You Won’t Watch the Finals.

Oh, Won't I?

Well, look it here.  The NBA Finals start tonight.  I just watched Jimmy Kimmel’s hot shot basketball assassin beat Blake Griffin blindfolded.  Pretty beastly.  Not beastly?  Cliff Lee’s start tonight.  Once again, I’m just saying.  That ERA is creeping toward four again.  Phillies in dire need of some more of their late magic, but not sure it is coming tonight.  So, with that being the case, I thought I’d watch/blog the Finals.  Game 1.  For as long as I can stand it, anyway.  At some point, I may have to switch over to The Voice.  Is tip-off actually at 9?  I won’t hold my breath.

–Pregame Upsets:  The Erudite Heat fans actually remember they are supposed to boo the Mavericks.  Also, Michael McDonald (last seen in the 40-Year Old Virgin) sings the National Anthem, begging the question, where was Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine?

–In the court of public opinion, has there been a coach that had less to do with his team getting to the finals than Eric Spoelstra?

–Line is Heat (-4.5).  Feels like a Miami line, right?  Great.

–I wish I knew more about the reffing controversies, and who hated the Mavs, and how they screw them over.  That might be the most exciting storyline.  4-0 Miami.  If this was Beirut, It’d be a rout.

–This whole handing out the same color t-shirt thing has to end.  It’s an insult to fan bases like, I don’t know, the Chiefs, who just show in up red every single time.  Feels a little Euro and Soccer-ish to me too.  Violation.

–Anyone have the Under?  We’re on pace for about 140 points.

–Danys Baez really needs to be releaseds.  Effortlessly eliminates any shred of hope for the Phils.  That 19-inning game really was a miracle.  In related news, this is not an exciting basketball game.

–Scoring Update:  We’re on Pace for 132.  Things can only get better.  And, when did Jason Kidd start hitting shots?

–If someone asked me why I wasn’t a huge fan of the NBA, I’d show a tape of the first 15 minutes of this game.  Are they tight?  Is the defense too good?

–If there’s an “I don’t care how short JJ Barea is,” club, I’d be willing to join it.  I’m also not interested in how great a scorer he was in Puerto Rico.  The fact he is apparently dating a former Miss Universe is…mildly interesting.

–Starting to hit some shots.  Someone may get to 40 points by halftime.  I don’t have much luck blogging basketball games.  I believe the National Title game was similarly ugly to watch.  I’ll do real basketball fans a favor and bail at halftime.

–The last few minutes of the half were certainly better than anything else I saw, but at 44-43 at halftime, I’m going to once again pass on the NBA.  Someone nudge me if it gets to game 7.

 

Folksy Charlie’s Hitting Weather.

Charlie's Mental Piture.

It’s hot out there.  I don’t know if you noticed.  To everyone who has said to me that they love this weather in the last 72 hours I want to travel back in time, put on my metal golf cleats, and stomp on their dang ankle bone.  It’s too hot for May, but there is one undeniable result of this blessed heat and humidity–the balls jump.  I was playing golf Saturday and it was that round you play every year where all your distance comes flooding back.  I hit some pretty robust 3-woods.  I bunnied a sand wedge into a hole that had required an 8-iron on a recent visit.  Back before golf balls were juiced guys would set them on the dash of their cars, or warm them in a toaster.  Did it work?  I have no idea, but there is certainly something to Charlie Manuel’s notion of hitting weather.

It’s been his favorite refrain since he arrived in Philly, and I noticed this year that other analysts really picked up on a similar sentiment.  Everyone wants to explain why scoring is down, and while obvious fingers point to less PEDs and better pitching, a couple of guys wanted to talk about the uncommonly bad weather we’ve had this year.  Bad for hitting, that is. It started from the jump.  I remember the first homestand the Phils hit several balls that would have left Citizen’s Bank Park this weekend.  It was a league-wide epidemic of rainouts and chilly temps.  Have we turned the corner?  A lot of runs hit the board over the holiday weekend.  If it keeps up it could be enough to at least level off the decline and get back to last year’s numbers.

