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Twining’s Take on the week in sports: All-Star Weekend, Pirates in first, and The Open Championship

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I think it was Ron Burgundy who said it best, “I’m not even mad; that’s amazing.” So too, must I tip my cap to the amazing perseverance of a Japanese soccer squad that twice overcame one-goal deficits to beat the heavily-favored United States to win Japan’s first FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It was the perfect way for the U.S. to lose—in penalty kicks, the same way they advanced to the semis. The team has no one to blame but themselves for the loss. They had every opportunity imaginable in the first half, the second half and both extra time periods. To finish on many goal-scoring opportunities, just as they struggled to put away the pesky Japanese squad who, just a few months ago, was unsure whether it would even be able to participate because of the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that left the nation reeling.

Just one week ago it was the U.S. who did the unthinkable, scoring in the 122nd minute to force penalty kicks and then easily netting five consecutive shots to win. This time, the U.S. watched as Japan used a similar formula to win the Women’s World Cup.

The one thing I’ll take away from this World Cup final was the cleanliness of the match. Soccer generally gets a bad rap for the flopping, inconsistent refereeing and time-wasting that takes place in many high-profile matches. On Sunday, I witnessed one of the cleanest and most controversy-free matches I’ve ever seen. The cleanliness of the match displayed both teams’ raw talent and showed how soccer should be played at the highest level.

As exciting as the Women’s World Cup final was, it wasn’t the only high-profile championship taking place. Between Major League Baseball’s (MLB) All-Star Weekend, the completion of the 140th don’t-call-it-the-British Open and the potential end to the Curse of Barry Bonds, it has been a busy week in sports. Let’s begin this week’s Twining’s Take on the week in sports with an analysis of MLB’s Mid-Summer Classic.

MLB All-Star Weekend

After following the Home Run Derby and covering the All-Star game for the Entertainer, I’ve decided that some changes are needed to spice up All-Star Weekend. Although the All-Star Game has become a dull exhibition in recent years, there aren’t many ways to change it for the better. The Home Run Derby, on the other hand, presents a lot of opportunities to  increase the fan-friendliness.

The biggest problem with the Home Run Derby is the length; it is absurdly long. This year, the Derby lasted well over three hours and finally ended with New York Yankee Robinson Cano besting Boston Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez with a record 12 final-round home runs. By the end it’s clear the announcers, as well as most of the fans, have checked out and just want to see somebody win. Before the Derby had reached the final round the announcers had run out of things to say. I’m pretty sure this is how ESPN anchor Chris Berman described one late Derby home run.

“Wow! … Gone.”

In order to add life to the Home Run Derby I have two simple suggestions. First, shorten the length of the first two rounds to seven outs per contestant instead of the current allotment of ten. Second, provide the team captain with eight “wild-card” outs, equivalent to two per contestant, which can be divvied up however the captain chooses.

It was a nice change this year that both the NL and AL squads were chosen by team captains Prince Fielder and David Ortiz, the Derby’s last two winners, but I think the league needs to take it a step further.

For instance, let’s assume Rickie Weeks, who actually swung and missed a pitch, goes on a tear with one out remaining and puts three consecutive pitches in the seats. When Weeks does get that seventh and final out, team captain Prince Fielder could elect to give Weeks one of the eight “wild-card outs” to allow him to continue his round and hopefully add to his home run total.

Not only could this shorten the rounds, it would also add the excitement of the team captain gambling on certain players with the final goal of having the Derby winner come from their squad. Sure, David Ortiz could choose to use all eight wild-card outs on himself to all-but-ensure himself a spot in the second round. But, in this make-believe scenario, I’m assuming there is enough camaraderie among the contestants that this wouldn’t happen.

Pittsburgh Pirates in first place

The Curse of the Bambino is one of the most well-known “curses” in professional sports. The Boston Red Sox traded Babe Ruth, one of the most prolific home-run hitters ever, to the Yankees and then proceeded to go 86 years without winning a World Series. In comparison, the Yankees built the most dominating dynasty in baseball history.

This year, the Pittsburgh Pirates are poised to break the Curse of Barry Bonds, MLB’s current home run king. Bonds’ last year as a Pirate was 1992. Coincidentally, that was also the last year the Pirates had a winning record. Mired in futility for 20 seasons, the Pirates took over first place in the NL Central this week, the first time in nearly 10 years that they have been atop their division.

As one of the original teams, the Pirates history dates back to the late 1800’s. As a fan of the game, I’d love to see the Pirates make it back to the playoffs and show some life after 20 years in the cellar. I’m positive Bud Selig and the rest of baseball wants the same.

140th British Open Championship

If you are privy to the Professional Golf Association’s (PGA) four majors, then you are aware the “British Open” is a slang term for the longest-running professional golf tournament known as The Open Championship, played on links-style courses throughout Great Britain. This year, the tournament took place at Royal St. George’s in Sandwich, England.

Darren Clarke

In his 20th attempt at raising the Claret Jug, awarded to the tournament’s victor, 42-year-old Darren Clarke won his first major and continued a recent streak of Northern Irishmen success in majors. Counting Rory McIlroy’s record-breaking victory in the U.S. Open last month and Graeme McDowell’s win at the 2010 U.S. Open, Northern Irishmen have now won three of golf’s last six majors; this from a country with a population of only 1.7 million.

By not playing this weekend, Tiger Woods missed his second consecutive major. While many fans, including myself, hope for Woods to reclaim his spot as the best golfer in the world, the three years since his miraculous 2008 U.S. Open victory over Rocco Mediate have shown us that the level of competition in the PGA is as high as it has ever been.

Since that 2008 U.S. Open, 12 majors have been completed with 12 different champions. Even if Woods returns at the top of his game, his competitors will not go down without a fight, and success will be harder to achieve than ever before.

Photos courtesy Cygnusloop99 via Wikimedia Commons and Jenni Douglas via Flickr.

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