The Highlight Reel

The Biggest Plays, Videos and News in Sports

Much-Hyped Phenom Wieters to Make Debut Tonight For Orioles

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Legitimately one of the most hyped prospects in the history of baseball, catcher Matt Wieters will finally make his major-league debut with the Baltimore Orioles tonight at Camden Yards against the Detroit Tigers.

Wieters, 23, hit .305 in 39 games with AA Norfolk, with five home runs and 30 RBI in 39 games this season. In 2008, Wieters decimated AA pitchers, batting .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBI in just 61 games. He is a 6’5″, 230-pound switch hitter with advanced plate discipline and legitimate power from both sides of the plate, which has drawn him comparisons to Mark Teixeira.

He joins an Orioles team that already has young superstars Adam Jones and Nick Markakis coming into their own, and a deep farm system that includes top pitching prospect Chris Tillman.

Despite his obvious abilities at the plate, Wieters has also been heralded for his prowess behind it. There will certainly be questions about such a big dude manning the controls behind home, but Wieters is known to have quick feet and fluid movement in addition to a powerful throwing arm, which should translate to above-average defense in the majors. He also said that he learned how to call games from watching the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Atlanta Braves with his father.

Needless to say, the 2008 Minor League Player of the Year is a hefty package of a player that should be the Orioles’ starting catcher for quite some time. He will immediately supplant Gregg Zaun as he starts tonight, and will also likely bat somewhere in the middle of the order.

Zaun told Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, “There is a serious learning curve to catching in the major leagues. He’s not going to just come right in here and hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs, and anchor a staff. If you want him to do well, leave him alone, and let him play.”

That sounds more like a plea from Zaun to the Orioles to let him platoon with Wieters, but that’s highly unlikely. He seems to be realizing- if he didn’t already- that he was merely a stop-gap catcher before Wieters got the inevitable call-up.

Even though Wieters has never stepped into the box against major league pitching, it’s not much of a stretch to consider him this year’s Evan Longoria or Ryan Braun in that he would immediately make a big impact with his bat. The kid has hit literally everywhere he’s been and there’s no reason to believe that won’t translate to major-league success.

He’s been described as “Joe Mauer with power,” but I guess this season that would just make him Joe Mauer. That’s some lofty praise for someone who hasn’t played a single major league game. But in a few short months, everyone tuned in to the sports world will know the name Matthew Richard Wieters.

May 29, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sidney Crosby Shows Off His Amazing Puck Skills

This is apparently the son of NHL legend Mario Lemieux who is lucky enough to be on the ice playing with Sidney Crosby during what looks like a morning skate for the Pittsburgh Penguins. As they prepare for the Stanley Cup Finals- which drops the first puck tomorrow night in Detroit- the Penguins likely didn’t let this kind of horsing around go on for long. But a camera is nonetheless able to capture Crosby showing his incredible puck-handling skills to the youngster.

He uses his skates with particular panache when handling the puck; that’s my favorite part of this video. It’s unbelievable to think that this kid is still only 21 years old and he’s already tearing up the league- and could very well win his first Stanley Cup (and likely playoff MVP award) by the end of next week.

May 29, 2009 Posted by | hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carlos Zambrano’s Instant Classic Meltdown

Obviously I was going to find a way to get this video on the blog! I didn’t want to simply post a link to another site; I’m a fan of embedding video. But since all solid versions of the video of the incident, in which Carlos Zambrano appears to get a tag on Pittsburgh’s Nyjer Morgan as he attempts to score on a wild pitch, I decided to promote LeagueOfClutch.com for this amusing mock-Gatorade commercial they made out of it. You’ll see why near the end.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dennis Eckersley’s Freudian Slip

This video was so funny it made it on my other blog as well as this one. Former Red Sox and Athletics great Dennis Eckersley is the victim of a little Freudian slippage as he accidentally calls Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson by what he likes to do in the booth when he’s alone. My simple analysis of Eckersley as a fill-in commentator for Jerry Remy is that he talks too much, and I guess this comment would be exhibit A.

Even funnier is at the end if you listen closely he says “Balls dippin’ down” to only further promote the accidental sexual innuendos. Thank the lord for TiVo and Youtube!