It isn’t just the hitters, either.  It’s brutal out there on the mound.  In the middle of Roy’s start yesterday he had sweat through his entire uniform and did a full wardrobe change in the 5th inning.  That’s a) kind of gross, but also b) a good indication of how difficult it is to stay hydrated and maintain your endurance level when the temperature jumps up near triple digits.  Not only does it possibly impact the start yesterday, but you have to look at his next start as well.  Will they hold him back to get that extra day of rest instead of using the off-day to skip a spot?  I’m guessing they will.  Luckily yesterday the Phillies’ bats t00k advantage of the weather more than Roy was burdened.  Hopefully that continues to be the case.

***

One Man Vs. The Climate:  Day 7.

I lost again last night, leveling my record off at 3-3.  The Mets.  When the Mets are scoring in bunches you’ve got problems, and yesterday a good 2/3 of all games went over.  We’re going to have to start getting real careful with this.  Only premium pitchers and incompetent offenses.  Luck will play no part in this.

Today’s Selection:  Chicago and Boston Under 9.5

***

Quiz of the Day:  Name a Baseball Player Who___.  Category: Not as Fun as I thought.  My Score: 31/31

Two total guesses there, maybe three…

Outgrowing the High-Five.

Are High Fives Like Video Games?

I’m not sure why it popped into his head, but when we were at the Phillies game last week Haas told me I should do a post on the evolution of the high-five.  It sounded like a pretty good idea, but I don’t think I’m really qualified.  I’m no high-five expert.  Sure, I could run down the basics.  You’ve got your standard high-five, your homo-erotic Top Gun Five, the Bash Brothers elbow smash that ushered in the steroid era, then we progressed to knuckles, and of course there are the wildly elaborate high-five rituals that populate baseball dugouts and frat houses.  There’s always little changes and barometers for what is cool and what isn’t.  For example, when golfers started giving knuckles to each other?  That was probably over.

Instead of talking evolution, I’m going to tweak it ever so slightly.  I want to talk about the inherent youthfulness of the traditional high-five.  There is something about it that just makes it more suitable for kids.  Like mastering a video game controller in four seconds, kids are just wired to execute the high-five, or perhaps just more open the exuberance it takes to pull one off.

At some point in your life you stop giving high-fives.  One day adults are coming up to you, mussing your hair and saying, “How about a high-five, buddy?”  You are routinely giving high-fives to your friends for any manner of minor accomplishment.  It’s almost second nature.  You have fun giving them, but then you wake up one day and you are a little self-conscious about them.  Is it still cool to high-five?  Are people watching me?  Should I be doing that knuckle thing?  It may coincide when you notice members of the opposite sex.  You can’t risk missing a high-five, or giving an inappropriate high-five in front of a girl. That’s pretty basic stuff.

The funny thing about straying from the high fives as you get older is that they most certainly are not like riding a bike. At the same Phillies game, Haas told me that if you look at the other person’s elbow, it is impossible to miss a high-five.  I don’t think I’ve heard that before, but maybe I will try it the next time a big moment strikes.  It’s an interesting theory, and obviously one an adult came up with.  I don’t think the kid who just scored the winning run in T-ball is giving his buddy’s elbow the stare down.  If he misses, c’est la vie, we just won 33-32, baby!  Adults need little tricks like that, because they miss them, and look awful all the time.  Note the picture above.

When a grown up gets into a true high-five moment, they’ve really returned to a childish level of glee.  They are for a moment completely without that burdensome self-awareness.  It’s a moment of pure celebration, but out of practice, it can usually go wrong.  I think back to my historic field hockey goal, and I can say with some certainly that had I attempted a high-five in that instance, I probably would have missed it badly.  I was euphoric, I forgot that maybe 100 people were watching me, and I launched into a full celebration.  I was a kid again, willing to high-five, but it never materialized.

I don’t really know what my conclusion is.  I don’t want to bring the high-five into everyday situations.  It is special in some ways, and I think the knuckles and other variations can cheapen it some.  I guess my point is, if you do find yourself in a moment where you are executing a high five (to whatever degree of success), you should take a moment to bask in your childlike wonder.  The older you get, the harder it is to find.

 

Tough Losses.

D*ck.

