Speed Read: Yes, Denver, You’re Stuck With Orton

Sure, Denver Bronco fans booed Jay Cutler with all their might last night when he returned to play against his old team for the first time, but the boos eventually faded to mild displeasure, and then the eventual realization by the home crowd that they are, in fact, really stuck with Kyle Orton. The Bears won the first half — when both guys played — 17-3, and won the game 27-17.

Jay Cutler sign sad Broncos fan

In other words, the Broncos are about to fade into oblivion, somewhere they really aren’t used to inhabiting. It just took last night’s game for it to finally sink in. Even the lady pictured above doesn’t really seem to have her heart in that sign. She’s quite clearly not lovin’ it. Chargers fans, meanwhile, are already clearing their weekends in January. They could probably take four games off this year and still win the AFC West.

Cutler, of course, played well last night for his new team despite all of the distractions and a concerted attempt by the Bronco defense to make things as tough as possible on him. Suddenly, the Bears are brimming with confidence heading into their opener at Green Bay, and thinking they might be able to duplicate their Super Bowl run a couple of years back — this time with a QB who isn’t allergic to footballs.

Rex Grossman

Orton, of course, didn’t even make it to halftime because he sliced his finger open on another player’s helmet. For what it’s worth, he actually played fairly well (12-for-16 for 96 yards). But this is a guy who the Bears really only grudgingly let be their starter because a better option wasn’t available. Are there even five other teams where he’d be the #1 guy?

FOX SPORTS’ Alex Marvez just comes right out and says the Broncos were fleeced in the trade, not only in the 50-cents-on-the-dollar they got in return, but because of the way coach Josh McDaniels and owner Pat Bowlen botched the whole situation from the start. Maybe Mike Shanahan had lost his way a little, but wouldn’t your average Bronco fan rather have him and Cutler than the McDaniel-Orton combo? Did it really have to come to this?

Well, at least you can look forward to some more scenes like this out at the local bars, Denver:

Kyle Orton and girl

Which AFC West team is more dysfunctional?

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Some idiot blogger totally wrote off the Giants last week after they lost an excruciating game to the Rockies that dropped them four games back in the wild card hunt. In fact, all of the talk was about how Colorado might even run down the Dodgers when all was said and done. And no, I wasn’t the only one sticking the fork in San Francisco.

What a difference a week makes. Edgar Renteria, perpetually just barely good enough to keep getting a job, hit a grand slam that lifted the Giants to a 9-5 win over the Rockies and a series sweep. The teams are now tied heading into baseball’s official stretch run.

Edgar Renteria

(Edgar Renteria: When your team just doesn’t care enough to find a better shortstop)

I knew, of course, that Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain would always give their team a chance to win. But I hadn’t counted on the sudden rejuvenation of Barry Zito. Since a meltdown against the Padres on July 18th that made me wonder if they’d find a way to get rid of him altogether, he’s posted a 1.92 ERA in his last nine starts. Throw in Jonathan Sanchez, whose ERA has been right around 3.00 since the beginning of July, and you’ve got the best starting pitching in baseball right now. Just think if they could hit!

Now, the Giants have to find a way to stay close over the next 10 days. The Rockies start a 10-game homestand on Tuesday and host the Mets, Diamondbacks, and Reds. San Francisco, on the other hand, travels to Philadelphia and Milwaukee before returning home to play the Padres.

Barry Zito

(Yes, that is Zito not only tipping his cap, but also receiving applause)

• The US Open is starting today. An 18-year-old kid named Devin Britton won the NCAA championship this year, and his reward is a first-round match against Roger Federer. Let’s hope he handles the pressure better than Richie Tenenbaum did:

• TRUE HOOP has a great post about last week’s episode of “Mad Men,” which had a subplot dealing with the outrage about tearing down the old Penn Station to build Madison Square Garden in the 1960s, and how MSG is revered today as a sports venue:

Four decades later, it’s ironic that the building that was the bête noire of architectural preservationists has become the defining symbol of basketball preservationists — a receptacle for the sort of sentimentalism that fueled the opposition to its creation. 

• 124th-ranked Heath Slocum drained a 20-footer to beat Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, and Ernie Els by a shot at the Barclays tournament in Jersey. Tiger missed a six-footer on the 18th that would’ve tied it. The real winner of the day, though, was former MLB hurler Heathcliff Slocumb, who I briefly thought about for the first time in 10 years.

Heathcliff Slocumb

(Think the Red Sox regret trading him for Varitek and Lowe?)

