Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Mo Milestones For Rivera

Regarded as best closer in baseball, Mariano Rivera wraps up 500th career save and picks up first career RBI in Yankees' 4-2 win over Mets. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

The plaque that will follow him into both Monument Park in the Bronz and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown will certainly highlight many of his accomplishments that forever cements his status as the best closer in baseball. Last night at Citi Field was the latest in a long line of great games for the immortal Mariano Rivera.

Rivera collected his 500th career save in the Yankees' 4-2 victory over the Mets, capping a three-game sweep that improved the Bombers' record against their crosstown rivals to 5-1 this season. Rivera also helped his own cause in the ninth inning, scoring his first career RBI on a bases-loaded walk by Francisco Rodriguez that provided the Yanks with a big insurance run.

"It's definitely special to be the second guy in baseball to do it," said Mo regarding save No. 500. Only Trevor Hoffman has more, with 571; and since Rivera is two years younger than Hoffman, it's not inconceivable to suggest that Mariano will ultimately become the all-time save leader. Rivera's first save came during the 1996 season, when he was the bridge to John Wetteland; and his catcher that night was none other than the Bombers' current manager.

"You know you're going to get the right guy," said Joe Girardi after the game. "Even getting his 500th save, he was relaxed." Girardi also offered a testimonial to Rivera's success as a closer, chiming in by saying "I don't know if we'll ever see another Mariano Rivera."

It will be a long time before someone else even comes close.

A Cup Of Youth Is Served

Joey Logano wins yesterday's rain-shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301, becoming youngest Sprint Cup Series winner at just 19 years old. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times)

Many NASCAR fans expected Joey Logano to break through in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series when Joe Gibbs Racing announced that the youngster would replace two-time series champion Tony Stewart behind the wheel of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota last year. They're just surprised that it happened so soon.

Electing to stay out on a long green run, Logano and crew chief Greg Zipadelli's strategy paid off in yesterday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire International Speedway, as Logano was in front when the race was called on pit road after 273 laps. It was Logano's first career Cup win, and it came at the home track of both the driver and crew chief; each of whom hails from Connecticut.

"Zippy said to just stay out," said Logano, who became the youngest winner in Cup history at just 19 years, 1 month and 4 days old; obliterating the previous record held by teammate Kyle Busch, who was 20 years, 4 months and 2 days old when he took his first checkered flag in Cup at California in 2005. The victory at Loudon was a "dream come true" for the rookie, who said in a postrace press conference that he had watched and competed in his first Cup race at the Magic Mile, and was visibly elated to have won his first there as well. Logano is the second first-time winner this season, following David Reutimann, who won the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in a race that was also ironically rain-shortened. Logano is also the fifth first-time winner at New Hampshire, joining Joe Nemechek, Robby Gordon, Ryan Newman, (who also won a rain-shortened race in 2002) and Clint Bowyer.

Jeff Gordon finished second, and sits just 69 points behind Tony Stewart, who still leads the standings after coming home fifth yesterday. The season resumes Saturday night from Daytona with the Coke Zero 400, where Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A.J. Puts Out Met Fire In Yankee Win

A.J. Burnett is pumped up at Citi Field last night after limiting Mets to just one hit in Yankees' 5-0 win. Bombers have taken four of five from Mets this season. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

When the Yankees picked up A.J. Burnett in the offseason, his career record of 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA against the Boston Red Sox had a lot to do with the 5-year, $82 million contract the team signed the righthander to. Just three months into the season, Burnett has demonstrated the ability to dominate another of the Bombers' hated rivals, shutting out the Mets through seven innings as he and two relievers combined on a one-hitter in the Yanks' 5-0 win over the Mets at Citi Field. The Yankees have now won four out of five against their crosstown adversaries this season; their first season series win since 2003, when they swept the boys from Flushing. The Yankees are 41-30 lifetime against the Mets in the regular season since interleague play was implemented in 1997, and won the 2000 World Series in five games against the Mets; clinching their 26th (and most recent) championship at Shea Stadium.

Back to Burnett for a second. In 14 innings against the Mets this season, he is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, allowing just five hits and striking out 18. Burnett was on the mound two weeks ago today when the Yankees demolished Johan Santana and the Met bullpen in a 15-0 thrashing on June 14th; and last night's outing lowered his ERA to 3.93.

"I want to throw one," said Burnett when asked about a no-hitter. Burnett has a no-no in his career already, accomplishing that while with the Florida Marlins. However, that feat gets overshadowed by the nine walks Burnett surrendered in that game against the San Diego Padres in 2001. "I'm not one of those pitchers who doesn't know he's got one going. I was shooting for it."

Mets manager Jerry Manuel, whose team collected just three hits against CC Sabathia and the Yankee staff on Friday, said of Burnett: "I thought we'd do a little bit more against him, but we weren't able to get it done."

The Mets look to avoid a sweep tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern time, with Livan Hernandez opposing the winless Chien-Ming Wang on the mound at Citi Field.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not Many Surprises In An Overhyped Draft

What everyone knew going into last night's NBA draft became reality when commissioner David Stern introduced No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin as newest member of Los Angeles Clippers. (Photo courtesy of

Aside from Blake Griffin, no one quite figured out what to expect from the NBA draft last night. Twenty-four hours later, it's still not easy to analyze each team's strategy and methods from the two-round affair at Madison Square Garden.

After Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet went 1-2 to the Clippers and Grizzlies, respectively, many thought Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio was a lock to go third to Oklahoma City. He ended up falling to the Timberwolves at No. 5 after the Thunder selected James Harden, while Sacramento took Tyreke Evans of Memphis with the fourth pick. After the draft, Rubio's father said in an interview that the 18-year-old point guard may stay in Spain for at least another two years. Minnesota followed the Rubio pick with the biggest shock of the draft, taking Syracuse's Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry, who went one spot later to Golden State. Curry, the object of the Knicks' affection, will instead play for former Knicks coach Don Nelson in the Bay Area. The Knicks went with Arizona's Jordan Hill at No. 8.

National champion North Carolina was also well-represented at the draft, with Tyler Hansbrough being the highest Tar Heel selected, going at No. 13 to the Indiana Pacers. Ty Lawson was selected 18th by Minnesota, but later traded to Denver. The Wolves took Lawson's backcourt partner Wayne Ellington with their other first-round pick, the 28th overall. Cleveland added Danny Green in the second round.

This year's "Mr. Irrelevant," or last player selected, was Memphis wingman Robert Dozier, who was taken 60th overall by the Miami Heat.

Subway Series Heats Up Citi

After Yankees took two out of three from Mets two weeks ago at Yankee Stadium, Bombers look to do the same at Citi Field in renewal of Subway Series this weekend. (Photo courtesy of WFAN's Mike can see this and a lot more great baseball pictures at Mike McCann's Engaging Images)

Let the rivalry begin once again; this time in Flushing.

That's right, it's Subway Series time again. After the Yankees took two out of three from Atlanta, the Bombers head to Citi Field this weekend to take on a Mets team that won three in a four-game series with the Cardinals earlier in the week; the last two behind stellar outings from Fernando Nieve and Johan Santana.

Tonight, Mike Pelfrey is the latest young Met starter to take the mound for Jerry Manuel. The 5-2 Pelfrey will be opposed by CC Sabathia. Tomorrow, Tim Redding gets the start after it was decided that John Maine would need another rehab start in the minor leagues. Redding will go against A.J. Burnett tomorrow night. In the nightcap on Sunday, Livan Hernandez will face Chien-Ming Wang, who is still looking for his first win of the season.

The Yankees took two of three from the Mets at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, winning the first game 9-8 on a dropped popup by Mets second baseman Luis Castillo. Nieve pitched brilliantly for the Mets in the second game, providing the Flushing faithful with a 6-2 victory. Game 3 saw Santana and the Met bullpen get crushed by a score of 15-0.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

King James Gets A Shaq In His Palace

After helping Penny Hardaway elevate his career and winning championships with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal becomes new sidekick for LeBron James after being traded to Cleveland. (Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

It is only a matter of time before speculation finally becomes reality, and the Cleveland Cavaliers proved that today.

After making headlines at the trade deadline for being rumored to acquire Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns, the Cavs finally pulled off the blockbuster deal everyone had seen coming for months, as they picked up Shaq from Phoenix in exchange for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic. The Suns will also receive a second-round pick in 2010 and cash considerations from Cleveland, who had the NBA's best regular-season record, but were eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals by the Orlando Magic, the team O'Neal began his career with. Orlando lost to another one of Shaq's former teams, the Lakers, in the NBA Finals.

The 37-year-old O'Neal gives LeBron James a reliable scoring option for the first time in his career that now includes an MVP trophy. Shaq has one year left on his contract, and LeBron is already headlining what will be the biggest free agent class in NBA history next year. The hope around Lake Erie is that the two stars can bring the city of Cleveland its first championship in 45 years.

Curry Spicing Up A Bland NBA Draft

He won't go No. 1 overall, but Davidson guard Stephen Curry is by far the most talked-about player in this year's NBA draft, which takes place tonight at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

All most NBA analysts can tell you about tonight's NBA draft is that Blake Griffin will be selected first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers. What happens from there is anyone's guess, as this year's draft is one with puzzle pieces that still do not fit just a mere three hours away from David Stern opening the bottle on this year's festivities at Madison Square Garden.

One name that will definitely be called in the top five besides Griffin is that of Stephen Curry. The sweet shooter that ignited Davidson's Cinderella run to the Elite Eight in 2008 decided to skip his senior year to turn pro, and all indications are that he will go to the Timberwolves at No. 5 after Minnesota acquired that pick from the Wizards Monday night in exchange for Randy Foye and Mike Miller.

With Griffin off the board at No. 1, the Grizzlies have the second pick; and could go in either of two ways. Memphis needs a big man and will have UConn's Hasheem Thabeet on the board for them, or they could make things interesting by selecting Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, whose stock rose after an exceptional performance in the Olympics last summer. However, Rubio is not exactly enamored with playing for the Grizzlies, a situation that is all too familiar to that franchise. Back in 1999, the then-Vancouver Grizzlies had the second pick in the draft, just as they do now, and chose Maryland guard Steve Francis; only to tradehim to Houston because Francis did not want to play in Canada. The Grizzlies ended up with Mike Bibby in return.

