As punishment for his complicity in the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty program,” Saints coach Sean Payton received a one-year ban from the NFL Wednesday. Roger Goodell also banned St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams – the Saints’ defensive coordinator from 2009-2011 – indefinitely, Saints GM Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six. The NFL also fined the Saints $500,000 and stripped them of their next two draft picks.
A harsh penalty, to be sure, but what did the Saints expect? They not only violated league rules by encouraging players to injure opponents – they violated the image the NFL tries to sell the public.
And that’s a crime the NFL couldn’t let go under-punished.
The National Family-Friendly League
The NFL has convinced us all that football, more than any other sport, is a game that speaks to our “values” as Americans. Sunday afternoon and Monday Night Football have become ritualized viewing experiences involving everyone from the very young to the very old.
The NFL wants us to think that not only can we be entertained by football, we can also identify with football. And that loose mental association between our own identities and this televised sport helps the NFL snatch up billions of the fans’ dollars. Marketing, not quality of product, has made the NFL the most profitable league in the world. The NFL understands that to get our wallets they need to go through our “souls,” and they’ve done it.
Of course, this is all a farce. And the only way to preserve a farce is to never do anything that portrays the NFL as anything other than the family-friendly, “American values” ritual Goodell needs to keep everyone rich.
Ryan Braun is still a cheater. Whatever independent arbitrator Shyam Das might say, nothing will change Braun’s urine testing positive for synthetic testosterone, and a lot of it at that. And until someone conclusively accounts for that, Braun will remain a steroid-user, his name forever smeared with the b.s. he’s spoon-fed the media since his acquittal.
Where Did the Testosterone Come From?
Major League Baseball and Braun can argue endlessly over possibly closed FedEx stores, STD medication and whatever else each side cooks up, but that testosterone still remains. And while experts admit improper storage can affect testosterone-epitestosterone concentrations, none say it can make naturally produced testosterone look like it came from somewhere else.
Somehow a large (though not unbelievably large, it turns out) amount of testosterone got into a sample that, while perhaps a little warmer than it should have been when it arrived at the Olympic anti-doping lab in Montreal, showed no signs of tampering. It was in Braun’s body. It was in his sample.
Testimony can call into question many steps in the doping process, but it can’t refute science. The testosterone that Braun peed into a cup was not naturally produced. He took steroids. He cheated.
Braun himself has never refuted the testing result – a curiosity considering how willingly he’s refuted everything else, including a herpes rumor that can’t be killed by Braun’s words, only time. Instead, he’s focused on the time it took the sample to get to the lab, the storage and custody issues.
These arguments may have validity in court. But the MLB is not a court: it’s a private organization that’s come under heavy fire and scrutiny for its apparent complicity in baseball’s steroid-fueled 1990s. In response to that charge, baseball has set up a system wherein a player can do everything wrong and still get off scot-free. “Justice” replaces “right,” and the sport suffers all the more for it.
When you get caught cheating, you’re supposed to be punished. Copy your friend’s homework? Zero on the assignment. Run a red light to save a couple minutes? Ticket. Carry on an elicit affair? Divorce, and probably half your stuff.
Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun got caught cheating: he failed a drug test. While a 50-game suspension next season is a sizable penalty, it’s not a punishment.
Braun should lose his MVP award. That’s the punishment. Sorry, Grandma!
Some have argued that because previous MVPs who later tested positive for steroids – Ken Caminiti, Alex Rodriguez – didn’t lost their awards, and because Braun passed a subsequent drug test, he should keep his MVP.
The truth about Caminiti and Rodriguez came out years after they’d won their awards. Braun’s situation is immediate – he won the award and tested positive for steroids within a month – and it demands an immediate answer.
By allowing Braun to keep his MVP, the MLB does nothing to dispel the widely held belief that the rich and famous live by a different set of rules than the fans. The Occupy movement proves how quickly that disparity can turn to outrage, with millions of Americans summarily rejecting the federal government in favor of blind protest. A private industry such as the MLB can’t afford a similar rejection.
I was a rainstorm and a Chris Carpenter three-hitter away from sweeping the opening round of the MLB playoffs. Instead, another .500 showing, with my pick for the World Series – the Philadelphia Phillies – not among the winners. Oh well, always move forward. Here are my picks for the ALCS and NLCS (home-field team second).
ALCS: Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers
Tigers coach Jim Leyland rolled the dice in Game 5 of the ALDS by keeping out Justin Verlander. The gambit paid off, because now the Tigers start the best pitcher in the majors in Game 1. Verlander is 6-2 lifetime against the Rangers, and he’s never lost in Arlington (3-0, 1.29 ERA). C.J. Wilson is a great pitcher, but Verlander is just better. Tigers take Game 1 on the road.
