Monday, May 17, 2010

Everything I Know About Baseball (and Hockey)

  • I would have watched the Blackhawks beat the Sharks 2-1 in Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference Final yesterday, really I would have, but I was watching the Twins v. The Team That Shall Not Be Named live from the stadium named for The Team That Shall Not Be Named instead.  TTTSNBN had a 3-1 lead over Minnesota after 7 which was good since it is the Twins that the second-place Tigers are trying to catch for the Division lead. (I can’t remember the name of the Division in which the Tigers play but it’s either the AL “North”, the AL “Central” or the AL “Norris”.)  TTTSNBN brings in Joba Chamberlain, their 8th-inning specialist, to serve and protect that 2-run lead but he’s not particularly special on this day and the Twins load ‘em up on him with two outs.  No problemo.  The Evil Wearers of the Pin-Stripes bring in Mariano Rivera, a.k.a “The Best Closer in the History of Organized Ball” to record what should be an altogether routine 4-out save.  But Rivera goes three-and-oh on Jim Thome before walking him on a full count to force in a run and then gives up a Granny to Jason Kubel—whoever he is—and the Twins lead 6-3 and the game is over.  So Detroit, a 5-1 winner over the Red Socks (sorry, Spellcheck sez it’s Socks, not Sox and who am I to argue?) is not a game and a half off the lead but rather two and a half back all thanks to the New York bleeping Yankees who suck and who always have sucked and who always will suck and that’s all there is to say about that.
  • So, I missed seeing the Chicago’s beat the San Jose’s 2-1 and I missed seeing Blackhawk goalie Antti Niemi or whatever his name is, I had to look it up and besides, I thought he was Chi’s backup goalie anyway, stop 44 of 45 shots which must have been quite a performance on his part unless they were all on dump-ins by San Jose which they probably were not.  I suppose I could watch the 10-minute video game re-cap on to get up to speed, and maybe I will.
  • I missed the Canadians/Flyers game, too.  This maybe isn’t such a great column, ‘ya think?  I thought they’d be playing the two Conference Finals on alternating nights meaning I thought Game 1 of the Eastern series would be tonight so I would up watching the finale of “The Pacific” on HBO last night.  I can tell you that that was pretty good, if it helps.  Reminder to self:  Always check the Program Guide!!!
  • Montreal, in spite of being nipped 6-0 by Philadelphia in Game 1, matching the worst margin of defeat in Canadiens playoff history except for when they got beat this one time by 7 goals back in 1919 which I am not sure should even count, is my team in this match-up of Teams of Destiny. 
  • Montreal is a Team of Destiny because when I saw it was #8 seed Montreal v. Alex Ovechkin and the #1 seed Washington Capitals in Round One and I said, “No way Montreal wins.”  Canadiens beat ‘em in 7.  They won on account of their goalie Jaroslav Halak.  Remember, Halak battled for the starting job all season with Carey Price and was even replaced by Price after Montreal lost a couple of games to the Caps.  After Price got lit up, Halak went back in and stopped 131 of 134 Washington shots (.978) in the last three games and Canadiens pulled off one of the biggest playoff upsets, ever. Measurably.  Washington—first overall in the NHL standings this season (enjoy that President’s Trophy, boys)—finished 33 points ahead of Montreal.  There have been only four occasions where a team knocked off a playoff opponent when that team had finished more than 33 points ahead of them.  So, statistically, this tied for the 5th-biggest playoff upset in NHL history.  Then it was Montreal v. Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2 and I said, “No way Montreal wins.”  Canadiens win in 7 again.  Montreal is outshot 18-3 in the 3rd period of the final game and Halak stops all 18. They are a Team of Destiny.
  • Philadelphia is a Team of Destiny for becoming the 4th team in all best-of-seven series’ in all sports ever played to overcome a 3-games-to-none deficit and win and because they happen to have a documentary about their previous Cup-winning teams (see: Broad Street Bullies) in the rotation on the HBO family of networks right now.  Playing their own Game 7, on the road naturally, the Flyers overcame a 3-0 Boston lead.  It was the first time this season Boston lost a game in which they led 3-0 (they had been 15-0) and the first time the Bruins lost a game in which they led by 3 goals at any point (had been 18-0).  These are the factors which make Philly a Team of Destiny.
  • Oh, and this is weird.  While it’s the #1 seed (San Jose) v. the #2 seed (Chicago) in the Western Conference Final, it’s the #7 seed (Philadelphia) v. the #8 seed (Montreal) in the Eastern Final.  A 7-8 Conference Final matchup is unprecedented and has never happened before, either.
  • But, back to baseball. The Tigers went 5-2 in against TTTSNBN and Boston last week.  Wow.  I did not see that coming.  Meanwhile, Detroit made some personnel moves.  Max Scherzer was demoted to Triple-A Toledo after getting his brains beat in (again) v. the Red Socks Friday.  When Scherzer gave up that 3-run homer to David Ortiz in the first inning (you remember, that 450-foot Moon Shot to center) his line from that point working back to include his previous 13.1 Innings Pitched was, well, a little untidy:  26 Runs (Earned), 31 Hits, 5 HR and 8 Walks.  ERA is Earned Runs Allowed x 9 / Innings Pitched .  In this case, that works out to 17.59 and that, friends, will get you sent down.  His replacement, Armando Galarraga, looked terrific yesterday (1 earned run in 5.2 innings).  It was of note who replaced him Sunday.  Jeremy Bonderman came out of the bullpen for the first time this season, taken out of the rotation after starting the year with six starts which can best be described as inconsistent.  And one other thing, Dontrelle WIllis walked 7 in three-and-a-third Saturday night.  Don’t think the brain trust isn’t a little worried about that.  It was control, actually the lack thereof of course, which knocked Willis out of Baseball for basically the last two seasons.  If he’s lost the strike zone again…
  • Chicago—soon to become the next team to fire its manager—brings their 15-22 record to town tonight.  They are already 9 games out of first in the AL Norris.  Or whatever…

