Friday, May 28, 2010

Young Hearts Be Free Tonight!

I was just g-chatting with someone, and mentioned that my girlfriend and I were meeting up with another friend and his wife for dinner, and HOLY FUCKING SHIT I'M OLD.

Meeting up with married couples? The only way I should be meeting up with married couples is if I'm taking my parents on a senior citizen play date, you heard?

Seriously, I need to do something really young. I need to find a tire and burn it in front of a 7/11. I need to collect every traffic cone in town and put them all on a teacher's lawn. I need to read 'Atlas Shrugged' and think it's a good book.

I am going to a Yankee game, though, which is some solace. And speaking of young hearts, two news items of note:

1) Rafa advanced to the third round with another easy straight sets win. He'll take on Lleyton Hewitt next. You can see some of his press conference at that link.

2) Did you like 2009's "Joba Rules"? Then you're going to love this year's edition: Hughes Rules! Coming soon to a horribly frustrating baseball season near you!

That's all for the week. Orlando tries to make history tonight, and the Suns struggle for survival on Saturday. There may be a weekend post, or there may not. We'll see. In exciting news, Nick the Contributor has mentioned possibly writing something about Duke in the voice of Tupac Shakur. That's either going to be completely amazing or a total train wreck. I'm hoping for both.

Until next time, here are the top 5 Rod Stewart songs that will make you emotional.

5) Sailing
4) Forever Young
3) Young Turks
2) Maggie May
1) Ooh La La (only kind of a Rod Stewart song...he was in a group called The Faces, who wrote and performed it, and he covered it later in his career. This was the closing credits song in "Rushmore.")

Morning: Video Day

First, the Devils visited Obama at the White House yesterday to receive their public accolades. Back in early February, I called Obama out for using his powers to make us lose to Georgetown. Now, things have come full circle. Like the Yankee visit to the white house, Obama has a few jibes, and it's a fun watch. Thanks to Nick for the heads-up.



Second, apparently there's an official World Cup anthem. Sometime-reader Wynn, who is down in Haiti doing good work, linked me to the video, saying nobody in America knows about it. It also might be the most-played radio song worldwide. I tend to agree with his assessment: "it's really perfect and great. but terrible."



WHEN I GET OLDER, I WILL BE STRONGER!
THEY'LL CALL ME FREEDOM!
JUST LIKE A WAVVVVVING FLAG!

I'm on board with whatever emotion I'm feeling right now.

Now that you've had your fill of video, time to really crunch some words. First, Javier Vazquez is hopeless. Another game, another average fastball below 90mph. The Twins lineup just annihilated him, and they salvaged game 3 of the series 8-2. Vazquez now sports an ERA of 6.86, and it's time to admit that he's not even a competent 5th starter. Not for the Yanks. I'm not sure what the solution is, but I doubt we can afford to have what amounts to an automatic loss in every 5th game. Against the powerhouse AL teams, he's going to get crushed. He has no confidence in his fastball, for good reason, and because of that he's not even throwing consistent strikes.

Is it time to talk trade? Mitre? I don't know. But the Vazquez experiment won't end well.

It's a bad time for Vazquez to fail, too, because there was no chance the offense was bailing him out last night. Here are our run totals for the last 6 games: 2, 3, 1, 4, 3, 2. It's a combination of slumps, poor situational hitting, and pitchers who throw strikes. A-Rod has nothing to offer right now. Teix might be breaking out his slump (4 hits in the past 2 games), or it might be another false alarm. Cervelli and Gardner are coming back to Earth, like we knew they would. A lot of it amounts to bad timing and bad luck, which happens every season. We were lucky to have two great outings from AJ, Andy, and the bullpen to steal a couple from the Twins.

The good news: Granderson is back tonight. More good news: our schedule for the next month doesn't look too bad at all. It begins tonight, against Cleveland. I'll be heading up with the girlfriend and parents, and hopefully the gf can get back on track after witnessing her first ever live Yankee loss against the Rays (7-1 lifetime).

*Los Suns Los Lost. Now they have to win a home game 6 to force game 7 on the road. I can't imagine Kobe and company going down that way, but I guess stranger things have happened. Los Suns are all about la esperanza, so I'll do them the favor of not losing it yet.

*Tonight, Orlando vs. Boston. Since the NBA badly wants a Lakers-Celts match-up, they reduced one of Kendrick Perkins' technicals so he could play tonight.

*Speaking of that, I made a mistake yesterday when I said that only one team had forced a game 7 in the NBA after trailing 3-0. It's actually happened 3 times, and each time the team that came back had to play game 7 on the road. And each time, they lost. If Orlando can pull off a win tonight against the odds, they'll be the first team to come back from 3-0 and have game 7 at home.

FAX TONER CRISIS AT WORK! GOTTA GO! Later on, some more baseball chatter, probably.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

World Cup Preview, Group C

Helping us out as a guest author for the World Cup previews is noted soccer historian Emmanual Claire. He's been covering soccer for more than thirty years for various publications in an around southern Europe, and is noted worldwide for his historical and cultural approach to the game. We're pleased to welcome Mr. Claire to Seth Curry Saves Duke!, and we hope you enjoy his previews over the coming days.



GROUP C



England


The "Royal Gentlemen's Briar Pipe Brigade," as Team England likes to be called, has yet to compete in international play due to a refusal to leave their country or allow other teams in. This combination of arrogance and xenophobia has contributed to their lack of success over the past 40 years, a trend they'd like to reverse in South Africa. Though the English managed a World Cup victory in '66 by intimidating other players with such deprecating phrases as "poor form, sport" and "boring play, rather," they haven't come close in the decades since. A large part of their recent failure stems from being the last team in the world to insist that each player must descend from nobility. By strict adherence to this rather class-conscious bylaw, England misses out on a large pool of middle and lower income talent. But they've made an exception of sorts this year; midfielder Lawrence Stein comes from a wealthy Dover family, he is not nobility, and the team's media guide refers to him as "England's first Israelite footballer." Though Stein was poorly received at first, he has endeared himself to the British faithful by expressing a hatred of the poor, immigrants, Catholics, Scots, and "those who would impugn the crown."


USA


From Nebraska to Florida to New Hampshire, the US National team has assembled the very best athletes from the pool of males who were not good enough to play for their high school football team. A ragtag bunch, these soccer stars command very little respect inside or outside their border. Within America, they're known as also-rans, purveyors of a second-tier sport where nobody can score a goal and 90% of matches end in a tie. Outside America, they're known as enthusiastic-yet-feckless bench jockeys on the handful of Premiership teams who annually face relegation. Yet since soccer depends mostly on luck and the caprice of bad referees, Team USA has a 50/50 chance to win any individual match. In an interesting bit of whimsy, team captain Lyle Mansfield once spent ten hours wearing another person's glasses.


Algeria


After a long and confusing war for independence with France, Algeria is asserting its sovereign status in high style this summer. When they descend on South Africa, each player will be wearing a native headdress made from cormorant feathers painted with Turkish blood, and will be required to keep it on at all hours. Though intimidating, the adornment can become cumbersome during matches, where the 20 pounds of additional weight can lead to fatigue and slothful play. However, it gives the team a crucial sense of identity in a world that does not seem to accept them. The African National Congress, in an official statement, noted that Algeria "is definitely not part of Africa." The European Union, when asked if the nation belongs to their continent, responded with a resounding "fuck no." Even the usually inclusive Mediterranean Sea seemed unenthused: "Eh. Technically, I guess...I mean, I don't know. It's not...I'm not in a rush to hang out, you know?" Several independent atlases confirm that Algeria is located on the Mediterranean in Northern Africa.


Slovenia


When the former Czech Republic broke up near the end of the Vietnam War, two independent countries were formed: Czechoslovakia and Slovenia. Since they could no longer be called 'Czechs,' the people of Slovenia had to choose a new name. After a national poll, 'Slovines' was selected. Unfortunately, they neglected to notice that the name rhymed with 'bovine,' a word which means 'cow-like.' Soon enough, the world was referring pejoratively to the 'bovine Slovines,' who are, unfortunately, one of the more obese nations on Earth. President Armen Basiljian decided that it would look cowardly to change the name, so he ordered the populace to embrace the cow comparison. For that reason, the Slovenian national team will be wearing black and white spotted uniforms, complete with a tail and small udders extending from the underside of their shorts. Though off-putting at first, it allows for a wonderful goal celebration wherein the scorer lifts his leg while teammates pretend to milk him into a bucket. Dear, dear Slovenia. Clever to the last.

