There will probably never be another team like the 1906 Cubs, with 116 wins and only 36 losses (.763). They had the greatest pitching staff ever assembled. The 1907, 1909 and 1906 Cubs have the three lowest ERAs in the history of the modern pitching distance (1.73, 1.74, 1.75). In addition, all of their eight other positions featured one of the three best in the league at their positions. Consider the bottom of their line-up: their 6th and 7th hitters were Hall of Famers in their primes, and their 8th hitter was the league’s best catcher. They were basically the all-star team, but wearing the same uniform. Yet somehow, they managed to lose the World Series!
The Giants’ opponents last night, the Dodgers, set the all-time MLB record for the most regular season wins by a team that did not lead the league in wins, 106, topping the 104 wins of the 1942 Dodgers and 1909 Cubs.
Those wartime Dodgers blew a 10-game lead in the final going as they were overtaken by a Cardinals team that had a pretty good rookie on the roster. You may have heard of him. They eventually called him The Man.
The 1909 Cubs began the century-long “curse.” The 1908 team had won the World Series, but the Cubbies could not repeat in the subsequent years, and would not being a championship to Wrigley Field until 2016.
After curb-stomping LSU, Kentucky has started to get some respect for their 6-0 record in what is traditionally the toughest conference in the country. Of course that could all end next week when they go on the road to take on the #1 Georgia Bulldogs. Sagarin’s computer says Georgia is 16-21 points better.
The annual Rutgers watch: you may have noticed that they started 3-0 this year, including an overwhelming 61-14 win in the season opener. (A good time to re-evaluate your program: you lose to Rutgers by 47 points.) Unfortunately for them, they could not schedule games against division three women’s chess teams forever, and they lost all three of their conference games. In all fairness, all three of those losses were to top-20 teams, so as much as I hate to lose my favorite whipping-boy, it appears that Rutgers is now respectable. I might actually have to learn their team nickname and stop calling them the Rutgers Hornsbys or the Rutgers Andhammersteins.
The Jets and Giants continue to embarrass New York, with a 2-8 combined record. It could be worse. The Lions and Jaguars haven’t won any games at all, in a general embarrassment to large cats everywhere. (Although the Bengals and Panthers are respectable at 3-2 apiece.)
Mahomes is looking like a mere mortal this year. The team has been plagued by turnovers, and are in last place in their division. To be fair, their schedule has been a real bear. Their three losses were to the Chargers, Ravens and Bills, who have a combined record of 12-3 and are all in first place in their divisions. Their next three games are against teams with losing records, so they could conceivably get up to 5-3 before they have another major challenge against the Pack.
Tom Brady passed for more than 400 yards with 5 TDs and is now leading the league in passing yardage. The old codger said he might play until he’s 50, and I’m starting to think he might actually do it. Given his unwillingness to retire and his elderly, brittle bones, his ability to make that goal will hinge on exactly when he dies on the job. Amazingly, he is not the oldest man ever to start an NFL game at quarterback. Steve DeBerg was 44 years and 279 days old when he started for the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 25, 1998. Brady will not pass that age until May 10, 2022, so he can’t set the record until next year’s season opener.
To be fair, Brady is the oldest starting quarterback who was any good. Deberg was 9-for-20 that day, for 117 yards and no TDs in a 28-3 loss. And it’s not like he was saddled with a poor team. The Falcons were tremendous that year. The starting QB, Chris Chandler, was 13-1 and led the team to the Superb Owl. So it wasn’t the team that sucked, just DeBerg. (Deberg had retired five years earlier, but was re-activated as a back-up QB.)
Between them, the Brown and Chargers scored 41 points in the fourth quarter in a real shoot-out. The Browns managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing 26 points in that quarter, which looked like something out of a Big 12 game.
Thanks to a bizarre facet of the ever-arcane baseball rules, a Sox outfielder was rewarded for fucking up. If he had controlled the ball, a run would have scored, but because he booted it over the fence unintentionally, the runners were entitled to just two bases from the time of the pitch. The umpiring crew got the call right, but it’s a strange situation and a tough break for the Rays, who are now eliminated.
He pitched 7 innings, give up only three hits, struck out ten, and handed the ball over to his relievers who were even more brilliant, allowing nothing at all. Unfortunately for the Dodgers’ pitchers, the Dodgers’ batters kinda took the day off, so Evan Longoria’s solo homer held up for a 1-0 Giants victory.
