Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Ian Kinsler Takes a Win

This is fun.

The Rangers are now playing baseball that is representative of a real live major league baseball team.

Check that. A better way to say it is that they are becoming “must-see tv”. When did we last say that?

And, Mr. Newberg, I now am starting to understand your Ian Kinsler – Brenden Morrow comparisons.

Kinsler decides to go win a game last night …and the Rangers sit just a half game behind the Yankees, and 2 games behind Oakland as they go for the sweep at Yankee Stadium!

Ian Kinsler had two thoughts before leading off the ninth inning against Mariano Rivera on Tuesday.

First, the Arizona born- and-bred second baseman flashed back to the 2001 World Series to remind him Rivera, who allowed the series-clinching run to the Diamondbacks, is not invincible.

Then, he thought back to an at-bat against Rivera from last year in which the closer embarrassed him with a couple of hard cut fastballs he fouled off his shin and then a fastball inside on which Kinsler took a hopeless swing.

For a change, it was pondering the worst that helped the Texas Rangers to a 3-2 win at Yankee Stadium. Kinsler's leadoff double against Rivera and subsequent steal of third opened the door for Michael Young to bounce a ball through the infield for the go-ahead run.

The win, clinched by C.J. Wilson's second consecutive save, pushed the Rangers three games above .500 (44-41). Though Kevin Millwood exited the game with a bruised right shin after five innings, the Rangers were still able to clinch a series win in their final regular-season visit to New York. They can finish off their first sweep in New York since 2003 tonight.

And they have Kinsler's long memory to thank.

Kinsler's last-second flashback reminded him of how Rivera worked him last year. When Kinsler fouled off consecutive cut fastballs, he thought Rivera would try to come inside with the fastball. He did and Kinsler drove it into left field for a double.

"In my mind, I know he remembered how he got me last year," Kinsler said. "That's part of what makes him so good. So, I think he figured I'd made an adjustment on his cutter, and he was going to come in with the sinker. I was looking in the right place when he threw it."

Kinsler wasn't done. Alerted that Rivera's delivery to home plate was a slow 1.67 seconds, Kinsler decided "that's more than enough time to steal a base."

So, he did.

With Young at the plate, Kinsler easily grabbed third for his third stolen base of the game. The Yankees drew the infield in. Young was able to bounce a cutter off the dirt in front of home plate and over the drawn-in infield to score Kinsler.

Two innings earlier, manager Ron Washington had put the stop sign on Kinsler at second base. He didn't want to potentially take the bat out of Young's hands. In the ninth, though, he let Kinsler make his own decision.

"I don't know if he thought I had it in me," Kinsler said of Rivera. "But I wanted to win this game. I was going."

Said Young: "It made a huge difference in the inning. With him standing at third and no outs, you've pretty much got three chances to get him in."

Newsday in New York’s game story

The Yankees these days seem to be just good enough to compete, but just bad enough to lose.

On yet another night when their offense remained oddly silent, it was Mariano Rivera who took the loss as the Rangers scored in the ninth en route to a 3-2 win.

The loss was the Yankees' third straight and seventh in 11 games. "It stinks," Joe Girardi said.

The manager placed the blame completely on the offense, which again showed only the faintest sign of a pulse. The Yankees left eight men on, went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and have scored only seven runs in their last four games.
"We got some opportunities," Johnny Damon said. "We just don't execute them like others do."

Like the Rangers in the ninth inning, for example.

Ian Kinsler led off by pulling a double down the leftfield line, then took advantage of Jorge Posada's gimpy shoulder by stealing third. Rivera's pitch was low and away, and Posada couldn't get the ball to Alex Rodriguez in time to prevent Kinsler's third stolen base of the game.

That forced the Yankees to bring their infield in, and as if on cue, Michael Young hit a chopper through the middle to score the go-ahead run.

"It didn't work out," Rivera (2-3) said. "I'm upset. But tomorrow's a new day."

As bad as Posada's throwing is - and he seems convinced he will need postseason surgery to repair his labrum - Girardi insisted afterward he won't make any more concessions with Posada's playing time.

"He has to catch for us," Girardi said. "We have to find ways to combat it, but he has to catch for us."

The Yankees, in desperate need of something positive to happen, looked as if they might have caught a break in the ninth when closer C.J. Wilson walked leadoff hitter Wilson Betemit on four pitches.

