Rays vs. Red Sox -- BEST series ever!
Shooting from the Lip
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Sports loves hyperbole and the present. Every time we see a great performance -- Tiger at the U.S. Open, Matt Garza's one-hitter, Evan Longoria's first three months -- we all tend to label it as "best ever'' as if nothing great ever happened in sports before last week. Everything is "the worst'' that,' the "greatest'' this.
Yet this is not hyperbole: The Rays open a three-game series Monday night against the Red Sox in what is the biggest series in franchise history. Those who can tell the difference between a ball and a bat know that the pennant race doesn't start until the kids are back in school. Still, for the first time, games at this "late'' date actually have a little bit of meaning in Tampa Bay. If nothing else, the Rays have caught some national attention, including Sunday's Sports Reporters on ESPN, which talked about the best teams in baseball. Here's a rundown of one exchange.
Bob Ryan, Boston Globe: "Both of those fans in Tampa are saying when are you going to talk about the Rays? …The greatest and most important series in the history of that franchise is going to take place at the Trop. And the Rays are for real.''
Howard Bryant, ESPN: "They are for real, but the thing you got to wonder about them is -- is it now? They've got the talent. You just don't start from 10 straight years of 90 losses and then you go out and win the whole thing unless you're the '69 Mets.''
Michael Kay, YES Network: "You cannot say they're for real yet because young players in a pennant race for the first time (might get rattled). Also, you got a closer, Troy Percival, who has been hurt already. He's 38 years old. It has been a long time since he has had to close big games. I want to see how they react in August.''
ESPN analyst Peter Gammons, on Baseball Tonight, put it best: "This is tremendous for the game.''
Nothing is going to be decided in this series even if the Rays sweep or get swept. But isn’t it fun to at least have a reason to watch?
From the pregame ceremonies to the game itself to the halftime analysis to the trophy presentation to a wrapup of an amazing few weeks, ABC's Euro 2008 soccer coverage was about as close to perfect as a television sports broadcast can get. There was not one weak link in the coverage, and the best part of all was the game color provided by Andy Gray. In my unofficial rankings, he has surpassed golf's Johnny Miller, tennis' John McEnroe and boxing's Max Kellerman as my favorite analyst in sports. Anyway we can teach this guy American football and get him on Monday Night Football?
Biggest rip job
Rays announcer Dewayne Staats took out a sledgehammer and whacked Major League Baseball over the head during Friday's broadcast after the league reduced the suspension of Boston's Coco Crisp and upheld the suspension of Aki Iwamura for their roles in the big brawl at Fenway Park. Staats had the guts to say what everyone thinks, but no one ever says for fear of getting in trouble. And you know what? He was right.
"What happened is, in this case, the Red Sox retain their Most Favorite Nation status in the eyes of Major League Baseball,'' said Staats, just warming up. "That's just very clear -- that the message sent out of all of that to every other team in baseball, with the exception of the Yankees, would be you just better not mess with the Red Sox or the Yankees or don't defend yourself against those two teams because if you do, Major League Baseball doesn't like it. That's just not right.''
He wasn't done: "Well it confirms what everybody says anyway: that they really care about the Red Sox and Yankees, and the rest of the clubs exist for their pleasure.'' ... Youza!
Anyone else sick and tired about hearing Red Sox and Yankees apologists whine about injuries? Hey, the Rays have been hit, too. At times this season they've been without their ace (Scott Kazmir), their closer (Troy Percival), their top slugger from a year ago (Carlos Pena), as well as key players, such as Cliff Floyd, Dioner Navarro and Al Reyes. And let's not forget Rocco Baldelli. But no one nationally talks about it. You know why? The Rays don't whine about it.
NBC and ESPN combined to make a mess of Saturday's Wimbledon and U.S. Women's Open golf coverage. The Open was supposed to start at 3 p.m. , but NBC, which had been showing Wimbledon, said it would stay until the conclusion of the Rafael Nadal-Nicolas Kiefer match, which had completed only one set at 3, or until play was called by darkness, which was expected to be around 4:30 .
NBC didn't announce it, but ESPN had the Open with NBC's announcers. Suddenly, at 3:30, NBC scrapped what it had told viewers and switched to golf. It told viewers to tune to ESPN2 for the rest of the day's Wimbledon coverage. That meant ESPN2 broke away from an exciting five-set match between Mikhail Youzhny and Radek Stepanek to take care of the Nadal fans who switched over to watch the end of his easy three-set victory. Meantime, ESPN stayed with golf for another 10 minutes then showed the last inning of what was supposed to be on anyway -- a taped replay of a USA softball game. Know how I solved the problem? Switched to Fox and watched baseball.
What in the name of Jacques Demers is going on here? Not only did the Rays get mentioned on ESPN's Sports Reporters on Sunday, so did the Lightning. Host John Saunders, in his parting shot, talked about new Lightning coach Barry Melrose: "What will make Melrose a success again in coaching is what made him great in TV: incredible knowledge and confidence wrapped up in a never-take-things-too-seriously attitude.''
Best executive praise
On ESPN's Baseball Tonight, analyst Steve Phillips named the Rays' Andrew Friedman the best GM of the first half of the season, mostly for his trade that sent Delmon Young to the Twins for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. As you might remember, I critized that trade at the time it was made and then again about five or six weeks ago. I'm not ready to give up the fight only three months into the season, but I am have second thoughts about my second-guessing.
Most tired story lines
Is it possible for the Fox baseball pregame show to go just one show without talking about the Mets and Yankees? There are other teams, you know. On Saturday, they had not one, but two separate segments on Yankees slugger Jason Giambi. They did, however, mention the Rays as "insider'' Ken Rosenthal said Tampa Bay and the Brewers are interested in Indians lefty pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
"You don't normally hear about the low-revenue Rays and Brewers being buyers at the deadline,'' Rosenthal said. "But this year they're both solidly in the mix for Sabathia. Both have the prospects to get such a deal done. Both can take on the rest of his $9-million salary. And both are willing to take draft picks if they lose Sabathia as a free agent.''