The other day I found out an interesting fact about the Toronto Blue Jays: their win over Baltimore on June 22 put them over .500 for the first time in nearly a year. I’d forgotten it’d been that long since the Jays had been, well, good. But then again, I was feeling positive about them even as the season was going to pieces.
Right now, every team in the AL East is above .500. It’s a meat grinder of a division, a marathon, all those comforting old cliches. It’s pretty damn exciting, folks. After what happened throughout April and May, if you had asked what my hopes for the season were, I’d have said just getting t0 .500 would be amazing but I’d have expected something like 75 wins, tops. As it goes now, the Jays have 38 and are two games above .500.
It’s been a rough spring, especially for their starters. RA Dickey, who cost the Jays a small ransom back in the winter months, hasn’t been his 2012 self and is struggling with a neck injury. Josh Johnson’s been hot and cold, swaying between gems like his seven-inning, ten-strikeout and zero runs allowed start against Colorado with a rough four runs allowed through six innings start against Baltimore on Sunday. JA Happ is still hurt and Ricky Romero might be finished after self-destructing back in May. The shining spot of late’s been Mark Buehrle, as any number of blogs have told you.
But even though things went south for the Jays pretty early, there was fun, shining moments. Filling this year’s Rajai Davis role – aka the role player inexplicably playing well and winning over fans – is Munenori Kawasaki. Last year, Kawasaki was unassuming for Seattle, hitting .192/.257/.202 in a little over 100 at bats. When Jose Reyes went down with a turned ankle early this season, Kawasaki was called up from AAA Buffalo. I don’t think anyone really expected much of anything.
While he’s hitting better in 2013, with a .341 OBP, Kawasaki is endearing himself locally by coming across as a fun, personable player. He’s given a memorable interview, played catch with fans and danced inside an airplane. Given some of the recent attitude to come out of the Jays locker room, this is a breath of fresh air. He’s not spouting mean-spirited jokes like Escobar did last fall. He doesn’t come across like Brett Lawrie, who cares so much he loses his shit. I don’t think it’s projecting too much to assume most people see Kawasaki as the everyman, getting his chance in the bigs and making the most of it: he comes across as more human than most of this loaded Jays team. It’s a lot more fun to root for someone like him than someone you expect the best from. When he hit a stand-up triple against Colorado on the 19th, the crowd was as into it as anything I’ve seen all season.
And the fans are into it. The Jays started this season, as they usually do, with a sellout crowd. This has, as it usually does, as the season has gone on. But the TV ratings are showing an interesting trend. Let’s break it down, point by point:
- For the home opener on April 2, the Jays pulled in over 1.4 million viewers.
- On June 11, they drew about 572,000 in a win over the White Sox.
- As the Jays started winning games, the ratings started climbing: 604,000 for a game against the Rangers on June 14, then 686,000 on June 18. Last Friday, their win over Baltimore cracked 900,000.
I haven’t seen numbers for the weekend series against Baltimore, but I’m really curious if it’s kept going up.
The big win streak ended against Tampa on Monday night in a 4-1 loss, but that’s okay. It’s just nice to see the Jays mattering again, to see the team back in the thick of things and interest in the team starting to pick up again. Reyes is coming back sometime soon and hopefully JA Happ follows. Maybe another streak is on the horizon or at least a chance to move out of last place.
It’s been hot here lately, maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling so lethargic w/r/t summing up my thoughts on the NBA Finals. It’s not hard to compress things into a few sentences, but still: a lot happened over the seven games and there’s a few things I want to cover.
Games six and seven were two of the most intense games I’ve seen live. They were easily the most exciting games of this year’s postseason and I can’t remember too many others that gave me the same emotions: game seven of the 2010 Finals immediately comes to mind, as does game five of the 2005 Finals. I don’t bring this up to make some Simmons-esque point about legacy or how I’ll remember things in five years time, but to say this was a hell of a series. It was intense, even for someone who didn’t have anything riding on it; bad enough I had to switch to the radio for game six because I was getting so wound up in the fourth that I knew I wouldn’t get to sleep if I didn’t.
Going into the series, I picked the Spurs to win in six. I was off by a bit, but I’ll get to that in a second. I picked them for a few reasons: rest, their defence, the play of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in the postseason. Conversely, I wasn’t high on the way Miami had looked against Indiana: Bosh and Wade struggled against a strong defensive team and LeBron James seemed like he getting flustered by carrying the team.
The Finals started in this vein, with the Spurs defence coming up huge late and Parker hitting a crazy game winning shot in game one. It was another game where James was amazing – 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists – but at least Bosh and Wade scored in the double-digit range. Game two was a Miami blowout, although it was pretty close even going into the fourth quarter, before Miami went on a run and took a big lead.
Before long, each team was trading blowouts. San Antonio took game three and Miami game four, each by wide margins. The Spurs had good nights from role players like Danny Green and Gary Neal; Miami’s big three combined for 85 points in their win. Game five was a little closer: a ten-point Spurs win, on Manu Ginobili’s big night (24 points, 10 assists). At this point, each team was winning every other game. People in the media were saying it was unlike anything they’d ever seen, although it reminded me of an Atlanta/Milwaukee series from a few years back. The Spurs were in position to win the Finals in six games as the series moved back to Miami.