Bring Two for the Sandman, a Break for the Suns

I'm pretty proud of that post title, in case you were wondering. Which is a little piece of positivity I'll be clinging to, because the more I look at it, the less clever it seems. (It's a reference to the Cat Stevens song, by the by.) And now, seconds later, the 'pretty proud' stuff looks sort of pathetic. Uh-oh...I'm having a self-esteem crisis in the first paragraph. Rescue me, Yusef Islam:


That's one minute of music I could listen to about 800 times in a row.

So. Two for the Sandman. That's two saves in a single day for the Everlasting Mariano, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. And it's not the first time he's managed the feat; in fact, it's the sixth. He even did it in two stadiums once, in a subway series doubleheader on July 28, 2000, which must be the only time that's ever happened.

I was at a play in the Village last night ("Our Town" at the Barrow St. Theatre, which I highly recommend to New York readers), but my stepfather called almost as soon as I'd stepped out and told me I missed the best game of the year. Andy was awesome, going 8 innings in just 94 pitches, and working out of several jams along the way. Kevin Russo came up with two huge hits and was responsible for two of the three Yankee runs, and Swishalicious hit a game-winning no-bullshit absolute bomb in the top of the 9th with two outs. It seems I missed a good one.

In the first game, resumed from Monday's suspended action, Jeter's sixth-inning home run was the difference in a 1-0 win. He also made one of his trademark jump throws to help Robertson out of a jam in the bottom half of that inning.

Here's something interesting: both times the Yanks made their first visit to new Minnesota stadiums (Metropolitan Stadium in 1961 and the Metrodome in 1982), they earned a 3-game sweep. Tomorrow, they go for the trifecta at Target Field. Which, by the way, seems like a really great place.

Moving on to hoops:

Orlando is pretty close to making NBA history. Trailing 3-0, they've clawed back to 3-2, and only have to steal one more win in Boston to earn a game 7 at home. Only one team in history has ever even pushed a series to game 7 from a 3-0 deficit, and no team has won the series.

In some sense, Orlando has already forced game 7. The theory here is that game 6, in Boston, is basically game 7. If the Celts lose, they'll have no momentum, no confidence, and seemingly no chance to salvage the series in Florida. In addition, it looks like Kendrick Perkins will face a one-game suspension for reaching a playoff technical foul limit (7). That's a huge deal for a team whose strategy thus far has been to throw a lot of bodies at Dwight Howard. To add injuries to insult, Glen Davis took a concussion from a Dwight Howard elbow and Rasheed Wallace has a tweaked back. That leaves only one option for the Celts at center:

THE LANDLORD!


Do us proud, Shelden! I hope Game 6 somehow comes down to a duel between he and Redick (impossible), and right before JJ hits the game-winning shot, he looks right at his former teammate and goes "you know what, Shelden? I never liked you."

Swish.

Seriously, though, it will take a gritty effort from Boston to win what looked like a gimme series. Much as I despise them, gritty is what they do best. But Orlando smells blood, and history, and they will be looking for a knock-out punch. Game 6 might be one of the best games of the year.

*Tonight, game 5 between Phoenix and LA happens. My friend Spike is a lifelong Laker hater, and is convinced that Los Suns will break everyone's heart by winning game 5, elevating the hopes of a nation, and then blowing the last two. Keep an eye on that.

Miscellaneous:

*The Red Sox swept the Rays, who may be coming back to Earth. I'm gonna steal some content from my message board, without credit (all I know is that the poster's name is "Aeromac") or shame, and without editing:

RPI, SOS.

The Yankees have played opponents with combined winning % of .518. That is the third toughest schedule in the game to start the season thus far. Due to that, the RPI (opposition winning % weighted) of the Yankees is 0.536. To boot, TB, everybody's darling, is .539, and TB's opposition winning % is .476, the worst opposition winning % in baseball. Boston has had the toughest schedule in baseball.
In other words, TB is good, but if you look closely, all they have done is trample bad teams for two months. Now they should do that, but unless everyone expects them to play .650 against the Yankees, Sox, Detroit and Minnesota the rest of the way, I have two words for you, Market Correction.

And by the way looking at injuries and ineffectiveness and SOS, and how all of that will turn, it might just show that Boston is still the more worrisome foe than Tampa.

My only qualm with that is that Tampa's starting pitching will probably be pretty awesome regardless of who they're playing. But they certainly didn't show it against Boston, so who knows?

*Ubaldo Jimenez is 9-1 with a 0.88 ERA. Even in the NL West, that's kinda nuts.

*Rafa admitted to nerves during his first round match. It's raining in Paris, but he's set to take on Argentina's Horacio Zaballos in the 5th match on Chatrier today.

World Cup nonsense later. June's around the bend. 211.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fleet Week is Here

Every year, the US Naval fleet (or some of its larger boats, at least) docks in New York and unleashes swarms of white-clad sailors on New York. This is a difficult period where the young ladies of the city spend a week either swooning or pretending not to swoon. As my girlfriend put it, "ah yes, Fleet Week...where a ton of guys are made exponentially cuter by uniforms. I like Fleet Week."

It's tough to be a straight civilian dude during Fleet Week. Not only do the sailors have massive lady status because of their uniforms, but they've also presumably been around the world fighting wars. So they're better looking and tougher, and probably more stoic, too. I've been to Yankee games during Fleet Week before, and the crowd always goes nuts when they show the sailors on the big screen.

Typically, I spend about ten seconds appreciating the contributions of these young men before resenting them with all my heart.

In an effort to assert my masculinity, I've worn sailor suits during past Fleet Weeks. Unfortunately, they were the kind with shorts and a bow tie that my mom used to dress me up in as a baby, and weren't effective at wooing the fairer sex. Luckily, with a steady girlfriend, I can avoid this embarrassment and just keep wearing my gay cop uniform.

Anyway, I hope the power of the Navy can help the Yanks turn things around against Cleveland. That series starts Friday. In the meantime, the Twins game suspended last night resumes at 5pm, featuring brief, hilarious appearances from the Yankee bullpen. Then we finish the mini double-header with tonight's regularly scheduled game at 8. Andy will be taking on Liriano, the AL's pitcher of the month for April. Personally, I will be at a production of "Our Town" in the West Village. Sometimes that's just how you gotta roll.

Federer made third round in straight sets earlier this morning, and Orlando tries to win a home game later tonight. See y'all tomorrow.

Vamonos Los Suns!


Okay, I'll watch at least one full NBA game this year. The Suns evened their western conference finals series with the Lakers yesterday, riding a hot bench to a 115-106 win.

I don't want to say much about this, primarily because I spent a couple posts last week talking about how the NBA is no fun, and secondarily because I still think the Lakers will win in 6 or 7 games. But man, imagine if Phoenix steals game 5 in LA...

The NBA is currently in total "imagine if" mode. This is not the best place to be; it happens when the depressing normal result (Boston vs. LA) seems really likely, and all you can say is "imagine if Orlando came all the way back" or "imagine if Phoenix took down the Laker juggernaut." Then we'd all be partying in the streets, man. Count on that.

Time for a new Seth Curry Saves Duke! feature:


DRINKING & DRIVING!




&


Have you been wondering at the whereabouts of former Yankee pitcher and total bust Hideki Irabu? Well, he's in LA, drinking and driving.

This has been:

DRINKING & DRIVING!



That was fun.

Other stuff: the Yanks played five scoreless innings with the Twins last night before rain suspended the game. They'll finish tonight at 5pm eastern before playing their second game at 7, assuming the first finishes in time. AJ looked good, the offense looked terrible. Now, our bullpen will have to go four innings against Mauer, Morneau and company. The Yankee win probability is somewhere in Mexico, drinking itself stupid, eyeballing a woman it doesn't know is 57 years old, and ignoring text messages.

It's raining in France right now, but Rafa advanced to the second round with ease yesterday, dropping a triple deuce (6-2 6-2 6-2) on some unfortunate Frenchman. Roddick survived in five sets, but all indications are that he won't be long for the clay. And on the other side of the draw, all the favorites are advancing, including Robin Soderling. Federer is waiting for the skies to clear before starting his second round match.

Oh, hey, this was cool: in 2014, Giants Stadium will host the first ever cold-weather outdoor superbowl! I really hope it snows. And I hope some lame-o indoor team like the Colts get their arses kicked by the Giants because Peyton Manning can't move his hands.

Morning has broken. Wednesday just got real.