He had five hits, including three doubles and a homer. That tied the record for most hits in a post-season game, and made him the only member of the franchise ever to slash four extra-base hits in a post-season game. The Red Sox had a total of 20 hits in that game.
Kiké followed up that game with three hits, including another homer, on Saturday, giving him seven consecutive hits overall. He then capped his series by delivering the walk-off blow to eliminate the Rays on Monday.
Taylor was a defensive replacement. He didn’t start the game because he finished the season in a mammoth slump, 8-for-72, and he had batted only .157 since August 11th.
Taylor played six positions this year. The legendary super-utility man Gil McDougald once said, “I always knew I’d be in the line-up, but I never knew which glove I’d need.” Taylor is like that. He’s the team’s designated McDougald. (Taylor is actually more useful than Gil, because McDougald only played the infield.)
Weird fact of the week: the Titans have been the best team in their division despite having lost a game to the Jets! You know you have some offensive line problems when the Jets sack your QB seven times.
And what are the chances of the Jets winning a game so soon? They probably broke out the champagne for their 1-3 record. Last year they started 0-13.
There are always what-ifs, but this year had some odder ones than usual.
The LA Dodgers, the best team in baseball based on Pythagorean W-L, need to win a one-game wild card battle against a damned good pitcher (Adam Wainwright) to make the real playoffs. Breaks of the game. They won one less game than the best in baseball, but the only team that won more games happens to be in the same division. To make matters even worse, even if they win that playoff, the Boys in Blue will have to face the top-seeded Giants, and will not have Scherzer available for a while, since he would need to rest after starting the wild-card game.
The Toronto Blue Jays didn’t make the playoffs at all. In fact, they finished fourth in their own division, despite the facts that (1) their record was good enough to win the NL East, and (2) their ratio of runs scored to runs allowed was the fifth best in baseball, better than six of the teams that are still in the hunt.
Some long-ball achievements:
Marcus Semien set the record for most home runs by a second baseman in a season (45)
Salvador Perez set the record for most home runs by a catcher in a season (48)
Vlad Guerrero set the record for the most homers by a player aged 22 or younger (48)
Shohei Ohtani – what can you say? The record for home runs in a season by a player with 20 or more pitching appearances was set by Babe Ruth with 11 homers in a season in which he was 13-7 as a pitcher. Ohtani hit 46. So he kinda passed that 11 mark. And his W-L record was 9-2!
Add an asterisk here: Ruth is no longer in second place because the Negro League records are now officially part of the major league archive. In 1922, Bullet Rogan was 14-8 on the mound and hit 15 homers for the Kansas City Monarchs. Rogan is a Hall of Famer who led the team in home runs, pitching wins and stolen bases that year! According to baseball-reference.com, Rogan finished his career with a .698 winning percentage as a pitcher with a 2.65 ERA. In his spare time, he batted .338 with power.
Sidebar here: the record for a full-time pitcher is 9 homers in a season, held by the great Wes Farrell, in a season in which he pitched 27 complete games! In the years when Babe Ruth was a full-time pitcher, he never hit more than four homers. He maxxed out at 136 at bats in those years, and it was the dead ball era, so four homers was a helluva year! The Bambino was, however, the best left-handed pitcher in the league and won the ERA crown one year, so he kept busy.
It’s a whole different world with Clemson out of top 25 for the first time since the invention of organized sports. They even used to win the Greek Olympics and the Aztec Games. Some developments this week:
#3 Oregon lost a golden opportunity to crowd the SEC teams for the top spot. Earlier in the season they defeated THE Ohio State University, but this week they lost to unranked Stanford. You’d think Stanford would get a little respect for that, but they could climb no higher than #32 in the AP Poll and #46 in the computer rankings.
#8 Arkansas had their dream bubble burst when a powerful #2 Georgia skunked them 37-0.
#9 Notre Dame suffered their first defeat. Cincinnati’s victory gave some luster to the American Conference.
5-0 Kentucky finally got some respect from the poll after defeating #10 Florida. They jumped from unrated status to #16.
It has been a good year so far for the Big 10. They now have five teams among the top eleven in the AP Poll. The computer geeks agree with the high rankings for four of those teams, but are not impressed with Michigan State.