Not helping matters is the Rangers’ offense. More specifically: there lack thereof. The Rangers are the weakest-hitting team left in the playoffs. They hit the worst, they get on base the least, and they drive the ball the least often. They’ve hit as many home runs as any remaining team, but that’s where the offense stops. And while Doug Holland may beat Max Scherzer at Rangers Ballpark – a hitter’s park – in Game 2, that lack of offense is sure to influence Games 3 through 5 at Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park.
The Rangers sport a mediocre .278 combined average against Doug Fister, who will start game 3 for the Tigers. Fister will still be amped from his ALDS Game 5 win over the Yankees, and that’s bad news for a Rangers team with such paltry on-base (.303) and slugging (.406) against him. If Fister can stay on top of Nelson Cruz (.500 avg, 1.390 OPS, home run), he should hold the Rangers in check long enough for the Tigers to get the better of Colby Lewis. The Tigers bat a combined .356 against Lewis, and everyone but backups Brandon Inge and Omir Santos has driven in at least one run.
Detroit Tiger Justin Verlander leads the American Leauge in wins (24), strikeouts (244) and ERA (2.29), making him a virtual lock for the AL Cy Young award (I’d be surprised if he wasn’t chosen unanimously). While these numbers make Verlander the front-runner for the AL Triple Crown for pitchers (first since then-Minnesota Twin Johan Santana in 2006), they also put him in front for the MLB triple crown, which Santana was also the last to win.
Verlander’s main competition is Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw. What’s curious about Kershaw is he is the front-runner (currently 19/236/2.30) to win the NL Triple Crown (first since then-San Diego Padre Jake Peavy in 2007).
Should both Verlander’s and Kershaw’s positions at the top of their leagues hold up, and Verlander remains on top of Kershaw overall, it will be the first time in 87 years that a pitcher has won the MLB triple crown and another has won a league triple crown. Dazzy Vance of the NL’s Brooklyn Robins (a precursor to the Brooklyn and then LA Dodgers) won the 1924 MLB triple crown in the same season that Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators (a precursor to the Twins) won the AL’s triple crown.
The last time an AL pitcher won the MLB triple crown and an NL pitcher won his league triple crown was 1918, when that same Walter Johnson won the MLB triple crown and Hippo Vaughn (seriously) of the NL’s Chicago Cubs won his league triple crown.
Only two other times have two triple crowns been won in the same year. Christy Mathewson of the NL’s New York Giants (now in San Francisco) and Rube Waddell of the AL’s Philadelphia Athletics (later to moved Kansas City before their current home in Oakland) both won their league triple crowns in 1905, but neither won the MLB triple crown.
Charles Radbourn of the NL’s Providence Grays (defunct since 1885) won a league triple crown in 1894 in the same year that Guy Hecker of the Louisville Colonels won in the American Association (which later merged with the NL before folding in 1891).
When nothing is going right, nothing is going right. Such was the case Thursday night at Fenway, when a freakish broken-bat grounder led to four runs by the Tampa Bay Rays, who homered three times to beat the Red Sox, 9-2, and cut Boston’s wild card lead to three games.
Broken Bat Ends Up Breaking Weiland
Through two innings, starter Kyle Weiland appeared on his way to at least the first quality start for the Red Sox since Sept. 6, and possibly his first major league win. Weiland retired his first seven batters before giving up a double to catcher John Jaso. Weiland walked Desmond Jennings with two outs, but his inside pitch to B.J. Upton broke Upton’s bat and started rolling towards Marco Scutaro.
The broken bat-head flew in the exact same direction as the grounder, unfortunately, landing in front of Scutaro moments before the ball reached his glove. Scutaro tried to side-step the bat and field the ball, but the two arrived so close that there was nothing Scutaro could do. The ball rolled between his legs, and Jaso scored to give the Rays a 1-0 lead.
Weiland should have been out of the inning, but instead he had to face Evan Longoria. Though Weiland reached two strikes on Longoria, he left a 1-2 pitch over the plate, and Longoria deposited it in the Red Sox bullpen in right-center to make it a 4-0 game.
The Red Sox are in absolute free fall, and by the time they hit the ground, they might be looking up at the Tampa Bay Rays in the playoff race.
Rays starter James Shields allowed just one earned run in 8.1 innings Sunday afternoon in St. Petersburg, and the Rays battered Jon Lester and the bullpen in a 9-1 Rays victory, completing the sweep and pulling Tampa Bay to just three losses behind Boston in the wild card race. The Red Sox have now lost five straight, and 10 of their last 13.
Lester Continues to Struggle Early
Lester entered Sunday’s game having allowed 13 first-inning earned runs, the most of any inning. His struggles continued Sunday, with the Rays sending eight to the plate against him in the first..
The Rays began the game with back-to-back singles, then Evan Longoria walked on four pitches to load the bases with no outs. Second baseman Ben Zobrist saw three pitches, then singled to left to drive in two. After a fielder’s choice moved Longoria to third, shortstop Sean Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to center to drive him in and make it 3-0 Rays.