215.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Don't Eat Candy, Chips, or Chocolate At Work

This is obvious. It just shouldn't be done. It's a very momentary pleasure followed by an afternoon of feeling like crap until you can leave work and exercise. And yet, here I am, fresh off consuming two-thirds of a sour patch watermelon container, dealing with a low-level headache and the general lethargy of a sweets hangover. Idiocy!

The worst part is that before I leave, I'm going to throw the rest of the candy out or give it away to prevent myself from eating it tomorrow. I'm really big on teaching myself lessons in advance. When I make my sandwich for lunch the night before, I'll refrain from adding mayonnaise or mustard in order to keep my tomorrow-self free from the fat of condiments. But when I take the sandwich from the fridge around noon the next day, I'm always pissed at my last-night-self for being such a stingy dick. And so I'll give in to the temptation and buy a bag of sun chips or sneak into one of the manager's offices to help myself to four miniature Snickers bars. If only future-Shane was as steadfast as present-Shane, I'd probably be some kind of American sex icon.*

*Highly likely.

To be fair, I've been getting better at this. But it still pisses me off around 3pm when I realize that instead of sticking to my normal lunch, I caved and created "extra" food to work off. My yoga class could have been all bonus, I think, all weight loss and wellness gain. Instead, I'm contorting my body and sweating gallons of weight just to work off the corn-syrupy sugar concoctions shaped and colored like a tiny watermelon wedge.

On that note, not a day goes by when I don't thank God I'm not a girl. I would have so many body issues that I would have gone nuts by the time I was fifteen. I'm not sure whether I'd have ended up emaciated and bird-like, pecking at pieces of mueslix, or bloated to 900 pounds, stuck on a couch and waiting to be air-lifted, but definitely one of the two. Either way, I'd be on Oprah for sure.

And in this way, we can understand the plight of the Phoenix Suns, who...

Just kidding, I don't have a sports connection to this. Except that it's time for this aging dude to get healthy. I was motivated by reading Drew Magary's piece on his public humiliation diet yesterday, and while I'm not quite at the chunkster level of his before picture, I could stand to drop twenty pounds. Like Drew, I have no problem exercising on a consistent basis. It's the eating!

That being said, I'm going to follow his example and list my fighting weight at the bottom of every morning post. It'll just be a number. As of this morning, I clocked in at 216 (I'm 6'1"). The goal is 195. It's on, baby! Target date is July 4th, when I will hopefully celebrate my independence from weight that I put on during the second semester of my junior year at college, and have never shed (except for a short period four years ago when I had mono and didn't have full meals for a good two months...but that's cheating).

So. 216.

Morning: I Hope the Off Day Worked

The Yankees spent yesterday in Minneapolis, which the city's tourism bureau claims is "a progressive destination with a dynamic vibe and a whirlwind of creative energy."

Here is a list of the struggling Yankees, and the things they might have done in Minneapolis yesterday.

Mark Teixeira: Visited the Mary Tyler Moore statue downtown.


Benefit: Renewed his optimism and zest for life, and gave him a new mantra: you can turn the world on with your smile. His old mantra was "give me any chance, I'll take it!" from the theme song to Laverne & Shirley.

Derek Jeter: Said a prayer in the Basilica of St. Mary


Benefit: As the first basilica ever built in America (1907), St. Mary's is the patron church of baseball, the first game invented in America. It's been known to increase a ballplayer's BABIP by up to 40 points. Joe Mauer has his own pew inside.

Joba Chamberlain: Picked up 16 year-old girls in the Mall of America


Benefit: Joba's tricks don't work on NYC girls. But get him in the world's biggest shopping mall, and the dude is in his element. Back to basics is the name of his game, and that translates to the mound.

Brett Gardner: Ran across the Spoonbridge & Cherry sculpture


Benefit: A "whimsical sculpture" and a "Minneapolis icon," this Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen piece is known to bestow the gift of 90 stolen bases on anyone brave enough to cross its bowed handle. Gardner went even further, reaching the very tip of the cherry. Meanwhile, Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek were still holding a baseball and trying to stand up from a defensive crouch somewhere in St. Paul.

Other things in sports:

*Rafael Nadal plays his first round match at Roland-Garros later this morning. And I just found out I'm going to have to miss the final next Sunday! If only I knew how to tape things...

*Andy Roddick is currently in the 5th set of his first round match against Jarkko Nieminen. Nobody expected America's top gun to go very far on clay, but a first round exit would be pretty surprising regardless. Especially to a villain from the Die Hard movies.

*The Magic avoided the sweep in Boston with an OT victory last night. They need to win three in a row to overcome the 3-0 deficit, but two of those games would be at home. I don't think it's going to happen, but it does make things awfully interesting; a 3-0 comeback has never happened in the NBA, but the Magic are the higher seed, and need to steal just one win on the road...stay tuned.

*The Red Sox are starting to click into gear, having won 3 straight against the Phillies and Rays. Buccholz and Lester are throwing particularly well, and the lineup is producing runs against strong pitching. Sadly, what looked like a nice Yankee lead has dwindled to 2 games with our recent woes, and the AL East has turned into a 4-horse race. Should make for an interesting June.

*Flyers and Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup. Every year, I hope for two things in hockey. First, I hope that the Stanley Cup Finals will come down to a 7th game, and that there will be overtime in that game. Second, I hope a team from Boston or Philadelphia doesn't win. This could either be a very good or very bad hockey year, by my standards. Go 'Hawks!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Here's a Video or Two

When the historians are researching the history of my blog years from now, today will not be known as "the golden age." The golden age will be the day I post 1,000 pictures of myself re-enacting Derek Jeter's legal battle to keep Florida as his tax shelter. It will be like a Yankee version of Law & Order, except without sound or moving images.

Until then, here's a video I made with some friends a while back. It has a Kinks song. I'm not in it.


If that didn't ruin your day, here's another one I am in, for a brief moment when I'm getting murdered by a picnic table. I made this one with my siblings.


Tomorrow I'm going to talk about sports, I swear.

Team Overboard!

Well, we lost to the Mets. The season is over. Time to roll out the tarp, put the bats in the bag, and take a slow boat to the Caribbean.

At least that's how it feels to Yankee nation at the moment. This happened last year, too, when we dropped 2 of 3 to the Nationals in DC. In fact, it seems to happen every year. Most of the time it's an over-reaction, and I tend to think that's the case this time around, too. Nevertheless, it was another ugly series. The offense, baseball's best throughout April, took another series off, scoring 1, 3, and 4 runs, respectively. Oddly enough, only 4 of those 8 runs came before the eighth inning, and 0 of them came before the 6th. It's almost like the collective sense of urgency doesn't kick in until late in the game, when the idea of a loss becomes real. And most of the time, it's too late.

The Good:

1) Granderson is due back in about a week. We need his bat, and his glove, and his speed, and his keep-Randy-Winn-on-the-bench-iness.

2) Aside from last night, A-Rod's power seems to have emerged from under the April veil.

3) Vazquez has now looked pretty solid in two straight starts.

4) Robbie Cano is back in business, with a 7-game hitting streak.

The Bad:

1) CC has reverted back to his usual early season funkiness, struggling in his last few outings.

2) AJ, Hughes, and Andy have all had a taste of the cool-off, which was to be expected.

3) Jeter and Gardner are slumping, though El Capitan seems to be fighting his way to the surface.

The Ugly:

1) The Bullpen

2) Mark Teixeira

'Nuff said.

Tonight, the Empire State Building will be lit up in blue and orange. I encourage Mets fan to enjoy this moment. They caught us in the midst of an offensive slump, coming off three tough series in a row (Minnesota, Boston, Tampa), and did just enough to win. I'm not pleased, but I'm not upset. The Yankee schedule looks significantly nicer in the coming month. After a 3-game set in Minnesota, we take on Cleveland, Baltimore, Toronto, Baltimore, and Houston, in that order. If we can't right the ship over those 16 games, then maybe I'll start to worry.

Still, dropping 6 of 8 is no fun. After the much needed off-day, AJ will try to hoist the black mainsail and catch a fair Minneapolis wind off the upper Mississippi. Two of three wins in Twin-land would be an ideal way to set out on a three week trip through (what should be) calm waters.

It's Maritime Monday. Ship ahoy, and see if you can get the photo connection below.

Friday, May 21, 2010

New York Mets: Good For What Ails You

Don't have a ton of time to post this afternoon, so let's hit five quick points.

1) Tampa proved a point.

2) My girlfriend saw her first Yankee loss (7-1 lifetime).

3) Thank God we're playing the Mets.