Oklahoma City and Sacramento are on the clock at three and four, respectively; and will be looking at players such as James Harden, Curry, Tyreke Evans, and whoever the Grizzlies pass on at No. 2.

Coverage of this year's NBA draft starts at 7 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Wizard Of New Jersey Heads To D.C.

Randy Foye will be taking his act to nation's capital after being acquired by Wizards last night in a deal that gives Washington's 5th overall pick to Minnesota, who now has four first-round picks. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Randy Foye rose from humble beginnings in an inner-city neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey before moving on to power Jay Wright's four-guard offense at Villanova. After a successful stint in Minnesota, the most professionally productive of Wright's quartet on the Main Line is coming home. Well, sort of.

Foye and Mike Miller were traded by the Timberwolves last night to Washington in exchange for the Wizards' No. 1 draft pick, the fifth overall selection. Minnesota now has the 5th, 6th, 18th and 28th choices in tomorrow night's draft, and also picks up Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov from the Wizards.

Don't go expecting Minnesota to package their top two picks for the second overall spot held by the Memphis Grizzlies. Although the Wolves are interested in moving up, possibly to acquire UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, there is a strong possibility that the team will instead package the 5 and 18 picks to move up to No. 2. The Timberwolves also have their sights set on Memphis point guard Tyreke Evans, as well as Arizona State's James Harden.

Dulko Feels Pretty Afrer Upsetting Sharapova

Argentina's Gisela Dulko advances to third round at Wimbledon after eliminating 24th-seeded 2004 champion Maria Sharapova. (Photo courtesy of Sporting News)

Gisela Dulko had always been regarded as a second-tier player on the WTA Tour. Maybe that will change now that she is in the third round at Wimbledon. Then again, maybe it won't.

Dulko picked up arguably one of the biggest wins of her career thus far this morning, defeating 24th seed Maria Sharapova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in their second round match at the All-England Club, where Sharapova won as a 17-year-old in 2004. Dulko will face another Russian, Nadia Petrova, in the third round.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jefferson Movin' On Down (To San Antonio)

Former Nets and Bucks forward Richard Jefferson now has his best chance to win an NBA championship after being traded to San Antonio today, just two days before NBA draft. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

If the San Antonio Spurs didn't have enough weapons to win a fourth NBA championship of the decade last year, they have enough now to start the new one with a championship banner being raised in the Alamo city.

That's because the Spurs acquired Richard Jefferson from Milwaukee today. The Bucks will pick up Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas in return for the disgruntled small forward; who will now team with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in San Antonio.

Jefferson has NBA Finals experience as a member of the New Jersey Nets, having made it there in 2002 and 2003. Ironically, the Nets lost to San Antonio in the 2003 Finals.

Not Much Love For Glover

Lucas Glover picks up second career win and first major in U.S. Open, finishing at 4-under-par 276, two shots clear of a three-way tie that included Phil Mickelson. (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

He's not as unheralded as past major winners that include the likes of Rich Beem, Ben Curtis, or Shaun Micheel; but Lucas Glover is still a relative unknown, even 24 hours removed from his unlikely win in this weekend's U.S. Open.

"I just looked at the scoreboard to make sure this was really happening," said Glover on the 18th hole Monday, just moments before his final putt gave him a two-stroke victory in the year's second major that was dominated more by inclement weather than big names at Bethpage Black.

Glover sealed his fate with a birdie on the 16th hole, shortly after Phil Mickelson, who had been in a tie for the lead with Glover at 4-under-par, bogeyed the 15th and 17th holes to fall two behind the lead, giving Lefty a record fifth runner-up finish in golf's national championship. Mickelson finished tied for second at 2-under with David Duval and Ricky Barnes, the latter holding a share of the lead going into the final round.

"Certainly, I'm disappointed," reflected the affable Mickelson, who was the sentimental favorite as he usually is in New York. "Now that it's over, I've got more important things going on." Mickelson's wife. Amy, is scheduled to begin treatment for breast cancer this week.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nadal Withdraws From Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal after his epic win over Roger Federer in last year's Wimbledon final; which will unfortunately not be replicated this year after Nadal withdrew from the tournament, which starts Monday at the All-England Club. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

What has gone down as quite possibly the greatest match in the history of professional tennis will see its already-robust legend increase over the coming weeks, as, sadly, there will not be an encore.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from Wimbledon yesterday, citing tendinitis in his knees, a condition that first arose during his surprising round of 16 loss to Robin Soderling at last month's French Open. Soderling eventually made it to the finals, where he lost in straight sets to Roger Federer.

"I'm just not 100 percent," said the 23-year-old Spaniard, who is the No. 1 player in the world. "I didn't feel terrible, but not close to my best."

With Nadal out of the picture, the door is suddenly open for Federer not only to win his sixth Wimbledon title and record 15th Grand Slam, but also to reclaim the No. 1 ranking Nadal took from him last August. Federer had spent a record 237 consecutive weeks at the top of the rankings before being unseated by Nadal. Scotland's Andy Murray, who was seeded third before Nadal's withdrawal, will likely become the No. 2 in the men's draw.

