Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sour Apple

Disappointing.  There is no shame in losing in the semifinals of the NIT, and the Aztecs are to be commended for setting the single-season school record with 26 wins (and a final record of 26-10).  But I am sure that for the seniors who played their last game tonight, they are disappointed with a game in which they simply did not play very well at all.

You'd much rather get carried out on your shield than slip on a banana peel, but the Aztecs were left red-faced after 19 turnovers and numerous bad shots in the second half.  You'd rather go down swishing than clanking, but Richie Williams and Lorrenzo Wade combined for 3-16 shooting (Richie 0-7), 9 points (all Wade), and six turnovers.   After a first half in which SDSU turned it over 10 times, often carelessly, UCSD head coach Chris Carlson and I both thought on the halftime show that it was a good sign, as the Aztecs clearly had their best basketball ahead of them.  Then, they came right out and saw the 1-point halftime deficit balloon up to 13.  

At some point, after SDSU had twice rallied within six only to see Baylor re-establish their double-digit lead, the realization that this was it clearly settled into the team.  The last few minutes of the game were quite forgettable.  So I'm going to go ahead and forget them.

The wallpaper on my laptop is a picture of Kyle Spain, beaming, in a sea of fans, holding up one finger as the students stormed the court after the St. Mary's win.  I'm going to keep that photo up for a little while, because that's how I want to remember this team, and this senior class.  Their last home game is a much sweeter memory than their last game.

A Catchup Column

There is so much going on right now, I've started and stopped three different columns this morning.  SDSU basketball in the NIT today.  A changing of the guard for the Padres.  Aztecs baseball winning 2 of 3 at TCU and entering the national rankings.  Shawne Merriman making an encouraging re-appearance at Chargers camp.  Why settle for just one?  Let the dots commence...

  • This is an exciting day for SDSU basketball, the unversity, the students, and the long-suffering fans.  The semifinals of the NIT aren't the same as the NCAA Final Four, but for this school it's their greatest achievment to date.  And, unlike so many San Diego sports stories that have come before, there is no Goliath currently standing in the way.  Baylor is a good team, and they've been hot in the postseason to be sure.  But it's not the '84 Tigers, or the '94 49ers, or the '98 Yankees across the court.  It's not even the Stanford team that swamped SDSU women's basketball earlier this month.  This is an opponent the Aztecs can match up against.  A heavily guard-oriented team that likes to run and gun but is a bit lax on defense.  If Steve Fisher's boys bring their lunchpails tonight and commit to the hard-nosed defense that has been their trademark this year, they should be able to light the flashbulbs at Madison Square Garden with some exciting plays in transition and off of turnovers.  I'm expecting a really good game, and it will be up to Williams and Spain outside defensively to stop penetration by Curtis Jerrells and Tweety Carter.  This is the opportunity so many of these Aztecs have been waiting for, and they are going to take advantage and get noticed on the national stage.  Tune in today to AM-600 KOGO, where I will be hosting a special one-hour pregame show today at 3pm.  Yeah, it's hilarious, back in the building again.  UCSD head coach Chris Carlson is going to join me as an in-studio analyst for the entirety of the game.  
  • Oh, by the way, what scares me the most about Baylor?  Their hot run coincided with their switching to a 2-3 zone for the Big 12 tourney.  Uh oh.  The zone has been the bane of this Aztecs' team for years.  Beating an old bugaboo: it's becoming a bit of a theme this postsesason.  First St. Mary's, now a zone team.  Time to hit some outside shots, Spain/Wade/Williams.  And if DJ Gay could hit another three this YEAR, now would be the time.
  • Up until the ceremonial changing of the guard between John Moores and Jeff Moorad on Thursday, this was shaping up as one of the bleakest preseasons in the bleak history of the San Diego Padres.  Now, at least, the feel changes for 2009 and moving forward.  Sandy Alderson is gone, and that's an instant plus, on the field and in the important field of public perception.  Whatever good he did while he was here, Alderson will be remembered as the man who ran out Trevor, treated Khalil Greene like a bad schoolboy, alienated the team from its fans, and handled the players like some bizarre bespectacled vice-principal.  Between Alderson's autocratic rule, the bizarre who's-in-charge configuration of the front office, and the Moores' divorce, the Padres were caught in a death spiral.  Moorad stops that.  The team's going to be bad this year, there's little doubt about that.  But instead of feeling like an endless slog, at least we'll be able to say 2009 is the start of something, namely the Moorad Era in San Diego.  An owner who was an agent himself, who understands the value of premium talent, who's not going to bait-and-switch his scouting department into taking a bargain-basement bust with the #3 pick in the draft this summer.  It will be something to keep in mind while you're choking down your $5 food-o-rama at Petco Park this summer, watching Eulogio De La Cruz walk the bases loaded.  
  • Baseball America has Tony Gwynn's Aztecs at #21 this morning, as the boys wake up in Santa Barbara and get ready to battle the Gauchos this afternoon.  Chris Ello has the call at 2pm on www.goaztecs.com.  I watched all three games from TCU on my laptop last weekend, and was not surprised to see another 9th inning uprising on Sunday.  Four times this year, SDSU has rallied in their final at-bat to win, and they turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory in Fort Worth on Sunday, claiming the series from 16th ranked TCU and establishing themselves in the national rankings.  This will be an exciting and challenging week for the Aztecs.  A home-and-home two-game set with the 20th ranked Gauchos begins today, followed by a four-game weekend series against UC Davis.  The Aggies series will feature Strasburg pitching at Petco Park on Friday afternoon, and a Saturday doubleheader at Tony Gwynn Stadium.  Chris and I will call three of the four games on XTRA 1360 this weekend, while the 2nd game of the doubleheader will be exclusively on goaztecs.com.  This should be a good week, in that what is really being challenged is the Aztecs' depth in the rotation, and they should be able to roll out O'Sullivan, Simmons, Strasburg, Berger, Lavigne and Solow without asking the bullpen to really get taxed.  
  • So Shawne Merriman says he "feels great and looks amazing"?  Good news for Chargers fans, and a great excuse for me to link to Stephen Colbert's amusing riff last night on narcissism.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nothing But Net (trouble)