Up next was Melky Cabrera and his 0-for-18 hitless streak, and Girardi surprisingly let him swing away instead of trying to bunt pinch runner Alberto Gonzalez to second.

"We talked about it," Girardi said of having Cabrera sacrifice. "But they just walked Wilson Betemit on four pitches. I didn't think it was the right move."

So he let Cabrera swing away and it backfired, as he took two straight strikes before grounding into a 6-6-3 double play. Girardi said he might give Cabrera a breather tonight.

"Our offense is why we lost the game," Girardi said, which could explain several recent Yankees defeats. Why it's happening like this is anyone's guess.

The clubhouse emptied quickly, and Damon was the only starting position player to make himself available. "The sense of urgency is now," he said. "This game is about results. Scoring runs is the only thing that wins ballgames."

Seriously. Hagman got $12 million dollars from Toronto. And Seriously, Brett Hull is trying to get Sean Avery down here.

Sean Avery?????

I don’t mind this move. And, I have received some emails from people that remember the disgust in Morrow’s voice when we ever asked him about Sean Avery. Trust me, if this signing gets done, it will take Brenden 2 seconds to get past his issues with the dude. Hockey players drop it all when you put on the same color sweater.

While much of the potential scoring help went off the board Tuesday on the first day of NHL free agency, the Stars were in discussions late into the evening to possibly acquire talented agitator Sean Avery, co-GM Brett Hull said.

Dallas is among the suitors for the 28-year-old forward who had 15 goals and 18 assists in 57 games last season for the New York Rangers. He added four goals and three assists in eight playoff games. Avery lived with Stars co-general manager Brett Hull in 2002-03 when the two played for Detroit.

The Stars did not pursue forward Michael Ryder, who went to Boston for a three-year, $12 million deal. They did go after defenseman Wade Redden, who signed with the Rangers for six years and $39 million.

Former Stars forward Niklas Hagman, meanwhile, signed a four-year, $12 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

More than $300 million in contracts were handed out Tuesday.

The story of Giambi’s mustache

Now Giambi has reinvented himself by defying convention through conformity. Thanks to a loophole in the Steinbrenner grooming rule book, the G-Man can rock the boat with his big 'ol mustache. Like the Hit Man before him, Giambi is conforming according to Yankee appearance standards of the '70s and '80s which, like Steinbrenner himself, are outdated and toothless. The mustache is basically now a facial hair loophole in Yankeeland. Wearing a regular mustache is something that most players selfishly won't do because they don't want to look terrible (see: David Wells as a Yankee, although he's not the world's handsomest man, any way you slice the facial hair). Or, maybe they don't want to look like Raffy Palmeiro, who brought shame to his own legitimate mustache. By growing a mustache, Giambi has knowingly made his own face a billboard and defaced himself as an act of contrition. It will be totally unsurprising if Giambi blacks out his teeth with a Sharpie next.

What became of Mark McGwire?

Once the most famous man in baseball, Mark McGwire lives at the end of a cul-de-sac in a gated community in Irvine, Calif., where the world is not permitted to see him.
He hasn't made a public appearance at a major league ballpark in three years, has declined interview requests and passed on annual invitations to visit his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, in spring training.

McGwire, the greatest show on earth a decade ago when he hit a single-season record 70 home runs, had his last moment in the spotlight in 2005, a tortured day in front of a congressional hearing on steroids from which his words — "I'm not here to talk about the past" — still resonate.

"The perception of Mark is so completely different than the reality," says Craig Daedelow, a friend of McGwire who often sees and talks to him. "People think he's out of the game, but they have no idea just how much he's still in the game."
Although McGwire declined to comment for this story, friends, colleagues and those in the game say he is slowly returning to baseball. They point to the secret hitting lessons he gives to a small group of major leaguers, minor leaguers and college players, and the time two years ago he nearly became the hitting coach of the Colorado Rockies.

They say they are convinced the 44-year-old will be in a baseball uniform in the near future, and not because he is in search of glory or a place in the Hall of Fame after two failed bids, but because his enduring passion for baseball is driving him back after he retired in 2001.

"He would be a tremendous hitting coach," Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd says. "Really, he'd be great at just about anything he wanted to do in baseball. He has so much passion for the game, and so much to offer."