May 27, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bad Inning Derails Lester Again In 5-2 Red Sox Loss At Minnesota

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I pointed it out last week as an alarming trend in Jon Lester’s starts this season for the Boston Red Sox. But I wasn’t totally convinced it was something he needed to fix, and Lester rewarded my optimism with a good start against the Blue Jays. But Tuesday night was back to the same bad habit for Lester, as the Twins derailed the Red Sox lefty in a single inning with much of the damage done on one bad pitch.

Justin Morneau capped a five-run fifth inning with his 14th home run of the season as the Minnesota Twins defeated the Red Sox 5-2 Tuesday night to split the first two games of their four-game series at the Metrodome.

Lester made it through six innings and 100 pitches, but the bad inning that has haunted him for much of the season reared its ugly head once again. He breezed through the first four innings, allowing only three baserunners before unraveling once again in the fifth.

The Twins began chipping away at Lester with three singles and an RBI groundout. Joe Mauer drew a walk before Morneau came to the plate with

Morneaus home run in the fifth inning broke the game open.

Morneau's home run in the fifth inning broke the game open.

two men on. Morneau didn’t waste much time drilling a 1-0 fastball out of the park to right field, instantly blowing the game wide open 5-0.

Minnesota batted around in the inning, with Delmon Young getting a second at-bat. But Jacoby Ellsbury robbed the Twins left fielder with an excellent running catch deep in center field to save Lester and the Red Sox from even more damage.

Lester certainly seems lost right now, and Terry Francona shared his sentiment on the disturbing and baffling frequency of bad individual innings in his starts.

“He looks like he has a chance to get out of it, and then one pitch and all of a sudden there is a crooked number on the board,” Francona told RedSox.com. “I know he is frustrated.”

It is a frustrating season indeed, so far. Lester has now allowed four or more runs in a single inning in six of his ten starts this season. He is 3-5 with a 6.07 ERA and opponents are hitting .306 against him.

The fifth inning looks like a specific point of deterioration in many of Lester’s outings. He has allowed 19 fifth-inning runs this season- including six of his 11 home runs- while yielding 19 in all other innings combined.

When asked by RedSox.com reporter Thor Nystrom if his single-inning struggles are a point of concern, Lester said, “Yeah, I guess…I don’t know what to tell you guys. I don’t really have any answers for you.”

There were bright spots for the Red Sox in Tuesday’s loss. Jacoby Ellsbury extended his career-high hitting streak to 21 games, the longest for the Red Sox since Kevin Youkilis hit for 27 in a row in 2007.

David Ortiz also had a solid night at the plate while batting sixth in the order, the first time he batted anywhere other than third since May 2005. Ortiz went 1-for-3 with a walk, legging out a line-drive double in his first at-bat in the second inning.

His resurgence would obviously be a boon for the Red Sox offense, which is close to firing on all cylinders right now. But the more important issue is solving the inconsistency issue with Lester and the rotation.

Clay Buchholz has looked very impressive in AAA this season.

Clay Buchholz has looked very impressive in AAA this season.

If a drastic problem or unexpected injury arises, the Red Sox do have the luxury of quality pitching looming in the minor leagues. Clay Buchholz took a perfect game into the ninth inning Tuesday and finished with a one-hitter, lowering his ERA to 1.30 in the minor leagues so far this season. Buchholz continues to dazzle at AAA and put more pressure on the Red Sox to make room for him.

John Smoltz is also making progress in his rehabilitation, and could arrive by mid-June. If the Red Sox suffer mightily due to Ortiz’s prolonged struggles, their surplus of pitching could lead to a mid-season trade to solidify the middle of the lineup.

The acquisition of an immediate-impact hitter like Matt Holliday would not surprise, nor would a top-tier prospect like the Indians’ Matt La Porta or the Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez. And let’s not forget that the Red Sox also have first baseman Lars Anderson getting some seasoning at AA before possibly making an appearance sometime this season.

I guess my point is, the Red Sox are one of the deepest organizations in baseball. They have some issues to work out, team-wise and individually, but if anyone’s capable of plugging all the holes, it’s them.

May 27, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Floyd Mayweather Goes 13 Rounds…Er, 13 Minutes, With Brian Kenny

No, Floyd Mayweather didn’t lose his first boxing match here. But with the way he carries and expresses himself, one would assume he’s never lost at anything. So I’m going to assume this interview with ESPN’s Brian Kenny is the first loss of his life, because all he does is dodge tough questions and make himself look even more egotistical than ever.