A lot of rough endings for this holiday weekend.  Some rookie Indy Car driver smoothly drifts into the wall in the last turn with a history making win all but locked up.  Dale Jr., the beloved Little E, runs out of gas on the final lap to extend a long drought.  Ohio State football fans are forced to part ways with their coach who had turned Michigan into their whipping boys.  The summer lovin’ that Phillies fans had lined up for Vance Worley evaporated right before our eyes, it was quite a series of developments.  It reminded me of how often as a sports fan you rarely get your way.  The wins are great, but sometimes it is the losses that stick with you.  I don’t want to try to rank losses, or factor in level of buckle, or historical significance, or anything like that.  Too tall a task.  Instead, my most gut-wrenching defeats as a fan.  In no particular order…

1993 NBA Finals Game Six:

We have to turn the clock back 18 years to find a basketball game I really cared about.  I had become a ravenous bandwagon Suns fan at this point.  I essentially followed Charles Barkley wherever he went (Go Rockets!), paid some attention to A.I. and then gave up on basketball.  But, back in 1993 this was the biggest event of my summer.  Chuck in a Final.  The Bulls dynasty.  Jordan went off in this series, but somehow I maintained the faith.  Game 6 back in Phoenix, things looking very promising and you leave John Paxson open with a two point lead.  Why, oh why?

1993 World Series Game Six:

1993 was a rough year for game sixes.  That Phillies season was easily the oddest thing I’ve ever witnessed (thank you steroids!).  The Phillies had been bad for a very long time so it took everyone by surprise when they stormed out of the gate and hardly looked back.  A pennant race against Montreal.  How retro.  Anyway, I got very into this team and got to see some of the playoff games in person.  I could probably also put game 4 on this list, but game 6 was brutal because it was do-or-die and they teased you.  I remember watching the improbable comeback before the home run, but not much of Carter’s homer itself.  Must have blocked it out.

2009 World Series Game 4

Here’s one I witnessed in person.  Huge because it was the Yankees, but also because the Phils totally lost grip of the series here.  Cliff Lee was rolling and you knew he’d win game 5.  If they took game 4 it was essentially like going up 3-2 headed back to NY.  Things were looking bleak trailing by a run and turning it over to the Yankees pen, but then Pedro Feliz hit the game tying homer.  It completely switched momentum, but only for a moment.  Lidge came in, wasn’t effective, and then the Johnny Damon running wild, people not covering bases fiasco kind of added insult to injury.  Yankees won and essentially clinched.

2000 Eastern Conference Finals Game 7

This was an improbable series.  At this point as a Flyers fan you expected the worst when playing the Devils.  In game two of this series, after losing the opener, the Flyers got off to a terrible start and if you wanted ground breaking pessimism you would have had to look no farther than my face.  Somehow they came back that night and won 3 straight.  The slow buckle would culminate in game seven.  Eric Lindros had returned from injury to score a goal in game six, but his concussion at the hands of Scott Stevens early in game seven pretty much told the story.  Flyers lost, it was the end of Lindros as well, who was my all-time favorite Flyer.

1998 Masters:

The year after Tiger Woods won in historic fashion, but before he became the dominant player in the world, the ’98 Masters was one of my favorites right up until the end.  Jack Nicklaus ended up tied-6th at 58 years old, but Sunday came down to a shootout. After his standard blowup on 13, Fred Couples had reemerged in a tie for the lead with David Duval with a couple of holes to play.  Mark O’Meara was one shot behind.  It was a good situation for me, pulling hard for Fred with Duval as a real nice consolation prize.  I assumed, I think like most other people that O’Meara would not be a real factor.  He’d never done anything in a big event.  I almost didn’t notice when he birdied 17 to make it a 3-way tie.  I was still locked into Fred. Freddie went bunker to bunker on 18 to end his chances of winning in regulation, but was robbed a chance of a playoff when O’Meara rolled in that 20-footer.  I still can’t believe it went in.  Hate.

So, I guess that’s my top-5.  Like I said, not ranked in order necessarily.  Honorable mention to game 6 of the NLCS last year, game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals (F-you Leighton), the 1983 World Series (memory kernels), I see I have no football on the list, but screw ‘em, they’re locked out.