It is the first all-teen final since 1999, when Serena played Hingis.
It is the first all-unseeded final since – ever. (In the Open Era, 1968-present.)
Raducanu is the first person of either gender to advance to the finals from the qualifiers.
Obviously, tennis ain’t just for white people any more. The Williams sisters seem to have opened the floodgates. Both of these young whippersnappers have mothers of Asian ethnicity. Raducanu’s mom’s heritage is Chinese, Fernandez’s is Filipino. (Filipina? Filipinx? Whatever the right word is now.)
Britain’s Emma Raducanu breezed through her semi-final match in just 36 minutes. She has not lost a single set in the qualifiers or in the main draw.
Canada’s Leylah Fernandez needed three sets to win all of her matches, but she had to defeat three of the world’s top five players plus a former U.S. Open champion. Weighing in at 105 pounds, she played David today to the Belorusian Goliath, Sabalenka, who at six feet and 176 pounds, has served a ball as fast as 133 mph. Sabalenka’s second serve is faster than Leylah’s first, but that wasn’t enough to win today’s semi-final.
I didn’t know this in a trivia contest. The man was Dan Bankhead, who made four relief appearances for the 1947 Dodgers. (The legendary Satchel Paige was the first black pitcher in the American League.)
Although Bankhead was not especially successful on the mound that year (7.20 ERA), he did manage to homer in his first at bat, and he did get into the World Series that year – as a pinch runner. An interesting question might be: How did a guy with a 7.20 ERA in four meaningless relief appearances get selected for the World Series roster?
Anyway, Bankhead labored in the Mexican leagues in his last 13 summers in pro ball, where he occasionally managed and was fairly successful as a two-way player well into his 40s.
I just found out: the team is called “Great Britain” rather than “The United Kingdom” because
(1) The people of Northern Ireland are free to represent either Team GB or Ireland. According to The Belfast Telegraph, 23 of the 31 athletes from Northern Ireland compete for team Ireland. I guess the high sheriffs of British sport thought calling the team The Disunited Kingdom might send the wrong message. Plus DK is already taken (by Denmark).
(2) People from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man compete for team GB, but those areas are not legally part of the UK.
The big fella also had 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. Man, that guy has game!
The Bucks won it on their home turf, spurring a joyous celebration for a franchise that last won a title when the point guard was ol’ number one, Oscar Robertson, and the big scorer was a certain Mr. Abdul-Jabbar.
That’s how you maintain a brand. The high sheriffs of that sport know how to assure the quality spectator experience in anything called “women’s beach ____.”
I’m not totally resistant to change. After all, I’ve accepted the designated hitter, so I’d go along if the women decided to play naked. Then they could wear skimpy bikinis on nostalgia days, like when baseball players wear those old-timey loose flannels.
Once ranked #3 in the world, she fell on hard times in the past two years, but seems to be back on her game. She entered Wimbledon unseeded, but has already turned back two rivals in straight sets. She won three rounds in the French Open, two of them against seeded opponents, but then got slaughtered by Krejcikova, 6-2, 6-0, in the fourth round. Krejcikova went on to win the tournament, so Sloane’s loss to her doesn’t seem so bad in retrospect.
He achieved that by winning the French Open Sunday after losing the first two sets. He’s still one major shy of the record co-held by his rivals Federer and Nadal, but he has accumulated his titles in fewer years, and is the youngest of the Big Three.
1. Before the semi-finals on Friday, Nadal’s lifetime record at Roland Garros had been an unbelievable 105-2. Djokovic handed him loss #3 Friday, and was also responsible for one of the previous two. (The only other man to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros was Robin Soderling, an excellent clay court player who made the French Open finals two consecutive years in his brief, illness-shortened career.)
2. Djokovic has a lifetime winning record against both Nadal (30-28) and Federer (27-23). He has won his last ten non-clay matches against Nadal.
For the record, Nadal has dominated Federer 24-16, so their combined record in matches involving only those three players is:
Nadal’s record is divided sharply by surface. Nadal is 14-2 against Federer on clay, compared to 10-14 on other surfaces. He is 19-8 against Djokovic on clay, 9-22 on other surfaces. There is no question that Nadal is the greatest clay court player in history, with an amazing record of 33-10 against the two greatest rivals of his era. That makes Djokovic’s win against him in Friday’s semi-finals seem to smell all the sweeter.
