Wednesday, April 29, 2009
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
- Jays lose because of a young arm not finding the plate. These things kinds of games are going to happen. Ottawa Sports Guy Hex in full effect.
- I'm concerned for David Purcey; looked great in Grapefruit action, looked decent for his first couple of starts, can't hit the side of a barn in last two starts. If Brad Arnsberg can't fix this, no one can.
- Sign Pedro.
- The Flames were eliminated by the Blackhawks, and no tears were shed in the OSG household (yes, I did just link to myself - I'm that awesome). Three reasons; the Flames beat the Habs in the '89 final and delivered the first sports tears in the young OSG's life, the Blackhawks are a much more exciting team to watch, and, well, I have trouble accepting any joy for Calgary (yes, electoral results can taint my enthusiasm for a whole swath of the country).
- Ian Mendes has an interesting idea to determine playoff opponents. I'm afraid I don't share Ian's excitement for watching a guy in a suit flip a piece of cardboard (make it Evanka Osmak and now we're talking!), but I get what he's saying. My initial reaction is HELL NO, but the idea does have merit. I'd be concerned about it becoming a circus sideshow, however. My main playoff format gripe is awarding the third seed to a division winner, no matter if their points total is inferior to another team - I'd start there if I were to change the format.
- Not that I spend my days surfing the net for pictures of Evanka Osmak, but in the interest of providing eye candy for the blog, the pic to the right is the best one of the Sportsnet anchor. For shame.
- John Carver quit as Toronto FC's coach on Saturday, and I've yet to read one report that tells us why. Come on Toronto scribes, get to the bottom of this. What's the point of boasting about being chummy with the people you're supposed to cover if you can't get the scoop? (edit: apparently I don't check the Star's soccer coverage often enough)
-The Yankees are going to lose a lot of a games this year. Rejoice.
Monday, April 27, 2009
And so if the Jays lose the upcoming series with the Royals, go ahead and blame me: perhaps my streak was somehow connected to the Jays streak of winning their first 6 series of the season. Good thing that in real life I'm the furthest thing from a fatalist as you can find.
I'm a bit concerned about the state of the four-spot in the Jays rotation. As long as Romero is out, I don't see Brian Burres securing many wins. I'll echo what the message boards are clamoring about: SIGN PEDRO. Seriously. That would be some major karma having Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar in the same clubhouse again. Pedro was always destined to win a World Series for a Canadian team. Pedro could eat up innings at the end of the year when the Jays will have to scale back the workload on young arms like Romero, Purcey and whoever else comes up to fill the holes (Fabio Castro anyone? The Big Turk brought this to my attention: Castro had another strong outing today for New Hampshire. 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K. His ERA dropped to 0.83 on the season (21.2 innings, 24/3 strikeout to walk ratio, 0 HR allowed). He already has MLB experience, so I would not be surprised if they promote him straight from AA to the Majors at some point this year). SIGN PEDRO. I love the Man. I love the Legend. SIGN PEDRO. Put me down for a Pedro Jays jersey right now if he signs. Come on JP: DO IT.
The issue recently saw a spike in attention after some Montreal Canadiens fans booed the American national anthem before a playoff game. This happens every couple of years. I wouldn't go so far as to boo their anthem, but I do sympathize to an extent. After the Iraq war began, my form of protest was to not remove my hat during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Nonetheless, I don't really get why you would boo an anthem at a pro sports game: there are so many nationalities represented on both teams that it completely obfuscates any objective (which is presumably to piss off the opposing team?).
The issue isn't really the booing of the anthem but rather why the anthem is played in the first place. I'm told the playing of national anthems before professional sports games began after World War II to honour the men who had fought in that conflict. The thought behind this tradition is nice, but the execution is all messed up. We have Remembrance Day to honour our military heroes. On top of that, I doubt many people are thinking of military personnel when they rise for the anthem at a sporting event. Unscientific-off-the-top-of-my-head-thoughts-that-cross people's-minds-during-the-anthems:
1. That girl can't sing worth crap.
2. Is it disrespectful to take a swig of my beer during th - (gulp!).
3. The players look just as bored as me right now.
4. Dude next to me has got to stop brushing up against my arm.
5. ...stand on guard, for thee!!
The meaning behind the gesture has long since passed us by. Besides, we need less military cross-branding with sporting events, not more. We've seen a definite uptick in military tributes at sporting events in the past few years. In my opinion it's nothing more than an infiltration into our pastimes by warhawks and right-wing conservatives. Protest of any kind at these initiatives are met with accusations of unpatriotic sentiment or worse: pansification. Just take Carlos Delgado as an example: he was villified by the New York media for refusing to acknowledge God Bless America during Yankees games.
National anthems do have a place in sport. When matches are played between countries, it is more than appropriate to play the anthems. In fact, it adds to the spirit of the event. These renditions would take on even more significance if we weren't so bombarded by the anthems before every single game we watch. Canada playing the USA in hockey? Hell yes play the anthems! The songs resonate with fans, players, and coaches alike because we are pitting countries against one another. Montreal and Boston facing off has nothing to do with Oh Canada or the Star-Spangled banner, so get rid of them altogether. Anything else is just inviting trouble.
The pre-game anthem ceremonies at the FIFA World Cup are always so beautiful to watch, and are enhanced by the fact that God Save the Queen or La Marseillaise isn't played before every Premiership or French League match. When you line up the England team next to the French team and play those anthems it's difficult to feel indifferent, even if you have no ancestors from those countries (same goes for Brazil, Italy, Japan, etc.).
With all this said, however, I doubt any of the professional sports leagues in North America will have the courage to mandate a change in pre-game ceremonies. Those that would be opposed to the change would howl long and hard about the lack of patriotism such a gesture would symbolize (again, why is Don Cherry on my side on this???). I seem to recall George Steinbrenner publicly voicing his disgust with Blue Jays President Paul Godfrey for not playing God Bless America at Blue Jays home games during the seventh-inning stretch. Can you imagine the reaction from the faux-patriots if Gary Bettman instructed teams to drop the anthems before games?