Saturday, May 15, 2010

by Lewis Black

 I'm sure you've all seen this since it was on "The Daily Show" Wednesday night and Olbermann replayed it in its entirety on "Countdown" the next night, but in case you missed it, this is the greatest episode of "Back in Black" in the great history of commentating by Lewis Black and it must be seen.  God, I wish I could do this:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rats and Bleep and Bleep and Rats

I should be, right at this very moment as we speak, be checking the seating chart of the Auxiliary Press Box at the Joe Louis Arena to see from what vantage point I will be watching Game 6 of the Sharks/Wings series except for of course there is no Game 6 of the Sharks/Wings series.  So I have to go to a Music Patrons meeting at my daughter's High School which I am oh so sure will be just as entertaining as your average National Hockey League game.  Yeah, surrre.

Life sucks and then the season's over.  Most of you think the Wings season ended Saturday night when San Jose beat 'em 2-1 to take the second-round series in five, but in reality the season ended last Tuesday when the Wings, leading 3-1 with under 15 minutes to play, blew that lead and lost in overtime.  Thus, instead of going to San Jose even at two wins apiece and knowing no matter how things went Saturday night they'd be back in Detroit tonight for Game 6, Detroit was down three games to one and had no margin for error.  And then they made an error and lost the game.  So now I have to be a good father and go to the damn music meeting when I should be being a bad dad watching hockey and giving nary a thought to the Farmington High School Marching Band.

They say you win as a team and you lose as a team and that's true of all sports except for baseball where your pitcher can (and will) screw you up, football, where your quarterback can (and will) screw you up and hockey where your goalie can (and did) screw you up.  But in every other sport, it's true.  You win and lose as a team.