Nobody. Not Nicklaus or Snead or Watson or Boros. Not Harry Vardon or Old Tom Morris.
Vardon almost did it when he was 50. He was leading the US Open by five strokes with only seven holes to play, but a freak storm whipped out from Lake Erie and put a damper on his brilliant day. He was seven over par for the final seven – and still finished a close second!
Snead won tour events while in his 50s, but never a major. His most amazing effort was in the 1974 PGA, when he finished only three strokes back at age 62.
Tom Watson tied for the British Open lead at age 59, but lost in a playoff.
Old Tom Morris was about 46 when he won his final British Open, but he made the top five when he was 60.
Quite a game. Not many pitchers get to hit in the #2 slot, but he’s not your average pitcher. He is leading the AL in homers!
(And as a pitcher, he has allowed only 11 hits in 26 innings. while striking out 40.)
He’s the most interesting player to come around in decades. One year in Japan (2016) he had an earned run average below 2.00 and an OPS above 1.000! The only pitcher I can remember who clearly could have been a star as an every day player was Don Newcombe, who led the NL in winning percentage one year with a 20-5 record while batting .359 with an OPS over 1.000.
Newcombe was never an every day outfielder in MLB because he was just too good on the mound. One year he won 27 games. Newk did, however, have one season with the Reds late in his career when he appeared in more games pinch-hitting than pitching, and batted over .300 for the season. Newcombe did end his professional career as an every day outfielder, but not in the USA. He did that by pulling a reverse Ohtani and migrating to Japan where he posted a very respectable .473 slugging average in his final pro season. To put that in perspective, Ernie Banks posted a .464 slugging average over his final 12 seasons, encompassing the 60s and 70s.
A statistical oddity: with the season almost a quarter over, middle reliever Heath Hembree of the Reds, who has never been an especially good pitcher, has not allowed a single hit. (OK, he’s only been in six games – but still!)
He’s now the oldest living player in the Hall of Fame, and many say he’s the greatest player ever to take the field. I don’t know about “ever,” but I think he’s the right choice among those who have played since WW2, and I can’t name a position player from any era who could do as many things as well.
You may not know: Willie’s home and road stats look like carbon copies.
“If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball.”
The pitch actually and undoubtedly was in the strike zone, as shown from multiple angles. That however, is unimportant, because umpires miss ball and strike calls all the time. Those are judgment calls, and are part of the breaks of the game. What is important in this incident is that the umpire had already called it a strike before he realized it had hit the batter, so it was not an error in judgment – he called it correctly. What he did NOT do correctly was to follow the rules! I know that the rules of baseball are arcane and anfractuous, but the umps just have to learn them.
The ump did ultimately realize his error, but not until after the game. “The guy was hit by the pitch in the strike zone,” he declared to a pool reporter. “I should have called him out.”
Helluva sad way to end such a glorious season. Baylor was ahead 9-0 at the outset, and 33-14 at one point. Gonzaga was not competitive in this game, largely because Baylor totally owned the glass, with a massive 38-22 edge in rebounding, including an overwhelming 16-5 edge on the offensive boards. That means Baylor was often taking two shots and holding Gonzaga to one. That happened so regularly that the Zags only managed 49 shots in the entire game, to Baylor’s 67.
They won 54-53, using an unusual defense in the last six seconds, basically the hoops version of a goal line stand. They put three or four defenders on Arizona’s star point guard as she brought the ball up, harassing her at ever turn, but basically leaving everyone else open.
What can you say? It worked. The point guard (Aari McDonald) did somehow get off a shot, but it was a long, awkward shot that missed the mark.
In fact, the Stanford strategy against Aari McDonald worked pretty well in the entire game, as they held her to a 5-for-21 night. It was almost a perfect repeat of the previous two meetings of the teams, in which McDonald, double-and triple-teamed, shot 11-for-43. (Or, as they call 11-for-43, the full Iverson.)
It was still a great night for Arizona, despite the loss. They were not expected to take Stanford to the final seconds. Arizona was not especially competitive in their previous encounters. The first time they played it was 81-54. Arizona got closer the second time, but there was still a 14-point gap, so this final game can be considered a good night for both teams.