Speed Read: LeBron’s Heroics Keep Cavs Alive

I guess it just wouldn’t be a Magic-Cavs game in Cleveland if the home team didn’t blow a 20-point first half lead. And not only did their early 34-12 lead vanish, it went away nearly as quickly as it came about. By the time the Magic had finished scoring the first nine points of the second half, they had a 64-56 lead and it looked like Nike was going to have to commission a Hedo Turkoglu puppet.

LeBron and Wally

(The most impressive part is that LeBron literally carried Wally for the entire second half)

But then, LeBron James came alive and put the team on his back like a superstar should in a win-or-go-home game. And (for once this series) he actually got some help from his teammates, who had the courtesy to make the shots he set them up for. When all was said and done, LBJ had a triple-double (37, 14, & 12) and the Cavs had beaten Orlando 112-102, sending things back to Disney World for Game 6.  The odds are still stacked against Cleveland, but this Magic team isn’t exactly full of guys who have been here before.

Stan van Gundy

(Don’t worry Orlando, you still have this very calm, collected man running your team)

ABC counter-programmed against the NBA game with the gripping finals of the National Spelling Bee. Fortunately, they had the good sense this year to keep Mike and Mike away from it, instead going to “Dancing with the Stars” host Tom Bergeron, who was joined during the proceedings by Brooksfavorite gymnast, Shawn Johnson. The winner was Kayva Shavishankar of Olathe, Kansas, who got bonus points for having a name that was harder to spell than any of the words on the championship list. She spelled “laodicean” right to win the title, taking home the big trophy and $40,000, which will pay for nearly one year of college. This article says she’s a “budding neurosurgeon,” which leads me to believe that she’s actually already done brain surgery. Props to her if that’s the case. The favorite, Sidharth Chand, flubbed “apodyterium” and finished fourth, joining the 292 other spellers who have ultimately just wasted a whole lot of time studying for this. Anyway, this is all just an excuse to post the video of that one girl screaming the last word back in the ’90s again:

The fallout from the Memphis violations scandal continues, with new allegations surfacing about Derrick Rose, who is supposedly the Memphis athlete whose SAT was taken by a stand-in to ensure that he passed. According to the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, Rose was one of four Simeon High School athletes whose transcripts were fraudulently altered in order to help him get accepted to college. Meanwhile, Kentucky officials continue to maintain that they believe that John Calipari is not a risky hire, even though his two previous schools have come under investigation soon after he left.

John Calipari

• The BOSTON HERALD says that Terry Francona got so upset about getting ejected from yesterday’s Red Sox-Twins game that he received medical attention in the clubhouse afterward for elevated blood pressure. Tito’s only 50 years old, but has been a walking heart attack waiting to happen for several years. Let’s hope he lives to see David Ortiz go deep again.

• For years, baseball stat-types have been looking for a way to quantify Derek Jeter’s bad defense. Well, the HARDBALL TIMES’ Colin Wyers came up with a metric that does just that. According to the new SZR (Simple Zone Rating), Brooks Robinson is the best fielder ever (which sounds about right) and Jeter is the second worst (foiled by Eddie Yost).

• Here’s your Stanley Cup preview from USA TODAY. This is the first rematch since the Islanders and Oilers played back-to-back Cup finals in 1983 and 1984. The Isles won in ‘83 (their fourth title in a row) but the Oilers unseated the champs the next year. That means it’s now been 25 years since Gretzky and Messier won their first cup. And what a scene it was when it happened (fans with goofy signs were on the ice before the game ended. They’d be tasered these days):

• Speaking of the Stanley Cup, the first two games will be played on consecutive nights this weekend, the first time since 1955 that Cup games have been played two days in a row. And why? No, it’s not Yanni’s fault this time. It’s actually Conan O’Brien’s fault. DEADSPIN says that NBC wouldn’t air weeknight games because if they go into overtime, they could’ve pre-empted one of O’Brien’s first shows as host of the “Tonight Show.” The finals weren’t orginially supposed to start for another week, by which time the world would’ve forgotten about hockey altogether.