It was a bad goal allowed by Howard--a very bad goal--that left Game 3 tied at 3 just when the Wings were seven minutes, give-or-take, from the victory which would have put them right back in the series.  San Jose's Logan Couture just tosed it of the corner from right along the goal line and the puck caromed past Howard, a goal that an NHL goalie simply cannot allow.  I'm still not sure if Howard left open a gap between his body and the goalpost big enough to a puck to pass through (among the most elementary and thus among the worst mistakes that a goaler can make) or if, as he was going down, the puck hit one or the other of his extended knees and deflected in, but either way it was a bad goal.  Sometimes you can overcome a bad goal but sometimes, especially in the playoffs when the margin for error is so thin, you cannot.

Howard said, "It found a hole and it went in.  I'd play it exactly the same way every time."  I actually know how he feels.  I play goal myself and while I realize that saying I'm a goalie and Jimmy Howard is a goalie is essentially the same thing as saying I'm a golfer and Jack Nicklaus is a golfer, I do understand the dynamic.  There have been plenty of times when the puck has gone in behind me and I've wondered how it was possible because I had been in the proper position or I'd felt the puck hit my body or because of any of a hundred other reasons. But I am not an NHL goalie and at the NHL level, in that situation (i.e. The Playoffs), you just can't let that one go by.

But, it would be wrong to blame Jimmy Howard.  Especially inasmuch as I blame myself, personally, for the both the loss in Game 3 and for the series loss as a whole.  In the first place, I thought Detroit would beat San Jose in the series.  This is about as good a kiss of death, as solid a harbinger of doom, as you can get.  Then, in the second place, with about 8 minutes to go in Game 3 and with the Wings up a goal, Detroit was playing such sound defense that I wondered to myself if they could, or would, go the rest of the game without allowing the Sharks another shot on goal.  I don't know why I thought that.  I never think thoughts like that.  I know all about hexes and jinxes and the cruelties of fate.  But think it I did, and less than a moment later after that brilliant observation popped into my head, Couture had popped the puck into the Detroit net and we all know how it turned out.

It was Marleau from Thornton for the win in overtime last Tuesday night, just like it was Marleau from Thornton for the series-winning goal Saturday night.

And so, on to the Music Patrons meeting.  Rats and bleep and bleep and rats.

The Tigers, the focus of all our attention from now until the football season starts, host the Yankees in the first of four tonight at the ballpark here in town.  It will not go well, I'm afraid.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Franzen's Frenzy Keeps Wings Alive

(Detroit) -- Whether a Red Wing had scored 4 goals in a playoff game in my lifetime prior to Johan Franzen last night here in Detroit’s 7-1 rout of the Sharks, might, I suspect, be subject to Judicial Review.  I was, and I will thank her for this the day after tomorrow, in my mother's womb when Ted Lindsay last did it in April, 1955.

These facts, at least, require no review, judicial or otherwise: Detroit is still alive in the series against the Sharks, down three games to one (much better than being down four games to none, no?) and Franzen had the best individual performance—4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points—in the 58-year, 574-game playoff history of the Detroit franchise.

Franzen tied the team record for goals in a playoff game (also held by Carl Liscombe who did it ten years before Lindsay) and set a new Red Wings record for points in a playoff game.  Nobody, not Howe, not Yzerman, not anybody you can name, had ever scored six points in a playoff game for the Wings prior to last night.

The kicker was that for half an hour or so, it appeared that Franzen had tied the single-game goal-scoring record in an amazing 5:36 span in the first period. 

The Red Wings team record for fastest four goals in a playoff game is 4:46.  To give you an idea of how long that record has stood, consider that Howe scored 2 of those goals.  Not Gordie, Syd. 

Franzen—originally credited with each of Detroit’s first four goals—appeared to have come to within under a minute of that “fastest 4 goals” record all by himself.  However, upon further review (I’m beginning to develop a strong distaste for that term, “further review” and everything it stands for) it was ascertained that Detroit’s first goal at 5:40 of the opening period belonged not to Franzen who fired the puck, but rather to linemate Todd Bertuzzi, who had been nicked by it on its way to the back of the San Jose net.  So Franzen had to settle for scoring not four goals in a row (What would you call that anyway, “a Natural Quad”?) but rather for scoring three in a row which already has a name: A Natural Hat Trick.  The assist Franzen got on the Bertuzzi goal did, in the end, enable him set a Detroit playoff record for points in a single period with four. 