So....the Elsten internet feed was temporarily shanghai'ed by three tech support flunkies in Sri Lanka, before being restored by a tech support angel from Manila today.

Apologies for the lack of posting.  

619 Sports returns at full strength later this evening!

Friday, March 27, 2009


A week later, I noticed that I never posted my #1 for my U2 Top-5.  A High Fidelity Brownie Point if you noticed and actually missed it!  

Easily my favorite U2 song of all time, amidst all their epic ballads, this is the one that gets me every time.

That leaves me with a final U2 Top 5 of:

#1 Bad
#2 Pride (In The Name Of Love)
#3 Where The Streets Have No Name
#4 New Year's Day
#5 (tie) Breathe/Magnificent

What's yours?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On the Road with T.Gwynn...Ello, Mar. 28th

So what's it like to actually BE a Hall of Famer?

Hell, I don't know...I'm not a Hall of Famer in.....well....in anything....Unless you wanna' count stuff like Mowing Down Ribs at a Buffet, Taking Long Afternoon Naps, Seinfeld Trivia or Worst NCAA Tournament Bracket Ever Recorded.

And, of course, you're no Hall of Famer either....so that pretty much puts both of us in the same boat.

Last couple of days, however, I've had the chance to be a little closer to an actual Hall of Famer. A real one, who lives in our very midst.....the great Tony Gwynn. You know, of Baseball Hall of Fame -- er, -- fame.

And I'm hear to tell you that maybe the greatest compliment I could ever pay to Tony Gwynn -- and I've paid a lot of them over the years -- is that when you're around him....you simply don't feel like you're around a Hall of Famer.

At least in my mind, the life of a Hall of Famer is all about limos and chauffeurs...and free dinners with no tips...and adoring masses and adulation...and big pay-day speaking appearances with rubber chicken and strawberry shortcake.

Hall of Famers move among us with entourages and tinted windows....with designer suits and $200-dollar shades....on private jet airplanes with champagne and caviar...with not a care in the world.... but always with a Sharpie in hand ready to make a few more bucks by signing the collar of your grandmother's poodle.

The life of Tony Gwynn is nothing like any of that, however. Or at least it hasn't been this weekend.

I shuttled on to the San Diego State baseball team's bus Thursday morning with the destination being Fort Worth, Texas, as the Aztecs (16-8 and not doing too badly, thank you) prepared for a three-game weekend series against three-time defending Mountain West Conference champion TCU.

Surely, I figured, the Aztecs' head coach (must be a figure-head title, I thought) would not be joining us for the ride to the airport....After all, Hall of Famers don't ride buses. Do they?

Well, this one does -- and he did. In fact, he was sitting right there in the front seat, and he was ready with a quick quip about my relaxed travel attire. (First, I was definitely under-dressed. Second, one need not be a Hall of Famer in most cases to find fault with my choice of clothing. My wife's no Hall of Famer, and she finds fault with it all the time).

Once at Lindberg Field, I awaited the whisking away of Mr. Gwynn to some remote, off-limits airport location so he could at least cool his heels before the flight. But it never happened.

Not only did Cal Ripken's HOF classmate carry his own bags, but he waited IN THE BACK OF THE LINE while his troupe of scruffy-faced collegians checked in at the American Airlines ticket counter ahead of him.

As we lined up for departure, an absolutely crazy thing happened. Some bag check guy recognized ME and wanted to chat me up about some NFL football (how one gets recognized from being on the radio, I have no idea).....all the while I was wondering when the wide-eyed fellow would recognize the guy standing directly behind me and completely lose his mind.