I’ve always been a fan of Brian Kenny as a journalist. His well-prepared, aggressive, no-nonsense approach to interviewing usually makes for some great conversations with people in the sports world. His bout with Mayweather is no exception, as the video is racking up the views on Youtube this week.

The interview revolves mainly around Mayweather’s decision to return to boxing from retirement to face lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez. But Mayweather is a welterweight champion who retired undefeated. So what’s he doing fighting a lightweight instead of, say, Manny Pacquiao, who defeated Marquez? Or “Sugar” Shane Moseley, the current welterweight champion?

Kenny asks Mayweather repeatedly why he wants to face Marquez instead of the other names mentioned, who would likely pose a bigger challenge. Mayweather basically never answers the question, instead choosing to talk more about how great he is.

His claim is that everyone makes excuses for his opponents. But he makes a laundry list of excuses for why he isn’t impressed by any of his potential opponents, including bringing up Marquez’s two losses over ten years ago.

Mayweather also stresses that he doesn’t need to win a belt to prove anything- or prove anything at all, for that matter.  So if he has nothing to prove, why not fight the best opponent available? Why fight at all?

Seems to me that Mayweather just wants to make more money. He obviously knows how big a draw he is, and clearly believes his fight with Marquez, who he says has “an entire country” supporting him, is the biggest draw boxing can offer right now.

Check out this very entertaining interview right here. Split decision goes to Kenny for making several valid points and simultaneously giving Mayweather credit for everything he’s done. Loss goes to Mayweather for his excessive shilling for himself, but it can’t be denied that the man is a great interview.

May 22, 2009 Posted by | boxing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lakers’ Trevor Ariza Posterizes Nuggets’ Jones, But Nuggets Hold On For The Win

The Denver Nuggets, WWE distractions aside, have played very well in the Western Conference Finals, which is now tied 1-1. Despite the tests the Los Angeles Lakers have faced this postseason, none is greater than the one posed by Denver.

The Nuggets let game one at the Staples Center slip away from them, but did not allow the Lakers to capitalize on the momentum they gained from that game. Denver held on for the 106-103 victory that wrested home-court advantage from L.A. The Nuggets now head to the Pepsi Center, where they are undefeated this postseason.

Now for the video…Probably the most memorable moment for the Lakers in game two, Trevor Ariza takes a pass for what looks like a three-point attempt before driving straight to the hoop to leap right over the Lakers’ Dahntay Jones for the monster slam.

May 22, 2009 Posted by | basketball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Everything Goes Red Sox’s Way in Three-Game Sweep of Toronto; Mets Are Up Next

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The Red Sox had to at least have a feeling that good fortune was on their side heading into their first series with the Toronto Blue Jays when they found out they wouldn’t have to face Roy Halladay. It turns out that it was, as just about everything the Red Sox could ask for went right.

The three-game sweep of Toronto (27-17), which leaves the Red Sox (25-16) only a half-game out of first place in the American League East, almost goes without mentioning. In the series, Red Sox Nation was treated to the first home run of the season for David Ortiz, a franchise record-setting 11th consecutive multi-run homer by Jason Bay, a strong return to the lineup for Kevin Youkilis, and an even stronger bounce-back outing for Jon Lester (3-4), who picked up the win in Thursday’s series finale.

Big Papi is all smiles after breaking his home-run drought.

Big Papi is all smiles after breaking his home-run drought.

Big Papi’s slump has been the most well-documented story so far this season for the Red Sox. But Ortiz is in the best mindset he’s been in all season after lifting the burden of his first home run off his shoulders in Wednesday’s win.

“I feel good, man,” Ortiz told Ian Browne of RedSox.com. “Let’s keep it that way.”

Ortiz didn’t homer again Thursday night, but he did get enough wood on the ball to scratch home a run with an RBI groundout in the first inning. The real story of Thursday’s game, however, was Lester’s performance.

The Blue Jays worked Lester hard all night, with eight hits and two walks and at least one runner reaching base in each of the first five innings. But Lester battled through every jam- including a two-on, one-out situation that ended in a 4-6-3 double play- and did not allow a run until the seventh, when Ramon Ramirez allowed the inherited Jose Bautista to score on an Aaron Hill single.

