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Twining’s Take on the week in sports: Fake identity, QB double-standard, NBA future

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I was 9 years old when the Mariners first won the AL West. I wish I could say I remember it like it was yesterday but I was 9. I can say that it is one of my fondest memories as a sports fan; in fact I might even say it is the defining moment that made me a sports fan.

It was the beginning of August, the Dog Days of summer for both players and fans. The Mariners sat 13 games back of the California Angels in the standings on August 2; two days later, the Mariners were three games under .500 with less than two months remaining.

The next two months produced a comeback for the ages, capped with a one-game playoff in Seattle with Randy Johnson on the mound and Luis Sojo playing hero with an inside-the-park grand-slam. I’ll always remember the joy and elation from witnessing that September comeback – what saved baseball in Seattle.

Last night, all those memories came flooding back when I witnessed the completion of the two biggest collapses in Major League Baseball history. I thought the Angels blowing a 13-game lead with two months to play was bad. How about being up 8.5 games (Red Sox) in the AL Wild Card on September 2 or leading the NL Wild Card (Braves) by 9 games on September 5 and then losing it all in game 162 and not making the playoffs?

I can picture all the youngsters in Tampa and St. Louis staying up into the wee hours of the morning watching, hoping, and waiting for their team to complete monstrous comebacks and make the playoffs.

In Tampa, the Rays were hosting the Yankees and playoff prospects looked dim the Yankees had a commanding 7-0 lead after 7 innings. Fans couldn’t get out of Tropicana Field fast enough.

Meanwhile the Boston Red Sox, tied with Tampa Bay and needing a win to guarantee at least a one-game playoff, was ahead of the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 in the 7th inning when a rain delay forced the Red Sox off the field and into the clubhouse.

In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals easily beat the last-place Houston Astros 8-0. The win guaranteed the Cardinals at least a one-game playoff with the Atlanta Braves – assuming of course the Braves beat the Phillies.

At home against the Phillies, the Braves had all but secured that one-game playoff when the led 3-1 in the 7th and then 3-2 in the 9th with closer Craig Kimbrel on the mound.

At this point, the three remaining games are basically over. You’d assume the Rays lose and the Red Sox win. In the NL, you’d assume with all-star closer Craig Kimbrel on the mound the Braves hold off the Phillies and force a one game playoff.

However, this is baseball. It doesn’t always play out like you’d think. That’s why they play 162 games. Last night, baseball fans witnessed the greatest regular season finale in baseball history. It’s why they call it the Wild Card.

In a microcosm of each team’s season, Tampa Bay rallied late in the 8th and 9th similar to its late-September comeback, while Boston struggled to hold a lead into the 9th similar to its September collapse. The Braves, in similar fashion to the Red Sox, also held a lead late in the game and late in the season but didn’t know how to hold either lead.Tampa Bay Rays, courtesy Keith Allison via Flickr

I don’t have the space to fully recap every game for you, so let me just give you the “Reader’s Digest” version:

Tampa scored six runs in the bottom of the 8th, one in the ninth on a pinch-hit home run by Dan Johnson with two outs and a 2-2 count. The comeback was completed when Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homerun, his second homer of the night, in the bottom of the 12th. In the top of the inning, the Yankees had runners on first and third with no outs and were unable to score.

Prior to Tampa’s walk off win, the Red Sox had closer Jonathon Papelbon on the mound in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a one-run lead. Papelbon proceeded to give up consecutive two-out doubles and a walk off single. On the play, left fielder Carl Crawford, previously of the Tampa Bay Rays, came up short on a sliding catch attempt that would’ve ended the inning.

In Atlanta, Kimbrel blew his third save of September when he allowed a sacrifice fly with two outs. The Phillies went on to score the go-ahead run in the top of the 13th inning and in the bottom of the inning, hot-shot rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman ended the Braves season when he grounded into a double-play.

***

Hopefully last night’s excitement helped introduce the joy of baseball to a new generation of fans. Now let me introduce to you all a couple big sports news stories. We’ll begin Twining’s Take with more baseball drama. I promise I’ll keep it short this week.

Marlins Big Secret

Did you hear the Marlins not only got a new manager recently in Ozzie Guillen but they also got a new closer? Yea, his name is Juan Carlos Oviedo and he’s a 29-year-old from the Dominican Republic.

What’s that you say, the Marlins don’t have a new closer?

Okay let me check my notes again. Oh I see the problem now; Juan Carlos Oviedo is the real identity of Marlins closer Leo Nunez, who claimed to be born in 1983, not 1982. Okay, simple case of mistaken identity. Right? Wrong.

Major League Baseball needs to use the Leo Nunez-Juan Carlos Oviedo situation to seriously consider a way to establish an international draft. Teams can sign Latin American players as young as 16 years old. When you have impressionable youth trying to make a living for them and their families, the allure of money can cause them to do whatever it takes to secure that contract even if that means changing their identity to appear younger.

Major League Baseball needs to start an international draft so the signing of foreign-born players can be better controlled and governed.

Quarterback Double-Standard

On Monday Night Countdown, former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, gave a passionate take on what it takes to be an NFL quarterback and what comes with the position. Trent Dilfer, courtey MLKboy via Flickr

In his rant, he chastised Eagles quarterback Michael Vick for complaining about late hits and the alleged double-standard that protects quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning but not Vick or Ben Roethlisberger. Dilfer said the quarterback’s job, for the most part, is to stand in the pocket, stare down the rush, throw the ball, and then get hit in the face.

Dilfer’s opinion comes from the standpoint of a quarterback who won a Super Bowl with one of the best defenses in NFL history. To me, Dilfer’s opinion resonates.

The NFL has become too much of an offensive league that promotes high-scoring offenses and penalizes hard-hitting defenses. I agree with Dilfer that quarterback’s should stop complaining about late, low or high hits. Getting hit is part of the job. Deal with it.

NBA Lockout Continues

I hate labor disagreements. I hate them so much I don’t really feel like discussing them, researching them or really giving them the time of day. Figure out your problems, which you conveniently put off until the contract expired, and bring back basketball.

During the current NBA lockout, many players are flocking to foreign countries. By the time the season resumes play, if it ever does, the NBA is going to be down quite a few players, particularly if those playing abroad decide to complete their seasons.

Denver NuggetsAlready we’ve had three Denver Nuggets agree to play professionally in China. They will not be allowed to return if the NBA resumes. With Kobe Bryant weighing his options and many other high profile players flocking to professional leagues overseas, the NBA better hurry-up and bring back basketball. It appears the future of the league depends on it.

Photos courtesy Keith Allison, NoBloodNoFoul.com and MLKboy via Flickr.

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