The status quo will continue, but you have my go-ahead to keep your hat on while the "bombs burst in air".
It's still refreshing to see Ferrari struggle and a new team dominate, as Brawn is doing by winning three of the first four races. But please allow me to indulge on getting a little something off my chest. Fuck You Bahrain. Fuck you and your desert track with 50,000 spectators being preferred for its petro-dollars over Montreal's lush scenery and feverish fans. Fuck you for painting cutesy little colours onto the SAND that lines the track. You're not fooling anyone. Buffalo N.Y., Joan Rivers and the Bahrain Grand Prix: three things you cannot "pretty up", no matter how much money you throw at it. Fuck you Bahrain.
I really have nothing against Bahrain and its desert. I'm just bitter about Montreal having its F1 race revoked after 44 of the past 46 years because of unpaid ransom demands by Bernie the Pirate, only to be replaced by locales that have no F1 tradition or even much interest. Sometimes I cannot contain it. As Zach de la Rocha once so eloquently put it: "I'll give you a dose but it could never come close to the rage built up inside of me".
Congrats to Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Jarno Trulli on their podium finishes. Word is that Ferrari will be upgrading their car significantly for the next race, two weeks from now in Barcelona. Can't wait to see if they can pull it off. It will also be a great opportunity to wish Fernando Alonso as little luck as possible on his home track (Lola is going to go apeshit when she reads that last part).
Friday, April 24, 2009
The Tao of Stieb lays it out no uncertain terms that the two companies are playing chicken, which could steer fans from both networks.
Out of Left Field points out that it's not the first time this happens, but this time the stakes are much higher because Blue Jays games attract exponentially more fans than Raptors or Eskimos games.
I don't have much to add to their excellent posts except to say that I've already gotten a subscription to MLB.tv, so you have to wonder how much longer I'll remain beholden to the traditional TV networks. They play this game at their own peril: I can stream from my PC to my TV so I'll get those hidden games in HD, which is exactly what Expressvu can offer*, even if I were deemed worthy of receiving it as a Rogers customer.
*Props to Zach for pointing out that TSN is offered in high definition
2. Shaun Marcum
3. Jesse Litsch
4. Ricky Romero
If you were the GM of an expansion team, wouldn't you be feeling pretty good about your team if those were your first four starters in the rotation? I bet you would be. The Jays would be happy to have them too, if they weren't all on the disabled list. You can also add B.J. Ryan to that list, but we'll notch that one up as addition by subtraction. My blood pressure thanks you, "tight trapezius muscle". I can just see the meeting in JP's office now:
Ricciardi: Robert Victor, are you SURE you're not injured? Like, pretty please?
Ryan: No JP, like I told you, I feel fine. I'm just sucking like a rented mule right now.
The Cito: I don't know B.J., or whatever your real name is. It looks to me like you have a tight trapezius muscle...
Ryan: Come again?
Ricciardi: Yeah B.J., like Cito said. A tight trapezoid is not something you want to mess with.
Ryan: (looking worried) Well, ummm, how would I know I have that?
The Cito: (reassuring nod and reaches out to squeeze B.J.'s forearm) You just leave that up to us, son.
All joking aside, didn't you feel 100x better seeing Scott Downs coming out of the pen for the save last night? No drama, no anxious moments, just 1-2-3 game over. As it should be. Also nice to see Rios start swinging the bat and actually getting on base. Welcome to the party, Alex. My buddy Big Turk and I were discussing his struggles the other night, and it's like being the parent of an underachieving teenager: you want to smack him because he doesn't seem to care that his grades are in the shitter. Of course we have to remind ourselves that Alex has never been one to exhibit much emotion, whether he's hitting .320 or .230.
Five series wins to start the season. They're now 12 wins away from the 14 I called for out of this 20-games-in 20-days stretch. Tonight the Jays begin a weekend series against the Chicago White Sox, who currently occupy first place in the Central with an 8-7 record. Brian Tallet gets his second start, facing off against Gavin Floyd. Could you give us another solid six innings Brian? Thanks.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Habs fans young and old have yet to adjust to the fact that their team are no longer an NHL juggernaut. In Canada we all grew up knowing that the Canadiens were the winningest franchise in hockey history, having won 24 Stanley Cups. And depending on your age, you probably grew up revering/fearing "Les Glorieux". The seven years between Cups in 1986-1993 seemed like a very unusual blip on their march to championships and the Montreal populace retained their arrogance/confidence/cockiness for years afterwards.
Years became a long decade, a decade that is stretching into two and the reaction in Montreal is nothing short of fevered panic. Since that last Cup, the Canadiens have made seven coaching changes. Every one of those coaches had a winning record (except for Alain Vigneault but only because ties count as losses in winning percentage). Yes, even Mario Tremblay was a winner in Montreal. Nonetheless, all these coaches were deemed unfit to continue in their duties as head coach of the team. Two of them were, however, good enough to coach the Canucks and Bruins to first-round sweeps this post-season. Ouch. I know that stung, my beloved friends and family.
And then there's all the captains that have been run out of town (yes, even - especially? - the French-Canadian ones). Guy Carbonneau, Kirk Muller, Mike Keane, Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse were all traded away and went on to very successful post-Canadiens careers. It's a wonder Saku Koivu lasted as long as he has, but that run is about to end (he will leave as a free agent in a refreshing twist). And let's not even get into the goaltending stigma in Montreal - my lunch is only an hour long.
My argument here is that stability creates a winning atmosphere. I thought the Canadiens had figured that out and I foolishly believed that Bob Gainey (pictured, right) and Guy Carbonneau would anchor the "bleu, blanc, rouge" for years to come. As seen earlier this season, though, patience is thin among the Canadiens fan base and they are hungry for blood. Never mind that their best player, Andrei Markov, missed the last part of the season and playoffs due to injury: someone must to pay for this embarrassing 4-game sweep. That person will almost surely be Bob Gainey. I urge you to look around the landscape and identify possible candidates to replace him, Habs fans. You'll see that a) there aren't very many good general managers available and b) those that are good are not likely to step into such a viper's pit. Gainey had assembled a team that was touted as a Stanley Cup contender by many experts at the beginning of the season (including most Habs fans). Now that it hasn't happened, you'll throw the guy out on the street? Come on now, take a deep breath.