Lester finished with 109 pitches in six-and-a-third innings, striking out four. He clearly wanted to finish the seventh inning, but Terry Francona- weary that Lester’s start could end up like his last two, when he unraveled in the late innings- removed him before it got out of hand.

With a 3-4 record, a 5.91 ERA, and 1.61 WHIP, Lester still has a hole to dig himself out of to return to his 2008 form. But his Thursday outing allowed him to only think positively going forward.

“I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew I’m not throwing in the towel,” Lester told Browne after the game. “It’s a long season. You’re going to have some bumps in the road, and sometimes those bumps are pretty deep and you’ve got to dig yourself out of them. Tonight was definitely a step towards getting out of that hole.”

Youkilis hasnt missed a beat since his time on the DL.

Youkilis hasn't missed a beat since his time on the DL.

Also a very encouraging sign for the Red Sox was the return of Kevin Youkilis from an abbreviated stint on the disabled list with oblique soreness. In two games in the series, Youkilis went 4-for-8 to raise his batting average from .393 to .402.

“I just went up there and tried to get my timing down,” Youkilis told Adam Kilgore of the Boston Globe. “You’ve just got to work on your timing. Once you get back in there, your body feels good, you should be fine. The timing is going to be off just a little bit. You’re just hoping to find a rhythm and get your body back in sync.”

The timing apparently is not a problem for Youk. Despite none of his hits in the series being for extra bases, he singled in the third inning Thursday to drive Dustin Pedroia home. He doesn’t quite qualify for the batting title after his time out, but a few more games should change that.

Bay’s 13th home run in the first inning Thursday tied the Red Sox franchise record for consecutive multi-run home runs at 11. He is one off the major league record, shared by some pretty decent company: Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr.

In a contract year, Bay is off to one of the best starts of his career with 13 home runs and 44 RBI in his first 42 games. While his home run streak is quite impressive, he acknowledged that only some credit is due to his own work.

“Well, I can’t do that without guys getting on,” Bay told Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald. “I can’t do it on my own. It’s a testament to [the rest of the lineup].”

Santana gives the Red Sox their biggest test of the season thus far.

Next up for the Red Sox are the New York Mets in the first interleague series of the season Friday night. Boston immediately gets a big test in two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana, who is 5-2 with a league-leading 1.36 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 53 innings.

Santana is coming off his first start of the season in which he let up more than two earned runs, allowing four on 11 hits in seven innings at San Francisco. This will be his first start at Fenway Park since Sept. 21, 2006 when he took the loss, allowing two earned runs in five innings. Perhaps a good omen for the Red Sox is that Ortiz smacked his 51st home run of the 2006 season- which gave him the single-season franchise record- in that game on the first pitch of his first at-bat off Santana.

Boston will counter with the returning Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is back from the disabled list after recovering from arm fatigue, likely stemming from his MVP performance in the World Baseball Classic. On facing Santana for the first time, Matsuzaka expressed his excitement over the opportunity. But he made sure we knew his focus was completely on his own performance.

“He is one of the greatest pitchers in the game, and I always thought there would be an opportunity to one day face [Santana],” Matsuzaka said. “I just have to concentrate on my pitching.”

May 22, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The High Dive Record: Worst World Record Attempt of All Time?

Honestly, how different is this “dive” any different from just jumping off? Constable Velumurugan of the Tamil Nadu State Police in India decided it was time to try some daredevil shit as he attempted to break the world high-dive record. He ascended to 38 meters to make his leap from the fire truck lift and…belly-flopped into the water. He looks okay for about a second when he begins the dive, but soon enough he’s flailing and totally unsure of how, where, or when he was going to land. He’s very fortunate he escaped with only minor injuries.

Turns out he didn’t even get high enough; the actual world high-dive record is 177 feet (53.94 meters), held by French diver Oliver Favre, who did it in 1987. And obviously, even after Velumurugan’s effort, it remains unbroken.