U.S. Open A Real Barnes Burner

Ricky Barnes, shown here winning U.S. Amateur Championship, is 36-hole leader of U.S. Open, shooting second-round 65 on his way to a record-low score of 8-under-par 132. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

When Ricky Barnes won the United States Amateur Championship in 2002, critics and rabid golf fans alike both concluded that it would be a matter of time before the University of Arizona product challenged the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour. Seven years later, Barnes is finally proving the critics right.

After an opening-round 67, Barnes followed up with a 5-under-par 65 in his second round, which he completed this morning, to take the lead in the U.S. Open through the first 36 holes. Barnes' total is a record-low of 132. (8-under-par for those scoring at home) Lucas Glover, who led when play was suspended late last night, shot a 64 to get to 7-under, one shot off the lead; with first-round leader Mike Weir two back after an even-par 70 in his second round.

Currently, the projected cut this weekend at Bethpage sits at 4-over par, and that was where Tiger Woods ended up after firing an opening-round 74. However, Tiger is 1-under on his round today through his first nine holes, (he teed off on No. 10) and sits at +3. Phil Mickelson is already in the clubhouse with a second-round 70 and is 1-under for the championship. Woods and Mickelson finished 1-2 the last time the U.S. Open was held at Bethpage in 2002.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On The Road Again

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series goes road racing for the first time this season on Sunday at Infineon Raceway in northern California. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

NASCAR may no longer go to the old Riverside Raceway, but they still road race in California, as the Sprint Cup heads to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma for the 21st consecutive season.

Kyle Busch is the defending race winner of the Toyota/Save Mart 350, and will look to get back on track in his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18. After winning eight races last season, Busch has not taken a checkered flag in the Cup Series since winning on his 24th birthday early last month at Richmond. Last week's winner, Mark Martin, won here in 1997; and almost won in 1995 before he was passed by the late Dale Earnhardt coming to the white flag. That race was Earnhardt's lone win on a road course.

Veteran road warriors Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon enter 1-2 in points, and each is a former winner at Infineon. Smoke is looking for his third win in California's wine country, while Gordon leads all drivers with five trips to victory lane, his most recent coming in 2006. Gordon was also the last driver to win at Infineon from the pole, doing so in 2004.

Back In Black

The last time Bethpage Black hosted the U.S. Open, Tiger Woods was last man standing, winning golf's national championship by three shots in 2002. Yesterday, Woods said he "liked his chances" returning to Long Island this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

After shooting a final-round 65 two weeks ago to win the Memorial Tournament, Tiger Woods was immediately installed as the prohibitive favorite to win this weekend's 109th United States Open Championship, which tees off tomorrow on the Black course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York. Woods, who won the U.S. Open at the Black in 2002, offered an honest assessment of his game yesterday that put the field on notice.

"I like my chances at any major," said Woods. "I just enjoy having to think your way around a golf course." Woods had a better thought process than anyone else in the field seven years ago, when he was the only player to leave Long Island having broken par. "Here, if you shoot 68, you're moving up on the leaderboard," said the world's best player, who will tee off at 8:06 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow morning with Masters winner Angel Cabrera and Padraig Harrington, who won last year's Open Championship and PGA Championship. Woods missed both of those majors while rehabbing his torn ACL.

Cano, Yanks Rob Nationals

Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano shown here making one of many great plays in the field. Cano backed up his defense with four hits in Yankees' 5-3 win over Washington last night. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

After taking two out of three from the Mets in the Subway Series, including a 15-0 domination on Sunday; the Yankees conceivably had every right to look past their upcoming three-game set with the Washington Nationals at the Stadium. Luckily, they didn't look too far ahead.

After a three-run home run by former Met prospect Anderson Hernandez, the Yankees trailed 3-2 going into the seventh inning. However, clutch hits from Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano allowed the Bombers to bail out CC Sabathia, who went 7 2/3 innings, giving up only the homer in the Yanks' 5-3 win over the Nationals last night. With the win, the Yankees once again moved ten games over .500, with a record of 37-27.

"This is the big leagues, so you can't take anybody lightly," said Sabathia, who improved to 6-4 on the season with his impressive outing. Brian Bruney returned from the disabled list, retiring Ryan Zimmerman to end the eighth; and Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth for his eleventh consecutive save. The night belonged to Cano, however; as the second baseman collected his first four-hit game, not to mention the game-winning double that sailed over the head of Nationals center fielder Elijah Dukes.

"I thought it was going to be caught," Cano said after the game. "Thank God he missed it." The Yankees resume their series with Washington tonight at the Stadium, with Chien-Ming Wang looking for his first win of the season. Wang will be opposed on the mound by lefthander John Lannan.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The $131 Million Man

Cristiano Ronaldo, who was named FIFA Player of the Year while playing for world-famous Manchester United in 2008, will be taking his repertoire to Real Madrid after club paid a record $131 million transfer fee to Man U for his services. (Photo courtesy of New York Post)

Who said big money only existed in the four major sports?

Less than a week after shelling out $92 million for Brazilian midfielder Kaka, Real Madrid is at it again, doling out a record $131 million to acquire the rights to Manchester United midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese striker who is only the best soccer player in the world, as evidenced by his FIFA Player of the Year award last year.