But Tony Gwynn got on the plane with nary a glance -- not from the bag check guy, or anyone else, for that matter. And then something else surprising happened.

I turned right once in the airplane door to go take my seat in coach along with all the players -- and Mr. Hall of Famer turned right and took his seat in coach as well. (Maybe coaches are supposed to fly coach, but I thought in this instance, perhaps it would be different).

Once in Fort Worth, the team was hungry and I figured the following would happen: we'd all be dropped off for a fast-food feast at McDonald's, and the Greatest Hitter of the last Half-Century would be met by City dignitaries and shown the biggest table at the the finest restaurant on the top floor of most plush five-star hotel in town. (That's assuming, of course, that there is such a thing in Fort Worth).

This is what did happen: we were all bused to some Texas Ranch-style buffet place for dinner, and everybody paid their own way -- including Mr. Padre, who reached into his own wallet and paid his own $12.40 tab like everybody else.

When Tony Gwynn took the job as San Diego State's head baseball coach seven seasons ago, most thought it was just a temporary move. After all, why would anybody of Gwynn's stature want to deal with the rigors of college baseball? The buses, the roadside diners, the cheap hotels, the life as far outside the limelight as possible?

The reason, as it turns out, is that Tony Gwynn is really just everyman. Hall of Famer in Cooperstown, but just simply college baseball coach in San Diego. He has simple tastes and wants a simple life. He has goals, just like the rest of us, and he doesn't plan on stopping until he attains them.

Through his first six years as the leader of the Aztecs, he hasn't had the success he thought he would have: just one league title and no NCAA Tournament appearances. He's had to work harder than he thought, and he's had to learn patience while youngsters struggle to accomplish what he accomplished so easily before them.

Most Hall of Famers are off somewhere else enjoying the good life. Tony Gwynn is still in their battling every day like the rest of us.

A pretty good life, indeed.

A Rare Spring Storm

SDSU's men's basketball team is heading to the Final Four of the NIT for the first time in school history.  Last night's thrilling, tense, roller-coaster 70-66 win over St. Mary's at Cox Arena gave this class of seniors every chance possible to exorcise their demons.  They faced a tough team which had beaten them twice before.  They fell into a familiar pattern, building and then squandering a large lead.  With less than two minutes to play, it was all there for the Aztecs.  Take care of business on your home court, rise up for this moment, and you will be rewarded with a trip to New York City.

And they took care of business.  With a clutch basket from Tim Shelton, one of the few returners for next year.  With (finally) a clutch free throw from their senior point guard Richie Williams, after he missed a couple of big ones.  With, as always, tough defense, athleticism, and the ability to contest shots and force turnovers.  

The moment was one of pure release, as the final shot for St. Mary's clanked away, and the final second ticked off the clock.  And then, a scene of pure release, as the student section and fans stormed the court to bounce and celebrate with their players.

Hey, I love this stuff.  In our city, are you kidding me?  What do we ever have to celebrate, especially in college sports?  Double-extra especially in San Diego State sports?!?!?  When I came to this town in 1990, SDSU had a marginal football team with some good offense and a maddening tendency to come close but not win big games.  The basketball team was an embarrasment, and after 1991, the baseball team never sniffed a regional again.  

Not much changed over the next decade, except the football team got worse.  Gateway games, the real wins that could lift a school and a program, all ended up the same way.  Either an embarrassing rout or the ever more painful close-but-no-cigar-loss.  In 1999, Steve Fisher arrived to take over the basketball team, long removed from the Fab Five, now an assistant coach with the NBA Sacramento Kings.  In his first season, the Aztecs went winless in conference play.

This senior class has posted the most wins of any group in school history.  But their legacy was going to be a mixed one, with suspensions and late letdowns marking the path as much as any success.  Honestly, they had never won anything without Brandon Heath, no conference titles, no postseason success.  Now, in addition to a 26-win (and counting) season, the class of Lorrenzo Wade, Kyle Spain, Richie Williams, Ryan Amoroso, Matt Thomas and Kelvin Davis (who may return next year as a medical redshirt) has an indelible moment in Aztecs history, a visceral memory which they will keep for their entire lives.  

You don't hang a banner for a NIT-Final Four appearance, but if you're us, if you're a San Diego State fan, you do storm the court.  It may look silly from the outside, like a bunch of rubes who can't act like they've been there before.  Guilty as charged.  We haven't.  But now, we have this.  And it's pretty good.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Next Step

A wise AztecTalker reacted to my column about this being the best time in SDSU basketball, their Golden Age:

I know it's been a while since my Greek lit class but doesn't a society's "golden age" immediately precede a catastrophic event that wipes out the whole society?

If so, I would much rather characterize this time as SDSU's bronze age. Up from the stone age and just now learning the potential of their initial set of tools. Still very much prehistoric though and a lot of room to grow but still the potential to go the way of the Anasazi.