Here it is, the most disorganized, sloppy and pointless attempt at a world record ever caught on video:

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

For David Ortiz, The Mission Is Home Run No.2

The relief, satisfaction and glee that poured through Red Sox Nation Wednesday night was palpable through our TV sets. David Ortiz finally broke out of his home run drought with a near-400-footer to center field, and sent the city into a frenzy. But the cruel reality of the blast soon set in: Big Papi just hit his first home run- on May 20.

For any designated hitter in the third spot of a major league batting order, zero home runs after 20 at-bats is kind of crazy. But after 149 at-bats is just absurd. Ortiz hit only eight extra-base hits in 87 at-bats in April. He entered Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays homerless and batting .203.

Numbers like that, under any circumstances, are unacceptable for a player in Ortiz’s position. It wasn’t long before every kind of scrutiny unearthed itself and reared its ugly head at Big Papi. Talk of Ortiz’s lingering injuries, diminishing bat speed and yes, possible past steroid use, dominated the media when discussing the Red Sox.

Credit is due to Terry Francona for remaining faithful to his designated hitter, knowing his breakout would come. He had made it clear that Ortiz’s benching for the Seattle series (after an 0-for-7 performance against the Angels in which he left 12 men on base) was for the purpose of giving him a mental break, and that moving him to any other spot in the order was not an option.

“If I said I hadn’t thought about the lineup, that’s not true,” Francona told Ian Browne of RedSox.com Tuesday. “But I knew all along I really didn’t [want to move Ortiz]. David and I talked about that a little bit.

“This is hard, because I don’t want to tell a player, ‘Hey, if you keep struggling, we’re going to move you down.’ I don’t want to do that. I want him to hit. I think our best lineup is with him hitting third. Now, saying that, when you’re looking for production … and I told him, if I ever decide to change that, I’ll tell you first. And he understood that. The one thing I don’t want to do is start bouncing the lineup all over the place.”

Ortiz still has a long way to go to regaining his form.

Ortiz still has a long way to go to regaining his form.

The west-coast relaxation looks to have paid off, at least for now. Ortiz looked like his same-old slumping self Tuesday as he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but he busted out Wednesday night for his first homer and a 2-for-5 night at the plate.

I’m going to play the role of “reality check” for Red Sox Nation right now: Ortiz is still mired in an early-season slump. The whole first home run thing was great to finally see him achieve, but it’s only the first step to regaining the form of the Ortiz we all know. If he goes the next five or six games without a home run, what then will we think of him?

We probably won’t be as hard on Ortiz as we have been, but we do need to stay on his case if he keeps failing to deliver. Terry Francona remains supremely confident in Ortiz’s ability, and was even back when he was still homerless. But it’s his job to have confidence in his players. We as fans aren’t so obligated.

Ortiz surely heard the boos resonating throughout Fenway when he was still pressing and struggling to get anything out of the park. Despite all Ortiz has done for the Red Sox, he deserved to be booed off the field with the way he was hitting. As long as he’s hitting third in the order, he can’t continue being a near-automatic out.

Perhaps getting the proverbial monkey off his back was all he needed. Although it will take more time and at-bats to know whether Ortiz is really out of his slump, but one thing he knows is that we’ll let him know about it if he’s not. But he can rest assured that if he finds the form he thinks he finally has, we’ll be the first to stand and cheer.

“The fans, they’ve always been so supportive since I’ve been here,” Ortiz told Browne after the game. “That’s unbelievable. There’s not too much I can say about it. I try to come every day and get it done for them.”

We will remain supportive, as long as he continues to get it done. Not just this one time.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vince McMahon Cuts a Promo on the Denver Nuggets Owner

WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is clearly not happy at all about the scheduling gaffe by the Denver Nuggets this past April that landed WWE’s upcoming “Monday Night Raw” taping on the very same night as game four of the Western Conference Finals between the Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers.

But Mr. McMahon is also taking the whole situation in stride, and rightfully not changing any of his plans. It’s obviously not his or WWE’s concern to make sure they aren’t double-booked with the Nuggets, and it’s Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke’s responsibility to ensure that no scheduling conflict takes place. He deserves the verbal jabs that McMahon throws at him for showing a lack of both competence in running his business and faith in his own team.

I’m one who believes a steel cage match between the two would be quite entertaining to watch. With the way Vince thinks about business, it still wouldn’t surprise me if he tried to do something in conjunction with the Nuggets. But for now, it doesn’t seem like he wants anything to do with Kroenke, and I can’t wait to see what happens Monday night when the WWE trucks show up for their taping.