Real Madrid has a history of spending big, and it dates back to 2001, when the Spanish club picked up French great Zinedine Zidane from Juventus for $65 million. In addition, this is not the first time that Real has raided Manchester United for a big-name player, as the club also signed David Beckham from Man U in 2003.

Michael E-Vick-Ted From Atlanta

Disgraced quarterback Michael Vick (top) was released by Falcons today, (Photo courtesy of MSNBC) one year after Falcons moved on and replaced him with Matt Ryan, (bottom; photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated) who won Offensive Rookie of the Year Award while leading Falcons into playoffs.

The Michael Vick era is officially over.

More than a year removed from the dogfighting scandal that left him disgraced and behind bars, the former No. 1 draft pick was released by the Atlanta Falcons this morning. The Falcons replaced Vick last season by drafting Matt Ryan, who made an immediate impact in leading the Falcons into the playoffs.

"We feel his best opportunity to re-engage his football career would be at another club," Falcons general manager Tom Dimitroff said in a statement released this morning. Vick remains suspended from the league, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell remains unclear as to when, or if, he will reinstate the ostracized quarterback.

Lord Stanley Returns Tonight

Red Wings and Penguins battle one more time, as NHL season closes tonight with first Game 7 in Stanley Cup Finals since 2006, when Carolina defeated Edmonton. (Photo courtesy of CBC)

One of the NHL's Original Six, or the future of the league. Either one will have a defining moment tonight, when the Detroit Red Wings host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the seventh and deciding game of this year's Stanley Cup Finals.

Pittsburgh goes into the Joe Louis Arena off a 2-1 victory in Game 6, which featured goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at his best, stopping several Red Wings shots in the final seconds the way Wings goalie Chris Osgood did against Pittsburgh in Game 6 a year ago at the Igloo. However, Pittsburgh will need more than Fleury to hoist their first Cup since 1992, as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be playing in arguably the biggest games of their young careers. Crosby and Malkin have combined to score 29 goals this season, while Osgood has posted a 2.00 goals against average, second in the postseason.

Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors

A panoramic view of the new Yankee Stadium, site of first round of the 2009 Subway Series this weekend as Yankees host the Mets. Bronx Bombers come home off being swept by Boston, while Mets lost two of three in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of WFAN's Mike can find this shot and other great pictures as well on his blog, Mike McCann's Engaging Images)

After dropping three more against the Red Sox to fall to 0-8 against Boston this season, the New York Yankees return home to the big ballpark in the Bronx, welcoming yet another well-known adversary into the Stadium for the first time in 2009. Across the East River, the New York Mets prepare to transfer to the No. 4 train at Grand Central after losing two one-run games to the reigning world champions.

Yes, it's Subway Series time once again, and this year; the Yankees (34-26) and Mets (31-27) enter their first battle in second place in their respective divisions behind the Red Sox and Phillies. Joba Chamberlain gets the call for the Bombers tonight, and will be opposed on the mound by Livan Hernandez in the first of three from the Stadium. The Mets have not named a starter for tomorrow's game after it was announced that John Maine would not make the start against Andy Pettitte. The series closes out on Sunday with A.J. Burnett opposing Johan Santana.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Howard Makes Laker Brooms Disappear Like Magic

Dwight Howard takes flight en route to winning NBA's slam dunk contest wearing his now-notorious Superman cape. Howard provided some kryptonite last night in Orlando's 108-104 win over Lakers in Game 3 of NBA Finals, as Magic cut L.A.'s lead in half. (Photo courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times)
The Orlando Magic are winless in the NBA Finals no longer.
After a record 62.5% shooting effort from the field, the Magic walked off their home court at Amway Arena with a 108-104 victory over the Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals last night. The Lakers' lead in the best-of-seven series is now two games to one, with Game 4 slated to tip off at 9 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow night.
Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis led the Magic with 21 points each; with Howard grabbing 14 rebounds as well. After a cold start to the series, Rafer Alston got his accuracy back in Game 3, pouring in 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, while Hedo Turkoglu and Mickael Pietrus chipped in with 18 each.
For Los Angeles, it was more of a struggle. Kobe Bryant led the way with 31, but seventeen of those points came in the first quarter, where he started out 7-for-8 from the field. Bryant went on to make just four of his final seventeen shots, and his 2-for-5 performance at the free throw line in the third quarter may have cost the Lakers the game. In addition, Pau Gasol scored 23, but was limited to just three rebounds as the Magic won its first NBA Finals game in franchise history.
Orlando preserved the victory in the final minute when Bryant's shot that would have tied the game at 104 was blocked by Howard and stolen by Pietrus, who was fouled by Bryant on the other end. Pietrus made both free throws to extend Orlando's lead to four, which put the icing on the cake heading into Game 4. "Howard just made a great play with his hands," said Bryant. The Lakers' star guard offered no excuses when he said Orlando "came up with the ball, simple as that."
The Magic not only came up with the ball; they came up with the win, and maybe the momentum, too.

