posted up top sometime Wednesday.
NBA Quiz: Name the top five players, 25+ minutes per game, for the 2010-2011 NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, who defeated Miami in the finals. Answer below.
Helio Takes No. 4 at Indy
Last week’s quiz was on Indy 500 past champions and today we had a truly exciting race, no big accidents, lots of action in the pits, including major screwups, and 46-year-old Brazilian Helio Castroneves joined A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears as the only 4-time winners of the race, Castroneves having won it in 2001, 2002 and 2009.
Castroneves made the decisive move on runner-up Alex Palou with two laps to go, the two battling it out the last 30 laps or so, and held on.
135,000, or about 40% of grandstand seating capacity, witnessed the race, making it the largest sporting event in the world since the start of the pandemic. The delayed race last August was held without spectators.
Great stuff. Great for the sport.
My brother was a little disappointed because he wanted Graham Rahal, who was running great but lost a tire on lap 118 (of 200), while I always root for Marco Andretti, but he didn’t have a realistic chance this year.
--Like I’ve been saying, Knicks fans have been a bit cocky, but after Friday night’s Game 3 in Atlanta, New York found itself down 2-1 heading into Sunday afternoon’s Game 4.
And it’s real simple. Stars Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have sucked, while the Hawks’ Trae Young has played like the star he is.
In the first three games, Randle was a cumulative 13 of 54 from the field, Barrett 13 of 38. Together, they are 10 for 36 from downtown.
The Knicks lost Game 1 107-105, won Game 2 101-92, and lost Game 3 105-94. If the two guys who led them the entire season just shoot even a little better, New York is up 2-1 at worst.
Of course credit has to go to the Atlanta defense, but thus far, especially in the case of Randle, just named “Most Improved Player” in the league, it has been a disastrous performance when it matters most.
It also doesn’t help when the Knicks’ own defense, one of the best in the league all season, allowed the Hawks Friday night to shoot 16 of 27 from three.
So what did Randle and Co. do this afternoon in Game 4? Another dud. Another clunker from Randle, 7 of 19 from the field, five turnovers. Minus-17.
Knicks lose 113-96 and are down 3-1 as the series heads back to the Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. The reception Randle gets from the Garden faithful will be interesting. They’ll root him on, early, but if his play doesn’t pick up, leading the team to victory, the crowd will be merciless, and Randle will deserve every bit of it.
Randle is now 20 of 73 (27%) in the series. [RJ Barrett played better, but it doesn’t matter, except maybe he’ll have more confidence for Game 5.]
Once again, Trae Young led the way for Atlanta, 27 points, nine assists, while Wake’s John Collins chipped in with his best game yet, 22 points, and Danilo Gallinari had 21 off the bench.
--Meanwhile, the Nets have been taking on Boston in their first-round series, Brooklyn winning the first two at home, 104-93 and 130-108. So you’re thinking sweep if you’re a Nets fan.
Until it wasn’t. Friday, Boston held on 125-119, as Jayson Tatum, who averaged 26.4 points per game in the regular season, but was held to 31 points combined in the first two contests, went off for 50 points, Boston needing all of it as James Harden (41) and Kevin Durant (39) combined for 80.
Game 4 is tonight, after I post.
--The Lakers-Suns series has been intriguing, given L.A. had to get in through the play-in route. And the Lakers sucked in Game 1, Anthony Davis’ performance panned royally.
But Davis then had back-to-back 34-point efforts, the Lakers taking Games 2 and 3 for a 2-1 series lead.
However, A.D. exited early with a groin injury in today’s Game 4, while Chris Paul, dealing with a shoulder issue, played well…18 points, 9 assists and zero turnovers…and the Suns evened things up at 2-2, 100-92.
--Milwaukee completed a 4-game sweep of the Heat on Saturday.
--Portland tied up its series with Denver at 2-2 with a solid 115-95 win over the Nuggets on Saturday in Portland. The Trail Blazers contained superstar Nikola Jokic, holding him to just 16 points after he had 36 in Denver’s Game 3 victory.
--The Jazz took a 2-1 series lead over the Grizzlies in Memphis Saturday, 121-111. Donovan Mitchell, who returned for Utah in Wednesday’s Game 2 win after missing 17 games with a sprained right ankle, had 29 points last night.