Mavs bold strike: Dunk Champion

According to an NBA source, the Mavericks struck a deal with Gerald Green, a slender, 6-8 guard who has been in the league three seasons.

It is believed to be a one-year contract.

Green, 22, is a career 36.6-percent 3-point shooter but played in only 30 games last season, 29 of them for Minnesota and one for Houston. In 2006-07, he averaged 10.4 points in 81 games for Boston.

He was the 18th pick in the 2005 draft. The Mavericks hit with Bass last summer in free agency after Bass had two less-than-notable seasons in New Orleans.

The Gerald Green Highlight Countdown

Is ESPN turning its back on the American Soccer announcer? …and is it wrong?

And thanks to the ESPN networks, each and every game has been seen live in the United States, but (there’s always a but) the games have been called (from small studios in Bristol, Conn.) by four guys with British/Irish accents. And ESPN has made it clear to its roster of mostly competent American soccer dudes that they need not apply for any job outside broadcasting Major League Soccer games. In other words, the international game belongs to our cousins across the pond. You know, the guys who “know everything there is to know about the game,” men from a country that has not won a major international tournament since 1966.

“I am almost the prototypical U.S. soccer fan and who’s representing me?” asked Greg Lalas, a TV analyst on New England Revolution games and the site director at (who also contributed stories to this Web site during the African Cup). “I think there’s been a glorification of the English attitude and perspective.”

Make no mistake, ESPN’s decision to import the Scotsman Andy Gray as an analyst has added a whiff of authority and some good insight. But would that insight be absent, for example, if Americans like Shep Messing or John Harkes were at the microphones instead? Do the hackneyed, trite and sophomoric cliches spewed by the Irishman Tommy Smyth add anything? Anything at all? There’s nothing offensive about Derek Rae, the Scottish play-by-play guy. But is he any better than J.P. Dellacamera, the voice of M.L.S. and the U.S. national team on ESPN?

“It’s a departure for us, a nod towards the game’s globalization,” Tim Scanlan, the executive who is overseeing ABC/ESPN coverage, told USA Today in reference to the network’s Euro roster of foreign-born “talent.”

In a telephone interview Friday, Tom McNeeley, ESPN’s coordinating producer for soccer said that the tournament, “is a European event that deserved a kind of a real European feel.”

“The only negative would be that J.P. (Dellacamera) and John (Harkes) have worked so hard that they missed out on a ratings spike from Euro that would have given them more exposure. But for Euro, there was no American team involved so we realized that this would be the right way to go. We have in-house talent in Adrian Healey and Tommy Smyth.”

McNeeley said that Andy Gray was only under contract for Euro 2008 and that the network has not yet decided who would be in the booth for games during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Lalas said: “They seem to think that these English guys, because of the accents, have this gravitas. John Harkes was the captain of the U.S. in a World Cup. He played in England and obviously knows the game. But if he was there saying the same things as Andy Gray, we would still hear people saying that he didn’t know what he was talking about.” Harkes, in fact, played in two World Cups for the United States, but was not the team’s captain in either.

There is still a stubborn impression in the United States that all soccer comes with, or should come with, a British accent. The Latin guys are only good for that silly Goooooooooooool call. And Americans? They don’t even call it football. What could they possibly know?

“Would you bring an American over to Italy to call Italian basketball games? Or an American to Japan to call baseball games?” Lalas asked. “I know English is a universal language, but. … Hey, we all remember when we were 10 and were mesmerized by that English guy at soccer camp!”

At the heart of the issue is who ESPN is trying to attract to its broadcasts: European expatriates or the growing legion of American soccer fans. (The pay-per-view channel Setanta is, at least, up front when it says it wants to appeal to expatriates with its announcers and productions.)

“What worries me is all the games on TV now from Europe,” Lalas said. “There really is no reason to latch on to your local team and you never get that local flavor. If there’s more people watching the E.P.L. on TV than M.L.S. then you’ve got a problem.”
That point can be open for argument, because in the end, it is all soccer. But does the slavish devotion to all things British in the game, which are often arrogant and slightly condescending, strengthen the perception in America that soccer is a foreign game? That’s no longer the case, is it?

So let us debate, sans accented English.

NFL’s Dirtiest Player?