All of this had happened by the 11:16 mark of the first and Detroit led 4-0 and the Joe Louis Arena crowd was hysterical.  You may recall we told you in this space recently (actually, it was after the Sharks took a 3-0 series lead by winning each of the first three games by identical scores of 4-3) that Detroit is an appalling 17-142 (.107) all-time in the playoffs when they allow four or more goals to be scored against them.  Well, pass the Post-Season Media Guide.  Here’s the same question from the other direction:  What’s the Wings record when they score four or more goals against their opponent?  Answer: a mind-blowing 162-18 (.900).

By the time the Wings made it 6-0—Valtteri Filppula scored late in the first on the 9th and final shot Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov would face and Brian Rafalski tallied early in the second on the 4th shot against his back-up Thomas Greiss (Franzen assisted on the goal by Rafalski, natch)—more research was called for.  It turns out that when Detroit scores 6 goals or more in a playoff game, Detroit wins.  They are now 44-0 (1.000) when they do so.

Franzen capped off his night by scoring the final goal of the evening, his 6th goal of the playoffs and his team record-setting 6th point of the game, in the 3rd period.  San Jose got their only goal on a 5-3 power play in the final minute of the second period with Joe Thornton firing the puck past Jimmy Howard who stopped the other 28 shots he faced.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock juggled his lines for Game 4, dropping Franzen to the second line with Bertuzzi and Henrik Zetterberg, moving Filppula up to the first line with Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom.  It looked bad early when, on the very first line change of the night, Filppula failed to come off with his linemates and Zetterberg came on with his and the Wings were called for Too Many Men on the Ice.  It was the 23rd power play chance for San Jose in the series, compared to 11 for Detroit.  The Wings killed it off though and when the Sharks Dwight Helminen was whistled for tripping a couple minutes later FranzenBertuzzi scored while Detroit had the man advantage and Franzen and the Wings were on their way.

I asked Babcock “to evaluate the efficacy of the line changes” and got a most disappointing response.  “You’d have to switch ‘em back and play the game over,” he said.  It was my punishment, I thought, for using the word “efficacy” during a presser at a hockey game.  I’ll try to tone it down for the next game.  If there is one, of course.  For that to happen, for Detroit to play here at home again this season, they will have to win Saturday night in San Jose to force a Game 6 Monday.       

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Long Gone

I have to leave early for the hockey game tonight.  I have to stop on the way to say good-bye to Ernie.  He lies today in repose at Comerica Park and there he will remain until midnight and I suppose I could stop by on the way home but what if the game goes into overtime, etc?

It was Laura's birthday Tuesday, the day Mr. Harwell died, and I every year on Laura's birthday I remember that the day she was born, Ernie announced her birth on the air that night in the middle of a Tigers game.

I don't want to make it sound like we were big buddies or best friends or anything like that, but we were friends and we were colleagues.  In a sense.  I used to do the post-game talk show after Ernie had signed off, and on many other occasions I'd go up to the broadcast booth to send taped interviews back to the studio.  So, Ernie and me knew each other.  And me, like everybody else, he treated just great.

I talked to two of his broadcast partners yesterday.  Paul Carey and Ray Lane--each great guys in their own right--each shared the booth with Ernie for more than a decade.  Ray reminded me that we will always have our memories and in the case of Ernie Harwell we have the tapes to listen to.  So, in that sense at least, he hasn't left us at all.

I've already told my favorite Ernie story on this blog in a post I wrote when Ernie was diagnosed a year or so ago.  About how when I was covering my second Tigers game ever as a baby all of 22 years old (not bad, covering the bigs at 22) he came up to me near the batting cage, introduced himself and talked to me for five or ten minutes and about how when he left I felt, just like the cliche', 10 feet tall.  I've never forgotten that and I never will.  Ernie made me feel like I belonged, and I went from being a scared and nervous kid to being just another member of the working press in those few minutes he spent with me.