--Finally, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the house I grew up in Summit recently. Ordinarily, I was by six days a week anyway, but for various reasons now it’s for more than taking care of Dad’s shopping.
So I’ve been talking to the neighbors more than in the past, them wondering what’s going on, and one of them told me her husband, a big bicycle addict, had an awful accident the other week.
Now you have to picture there are a ton of bicyclists in my area, riding in packs, and I’ve written in the past how they tick me off because they often act like they are on a road without cars and my fear is that my life is ruined because one stupidly pulls out in front of me and I kill him. They can be amazingly reckless. It’s not like we don’t have parks they can ride around, without cars.
So this neighbor’s husband was riding in Morristown, a big town/city in the area, he hit a pothole and went flying headfirst into a metal pole. It could have killed him and I don’t have an update on his extensive rehab, but he broke a ton of body parts.
I bring this up because it was so sad to hear that former Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton died after a bicycle crash at age 64. The details aren’t clear but police say he was found lying in the road in Summit County, Utah, and there was no reason to believe a vehicle was involved in the accident.
The NBA said in a statement: “The NBA mourns the passing of Mark Eaton, a Utah Jazz legend and former president of the Retired Players Association. Mark was an All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and beloved member of our league. We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and many friends.”
The 7-4 Eaton, out of UCLA, spent his entire career with the Jazz, 1983-93, and four times led the league in blocks per game, with his average of 5.6 per contest in 1984-85 still the highest average since the NBA started officially tracking that statistic. His career blocks average of 3.51 per game is the best in NBA history.
The thing is, Eaton’s career was by accident. He was working as an auto mechanic in 1977 when a community college coach persuaded him to enroll. From there, he went to UCLA and found a career.
And Eaton was durable. He once appeared in 338 consecutive games, quite an achievement for someone that big. [Think Bill Walton and Sam Bowie. On the other hand, Wilt Chamberlain had endurance, and I’m not just talking about staying on the court…but I probably should move on before I get censured by the International Web Site Association.]
After retiring from the Jazz, Eaton was a restaurateur and motivational speaker, serving as a mentor to Utah center Rudy Gobert.
Gobert posted on Twitter Saturday: “To my great mentor and friend @markeaton7ft4, one of a kind and an amazing human being, I’m grateful for your presence in my life over the years. Gonna miss our conversations. But I know you’ll be watching.”
How interesting was Eaton, just as a person? Days ago he was in Chicago to be part of the celebration for his friend Joe West, who broke baseball’s umpiring record by working his 5,376th regular-season game on Tuesday night.
--The Mets have more injuries than at any time in their history, and to key players, though in the past week, pitchers Taijuan Walker and Jacob deGrom returned from the IL.
The thing is the team was counting on the imminent return of Noah Syndergaard, who missed all of 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow in March, but now he has been shut down for six weeks with elbow inflammation. And starter Carlos Carrasco has been out all season with a hamstring issue.
Meanwhile, position players Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis and Brandon Nimmo, and a slew of others have been on the IL, and thus the Mets have been largely fielding a lineup of scrubeenies.
But entering tonight’s play, the Mets had won four in a row, including last night’s 13-2 drubbing of the Braves (Taijuan Walker with five shutout innings in his return), and sit in first place in the NL East.
[However, tonight’s game was postponed by rain…the tenth game the Mets have had postponed, including the season-opening series in Washington due to the Nationals’ not wearing masks.]
*The Braves’ learned Wednesday they had lost Marcell Ozuna for about six weeks after he fractured his middle and ring fingers while sliding into third base in a game against the Red Sox.
Then on Saturday, Ozuna was arrested.
According to Fulton County jail records, Ozuna was facing criminal charges for aggravated assault strangulation and battery – family violence.
When the 2020 MLB season was suspended due to the pandemic, Ozuna suffered a facial injury and his wife was charged with domestic violence. The incident occurred in Miami, with the star outfielder reporting to police that his wife threw a soap dish at him.
If MLB’s investigation into Ozuna determines he committed battery or family violence, he will be subject to discipline under MLB’s domestic violence policy. After receiving criticism in recent years for giving light suspensions to players who commit domestic violence, MLB has increasingly ramped up its discipline.
