Week of November 2, 2018


A Most Impressive Loss

The World Series sure seems like a distant memory at this point, doesn’t it? While the Red Sox put the Dodgers out of their misery in just five games, the series felt closer than that. The most memorable ‘moment’ was the 18-inning Game Three. It was perfect kind of insanity for a Friday night, especially for those of us on the west coast. I knew next to nothing about Nathan Eovaldi when entered the game in the 12th inning. When it was over, he threw 97 pitches in relief and got the L when Dodger Max Muncy hit an opposite field home run in the bottom of the 18th. Michael Baumann described the game with the following:

This was the kind of game … actually, there’s no kind of game like this. Game 3 was a seven-hour, 20-minute haunted house, totally unique both in its length—by both time and innings this was the longest World Series game by far—and in its strangeness. This was a game in which Muncy could miss a shot at 15th-inning immortality and come back around for another pass through the lineup.

The pitcher who served up both of Muncy’s fly balls—the 15th-inning foul ball and the 18th-inning walk-off homer—was a 28-year-old named Nathan Eovaldi. If baseball’s empirical revolution of the 21st century hadn’t already debunked wins and losses as a measure of pitcher performance, Eovaldi would have. His relief stint of six-plus innings was a superhero’s origin story, and he ended up taking the loss.

With the Red Sox up two games to zero in the best-of-seven series, the Dodgers more or less needed to win game three to have any real chance at winning its first world series in thirty years. Both teams knew it, and as the game went longer and longer, you could understand the impact this game could have on the future of the series, especially on the teams’ respective pitching staffs. The Dodgers had to make every move, but the Red Sox had the two-game buffer. Among other things, Eovaldi’s performance kept the Red Sox bullpen somewhat intact for game four, which was the next day.

And so we watched this Eovaldi guy go out there on the Dodger’s mound, throwing high 90s inning after inning, with a desperate Dodgers lineup continually trying to end the game with one swing of the bat. As his appearance went from good to great to never-been-done, the casual viewer hears about his two Tommy John surgeries and his journey from high draft pick to journeyman. As Baumann points out, to watch Eovaldi pitch in that game was to watch the literary traits of baseball play out in real time.

Baseball is a contest of attrition, of not only prowess and cunning, but also mental endurance and willpower. When combined with baseball’s unequaled literary tradition, there’s hardly a more romantic figure in sports than the solitary pitcher, holding back the tide with one arm again and again and again, just trying to buy another inning for his teammates.

The most literary aspect of all, Eovaldi lost the game while becoming a Boston sports legend. That game, and Nathan Eovaldi’s performance is why I love baseball. Eovaldi, Steve Pearce, Max Muncy – the World Series was largely decided by role players (or players that were thought to be role players).

Baumann’s story captures the essence of that game and weaves Eovaldi’s professional journey to his greatest moment. A great read about what makes baseball unique. – PAL

Source: “The Cruelest Loss: Nathan Eovaldi’s Superhero Origin Story”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (10/27/2018)

TOB: I watched the whole damn thing. It was just before 1:00 a.m. pacific time when it ended. It ruined me for the entire weekend! And the Dodgers won! What a miserable night. My wife asked me why I didn’t just go to bed and watch in the morning. Are you kidding, woman? The second I turned off that TV something incredible would have happened. Sports lose their magic when you know the outcome is decided, or worse, I’d have been woken at 1 a.m. to the ESPN notification of a Dodger win. Ugh.

The only highlight was our group text chain during the game with Rowe, that Rowe never once responded to. There must have been several hundred unread texts when he woke up. Phil’s last text to me was at 11:38pm: “Eovaldi – impressive.” My last three texts were close to and long after midnight: “(I did not account for how bad Kinsler is)”; “Are you still awake? How is Nunez up again?” “F–k”.

What a game.


Willie McCovey Represented the Best of Baseball

Hall of Famer Willie McCovey died this week. The Giants announced it late afternoon on Halloween. I saw the news on Twitter, and it hit me like a punch to the gut. One of the best things about sports is the ability to see a living legend, point to them and say, “That’s one of the best there ever was.” It reminds you that we’re all aging, we’re all mortal, but we can all leave a legacy. McCovey certainly left his.

I read a lot about McCovey since his death was announced. McCovey’s legacy is one of kindness, humility, and the ability to look at the bright side of everything. Grant Brisbee’s story on McCovey discusses at length how McCovey wasn’t really beloved by Giants fans for a large portion of his career. The Giants most beloved player during the 60s wasn’t Mays or McCovey, but Orlando Cepeda, who while a very good player, was not one of the Willies.