Paul Carey used to do the middle three innings, and while he was at the mike (in those days a guy could work a game alone, you didn't need somebody yammering at you every second of every broadcast like you apparently do today) Ernie would often venture from the broadcast booth up to the press box at Tiger Stadium to visit.  He'd do this most every night, in fact.  I'll remember talking baseball with him on those nights for as long as I live too.

I've taken his death harder than I thought I would.  I mean, we all knew he'd been diagnosed with a fatal cancer and he had a great life and he got to be 92 and all that, but I am sad nonetheless.  Today, I say farewell and Godspeed to him. I will probably cry a little.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Four Score and the Red Wings Lose

The first thing I'm going to do tonight when I get to the Joe Louis Arena is to find out what Everybody wants to know.  What kind of stick is it that breaks at the worst possible moment and causes the Red Wings to lose a hockey game and in all likelihood a playoff series?  Instead of making my usual bee line to the Media Dining Room, I will instead head to the stick rack outside the Wings dressing room and find out what brand of stick Nick Lidstrom uses.  I want to know what kind of stick it is that breaks like Lidstrom's broke as he was taking a slapshot Sunday night resulting in a turnover resulting in a 2-on-1 the other way resulting in a San Jose goal which snapped a 3-3 tie resulting in a 2-0 series lead for the Sharks over the Wings in this Western Conference Semi-Final.  I will then find out what Liddy's stick retails for--it's going to be in the $150-$180 dollar range, I'll bet (I know, how can a freaking hockey stick cost that much?)--and I'll be back with the pertinent information tomorrow.

That said, the problem, dear Brutus was the fact that the Wings allowed the Sharks to score four in the first place.  San Jose was 30-1-2 (.969) during the just-concluded 2009-10 regular season when they scored at least four goals in a game.  In other words, you give the Sharks four, you lose. Detroit, on the other hand, was 4-13-7 (.313) when allowing at least four goals in a game.  In other words, when the Wings gave up four or more, they had about a one-in-three chance of winning the game.

The playoffs?  That's another story.  I probably don't have to tell you this, but the Detroit Red Wings have now played 571 playoff games all-time.  Of those 571 games, Detroit has allowed four or more goals in 158.  That's 27.7% of the time.  Roughly one game in four.  Would you care to hazard a guess as to how many of those 158 games in which the opponent has scored at least four goals the Wings have won?  I'll give you a moment...

The answer is 17.  Detroit is 17-141 (.108) in playoff games when they allow at least four goals.  I don't know about you, but all I could say when I completed that computation was, "Wow," or "Damn," or something just like it.

Also, for the record, the Wings are 5-18 all-time in series in which they trailed two games to none.  This includes series of all lengths: best-of-three, best-of-five, best-of-seven; even the total-goals series they played against Toronto in 1929--Detroit's first-ever playoff series.

Now, if you want to feel a little better, if you don't want to abandon all hope and think all is lost, remember back to 2002.  The Wings lost the first two games to Vancouver, at home no less, then roared back to win the next four to take the series in six.

But they'd better win tonight.  The Wings have never won a series in which they lost the first three games. (Although they did once lose one in which they won the first three games.)   The closest the Wings have ever come to rallying back from 3-games-to-none down came in 1945 when they lost the first three before winning the next three to force a game 7.  Which they lost.

So, historically at least, it's do or die for the boys tonight on home ice.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

“America has spent the last thirty years telling itself how bad its own government is. This has not been an accident, and it has produced precisely the intended effect: a weakened public sector and a discrediting of the concept that government – as a representative of the public interest – is a legitimate actor for controlling private interests with private agendas. The damage done has been enormous. Unfortunately, we can’t blame the Ruskies or some other foreign bogeyman for this one. The bad news is that our country has been wrecked. The worse news is that we’ve done it to ourselves.”