• The World Series of Poker got underway yesterday with a special 40th-anniversary hold ‘em tournament. The buy-in: $40,000. About half of the field of 201 has hit the rail, and this special tourney (a who’s who of pro players) will conclude on Sunday. The $10,000 main event doesn’t start until early July. For now, here’s a picture of Phil Ivey getting an arm massage as he casually leaves a giant wad of $100s just sitting on the floor:

Phil Ivey

• Could Joe Torre have a bigger horseshoe up his butt? Manny gets suspended for 50 games, and somehow Juan Pierre turns into Ty Cobb (uh, except for the racist part). Pierre, who is widely known to be one of the worst offensive players this decade (stealing bases doesn’t make you good), is hitting .440 since becoming the starting left fielder for the Dodgers. L.A. won again last night, 2-1 over the Cubs in Chicago.

• I have to admit that I never thought I’d see the day when John Salley and Patti Blagojevich would be interviewed together, but GOOD DAY L.A. had them yesterday morning as they promoted their new TV show about getting stranded in the jungle. And YOU BEEN BLINDED has the video, which includes Steve Edwards asking the married Salley about his “girlfriends,” which didn’t amuse John at all. Salley also defends Patti by calling our country “communist.” Good times all around.

John Salley and Patti Blagojevich

• Is Twitter over yet? Now the LPGA is saying they would “love” to have players tweeting mid-round. Yeah, let’s slow golf down even more.

• BLOOMBERG has a good look at Sonia Sotomayor’s influence in ending the baseball strike nearly 15 years ago. Sotomayor grew up just a couple of miles from Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx, which also happens to be the country’s poorest congressional district. But hey, at least they have a shiny new stadium with $2,500 tickets!

• Now that Shea Stadium has been blow’d up, Tom Glavine has decided it’s safe to pitch again. He threw five scoreless innings in a AAA rehab start last night, and may pitch for the Braves next week. Still, expect something to “flare up” if Glavine’s turn in the rotation comes up when the Braves are in New York.

Which sports figure would you most like to send to the jungle for a month?

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The American Idol-ization of MLB’s All-Star Voting

It’s that time of year when the teenage girl in the short shorts and platinum blonde smile holds out a handful and asks, “Would you like one?”

That’s right; it’s baseball’s annual answer to the PENTHOUSE Forum: the mostly fictional facade of MLB All-Star Game voting, where your vote counts increasingly less each year in a game that supposedly counts more than ever.

Carrie Underwood collectible card

That peppy young lass from the organization with the stack of ballots would like you to fill out a couple hundred or so at the ballpark and then she’ll give you a big reward. (In Arizona, the Diamondbacks whip out a team shop gift certificate. Your local franchise’s well-intentioned bribes may vary.) You don’t want to disappoint her, do you?

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Speed Read: Mets Finding Creative Ways To Lose

Hey, it looks like Brett Favre is not going to have surgery anytime soon, and…you know what, I’m not even going to pretend to give a crap about any of this anymore. So let’s talk about something else, like the Mets going full-on Chico’s Bail Bonds last night at Dodger Stadium.

Bad News Bears

Luckily for the Mets, the game ended so late last night that their incredible ineptitude wasn’t able to make it onto the back page of the morning papers (although the DAILY NEWS already has a “Follywood” story up online). In one of the stranger endings to a game I’ve seen, the Dodgers were handed no fewer than three gifts in the 11th inning, allowing them to take a 3-2 win and move to an MLB-best 27-13 on the season. Let’s recap the fateful 11th:

1) With two out in the top of the inning and the score tied 2-2, Angel Pagan tripled into deep right-center with Ryan Church on first base. But Church missed third base on his way home, and after he scored the Dodgers appealed at the base. Church was called out, Pagan’s hit was reduced to a single, and the inning was over.

1a) Angel Pagan’s playing? I hope they didn’t let him drive to the game. Pagan might be the first player ever with a suspended license to have four hits in a major league game (I don’t know if BASEBALL REFERENCE keeps that stat).

2)  In the bottom of the inning, Pagan and Carlos Beltran has a communication breakdown on a routine fly ball to left center, resulting in Pagan diving out of the way at the last minute and Beltran dropping the ball.