King of Unders, Day 6:

I couldn’t pull off the magical 4-1 week to start, and that was due mostly to Tim Lincecum.  At least, that’s who I am blaming.  I tried to get real flashy going under 6.5 and it didn’t work, but I liked my own conviction there.  I think the hardest thing about these unders is really all it takes to blow one is one big inning.  It’s a tightrope, but right now I’ve got the tiniest of upper hands.

Today’s Selection:  Mets and Pirates, Under 7.5.

Pirates don’t score a ton of runs, and they’ve got a good pitcher going against New York’s depleted offense.  They swung themselves out against Worley yesterday.  Back to normal.

 

Critics vs. The Audience

Poster Children for the Dangers of Roofies.

The Hangover Part II has officially opened.  Was it Wednesday at midnight?  Last night?  All I know was that as soon as I flipped on the radio today, people were talking about it.  I went to a movie a couple of weeks ago and the theater was advertising tickets for opening night.  Reserve your seats now.  I don’t remember ever seeing that for a comedy.  Especially an R-rated one, but The Hangover II is easily the most anticipated movie of the year for most adults.  I think it epitomizes the glaring differences between a critically well received film and a successful film.

I am wary of this movie.  I feel like it is going to be the exact same thing as the first one, but that doesn’t mean I won’t laugh at it again.  The floor of my comedy threshold can swing very low.  Sometimes you just find yourself laughing at anything.  The gentlemen who called the radio station to talk about the movie said the mere presence of Zach Galifianakis’s name on the screen during the opening credits sent the audience into uproarious laughter. Critics can’t get the pulse of something like that.  People want to laugh at this movie.  Currently on Rotten Tomatoes it rates at 94% audience approval (which is very high).  The critics almost universally slam it, only 33% approval.

Of course, the people who made the movie do not care if the critics like this movie.  It is a force of nature.  They will tell the critics to go get familiar with themselves.  The audience is all that matters and from early reviews it looks like the blockbuster that everyone predicted it will be.  I suppose that critics still play a role in creating buzz for less mainstream fare, but their profession could very well become obsolete.  After all, anyone can be a critic.  I’m not a big fan of telling people what to do or like and I certainly don’t respond well to people trying to put those ideas onto me, but I’m all for hearing an opinion, or a recommendation.  It doesn’t have to be from a “pro,” though.

Anyway, if people out there see the movie this weekend, I’d love to hear a general thumbs up/thumbs down about it.  I’m sure I’ll see it eventually anyway, but a good head’s up is always nice.  Just remember to get there early.  Second hardest ticket to get in town after the Phillies.

***

It’s going to be a one-post, get ready for the long weekend Friday.  I’m jamming everything into this bad boy. Deal with it.  I think I’ve waxed about the great American tradition known as the 3-day weekend enough times before on this site. Including a tribute to how people have taken the initiative and basically created a 3.5 to 4 day weekend out of it.  That’s just good hustle.   I hope everyone has a good holiday.  I’ll be out on the island.  What island?  That’s a secret, my friends. To keep you sated until Monday or Tuesday…

Phenom Watch:  Anyone remember last year when teenage Jordan Spieth had a nice finish at the Byron Nelson Classic?  I didn’t think so.  Well, the amateur is back this year and is currently t-25 after 26 holes of action.  Looks like it could be another nice showing for a kid whose main focus is making the U.S. Walker Cup Team.  Not a great field, but noted major championship buckler, Dustin Johnson, is in contention.  DJ has recently enlisted the help of Fred’s former caddy, Joe LaCava.  Fred’s back, and limited schedule no longer justify one of the best toting his clubs around, and Johnson becomes the beneficiary.  Expect fewer rules violations.

Phenom Watch Part 2:  Bryce Harper has cooled moderately at Hagerstown, just wanted to point out a little comedy for the real baseball fans out there.  At Hagerstown his manager is Brian Daubach.  His hitting coach is Marlon Anderson.  I’m not going to explain.  You’re either laughing, or you aren’t.