• I’m not saying Daisuke Matsuzaka is finished, but a 49-pitch, five-run first inning in a AA game isn’t a good sign that things are back on track.

Tedy Bruschi is going to retire today, and then become the 18,214th talking head on NBC’s NFL coverage.

• The Pirates have now lost 21 straight games in Milwaukee.

• A 26-year-old female rugby player had her head run over by a two-ton grass roller set free by a bunch of teenage male rugby players while she was camping in a tent in Wales. Now she looks like, well, like she just played rugby:

Emma Winch, female rugby player

• Are the Cardinals really the team to be scared of in the NL? We all know that pitching rotations shorten in the playoffs, and the Cards are 29-4 since July 1st in games started by their big three of Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Joel Pineiro.

• Want more evidence that the Mets are a little cash poor? They’re canceling their fall instructional league because it costs too much. The NY DAILY NEWS’ Adam Rubin says it costs about $300,000 to put on, which is about 1/40th of Oliver Perez‘ 2009 salary. Of course, the whole story is just Rubin angling for a job in the organization.

•  The LA TIMES’ Kurt Streeter is the latest to say what we’re all thinking. Gambling on football is rampant, so why isn’t our country making any money off of it?

• This is what the world has come to in 2009: There is now a “Twitter Warning” sign at the US Open cautioning players against revealing too much “inside info” in a tweet.

Andy Roddick tweets about Twitter warning at US Open

Speed Read: Can Unknowns Hold Off Tiger & Phil?

On US Open Monday last year, Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate treated us to one of the classic golf duels of all time. And as we speak, Tiger and Rocco are back on the course trying to make history again. Unfortunately, they’ve been joined by 58 other people and Mediate’s tied for 54th place, so it might not exactly be as magical this time around. In fact, soggy Bethpage Black has been kind enough this week to let a one-time PGA winner and another guy who’s never even finished in the top 10 duke it out for the right to lose to Woods in a playoff later today.

Bethpage warning sign

(Warning: This Course Is So Tough It Can Only Be Described With Capitalized Words)

By the time you read this, my prediction may already be rendered silly, but I’m calling it now: Tiger makes it to 4-under and the two leaders, Lucas Glover and Ricky Barnes (who I thought was a pro bowler until Saturday), will fall back to finish in a tie, with Phil Mickelson one shot behind (due to something like accidentally hitting a putt backward). Other rock-solid predictions:

1) Fat David Duval will finally remember he’s not Skinny David Duval and shoot 94.

2) Someone in the crowd will yell “get in the hole!” on a 400-yard shot from the fescue that will actually go eight feet.

3) Johnny Miller will utter the phrase “trap draw” 391 times and complain about the swing of any prominently featured Scandinavian guy.

4) Instead of tossing his ball to the gallery at the 3rd hole after putting out like everyone else, Barnes will save himself the trouble by hitting his tee shot there.

Johnny Miller

(”Trap draw. Tiger’s lurking. Fescue. What’s the lie like, Roger? Wasn’t I good in the ’70s? Trap draw.”)

As for Tiger, play was suspended for the night just after he had pulled back to even par for the tournament. And while he’s still well within striking distance, some have suggested that he might be better off if someone clubbed him in the knee last night to help him regain his 2008 form.

Tiger Woods knee

Barnes, meanwhile, duck-hooked yet another drive just before the horn sounded. While some players elected to play out the hole they were on, Ricky decided to stew over that one all night and deal with it this morning. Perhaps it was just so he could still call himself a co-leader of the US Open at the pub last night. Barnes has not only never won on the PGA Tour, he’s also never won on the Nationwide Tour despite playing regularly there. So to say this is a tall order for him would be a massive understatement.

Also giving hope to the crowd lurking a few shots back is Lucas Glover, who has ranked 87th or worse in final-round scoring for three years running. As Jason Sobel notes in his ESPN blog, Glover’s only PGA Tour win came when he holed a 50-foot putt on 17 and a bunker shot on 18. Again, not exactly a reliable bet to hold it together down the stretch.

NEWSDAY says that the odd sight of the fourth round pairings teeing off until 7:30 p.m. last night made for some problems at the first tee as play was winding down for the night. While beer sales were cut off at 6, a number of fans who had been hitting the sauce pretty hard all day starting heckling anyone and everyone who started their round — including Phil and Tiger. I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising considering the Long Island crowd has purchased 150,000 beers since Thursday, compared to 115,000 sodas and water bottles combined.

drunk Bethpage fans

While these guys battle to be America’s golf champion, America’s soccer team is currently battling to be the champion…of the eight teams that were chosen to come to a warm-up tournament for next year’s World Cup. Things weren’t looking so good, honestly, when the Americans were outscored 6-1 in lopsided losses to Brazil and Italy in the Confederations Cup. The U.S. began its match with Egypt yesterday needing a very specific and wildly improbably set of circumstances to occur to advance from the group stage to the semifinals. Which, of course, happened.

