Thursday, August 28, 2014

Speaking of Sports: Giants Pitching, Kobe's Satori

After the pitching debacle Sunday, the San Francisco Giants have had an unexpectedly stellar week of starting pitching.  Madison Bumgarner came within one batter of a perfect game.  Tim Hudson came within one batter of a no-hitter.  Then in a start replacing the erratic Tim Lincecum,  Yusmiero Petit set a major league record by retiring 46 consecutive batters (though he did so mostly as a reliever over many games) and gave up only a single run.  The Giants won these three games against a club they should beat that was nevertheless a nemesis this year, the Colorado Rockies.  It took a walk-off homer to win one of them, after again losing the lead in the late innings.

Update: And the incredible starting pitching continued.  A day after Ryan Vogelsong pitched 7 strong innings in a 13-2 laugher, Jake Peavy took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and wound up with a 1 hitter and the victory--both of these games against the NL Central leading Milwaukee Brewers.

Position players were at last getting some timely hits. If nothing else, this year's adversity has given some rookies a chance, and so the Giants have some young players proving themselves in what had been an aging lineup.  One of the Giants' announcers made a good point after their 13-2 victory: with rookie Joe Panik hitting second after a reasonably healthy Angel Pagan, the Giants have a pretty solid lineup (even absent Brandon Belt.)

Meanwhile, the Pirates took 2 of 3 from St. Louis, so winning the second series in a row against the two teams ahead of them in their division.  Then two straight over the Reds.

In my tape review of the 2004 Lakers playoffs, I'm now on the 5th game of the second round, with San Antonio.  After defeats in the first two games, the Lakers blew out the Spurs in the third, and in the fourth they eventually won handily propelled by a remarkable game by Kobe Bryant, scoring 40 points and dominating the action.  They won the 5th on the miracle shot of all miracle shots--Derek Fisher's swish as the ball was inbounded with .4 seconds on the clock.

 Once again, the tragic dimensions hover.  Not just that again Karl Malone is identified as the key player, or that the rumbles of discontent among the Lakers threaten to intrude.  Kobe played this game hours after flying back from Colorado where he entered a not guilty plea on the charge of sexual assault.  After the game he talked about playing basketball since he was three, and how great it feels to be on the basketball court.  He said the key to the Lakers success was playing every possession as if it might be their last.  Clearly he was talking about himself.  He was facing the possibility of jail, and the end of his basketball career.  Every moment on the court was probably heightened, and precious.

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.