Here’s an amusing interview between Vince McMahon and former WWE employee Jonathan Coachman on this still-developing situation:

May 20, 2009 Posted by | basketball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ryan Church Makes a Rare Baseball Blunder

Players even doing this has almost become extinct, let alone costing your team a game because of it. But the Mets’ Ryan Church did exactly that Monday night, as he failed to touch third base while rounding the basepaths on a hit by Angel Pagan that would have given the Mets the lead in the top of the 11th inning.

But Joe Torre appealed to the umpires that Church missed third base on his way home, and when the Dodgers threw the ball to third, the umpires agreed and called Church out.

The Mets ended up making two more crucial errors in the bottom of the 11th to give the game to the Dodgers. They made five errors total, Church’s being the biggest and most embarrassing even though it technically doesn’t count as an error. I think it ought to be. Touching a base while running has to be the simplest thing for a baseball player to do. Failing at it is downright disgraceful.

The only video of the incident is at MLB.com, so I can’t embed it here. But click the the photo of Church’s error below to watch the video:

Ryan Church

May 19, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Full Version of Bobby Lashley vs. Mike Cook

This fight is gaining buzz around the web because of its one-sidedness and the embarrassment of the loser in his mocking ways that led to his destruction. Mike “The Animal” Cook clearly didn’t take his opponent, Bobby Lashley, serious in any way, shape or form. Otherwise, why would he come to the ring in a Rey Mysterio mask and make several gestures that a professional wrestler would? Apparently, like Jason Guida before him, Cook did minimal research on Lashley’s experience. The former WWE champion was a national champion in wrestling before he took to the squared circle, but of course he needs to literally fight for respect due to wrestling’s image as “fake” or some kind of circus.

Cook says in the snippet before his entrance: “I know he was on TV as a wrestler, that’s fine…He will shit his pants once he gets here.” Cook was confident enough to say that not only he will win, but will win in one of several different ways: submission, submission through punches, or knockout. The well-spoken Lashley acknowledged how important this fight, and every fight, were to his career in Mixed Martial Arts, and he pulls no punches- literally- in his approach to this fight.

The bout doesn’t even begin until about the 9:12 mark of the video, but Cook’s video and entrance are worth watching as build-up to the humbling he’s about to receive. What should have been an ominous moment for Cook comes when Lashley refuses to touch gloves, but Cook seems to shrug it off.

Lashley gets a quick strike in that doesn’t quite connect, but allows him to latch onto Cook’s neck for a guillotine choke. You can notice Cook’s legs writhing and consciousness dwindling, and eventually the referee stops the fight. Lashley defeated Cook via knockout in about 24 seconds, and simultaneously silenced many of his critics. It may still take a few more fights, but Lashley deserves to be taken seriously as an MMA competitor right now.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | MMA | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Sox-Blue Jays: Two of the AL’s Best Clash For the First Time This Season

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One prediction that was extremely low on my list at the beginning of the 2009 season is that on May 19, the Toronto Blue Jays would be in first place in the American League East. Those who predicted correctly might still be shocked by the Blue Jays’ early success. Can anyone even name their rotation beyond uber-ace Roy Halladay?

Whoever they are, they are pitching the Blue Jays to the league’s best record at 27-14. Toronto will send three of those no-names to the mound at Fenway Park as they face the Boston Red Sox for a three-game set in arguably the most highly-anticipated AL series so far this season.

The Red Sox are coming off a rough six-game west coast road trip, their final one of the season, in which they went 2-4. Two of the losses came in the form of frustrating walk-offs, first against the Angels in a 12-inning game where the Red Sox left 34 men on base- 12 by David Ortiz.

The other walk-off defeat came at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, who scored just the second earned run off Ramon Ramirez all season with a Franklin Gutierrez RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning. Ramirez’s ERA rose to 0.86 with the loss.

Aaron Hill is having a career year.

The key to the Blue Jays’ success this season has been their offense, which has led them to their league-best +60 run differential. They lead the American League with 234 runs scored, and third with 51 home runs, trailing only the Rangers and Yankees. Most of the damage is being done by unlikely sources, as stalwarts Alex Rios and Vernon Wells have had inconsistent starts and 21-year-old Travis Snider has yet to reach his full potential as a hitter.