The Mets sold 50% of their Debt:  Einhorn is Finkel, Finkel is Einhorn.  If I had 200 million would I spend it on the Mets?  No, no I would not.  Phillies get the Mets this weekend.  Jose Reyes is trying to see if he can get moved, but the Mets starting pitching is still a disgrace.  Warm temps and some more runs?  Hopefully.

***

MLB Unders “the hot streak” Day 4.  

Two games to choose from.  One goes over.  One goes under.  Did I get the right game?  Oh, you bet your sweet ass, I did. The White Sox look like they should be scoring some runs, but they don’t.  It’s an odd year.  Albert Pujols just went 100 At-bats without a homer. Weird.  Someone put a hold on that 10-yr, 300 million dollar deal.  The win pushed me to a gaudy 3-1.  If you are wondering if your record can be gaudy after four games, I’m here to tell you that it can.

Today’s selection:  San Francisco vs. Milwaukee Under 6.5

What’s that in the barrel?  Oh right, fish.

***

Quiz of the Day (hardcore sports edition): Team RBI Leaders 2000s.  Category: Did we do this one before? My score: 26/30.  

Quiz of the Day (social edition):  Longest One-Word Countries.  Category:  There are a lot of 9 letter countries.  My Score:  11/19.

***

That’s it.  What a generous post.  If there was a picture of a naked chick or two on here, it’d really be one-stop internet shopping.  Everyone enjoy the weekend, their BBQs, etc.  I’ll see you Monday, maybe Tuesday, you know, whenever the mood strikes.

Cliff Lee’s A Lumberjack.

Hitterish.

Phils are leading the Reds 9-4 in the 8th of their series ending affair this afternoon as I type this post.  Cliff Lee has had a hand in about everything.  He blew a 4-0 lead, but since has rallied with 2 hits and 3 RBIs to push the boys back in front.  If the Phillies bullpen hadn’t thrown 1.3 million pitches last night, Lee might not even have gotten his chance to wield the lumber, but one of the reasons he said he wanted to come to Philly was to hit, so he might as well be productive up there from time to time.  The victim was Cincy’s “take one for the team” man, Daryl Thompson.  I don’t think the Phillies took into account Lee’s offense when they dropped 125 million on him, or whatever the total was.  Maybe they should have.

Is it a bad time to bring up that Lee hasn’t really been worth the money yet on the mound?  Aside from a few brilliant performances Lee has been pretty average except for his strike out rate, which doesn’t really matter when you are giving up big innings and blowing leads.  Don’t get me wrong, Lee more often than not looks like a top-10 pitcher in the NL, but is that really what we were paying him for?  Cliff already has 4 or 5 “Blantons” this year.  Six innings, 3 runs.   Five innings, 4 runs.  Today he couldn’t protect a four run lead.  As an aside, why do the Phillies let the same guys kill them over and over again?  How many RBIs does Jay Bruce have to pile up in this series?

Getting back to Lee, I guess I am just saying I’d like a bit more consistency.  I know he was signed for the post-season so we can’t really judge until we get to that point, but the Phillies do need him to win his share before he gets there.  I know the advanced stat people will praise his strikeouts and his ERA+ and fielding independent pitching, but I do think those stats can miss some things.  And, perhaps they put too much weight on the dominant outings?  Lee’s best is certainly among the absolute best of any pitcher in the league, but how often does he get there?

There is part of me too that wants to get back to the time when the pitcher took a little more responsibility.  Kind of like the quarterback in football.  Some things aren’t necessarily in his control, but how about taking the brunt?  I’ve never heard of a stat, “passing independent receiving.”  Sure, we know when a guy is the victim of some drops, but it all usually falls on the QB’s head, and I think that should be the case with pitchers some of the time.  Ok, you don’t get run support, but I think sometimes you have to make adjustments, rise to the occasion.  I suppose the advanced stats don’t believe in such things, because each game is played out mathematically, but at the end of the day people still want to know if you won the game.