Brilliant, 1610aztec!  For this society of basketball to take its next evolutionary step, it must get past an old enemy, with an old-school name.  The Gaels, besides fitting our metaphor perfectly, have beaten these Aztecs in each of the last two years.  Both games were nip and tuck and decided late, mostly on Daimon Simpson putbacks and a lucky hoop by Omar Samhan.  

For the Aztecs to win tonight and advance to New York, they will of course need to contain Patty Mills and shut down his dribble penetration.  This is actually what I'm most confident about in the matchup.  SDSU has done a pretty good job shutting down the lead man on most teams this year.  Richie is quick enough to at least keep up with Mills and if the Aztecs close out and contest on the perimeter they should be OK.

The real issue will be defensive rebounding, denying Simpson 2nd chance points, and positioning on Samhan to keep him from his prime operating areas on the floor.  White and Amoroso are the guys on the spot.

Finally, for this team to take that next step, I still feel in my gut that they will have to make a big outside shot or two down the stretch, when the Gaels are denying Wade the ball.  Step up and hit the shot, and send the Aztecs to the Big Apple.  

25 wins is a great season for SDSU basketball.  But I know if I was on this team, I wouldn't feel like we had accomplished much unless we took that next step by proving we could beat a good team like St. Mary's on our home floor in a game that really mattered.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SDSU Baseball sweeps Southern Utah: Highlights

Last night's game was a come-from-the-dead 8-7 thriller, with the Aztecs scoring 7 in the bottom of the 8th after trailing 6-0 in the 6th.  Scott over at SDSU has done another nice job putting together the highlight package from the game, click here for the comeback heroics.

Today was a more "typical" 11-4 win, with Erik Castro continuing his ridiculously hot homestand with another 4-hit game out of the cleanup spot.  Castro is also playing a fine third base and giving Tony Gwynn a very offensive lineup, with the talented Chris Wilson grabbing hold of the #5 spot in the order and the catcher's job that Castro used to inhabit more frequently.  

You can really see pieces of the Aztecs' offense coming together.  Brandon Meredith gets better every game, Colwell and Decker set the table, Wilson is a talented, aggressive hitter, and Vaughn can do it all.  Today Jomel Torres also reached four times from the #8 hole, and Ryan O'Sullivan finally delivered a big two-out RBI single.  He added an amazing catch later in the game, hopefully those highlights will be up tomorrow.  

Goldy Simmons pitched pretty darn solid and has a big-league frame at 6'5" and around 230.  Matt Skipper continues to impress me.  The 6'9" freshman from Colorado pitched the last four innings, didn't walk a batter, and the only run he allowed came when a flare bad-hopped over the charging Vaughn's head in right for a fluke triple.  These are the TUESDAY pitchers.  

The Aztecs are 16-8 and the biggest test of the season is next, a three-game series at TCU this weekend.  Ello will be there all weekend long so I'm sure we'll hear a lot from Fort Worth.

How To Ruin Your Own Column

...in three easy steps.

1) Start with a predetermined conclusion
2) Make the boldest possible statement
3) Disprove it yourself within three paragraphs.

Thomas starts with a discussion that in the abstract is both worthy and interesting.  Is there any historical value in taking a pitcher #1 in the MLB amateur draft?  What's the historic success rate of pitchers #1 vs. hitters #1?  

Well, Thomas has already decided.  The answer is hitter, and he's sure of it.

"History is unequivocal. Strasburg, no matter how much he dominates college hitters, will probably either be a .500 pitcher with a 150-150 record, or he'll be a bust."

And he's going to go a step further: picking a pitcher #1 has never worked EVER.

"Nobody -- n-o-b-o-d-y -- has used a No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher and been glad they did it. Thirteen teams have tried it since the draft began in 1965. Nine have gotten egg on their faces. The lucky four got Andy Benes (155-139), Tim Belcher (146-140), Mike Moore (161-176) and Floyd Bannister (134-143). No Hall of Famers. Just a bunch of guys who could throw a ball through a wall when they were young but never became great."

OK, so the very best #1 pitcher ever taken in the draft was Andy Benes.  Got it?  As Boswell continues to hammer the point home, oops!  The back door swings open, and in creeps the guy he doesn't want to talk about.

"The only reliever of note: ex-Oriole Gregg Olson. Josh Beckett (89-62) may end up high on the list eventually."

There he is, after Boswell has already gone through starters and down to relievers.  Josh Beckett.  Who?  Oh yeah, the former #1 pick of the Florida Marlins, who went on to lead the Marlins to the 2003 World Series, and was named MVP, and pitched the clincher at Yankee Stadium.  And then, was moved on to the Red Sox in exchange for Hanley Ramirez, a franchise shortstop who is a Marlins All-Star right now.  And in Boston, Beckett won another World Series.

I guess he's a n-o-b-o-d-y.  Oh, and then there's David Price.  Do the Rays regret that pick too?