Mr. Strasburg Goes To Washington

Stephen Strasburg winds up for Team USA during last year's Summer Olympics. Yesterday, the San Diego State phenom was the first pick in the MLB draft, selected by the Washington Nationals. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times)
Before the Washington Nationals moved prior to the 2005 season, they were synonymous with letting young talent get away. The laundry list of former Expos/Nationals has evolved into a who's who of baseball, with its residents including Randy Johnson, Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, Javier Vazquez and Alfonso Soriano, just to name a few. Add Stephen Strasburg to the list; but with an asterisk: He's the first major name, unless you count Ryan Zimmerman, that is a threat to stay within the nation's capital.
Strasburg, as expected, was the first pick in last night's MLB amateur draft. The pitcher out of San Diego State University has been clocked at 100 miles per hour on radar guns this season, and his arrival gives the Nationals a potential ace for years to come. Place an emphasis on potential, but not due to injury. Instead, stress the word "potential" because of Strasburg's agent, the ubiquitous thorn in the sides of MLB front offices that is the one and only Scott Boras.
Boras has been reported to seek a contract nearing $50 million for Strasburg, a deal that would obliterate the previous record set by beleaguered former No. 1 pick and frequent denizen of the disabled list Mark Prior, who commanded and received $10.5 million in 2001 from the Chicago Cubs.
Strasburg's credentials also include 195 strikeouts in 109 innings this season, two totals that include a no-hitter against Air Force; a performance that saw him fan 17 Falcons hitters. The Nationals have until August 15th to sign Strasburg and retain his rights.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tiger Uncages 65 To Win Memorial

Tiger Woods caps off yet another historic comeback with a 65 on Sunday to win the Memorial Tournament by one shot over Jim Furyk in his final tuneup before next week's U.S. Open. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

It's all part of the script on the PGA Tour, and has been since 1997. After all, what's the buildup to a major championship without a patented Tiger Woods comeback a couple of weeks before the major?

Eldrick is back once again, and the rest of the Tour is once again on notice after Tiger's impressive display at Muirfield Village yesterday, firing a final-round 65 to win the Memorial Tournament on Jack Nicklaus' course with a 12-under-par total of 276, good enough for a one-stroke victory over 2003 U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk as the world's best prepare for another go at Bethpage Black, where Woods won the second of his three U.S. Opens in 2002.

"I was close to winning, but the game wasn't quite there when I needed it on Sunday," said Woods of his struggles this year. "I rectified that."

Nothing could be closer to the truth after yesterday's final round, where Woods hit every fairway and holed out with a chip shot on 11. Woods saved his best for last when his approach on 18, a 7-iron from 183 yards away, landed inches from the cup, giving the world No. 1 a tap-in birdie to put the exclamation point on a day that started with him four shots off the lead.

Next up is Bethpage, where Woods is the reigning champion both on the course and in the championship, as he won the U.S. Open last year in a gritty and inspiring performance at Torrey Pines with his now-legendary torn ACL. Tiger will be looking for his 15th major, and Nicklaus has already declared him the favorite next week in Long Island.

"I suspect No. 15 will come for Tiger Woods in about two weeks," said the Golden Bear, who still holds an 18-14 advantage over Tiger in major wins. "If he drives the ball this way and plays this way, I'm sure it will; and if not, it will surprise me greatly."

Woods was also looking ahead, praising his effort by saying that "this is how you have to hit it in order to win U.S. Opens."

Number four in golf's national championship could be just thirteen days away.

Best Ever? Don't Roger That Just Yet

Roger Federer finally wins French Open Sunday, tying Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles; but comparing him to "Pistol Pete" still isn't as easy as it looks. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The king of the tennis world did something his predecessor could never do, yet still is not being granted the throne yet. What did Roger Federer do wrong?

Definitely nothing yesterday, as Federer dismantled Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 to win the French Open. Federer's elusive first victory at Roland Garros this weekend was the 14th Grand Slam title of his magnificent career, equaling the mark set by Pete Sampras, the 1990s version of Federer who never made it past the semifinals in Paris. Federer also became just the sixth man ever to capture the career Grand Slam, and first since Andre Agassi did it a decade ago, ironically also doing it in Paris.

However, critics and fans alike are still reluctant to anoint Federer as the greatest of all-time, primarily because of two factors: The competition that he has faced, (or lack thereof in some circles) and his record against his biggest rival, Rafael Nadal.

Of Federer's Grand Slam wins, not many have come against big names, (Mark Philippoussis, Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez don't exactly send shivers down most spines) and his record against Nadal is only a mere 7-13. Compare that to Sampras, who had the likes of Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Goran Ivanisevic and Yevgeny Kafelnikov among others, not to mention Boris Becker in his prime, to contend with on an annual basis. All Federer has aside from Nadal are an inconsistent Andy Roddick, and young upstarts such as Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both of whom are still a year or two away from reaching their prime.

If Federer is able to defeat Nadal at Wimbledon in what should be a much-anticipated rematch of their epic finals encounter a year ago, (a match John McEnroe called the "greatest he had ever seen") then maybe the Swiss sensation may finally get the respect he deserves. Until then, however, the jury is still out until he can get the monkey off his back and beat Nadal once more.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Look Back: 1973 Belmont Stakes

Secretariat is all alone in the stretch, winning the Belmont Stakes by a record 31 lengths in a world-record time of 2:24 to become racing's ninth Triple Crown winner. (Photo courtesy of - You can see a video of this race by clicking here)

Just like 1978, one part of the race call of the 1973 Belmont Stakes stands out, particularly in reference to none other than Triple Crown winner Secretariat.


