Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Everything I Know About Baseball

Hi again, Everybody.  I had a friend of mine tell me yesterday that I must watch more out-of-town baseball than anyone he knows and I think he's right.  I get the package and I spend a lot of time watching games.  So, with that in mind, here's everything I know about Baseball as of April 28, 2010...

  • The Tigers are a disappointment. I know a lot of you thought they'd be a .500 team this year and it looks like a lot of you are right.  I thought they'd be better. I thought they'd contend for the AL Central title (and to be fair they still might, we're only 21 games in and they play 162) because I thought they'd be able to pitch.  So far they haven't.  Detroit's starters have the worst ERA in the AL (5.56) and their bullpen has pitched more innings (72.2) than any other team in the league.  What's saved the 11-10 Tigers from getting off to a much, much worse start, is that that oft-called-upon bullpen has posted a 2.48 ERA.  Only Minnesota's relief pitchers (2.33 ERA) have been better.  It was a tough loss last night as Detroit lost to the division-leading Twins without allowing Minnesota an earned run.  
  • I've sort of adopted the Washington Nationals.  I went to a game in their ballpark when the family was in D.C. for Spring Break (Nationals Park is really nice--10x or so better than Comerica Park) and have, for some reason, been keeping my eye on them ever since.  They're not bad.  They're a game over .500 and play some exciting ball.  The Nats as they are called, are tied for the MLB lead with 23 steals (Detroit has 6) and have a fun-to-watch centerfielder named Nyjer Morgan who already has 5 triples.  Turns out Morgan was 10th in the NL in hitting last year (.307) something I would not have know had I not been knocking around the internet.
  • The Dodgers are lousy, the Giants are not.  LA, 8-12, tied for the worst record in the NL, leads the Majors in errors while San Fran, 12-8, leads the NL West--or are at least tied for the lead with the San Diego Padres. (I have no earthly explanation as to why the Padres, 20 games out of first last year, have gotten off to a 12-8 start this year.)  I have been watching the Giants and they look pretty good to me.  They had a hiccup last week when, after starting the season 7-2, they dropped 5 of 6 in a road trip to Los Angeles and San Diego.  They've won 4 of their last 5 since, taking two of three at home against the Cardinals and two straight against the defending NL Champion Phillies heading into the series finale at Pac Bell Park this afternoon.  The player they love over there is third baseman Pablo Sandoval.  He's called "the Ku Fu Panda" and fans have taken to dressing up as Pandas at Giants home games, which seems fun.  Sandoval leads the NL with a  .372 batting average which also seems fun.  
  • Milwaukee's Trevor Hoffman is in deep trouble.  The all-time saves leader (594) all of a sudden looks like he might not make it to 600.  Hoffman blew his 3rd save of the season last night--he's 3/6 in save situations this year--by giving up two homers in the 9th inning in Pittsburgh's 7-3 win, including the 1st grand slam anyone's ever hit off him.  According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hoffman had faced he most batters in bases-loaded situtions (135) without giving up a granny of any active pitcher in the majors until last night.  Hoffman's ERA is 13-and-a-half and he's allowed 5 home runs in 8 innings of work this year.  Last season, he worked 54 innings and gave up 2.  As an aside, Pittsburgh had lost 22 straight games in Milwaukee, the second-longest losing streak by one team on the road against an opponent in the history of baseball.  
Well, it turns out there is more I know, but that's going to do it for now.  (I can watch the Cubs on TV and 3-4 other games on the computer right now, so I have to go.)

The Wings surprised and impressed last night and now get the Sharks, and we'll share some thoughts on that shortly.  I have to tell you, I was worried when the Wings outshot Phoenix 17-6 in the first period last night and there was still no score as I was thinking about Washington getting 50+ shots on the Montreal net the night before and scoring only once and losing, but it all turned out just fine.  How many times to you see as series where the road team wins five of the seven games?  Not often, I'm guessing, but that was the story of round one for the Red Wings.  And don't forget Washington-Montreal tonight.  They play Game 7 as Canadiens, the #8 seed in the East, go for the upset of the top-seeded Caps.  