This of course is just an opinion, and please remember that family sticks together through thick and thin...right? I love you too.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
A 10-10 split would put them at 20-14, a .588 percentage. Roughly a 95 win pace.Then again if they go .500 the rest of the way they'll finish 6 games in the black, but that's no way of looking at the future. No, my rose-tinted glasses will remain firmly in place and I'll predict 14 wins out of the 20, putting them 24-10 for the season on May 11th.
Monday, April 20, 2009
- I've obviously got to start with the red-hot Blue Jays. While my video game counterpart isn't doing all that well in MLB '09: The Show (current record: 3-9), the real life Jays are tearing up the junior circuit. They're doing it with an incredible display of early season hitting, combined with young arms complementing the old doctor very well. It's very rare for baseball teams to fire on all cylinders at once, though, as evidenced by Alex Rios and B.J. Ryan. But hell, I'm not going to dwell on that. Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Marco Scutaro, Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay et al. are fanning the flames of love in my heart. Haters will argue that it's a long season and a hot April doesn't mean much, but they're just jealous: when it comes right down to it the team you follow will either start the season well or it won't - no need to wonder what every person prefers.
- The Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway, and I'm casually interested. It's a fun tournament and I am a hockey fan (although as I've stated before I won't be writing about it much because the last thing we need is another Canadian writing a half-assed hockey blog). When your team isn't in the tournament, though, it becomes quite the test of endurance to watch hockey every night for 2 months. I'll watch the Jays instead, thank you very much. From what I have seen, however, the Bruins, Canucks and Blackhawks look real good. I'm still hoping the Capitals will squeeze their way past the Rangers because Alexander Ovechkin is the most exciting entity to watch on skates at the moment.
- When I woke up yesterday morning to watch my PVR'd Chinese Grand Prix and the first shots showed rain, I was excited. An F1 race in the rain is almost always an exciting time. I thought they coddled the drivers a little too much at first by having them start the race behind the safety car for the first 15 minutes. That was all forgotten once they got to racing. Sebastian Vettel was full value for the win, Red Bull Racing's first (Mark Webber finished second, also making this the first Red Bull one-two finish). Felipe Massa once again finished out of the points after his car died while the race was under caution: very embarassing for Ferrari. Brawn Racing was strong once again, finishing third and fourth. As an aside for those of you who follow F1 through this blog, the front defuser utilized by Brawn Racing was found to be legal by the court of arbitatrion last week. They therefore retain all their points and the rest of the grid can scramble to come up with their own variations of the Brawn Diffuser.
That's all I've got for now, but expect more posts soon!
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Despite a few blips, the Forces of Resistance have always had the upper hand on the Knights of Footy, thanks to an entrenched anti-soccer media. In the late 70's the NASL took North America by storm with the arrival of Pelé, who signed to play for the New York Cosmos. It was an explosion that couldn't be sustained. As soon as Pelé was gone the sport imploded for a multitude of reasons (I suggest watching Once In A Lifetime as an educational tool), sending it into a dark place where it remained for a few more decades. At the time, critics of the sport cited its un-American slant, and even went as far as to call it the sport of Communists (ah, the Cold War, how we miss you!).
When the US successfully bid on hosting the 1994 World Cup, FIFA forced a concession from the organizing committee; America would have to establish its own national soccer league. Major League Soccer was born, and this time the people put in charge did it the right way. They fostered a slow growth of the league, waiting until markets developed and genuine demand presented itself for expansion. The seed was planted. Now the naysayers claimed that a National league could never work, people didn't want the product shoved down their throats, the NASL proved that soccer could not sustain itself. Note the escalation in sophistication and volume of the arguments.
The success of the 1994 World Cup took many by surprise, and introduced many more to the beautiful game (including yours truly who was 18 at the time). Networks began to take note and began buying rights to broadcast matches from the best leagues in Europe. As more and more people grew interested in the game, resistance grew ever more feverish. The arguments of the time were that this was a sport for sissies, divers, immigrants, it was boring, there was no action. Media types began writing columns dismissing the sport, claiming to not "get" what the fuss was about, all a flash in the pan.
With more cable licences being awarded, and more and more sports channels becoming available, soccer continued to grow. Here in Canada, Sportsnet (first CTV, then Rogers) began pushing soccer in a major way, by signing an exclusivity contract with the Canadian Soccer Association to carry all national team games but more importantly, carrying several English Premiership matches every week. People around me, knowing I was a fan of the sport, started asking more and more pertinent questions about it: "How does it work?", "What is relegation?", "Why is Owen Hargreaves not playing for Canada?", etc. I even wrote a column on the Voyageurs website to give lovers of the sport a bit of ammunition against the multiplying howls of fury at the sport's growth.
Apparently the reporters being asked to cover soccer were not happy about it, and this translated to numerous sports personalities taking shots at the sport. I'll never forget the play-by-play voice of the Ottawa Senators, Dean Brown, on a CBC panel with the Ottawa Citizen's Wayne Scanlan debating the popularity of the sport and its potential in Canada. This was on the eve of the 2002 World Cup. Brown completely ripped soccer and the people who love it, such a vociferous, unwarranted attack that I will never forgive him for it. It was low-brow stuff, the typical macho, hockey-is-king bullshit. There was something about soccer that made these people's blood boil; even having to talk about it seemed like an insult to their manhood and fighting words would fly.