3) After an intentional walk to Juan Pierre(!) to load the bases and a pop-out, and Beltran now playing as part of a five-man infield, Orlando Hudson hit a routine ground ball to Jeremy Reed. Reed went to home for the easy force out, but his throw was about 10 feet wide of Ramon Castro, who was already standing several feet away from home plate. Dodgers win. And, as if Reed needed anything else in his way, pitcher Brian Stokes decided it would be a great idea to run over and stand right in between Reed and Castro, ducking out of the way at the last minute to avoid being beaned in the head by Reed’s errant toss.

Angel Pagan

Seriously, the Mets have some defensive issues to work out. They made five errors last night, with two of them coming from Ramon Martinez, who was called up earlier in the day from AAA to play shortstop while Jose Reyes is sidelined. Reed, who is actually an outfielder, was only playing first because he pinch-hit for Fernando Tatis and somebody had to play the position. Carlos Delgado won’t be playing it for a while, as he’s having hip surgery tomorrow.

Speaking of the DL, Twins pitcher Glen Perkins is joining it after informing the team that he has tingling and discomfort in his pitching elbow. Of course, they probably would’ve rather he told them that before he gave up six runs in 2/3 of an inning at Yankee Stadium last night. Because then they might’ve been able to just start R.A. Dickey, who gave up no runs in the next 4 1/3. The Twins lost the game 7-6 — a totally fitting end to a four-game sweep that saw them lose the first three in walk-off fashion.

Glen Perkins

(”I gotta go on the DL, Gardy. I got a mean case of Chien-Ming Wang-itis.”)

Much like Dante in Clerks, Philippe Boucher wasn’t even supposed to be there last night. But the Penguins’ seventh defenseman scored the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes in Game 1 of the NHL’s East finals. The ‘Canes almost rallied to tie the game late, but Marc-Andre Fleury denied Eric Staal on the doorstep with 30 seconds left to preserve the win and bring us one step closer to the same exact Stanley Cup finals matchup as last year (except this time Marian Hossa will be playing for the winning team). While the NHL playoffs have been great thus far, there’s a sense of impending dread that it will all be downhill from here since the Pens-Caps series will be nearly impossible to top.

Penguins Hurricanes

• ESPN’s Ric Bucher wrote a great piece about ex-NBAer Brian Grant’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Grant found out in January that he has the disease, and has reached out to Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali, the two most famous victims of the degenerative condition.

• The Brewers got some bad news yesterday when they learned that Rickie Weeks is going to miss the rest of the season with a wrist injury. It did, however, allow them to recall top prospect Mat Gamel from AAA, who promptly homered in his first big-league start in an 8-4 win over the Cardinals. Gamel, however, might make Crew fans wish Ryan Braun was still playing third, as he made a mind-boggling 93 errors over the last 2+ seasons in the minors (and one last night, of course).

• PGA golfer Briny Baird and Padres GM Kevin Towers took turns bombing golf balls off the roof of a hotel in San Diego yesterday. It’s OK, P.F. Chang’s set it all up. In fact, because Baird was able to hit a target 268 yards away (and 340 feet below him) in Petco Park, America is now entitled to a free lettuce wrap at Chang’s. Go here to register for your free app.

Briny Baird tees off

• Why doesn’t anyone want to ride Mine That Bird? The horse than won the Kentucky Derby and would’ve won the Preakness if the race was about 20 feet longer is going to be on its third jockey in three races at the Belmont because the most recent rider has decided his time will be better spent riding a horse in a race that isn’t on national TV that day. Meanwhile, there is growing sentiment that Rachel Alexandra should skip the Belmont, considering she nearly ran out of gas in the shorter Preakness.

Terrell Owens was given the key to Buffalo yesterday. Which is kind of a waste, since Buffalo’s going to have to spend a bunch of money to change its locks when T.O. wears out his welcome in October.

Terrell Owens

(”Is it OK if I make a copy for Rosenhaus?”)