None of Lester’s pitches worked Sunday. His fastball did not overpower, resulting in 29 foul balls to just 11 swinging strikes, and his cutter lacked the sharp movement necessary to fool hitters, leading to three walks and numerous long at-bats in which Rays hitters just waited Lester out.
Lester threw 43 pitches in the first, 26 in the second, 16 in the third, 26 in the fourth … and that was it. Lester couldn’t even make it to the fifth, suffering his seventh loss of the season. He threw 68 of his 111 total pitches for strikes, giving up four earned runs (the Rays added another on a Johnny Damon triple and a Rodriguez double in the third) on eight hits, three walks and two strikeouts.
All good things must come to an end, including CC Sabathia‘s winless streak against the Red Sox this season and Boston’s explosive offense. Sabathia allowed just two earned runs in six innings Tuesday night at Fenway, and the Red Sox left 16 men on base, losing to the Yankees, 5-2. Boston now leads New York by just a half-game in the AL East.
Sabathia Keeps Runs Just Out of Reach
Sabathia lived on the outside corner Tuesday night. Lefty, righty, it didn’t matter: Sabathia pitched just about every batter away. While this generated a lot of base runners – 11 in six innings – it also meant few opportunities for that one big run-scoring hit. Adrian Gonzalez struggled most with this strategy, striking out swinging against Sabathia three times on breaking balls down and away. Gonzalez finished the game 0-5, the only Red Sox starter without a hit.
The Oakland Athletics swung early and often Friday night at Fenway, and Tim Wakefield was powerless to stop them. Wakefield gave up eight runs (four earned) on eight hits, including two homers, and the Athletics battered the Red Sox, 15-5. The Red Sox maintained their one-game lead in the AL East because the Yankees lost 12-5 to the Orioles.
A Bad Night All Around for Red Sox Pitching
Up 2-1 entering the fourth, the Athletics took control of the game because Wakefield couldn’t get the third out. With one man on and two out, third baseman Scott Sizemore pulled the first pitch he saw just inside the Fisk Foul Pole for a two-run home run to go up 4-1.
DH Josh Willingham (2-5, four RBIs) waited a whole pitch before smashing his own two-run home run into the Green Monster seats to put Oakland up 8-1.
Wakefield had no one to blame but himself for his sixth failed attempt at his 200th win and sixth loss of the season. He left too many knuckleballs up in the zone and only struck out three despite eight two-strike counts. Just four of the eight runs Wakefield allowed were earned, but eight hits and two walks in four innings won’t get it done, no matter how good your offense is.
Wakefield had a faint chance of winning his 200th game when the Red Sox gave him a 1-0 lead to start the second, but he couldn’t hold it. First baseman Brandon Allen doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a single by right fielder David DeJesus. DeJesus moved to second on a wild pitch, and shortstop Chad Pennington (3-5, 2 RBIs) singled him to put the Athletics up 2-1.
Recently recalled Scott Atchison went three innings, saving the bullpen a bit but allowing a seventh-inning RBI double to Pennington that Mike Aviles – who was playing his first game ever in left field – may have misplayed.
Matt Albers continued his downward slide, allowing four runs on four hits and a walk in the eighth. In 10 August appearances, Albers has an ERA of 13.10.
Darnell McDonald made a rare pitching appearance in the ninth, giving up a two-RBI double to Willingham to put the Athletics up 15-4.
Red Sox Can’t Match Athletics’ Offense
The Red Sox struck early against Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez, with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off the first with a double, then scoring two batters later on Adrian Gonzalez‘s single just past Weeks at second base. David Ortiz followed Gonzalez with a single to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, but Jed Lowrie struck out to strand two.
That the Red Sox offense didn’t curl up and die after going 1-2-3 in both the second and third, then seeing the Athletics go up 8-1 in the fourth, is commendable, though it mattered little. Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster, and Ortiz followed him four pitches later with a solo shot into the center-field bullpen to make it 8-3 Oakland.
The Red Sox tacked on a fourth run in the fifth when Ellsbury led off with a triple and scored on a Marco Scutaro ground out, but they never closed the gap further. McDonald popped out on a 3-1 pitch with two men on in the sixth, then reliever Brian Fuentes got Ellsbury to foul out to end the threat. Gonzalez finished the game giving up four earned runs on seven hits, three walks and five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
The Red Sox put two more on in the seventh on a Pedroia walk and an Ortiz double to right, but Lowrie struck out for the third time to end the inning. A pinch-hit double to right by Josh Reddick in the ninth scored Scutaro to make it 15-5, but Lowrie struck out again and Aviles flied out to the warning track in left to end the game.
With the win, Gonzalez evened his record to 11-11. It was his second career win against the Red Sox.