Seven years on, soccer's made some incredible strides. The signs are everywhere: Toronto FC selling out every home game they've ever played, Vancouver being awarded an MLS expansion franchise for 2011, Montreal and Ottawa practically begging for a franchise, 55,000+ at Olympic Stadium for a CONCACAF Champions League match, no less than three cable channels dedicated to soccer, UEFA Champions League matches every week on TSN, Premiership on Sportsnet and The Score. On Sunday night, I noticed something incredible during the broadcast of the Braves-Phillies MLB season kickoff; on the news crawler at the bottom of the screen, alongside fellow categories "MLB", "NBA", "NHL" and "NCAA" were "MLS" and "Soccer". When soccer's turn was up, scores from the English, Italian, Spanish and Mexican leagues flashed across the screen. I smiled. When the "Worldwide Leader" deems you worthy of real estate on its crawler, you've officially arrived.
And now we've come to the reason for this random defence of soccer, and more specifically its passionate fans. Over the last few weeks I've been reading and hearing many of the Forces of Resistance, in its death throes, argue that the fans of soccer who attend games are indeed poseurs, fakes, guilty of fabricated enthusiasm. When I hear this, I know the Knights of Footy have won. If your argument, your last stand against the invasion, is that the emotion and passion you witness is somehow "fake", it might be better to just sulk as you cry into your beverage. You've failed to get on board, you've erred in your assessment of the qualities of the sport, you are immune to the contagious quality of fan pro-activity. For what you deem "fabricated enthusiasm" is really proactive engagement from fans. Those passionate people you see on television supporting Toronto FC? They've met beforehand, they congregate on the internet, they invent chants, they create banners, they come to the stadium prepared to lift their team without the need for permission from jumbotron prompts. They have songs for individual players, individual occurrences, and they intimidate opposition players.
Soccer has arrived, and is here to stay. The media has finally evolved into embracing the sport. More and more news organizations, both online and traditional, have a soccer columnist on staff. Soccer highlights take up more and more time on sports news shows. The debate is no longer "can soccer catch on in Canada?", it is "how big will it get?". You think there's a lot of coverage now? Just wait until Canada's Mens National Team finally qualifies for the World Cup - only 5 years to Brazil 2014!
How long before the Forces of Resistance play their last card and start branding us all hooligans? Or has that already started?
Obviously the come from behind win by the Jays (woohoo!) is going to steal all the headlines, but the story last night was pitching, both good and bad. Great starting pitching gave way to mediocre relief, and it became a fight to see who would give up the last run. Shawn Camp relieved Purcey and got three outs (although it got dicey there for a bit with the bases loaded). Brandon Lyon replaced Jackson and allowed the Jays to come back and take the lead. Not to be outdone, B.J. Ryan pitched the top of the ninth and gave up a solo home run to Brandon Inge, blowing his first save opportunity (uh-oh).
The Jays showed some resilience (or was that Brandon Lyon showing incompetence?), and loaded the bases with one out for Rod Barajas, who drove in the winning run on a sac fly. Victory to the Jays, 2-0 for the first time in four years. Although Purcey did pitch well, there was cause for concern in that he didn't throw his change-up all night, relying solely on his heater and slider. Whatever works, I guess, but having two pitches won't cut it for 30 starts.
One thing that did bother me was Jerry Layne's strike zone. The only thing you ask from an umpire is consistency, and that is especially crucial for the home plate official. What we saw last night was consistent, but in the sense that Jackson kept getting a bunch of calls that were not given to Purcey, especially the low-inside pitch against righties. Jackson was getting that called a strike all night, but no luck for Purcey. Purcey was essentially working with a smaller strike zone. That kind of thing drives me nuts. Oh well, Jays win in the end.
Tonight Jesse Litsch takes the mound against Zach Miner. Is 3-0 too much to ask?
Viewing Note: Rogers Sportsnet followed up their dismal opening night broadcast by relegating Jays fans to watching the Tigers local feed on Sportsnet Pacific. You have to start wondering if Rogers is so worried about it's on-field product that they're burying coverage in the 400 stratosphere of channels. Fox Sports Detroit was actually pretty decent. The announcers weren't total homers and I actually learned a few things. Tonight, the game will actually be available on Sportsnet HD; about freaking time!
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
It's easy to scold these miscreants, but which is better: the lifeless suits who fill Air Canada Centre for every Leafs game, or the small group of Toronto FC agitators who got themselves pepper-spayed and tasered in Columbus*, or these yahoos who threw baseballs at Detroit Tigers outfielders? Fan passion is a needed ingredient to a healthy sports franchise (just ask Toronto FC), but some residents of society's underbelly mistake passion for drunken tomfoolery. The crowd I was a part of for the USA v. Canada game at Rogers Centre presented a much better example of desired fan behaviour; passionate support that never crossed the line (despite much alcohol being consumed on that festive day as well).
The incident occurred in the bottom of the eighth, and for a time I thought the story might end up being how Jays fans at the game refused to let their dire predictions for the season go unfulfilled, and snatch victory from the players by forfeiting the game through hooliganism. Thankfully calm was restored and the Jays were able to claim their first victory of the season on the strength of young bats inserted into this season's lineup.
It's a strange occurrence when Roy Halladay is not the story on a night that he's the starter. No; this night belonged to the Jays bats, namely Adam Lind (4-5, 6 RBI) and Travis Snider (2-4, HR, 2B), who pushed 12 runs across, including eight against an over-matched Justin Verlander. Every Jay got a hit last night. It was great to see Aaron Hill turn a double play again and Lyle Overbay bashing a double to the gap, great to see Vernon Wells and Alex Rios having good performances overshadowed. Let's hope this fight for the spotlight happens many more times this year.
For at least one day the Jays are ahead of the Yankees (snicker, snicker C.C. Sabathia), Red Sox and Devil Rays. Tonight, another youngster features for the Jays. David Purcey takes to the mound and we'll get to evaluate whether his hot Spring was as irrelevant as most Spring statistics. Here's hoping he can mesmerize the Tigers hitters and keep this good feeling going.