Monday, April 26, 2010


I remember covering the 1995 Stanley Cup Final in which New Jersey swept Detroit 4-0.  The day after Game 3, a Jersey blowout Scotty Bowman called the most embarrassing loss of his coaching career, Bowman showed up at lunch clutching a memo from the NHL that looked like it was about 100 pages long.  It was a freshly-issued set of new rules for the care and feeding of the Stanley Cup itself.  There were all sorts of stipulations: The Cup had to be insured for a ton of money, had to travel with a security guard appointed by the League at all times, and on and on and on.  I'll never forgot Bowan sitting there with a group of reporters, saying of his players, "Maybe they read this thing and decided they don't want it anymore."

I suggested yesterday that maybe the Wings don't want it this year as much as the Coyotes seem to, basing the observation on the fact that when they had a chance to go down and block a shots that wound up being Phoenix goals in yesterday's 5-2, Game 6 loss, neither Dan Cleary nor Drew Miller did.  In short, neither player appeared willing to, as they say almost exclusively in hockey, "pay the price."

Well, maybe they saw this and decided they didn't want it anymore:

Now I want to say something about what happened here to Ian Laperriere. His technique was awful.  That is no way to block a shot.  You should never put yourself in the kind of position where it is going to be your face and not your body doing the blocking. It was stupid, and I know full well how awful it sounds to say that. I appreciate that his heart was in the right place, but his head, literally, was not.

But as far as the heart being in the right place, we'll find out all about Red Wings' hearts on Tuesday night in Phoenix, and one of the ways we'll tell is by how often they are willing to pay the price by going all out to stop those Phoenix shots before they get to the Detroit net.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Maybe They Do Want It More

You want to know why the Red Wings lost 5-2 Sunday when they had the chance, at home, to end their opening round series against the Phoenix Coyotes, right?  Here's why.  It was all a matter of four bad plays:

  • Detroit defenseman Brad Stewart coughed it up when he was the last man back and in hockey when you cough it up when you are last man back the guy to whom you coughed it up has a breakaway on the goal you are trying to defend.  In this case the coughee was Lauri (seriously, Lauri?) Korpikoski and he, Lauri, finished his breakaway with a shorthanded goal on his and the Coyotes led 1-0 on their first shot on goal of  the game--an emphatic end just four minutes in to Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard's run of 64 saves on 65 shots (.985 save percentage) dating to the dodgy goal he allowed in Game 3 a week to the day earlier, the final goal in Phoenix's 4-2 win.
  • Neither Drew Miller in the 2nd period nor Dan Cleary in the 3rd were willing to lay down in front of  Phoenix slapshots from out near the blue line when Detroit was on the penalty kill and both shots, the first by Mathieu Schneider and the other by Keith Yandle, ended up behind Howard when they should not have got to the net in the first place.  Teams that want to win in the playoffs lay out in front of shots.  They just do.  There's a code involved here (or perhaps it's a credo, I can never keep the two straight) and the Wings failed in both instances to live up to it.
  • Nicklas Lidstrom--who lost his man on the 3rd goal Phoenix scored last Sunday, the game-winner for the Coyotes--lost his man in front of the net again yesterday during yet another Phoenix power play and that man scored, although in fairness to one of the greatest defenseman in the history of hockey, Lidstrom did have his pick of not one, but two wide-open-in-front-of-the-goal Coyotes from whom to choose to defend after Stewart made a(nother) bad decision with the puck and turned it over in his own zone off a Detroit face-off win.
Anyway, that's four of the goals given up by Detroit.  The fifth hit somebody and went in, one of those "can't do anything about it" goals. The others were sloppy goals-against: those not befitting a team deserving to win and not particularly indicative of a team wanting to win.  