What really irritates me about this style of arrogant writing is that he started with a decent idea, and makes a decent point in one section of the column.  But he totally loses me with his dismissive attitude toward facts that don't please his thesis.  I've been to every Strasburg start this year, and EVERY time I've had the chance to see a gun he's been 97-98-99 with a slider that can be 84 or up to 93.  Oh, but the time Boswell saw him HE saw 93-97 so everyone else must be full of it.  

Now, is he right about not paying mid-career prices for the formative years of a pitcher?  Maybe.   But who is the real-life hitter who Boswell thinks the Nats should take instead of Strasburg?

Oops again.  Leaves that part out.  But he does tantalize his Post readers with Chipper-ARod-Strawberry-Griffey-Mauer.  Not that there is anyone like that necessarily in this year's draft, or even an obvious #2 pick behind Strasburg.  Nope, just take a hitter, because I saw Ben McDonald and he was a bust, and this guy's gonna be a bust too. 

Ivory tower writing, rife with the assumption that the reader will just sleepwalk through his list without noticing the gems he's trying to cover up with soil.  
Late add: here is Rob Neyer writing a similar column, but MUCH better.  Note how he just lets the facts tell the story.  His discussion of Ben McDonald's a little different from Boswell's, isn't it?

Tribute to the Aztecs...Ello, Mar. 24th

"It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

Well...the above quote was probably written by some guy who lost...but, just the same, every now again there's some truth to the old saying.

Best example I can think of is the San Diego State women's basketball team, which was eliminated last night in the second round the NCAA Tournament by powerhouse Stanford, 77-49.

They surely didn't win...and they certainly did lose...but how they played the game was still something to behold.

No team I've seen in recent memory plays as hard as coach Beth Burns' Aztecs, and few play with as much heart...And though it can be difficult to please the bean counters who look only at results, there should still be room in sports to at least appreciate the effort.

One quick look at San Diego State, and then across the court at mighty Stanford, during the pregame warmups was enough to give away the game's eventual outcome...On the Aztecs side, just two players taller than 6-feet, and both slight of build...On the Stanford side, an entire team of 6-footers, and none slight of build.

How in world could San Diego State possibly win this thing? And the plain truth simply is that they couldn't....Stanford dominated the paint with its power and size so decisively that the Cardinal needed only to make one outside jump shot the entire game.

Time and again, with the ease of Jim Brown running over a high school secondary, Stanford pounded the ball inside for easy baskets...By the time it was over, the nation's No. 2-ranked team has scored 26 baskets -- and 25 of them were scored on layups.

The Cardinal's muscle-bound front line not only scored at will, but it punished San Diego State's smaller defenders so effectively that it seemed as if the entire Aztec team would foul out by halftime.

It was the men against the boys -- or in this case the women against the girls.

Nevertheless, Stanford did not march on to the Sweet 16 with complete ease...and that's because the spirit of San Diego State never waned, and the pressure provided on the perimeter by the Aztecs' athletic guards never wavered.

San Diego State scrapped and fought and battled for the entire 40 minutes...and the Aztecs' hearts never stopped beating even long after the issue had been decided.

Jene Morris, SDSU's brilliant guard who scored an NCAA Tournament-high 35 points in Saturday's dramatic first-round victory over DePaul, was relentless throughout and finished with a game-high six steals to go along with her team-high 14 points.

At just 5-feet-9 against Stanford's lineup of giants, Morris pressed the issue the entire night and drove Stanford's ball-handlers crazy...Sure, Stanford will move on but it's a pretty safe bet that the Cardinal is happy they won't have to deal with Morris any longer.

Jene's running mate in the backcourt, Quenese Davis -- also just 5-feet-9 -- played with undying energy and enthusiasm, working alongside Morris to pressure the ball for 94 feet of hardwood and forty minutes of game as well.

Coco Davis, SDSU's 5-foot-9 foward, time and again went to the hoop against Stanford's massive front line and was one of the reasons the Aztecs were able to foul-out All-American 6-foot-4 center Jayne Appel.

You don't see a lot of teams losing by nearly 30 given a standing ovation by the home crowd as its key players exit the game in the final moments...But that's what happened last night at Cox Arena.

The tribute, of course, was not about the winning and losing...but it was simply about the way they played the game.

San Diego State finished 24-and-8 and accomplished so much this season, that last night's loss could do nothing to take away from it....The Aztecs beat a ranked team (No. 4 Texas) for the first time in 14 years, won the Mountain West Conference title for the first time in 12 years, made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 12 years, and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 15 years.

Afterward, the Aztecs locker room was hardly somber...that's because one gets the feeling that what was accomplished this season was just the beginning...Both guards, Morris and Davis, will be back next year for their senior seasons...All-Conference center Paris Johnson will only be a junior...and two All-Conference-type front-court power forwards, Allison Duffy and Jessica Bradley, will join them.