The numbers suggest Harrison's name belongs in the first paragraph of any discussion about the NFL's dirtiest players -- but perhaps not at the exclusion of others.
Harrison drew two personal-foul penalties last season. Seventeen players drew more, but none of them earned even one vote from head coaches as the league's dirtiest player. Coaches, encouraged not to vote for their own players, were granted anonymity for their candor.

"Sometimes reputation precedes people, and unfairly at times," Harrison said.
Eleven of the 18 head coaches who responded singled out Harrison.

"I think if you understand me and you've seen me play, if you watch the film, you'll see that I play hard, that I'm very fair with people," Harrison said. "I think I've been getting a bad rap and that's just part of it."

Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams, notorious for horse-collar tackling, finished second in the coaches' poll with two votes. Four players drew one vote apiece: New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward, Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae and Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz. One head coach said he couldn't think of a truly dirty player, a sentiment shared by those who think hefty fines have curtailed the most flagrant violations.

"When I came in the league [in 1999], I saw a lot more dirty players," Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "Guys were poking you on the bottom of the pile and chop blocking and all that stuff. But I think it has been cut down."
As for Harrison? "I think he'd be a good teammate because he brings an attitude and sets the tone," Bailey said, "but he can be dirty."

Not so, Harrison's defenders say.

Former Patriots receiver Deion Branch drew a line between Harrison's hard-nosed play and the approach Houston Texans defensive lineman Travis Johnson took after knocking out then-Miami Dolphins quarterback Trent Green with a legal hit last season. Johnson stood over the fallen Green and taunted him.

"[Harrison] is not that type of dude, I promise you," Branch said. "He's not going to go into a game and try to hurt someone. I can speak like this because I played with him. And I know for the people who didn't play with him, you could understand why they would say it, but he is not that type of guy. That is not his game."

Personal-foul penalties aren't the only way to measure a player's dirtiness. Just as a skilled criminal avoids detection, a player with sinister intentions might develop ways to inflict damage when officials aren't looking.

Harrison, 3 5, has been dishing out punishment in the NFL since 1994. The league has fined and suspended him repeatedly, including in 2002 when he leveled all-time receiving leader Jerry Rice with a helmet-to-helmet shot.

Most head coac hes polled by identified Harrison quickly and without equivocation.

"That's not a surprise," Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley said. "I would have bet my life savings on that one."

Hear the New Toadies

See Ty Walker’s new project

Read the great Mark Stein’s full account of his soccer dream

I'm truly sorry it's taken so long to hit you with a few (thousand) words about what it was like to play in one of the most amazing playground games New Yorkers will ever see. But I still haven't quite made it all the way back to the real world yet, some five days since Steve Nash and Claudio Reyna let me intrude on all the luminaries who dribbled in from the NBA and footballing worlds for their Showdown In Chinatown.

Before a single ball was kicked last week at Nike Field in Manhattan's Sara D. Roosevelt Park, I had already been treated to more memorable dabbles in participatory journalism than any sports writer has a right to expect in one lifetime.

But spoiled doesn't even begin to describe me any more.

I thought I was rather lucky when 1977 Australian Open champion Roscoe Tanner -- before Tanner's life unraveled in a spiral of jail sentences -- agreed to let me try to return 20 serves on three different surfaces (clay, grass and hard court) for a
column in the Los Angeles Daily News.

I hit a much richer lotto years later when the Dallas Sidekicks, one of the signature franchises in the ill-fated Major Indoor Soccer League, signed me to a one-week contract and allowed me dress for two matches for a feature in the Dallas Morning News.


You can safely assume that there's a new No. 1 in my personal Plimptonian Power Rankings.

Thierry Henry, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman wearing the yellow of Team Nash with a trio of Phoenix Suns on one side. Baron Davis, Jason Kidd and the interloper from trying to blend in on the other side with all of the soccer guys from Team Reyna.

At least I wasn't alone in my awe.

"Thierry Henry came down to Chrystie Street," Nash said after scoring twice in a 9-4 spectacle so unique that fans invaded the pitch for autographs, pictures and shoulder-rubbing with the stars from two worlds before and after the match. "I still can't believe it."

The moment moved Henry, too.

"Great, great atmosphere," he said. "It was pretty different than what I'm used to, but we had great fun."

More Steve Nash Video