Yankees starter Domingo German, for instance, received an 81-game ban for domestic violence in 2019.
--Speaking of the Yankees, they have suddenly lost five of six, getting swept this weekend by lowly Detroit as the offense has dried up. In fact, in losing to the Tigers 3-2, 6-1, and 6-2, the Yanks were 1 of 24 with runners in scoring position, including Aaron Judge taking a called third strike in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded, down 6-2, this afternoon. Manager Aaron Boone is fuming.
And they received bad news when it was announced that Corey Kluber was lost until late July or early August, while Luke Voit was shelved with an oblique strain, this after he had recently returned from an IL stint due to a knee injury.
--Remember when the Orioles started the season 3-0? Remember when they were still 15-16, playing over their heads, at least according to the preseason experts?
Well they have now lost 13 in a row, 2-20 their last 22…17-36 overall, after a 3-1 loss to the White Sox (32-20).
--Wake Forest’s Will Craig is now in MLB baseball history for all the wrong reasons as the Pirates first baseman was fooled by the Cubs’ Javy Baez into delaying a tag on a fielder’s choice that would’ve ended the third inning of Thursday afternoon’s game.
Baez smacked a grounder to Pirates third baseman Erik Gonzalez, whose throw to first was slightly off target to the left of the bag. Craig caught the throw but left first base. Baez retreated back toward home plate down the basepath and Craig absentmindedly jogged back toward the plate to tag Baez.
Since Craig wasn’t rushing to tag Baez with any urgency, that allowed Cubs baserunner Willson Contreras, who started the at-bat on second base, to sprint toward home. Craig tossed the ball softly to Pirates catcher Michael Perez and Contreras slid just below the tag. Baez, still just feet from home plate, excitedly gestured a safe call before realizing he needed to run to first.
Perez’s throw to Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier, who was coming to back up and occupy the empty base, was off target and dribbled into the outfield. Baez then took second base, where the throw from the outfield also was off target.
Needless to say, this clip will be played in the Hall of Fame for eternity and goes down in history as one of the biggest gaffes of all time…and a Demon Deacon was responsible. Ugh.
--Friday night in the Yankees’ 3-2 loss at Detroit in 10 innings, Gio Urshela drew a walk on 3 balls.
Urshela came to the plate in the sixth inning, fouled off several 2-2 pitches, and the next offering from Kyle Funkhouser was way outside and went to the backstop. Urshela tossed his bat aside and headed to first. Nobody from the Tigers appeared to argue.
The Yankees didn’t score in the inning, but afterwards, crew chief Jerry Meals said “It was a missed count.”
Vic Carapazza was the plate umpire. None of the four umps picked up on it.
--Since I last posted, for the record, Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway was placed on the ineligible list through the end of the 2022 season following MLB’s investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct.
Callaway will be eligible to apply for potential reinstatement at the conclusion of the 2022 season.
Callaway issued a statement supporting MLB’s move and apologized for making the women who shared their stories with investigators “feel uncomfortable.”
The 2020-21 European football season is over. In the Champions League final Saturday, it was Chelsea defeating rival Manchester City, 1-0, in Porto, Portugal, the lone goal shortly before the half on a brilliant pass from Mason Mount to Kai Havertz, who got behind the City defense and beat goalkeeper Ederson to score his first Champions League goal in 12 matches.
City, which secured the Premier League crown two weeks ago, was favored to win the competition for the first time, but manager Pep Guardiola was outcoached by Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel, who lost last year’s CL final when he was at the helm of Paris Saint-Germain.
Christian Pulisic entered in the 66th minute for Chelsea, becoming the first U.S. men’s national team player to see the field in a Champions League final. Shortly after entering, Pulisic came close to doubling Chelsea’s lead but his shot went just wide.
But a key moment in the contest was when Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne collided with Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger and De Bruyne suffered a serious head injury on what some said was worthy of a red card for Rudiger, though he only got a yellow. City desperately needed De Bruyne’s skills in leading the attack.