After starting his career with a bang as a 21-year old rookie, McCovey had some up and down years until his mid-20s, when he really took off, becoming one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He won the MVP in 1969, hitting .320 with 45 dingers, but the Giants sent him to San Diego in 1973, because he had gotten too expensive. Remarkably, he returned to the team in 1977 at age 39, and played four more years with the Giants. At the home opener in 1977, the Giants crowd gave him a standing ovation lasting several minutes. McCovey cried, and later said, “I knew then what it felt like to be a Giant. I knew then that there is still some loyalty around.” I find it a little sad that Giants fans had been so hard on McCovey early in his career, but remarkably uplifting that he forgave them for it, and allowed them to welcome him back with open arms.

In retirement, McCovey became a mainstay in San Francisco. As he said during his Hall of Fame speech in 1986, “I’ve been adopted by the thousands of great Giants fans everywhere, and by the city of San Francisco where I’ve always been welcome. Like the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars, I’ve been made to feel like a landmark, too.”

And for good reason. He provided incalculable help to the Junior Giants Fund, including their annual glove drive for underprivileged area youth. When the Giants moved into AT&T Park, they named the cove beyond right field McCovey cove, and there’s a statue out there as well. And, in 1980, the Giants began giving out the annual Willie Mac Award, to the year’s most inspirational Giant. As Andrew Baggarly said, it will be strange next year when a player is presented with the award by someone other than Stretch himself.

I saw McCovey many times at the ballpark. It was always special. The most memorable was after a Giants playoff game – I think it was my first, in 2010. I was walking down the street, celebrating the win, and I looked over and saw a familiar face in the passenger seat of the car next to me. It was Willie McCovey. I yelled, “That’s Willie McCovey!” He looked at me, smiled, and waved. That’s all I needed.

The last time I saw him was this past August, when the Giants retired Barry Bonds’ jersey. Willie Mac was there. I took my son to the game with me, and when he asked me who that was, I was able to point to him and say, “That’s Willie McCovey, one of the best there ever was.” Rest in peace, Stretch. -TOB

Source: The Loss of Willie McCovey is Incalculable”, Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles (11/01/2018); Remembering Willie McCovey, Who Struck Fear Without a Drop of Malice in His Heart”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (10/31/2018)

PAL: Well said, TOB. I will only second that point that I got a thrill every time the Willies were at the ballpark, and so often it was the both of them side-by-side. I am relatively new to the Giants, but it’s clear that the the team’s history, which is baseball history, is not lost on the fans or this ownership. It’s something Twins fans can only pretend we have. Kent Hrbek is a Twins great, but he’s not all-time great. That’s why losing Puckett at such a young age was such a big deal in Minnesota. He, Harmon Killebrew, and Rod Carew are the closest we’ve had to an all-time greats who played the vast majority of their careers with the Twins. That ain’t McCovey, Mays, and Bonds. 

Also, I knew he was very good, but I didn’t fully understand how dominant McCovey was in his prime. This is what Sparky Anderson had to say about McCovey in the early 70s: “If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball. He’d hit 80 home runs. There’s no comparison between McCovey and anybody else in the league.”

TOB: After I wrote the above, I found this great article on McCovey by Hank Schulman. Here’s how it opens, and again – I swear I read it after I wrote my story above:

The scene was the same after every Giants game.

Willie McCovey, in a wheelchair, would be taken down the elevator behind the plate at AT&T Park. As a security guard walked ahead to clear a path, McCovey would be taken to his car.

“Willie!” some fans would yell.

Others touched him on the shoulder or patted him on the back.

At first, I felt sorry for Mac and the spectacle, which he did not have the physical capacity to avoid, until I started hearing parents tell their children, “That’s Willie McCovey. Remember this,” or words to that effect. Some of the moms and dads were not old enough to have seen McCovey play.

Then it hit me. That old cliche about being a “man of the people” truly fit. McCovey, who died Wednesday at 80, did not seem to mind the ritual. He had to know how happy he was making these folks.

Read the rest, it’s very good.