They came close, really damn close. They led late, by five points with 28 seconds left. Tim Duncan had arguably his best career game: 30 points, 17 rebounds against a stifling Miami defence. And the Spurs played with a remarkably short roster: four players would finish the game with over 40 minutes played and just nine checked in at all (including a ten second stretch for Matt Bonner). But LeBron had one of his best nights, too: 32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and the nerve to take three different three pointers in the last 30 seconds. That’ll be my lasting memory: listening to him take those shots on TSN Radio’s scratchy broadcast sometime around midnight on a Wednesday am.
What about game seven? Well, what do ya need to know. It was close and Duncan just about tied it up late. It was intense and I felt glad I didn’t have any professional obligations to cover the game. It reminded me of the time I interviewed Roger Lajoie: he told me the worst event he ever covered was game seven of the 2001 World Series. He was writing for Reuters then, working as their main sports guy. He told me he had to write, erase and re-write his story three, four times as the game swung back and forth. And because he was writing for a wire service, he had to get it out there was soon as he could, going against the AP. Game seven was one of those games, close enough that had Duncan hit that basket, you’d have heard hundreds of columnists slamming their delete key into oblivion.
People are going to try to spin these finals into a greater narrative. It’s one of those sportswriting tricks everyone falls into now and again. Maybe this will be The Last Gasp of the Spurs Dynasty (is this it for Manu? I’d be surprised if he left the NBA but I doubt he’s got much left in the tank either). Maybe it’ll be The Time LeBron Shed His Labels (a stupid idea: he’s been unquestionably the best player in the league for at least four years now). It might have something to do with Kawhi Leonard or Chris Bosh, each resting at the opposite ends of Expectation and Results: 19 points and zero, respectively, in the final game.
But it doesn’t have to be put into anything. It was just a damn fine series: seven good games and at least three I know I’ll be thinking about all summer. It had two of the best players of their generation playing at the highest level; it had a few players standing out beyond what anyone expected, too. I have a bit of a basketball hangover right now – I don’t plan on watching anything, even highlights, until sometime in July – but the nights were worth it.
In the second half of the 1960s, Miles Davis put together what’d be known as his second great quintet: pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. As this group recorded seminal albums like E.S.P., Miles Smiles or Miles in the Sky, Davis’ music began shifting away from strict jazz.
Throughout his career, Davis was always shifting away from the jazz mainstream. He turned down a gig with Duke Ellington while putting together the nonet that’d record The Birth of the Cool, revolutionizing jazz from stuffy big band arrangements into a compact form: a tightly-knit group that would alternate solos between arranged sections of music. Just listen to Move, a song with a composed head, room for soloing and a finish, with everything crammed into a frantic three minutes. Read the rest of this entry »
At year’s start, I’m not sure anyone would’ve guessed San Antonio would be the team to come out of the Western Conference. Even at the start of March, I doubt many thought the Miami Heat would be tested so hard by Indiana. And as the Finals gear up, this is not the outcome anybody expected. And it’s probably the best outcome we could’ve hoped for.
All the way back in November, the smart money was on the LA Lakers to win the West. They’d taken an already talented team – Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, etc – and augmented it. Steve Nash was the point guard who’d mesh with Bryant, freeing him from bringing the ball up court and directing play. And Dwight Howard was the center that Andrew Bynum was always supposed to be. Concerns? No way! As Sports Illustrated said on their cover, “This is going to be fun!”
But what happened wasn’t much fun. Nash, who struggled with injuries when surrounded by the best training staff in the NBA, was hurt and played in just 50 games. When he did play, he was nowhere near as effective: his scoring dropped to under 13 points per game while his assist numbers, long his bread and butter, fell through the floor. It’s almost as if Bryant is a playmaker himself and best functions when he can dictate the offence, usually through the triangle.
Howard, meanwhile, struggled in his role. He scored fewer points per game than he had since 2005-06. His rebounding numbers were almost as bad: the lowest since 2007. Even his PER – a stat all but tailored to big men like himself – plummeted down to 19.4, his lowest in years. And how, it looks like Howard’s ready to leave. Bill Simmons went on at length about this, especially about Howard’s decline. I’m inclined to agree: he was a tremendous bust this season, all things considered. The Lakers lucked into the postseason, scraping in as Utah fell apart in the late part of last season. They fired a coach, seem likely to let another go soon and were soundly swept by San Antonio in the first round. Do people still think the SI Jinx is a thing?
If you didn’t have the Lakers, you probably had Oklahoma City getting to the Finals. It wasn’t a bad risk: they had the duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, both of whom were both some of the best players in the NBA and still improving. And they did have a very good season winning 60 games, their division and holding the top seed in the conference. And then, in game two of their first round series, Russell Westbrook hurt his knee and was done for the playoffs. Without him, Oklahoma City roughed out a series win against Houston and fell in five games to Memphis. There goes another Smart Pick.