For now...there's just no beating a powerhouse like Stanford (unless you're top-ranked UConn, whom the Cardinal will no doubt face this year in the Final Four).

But last night was a reminder that it isn't always just about winning...and the way these Aztecs play the game, next season should be a lot of fun.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Weekend That Was: SDSU

One of the problems with being a San Diego sports fan is reconciling your heart and desire with the modest results of your city's teams and universities.  Let's face it, our sports history stinks.  No championships outside the San Diego Sockers, some Taylor Cups for the Gulls, and a lone men's volleyball title for SDSU.  Our baseball team has a long-entrenched history of failure, to the point that my cohort Chris Ello called their 2004-2007 period the "Golden Age" for Padres baseball, and I'm pretty sure he was being serious!  Our Chargers have made the NFL's biggest stage only once, and performed such a convincing pratfall that they looked like the junior varsity on the wrong field. 

So, allow me to float this modest thought: this is the Golden Age, right NOW, for SDSU basketball.  Now.  This second.  Before tipoff tonight between the SDSU women and Stanford at Cox Arena.  Before the Aztecs men find out their opponent for Wednesday night's NIT quarterfinal showdown on the Mesa.  While we can still look back at the 25-win season for the men (most in school history) without knowing whether their tourney run will end in New York or San Diego.  While we can still savor 24 wins for the women and a first-round NCAA victory over DePaul, and dream of a much bigger upset tonight.  

OK, it's not much of a Golden Age, I'll give you that.  2 wins in the NIT + 1 win in the NCAA would equal two coaches on the hotseat at programs like UConn, North Carolina or Louisville.  But given where San Diego basketball has been, that our city's only NCAA win came when De'Jon Jackson somehow floated that last-second jumper in for USD last year, that SDSU once won 25 games in a five-year span, not a single season...this is pretty good for us.  There is hope right now.  For two programs at once.  Both still alive in the postseason.  And both with an opportunity on their home court to do something even bigger.

Alas, if you know our sports history in San Diego, then you know this as well: there is a behemoth standing in the way.  There always is.  In 1984, the Plucky Padres ran headlong into one of the greatest Tigers teams in history, a team that started 35-5 and finished by upper-decking the Friars into oblivion.  In 1994 the Chargers collided with one of the great 49er teams in history, and got treated like royal doormats for Steve Young's Hall Of Fame coronation.  In 1998 the Pads returned to the World Series, faced the Yankees, and naturally, it was the 125-win Yankees, the best team (by percentage) in the history of the team with best history in baseball.  

Now, tonight, Beth Burns will try to find a slingshot when her Aztecs take on Stanford.  Yeah, just Stanford, the 2nd ranked team in the country, the only team thought to be able to give UConn a run for the title this year.  That's all.  The paragon of women's college basketball on the West Coast.  Who else would you expect?  I'm just surprised Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker won't be running out on the court tonight against SDSU.  But the way things go for our city, I wouldn't be surprised if each of them discovered an extra day of NCAA eligibility and signed up with the Cardinal this morning.  

Tonight could get ugly.  And there's no guarantee that on Wedneday, the men will be able to get past either Davidson or St. Mary's.  But right NOW, we can dream.  Right NOW, we can hope.  Before the cold reality sets in, there is always the warm glow of hope and the comfort of dreaming big.  And in San Diego, that's usually the most we can expect to have.  So enjoy the Golden Age, while it lasts, whether that be for hours or days to come.  

The Weekend That Was: The WBC

Was the WBC low on your sports priority list this weekend?  Apparently it was for Team USA as well.  Playing with a deliberately short-handed roster, a pitching staff which we know isn't anywhere near the best this country can offer, and a manager who last made a meaningful contribution to the game back in 1986, Our Team stumbled through Our Game like a bunch of kids who didn't know which field the game was on.  

The result was a 9-4 loss to Japan, an elimination in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, and a Korea-Japan final which should leave USA Baseball red faced and ashamed.  It wasn't that they lost the game. The greatest baseball team in the world, in a one-game winner-take-all matchup against any other random team of qualified professionals, isn't much of a favorite.  The problem was that the team which took the field with USA across their chests was far from the best team in the world, for reasons which at least partially boggle the mind.  

The team was clearly, unsurprisingly, but sickeningly, unprepared.  When did Team USA players start prepping this offseason?  The broadcast team (Joe Morgan was SO awful yesterday, btw, but that's another story) was fawning over Roy Oswalt, because he actually bothered to throw five times to his local JUCO team while training this offseason!  Meaning that Jake Peavy was not, because Roy was "farther along", that's why the semi-hittable righty was getting the ball in an elimination game over a healthy and well-rested Jake.  

Injury after injury, all of the predictable, spring-training, "side pull"-type, knocked players off the USA roster.  After all, you've gotta be careful, these guys have a REAL season to get ready for, starting in April.  When the call went out for replacements, some guys (like Baltimore's Brian Roberts) jumped in, while others (like Derrek Lee) demurred.  But after Chipper Jones and Kevin Youkilis were taken off the team, USA Baseball only bothered to replace Chipper (with Evan Longoria), but just left the other roster spot empty.  