What was strange was that the Wings seemed, even when they trailed 1-0 after one period, to have it all well in hand.  They outshot, outchanced, and outhit the Coyotes in the first.  They had three power play chances in the first five minutes of the game, including a long stretch of a 5-on-3 advantage, plus the power play during which they permitted Phoenix to open the scoring.  Then, in the second period, it was Phoenix that got the power play chances and the Coyotes, after failing to score a power play goal since they got three of them in game 1, cashed in.  Detroit never got another power play opportunity in the game.

The road team has won four of six games in this series, an anomaly in any best-of-seven in any sport.  What does it mean?  We won't be able to say for a couple of days.  The Wings play game 7 in this series, on the road, Tuesday night.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Just about time to leave for the Wings game so we will have to work fast.  This might be the last time I get to say that, by the way.  Not the “work fast” part, the “leave for the Wings game” part.  Lose tonight and lose Game 5 on the road and tonight’s becomes the last Wings game of the year at the Joe Louis Arena.  I have to say, I don’t think the Red Wings will survive this series against Phoenix.  On the other hand, just for your information, I thought the Wings were going to beat the Penguins in the playoffs last year so you may make make of it what you will.

The Child™ is taking Journalism I (one) this year and it is not going well and since I was the one who talked her into taking the class since it had such a profound influence on the direction my life took, I feel some guilt.  Back in my time, the Journalism classes published a newspaper—”The Blue & White”—once a week.  These days, they publish “The Blue & White” once a trimester.  The rest of the time they, well, I’m not exactly sure what they do. 

I can tell you that they have spent the past several weeks examining the difference between “hard” news and “soft” news.  I am unsure A). Why this is important in the first place, and, B). Why it is taking so long to explain the distinction. 

I can do it thusly:  “Hard” news is what happens during the first minute of the newscast.  “Soft” news is what happens during the ensuing 29 minutes of the newscast.

Or,  “Soft” news: “What your child eats can kill them—what every parent needs to know!”  “Hard” news:  Westland teen eats _____; Dies.

Was that really so hard?

Let’s move on.  I have come up with the following multiple choice to help my daughter become the best journalist she can be.  I played hockey today and to be frank, my goaltending was not up to snuff.  My review was simple.  If I had played twice as well as I did, I would have been bad.  Let’s see if the following helps us to select to best, the most apt, descriptor of my performance this afternoon:

The best way to describe my play would be:

A. Sad.

B. Pathetic.

C. Embarrassing.

D). If-he-was-a-horse-they-would-have-shot-him.

E). All of the above.

The correct answer is “E”, all of the above.

Again I ask, how hard was that?  Not very. 

And now, off to Game 4.  I will try to Tweet and do the FB updates, but again, sometimes my mobile device works inside the arena and sometimes it does not.  It’s sort of a game-time decision, if you will.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

This is Weird

It occurred to me as I was walking to the parking lot after the Wings lost to the Coyotes 4-2 today that I didn’t care that the Wings had lost to the Coyotes 4-2 today.  I really didn’t.  How strange.  I used to care a lot.  Now, the only concern I had was not in terms of hockey life or death, but in terms of scheduling.  As in: “If they win Tuesday I’ll have to come back here for a Game 6 next Sunday.”  And that was the sum total of my emotion. 

This is a decidedly an odd way for me to feel and can, I suspect, be explained in a very limited number of ways.  I’ve either achieved the Zen-like sense of detachment necessary to cover sports properly, having become, in other words, the consummate professional, or I’m depressed.  Because that’s a symptom of depression, right?  Not caring about something or some things about which you used to care a lot?  Inasmuch I don’t feel depressed, I’m going to chalk it up to spirit-killing objectivity and revel in my newly-found professionalism.

So, why’d the Wings lose today?  (See, not long ago I might have written, “So, why’d we lose today?”)