So, that’s my little Cliff Lee mini-rant, on a nice easy afternoon where the Phillies manage to level off at 10-10 for their stretch against contenders (not too bad in the end).  They scored 28 runs in the four game series against the Reds and have some lesser teams coming up to maintain the momentum…hopefully.  I like Cliff Lee a lot, but I could already hear people explaining away his game today if the Phillies didn’t retake the lead and win (the game has ended, 10-4 as I continue to ramble on here).   I know he pitched well in the post-season, and nonchalantly caught a pop-up, but there are guys on the team I like a little better.  And, there are guys who probably deserve some of the slack that Lee is given in spades.

***

Feasting on Offensive Futility Day 3:

Well, this is far easier than picking actual games.  Even with a 3 game sample, I can see that.  The A’s managed to do their usual against the Angels last night and I cruised to another under, bringing my record to 2-1.  This is the first time I’ve head my head above water in any type of baseball betting scenario.  You’re welcome.  Today, I’m stuck with quite the dilemma.  Only two night games.  Should I show discipline and take the night off, or keep firing away?  Think we all know the answer to that:

Today’s selection:  Chicago and Toronto Under 8.0.

***

Quiz of the Day:  This Day in History: June__.  Category: Actual Knowledge.  My Score: 23/30*

Two spelling look ups.

I Left, What of It?

So, just about every single person who reads this blog has asked me at this point if I stayed for all 19 innings.  Yes, I’ve gotten upwards of 6 or 7 text messages about it.  I left after 12.  The middle of the Phillies order had just gone quietly, it looked like Cincy was going to have the next best chance to score, and so I made the executive decision.  I was sitting by myself at this point.  My fellow attendees had already left to catch a train.  The thought of sitting by myself for what would have been over 2 hours isn’t too appealing.  I’m not one to strike up random friendships in the stands.  And, had the Phillies lost in say 17 innings?  God, that would have been awful.  Of course, they didn’t though, and now I look a bit like a baby.

In fact, on the drive home, somewhere around inning 14 I was listening to LA and what’s his face, Franzke(?) on the radio broadcast and they were whining incessantly about how long the game was going and how late it was.  They were making all the stupid jokes, “oh, what day is it?”  “If the game ends by tomorrow.”  Yuk, yuk, yuk.  Of course, at that point it was only 11:30, and I found myself ripping them for complaining about still being on the air.  Then I realized I had already left the stadium and didn’t have much room to talk.  But, it’s not my job to be there.  The radio guys seem to be getting very sarcastic, kind of lost in their own little world of inside jokes, I don’t know if that is because they think no one is listening, or what, but they bother me.

Regardless, it was quite a game that unfolded after I left.  Sort of.  It may have been the most boring eight innings of baseball ever played followed by Wilson Valdez getting a win and Ruiz manning 3rd base.  One thing the old-timers always grumble about is that they like baseball because there is no clock.  In football they would have tied.  In hockey they would have forced an outcome.  In basketball you run out of steam a lot quicker.  But, in baseball, you got the feeling that they might really be out there all night.  The hitters on both sides obviously were in a fog after the 11th or so.  After blowing chances on both sides there really wasn’t a threat to be had for almost an entire game’s worth of innings.  And, that was against the dregs of the bullpen.

The Reds allowed Halladay to wiggle out of trouble, the Phillies couldn’t hit a sacrifice fly to save their lives, Charlie Manuel made some very questionable decisions with his pinch-hitters, the teams traded solo homers in the 10th.  It was a gosh darn crazy night that probably should have never happened.

Valdez was the first Phillies position player to pitch since Tomas Perez went 1/3 of an inning in a blowout loss in 2002. If I remember correctly, Perez and Valdez have similar stuff.  Going back further than that I have to rely on my better than average mid-80s Phillies knowledge to remember other position players trying their hand on the mound.  Glenn Wilson went one shutout inning in a blowout in 1987.  Wilson had a great arm in RF and likely had plenty of high school pitching experience to fall back on.  And of course, Greg Gross baffled the Expos with an array of breaking stuff in 1986, striking out 2 in a scoreless frame.  So, it appears that the Phillies have pretty good success with these guys on the hill.  Maybe Charlie shouldn’t be so stubborn.  Valdez’s win was the first by a position player since Brent Mayne, and the first by a player who started in the field since Babe Ruth.  Somewhere Kirkjian and Stark are preparing dueling soliloquies.