As for Guardiola, who won two Champions League titles at Barcelona and is considered perhaps the best manager in the world, he continues to go without the big one at City, despite three Premier League titles and an FA Cup crown. It’s a huge disappointment, for City ownership, Guardiola and the fans. For some reason in the Champions League he often abandons what got him there and gets too cute by half with the strategy. His personnel decisions Saturday were highly questionable and the result speaks for itself.
Meanwhile, Chelsea coach Tuchel made it three out of three against Guardiola in the last six weeks (a Premier League contest and an FA Cup semifinal the other two) and he led a tremendous transformation after taking over the club midway through the season, the Blues struggling under former coach Frank Lampard.
Chelsea is the third English side to win the Champions League on two occasions (the other 2011-12), after Liverpool (2004-05 and 2018-19) and Manchester United (1998-99 and 2007-08).
Chelsea fan Dr. W. hasn’t stopped partying.
--Entering the final round today at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Jordan Spieth was looking for his second win of the year.
Jason Kokrak -14
Sergio Garcia -10
And it was the 36-year-old Kokrak who prevailed for his second career win, both this season, by two shots. I mean the dude has been playing great…14 straight cuts made, for example.
As in, I’d be tempted to put a few Quid on the lad…not on the U.S. Open, which would make sense as well, but The Open Championship. And so Kokrak is my official pick for that one.
--Phil Mickelson missed the cut by one stroke. After his first-round 3-over 73, he addressed the media. “Yeah, I didn’t play well. But I won the PGA, so…”
--Golf Digest’s Daniel Rapaport had the first interview with Tiger Woods since the accident.
“This has been an entirely different animal,” Woods said of his post-crash injuries. “I understand more of the rehab processes because of my past injuries, but this was more painful than anything I have ever experienced.”
Rapaport writes: “The rehab is focused on strengthening his right leg, which suffered traumatic injuries when he lost control of his vehicle on Feb. 23….
“Woods’ injuries included comminuted open fractures to both his tibia and fibula bones in his right leg. Those required immediate surgery at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center… Still unclear is whether additional procedures will be necessary, or if Woods can expect to regain full mobility and strength in his leg.”
Asked about his hopes of playing again, Woods had no comment, but said, “My physical therapy has been keeping me busy. I do my routines every day and am focused on my No. 1 goal right now; walking on my own. Taking it one step at a time.”
Woods had been recovering from his fifth back operation in December. He’s also had five surgeries on his left knee, most recently in August 2019 to clear scar tissue.
--The NCAA Men’s Golf Championship cuts the field from 30 teams to 15 today, and then down to 8 for match-play on Monday. It’s tension convention time at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and as I go to post, Wake Forest is tied for sixth with two others, meaning it needs to play well Monday to secure a final eight and a spot in match-play.
I love this format.
[The individual champion is decided tomorrow as well. Bo Jin of Oklahoma State has the lead after three rounds, OSU the runaway team leader thus far.]
Stanley Cup Playoffs
--After dispatching Pittsburgh in six games in the first round, the New York Islanders got blown out in Boston Saturday, 5-2, as David Pastrnak (a fellow Czech), who is carving out a nice career, had the second playoff hat trick of his career.
--Montreal, shockingly, has taken decided favorite Toronto to a Game Seven, Monday, after a 3-2 overtime win on Saturday. Les Canadiens were down 3-1 in this series.
--Just saw on hockey-reference.com that Gilles Villemure turns 81 today. Villemure was an outstanding backup goalie for the Rangers, particularly from 1970-73, when he and Eddie Giacomin were like 1 and 1A. That 3-year period, as I came of age as a hockey fan, the Knicks rocking the Garden at the same time, was as good as it gets. My father was part of a season-ticket subscription at work and we went to three regular-season games a year and then it was by chance come the playoffs. We saw some great action.
Otherwise, it was Marv Albert on radio, or Saturday night’s with Jim Gordon and Bill “The Big Whistle” Chadwick on television. [Chadwick worked with Albert on radio in the early years.]
--The French Open has commenced play this weekend, Naomi Osaka barely surviving her first-round match, but John Feinstein had a piece on the sad state of American men’s tennis.
“(The) draw was announced Thursday. Three American men were among the 32 seeds. Taylor Fritz was No. 30, John Isner was No. 31, and Reilly Opelka was No. 32. If all of the world’s top 32 players were taking part, here’s how many American men would have been seeded: zero.
