Monday, August 25, 2014

Speaking of Sports: late August

Because I follow the fortunes of the SF Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, I've noticed what seems an inordinate number of times that they've won or lost on the same day, even by identical scores.  It's probably an illusion, but still...On Monday they both lost home games by the score of 3-2, and both had the tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth.

If it means anything it may be that these are two teams going nowhere this year, both about 5 games out of first and both looking for the same second Wild Card.  I've written before that the Pirates are more likely to be in it than the Giants, and I'll stick with that.  The Pirates are at least nearer full strength, and their valiant two wins against the division leading Brewers in Milwaukee suggest they can't be counted out.  I suspect they're the more exciting team to watch, with at least a little objectivity.

The Giants however appear to be falling apart.  Their tired bullpen got blown out on Sunday, they committed multiple errors in losing to Colorado at home--again--on Monday.  Tim Lincecum has been such a misadventure on the mound since the All Star break that he's been demoted, losing his spot in the starting rotation to a pitcher who has had much more success as a reliever than a starter.  They've definitely lost Scutaro for the season (he may well retire) which thanks to Joe Panik taking over at second hasn't been fatal, but Brandon Belt is still at least a couple of weeks away from returning, and their lineup misses his bat badly for timely hits (though they have been hitting better lately.)

  I've even begun to wonder whether Bruce Bochy is managing too much by the analytics and not enough by who is playing or pitching well on the day.  Lefty/righty percentages work out in the long run, not necessarily in a given game.  Monday in the ninth he pinch hit for a batter who'd hit a home run earlier in the game, and got nothing.

Meanwhile, I've been watching my tapes from the 2003-04 LA Lakers season.  My memory was colored by how it ended--I had forgotten what an amazing team they were at times, when everyone was healthy, including Carl Malone.  Even Gary Peyton, who I never liked, was a major asset in how he pushed the ball and gave the team speed and excitement.  Early in the year and then at the end of the season when everybody was at least back (if not fully healed) they just demolished the best teams in the league.

But knowing how they fell apart in the finals, a lot of this is like watching some NBA version of a Greek tragedy.  Announcers like Bill Walton confidently predicted this team would rule for several seasons to come.  They noted how important Karl Malone was to them, and how Shaq and Kobie adjusted to new roles, and how for all the talk of rivalry, the player who got the most assists for passing to Shaq when he scored was Kobie.

But the season played out with Kobie's legal and personal drama as an ongoing feature.  He seemed superhuman in flying back from court in Colorado to the game and playing extremely well.  But how long could that last without emotions showing up elsewhere?  Then just before the finals started, Malone got hurt again and didn't play.  I'm just getting into the second round of the playoffs, as the Lakers annihilate San Antonio, but I know what's coming.  Which was ignominious and acrimonious losses in the finals, and the subsequent dismantling of the team, losing Shaq,  Peyton, Malone (who retired without playing again), Rick Fox and (for awhile) Derek Fisher and coach Phil Jackson.

Finally, congratulations to Chicago's Jackie Robinson West, the Illinois/Great Lakes Region team, now the US Little League World Series champs. They lost the world title to South Korea. It's been fun and inspiring to watch some of this year's Little League WS. This all-black team of inner city Chicago kids that has their city rooting them on in watch parties across Chicago, as well as the Girl of Summer, Mo'ne Davis, are the prominent stories. But for all the attention (and the incredible mental and well as physical baseball skills of Davis, for instance) this is still Little League. Kids get scared and upset when they screw up, they cry when they lose. Their emotions are part of the game. But it does seem that coaches and officials take a lot of care to recognize they are kids and respond to their needs.

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