4) Thank God we're playing the Mets.

5) Put it in the books!!!



Amazing video...the Mets fan thought something good had happened to him.

This weekend, I have the chance to cement my legacy as one of the top amateur athletes in Brooklyn history by winning a 3 on 3 basketball tournament on Saturday and repeating as Prospect Cup football champions on Sunday.

I can think of nothing else to add. Have a great weekend.

Morning: Why Duke Will Not Repeat

Today's post is by Nick, official SCSD! basketball correspondent. You can read more of his stuff here:

-The Duke Offseason Report
-Duke is the best team in the NBA
-The Roy Williams take-down
-The 'Zombie Singler' Theorem
-Duke-WVU Final Four Preview

I should note that the title of this morning's blog is how Nick pitched the article to me. The actual title when he sent it was "Why Duke Won't Be As Good." GO EXTREME, YOUNG MAN!


Why Duke Will Not Repeat


Wow, this is awesome. Duke is returning their two best players (averaging over 34 PPG together last year), each of whom have a decent shot at taking NPOY honors as seniors. In addition, they’re finally bringing an elite, pass-first point guard the likes of which they haven’t seen since Shaun Livingston bolted to the draft. They also bring in a very highly regarded forward. They have a sophomore that seems ready to break out after a promising freshman season. Sure they lose a great senior guard, but they’ll still be starting mostly juniors and seniors, with just a few key new faces to fill out the gaps. We’ll undoubtedly start the season ranked number 1 and ride it all the way to the championship. Right?

Wrong. The scenario above refers to the 2006 Duke Blue Devils, who lost in the sweet 16 to LSU. That team had Shelden and JJ both coming back for senior seasons, while losing Daniel Ewing. In addition, they had one of the highest ranked PGs in the country coming in Greg Paulus. Don’t forget the plethora of role players: Lee Melchionni the 3 pt specialist, Dockery the defensive stopper, Demarcus Nelson the breakout sophomore, McBob the athletic white guy with hops and a series of players with potential (Martynas Pocius the slasher, Jamal Boykin the California Mr. Basketball, and the giant beast Eric Boateng). Remember this?


As we found out, that team had weaknesses. Paulus couldn’t create off the dribble and was a liability on defense. There was no third scorer. There was no depth in the frontcourt after the Landlord and McBob. The lack of depth made them susceptible to truly athletic teams that could harass the passing lanes and press on D.

I’m not here to go all doomsday on ya. In fact, I do believe that Duke has the best chance to win the whole thing next year. My only point is that while it seems trite and obvious, nothing is guaranteed in college basketball. This is especially true in today’s game; as Jay Bilas pointed out on Simmons’ podcast, 20 years ago you always knew who the best 5 teams were going to be before the season. Players stayed four years, so you had a better handle on what each team was going to put on the floor. These days, there are too many variables. How talented are these incoming freshmen? How long will it take for teams to find the right chemistry and for players to learn their roles? How will players develop over the season, and how will the team adapt to take advantage of those new strengths?

Without futher ado, here are the reasons Duke cannot win a national championship.

1) Jon Scheyer. Forget for a second his team-leading 18 PPG we won’t have. The biggest thing we’ll miss is his smart play and care of the basketball. He only coughed up the ball 65 times in 40 games, while handling it on almost every possession. Don’t think for a second that his care of the basketball didn’t directly lead to higher defensive efficiency numbers; by putting the ball in the right place he limited fast breaks for the other team while also orchestrating one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

For all the hoopla about Kyrie Irving, even if everything goes perfectly for him it’s going to be very difficult to put up those kinds of numbers. Let’s go overboard and say definitively that he is the second coming of Jay Williams. As a freshman, Jay averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 assists to 4.1 TO, and 4.2 rebounds. The Crafty Jew? 18.2 PPG, 3.6 APG to 1.6 TO and 4.9 REB. While certainly less flashy, ’10 Scheyer scored more, had a better AST/TO ratio, rebounded better, shot the 3 (.383 to .354) and free throws (.878 to .685) better than the legend Kyrie is supposed to emulate as a freshman. Believe it or not, we’re almost certainly taking a step down at the point in terms of production.

2) Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are not upgrades over Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Let’s start with Nolan – yes he made a huge jump last year, getting more aggressive and raising his PPG from 8.4 to 17.4. That said, he also hoisted over twice as many shots and his PPS actually went down from 1.24 to 1.22. I’m not going to say he was less efficient; he certainly got to the line more (twice as often last year as the year before), and dished more dimes than he did two years ago. Also, by taking a bigger part of the offense he also had the responsibility to take some of the worse shots, whereas the year before he only had to take shots he knew he could make and leave the rest for Gerald, Kyle and Jon. My only point is that right now I think we know what we’re going to get.

The same is true for Kyle. He’s increased his stats incrementally and steadily over three years, but he’s also taken a bigger role in the offense every year. One of the reasons he decided to stay is that his draft stock isn’t going to change; like Tyler Hansborough, he’s a known commodity and he might as well enjoy another year in college and take another shot at the title. Next year has a weaker draft anyway, with so many bolting this year. He is what he is (which is great), but there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement.

3) How will the Plumtrees compare to Zoubek and Lance? This is by far the biggest question mark for next year. Lance was an all-ACC defender that could defend 3 positions, and Zou was the best screener and offensive rebounder in the NCAA last year. While certainly the big 3 were the engine, they would have gone nowhere without the play of these seniors down the stretch. Remember, we had a similar big 3 two years ago in Gerald, Jon and Kyle but got trounced by Villanova. Z and LT didn’t fill the stat sheet, but they were almost perfect role players and did all the dirty work asked of them.

I’m excited about Miles and Mason. Both have great athletic ability and baseline to baseline speed for big men, which should be more on display next year with a faster game plan. Miles took a huge jump between his freshman and sophomore season, and Mason did very well despite his early development been taken away with a wrist injury in the beginning of the season. However neither is a top quality defender and both have trouble getting called for fouls. It’s also unknown how they will take on a leadership role. In his exit interview, Lance said in practice the bigs almost came to blows in fighting for rebounds. Will the Plumlees bring that same intensity to practice? Will they follow in the seniors’ example and bang with Ryan Kelly and newcomer Josh Hairston? All I’m gonna say is filling those shoes will be at the upper level of reasonable expectation.

4) The field. As we all know about the NCAA tournament, it’s almost completely decided by matchups. I think it’s fair to say that in every game in the ’10 tourney Duke played at or above their average ability. Remember, this team did lose to NC State and Ga Tech and got trounced by G’Town before putting it all together in the dance. Will that be true next year, or will they lay an egg like the ’09 team did against Villanova? Also, what other teams are going to emerge over the season, and will their strengths blow up our weaknesses? No matter who you are, the tournament is fickle business (See: Kentucky, Kansas and Syracuse 2010).

The reasons why next years’ team will be better have been discussed ad nauseam. They’ll play at a dominating pace, they bring back the most talent and have a very deep bench (including some transfer from Liberty whose name I can’t remember) (ed note: we're looking into it...). Even if Duke is the team most likely to win, they are not even close to being a higher favorite than the Field. We’ll have a great season, but any time you expect a national championship more than likely you set yourself up for disappointment.

Kind of a downer, sorry. Here’s some fun news: turns out Greivis Vasquez is a Duke fan!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

World Cup Preview, Group B

Helping us out as a guest author for the World Cup previews is noted soccer historian Emmanual Chase. He's been covering soccer for more than thirty years for various publications in an around southern Europe, and is noted worldwide for his historical and cultural approach to the game. We're pleased to welcome Mr. Chase to Seth Curry Saves Duke!, and we hope you enjoy his previews over the coming days.



GROUP B



Argentina


Known and beloved around South America as the region's only musical team, the Argentines are likely to have a "score" of surprises up their collective sleeve come June. Many have speculated that the squad will unleash a series of Michael Jackson medleys throughout their matches, while others insist that the showstopping 11 will be performing adaptations from Andrew Lloyd Webber productions. Whatever the case, it's sure to be an exciting time. In South American qualification, Argentina finished second, scoring big with 16 goals in 6 matches and a flurry of British invasion numbers that wowed fans and opponents alike. Their slow, melancholic version of The Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" was particularly impressive, and they owe their semifinal victory to a rousing rendition of "Here Comes Your Man" by The Pixies, which resulted in 3 goals. While the team's vocal chops are not to be doubted, some have expressed concern about their dancing, which can be sloppy, uninspiring, and even cliche. Team choreographer Esteban Sanibel nearly lost his life when a molotov cocktail exploded inside his Buenos Aires apartment in the aftermath of the team's loss to Brazil. In South Africa, the country will be looking for much more than the usual pirouettes, scissor hands, and dramatic finger snapping that has defined Sanibel's reign.