Ken Rosenthal, in an excellent column which heaps a lot of the blame on Davey Johnson, breaks down a key decision that wasn't made in the game:

With one on and two out in the sixth, Johnson allowed Curtis Granderson, a left-handed hitter, to face the same lefty. Pinch-hitting in that spot would have carried consequences, forcing the defensively challenged Dunn to remain in right field the entire game. But why was Victorino the only outfielder on the bench?

Because the Team USA braintrust had declined to replace the injured Kevin Youkilis with another position player for the final round, choosing only to summon Longoria in place of Chipper Jones.

The addition of Indians outfielder Grady Sizemore would have given Johnson the flexibility to hit Victorino for Granderson and go with a late-inning outfield of Ryan Braun in left, Sizemore in center and Victorino in right.

(sound of tires screeching)

WHAAAAT?  Grady Sizemore was available?  Who cares that he wasn't on the bench in the 6th, why wasn't he the STARTING CF FOR THE WHOLE DAMN TOURNEY??  Anyone going to stand up and argue that Curtis Granderson and Shane Victorino add up to more than the 5-tool Sizemore?  

The entire roster construction is where you need to start when evaluating what went wrong.  OK, Bob Watson can't force the country's top pitchers, like Tim Lincecum and C.C. Sabathia, to commit to their countries.  He can't single-handedly change the culture of baseball in our country, where March is for prep and the big games are played in the fall.  But if you're not going to do a serious enough evaluation to get the best possible willing players onto your roster, then it's time to go.  Is the best USA bullpen really one that contains John Grabow and Joel Hanrahan?  Just asking.  

And is the best USA defense one that has Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins in the same lineup, but it's JETER who gets to wear the glove?  Davey Johnson managed his roster like an All-Star team the whole time, acting deferential to the players, promising that one would get 3 at-bats and then the other would come in, etc.  If the manager doesn't take the job seriously and manage to win, no matter how much the players care there will be a filtered effect.  Like Jeter being allowed to get out there and make an error which turned a 2-run game into a 5-run game.  

Hopefully this latest smackdown, getting thoroughly outplayed by Team Japan, will provide USA Baseball with the same wakeup call the USA Basketball team received through a series of Olympic and World Championship embarrasments.  They finally had their pride injured to the point where they got angry, knuckled down and committed to being great.  What resulted was the 2008 Olympics, one of the greatest basketball performances I've seen in my life, and a carryover effect which has led to a terrific NBA season.  Nobody is crying right now that Kobe and Lebron got too much work in the summer.  They are maintaining their elite play.  

This needs to be the same blueprint for USA Baseball.  Put someone in charge-RIGHT NOW-who will start recruiting and planning for 2013.  Force the players to make a multi-year commitment to the team, including agreements as to when team workouts will start in the winter of 2012.  So many of the players talked about this being the biggest thing they've ever done in their career, the most exciting tournament they've ever played...well, time to start acting like it before you get there, not just when it's time to dogpile after a walkoff win.  

Or, just half-ass it like this year and get ready for Opening Day.  Just a couple of weeks away, ya know.  

Sunday, March 22, 2009


This would be song #1 on most public lists, I'd imagine, but I'm saving my personal all-time favorite U2 song for last...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Something Gained, Something Lost

The SDSU men's basketball team regained a measure of respect for their season last night by defeating Kansas State in the 2nd round of the NIT.  Now, this senior class has something legitimate they can point to as an accomplishment on campus: a 25-win season, the most for an SDSU team in history.  They did so by coming out in the 2nd half last night with passion and determination, and taking care of the backboards after getting dominated on the glass in the first half.  In addition, the senior scorers Spain and Wade each took turns taking control after intermission.  

This Wednesday's game will be the last chance (for sure) to see Spain, Wade, Williams, Amoroso and Shelton in a home uniform at Cox Arena, and I certainly plan to be there for the quarterfinal between the Aztecs and the winner of St. Mary's/Davidson.  From a pure revenge standpoint I'd love to see these guys get a 3rd crack at the Gaels (having lost to them in each of the last two years), but to see Stephen Curry and Davidson at Cox would be equally exciting, so regardless it should be a heck of a game.

Meanwhile at Tony Gwynn Stadium, the Aztecs' baseball team lost a good measure of the momentum they had built up over the past two weeks.  BYU came back with 3 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th to beat SDSU last night 4-2, wasting another brilliant outing from Stephen Strasburg.  Strass matched his baseline performance with another 7IP, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 15K night.  On his 2nd to last pitch of the 7th Strasburg apparently slipped a little (at least that's what they called it afterward) and the trainer came out.  One pitch and one flyout later, his night was done.  The Aztecs have treated Strasburg like a crown jewel this season, and they weren't about to risk him last night.  Unfortunately Andrew Leary's string of effective relief appearances came to an end as he allowed all four runs in 1+ innings of relief.  