The obvious and easiest answer would be goaltending, which is always where you start when it comes to analyzing hockey.  The Red Wings did not get good play out of their goalie Jimmy Howard this afternoon.  Somebody—probably Scotty Bowman—once said to me, “You can’t win with goaltending like that.”  He could have been talking about Howard’s Game 3 performance.  While it would be unfair to criticize the rookie on the first three Phoenix goals, the 4th would be another story.  It was a softie and it was a killer—coming with the game on the line in the final ten minutes of regulation, just moments (1:39 for those of you scoring at home) after the WIngs had cut the Coyotes lead to a single goal.  As soon as the longish, non-deflected shot on which Howard was unscreened went in, the game was over no matter what the clock said and it said there was still 8:22 left to play.

You could talk about Pavel Datsyuk, held in check once again in a playoff game.  You see this guy in February or March and you think he just might be the best player in all of hockey.  You see this guy in April or May and…well, that’s sort of the point: you really don’t see him in April or May. Datsyuk averages just about a point per regular season game (598 points in 606 regular-season games or .998 points-per game) and about half that when the playoffs start (65 points in 101 playoff games or .644 points-per-playoff game).  Datsyuk’s goal in Game 2 was his first goal in his last 15 postseason games.  It makes you think one of two things is happening.  Either Datsyuk changes fundamentally when the playoffs start, or the game itself changes fundamentally when the playoffs start. 

I’ll take the latter. How else to explain that the Wings made it through the regular season without Justin Abdelkader just fine, thank you, but as soon as the playoffs start and the Coyotes started hitting, out of the lineup goes Jason WIlliams and up from the minors comes Abdelkader.  The Wings felt they had to get tougher, literally overnight.  Why?  Because in the playoffs, the game changes.  That’s not good for hockey.

The Wings had two apparent goals waved off today due to the referee having whistled the play dead.   Either or both could have just as easily been called good goals.  If was testifying in court as to what I had witnessed, I would say that on the first, the whistle blew one or two tenths of a second before the puck went in and that it shouldn’t have been blown at all as it was evident that the Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t know where the puck was and therefore did not have it covered or secured.  On the second, Bryzgalov himself wound up in the net with the puck beneath him making it, I thought, even more daunting to rule that a goal had not been scored.  But both were waved off.

“Nothing, they meant absolutely nothing to the outcome of the game,”  said Wings coach Mike Babcock afterwards.  The old Richard Kincaide would have been on that in a heartbeat, pointing out that my math would indicate otherwise; that two good goals instead of two washouts would have resulted in a 4-4 tie score and overtime instead of a 4-2 loss in regulation.   But my question went unasked as Babcock slipped out of the interview room.  I was mad at myself for not asking my question, for not making my point.  That’s not good sports journalism.  

Say, maybe I am depressed.  The Wings are down 2 games to 1 in the opening-round series. Game 4 is here Tuesday night.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Apollo 13

I was, as is my wont, listening tonight to The Mike Malloy Show (M-F, 9p Eastern, GMT -5: checkitout!) and Mike mentioned how this evening marked the anniversary of the Apollo 13 explosion.  He asked, "Do you remember where you were that night?  If you do, you're old, you really are, because it was 40 years ago tonight!"

Thanks for that, Mike.  I do remember being 14, so I do remember the flight of Apollo 13.

It's one of my favorite stories, actually. I read an amazing book about it a few years ago and the number and the sequence of the seemingly unimportant minor little things that had to go wrong in just the right way in order that the Apollo 13 Service Module (SM) that exploded in space did in fact explode in space were mind-boggling.

Heck, the oxygen tank itself that blew up (North American Rockwell; serial number 10024X-TA0008, as every schoolboy knows) was mind-boggling in its own right.  As it was designed to hold liquid oxygen and for oxygen to liquefy it has to be really, really cold, engineers had to build a tank that was amazingly--what's the word I'm looking for, oh yeah, thermal--and what they came up with was a tank into which one could place an ice cube, seal it up, and it would take 24 years for that ice cube to melt.  I had 2 questions upon hearing this.  First, how big an ice cube are we talking about, and second, how do you know this, actually, without putting an ice cube in the thing and then waiting for 24 years to check on it?  But that's what they said.

It all got me thinking so I Googled tonight and came across the Apollo 13 Incident Report.