So it’s been San Antonio who slugged it out through the postseason. After sweeping the Lakers, they slipped past Golden State in a pretty fun series, especially the double OT game one thriller which I’ll probably rewatch next time it’s replayed on NBA TV. In the conference finals, they swept Memphis in a series I bet most people won’t really think about much, other then to call it ugly. It’s too bad: two games went to OT, one of them featuring an insane Memphis comeback, and game four was pretty close, too.
If Miami gets past Indiana, as I hope they do, it’ll set up one hell of a NBA Finals: the closest thing to a real dynasty the NBA has had in years against the a new style of dynasty; the best player of one generation (Duncan) playing the best player of another (LeBron James); the team everyone likes to hate because they’re “boring” playing the team everyone likes to hate because of the way they came together.
It’s the best Finals we could’ve hoped for: there’s real storylines here, not the kind TV producers would’ve kicked up for a OKC/Miami series. There’s the idea of generational conflicts, or at least the kind that happen in pro sports. There’s Gregg Popovich going for his fifth championship, which puts him in the same class as people like Pat Reilly, Red Auerbach and John Kundla. I haven’t been as excited for a series all through these playoffs. I hope you’re feeling the same way.
Editor’s Note: Originally published Feb. 6, 2012 at Flashfact.org. A postscript has been appended to the bottom.
It’s harder than you’d think to find bands that only released one album. Generally, if a band is any good they have a little staying power. Sometimes even if they’re not any good, too. Even one-hit-wonders seem to stick around for a little while: did you realize Len released five albums? That The Odds released four? Even Jale – a band that only seemed to be around for a matter of weeks – released two albums.
But it still happened. Each of the following bands here were, and in one case still are, very good. But somehow, they left just one album for their legacy, at least while they were still together. And when I say album, I’m talking a full length: something substantial, with more than a couple songs. EPs, compilations and remix albums don’t count. Neither do records released well after the band broke up: do those reflect the bands intent, or was it a way for a label to recoup costs? I’m not counting stuff released if the band went through substantial changes, either: if they added new members and changed their name, I’m considering that a different band.
The cool thing about sports is how it makes you care about stuff you really have no control over and no real stakes riding on. The outcome doesn’t really mean anything to you or me or anyone without a stake in the team itself. And even then, their stakes aren’t really all that huge. Toronto wasn’t going to go into the red if they didn’t make the second round.
But still: I cared about the Colts and the Maple Leafs. And on Monday night, both teams lost heartbreakers in game seven of their respective series. The Colts were down most of the game, tied it up late and right as the period wound down, London forward Bo Horvat scored and put the Knights ahead, so late the faceoff was just a formality.
It was as close as a buzzer-beater as I’ve seen in hockey in a long, long time (since maybe that Canucks/Flames series in the late 80s). It was that old line from ABC Sports: the agony of defeat, the ecstasy of victory, all that. The ref waved it off, then it went upstairs and the goal was allowed as the London crowd collectively lost their shit. Within a few minutes, the Colts cleared the ice, the Knights were posting team photos to Instragram (what a brave new world we live in) and I focused on the Leaf game.
And here too was, I suppose, agony. Toronto went ahead early and kept scoring on Rask. Kessel had a goal, then so did Kadri. Soon it was 4-1, Toronto. Later in the third, Boston cut it to 4-2 and with just under two minutes left, they pulled Rask for an extra man.
A little postscript for this season: Toronto was bad in their own end all year long. How many games did they have where they got pounded by shots and only Reimer kept them in the game? Shit, even against teams like New Jersey, the Leafs could barely keep the puck out of their own end. When you read tomorrow about how great they were at hitting the other team, remember that you don’t hit players when you have the puck. As I noted before this series, Toronto had one of the worst Fenwick Close numbers heading into the postseason.
So it shouldn’t have been a giant surprise when Toronto coughed up the lead, when Boston controlled the puck late, when the Bruins could just fire off shots as it looked like all the Leafs hung around in front of the net and couldn’t clear it out of their own end. Reimer just looked overwhelmed and, God bless him, he was. He faced more shots than anyone else in the NHL so far. And he got peppered again on Monday night: the boxscore has him facing 35 shots.
What’s there to say about overtime? Toronto came out strong, got a couple of chances and the same thing happened: Boston started forechecking, kept the puck in their hands and fired off shot after shot. And this time Reimer was literally overwhelmed: he was falling over and all outstretched when Patrice Bergeron put one past him six minutes into the extra frame.
Sure, it sucks, but this series was a fun ride. That’s the cool thing about sports: they’re fun as shit. After all, the Leafs were the also-ran in Toronto for a long time. The Jays have a longer playoff drought, but they had the excuse of Yankees/Red Sox payrolls, too. The Raptors haven’t won much in the past nine years, but they made the postseason a couple of times and even won a division title. And the Argos? They just won a Grey Cup, maybe you remember that. It happened on their home turf.
The Leafs lost, but they got into the playoffs. If nothing else, that’s something to hang on to: this season’s been better than any since the 2005 lockout. Things are slowly getting better for the Worst Sports City in the World (TM). I’m just happy they got this far. And besides, I picked Boston to win in six.