Viewing note: Sportsnet dropped the ball last night. The game was NOT available in HD in the Ottawa region. Viewers had to tune in to Sportsnet Pacific to watch the game because the Ottawa Senators were playing, but here's what's puzzling; the Senators game was in standard definition. It boggles the mind as to why Sportsnet would put the Sens game on their HD feed and their Jays telecast on standard def. Only once the Sens game ended did the HD channel carry the remainder of the Jays game. What a debacle. Oh, and Sportsnet - that "beautiful" camera view from the 5th deck? There's a reason those are the cheapest seats in the place - you can't see shit.
*For the record, I believe the incident in Columbus had more to do with badly trained police officers, but it does point to a disturbing trend for Toronto sports fans. You can also point to the incident at the FIFA Under World Cup involving the Chilean National team. Perhaps Toronto fans have been going to too many Bills games at Orchard park and this is learned behaviour.
Monday, April 06, 2009
Aston Villa rolled into Old Trafford, a ground on which they had not won in 25 years. Between these two teams, I definitely wanted Villa to win. I cheer against United in almost any situation - Sir Alex Ferguson's arrogance assures this. For those not familiar with this guy, imagine Don Cherry's fiery temper mixed with Scotty Bowman's tenure and success (actually, just imagine Cherry had he been successful at coaching). That's Alex Ferguson. His squad has been decimated by injury and suspensions, and he was operating with a skeleton crew. On the bench were kids from the reserves, including a 17-year-old Italian kid who was about to have the best day in his young life.
The first three-quarters of the match were entertaining, featuring some skillful displays and a trio of goals that put Villa up 2-1. This was exciting in and of itself; a team about to break a 25-year-old hoodoo tends to be entertaining on its own merit. The football gods were not satisfied with this trivial matter, however, and the next 20 minutes were pure magic.
First, after what the announcer called the "Siege at the Stratford End" (that end of the pitch being the name of the stands in front of which Villa was painstakingly trying to keep the ball out of the net), Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured, right) had a beautiful goal that was just another example of his brilliance (I acknowledge this grudgingly). By this time, Ferguson had made a curious switch of personnel. In taking Nani out of the game, he had replaced him with an unknown striker name Federico Macheda, a young Italian who had been plucked a few years earlier from the Lazio youth system. United supporters were befuddled by this selection, since there was a better-known young phenom striker also sitting on the bench.
Even at 2-2 the match seemed unsettled - United kept charging and Villa looked exhausted. Ferguson worked his magic once more by intimidating the fourth official, hounding him while frantically gesticulating at his watch, claiming Villa was time wasting. It worked, and the board went up at 90 minutes indicating five extra minutes. There's no way there was five minutes lost during the second half, but I digress - this is part of the man's genius.
The assault on the Villa goal continued, which produced one of those moments I spoke of off the top. Here is what transpired (do hurry to watch this, these clips are usually removed from YouTube in a hurry):
I couldn't help but smile. This boy's dream had just been fulfilled, and who wouldn't be moved by that? It's the same reason that I can't help but enjoy every moment where a Championship is clinched, when the team storms the field. It is pure joy and even if I wasn't cheering for that particular team, I smile. I don't know what it is, but seeing a bunch of grown (and in this case not so grown) men jump for joy, hugging one another in unabated bliss fills my own heart with the same feeling. Sappy, I know.
And there you have it; Manchester United denied Villa their historic victory and the boys from Birmingham can try again next year.
The Malaysian GP was stopped with 32 of 56 scheduled laps to go. What made this particular red flag situation unacceptable is that F1's brain trust had decided to push the start time of the race an hour later to better accommodate European television viewership. This was done despite the objections of local officials, who argued that at this time of year, at that time of day, Kuala Lumpur almost always receives a torrential downpour. I guess we notch this up as another feather in Bernie Ecclestone's cap.
What we were left with was another win for Jenson Button, followed by Nick Heidfeld of BMW and Timo Glock of Toyota. If you don't follow F1 closely, those are not household names. Ferrari once again was left pointless, and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren finished 7th (I wonder what rule FIA will invoke to strip of his points this week?). Because the race was stopped with less than 3/4 of the race finished, only half the usual points were awarded.
The saddest part of the whole situation is we had a great race going. There was a number of exciting battles on the circuit, notably a fight between Lewis Hamilton and Mark Weber that saw them switch position four or five times within a few laps. The threat of rain was making some teams lose their minds, as when Ferrari sent Kimi Raikonnen out on the track on "extreme wet" tires, even though not a drop had yet fallen. Three laps later, when the rain finally started coming down, the tires were shredded and he had to pit again. Good times.
Two races down in the calendar, and trends are starting to develop:
- Brawn GP is for real. Button qualified on the pole again, and Barrichello was fourth. Two straight wins for the team means they are the ones to beat until other teams find a way to improve their front wing, which is generally being credited for their quick start.
- Ferrari are hurting. Yes, I know they generally get out to a slow start, but this is different. They look terrible out there. If things don't shape up soon, I predict heads are gonna roll.
- Williams-Toyota are fast (in practice). It looks like the car is quick, and Niko Rosberg is putting down some really fast times in practice and qualifying, but they don't see to have the car where it needs to be to compete for the Championship. Don't be surprised if they pull off a couple of wins, though.
- Lewis Hamilton is one of the best drivers in the world. That much is becoming clear this season. Sure he won a Championship last season, but this year he doesn't have a car. Kovalainen isn't even in the same galaxy when you look at what each driver is getting out of that "bagnole".
The next stop is the Chinese GP on the weekend of April 17-19. Judging by the first two races, you don't wat to miss it.
Friday, April 03, 2009
F1 - Malaysian GP:
I'll be PVR-ing qualifying and the race, and will probably watch both on Sunday morning. Williams was fastest again in practice today. Should be interesting to see if Brawn GP can keep the momentum going forward. Will Ferrari and McLaren get any points this weekend?
ALMS - Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg:
The luster dulls a bit after Sebring this year, as Audi and Peugeot retreat to Europe to prepare for the 24 Hours of LeMans. Usually Audi have been regulars in this series, but they've blamed the economy to explain their absence this year. P1 will be Acura's playground, P2 will be a fight between an Acura and the Mazdas and GT1 is Corvette-only. Come to think of it, the only compelling class in ALMS this year is GT2. I hope that's how the sporscast treats it (ABC, 1:30 pm Eastern). I'll be watching to see what BMW did to improve on their dismal first race and if Panoz can continue running with the big boys.