Jockey Ron Turcotte did not break a sweat aboard the horse called "Big Red," dueling early with Sham down the backstretch before turning him back with about six furlongs left in the race. Sham faded to last in the five-horse field while Secretariat continued his run into the far turn of the mile-and-a-half race well clear of eventual runner-up Twice A Prince. In fact, Secretariat was only in front by seven lengths with a half-mile left to run when he went into the far turn uncontested, winning the race by a record 31 lengths in a performance that will never be matched, no matter how hard anyone may try.

A Look Back: 1978 Belmont Stakes

Affirmed (right) stakes his claim to Triple Crown with thrilling win over Alydar in 1978 Belmont Stakes in arguably one of the greatest races ever. (Photo courtesy of - You can see a video of this race by clicking here)

"We'll test these two to the wire!"

Any thoroughbred racing enthusiast will recognize those words as part of the great call of the 1978 Belmont Stakes, which featured Affirmed and Alydar, or the last Triple Crown win.

Ridden by 18-year-old Steve Cauthen, Affirmed engaged Alydar with a mile left to run in the mile-and-a-half classic, with their three rivals simply serving as witnesses to history. In fact, the race was still up for grabs at the sixteenth pole, when Cauthen went to a left-hand whip on Affirmed for the first time in his career, powering him past Jorge Velasquez and Alydar, who had briefly stuck their heads in front in mid-stretch. Affirmed went on to win by a head for trainer Laz Barrera.

The race has gained even more popularity in recent years, as horses that have attempted to win the Triple Crown have come up short.

A Look Back: 1998 Belmont Stakes

Victory Gallop and Gary Stevens catch Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet at the wire to once again deny trainer Bob Baffert the Triple Crown for a second straight year. (Photo courtesy of - You can see a video of this race by clicking here)

After missing out on the Triple Crown by just three-quarters of a length the year before with Silver Charm, trainer Bob Baffert returned to Belmont Park eleven years ago today with a chance at redemption in the form of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, who faced ten rivals in the 130th edition of the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, a race that turned out to be a classic for better or worse. Chief among the competition was Victory Gallop, second to Real Quiet in both the Derby and Preakness, and determined not to play Alydar to Real Quiet's Affirmed.

The race started with slow fractions set by Chilito, with Grand Slam a pressing second and Kent Desormeaux keeping Real Quiet in mid-pack through the backstretch run. With about six furlongs left to run, Desormeaux made his move on Real Quiet, coming to the leaders on the far turn. Real Quiet passed Chilito and Grand Slam just before the top of the stretch, and soon had a four-length lead with one furlong to go, prompting Belmont Park track announcer Tom Durkin to rise to the occasion once again:

"He's coming to the eighth pole! Twenty years in the waiting, one furlong to go! But here comes his rival, Victory Gallop, as they come to the final sixteenth! Kent Desormeaux IMPLORING Real Quiet to hold on! Victory Gallop a final surge! It's going to be very close! Here's the wire...IT'S TOO CLOSE TO CALL!!!!!!!!!!! Was it Real Quiet, or was it Victory Gallop? A picture is worth a thousand words...this photo is worth five million dollars! Oh no! History, in the waiting, on hold, until we get that photo finish!"

Gary Stevens, the jockey on Victory Gallop, had timed his move just right, starting it midway around the far turn to draw within six lengths of Real Quiet, and kept gaining ground down the stretch on the outside. In fact, Desormeaux pulled Real Quiet to the right so his horse would see his hard-charging adversary, a move that was addressed after the race by New York Racing Association steward Dave Hicks. Hicks stated that had Real Quiet won the race, he would have been disqualified for Desormeaux impeding Victory Gallop's path in the stretch. Real Quiet finished second, beaten a nose, and Desormeaux continues to be criticized to this day for moving too soon. Both horses went on to enjoy moderate success in their four-year-old seasons; with Real Quiet winning the Pimlico Special and Hollywood Gold Cup, while Victory Gallop took the Whitney Handicap in 1999 before both horses were forced to retire due to injuries.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Look Back: 2004 Belmont Stakes

Birdstone (No. 4) and Edgar Prado catch Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones in shadow of the wire to win 2004 Belmont Stakes, denying Smarty Triple Crown and handing him his first loss. (Photo courtesy of CBC - You can see a video of this race by clicking here)

He was America's horse; an undefeated feel-good story that touched all he came into contact with. From a freak accident that left him with a fractured skull to the tragedy of the man slated to train him; right up to the last furlong of the Belmont Stakes, it seemed as though Smarty Jones had an aura of invincibility about him. He would not be denied. Or so we thought.

In a race that broke the hearts of many racing fans, not to mention solidified the careers of several already-successful horsemen, Smarty Jones was handed his comeuppance in an unlikely fashion. Birdstone, a 36-1 shot whose last race had been an eighth-place effort five weeks earlier in the Kentucky Derby, captured the final leg of the Triple Crown under jockey Edgar Prado, who had spoiled a Triple Crown two years earlier on 70-1 Sarava in 2002. Smarty Jones was, in the words of track announcer Tom Durkin, "valiant but vanquished" finishing second. Royal Assault finished third for trainer Nick Zito, who also saddled the winner.

