Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Takes

Here's one take on the weekend recap, Grantland style, and here's another that only partly makes sense:

Today, we'll be looking back at the weekend in sports through the lens of important moments from the Women's World Cup final. Does that even make sense? Let's find out!

1. Abby Wambach's post-rattling shot in the 28th minute.

This one goes to the World Cup final itself. The shot was a microcosm of the entire match for the U.S. women; full of excellent chances that, through bad luck or error, went begging. Japan came back from the dead twice, scoring late goals in regulation and extra time to force the match to penalties, where they won the Cup 3-1. The Americans controlled play throughout the match, but couldn't reap the fruit of their attacks, at least enough to hold off the unflagging Japanese.

The prevailing post-match narrative was Japan's triumph in the wake of the tragic earthquake that devastated the country in March, but the humanitarian angle won't curb the regrets of U.S. fans who reasonably expected a win.

2. Wambach's header in the 104th minute to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

It was the perfect ending, until it wasn't, and this moment goes to Darren Clarke, who did sustain his storybook finish to win the British Open. It was the first major victory for the easygoing Clarke, 42, and the jewel in the crown of a strong career. He also became the third Northern Irish golfer to win a major in the last two years. As you might have heard in the sporting ether, Northern Ireland is a nation of 1.8 million, and they've split the last six majors with the rest of the world (population: 6.9 billion).

Then again, the rest of the world managed to get their independence from Great Britain somewhere along the way. Am I right, Earth?? (If that comment plays any role in re-igniting The Troubles, I apologize in advance.)

3. Alex Morgan's breakthrough goal in the 69th minute to end the 0-0 gridlock.

To the Texas Rangers, who are in the midst of their own breakthrough in the AL West. They won their 11th straight game on Sunday, sweeping the Mariners and opening up a 4-game lead in the division. Texas always looked like the superior team in the west (the run differentials alone bear this out), but a sluggish start kept them in range of the Angels. Now, the cream is rising, and it would be a shock if Los Angeles- or anyone else, for that matter- could keep pace as the summer unfolds.

Speaking of the Rangers, did anyone else read the review of Kornheiser's great Nolan Ryan profile and feel really bad that Ryan played in an era before people realized the flaws of measuring a pitcher by wins and losses? We should all congratulate ourselves on living in a world where Felix Hernandez can win a well-deserved Cy Young with a 13-12 record. If the old mindset persisted, David Price (19 wins) or CC Sabathia (21 wins) would have won in a walk.

4. Aya Miyama's game-tying goal in the 80th minute.

The stunning equalizer gave U.S. fans the sinking feeling that the deferred celebration had transformed back into a war of attrition, but it was hardly less stunning than the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates are sniffing around first place in the NL Central. They beat the Astros in 11 innings Sunday to stay level with the Cardinals and a half-game back of the power-happy Brewers. The Reds are within striking distance too, and all four teams have benefited from the ineptitude of the Astros and Cubs, who are currently the two worst teams in baseball.

The winner of this horse race is anyone's guess. The Pirates have pitched the best, the Reds have hit the best, and the Brewers, with their -12 run differential, have either been very fortunate or excel at winning close games, depending on your worldview.

5. Homare Sawa's gut-punch goal - 117th minute.

If you're a pessimist, and an American, Sawa's goal probably gave you the sinking realization that fate or luck or karma or whatever was on the side of the enemy Sunday. For lack of a better candidate, we'll give this to the NBA and NFL lockouts. Good news seems to be on the horizon for the NFL, but a litany of issues remain unresolved as the preseason approaches with the looming threat of canceled games. In defiance of their own lockout, the NBA released next year's schedule while Deron Williams signed a contract to play in Turkey and Dwight Howard considered a similar path. Resolutions to both conflicts may be imminent, but in the meantime fans will have to suffer the byzantine twists and turns of the player-versus-management drama.

6. The U.S. collapse in penalty kicks

First, Shannon Boxx pushed a tentative kick to the right that was easily saved by Kaihori. Then the much-maligned Carli Lloyd sailed her attempt over the crossbar, and when Tobin Heath's weak shot to the left was kick-saved, America's hopes were all but snuffed out.

This one could go several ways. Phil Mickelson certainly qualifies; after a scorching start brought him within one shot of the lead, he shot a back-nine 38 to fall to a distant second. Or it could go to the woebegone Mariners, who celebrated the tenth anniversary of their 116-win season with 9 straight losses, and who boast the league's worst offense for the second straight year.

Instead, let's give it to Bengals running back Cedric Benson, who managed to get arrested for assault one week before the start of free agency, jeopardizing his expected contract extension. And if there's one thing we know about NFL football, no player ever comes back from committing a crime to have a successful career.

7. "Epic"

The one word which most aptly describes the entire match goes to the weekend's second-best game: Red Sox-Rays, Sunday night. A fantastic pitcher's duel between Josh Beckett and Jeff Niemann (8 scoreless innings apiece) stretched into extra innings, where the Red Sox finally won in 16. With a game that long (almost 6 hours), there's always the risk that fans will leave early. Luckily, this game was in Tampa Bay, so the fans had nothing else to do. Also, none of them showed up in the first place.

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