MLS - Toronto FC v. Seattle Sounders:
Toronto FC's home opener should be a treat to watch. They went undefeated in their first two road games and the crowd will be as wild as ever at BMO Field. Haven't had a chance to catch either of their first two games, so this will be my first look at Canada's 2009 entry in MLS. I'll be checking for weaknesses that the Impact can exploit in the Voyageurs Cup! Interesting side note is that the Sounders' best striker, Fredy Montero, is staying behind to recover from what the team is calling "the flu". According to this report, that is quite the nasty flu.
MLB: Atlanta v. Philadelphia
Baseball is back, baby! Sunday night I'll be watching the World Series Champions take on the up and coming Atlanta Braves. It's been a long winter and the WBC disappointed, so my baseball taste buds need satiating! I normally would never watch the Braves play the Phillies in a regular season game, but it's opening night. John Miller will have the call, and we'll be treated to Citizens Bank Park in glorious high-definition. A Philadelphia night in early April can't be too warm, I imagine, but it can't be worse than game 6, err game 5, err game 5 and a half (?) of the World Series!
The front office has announced that they're working towards contending - in 2010. The media has done a bang-up job of toeing the company line, predicting a dire 2009 season. Most outlets predict a finish no better than 4th place in the American League East. With the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles rounding out the division, I can see the logic in that.
So with no expectations and such dire predictions to live up to, where are we really?
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 Blue Jays starting rotation:
1. Roy Halladay
2. David Purcey
3. Jesse Litsch
4. Ricky Romero
5. Scott Richmond
Although this does seem like the Jays are going into the season light on arms, it's not all that bad according to Batter's Box. Reading his post really lifted my spirits concerning this starting grid, and if things work out with just one of the youngsters, the Jays shouldn't be too far off of what they were in 2008.
The bullpen poses a lot of questions, mind you. Jeremy Accardo was just sent down to the minors and B.J. Ryan hasn't been able to hit any higher than 87 m.p.h. on the radar gun in Florida. Cito has actually begun musing about using Scott Downs in the closer role. Brandon League has had a fantastic Spring and Casey Janssen should be back to 100% after suffering through injuries. Jason Frasor is what he is, and the rest of the cast should be shuttling back and forth between Toronto and Las Vegas.
I get the feeling that watching the Jays pitch this summer will be anything but dull. How Brad Arnsberg manages the arms will be fun to monitor, and if one of the youngsters emerges as a stud we could be in for a heck of a fun ride.
Here's what I've got for a batting order this year:
1. Aaron Hill
2. Adam Lind
3. Alex Rios
4. Vernon Wells
5. Scott Rolen
6. Travis Snider
7. Lyle Overbay
8. Rod Barajas
9. Marco Scutaro
The Jays were near the basement in offense last season. Should a few "if's" come through, it will be fairly easy to surpass last year's numbers. The "if's" are the following:
- if Aaron Hill overcomes his concussion to return to 2007 form;
- if Adam Lind continues to improve;
- if Scott Rolen stays healthy and re-emerges as a slugging 3rd baseman;
- if Travis Snider is as good as advertised;
- if Lyle Overbay can start hitting doubles again;
If none of these happen, we have the 2008 Jays offense; nothing lost, nothing gained. If however some of these "if's" pull through, we've got something to cheer about it. It means the Jays can score more than one or two runs in support of Halladay. It means the young pitching staff can pitch with a lead on occasion. It means Wells and Rios can start taking more risks on the basepaths.
It means; a better offensive ball club than last year.
My advice to Jays fans watching their team this year is this; enjoy watching these young kids develop. It's going to be a hell of treat to watch Purcey, Lind, Snider and Romero come of age. Sprinkle a little greatness with Halladay, Wells and Rios and you've got a compelling product to follow. Some days will be frustrating, as stupid mistakes are inevitable with such a young team. But whatever you do, don't get down on these guys. Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace are going to work this bunch into a hitting powerhouse, and by the end of the season we'll have no trouble imagining a pennant in 2010.
My prediction for 2009? 84 wins and 3rd place in the division. That's right, only two wins less than last year. That's how much I think we've improved on offense, and I don't think we're as terrible on the mound as some are saying. The Yankees are nowhere near as good as advertised, and will miss the playoffs; they're the team the Blue Jays will beat for 3rd place.
Can't wait until Monday.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
The FIA have revealed details of the new evidence that prompted stewards to strip McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton of this third place in the Australian Grand Prix and hand the place back to Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, who had originally been penalized for passing Hamilton under the safety car.
According to the FIA, in the original enquiry into the incident, both Hamilton and McLaren stated that they had not deliberately let Trulli pass. However, in interview footage recorded immediately after the race - and not originally seen by stewards - Hamilton says he was instructed to move over for the Italian.
Furthermore, the FIA say that McLaren radio recordings contain ‘two explicit orders’ given to Hamilton to let the Toyota pass. Based on this new evidence the stewards ‘felt strongly that they had been misled’ by the driver and team, resulting in their decision to disqualify the world champion.
Full statement from the FIA:
PENALTY IMPOSED ON DRIVER NO 1 LEWIS HAMILTON AND COMPETITOR VODAFONE MCLAREN MERCEDES
SUMMARY OF KEY CONSIDERATIONS
At the first hearing following the Australian Grand Prix the Stewards did not have the benefit of the radio exchanges between driver No 1 Lewis Hamilton and his Team Vodafone McLaren Mercedes nor did they have access to the comments to the Media given by Lewis Hamilton immediately after the end of the race.
From the video recordings available to the Stewards during the hearing it appeared that Jarno Trulli’s car left the track and car No 1 moved into third place. It then appeared that Trulli overtook Hamilton to regain third place, which at the time was prohibited as it was during the Safety Car period.