“Fritz is the highest-ranked American man in the world – at No. 33. A new low came earlier this month: For the first time in the 48-year history of the computerized world rankings, no American man was in the top 30.
“By contrast, seven of the top 30 women in the world are Americans, led by No. 5 Sofia Kenin.”
The current crop of American men has won zero major championships.
Patrick McEnroe, who has been active in the USTA’s player development program, said, “A lot of it, honestly, has to do with money. Great athletes from here often want to play basketball, football or even baseball. Women athletes don’t make nearly as much in team sports, but they can make a lot in tennis – even more than in golf, the other major individual sport.”
Good point, Patrick.
Meanwhile, on the men’s side, the French Open is all about Federer, Djokovic and Nadal.
Federer and Nadal have 20 majors, Djokovic 18.
Just in…4-seed Dominic Thiem, reigning U.S. Open champ, lost his first-round match.
Back to Naomi Osaka, she was fined $15,000 by Grand Slam organizers for skipping a news conference following her first-round win and was also warned of possible expulsion from Roland Garros and future majors if she fails to meet her media commitments.
Osaka said before the tournament she was boycotting news conferences to raise awareness of players’ mental well-being, saying the nature of questions from journalists is like “kicking a person when they are down.”
Osaka has used her platform in the past to highlight issues of police violence and racial inequality.
--The behavior of fans at sporting events since the nation has reopened has clearly been atrocious in many respects, including the scene on the 18th hole at the PGA Championship, where security was totally unprepared and thousands acted like incredible jerks.
Then you had last Wednesday night, when the Knicks evened their series at 1-1 with the Hawks, and the fans flooded into the streets to block traffic outside the Garden. They won a single playoff game! They didn’t win the NBA championship, let alone a first-round playoff series. [And the language in the Garden was atrocious as well.]
All throughout the NBA, fans are being banned for life after bad behavior. Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant’s family was harassed during the game against Utah the other night. It was vicious. Racist and sexist taunts.
Personally, I didn’t know Utah has a reputation for hostile fans, but it seems everyone in the league knows about it.
The Knicks banned a fan from the Garden indefinitely for spitting on the Hawks’ Trae Young Wednesday night.
In Philadelphia, another fan was banned for life for dumping popcorn all over Russell Westbrook as he left the court with an ankle injury.
The NBA released a statement Thursday, saying an “enhanced fan code of conduct will be vigorously enforced” at arenas during the playoffs.
--A Wayne Gretzky 1979 rookie card featuring recently sold at a higher price than any other NHL trading card – but as Des Bieler of the Washington Post writes, “the leap is stunning.”
According to Heritage Auctions, the card was purchased for $3.75 million in a private sale. That blows away the previous mark for a hockey card by almost $2.5 million.
Only five cards from any sport – two featuring baseball legends Honus Wagner and Mickey Mangle, one of Mike Trout and two of NBA superstars, Lebron and Luka Doncic – have fetched more.
The previous record for hockey was another version of the same item commemorating the Great One’s arrival in the NHL. That card reportedly sold for $1.29 million in December, and it and the one purchased recently are the only two of their kind in prized “gem-mint” condition.
“Throughout many years of collecting, this card has always been our ‘white whale,’” the unidentified buyer said in a statement. “Our family is thrilled to become the new guardians of this world-class hobby treasure.”
The Gretzky card that had set a record in December previously had sales for $94,000 in 2011 and for $465,000 in 2016.
Gretzky himself once co-owned a T206 Honus Wagner that he and Kings’ owner Bruce McNall purchased for a then-record of $451,000 in 1991. That was eventually sold for $2.8 million in 2007. Another T206 sold for $3.75 million last week, while a 1952 Mantle card jumped to the top of the heap by selling for $5.2 million in January.
--I’m not sure how good Monday’s weather might be, but understand if you don’t live in these parts, this was literally the worst Memorial Day weekend weather of my lifetime. Forget the mega rain…try temps in the 40s and low 50s! Good gawd!
--Since I learned of the passing of actor Gavin MacLeod Saturday, I’ve been humming the theme song to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” MacLeod playing head writer Murray Slaughter for a TV station Moore worked at. As a main character, he appeared in all 169 episodes.