Second baseman Aaron Hill is having a career year, with a .345 batting average and 11 home runs, good for third in the league. Outfielder-turned-designated hitter Adam Lind is also having an outstanding season, sitting third in the league in RBI (35) behind only Evan Longoria and Jason Bay. Shortstop Marco Scutaro is also hitting very well, with a career-high .284 average so far.

With a team ERA of 3.49 in 2008 and 3.85 this season, pitching depth has been there for the Jays in recent years. It’s the offense that hadn’t stepped up to support them, until now.

Halladay is picking up right where he left off from his Cy Young-caliber season in 2008, with eight wins to lead the league, a 2.78 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. On pace to pitch 269 innings this season, Halladay has not thrown fewer than

Roy Halladay is the ace, but other Blue Jays starters are pitching well.

Roy Halladay is the ace, but other Blue Jays starters are pitching well.

seven in any of his starts. The Blue Jays have scored 69 runs of support in his nine starts, which if they keep up could earn Halladay the third 20-win season of his brilliant career.

But unfortunately for the Blue Jays, Boston will avoid Halladay in this series. Instead, the Blue Jays will roll out Brian Tallet, Brett Cecil and Robert Ray, who are a combined 5-2 on the season.

Tallet is having a very good season, better than his stats would indicate. Not counting his one nightmarish outing at Kansas City (4+ innings, 10 earned runs), Tallet is 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA. He is 1-1 with a 4.22 ERA in his career against the Red Sox. Tallet’s last start at Fenway, a six-inning effort allowing no runs, came on Sept. 16, 2002 when he was a member of the Cleveland Indians.

The Red Sox will counter Tuesday’s series opener with Tim Wakefield, who is coming off his worst outing of the season against the Angels. After allowing just 13 runs in his first 40 innings, Wakefield took a beating in Anaheim, allowing seven runs in four-and-two-thirds innings of work.

The Red Sox have spent the last few weeks trying to remain healthy after suffering through various injuries. Ortiz might as well be on the disabled list with his .208 batting average and astonishing ZERO home runs in 130 at-bats.

He will likely return to the lineup tonight after sitting out of the entire Seattle series, but unfortunately for Red Sox Nation will likely be put right back in the

The Red Sox will get Youkilis back Wednesday.

The Red Sox will get Youkilis back Wednesday.

third spot in the batting order. What exactly is the threshold for the Red Sox to move Ortiz down in the order, 150 at-bats without a home run? Two hundred at-bats???

Despite Ortiz’s mammoth struggles at the plate, the Red Sox will get a boost in offense as they get Kevin Youkilis back from his DL stint Wednesday. They will hope Youk’s oblique injury didn’t slow him down, as he was off to a tremendous start with a .393 batting average and 1.224 OPS. Daisuke Matsuzaka is also close to returning to the rotation, although Justin Masterson has been making his case to remain in that spot.

Even though the Blue Jays’ starters are pitching well- and the Red Sox’s starters, for the most part, are not- the key to this game and the series for the Red Sox will be to slow down the Blue Jays’ offense. Despite the depth the Blue Jays have in their bullpen, the advantage in close late-inning games should go to the Red Sox, so as long as the Blue Jays don’t pound the Red Sox early or often, Boston will remain in contention.

The key to this series for the Blue Jays is to simply keep rolling. They have won seven of their last ten, and have done it with all-around performances. Some of their players may be overachieving, and this success may or may not last like the Rays did last season. But there is one undeniable fact about the Blue Jays: right now, this team is the best the league has to offer.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | baseball | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Blackhawks’ Burish Gets Throat Slashed By Skate

There’s no sugar-coating this incident from game one of the Western Conference Finals between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. In a disturbing moment, Adam Burish is an innocent by-stander to his teammate falling to the ice, but the teammate’s skate ends up cutting directly across the neck area of Burish, causing him to bleed profusely. Thankfully, the blade did not pierce any vital organs or arteries in Burish’s neck. It only reminded us of Richard Zednik, among others, who suffered a similarly frightening injury. With players stepping back onto the ice after incidents like this, how can the supreme toughness of hockey players ever be questioned?

May 18, 2009 Posted by | hockey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment