Archive for September, 2011

A Chopper to Chipper

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

A major league baseball season is a long prolonged slog for the beleaguered fan and the over paid pampered 162 game purveyors of hits, errors, RBIs, steals, homers, strike outs and base on balls. Occasionally one play in a game nearing season’s end can be the defining moment for a team contemplating a slot in the playoffs leading to the ultimate prize of World Series Winner.

It may resemble a signature dish of a beloved restaurant or it could be construed as one’s worse nightmare. The moment arrived for the struggling Atlanta Braves on Monday 19th September in a near empty cavernous stadium in downtown Miami where they were playing the first of a three game series against one of their nemesis the Florida Marlins.

 At the resumption of the season following the All Star Break the Braves led the St Louis Cardinals in the race for the wild card by 91/2 games. Their lead was now reduced to a miserable 31/2 games before the start of play with the Marlins. The game didn’t begin too well for the Braves and they were quickly trailing 1-4. Fortunately the recently misfiring offense rediscovered some pop in their bats and battled back to lead 5-4.

Bottom of the ninth, the Braves rookie and record breaking closer, Craig Kimbrell entered the fray in search of three outs to win the game for his 45th save of the season. Everything was going according to plan with Kimbrell recording two routine outs. His third and potentially final victim stepped up to the plate and chopped the ball high into the night air toward Chipper Jones lurking at 3rd base. Inexplicably Chipper appeared to lose the ball in the lights and the ball fell to the ground in front of him and shot into the outfield for a base hit.

Chipper was seen to mutter something about the baseball gods not being very kind to an aging superstar and the body language of his team mates concurred with his negative vibes But not to worry; the next batter was former Brave Omar Infante with a mere 5 home runs for the season, and on paper no match for Craig Kimbrell. Apparently Infante had not read the script and proceeded to blast Kimbrell’s fast ball into orbit for a two run homer to win the game 5-4.

The Braves gave their fans some encouragement winning the second game of the series, but were shut out in the final game of the series by ironically another ex-Brave Javier Velasquez. Meanwhile the St. Louis Cardinals continued to move like a juggernaut recording 8 wins in their last 10 games, threatening to steam roller the misfiring Braves. The Wild Card lead was now down to 11/2 games.

But wait; do I see a ray of hope for long suffering Braves fans? Yesterday (Thursday 22nd September) the Cardinals had one more game to play against the stinking Mets and were leading 6-2 entering the ninth and final innings. I was chalking this game into the win column for the Cardinals when ex-Brave Rafael Furcal’s fielding error at shortstop initiated a revival for the Mets who proceeded to score six unanswered runs to incredulously win the game. The Braves had received a break without even playing and their lead in the wild card is 2 games with six games left to play.

The Cardinals ostensibly have the easier run-in with a 3 game series at home to the Chicago Cubs and a final three games at Houston. Meanwhile the Braves travel to Washington this weekend for three games against the Nationals and return home to play a three game finale with Philadelphia. The Phillies have clinched the division and a berth in the playoffs, so it remains to be seen whether they will rest their starters in readiness for the playoffs. Fasten your seat belts Braves fans; you could be in for a bumpy ride.

Question Time with Arthur

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

The Atlanta Falcons lack luster performance against the Chicago Bears on the first Sunday of a new season raised many questions relating to the quality of the team. Some sportswriters, notably Peter King of Sports Illustrated, believe the Falcons are capable of making the Super Bowl which I find absolutely ludicrous particularly when there are so many gaping holes in this team. For example:

Why is Matt Ryan so overrated? Yes they have made the playoffs for the last three years but they have yet to win a playoff game. Including the abject performance in the playoffs against Green Bay, Ryan has committed 5 turnovers and thrown for only one touchdown pass in his last two competitive games. He now has two effective wide receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones, but he appears unwilling or unable to throw a deep ball to them.

The Falcons paid a great deal of money to acquire the services of free agent Ray Edwards to complement John Abraham at defensive end, but his name was not mentioned against the Bears. Was he even in the line up? Apparently so!

Why did we pay millions of dollars for Dante Robinson a couple of years ago when he is scorched every week by his opponent? As a corner back you cannot give your opposite number 10 yards and effectively shut him down. You will pay the price which could be one or two touch downs.

Why did the Falcons allow Harvey Dahl to leave in free agency? Keen observers of the Falcons admired the tandem of Clabo and Dahl who are arguably among the nastiest and meanest offensive linemen in the NFL. I’m a great believer in partnerships in team sport and permitting Dahl to leave slipped under the radar in pre-season and is one of the dumbest moves on general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s part. Last Sunday the offensive line was manhandled by Chicago which proved my point.

Why don’t we ever have a dominant presence at line backer like a Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher or Clay Matthews. Curtis Lofton is a very good player but not in the same league has the three previously mentioned. Sean Weatherspoon is in his second year and was drafted with promising credentials, but he somehow lacks the “wow” factor.

Why didn’t Eric Weems catch the ball in his own half when fielding the punt instead of electing it to bounce towards our four yard line. There wasn’t a Chicago player near him and it ultimately led to a touch down when Ryan and Turner couldn’t make any progress on three downs.

Has Tony Gonzalez decided to play one season too many? He didn’t show up in the playoff game with Green Bay and was almost anonymous last Sunday. Admittedly he is in great shape but he is nearer to 40 than 30 and reactions tend to slow when you reach middle age.

Why can’t our secondary tackle properly? The lack of fundamentals cannot be blamed on a shortened pre-season, and is more an issue with poor coaching.

Mike Smith has done a good job as head coach for three years, but appears to lack imagination. Has he taken this team as far as his limited abilities as a coach will allow?

The Falcons will tread the national stage in the Sunday night on NBC. Their opponents will be the Philadelphia Eagles led by the former Falcons quarter back Michael Vick. Question: Will there be more No 7 shirts in the dome supporting the ex-con than Matt Ryan No 2 jerseys? I already know the answer. Green shirts with No 7 emblazoned on the back will resemble an irritating rash around the dome. The Eagles will rub salt in the wounds by comfortably winning the game.

Will the Swans score more than 38 goals in their first season in the premiership? That only amounts to a goal a game and appears to be a no-brainer until you consider the team has not scored a solitary goal in the first four games of the 2011-12 campaign.

Has the West gone completely soft? Last Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of 9-11 and a service was broadcast live from Ground Zero, New York to the American Embassy in Grovesnor Square, London. One hundred Muslim protesters were allowed to disrupt the service by blowing a variety of noisy implements and burned the American flag for good measure. Less we forget didn’t George Dubbya declare war on these scum bags and consequently shouldn’t they be thrown in jail for their aggressive actions?

When was the last time Wales defeated a Southern Hemisphere team in the rugby World Cup? You need to cast your mind back to a group game in 1999 when we beat the Aussies. Platitudes were handed out after our inglorious defeat at the hands of South Africa. As a Welshman I am sick and tired of hearing such comments. The difference between us and them is Southern Hemisphere teams expect to win whereas Wales hopes to win. The golden era of the 1970s seems like a fantasy to me now. Wake me up before you go go.

Pampered Prima Donnas

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

The Atlanta Braves opened a home stand against the struggling Washington Nationals and provided their fans with an abject performance. They gave up 4 home runs and meekly left the field 2-9 losers against a team who had lost their previous six games.

What made my blood boil was the string of inept excuses trolled out by the sycophantic Braves sports commentators. The Braves were caught up in New York with the prospect of Hurricane Irene hitting the Big Apple over the weekend. MLB officials decided to postpone two of three game series against the Mets allowing the Braves to “high tail” out of the town.

What’s this got to do with the loss to the Nats you may well ask. Well I will tell you if you give me a moment. Including the official off day the Braves were inactive for three days, and the sycophants claimed that the break had upset the regular routine of the pitchers. Having played over 130 games this season and with the playoffs in their sights one would assume they would welcome a rest.

The Braves offense faired little better, but another lame excuse was trotted out. The Nats’ wily veteran pitcher, Livian Hernandez was on the top of his game and was almost unhittable. I have lost count the number of times Hernandez has pitched against the Braves over his long career (four times this season) so he is not an unknown factor.

By the way, they lost to the Mets on Friday 0-6 which according to the spin doctors was due to the fact they were anxious to leave town and were mentally unprepared to play the game. Speaking of which Tottenham Hotspur’s melancholy midfield player, Luca Modric, asked his manager two hours before Saturday’s kick off if he could sit out the game. I make no apologies if my words are dripping in sarcasm. The poor (not in the financial sense) man has been the subject of much transfer speculation and wants to join Chelsea.

He claimed he was not in the right frame of mind to play, and judging on his inept performance resulting in his substitution after 60 minutes, he probably had a point. He certainly didn’t help Spurs’ cause losing 1-5 at home to Manchester City. I was convinced that was the last time I would see him in a Tottenham shirt, but the club’s Chairman rejected a reported 40 million pound offer from Chelsea at the transfer deadline. Personally I don’t subscribe to keeping disgruntled players and 40 million was a tremendous offer. .

On a brighter note, Spurs managed to unload quite a few underperforming dead weights at the transfer deadline including Crouch, Jenas, Bentley, Hutton and Palacios. Unfortunately, they were unable to find assisted living for Huddleston and Lennon. Swansea City meanwhile have failed to score one solitary goal in their first three games in the premiership. Danny Graham was signed for a club record fee from Watford to score goals, but has failed to deliver. He was the top goal scorer in the Championship last season with 24, but my son warned me about goal scorers in lower divisions struggling to make an impact in the premiership.

 Apparently he hasn’t come to terms with his new environment as he is battling with a new language, (Cymru am Byth) inclement weather and all the temptations that Swansea night life has to offer. Meanwhile veteran defender Alan Tate broke his leg on a golf course when his driver (human and not the club of choice) lost control of their golf buggy and had an altercation with a tree. Details of the story have been carefully concealed and any mention of alcohol being involved is pure speculation. Needless to say he will miss 6 months of the season which could prove to be a blessing considering his deleterious performance in the season opener against Manchester City.

An article featuring sporting prima donnas would not be complete without reference to one Michael Vick; ex-Falcon, ex-con, and ex-dog killer. He is now weaving his web of trickery and smoking mirrors in Philadelphia, and the Eagles have just awarded him a bumper contract. Vick has gone from serving 18 months in Leavenworth to a six-year stretch worth $100 million. That certainly disproves F. Scott Fitzgerald’s theory that there are no second acts in America lives.

One could also discern that he went to the dogs and came back smelling of roses. He has also become the only athlete in sporting history to be awarded two $100 million contracts in a career. But as one old curmudgeon put it: there’s no substitute for class which he wouldn’t recognize even a rampaging line backer smacked him in the face with it.