US soccer fans

The U.S. beat Egypt 3-0, while Brazil blasted the Italians by the same score, setting off a three-way tie for 2nd place in the group. And the U.S. was deemed to be not quite as bad as the other two teams by virtue of scoring one more goal overall than Italy, and in very soccer-like fashion advances based on a technicality. The reward for the Americans is a semifinal match with Spain, the reigning European champions and arguably the best team in the world right now. Basically, we have about as much of a chance at beating Spain at soccer as we’d have at beating Spain in paella-making and afternoon-nap-taking.

Spain fans

Those lovely ladies are rooting for you to scour today’s links:

•  Just days before filming was set to begin, Columbia has pulled funding from Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of Michael Lewis‘ classic book “Moneyball.” VARIETY says the movie was set to star Brad Pitt (as we reported back in October) and ex-players like David Justice and Scott Hatteberg, who were both featured in the original book. Either Joe Morgan is now running Columbia or the studio finally realized that a $50 million film about baseball stats, even with Pitt attached, might not be the wisest investment out there.

• A mislabeled bus carrying a Canadian semi-pro football team in Indiana got into a major accident with an SUV yesterday. The SUV driver died, but everyone on the bus survived, though some had to be hospitalized. The players, who don’t get paid, are members of the London Silverbacks but were rolling in a bus that said their team was the “Mustangs.” ONLINE SPORTS GUYS has the story (and video of the wrecked bus). UPDATE: The AP is now reporting that the driver of the SUV who was killed was Beth Smith, the wife of PGA golfer Chris Smith. Chris was not in the car, but his kids were and they are seriously injured. Chris Smith has spent most of the last three years on the Nationwide Tour, and won his only PGA title in 2002.

• Protests in baseball almost never work, but Joe Girardi thinks he’s got a chance to win one he filed with MLB last night during the Yankees’ game with Florida that involved a botched double-switch by Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez.

• We know that the U.S. is moving on to the semis in the Confederations Cup, but one American in the tournament isn’t.

• BITTEN AND BOUND says that Sergio Garcia’s recent inability to win big golf tournaments might have something to do with his heart being broken in March by Greg Norman’s lovely daughter, Morgan Leigh Norman. They offer no theories about Sergio’s inability to win big golf tournaments for the other 28 years of his life.

Morgan Norman and Sergio Garcia

Daisuke Matsuzaka’s trip to the DL might be just about the final nail in the coffin of the WBC, which is just going to crush those people in the Netherlands who couldn’t get enough of it.

• On the list of sports you won’t be seeing at this summer’s X Games: Car surfing.

The fake umpires took their show on the road this weekend, as they traveled from their hometown of Toronto to sit in on the Blue Jays-Nationals series in D.C. They claim to be the first people to ever travel to a different city to fake umpire a game from the front row, which is quite a feather in their cap. I still prefer Sheff’s Chefs.

fake umpires

• Buried at the bottom of this Grizzlies notebook is a statement from owner Michael Heisley that his team is one of the most profitable in the NBA despite a horrible team and worse attendance. It’s mostly attributed to keeping a low payroll. In other words, congratulations Memphis, you’re blessed with the second coming of Donald Sterling!

• Former Wimbledon champ Michael Stich has a not-at-all-offensive idea for how to deal with the women who grunt too loud during major tennis events: shoot them!

• Speaking of Wimbledon, let’s celebrate the start of the great championship with a couple of gratuitous shots of Russian pro Maria Kirilenko (Andrei Kirilenko would normally consider her for this year’s “allowance,” but there’s too much of a chance that they’re related):

Maria Kirilenko


Maria Kirilenko

Who’s going to win the US Open?

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Unveiling The Daisuke Matsuzaka Memorial Toilets

A good trade has an impact on both teams. So while the Seibu Lions gave up one of the best pitchers in Japanese history in Daisuke Matsuzaka, let no one say they didn’t get anything in return. Like the most amazing bathrooms you’ve ever seen.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

With the $51 million they received from the Red Sox, Seibu finally put the finishing touches on stadium renovations. And while the new scoreboard and playing surface at the Seibu Dome are nice, the real centerpiece of the construction are the futuristic new toilets.