Nigeria


Controversy has surrounded Nigeria in the past three months, as international observers claim that several members of the team actually hail from neighboring Niger. While FIFA officials have had difficulty proving the accusations (birth certificates from both countries have notoriously sloppy handwriting, and the players themselves, when confronted, engage in confusing wordplay that only muddles the issue), the stain on the country's reputation has stuck. Still, spirits remain high in the Nigerian camp, where striker Bdele M'Bato leads a group of men determined to overcome the embarrassment of World Cup 2006, when four different players (including M'Bato) became entangled in the net during a match against France. By the time they were extracted by local volunteers, France had scored seven goals and effectively ended Nigeria's hopes. In a gesture of protest, Nigerian fishermen chose not to use nets for the next six months, resulting in widespread starvation. Things promise to be different this time around, as each Nigerian has been outfitted with small scissors that can cut through the white netting to be used in South Africa.


Korea Republic


In an effort to avoid confusion among western viewers, Korea Republic's announced last week that their uniforms will feature a caption beneath the team logo that reads "The Good Korea." Frustratingly, the North Koreans responded by adding their own captions that say "Truly the Good Korea." It's reminiscent of the deceptive way the communist North Koreans named their country "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea," while the real democratic part of Korea does not have that word in their country name at all. When you add in the fact that both teams have the same coach, German legend Wolfgang Prock, they become almost impossible to distinguish. But on the field, the South Koreans are a vastly superior squad, having won the Pan-Asian tournament in the run-up to South Africa. The North Koreans, most of whom have never played soccer in their lives, won something called the Pen-Asian tournament, which was fabricated whole cloth by supreme leader Kim-Jong Il, and was only recognized by FIFA due to a clerical error. "It would be much better for my team without the North Koreans," conceded coach Prock. He then quickly changed shirts and continued. "At the same time, I am convinced that the blood of North Korean martyrs will water the streets of Johannesburg!"


Greece


It's official: for the first time in history, a national soccer team will be sponsored by a film. Lacking income, the Greeks were forced last month to accept an offer of uniforms, cash, and transportation funds from Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of the woeful "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." As of yesterday, head coach Slavos Panathaikalos was still despondent about the choice. "It is not ideal," he told reporters. "And yet, without her sponsorship, we would not be coming to the World Cup. We were forced to accept." His eyes began to water as he went on. "Still, it is difficult for me to look on these uniforms with anything but disgust." Panathaikalos was referring to the newly unveiled jerseys of the Greek team, which feature a large, hideous photo of Vardalos in a wedding dress, smiling grotesquely and waving her hands as though something hysterical has just befallen her. The numbers on the back of the jerseys have been rendered in a font that looks like wedding cake. "It would not be so bad," said midfielder Adamos Artemis, "if she were not always around the camp, grabbing us in suggestive places and whispering truly revolting things about her...you know." Artemis refused to elaborate, but nodded quickly when a reporter asked if he was referring to the actress' vagina. Later that day, he could be seen hiding in a thicket of cypress while Vardalos rode by on a segway, wearing a transparent white robe that fluttered open in the wind and revealed no trace of undergarments.

Morning: The Bronx Mauling

Well, that was disgusting.


The Rays came to town, threw out their worst starting pitcher, and proved why they're the current best team in baseball. They made AJ look like a piece of soggy toast, and our bullpen look like...an even soggier bread product. At a certain point, I cued up "Deadliest Catch" on my laptop and glanced up once in a while just to see if the Rays would get double digits.

My excuses:

*This team is injury cursed. Posada woke up and found out he has a broken foot (DL, 3-4 weeks), Marcus Thames actually stepped on his own bat and aggravated an ankle injury, Swish is out, Granderson is out. Nick Johnson is done for the year.

*Randy Winn keeps coming up in pressure situations. Seriously, it's defied logic. Every time we need a big hit, that gaunt motherfucker pussy-foots up wearing his little frown and mentally preparing to fail. I HATE RANDY WINN.

*Derek Jeter is playing like Randy Winn. .180 in the month of May, and he's a ground-out machine. Frustrating. Our 8-9-1 order is Miranda, Winn, Jeter. After Thames got hurt, Ramiro Pena took the 7-spot. Black hole sun, won't you come...and wasshhhh away the rain.

*AJ, as always, is a flip-the-coin pitcher. He's great or he's terrible, with very little in-between. A lot of times, it happens in the same game. Last night, he gave up 6 runs in 4 innings and then looked almost dominant for three innings, taking us two outs into the seventh.

*At that point, it was 6-2, and I made this message board post:

"I'm having trouble seeing how our pen will hold the Rays under 10 runs. This one is about to get ugly."

As I discussed with my pal Spike yesterday, negative predictions are always really disheartening when they come true. When you make them, you still have that speck of hope that things will turn out okay, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And when the worst comes to pass, it just confirms the pessimism.

The point being, our bullpen is a disaster. We're carrying 13 pitchers, and aside from Mariano and 4 starters, the other 8 seem to be completely incompetent.

We better win tonight. Yesterday's win was a statement from the Rays. Excuses aside, they took a reeling team and battered them into the ground. That's what a great club does. The Yanks have a surprising record for all their problems, which comes down to starting pitching and unexpected greatness from Cervelli and Gardner, but we're a leaky ship, and we're running out of patches. We're already starting to see our starters go through a cold spell, and if we can't find a good solution for all the bumps and bruises, we'll find ourselves out of the wild card position by July 1, if not sooner. And if Tampa wins tonight, the 2-game sweep will be complete and a harsh message will be sent: the division is theirs to take.

But what solution exists? People get hurt. It's nobody's fault. Bad luck and age happen to everyone. And as YES announcer Michael Kay pointed out last night, the Yanks are reduced to having their "depth" (guys that should be spot substitutes, at best) in the regular starting lineup.

Good news:

*Teixeira and A-Rod are starting to bash. There's nothing quite like A-Rod when he's in the zone, and we're just about there.

*Cano may be coming out of his horrible slump. He's 6-10 in the last 2 games, with 3 doubles and 4 RBI. That ends a miserable 13-61 stretch (.213) that began on May 1st and threatened to bring his .400 April batting average all the way down to .300.

*I'll be at the game tonight with my girlfriend. She's been to 6 or 7 Yankee games, and they've yet to lose when she's at the Stadium.

*No matter what happens tonight, we have an inter-league series with the Mets starting on Friday. Thank. God. I don't care if Vazquez is pitching, or if Randy comes up with the bases loaded 10 times in a row; we won't lose 2 of 3 to the Mets. What a horrendous franchise. If we sweep them, it might be the end of Jerry Manuel.

On to whimsy: some mornings on the way to work, I hear this commercial on the radio and can't stop laughing. My girlfriend absolutely hates me for it. The voice belongs to Brad Benson, a former Giants offensive lineman and current car dealership owner.


Something about the immaturity of the joke, combined with his totally unironic voice, just tickles my funny bone.

Last point: a lot of bizarre things happen in sports, but if Delonte West was actually screwing Lebron James' mom, it will take the cake. I mean...wow. I don't believe it for a second, but in the off chance that it's true, it would be the strangest story ever.

World Cup stuff this afternoon.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More Reasons the NBA Sucks

What follows is compiled from a conversation between myself and Carrie, and follows up on this morning's anti-NBA rant.

Other reasons the NBA might suck:

*There's no interpersonal drama- the great players are great, the workhorses work, and there's nothing scrappy or inspiring about the division of labor. In a game not specifically designed for different roles, like football, this can seem repressing. Some degree of interchangeability gives the game its democratic, unpredictable allure, and this has all but vanished in the assembly line structure of an NBA team.

*There are no surprises- you'll rarely see an unsung player do something spectacular.

*The star player are anointed from a very young age. Unlike football or basketball, there's not much struggle associated with a superstar's ascension. As such, they're products of hype- more egotistical, more entitled, more streamline, and far, far less interesting. They've been buoyed by yes-men all their lives, and many are uneducated- both in an academic sense, and a school-of-hard-knocks sense. Of all American NBA stars, Kobe Bryant is the only personality Carrie and I found to be even a little compelling. Give me wackos like Manny Ramirez and A-Rod any day of the week.