• The Nationals’ ground crew is about as good at putting a tarp on the field as the team is at playing baseball (thanks to BAREKNUCKS):

• The NHL says that Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes can’t declare bankruptcy and sell the team to Jim Balsillie because Moyes gave Gary Bettman ownership of the team a few months ago in exchange for a financial bailout and thus doesn’t have the authority to make any decisions concerning the team’s future. It’s nice to see that Bettman is hell-bent on keeping the team in a place where it will continue to suffer instead of letting it go somewhere that will go crazy supporting it because he doesn’t want to be known as the guy who failed at bringing hockey to Arizona.

• The news isn’t all bad for the NHL, though. Sunday’s broadcast of the Red Wings-Blackhawks game drew the highest ratings ever for a non-Stanley Cup final or Winter Classic game on NBC, according to FANHOUSE. This despite the game being aired opposite the Lakers-Rockets Game 7 on ABC.

• RACIN NATION says Jeremy Mayfield was told exactly what he tested positive for, and it’s not Claritin, as Mayfield has contended. Stop denying it Mayfield, we all know you were drinking ayahuasca with a shaman in Peru.

England kicked off a campaign to get the 2018 World Cup yesterday. And when they bring out the big guns like Lord Triesman for the launch party, no other country has a chance. Well, except that the TIMES is still convinced that the U.S. is going to end up with the Cup if Barack Obama decides he wants it here.

What is least likely to happen?

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Speed Read: No One Is Shocked By Mannygate

It’s been said that either Manny Ramirez is incredibly dumb, or incredibly good at playing dumb, and his response to his 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program gives proponents of either theory plenty of fuel for the fire. On one hand, claiming that a doctor gave him medicine for a “personal problem” seems like a flimsy attempt to use ignorance to cover up cheating, especially since the drug in question (hCG) is primarily used as a fertility treatment for women.

Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez

But what the “personal problem” really was personal - like he was trying to get pregnant? Maybe he saw that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Junior” on a plane flight and thought that sounded like a great idea. I mean, come on: Manny’s so crazy, he doesn’t even know that men can’t conceive. That’s just Manny being Manny.

Junior

(The only thing inconceivable is Manny Ramirez’s story.)

Are you buying it? Me either. As the news spread throughout the baseball world, the most shocking aspect is just how not shocked anyone who wasn’t a Dodger fan was about it. His former teammates with the Boston Red Sox seemed to be more upset that they have to talk about Manny Ramirez again than anything else, with closer Jonathan Papelbon summing up most player’s thoughts:

“I just walked in the clubhouse today and found out about it. I haven’t really thought about it all. We’ve got more things to worry about on our club. Obviously, it’s a news story, blah, blah, blah. There’s so many more things we have to go get ready for. He’s not in our clubhouse anymore, so this is something that we’re not even worried about.”

Meanwhile, the debate seemed to come not about Manny Ramirez’s guilt or innocence, but about everything surrounding his presumed guilt. Such as Brooks’ question that if everyone is doing PEDs, then do we have to let Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame? Or if the Dodgers are going to symbolically tear down “Mannywood,” the section devoted to the team’s Cult of Personality.

Dodgers fans celebrate Mannywood

So how did the Dodgers react on the field without their leader? In a word: shaky. Oh, it started out good, jumping out a 6-0 first inning lead on the dreadful Washington Nationals. But then it all fell apart, although this had nothing to do with Ramirez’s absence.

Blame this on the Dodgers’ increasingly leaky bullpen, which allowed nine runs in the seventh and eigth innings en route to an 11-9 Dodgers loss - which stopped the team’s record home winning streak to start the season at 13. You also couldn’t blame Ramirez’s replacement in left field, Juan Pierre, who went 2-for-4 but did make the inning-ending out in the eighth with the bases loaded.

Meanwhile, back to Ramirez’s former team again … actually, let’s look at both of them, since his original team (the Cleveland Indians) just happened to be visiting his most recent team (the Red Sox) on Thursday night. And while it might be tacky after the events of yesterday to says that Boston’s offense was on steroids, it’s safe to say that they were at least jacked up on a six-pack of Jolt colas.

Scoreboard of Red Sox vs Indians

The Red Sox matched a major league record by scoring 12 runs in the sixth inning while drubbing the Indians 13-3. At least we can be sure that Jason Bay isn’t juicing, unless he tests positive for having too much maple syrup in his blood.