The whole disaster was set into motion when it was decided to take an oxygen tank which was to have been used on Apollo 10 and put it into Apollo 13 which meant the tank had to be moved from the Apollo 10 SM to the Apollo 13 SM and to do that, the Apollo 10 SM had to be taken off the storage rack to which it was bolted.  This, the removing of the SM from a storage rack, was not considered to be a very big deal at all and would not have been a big deal had it not been for the fact that it was only when they raised it with a fork-lift that they discovered that only 3 of the 4 bolts securing the SM to its storage rack had been undone.

And you know how they found this out, don't you?

The forklift operator--probably the lowest-paid guy in the plant next to the guy in charge of loosening the bolts before the forklift guy showed up--got resistance when he tried to lift the SM and, like any man would, merely applied more power to the lift rather than stopping to find out what was causing the resistance in the first place which as it turned out was of course the bolt still being bolted into place.  Said bolt, of course, finally snapped thanks to the forklift operator straining harder and harder on the lift which caused the SM to slam back down into its storage rack.  It wasn't much of a fall--only a couple of inches--and the unit was immediately inspected and no damage was discovered.

Investigators would later determine that this minor mishap several years before the actual flight may have caused something called an internal fill line in the oxygen tank to come ajar.

This, in and of itself, was not nearly enough to cause the accident though.

As we got better and better at space travel, we got better and better at building spacecraft and it was decided to upgrade the tank so that in addition to running off the 28-volt power system aboard Apollo 13, it would also run on the 65-volt system in use at launch pad 31-B at the Kennedy Space Center.  Why run the damn thing off the spacecraft's batteries and run them down pre-launch when you can just plug 'em in, right?  Any engineer would say, "Well, duh," to that.

Well, duh.

From the Incident Report:

All components were upgraded to accept 65 volts except the heater thermostatic switches, which were overlooked. These switches were designed to open and turn off the heater when the tank temperature reached 80 degrees F. (Normal temperatures in the tank were -300 to -100 F.)

That last note is important.  We talked about liquid oxygen being really cold.  It was never expected that the interior of the tank holding it would get anywhere near 80 F when it's supposed to be at -300 F.  Well, here's what happened a couple of days before the flight:

During pre-flight testing, tank no. 2 showed anomalies and would not empty correctly, possibly due to the damaged fill line. (On the ground, the tanks were emptied by forcing oxygen gas into the tank and forcing the liquid oxygen out, in space there was no need to empty the tanks.) The heaters in the tanks were normally used for very short periods to heat the interior slightly, increasing the pressure to keep the oxygen flowing. It was decided to use the heater to "boil off" the excess oxygen, requiring 8 hours of 65 volt DC power. This probably damaged the thermostatically controlled switches on the heater, designed for only 28 volts. It is believed the switches welded shut, allowing the temperature within the tank to rise to over 1000 degrees F. The gauges measuring the temperature inside the tank were designed to measure only to 80 F, so the extreme heating was not noticed. (My emphasis.)  The high temperature emptied the tank, but also resulted in serious damage to the teflon insulation on the electrical wires to the power fans within the tank. 

Why is that important?  If you saw the movie "Apollo 13" the explosion occurred when astronaut Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon's character) flipped a switch to do what was called a "cryo (short for cryogenic) stir."  Fans in the oxygen tank had to be activated from time to time in flight to stir the liquid oxygen so that it would remain a liquid and not turn into an unusable slush.  The electical lines to those fans were the lines which had lost their teflon coating, exposing bare metal to the oxygen, resulting in an explosion when electricity was introduced. See 'ya, SM.  See 'ya, all of our oxygen.  That's what Jim Lovell saw venting into space: his oxygen supply.

It's amazing they survived.

So, there you have it.  A two-inch drop, a component overlooked, and Tom Hanks gets to make a movie we all enjoyed.

But there is one thing I remember first-hand from April, 1970.  All of us, and I mean all of us were watching every minute all the time to see how it was going to turn out.  So how would you forget that?