*Slam dunks have saturated our culture to the point that they're comically overrated. ESPN tries to sell each "monster jam" highlight as if it's some stunning feat of dominance and spectacle, when really, we're bored, and have been for years. I remember watching a slam dunk contest with my friend Brandon in high school, and after each supposedly amazing jam, and the oohs and aahs of the crowd, we looked at each other and wondered what we were missing.

People who love slam dunks passionately are like people who think home run derbies are the best part of baseball. I cease to give a shit very quickly that Josh Hamilton can hit a ball 450 feet when a batting practice pitcher is grooving 60mph fastballs, and I feel similarly about dunks. At this point, they just emphasize the brute nature of a game that has lost most of the grace and subtlety that once existed in the NBA, and still does at the college and high school level.

*On a similar note, the more we become attenuated to the hype, and the less it affects us, the more the league and the media drum it up. It's like an annoying ad for Froot Loops: leave me alone, Toucan Sam. I'm not a child, and I won't eat your saccharine sugar balls.

I know I expressed sympathy for Cleveland after their desperate musical plea for Lebron to stay, but honestly, they should be punished for having a building-sized poster of him spreading his arms like Jesus beneath the "we are all witnesses" slogan. Witnesses to what? Nike's hype machine, and zero championships. It's sadly, dismally appropriate that the sign will become a symbol of self-loathing for Cleveland when he leaves. They bought into a storyline that was empty; a hyperbolic commercial endeavor designed to pick their pockets. And Cleveland's pockets are not very deep.

*It goes on for fucking EVER.

On this last point, Carrie and I decided that at least hockey has learned its place. I can go weeks without having any clue about which teams have advanced or who's playing for the Stanley Cup or when exactly it might happen. If I'm interested, I have to actively seek that information. I don't even think the games are on channels I get anymore. But you can't go five minutes without hearing about the NBA playoffs. It's constantly in your face, and I personally like basketball enough that I keep hoping there will come a time when the highest incarnation of the game doesn't suck. So the disappointment is omnipresent, lingering to frustrate me well into summer.

In honor of hockey's self-restraint, here's a news item tangentially related to the sport: Philadelphia is everyone's white trash neighbor.

That's all for the afternoon.

Morning: Yep, That Was a Yanks-Sox Series

2 games, 9 hours, 14 pitching changes, 33 runs, 4 errors, a rain delay, hit batters, a fake injury, an official protest, 2 ninth-inning comebacks, and one loss each for two of the greatest closers in the game.

Sounds about right.

Last night was another long mess of a game, starting with an hour-long weather delay. When they finally got underway, CC went 7 innings, giving up 4 hits and 1 run, while Beckett was chased before completing the fifth inning. As of CC's departure, the Yanks held a 5-1 lead. But anybody familiar with the rivalry should have known that the ending wouldn't be cut and dry.

Instead, Little Lord Porkface, aka Joba Chamberlain, proved his uselessness under pressure yet again by giving up 4 runs in the top of the 8th to blow the lead. Then Marcus Thames, yesterday's hero, cemented his reputation as one of the worst fielders in baseball by dropping a 1-out Scutaro fly in the 9th. That led to Mariano's second blown save in three days, and a 7-5 deficit going into the last-licks stanza.

Still, no Red Sox lead over the Yanks is safe when Papelbon has three outs to earn, and he added yet another nervy performance to the drama. To start things off, Scutaro returned Thames' favor by booting a ground ball, and Robbie Cano's RBI double made it 7-6. Cervelli sacrificed him to third, and a sacrifice of any kind would have tied the game again. But Papelbon had the good fortune of facing Juan Miranda and Randy Winn with the game at stake. Miranda grounded out to the pitcher, and Winn stranded Robbie with a very predictable strikeout.

This morning, the girlfriend asked if we'd held on to the lead. When I told her about Winn's latest fail, she issued the ultimate dis: "they should call him Randy Lose."

BURNNNNNN!


Another Winnsult, from the Yankee message board: "his batting stance looks like he has scoliosis and he swings like a scarecrow on crack."

The loss is a total bummer. Let me count the reasons.

1) A two-game sweep would have put the Sox in a huge early hole.
2) The last two games have shown that our middle relief stinks.
3) We missed the chance to give CC another win and Beckett another loss.
4) It's a harsh reminder of all the sweet Joba trades we could've made two years ago.
5) It puts us three games back of Tampa on the night they come to town.

However, it's not necessarily a loss. After Cano's 2 RBI double in the 5th, Beckett was toast and knew it. But Boston had nobody warming up in the pen. When Farrell, their pitching coach, sauntered to the mound, he had a brief conversation with Sullen Josh before oddly signalling to the pen. I say oddly because MLB rules state that a new pitcher can only throw 8 warm-up pitches once he enters the game (to state the obvious, this is why they throw in the bullpen beforehand). HOWEVER:

If a sudden emergency causes a pitcher to be summoned into the game without any opportunity to warm up, the umpire-in-chief shall allow him as many pitches as the umpire deems necessary.

An emergency like...an injury. Proving his class once again, Beckett made up for the lack of an actual injury by faking one. The bush league move allowed Delcarmen to take as many warm-up throws as he needed, and Boston got out of the inning. Beckett's malingering is the nature of Girardi's protest. Sadly, it's difficult to prove that he didn't sustain an injury, even if it was crystal clear to any unbiased observer. MLB relies on an honor system to keep teams from abusing this exception, but now and again you'll run across a player with no honor.

So the protest will probably not be upheld, and the loss will go in the books. In any case, Joba is the real culprit. We're in a ship load of trouble if we can't hold a lead against good lineups between the starter and Mariano. As nice as it would be, Hughes and AJ and CC and Andy won't always go 8 innings. Crystal ball time: if and when the Yanks make the playoffs, Hughes will go back to the bullpen to fill the late relief role, and Girardi will use a 3-man rotation like last year.

Anyway, that was a tough one to stomach. Luckily, we have the good fortune of missing Price and Garza over the next two days, so we'll have a fighting chance to claw our way back to within one game in the East. But their staff is pretty great top to bottom, so it won't come easy. Tonight, AJ pitches with a chance to join Andy and Hughes at 5 wins. I hope to be at tomorrow's game.

In other news, it looks like we'll have to put with Boston in another NBA Finals. Somehow, Kevin Garnett screaming is worth like 15 points per game. Either that, or Rajon Rondo is awesome and Orlando has a bunch of mental sissies who will probably lose in the late rounds of the playoffs for the next 4 years or so. Lakers-Celts now seems inevitable, and insufferable. At least Kobe is interesting, I guess. Hopefully this one turns out differently than two years ago.

Enjoy that paragraph; it might be the last thing I write about the NBA this year. Other than brief sparks from Los Suns, these playoffs have been roughly as shitty as your average NBA season. I've watched a couple games, and it's basically become a series of timeouts that blend together, interspersed with horrible calls and giant muscular humans screaming at cameras. I hate the NBA. The only solution is a 16-team neutral site single elimination tournament for the playoffs, and a regular season that lasts 40 games instead of 82. And maybe a 4-pointer somewhere on the court.

Seriously, how is it possible that college (and shit, even high school) basketball is so awesome, and the NBA completely sucks? Any other professional league is at least as awesome as its college equivalent (I consider college and pro football a tie; both are awesome in different ways), and most are superior. In the history of the world, watching professional athletes has never been less enjoyable than the modern NBA.

And basketball is such a great sport! It might be the best one!* I went upstate this past weekend and watched my brother and sister play in their summer AAU leagues, and it was great. I could have watched 10 games in a day. And yet I can barely make it through two and a half horus of the best fucking basketball players in the world playing against each other. It's a puzzle.

*Baseball, actually.

My only guess is that the players have reached a point where they are too big and too strong. Basketball is fun when teams are running and shooting, and the prevalent style is free-flowing. It's not fun when Lebron James stands at the top of the key, puts his head down, and bulls into the lane in an attempt to get fouled. It's not fun when Dwight Howard backs into the lane and runs people over. It's not even that fun when the best guards take turnaround jumpers possession after possession. And it's especially not fun when unconstrained offenses like the Suns or the Thunder can't succeed against the thuggery of punishing, muscle-first defense. The court isn't big enough for them. It's like trying to run an option against NFL linebackers; it won't fly.

To me, the Celtics are the closest thing we have to an epitome of boring basketball. The perfect representative would be the mid-90s Knicks, but the Celts will do. They have a point guard who can't shoot, thuggish inside players who clog everything up and are really effective at slowing down a game, and a primary scorer who looks tired for 90% of the game and mostly shoots jumpers. Ray Allen is the only fun part of that team.