Seriously, you’ll piss yourself in excitement when you see what these things can do. And then they’ll clean you up.

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Scott Boras Is Ready To Hold MLB Hostage Again

You can be sure that Manny Ramirez wasn’t the only person in his camp disappointed when he was “only” able to get a two-year $45 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  You can bet that his agent Scott Boras was hurting, too. That’s because Boras was the one who orchestrated Manny opting out of his old deal with the Red Sox in the first place because that contract was done by Ramirez’s previous agent, so Boras never got a taste of the money. So he was trying to cash in on Manny while he still could.

Well apparently Boras has decided that he needs another way to get that money into his wallet, and it seems he’s chosen San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg to do it for him.  Strasburg has been making a mockery of the game while at SDSU during this time there, striking out 19.4 batters per nine innings, and is the consensus number one pick in MLB’s amateur draft this summer. That pick is held by the Washington Nationals, and if Boras gets his way, the Nats are going to need a mortgage on their new stadium to sign Strasburg.

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Speed Read: The U.S. Is O-U-T Of The WBC Again

Well, that was embarrassing. With a chance to redeem cultural elitism in the sport its country created, the U.S. team at the World Baseball Classic threw away its chances like this Derek Jeter error below, losing to Japan in a 9-4 blowout in the World Baseball Classic semifinals on Sunday.

jeter us

That makes the U.S. 0-for-2 in these quadrennial shindigs, while the Japanese get a shot at 2-for-2 on Monday night, in the team’s fifth faceoff with Korea in this World Baseball Classic alone.

Of course, that’s hardly the story here. Instead, this is a tale of how A) Roy Oswalt couldn’t hold a lead, B) the U.S. couldn’t mount a rally off of Daisuke Matsuzaka and C) Jeter made a horribly costly error in the bottom of the eighth, just as the U.S. seemed to be getting back in the game.

In fairness, the Oswalt-Matsuzaka matchup played out much the way it should have, just perhaps in a slightly adjusted time frame. The Americans got on the board in the first inning, but by the time he was done, it was Matsuzaka who had held the U.S. in check, while Oswalt had folded repeatedly to Japan’s litany of slap hitters.

As for Jeter, in the end his error didn’t affect the decision in the game. But his error, a badly off target throw on a jumping play as he wheeled to his right, gave the Japanese a crushing three-run lead — which soon ballooned to the final five-run margin — when the U.S. could have gotten out of the inning with the heart of the team’s order coming up in the top of the ninth.

It all goes to prove that nothing is certain in baseball anymore, especially in the World Baseball Classic, as much as it really may be a money-grubbing, made-for-TV event. Then again, we already knew that, thanks to our friends in the Netherlands.

Of course, the Americans weren’t the only superpower to go down on Sunday night. Just ask the Lady Vols of Tennessee.

tennessee summitt

That’s right, the only women’s basketball program powerful enough to copyright their team name as its own brand was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. In fact, before Ball State stunned record-breaker Pat Summit’s team in Bowling Green, Ky. last night, the Vols had never lost in either of the first two rounds. That made them a whopping 42-0.

Not anymore. Of course, Summit was as much a realist about the loss as she is about anything else, shining a pretty stark light on her team’s shortcomings.

“I thought we were tentative, maybe uptight,” Summitt said. “But you have to give credit where credit is due and that’s to the Ball State basketball team. They had a lot more toughness. They beat us to loose balls. They made shots.”

Evidently that still makes all the difference between wins and losses, whether you’re Pat Summit or a nobody like Ball State Coach Kelly Packard, who has a whopping 26 career wins.

There had to be some winners on Sunday, and there were plenty in men’s college basketball. But of all the teams going where the Tennessee women (and men, for that matter) fear to tread, none can truly be called “Cinderella.”

hill arizona

Sure, there’s still a 12-seed out there in Arizona. But to call the Wildcats a Cinderella team is as unfair as it would have been to call Wisconsin a slipper-wearing team. In fact, ESPN’s Andy Katz makes a pretty compelling case that this season’s Sweet 16 is about as chalk-filled in any of recent memory. Sure, it makes for some pretty strong matchups, but that doesn’t help us glorify the next Cinderella. If only Siena had held on …

Now that the “Cinderellas” are out, I’m pulling for:

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Japan Baseball Exports Face Ban If They Return

In a move designed to discourage a flood of young Japanese baseball players from shunning their domestic leagues and moving to the U.S., baseball execs over on the islands have enacted a three-year ban on amateur players who leave Japan should they decide to return and attempt to play professionally.

