Ralph Waldo Emerson said that one gets to paradise “…by the stairway of surprise.” Given some of the surprising events in the sporting cosmos in the past few days, it looks as if it will be a long climb indeed to paradise.
The first surprise came over the weekend when the US men’s soccer team made it into the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup in South Africa. After having lost its first two games to Italy and to Brazil and looking over-matched in those two games, the only chance the US team had to advance was that they had to beat Egypt by a minimum of three goals AND Italy had to lose to Brazil by three goals. I don’t know what that parlay ticket would have paid out in Las Vegas, but a $100 parlay ticket with those two events would have returned a hefty four figure sum – - because both things happened.
Brazil’s win over Italy was decisive – - except that the teams played relatively evenly for about 80 of the 90 minutes in the match. Egypt played as if half the team had refrigerators strapped to their backs. The US team was faster and more aggressive than the Egyptians from the get-go; that was not the pre-game common wisdom.
The US team’s reward is a semi-final match up against Spain. The Spanish team is currently ranked #1 in the world; the Spanish team is undefeated in its last 35 international matches. Brazil and Italy are ranked third and fourth in the world at the moment and both teams dominated the American squad. So, maybe someone needs to think about slipping some Quaaludes into the Spanish team’s water bottles if the next game is going to be meaningful?
Speaking of soccer and surprises, UEFA – the Union of European Football Associations – suspended a Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba, for four games. They decided that he was guilty of a “…vulgar rant at a referee.” YOWZA !! Can you imagine if anyone in the NBA thought of suspending LeBron or Kobe for four games for their rants regarding referees and officiating decisions? My guess is that you would see Kobe and LeBron on the court less than two dozen times a year. And if that were the case, ticket sales all over the NBA would plummet like a stone – - explaining why that will never happen here…
Another surprise came from golf’s US Open. Turning for home after 54 holes played in segments between the deluges, the co-leaders were Rickey Barnes and Lucas Glover. Prior to last weekend, I could not have picked those two guys out of a group photo with the cast of The Muppet Show. Of course, Dan Jenkins was covering the US Open; and here is what he had to say about the weather conditions and the course conditions early on:
“There’s so much water on the 18th hole that Michael Phelps couldn’t par it.”
Here is another surprise – - in the form of a Quick Quiz:
Going into last night’s MLB games, which team in the National League would be the wild-card team in the playoffs if the season ended then?
The answer is the San Francisco Giants – - and they had a better record than the Phillies who are the leaders in the NL East. Nonetheless, Dodger fans need not worry; the Giants are a full 8 games behind the Dodgers. For the Dodgers to miss the playoffs, someone would have to show up for batting practice at Chavez Ravine with an AK-47 and spray rounds for a full 5 minutes before anyone could stop him.
Notwithstanding the Dodgers’ position in the NL West, let me reiterate something I wrote here about a month ago. When I do get to see the Giants play on TV – a late night game here on the East Coast – I have really become a fan of Pablo Sandoval. Going into last night’s game, he was hitting .338 with 8 homeruns and 33 RBIs and an OPS in excess of .900. Because many of the Giants’ games on TV are late games in the Eastern and Central time zones, some fans may never have had the chance to see Sandoval play more than a time or two. He is only 23 years old and he is worth staying up late just to see him play.
Speaking of surprises, what would be the over/under on the date for the next revelation of a name from the 2003 list of MLB players who flunked a test for performance enhancing drugs? Remember, there are still more than 100 mystery names on that list. Suppose I set the date at July 28 – - a couple of days before the trading deadline… Over or under?
Speaking of surprises, CC Sabathia left a game in the second inning last weekend with what has been described as “biceps tendonitis”. This is a surprise because of Sabathia’s history. Since his arrival in MLB in 2001, Sabathia has always been a reliable starter. Only one time has he started less than 30 games in a season – - and in 2006 he started 28 games. In addition, he has always been good for about 200 innings in a season. This man does not miss starts; this might be a very interesting story to follow for the rest of the baseball season.
Syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, wrote a great column this week; that is not a surprise because the vast majority of his columns are at least very good. He wrote about some of the summer activities planned by organizations that are scouting and evaluating middle-school athletes in football. On the basis of reports from these folks, Chad already has one guy penciled inn as a Top 5 pick in the NFL draft in 2017… This is a column that should be read in its entirety; it is that good.
Finally, here is an observation from Dan Daly in the Washington Times on the occasion of Pudge Rodriguez breaking Carlton Fisk’s record for most games caught in MLB:
“The 32,425 fans at Rangers Ballpark, his old stomping grounds, gave him a crouching ovation.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…