At the start of the race, it looked like Smarty Jones would have to win a war of attrition, with Eddington and Rock Hard Ten pushing him hard down the backstretch. Once Smarty Jones got around them, jockey Stewart Elliott made what appeared to be the winning move, a move that many critics now agree was made prematurely, as Smarty took a three-length lead into the far turn with Prado and Birdstone primed to pull off the shocker with a similar move of their own at the three-eighths pole. One furlong from the finish, Smarty still fought hard, but was eventually done in by the earlier battle on the lead and by the fact that Prado simply had more horse than Elliott.

This Saturday, Birdstone's offspring is running in the Belmont, (Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird) while Smarty Jones' first crop of foals has yet to hit the track.

Nine To Prevent Borel From Three-Bagger In Belmont

If you're looking for a horse to beat Mine That Bird in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, it could be Kiaran McLaughlin's Charitable Man, shown here winning the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks ago. Charitable Man was installed as the 3-1 second choice for the 141st running of the Belmont, with Alan Garcia aboard. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
Calvin Borel reaffirmed his guarantee of a Belmont Stakes win on Mine That Bird, which would make him the first jockey to win the Triple Crown on two different horses. Today, the connections of the Kentucky Derby-winning gelding drew post No. 7 for Saturday's mile-and-a-half contest. Mine That Bird is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the field of ten, and has the breeding to go the distance, as his sire is 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone, who lit up the board at 36-1 five years ago to end the Triple Crown dream of then-undefeated Smarty Jones.
A victory won't come easy for Borel, as nine others look to knock him off Saturday. Chief among them is Charitable Man, who will break just to Mine That Bird's inside from post six. Charitable Man is 2-for-2 at Belmont, including a win in the Peter Pan on May 9th, and is also the son of a Belmont winner; as Lemon Drop Kid won the final leg of the Triple Crown in 1999. Moreover, while Borel and trainer Chip Woolley of Mine That Bird will be making their first appearances in the Belmont, Charitable Man's connections know how to win this race. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin guided Jazil to the winner's circle in the 2006 Belmont, and jockey Alan Garcia won wire-to-wire last year on 38-1 shot Da' Tara, wrecking the Triple Crown hopes of Big Brown.
Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez, who won the Belmont in 2007 with Rags To Riches, are back this year with Dunkirk, who was a disappointing 11th in the Kentucky Derby. Dunkirk will break from post two, and is 4-1 on the morning line. Like McLaughlin, Pletcher was an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas before going on his own; and Lukas sends out a pair of attractively-priced horses Saturday. Flying Private was fourth in the Preakness and is 12-1 on the morning line with Julien Leparoux up from post eight, while Luv Gov breaks from the No. 5 slot with jockey Miguel Mena in the saddle and a 20-1 morning-line price. Lukas won the Triple Crown with two different horses in 1995.
Nick Zito, who won the Belmont with Birdstone and Da' Tara, sends out two 15-1 shots that drew the outside posts in the field of ten. Miner's Escape and Brave Victory go out for the Hall of Fame trainer with Jose Lezcano and Rajiv Maragh in the irons, respectively.
Chocolate Candy, fifth in the Derby, breaks from the rail with Garrett Gomez up. Summer Bird (post No. 4 with Kent Desormeaux riding) and Mr. Hot Stuff (post three with Edgar Prado) complete the field.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Look Back: 1997 Belmont Stakes

Touch Gold (left) wins 1997 Belmont Stakes under a masterful ride from jockey Chris McCarron, denying Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm the Triple Crown. (Photo courtesy of - You can see a video of this race by clicking here)
The 1997 Belmont Stakes provided new racing fans with something they had not been accustomed to: A Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner attempting to become just the 12th Triple Crown winner. This time, it was Bob Baffert trainee Silver Charm, who broke from post two under Gary Stevens against a field of six others, including rival Free House and Touch Gold, who may have won the Preakness three weeks before had he not stumbled out of the gate.
The race held to form from the break, as Touch Gold and Free House went for the lead, while Stevens kept Silver Charm close early, sitting second or third through the first six furlongs until jockey Chris McCarron took Touch Gold back up the backstretch and dropped him out of the lead. Turning for home, it looked as though Silver Charm had the race to himself, with Free House on the outside just making his move. That is, until McCarron sent Touch Gold wide on the far turn, prompting track announcer Tom Durkin to proclaim his return to contention with a rousing cry of "Touch Gold swings into action on the far outside!"
With one furlong to go, Stevens and Silver Charm had Free House, who eventually finished third, put away; but couldn't hold off McCarron and Touch Gold, who had enough left to pass the Derby and Preakness winner coming to the finish, eliciting another historic Durkin call. "And Touch Gold will deny him the crown by a heartbreaking half-length!"
The 1997 Belmont was the last of McCarron's six Triple Crown wins, while Stevens would gain revenge the following year, spoiling the Triple Crown bid of Baffert trainee Real Quiet with Victory Gallop, who finished second in both the Derby and Preakness. Stevens would also reunite with Baffert to take the 2001 Belmont aboard Horse of the Year Point Given.