And speaking of blowouts, let’s take a moment to congratulate the Atlanta Hawks for making it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as they collect their parting gifts and head to the exits. Sure, they are only down 2-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they are returning home.

Cleveland Cavaliers bench

But anyone who saw just a few minutes of Cleveland’s 105-85 thrashing of the Hawks knows that this series has all the makings of a sweep. Cleveland lead by as many as 36 before calling off the dogs, and LeBron James was just toying with defenders. And oh yeah, Joe Johnson sprained his ankle and might be out for the series. Have fun at the golf course, Atlanta!

More news that you might have missed last night as you were slowly backing away from Kiefer Sutherland and avoiding eye contact as not to enrage the beast:

  • The Players Championship teed off in Florida yesterday, and of course Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson share the lead. Actually, that’s a lie: the FLORIDA TIMES-UNION says that while Ben Crane leads after an opening-round 65, Woods dealt with a balky putter while shooting a 71 and Mickelson was all over the place while putting up a 73.
  • Tiger Woods

  • But if Tiger feels like he needs any help, he can call on Lee Trevino, as the DALLAS MORNING NEWS says that “Super Mex” has offered to teach him a power fade that will make sure that “he doesn’t lose any tournament.” At the least, he would like him to try an authentic salsa from Texas versus a competitor made in … NEW YORK CITY?!?
  • As usual, the Stanley Cup playoffs didn’t disappoint: the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES says that the Blackhawks relied on a late third-period goal to pull even and then scored early in OT to win 2-1 and level their series with Vancouver at 2-2.
  • Meanwhile, the DETROIT NEWS says the Red Wings also tied their series with Anaheim at 2-2 but were far less dramatic about it, playing some old time hockey on the way to a 6-2 blowout.
  • And as hockey attempts to shine on the ice, it continues to stumble elsewhere, as the TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL says that a group of investors trying to buy the failing Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton, Ontario are accusing the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman of “operating like an illegal cartel” in blocking the sale and move. Kind of like a more stupid version of the Mafia.
  • As the baseball world was reacting to Manny Ramirez’s suspension, the EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE says the Arizona Diamondbacks took the opportunity to relieve manager Bob Melvin of his duties while no one was looking. He’s being replaced by former major league catcher A.J. Hinch, because that’s apparently the only people who can manage the Diamondbacks.
  • YAHOO! SPORTS claims that Louisville coach Rick Pitino has made himself a candidate for the Sacramento Kings coaching job. It probably won’t have as much impact when he tells the local media that “Vlade Divac is not walking through that door.”
  • The WASHINGTON POST says there was plenty of hot disciplinary action in the NBA, as the Magic’s Rafer Alston received a one-game suspension for his head-slap on the Celtics’ Eddie House, while the Lakers’ Derek Fisher received the game punishment for his cross-check of the Rockets’ Luis Scola. There were no suspensions given to Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest or any pieces of furniture.
  • It wasn’t just Didier Drogba who was upset with Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo for several calls that didn’t go Chelsea’s way in the 1-1 tie with Barcelona that knocked them out of the Champions League semifinals. EUROSPORT says the ref had to be “smuggled” out of the country under police escort.
  • A football player at Chico High in Texas has been arrested for assaulting a 13-year-old girl in what WFAA-TV is referring to as a “sex game” gone horribly wrong, involving freshman girls “sexting” the popular football players to gain popularity.

What was your initial reaction when you heard about Manny Ramirez’s suspension?

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Notes From the Manny-Dodgers Honeymoon Phase

Last night I had the pleasure of taking in the Dodgers-Diamondbacks sporting contest in the cool night air of Chavez Ravine. A very, very brief summary of the event: All of the Dodgers fans want to have Manny’s babies!

Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers, in love

Seeing as it’s only Manny’s 2nd game in Dodger Blue, the fans are still in what armchair psychologists refer to as “the Honeymoon Phase” of the relationship.

According to Wikipedia, this is “the phase early in a long-term relationship characterized by greater than typical joy and lesser than typical friction. Usually during this time there is much more physical contact between the two partners in the relationship.” In other words, the place went nuts when he knocked out his first home run as a Dodger.

A partial analysis of the rest of the evening after the jump.

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