Japanese baseball fan girl

The ban doesn’t cover major-league players who choose to relocate in the middle of their career, like Ichiro Suzuki or the wildly popular (at least in Los Angeles) Kosuke Fukudome. But it does cover players like 22-year-old Junichi Tazawa, who was considered to be one of the top players available in this fall’s Japanese baseball draft. Tazawa has decided to forgo Japanese baseball altogether to come play in the states.

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Stevie Y. Deals With Dirty Dad Faking Kid’s Cancer

A friendly reminder - the Patriots’ victory parade (same day as Super Tuesday) is less than a week away!

• A putrid parent faked his kid’s cancer just so they’d get a visit from Steve Yzerman.

Steve Yzerman Stanley Cup

• Disgraced TV anchor Alycia Lane may be back on the airwaves - with the WWE?

• Argue with Sonics owner Clay Bennett, and he’ll toss your butt out of the arena.

• UCLA’s Kevin doesn’t get any Love from the Oregon crowd.

Jeremy Shockey will go to Terrell Owens’ in-town Super Bowl party, but might not attend the Big Game with his Giants teammates.

• A high school wrestling coach bit off more than he can chew when he munched on one of his players.

• Japan’s postal service delivers up new stamps featuring baseball hero Dice-K.

• Remembering the time a NASCAR fan stole the pace car at the Winston 500.

Japan Post Office Gives Dice-K Stamp Of Approval

Daisuke Matsuzaka can’t be licked - or can he? The star pitcher has just been given the stamp(s) of approval from Japan’s postal service.

Dice-K waving

SbBer Mark mails in word from MAINICHI DAILY NEWS that the Red Sox hurler will be featured in a set of collectible stamps. The special Dice-K postage will be available throughout post offices in Japan until February 22.

The commemorative sheets are expected to have “10 80-yen stamps showing some of Matsuzaka’s finest moments, including his first victory in his first game as a starting pitcher, and when he held up the trophy celebrating victory in the World Series.”

Kosuke Fukudome Cubs Ad Japanese Flag

Looks like the Cubs finally found the right stamps to mail out their own promotional material (that they ripped off of other sports blogs).

On a side note, some Sox fans are selling historically-insensitive shirts of their own. Just don’t send any to China.

Dice-K May Not Play in Red Sox Japan Series If Wife Gives Birth

RED SOX PITCHER’S PLANS FOR JAPAN MIGHT BE NO DICE: As Red Sox Nation knows, Boston’s season will start next year in Tokyo. But now there’s a chance the club’s biggest Japanese star won’t even play:

Daisuke Matsuzaka wife Red Sox

The ASSOCIATED PRESS delivers news that pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka may be off the mound and in the maternity ward, as his wife Tomoyo is scheduled to be giving birth to their second child around the same time.Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said the team and the MLB front office were already aware of Dice-K’s impending re-fatherhood when they scheduled the games between the Sox & A’s for March 25 & 26.

Baby ward headphones

Lucchino hopes the kid “will be born at such a time to allow (Dice) to participate,” but also added that Dice “has an important obligation with respect to the birth of that child.”If the baby does pop out at that time, Boston won’t be short-handed when it comes to bringing along Japanese pitchers. Hideki Okajima will have a chance to return to the field where he spent 12 years of his career.

And another Sox hurler is already looking forward to the trip. Curt Schilling proclaims, “I’m not going to pitch over there, so I’m going to have fun.”

Curt Schilling family

Seems like he’s already having fun, with his Red Sox squad beating SbB’s Royals in SPORTING NEWS Strat-O-Matic action.Damn him! (for this week, anyway)

Red Sox To Open Season in Japan Against Athletics

KONNICHIWA, BITCHES! RED SOX TO START 2008 IN TOKYO: Dice-K will be heading home next March. And his Boston baseball teammates are coming along:

Dice-K Red Sox Tokyo

The ASSOCIATED PRESS reports that the Red Sox will start their season next year in Japan, where the World Series champs will face off against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo.The Sawx and A’s will face off in two games on March 25 & 26. In the days beforehand, both teams will play Japanese squads in exhibition games.

Hiroshima Toyo Carp

Hope their exhibitions go better than Michigan State’s and Ohio State’s.And MLB hopes this isn’t their only foray to the Far East in 2008. The league is hoping to have the Dodgers and Padres play in Beijing, at the ballpark being built for the Olympics. Those games would likely take place in mid-March.

Beijing Los Angeles smog

With air pollution constantly covering the Chinese capital, the L.A. club should feel right at home.