During the hearing, held approximately one hour after the end of the race, the Stewards and the Race Director questioned Lewis Hamilton and his Team Manager David Ryan specifically about whether there had been an instruction given to Hamilton to allow Trulli to overtake. Both the driver and the Team Manager stated that no such instruction had been given. The Race Director specifically asked Hamilton whether he had consciously allowed Trulli to overtake. Hamilton insisted that he had not done so.
The new elements presented to the Stewards several days after the 2009 Australian Grand Prix which led to the reconvened Stewards Meeting clearly show that:
a. Immediately after the race and before Lewis Hamilton attended the Stewards Meeting he gave an interview to the Media where he clearly stated that the Team had told him to let Trulli pass.
b. Furthermore, the radio exchanges between the driver and the Team contain two explicit orders from the Team to let the Toyota pass.
The Stewards, having learned about the radio exchanges and the Media interview, felt strongly that they had been misled by the driver and his Team Manager which led to Jarno Trulli being unfairly penalised and Lewis Hamilton gaining third place.
Transcript of the radio transmission between Lewis Hamilton and his team:
Team: OK Lewis, you should need to make sure your delta is positive over the safety car line. After the safety car line the delta doesn’t matter but no overtaking. No overtaking.
Lewis Hamilton: The Toyota went off in a line at the second corner, ..., is this OK?
Team: Understood, Lewis. We’ll confirm and get back to you.
LH: He was off the track. He went wide.
Team: Lewis, you need to allow the Toyota through. Allow the Toyota through now.
LH: He’s slowed right down in front of me.
Team: OK, Lewis. Stay ahead for the time being. Stay ahead. We will get back to you. We are talking to Charlie.
LH: I let him past already.
Team: OK, Lewis. That’s fine. That’s fine. Hold position. Hold position.
LH: Tell Charlie I already overtook him. I just let him past.
Team: I understand Lewis. We are checking. Now can we go to yellow G 5, yellow Golf 5.
LH: I don’t have to let him past I should be able to take that position back, if he made a mistake.
Team: Yes, we understand Lewis. Let’s just do it by the book. We are asking Charlie now. You are in P4. If you hold this position. Just keep it together.
Team: OK Lewis, your KERS is full, your KERS is full. Just be aware. You can go back to black F2, black Foxtrott 2.
LH: Any news from Charlie whether I can take it back or not.
Team: Still waiting on a response Lewis, still waiting.
Team: Lewis, work on your brakes please. Front brakes are cold.
Team: If we are able to use one KERS that would be good. If you deploy KERS please do so now.
Team: OK, Lewis, this is the last lap of the race. At the end of the lap the safety car will come in, you just proceed over the line without overtaking, without overtaking. We are looking into the Trulli thing, but just hold position.
My questions are:
a) why was Trulli deemed allowed to pass Hamilton, if he had gone off the track?
b) knowing this, why did the team tell Hamilton let Trulli pass, then try and take it back and tell him not to let him pass?
c) why DID they lie to the stewards? Seems to me all they had to do was tell the truth and Trulli would have been punished for passing under yellow?
d) even in light of them lying, the facts remain that Trulli went off by mistake, Hamilton passed him legally, then Trulli passed Hamilton illegally. Why is Hamilton being stripped of his points (and not being awarded third position)?
Depending on who you believe (shouldn't there be video of this!?!), Trulli somehow ran off the track. Seeing this, Hamilton passed him. Not sure if he was allowed to do this, Hamilton sought advice from his team and they told him to let Trulli pass him again, which he did. After the race, McLaren Mercedes filed a protest stating that Trulli passed Lewis Hamilton under caution (a no-no), and should be awarded third place. The protest is accepted and their positions were officially swapped.
Today, however, the decision was reversed and Hamilton was stripped of all points earned in the race because either he or the team lied to stewards about what really happened. I'm still trying to wade through the reports to figure out what truly (Trulli?) happened, but even if McLaren tried to gain an advantage by stretching the truth in their telling of the story, isn't stripping them of all points a little harsh?
And ask yourself this question in all seriousness: If you replace Hamilton with Felipe Massa of Ferrari in this situation, is the same judgment handed down?
Not only that, but Vettel was handed a 10 place grid penalty for his involvement in the Kubica crash. I've heard many opinions on this from experts and fans. At best, people thought it was a 50-50 blame share, a racing incident, and at worse it was Kubica's fault (my stance). The stewards once again saw it completely differently. Again, no explanation.
This is what disgusts me about F1. There are no legislated penalties for issues like this - the penalties are handed down subjectively and without proper explanation or justification. It leaves the door open to all kind of conspiracy talk. F1 would do itself a favour by being consistent in its rulings. Alas, Bernie and Max are the ones running this circus.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
It's called Inside the Majors, and it's written by former Toronto Blue Jays Assistant General Manager Bart Given (that's a lot of CAPS). There's a tonne of great insight from a front office perspective - stuff you wouldn't see from beat reporters or other media sources.
I've added it to my Points of Interest for your to peruse, but a couple of posts that I particularly enjoyed were Second Guessing Managerial Decisions, which lifts the veil of secrecy on a Jim Fregosi "decision" from a few years ago, and You Be The GM - Travis Snider (pictured above). From the former:
After the game the media asked Fregosi about the move, and he replied with a statement along the line of “Sometimes the players make the decisions for you.”
No one presses him on it.
Well after the game, I found out the whole story.
It turns out Fregosi had no intention of hitting for Fullmer, but he never showed and none of the staff could find him in the clubhouse. I’m not sure exactly where he was, but knowing the ultra-intense Fullmer - he was likely waggling a bat somewhere working on his swing.
And from the latter:
A MLB player becomes eligible for free agency once he has amassed six full seasons of service time. If Snider breaks camp with the Blue Jays, he is on schedule to become a free agent after the 2014 season. If optioned until May 15, he wouldn’t have the ability to become a free agent until after the 2015 season. Isn’t six weeks of not having Snider in 2009 worth having him for six months in 2015?