I Really Should Have Chosen to be a Pro Athlete

Quick background: Before last year’s NBA All Star Game, Fergie performed the National Anthem and it was AWFUL. The Warriors’ Draymond Green went a little viral for chuckling mid-performance:

Fergie’s (ex?) husband, actor Josh Duhamel, apparently didn’t like this. In a recent interview, he called Draymond a prick:

(god, lighten up, guy)

The Warriors, a team who has won 3 of the last 4 NBA titles and look like they may waltz to 4 out of 5, are a supremely confident bunch and were not about to take this lying down:

My goddddddddddd. This is savage. I laughed and laughed. I watched this a half dozen times and I keep seeing something funny. I know that the BEST part of being an NBA player is getting paid multi millions to play basketball, but man do I wish my job paid me millions and also let me mess around with my friends like this every day. -TOB

Source: “The Warriors Don’t Give A Shit About Fergie’s Feelings“, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (10/27/2018)


The Impossible Fight: Goalie Tactics On Penalty Kicks

Penalty kicks in soccer are not all that different to watching a predator scene on Planet Earth: you pretty much know how it ends, and you feel bad for watching it, but you can’t look away. On rare occasions, the prey gets away, and it’s the most thrilling moment of your day. I feel the same way when a goalie actually makes the save on a penalty kick.

This article does a great job dispelling the simplistic explanation that goalies have a rock-paper-scissors situation on their hands (guessing left, right, or center). A more nuanced approach will still lead to failure 80% of the time, but it’s better than nothing.

Explaining technical nuance to a general audience isn’t an assignment like a human interest piece that allows a writer to wow readers with their language and imagery, but the task is more fundamental: get someone who sees less in a sports moment to see and understand more.

Take this example from Josh Tucker’s piece:

The laws of the game currently read, “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.” Before 1997, though, they included the phrase, “without moving his feet.” While referees have notoriously given leeway to keepers leaving the line and bounding forward too early—beyond the head start it also helps them cut down the shot angle slightly—this change allowed movement laterally and opened up more completely legal options.

Importantly, this gives a keeper a better chance to react. Instead of having to have their feet rooted in place until impact, they can now bounce into a hop (see Allison against Tesillo, above) or start shuffling their momentum in one direction as early as they dare. They could always distract a kicker by waving their arms or bouncing in place but being able to actively reposition or feint back and forth during the kicker’s run-up can give them more to think about.

In two paragraphs he outlines how the rules have changed, what the keep can do before the ball is kicked, and how they might play the psychological chess match. That’s just solid work from Tucker.

Very interesting study in futility. – PAL

Source: Keepers Wield More Than Just Guesswork In The Battle Against Penalty Kicks”, Josh Tucker, Deadspin (10/30/2018)


How to Play With LeBron

LeBron James is great; this is undeniable. But is playing WITH LeBron great? I’d say yes – unlike great players of the past (Kobe), LeBron is a pass-first superstar who is always looking to get his teammates easy shots. So, playing with LeBron is great. But is playing with LeBron easy?

The Ringer had a cool article this week. They asked three of LeBron’s old teammates (Brendan Haywood, Richard Jefferson, and Carlos Boozer) what LeBron’s new teammates in L.A. can do to maximize the opportunity in front of them. My main takeaway is that his new teammates need to understand that the situation has changed and they need be ready to change with it. As Richard Jefferson said:

If your team is struggling in pick-and-roll defense and you’re [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope, OK, well, if I just fuckin’ focus on just pick-and-roll defense, like that’s one thing that I really want to help us get better at, and your team can go from 17th in pick-and-roll defense to top 10 in pick-and-roll defense, that means that you’re going to get more time on the court. More time on the court means more shot opportunities. More shot opportunities means more scoring. More scoring means more money.

Also, don’t get an offensive rebound with just seconds remaining in a tie game of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when LeBron is having one of the greatest games of his career, and run away from the hoop.

-TOB

Source: How to Be a Perfect Teammate for LeBron James in Eight Easy Steps”, Haley O’Shaughnessy, The Ringer (10/31/2018)

PAL: I was about to pull the same quote as the above. It sounds like playing with LeBron forces guys to be a good teammate, because they are definitely not the best player on the team, and even they can’t deny that. It’s a bit of a hit to the ego, which isn’t a bad thing for a young player and their future. Jefferson, Boozer, and Haywood were great in this. That’s a lot basketball played with LeBron in those three fellas.

TOB: You know was not good at it? Dion Waiters. As Haywood said:

“[When LeBron returned to Cleveland,] Dion Waiters was used to having the ball in his hands. And I remember telling Dion, like, ‘Listen, LeBron’s here. It’s gonna be a little bit different for you this year. Last year, you and Kyrie [Irving] got to have the ball a lot. This year, it’s LeBron, it’s Kyrie, it’s Kevin Love. You’re gonna have to figure out different ways to be effective without the ball.’ And he didn’t. He didn’t really wanna hear that. That’s part of why he was traded very early in the season, because he didn’t fit.

Waiters is such a clown.


Video of the Week


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Otis Redding – ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’


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Do I have to tuck my shirt in? Because honestly that’s kind of a dealbreaker for me. 

-Andy Dwyer

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