In this year's NBA, Los Suns are the only hope. And because the NBA sucks, they'll lose.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

World Cup Preview, Group A

*Note: World Cup previews in this blog are written by noted soccer historian Emmanual Cross. He's been covering soccer for more than thirty years for various publications in an around eastern Europe, and is noted worldwide for his historical and cultural approach to the game. We're pleased to welcome Mr. Cross to Seth Curry Saves Duke!, and we hope you enjoy his previews over the coming days.


GROUP A


South Africa


The "Strikin' Boers" are, by far, the tallest team in World Cup 2010. Led by 'Gentle' Anders Anderssen and Franklin DeKamp, each starter stands above 6'9." Unfortunately, what they gain in size, they lose in ability. In forty-seven friendly matches over the past six years, the South Africans have yet to notch a single goal. However, they have assisted on several opponents' goals, and Coach Markus Van Platt would like to see his squad build on this limited success. "It's been right crisp passing!" he screamed at reporters last Thursday, just before firing a pistol at a street lamp. It will be South Africa's first appearance in the World Cup, and many outside observers will be keeping a close eye on the home fans. One of the more pressing questions will be whether local spectators of any color have devised songs or chants that contain fewer than 14 racial epithets. While the home country isn't expected to win a soccer game, they are the favorites in this year's featured sub-competition, 'Dutch Headbutting.'


Mexico


As the green, navy, and amber colors of the Mexican flag waved over the team's training facilities in Tenochtitlan, drug wars gradually soured national sentiment and led to a creeping sense of danger among the country's top talent. With growing discomfort about their potential safety in a country rife with gambling and crime, and with an eye on the murder of soccer stars in Columbia and Italy following national failures, Mexican players gradually began to quit the roster. The Federacion de Futbol de la Viva Mexicana Para Dias Eternos was forced to turn to youth. Unfortunately, they couldn't obtain a sufficient number of parental permission slips, and the Mexican national team is now composed primarily of American tourists. Leading the attack is my father, who was recruited as a striker while attending a wedding in Guadalajara. He's the only player over 50 years old, and also the only one under 300 pounds, as the rest of the team is composed of Kansans from an adult fat camp based out of Salina. In matches leading up to the World Cup, the team has excelled in sunscreen and duty free liquor, while Mexican media has dubbed them "Los Gordos" due to certain endurance issues. My father, who helped Mexico preserve their undefeated home record against the Americans with a 2-0 victory in Azteca Stadium, guarantees a victory over South Africa.


Uruguay


Coach Juan Sebadoah Villarondo has gained international renown for training his charges in the mountains of Swalondalo, Uruguay, in snowy, oxygen-deprived conditions. The team is able to run for miles at a time at high speeds, but can sometimes appear to be out of sorts on the flat terrain of a soccer pitch. "We are used to las montanas," said captain Lorenzo "Cauliflower" Candobles. "I have rope around my midsection for nothing." He then threw his ice axe to the ground in frustration. Players often stare in puzzlement when confronted with a soccer ball, and have been called for more hand ball penalties than any soccer team in South American history. Despite this, their 'snowball avalanche' strategy helped them earn a 3rd place finish in the CAFADAFEL region (comprising Uruguay, Bolivia, the Falkland Islands, and representatives from former Mayan settlements in eastern Peru) and a World Cup berth. They will likely advance to the round of 16, and if that comes to pass, it could mean a renaissance for the Uruguayan quilt-knitting industry, which has suffered for nearly twenty years from a lack of inspiration.


France


As the group's only European representative, Team France has the distinct advantage of having each goal count twice. FIFA nearly managed to undo this rule in 1978, following 'Der Debacle Munchen,' when the German national team defeated Japan 10-9 in the World Cup semifinals in a game they would otherwise have lost 9-5, but strong resistance from former French Prime Minister Hollie-Sampson L'Bourgeoisie helped sparked continent-wide riots which claimed the lives of many immigrants and frightened FIFA into rescinding the proposed rule change. Still, the team called "Les Mosquitaires Rouge" ("the red mosquito-men") are not taking anything for granted. "Vee must scahr mahr zen haf zee go-ells of ozzer tea-em," said French head coach Andrew Smith, an American who speaks in a phonetic French accent to win the trust of his players. "Vee shail not be cone-tented vith onny-sing layss zan slightly mahr zan feefty pair-cent of ozzer team's go-ells." Though experts predict the French will play more traditional soccer than in year's past, it's a good bet they won't completely abandon the old gambit so beloved among French fans: waddling around in circles and flapping their arms with comical urgency whenever the ball comes near.

Morning: Pie for Marcus; Red Sox Era is Finished

Ladies and Gents, three and a half minutes of pure awesome:


and....


What an evening. In the bottom of the 8th, after we failed to score against flamethrowing Daniel Bard, I put the game on the radio and went to bed a little miffed. We'd scored 5 runs off Dice-K in the first inning, and Hughes cruised through 4 innings. It shaped up like an easy win to start the series, but that changed in the 5th, when JD Drew's bomb brought Boston to within 1. The Yanks added an insurance run, but our long relief stinks, so Boone Logan and Chan Ho Park gave up home runs to Youkilis and V-Mart. An easy win turned into a 9-7 deficit.

The only thing that kept me from cutting myself off completely was the possibility of another Papelbon meltdown. The borderline-mongoloid Sox closer is one of my least favorite professional athletes of all time, and ever since the All-Star game in Yankee Stadium, he's had a mental block against the Bombers. With Jonny P on the mound, the dramatic comeback is always a possibility. And sure enough, A-Rod and Thames ensured that he ended the night by pursing his lips, frowning, and marching into the visitor's dugout with another blown save.

YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How about A-Rod? Has there ever been a guy whose clutch reputation did such a complete 180? A few years ago, you never wanted to see him up with the chips on the line. Now, he's top choice in the Yankee lineup and maybe top choice in all of baseball. Part of me actually expected him to hit the game-tying home run last night, and even if he hadn't, I was glad he was the man at the plate.

Also, watch the way he reacts to Thames' bomb. Hilarious.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. This was the first pie of the year, and a classic Yanks-Sox game. Four hours, lots of lead changes, lots of pitchers, lots of runs, and a dramatic ending. Also, I'm ready to make a declaration:

The Red Sox era is over.


I'm going to define the Red Sox era, as it applies to the Yanks-Sox rivalry, as beginning with game 4 of the ALCS in 2004, and ending with their 8th straight regular season win in 2009. It takes the hindsight of history to truly define an era, and at this point I believe the evidence is fully compiled.

Before game 4, 2004:

This scarcely needs repeating. No World Series wins since 1918, while the Yanks reeled off 26. Every time they played a big game against the Yanks, they lost. In 2003, they lost the ALCS in heartbreaking fashion on Aaron Boone's extra innings home run in game 7. And in '04, they lost the first 3 games of the ALCS. No professional baseball team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, and the defeatist bearing of Red Sox nation reached its pessimistic apex.

Between game 4, 2004, and the 8th meeting of the regular season, 2009:

An unbelievable comeback in the ALCS, including two late inning triumphs over Mariano, and capped by a dominant win in game 7 at Yankee Stadium. Over the next three and a half years, they won another World Series (2007), owned a narrow 42-40 edge in regular season games, and won 8 straight to begin 2009. Meanwhile, the Yankees lost in the first round of the playoffs in '05, '06, and '07, and didn't even make the postseason in '08.

After the 8th meeting of the regular season, 2009:

The Yanks went on an unbelievable tear, winning 9 of the final 10 games against the Sox to even the season series at 9-9. The Sox went down in the first round of the playoffs to the Angels, and the Yankees took their momentum all the way to a World Series win, their first since 2000. To start 2010, they're 5-2 against the Sox (15-3 since August '09), and already 6.5 games ahead in the AL East.

The Sox enjoyed a nice mid-decade stretch where they rose in prominence above the Yanks, but those days are over. And let me be the latest to join the doomsaying chorus: Boston is in real trouble. Their starting pitching is far less spectacular than advertised, their long relief is shaky at best, and the lineup is not up to par with Tampa or New York. We're only in mid-May, but their season is already close to lost. They don't have the personnel to catch both the Yanks and Rays, and the odds of them catching one and sneaking into a wild card berth seem pretty slim.