It's rare to get such candor from a front-office type. As a fan, it's refreshing to get a look inside the nuts and bolts. Now that I've distracted you, I need to get to work on my "forecast".
Monday, March 30, 2009
I didn't do much this weekend as I was still recovering from my nasty cold, and by Sunday morning I was pretty bored with playing video games. I felt like being more passive in my couch potato-ism. The F1 did the trick in the morning, but the afternoon's television slate was filled with a triumvirate of things I don't care for: golf, basketball and NASCAR.
There was something about knowing that Tiger Woods being five shots back of the leader at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that appealed to me, however. Much like I could stand to watch basketball when Michael Jordan's Bulls were playing, Tiger is a compelling story. There's something about watching greatness at work that is attractive. Throw in the fact that he was in only his third tournament coming back from reconstructive knee surgery and you had a ready-made Hollywood script. And, of course, he delivered.
The prey on which Tiger set his sights was Shawn O'Hair, a young kid with an already impressive three PGA wins. Poor guy looked like a deer in the headlights most of Sunday though, as he was paired with Tiger and had to try and calm his nerves as an 18 wheeler bore down on him. He was only able to do so on the back nine but by that time it was too late - Tiger had caught up. Nonetheless, it all came down to Tiger's last shot, a 15-foot birdie that was as much a foregone conclusion as a dozen people yelling "GET IN THE HOLE!!" as soon as his putter hit the ball (one of my pet peeves about watching golf). It was exciting - no, it was exhilarating. You'll probably never see me write those words to describe golf again. Then again, perhaps I'll tune in again next time Tiger is hunting down an opponent.
Viewing note: The NBC coverage was brilliant. For the first time I can remember I wasn't rolling my eyes every couple of minutes during the broadcasting of a golf event. The info was relevent, and the miking up of the caddies really helped the layman understand the strategy behind golf. NBC's shot tracker was also spectacular, reminding me of the video game version of the sport and highlighting the acute skill these guys possess. One last thing about the coverage that I appreciated was that the guys in the studios weren't whispering. Nothing drove me more bonkers in the past than knowing that two guys in a studio were trying to be quiet when they weren't anywhere near the action.
An incredibly bittersweet feeling sat in the pit of my stomach as I watched and listened. Excited that F1 was back, devastated as I realized there would be no trip to see Montreal transformed into a big car festival this summer.
But then, as I surfed the net and emerged from my week-long slumber, I found a ray of hope. Turns out money can't buy you time, and the track being built in the United Arab Emirates is woefully behind schedule, and rumours were flying in Melbourne that Bernie would have to crawl back to the organizing committee of the Canadian GP to see if they could replace it with a race in November. This hasn't happened yet, but how fantastic would that be? Oh, and I fully support the stance organizers in Montreal are taking, basically saying "If you want back in, you come back for the long haul". That's right. You wanted to pound us with your stick when you had the long end, Bernie? Time for some payback.
As usual, politics off the track were threatening to overshadow the action that actually matters. Other than the Montreal talk, there were also a number of teams lodging protests against Brawn GP, the team that replaced Honda in the field, and their interpretation of the rules governing the front wing of the car. As I previously posted, many new rules were being brought into effect this season with the hope of cutting costs and leveling the playing field. Word is, however, that Brawn's offence is more against the "spirit" of the rule than any type of legality, so either the other teams will adapt or the FIA will clarify its rule: no sanctions are forthcoming against Brawn GP.
Whatever they did to that front wing, it worked! Brawn GP, using a Mercedes engine, were 1-2 in qualifying and 1-2 in the race. It was only the third time that a new entry to F1 has won the race. Jenson Button ended up beating Rubens Barrichello at the finish, and Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren Mercedes took third spot despite being denied his spot on the podium as the stewards tried to figure out how Jarno Trulli passed him under caution three laps from the finish. Ferrari were out of the points (sad, I know), and whatever wishes the FIA had for leveling the playing field, they achieved. We'll just have to see how things play out over the course of the season.
One complaint I had is despite all these rule changes promising more competition and more battles on track, the latter did not materialize. Only a few times during the race did we see true battles (and unfortunately the best one was aborted when Robert Kubica foolishly tried to run Sebastian Vettel off the track with three laps to go), and if I'm not mistaken the lead never changed hands. I don't hide my disdain for NASCAR, but they've got us beat in terms of leader changes and wondering who will come out on top.
But this day belonged to Ross Brawn, the architect of this new F1 team. He was the genius who teamed up with Michael Schumacher at Benetton and Ferrari, and moved to Honda once Schumi retired. Forced to build a team within a few months after Honda pulled out, he has assembled a winner. Such last minute was this endeavour that they only announced their title sponsor shortly before qualifying on Saturday. Richard Branson is getting into the F1 game by making Virgin the eye candy on these un-sexy cars (pictured, right). Call me brainwashed, but there's just something odd about seeing a race car that isn't plastered with sponsor liveries . Something tells me that after this weekend, sponsorship money will come rolling in. Such is the life of winners.
So here's how it works...
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For the first question, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button TWICE
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool...just type it in man!
1. Opening Credits
Pretty In Pink: The Psychedelic Furs
2. Waking Up:
Hello Dave - I Mother Earth
3. First Day at School:
Safe and Sound - Hawksley Workman
4. Falling in Love:
Fool To Cry - Rolling Stones
5. Losing Virginity:
Butterflies and Hurricanes - Muse
6. Fight Song:
In You Soul - Corey Hart
7. Breaking Up:
Things We Said Today - The Beatles
Action - Sweet
Rebel Girl - Bikini Kill
10. Mental Breakdown:
Scarlet - U2
Jizzlobber - Faith No More
Vertigo - Sarah Slean
13. Getting Back Together:
Perfect - Smashing Pumpkins
Brass In Pocket - The Pretenders
15. Birth of Child:
Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire
16. Final Battle:
Haushinka - Green Day
17. Death Scene:
Tom Sawyer - Rush
18. Funeral Song:
Eyesight to the Blind - The Who
NIB - Black Sabbath