Co-star Ed Asner paid tribute to his colleague and noted that he and Betty White are the only cast members remaining.
“My heart is broken,” Asner tweeted, with a picture of himself and MacLeod. “Gavin was my brother, my partner in crime (and food) and my comic conspirator. I will see you in a bit Gavin. Tell the gang I will see them in a bit. Betty! It’s just you and me now.”
After “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which is easily in the top ten sitcoms of all time, MacLeod played the beloved Captain Merill Stubing on the hit “The Love Boat” for 10 years.
MacLeod was 90.
I mean Gavin MacLeod had a perfect career. Two huge hits that paid him well for a lengthy stretch.
I also can’t help but note that in 2003, I took a long trip on the QE2 (a disaster in some respects) from Los Angeles to Australia, with many stops in between, and the first night out of L.A., the entertainment was singer Jack Jones. I always loved the guy and had a nice chat with him poolside the next day, but as part of his act, he made fun of himself for being the one who sang “The Love Boat” theme song. He needn’t have. [Speaking of being paid well, I imagine.]
--And B.J. Thomas, the Grammy-winning singer who enjoyed success on the pop, country and gospel charts with such hits as “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” and “Hooked on a Feeling,” has died at the age of 78.
Thomas announced in March he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
A Hugo, Oklahoma-native who grew up in Houston, Billy Joe Thomas broke through in 1966 with a gospel-styled cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and went on to sell millions of records and have dozens of hits across genres. He reached No. 1 with pop, adult contemporary and country listeners in 1976 with “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” The same year, his “Home Where I Belong” became one of the first gospel albums to be certified platinum for selling more than 1 million copies.
Thomas’ signature recording was “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My head,” a No. 1 pop hit and an Oscar winner for best original song as part of the soundtrack to one of the biggest movies of 1969, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Thomas wasn’t the first choice to perform the ballad composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Ray Stevens turned the songwriters down. But Thomas’ rendition fit the song’s easygoing mood, immortalized on film during the scene when Butch (Paul Newman) shows off his new bicycle to Etta Place (Katharine Ross), the girlfriend of the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford).
For his part, Redford doubted the song belonged in the picture.
“When the film was released, I was highly critical – how did the song fit with the film? There was no rain,” Redford told USA Today in 2019. “At the time, it seemed like a dumb idea. How wrong I was.”
Thomas would later say the phenomenon of “Raindrops” exacerbated an addiction to pills and alcohol which dated back to his teens, when a record producer in Houston suggested he take amphetamines to keep his energy up. He was touring and recording constantly and taking dozens of pills a day.
Do yourself a favor. If you haven’t listened to the full soundtrack of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in a while…do so. Bacharach and David at their finest. “Come Touch the Sun” is as beautiful as it gets.
Top 3 songs for the week 5/30/64: #1 “Love Me Do” (The Beatles) #2 “Chapel Of Love” (The Dixie Cups) #3 “My Guy” (Mary Wells)…and…#4 “Love Me With All Your Heart” (The Ray Charles Singers…another reason why we love the Sixties…songs like this still have their day amidst the British Invasion…) #5 “Hello, Dolly!” (Louis Armstrong…ditto…) #6 “(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet” (The Reflections…has held up well…) #7 “A World Without Love” (Peter and Gordon) #8 “Little Children” (Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas) #9 “It’s Over” (Roy Orbison) #10 “Walk On By” (Dionne Warwick…speaking of the brilliant Burt Bacharach, and Hal David…A- week…)
NBA Quiz Answer: Top five players on 2010-2011 champion Dallas Mavericks, coached by Rick Carlisle….
Dirk Nowitzki, 23.0 ppg, 7.0 reb
Jason Kidd 7.9 ppg., 8.2 ast
Jason Terry, 15.8 ppg
Shaun Marion, 12.5 ppg, 6.9 reb
Tyson Chandler 10.1 ppg, 9.4 reb
Key reserves included J.J. Barea 9.5 ppg, Peja Stojakovic 8.6 ppg, and in the playoffs, DeShawn Stevenson.
Caron Butler played 29 games early in the season, averaging 15.0 ppg, before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Once again, I’ll put up an “Add-On” up top sometime Wednesday.