By the way, it just so happens that I attended the game marking the latest Yankee ascension. It was August 6th, last year, and the truth about Ortiz's PED use had just come to light. Mocking signs and giant novelty needles dotted the stadium, and the yanks jumped all over John Smoltz, scoring 8 in the 4th inning and effectively ending his Red Sox career. You can read my jubilation here, complete with ghost-townish Red-X former pictures.

Tonight, the smirking piece of shit known as Josh Beckett goes against Sabathia to close the 2-game set. CC struggled against Detroit, which is usually a good sign that he'll be lights out in his next start. The odds that Beckett will injure one of our players with a beanball are better than the odds that he'll come away with a win.

World Cup chatter later on. Go Yanks.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Season of Rafa Begins!


Back in the day, the Spanish tennis association wanted Rafa Nadal to leave his family and come to Madrid for training. He wasn't more than a kid, and his family had a tough decision to make. Eventually, they said no; Uncle Toni thought he could coach him up without national facilities and money, and the Nadal family didn't like the implication that a player had to leave home and enter the academies in order to succeed. The boy would be home-schooled.

But it didn't mean he'd never go to Madrid. He went there quite a bit, in fact, including last week, when he set the record for Masters titles on the capital's clay courts. His opponent, as usual, was Federer, and Rafa took him down 6-4, 7-6. It was his 18th Masters win, vaulting him ahead of Agassi on the all-time list. He also improved to 14-7 lifetime against Federer, the greatest champion to ever pick up a racket. The man from Mallorca is now 15-0 on clay this year, and will vie for the French Open title beginning a week from today. If you're desperate for content, there's an article on ESPN by someone called Peter Bodo with like 5 factual errors and a bunch of stupid opinions. But it's about Federer and Nadal, so I checked it out.

Here's the second-set tiebreaker from Sunday's final. Federer appears to whiff on his last stroke, and after a polite handshake, Rafa collapses to the clay. You think it means anything for him to be back and competing with the Rogers of the world?


It's nice to have tennis back. As I've said time and again, Nadal is my favorite athlete. After his amazing win in the '09 Australian over Federer, he had a tough summer. Soderling upset him at the French, knee troubles kept him out of Wimbledon, and he ended the summer with an inspirational run at the US Open that ended in the semis. But he's back, he's healthy, and he'll be the favorite as usual in Roland Garros. Could we see another French-Wimbledon double, like the glorious summer of '08? It's possible.

Oh man, I just found out from Wikipedia that Rafa was in a music video for a Shakira song called 'Gypsy.' I can't not post this. And wow, it's pretty hot and heavy, with Shakira looking just as fit as a fiddle. I'm not sure if this a present to my guy readers, my girl readers, both, or just me. But one thing's for sure: definitely me. An agreeable lass, Nadal, and a banjo? Awww hells yes, son! That's how this grown man rolls.


Pretty awkward and arousing, huh? It seems like Rafa is on the verge of cracking up the whole time. I'm not sure how this will affect his legacy; come back to me in a few days.

That's it for now. Tomorrow, some World Cup content. Get some rest, you fatigued youths.

Morning: Mariano's Annual Show of Humanity

1) Well, it happened yesterday. Mariano showed himself to be human. After Joba failed to do his job in the 8th, Mo came in with the bases loaded and 2 outs, Yanks ahead 3-1. He walked Jim Thome to make it 3-2, and the next batter, Jason Kubel, smashed a grand slam. 6-3 Twins, game effectively over.

This happens about once or twice a year, so it shouldn't come as a huge surprise. But it always does. It's a little like God materializing on Earth, sitting down on a porch stoop with some of the local old timers, and complaining about a patch of psoriasis on his leg. A little unsettling, a little out of character. For a second, your foundation is semi-shattered. Then things resume their normal role; God changes the clouds into a humongous replica of a Salvador Dali painting, and Mariano earns 30 straight saves with his ridiculous cutter.

The girf* and I were on the road home yesterday, and had to listen to the game on the radio. She conked out by the 8th inning, and I was tired too, nodding and swerving at the wheel before waking with a start. We'd just spent a solid week meeting her family, watching her family meet mine, logging 20 hours on the road to see more of my family, and getting minimal sleep. The week actually went quite well, but it took its toll.

Speaking only for myself (but still using the universal 'you'), extreme fatigue tends to shift the world into odd shapes. The desultory, rambling thoughts you get just before sleep become more frequent, and you catch yourself in strange flights of fancy. In those moments, the string tying your mental hot air balloon to a grounded reality becomes a bit more frayed. I can't remember what was going through my mind when Mariano gave up the grand slam, but it coincided well enough with the Sandman's failure that for the briefest second, I thought I'd finally gone nuts. Schizo time! Buildings collapse! The land moves in waves! My brain picks up radio frequencies! Mariano blows save after save!

*New lingo for 'girlfriend.' It'll catch on.

Then we stopped for gas, and things normalized. And I remembered that this does happen once in a while. I'm still a little suspicious, though...if any office supplies start giving me coded messages, it won't take me by surprise.

Until then, here's a picture of Mariano pointing to the sky. When most players do this, it signifies a 'thank you' sent to God. Mariano? He's saying "your move."


2) Minnesota's curse is unfortunately over.

Going back to the second half of '06, the Twins were 5-22 against the Yanks, and 2-15 in Yankee stadium (including 10 losses in a row). For a team that routinely makes the playoffs and competes for the AL Central title, that is an absurdly low number. As you might guess, it involved a lot of bad luck. I was at game 2 last year when A-Rod hit a two-run homer in the ninth to tie the game, and Robertson got out of a bases loaded, no-out jam in the 11th before Tex ended it with a bomb. During the '09 regular season, the Yanks swept the home series with three straight walk-offs. It's been an incredible streak.

Sadly, yesterday might mark the end of that dominance. Why? you might ask. It was just one game. True, but teams that overcome the Yankee obstacle tend to do so with a dramatic win over Mariano Rivera. Two classic examples:

a) After the Yanks won 3 titles in a row, the Diamondbacks had to win game 7 of the 2001 World Series by getting to Mo in the bottom of the 9th. That was less a case of a team overcoming the Yanks, and more like an entire league. The Bombers were weak that year, and were only in position to win because of a miracle victory over the Athletics (Jeter's defensive play), and two unbelievable walk-off wins at Yankee Stadium.

b) When the Sox finally broke their 85-year streak, they had to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win two games with Mariano on the mound.

It may be the same with Minnesota. It's like the baseball Gods dictate that in order to triumph, you must beat the best the Yanks have to offer. None of this 'backdoor' crap- you fight the big boss.

3) Hmmm, Girardi...

Why bring in Mariano in the 8th? Yes, Joba had loaded the bases. But don't we want an 8th inning guy we can trust? Doesn't Girardi want to instill confidence? Isn't that show of trust worth the possibility that he doesn't get Thome out? Won't Joba be second-guessing himself and stealing glances toward the bullpen every time he encounters a little trouble in the near future?

I didn't like it, and it has nothing to do with the fact that Mariano gave up the grand slam. That was totally unpredictable; in a playoff game, entering the Sandman to face Thome would have been the right move. But why not show some faith in Joba? It's mid-May, for God's sake. This is another case of Joe's neurotic over-managing creating the possibility of long-term detriment. And it happened to fail in the short term, too, but that's basically irrelevant. For a guy who usually excels in bullpen management, he could stand to cultivate a little trust in someone as variable as Joba.

4) A-Rod!

Did you see that?!?!?! The girf and I had just arrived at my mom and stepdad's place in Saratoga after Marte blew AJ's lead in the top half of the 7th. We watched Gardenhire walk Teixeira intentionally, loading the bases and disrespecting the man who had ruined their season last October. What a mistake, Ron. Miffed and cussing, A-Rod crushed a Guerrier fastball into the seats, and the stepdad and I had our first in-person Yankee high-five moment of the year. And the girf got to see the source of (some of) my insanity. It was also her first grand-slam. Nice moment all around.

Hopefully this gets A-Rod out of his recent all-singles groove.

5) The Slump Roll

Jeter and Cano and the permanent resident, Randy Winn. Also, the YES cameras cut to a shot of the dugout after A-Rod's home run, and everyone was going nuts and cheering and racing out to the field except one guy: Randy Winn. He was on deck, already wearing his batting helmet, and he showed absolutely no reaction. I was wondering if I was just crazy, so I checked my faithful message board, and sure enough, everyone was piling on. Does this guy hate playing baseball, hate New York, or just hate A-Rod? In any case, we need to look for other options.