The real problem for SDSU is on offense, where they are getting shut down with far too great a frequency.  It's one thing for a tough righty (like Kansas' Ridenhour, or Toole of BYU) to handle the Aztecs' lineup, and something else altogether for a made-o'-hits righty like Blake Torgerson to hold the team to 2 runs in 7+ IP.  The youth of the SDSU order, which featured three true freshman last night (O'Sullivan, Meredith and Chris Wilson) leads to some poor AB's, and right now the bottom 3rd of the SDSU lineup is producing very little.  

Today's game has suddenly become extremely important.  BYU is not expected to contend for the MWC title this year, even though they are very hot right now (having won 9 of 10), and they are clearly improved as a ballclub.  To get swept at home by the Cougars would be devastating to the Aztecs' hopes.  Already they have likely squandered whatever positive feelings they were starting to generate in the national polls.  Jon Berger will get the ball today, let's hope the senior can continue his impressive run of pitching.  More importantly, SDSU will have to swing the bats today or their great homestand (started 5-0) will suddenly look a whole lot less impressive.  I'll have the call today with a 12:45 pregame and 1pm first pitch on 1360-AM.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Joshua Tree was the album that turned U2 from megaband to a cover-of-TIME Magazine global phenomenon.  Arguably their greatest album, although I would elevate The Unforgettable Fire above it...but in my mind, Where The Streets Have No Name is one of the ultimate side-1, track-1's of all time.  Roll down the windows, crank up the radio and sing at the top of your lungs...that still tends to be my reaction to this song!

A Friday Column

Clearing the morning fog on a foggy morning, one multiple-subject column at a time...

  • When the SDSU baseball team catches the ball, they can shut down just about any team with their pitching staff.  When they fail to catch the ball, games such as last night's 6-2 loss to BYU happen.  With two outs in the 3rd and nobody on, Nate Solow gave up a little chop single to left, just off Erik Castro's glove.  Next, BYU's big hitter Sean McNoughton hit a little ground ball to short, easiest play in the world. Ryan O'Sullivan didn't get in front of it and tried to pluck the ball, and it stayed down when his glove came up.  The error opened the gates, and as has happened many times in Nate Solow's career, trouble followed.  Nate walked the next better on four pitches, and then grooved a 2-1 fastball to Brandon Relf, who ripped a three-run double down the left-field line.   3-1 BYU, and their pro prospect starter Jeremy Toole, with a mid-'90s fastball and just-OK slider, worked 8 strong innings to protect it.  The Cougars made every play in the field, including two double plays, a diving catch in center, and a runner thrown out at home plate.  The Aztecs gave up two more unearned runs in the 8th on three walks and a missed flyball in right by Cory Vaughn.  Realistically SDSU could have won the game 2-1 if they had just made routine plays in the field.  Oh well, six-game winning streak by the boards.  Strasburg throws tonight, so get there early, hoping for another 2000+ crowd.  
  • Oh, just mentioning it again, the BYU/SDSU game tonight will be on XTRA 1360, and I will be doing the play-by-play.  5:45pm pregame, 6:05 first pitch.  Somehow that information didn't make the U-T this morning but did find its way to the North County Times.  Tomorrow's game will be on the radio as well, a 1pm start.  That's part of a 619 Sports-laced doubleheader, as I hand off after the game to Chris Ello at Cox Arena for the SDSU women's first-round NCAA game against DePaul, a 5pm tipoff.  
  • I really wish I could be in two places at once, because the SDSU 2nd round NIT game tonight should be a unique affair.  USD's Jenny Craig Pavilion packed with Aztecs fans, and Kansas State in town.  The smaller venue and the out-of-place feel might even enhance the experience.  I hope the atmosphere and energy lift the Aztecs, because there is some concern about the matchup.  The Wildcats have the size underneath to make life very difficult for SDSU.
  • 3 hours, 42 minutes.  That was last night's time-of-game for the Korea/Japan game at Petco Park.  A 6-2 game.  Way.  Too.  Slow.  Add the postseason-style ad package to any baseball game and you instantly make the game far less enjoyable.  The slow pace of international play just adds to this.  And, the games are played at times when nobody in their right mind would be watching past the West Coast.  I've got to say, as a big-time fan and supporter of the WBC from the start, they are losing me a bit this time with the space between games and the pace of games.  How can you get a feel as a team when you've played six games in well over two weeks?  
  • So much of what's wrong with the WBC comes from the half-in, half-out mentality of MLB.  The 2nd and 3rd rounds are played in the U.S., and spring training is extended and revised to make room for the Classic.  But clubs are wary about risking their stars to the competition, and stars are concerned about injury and disruption.  To me it's clear what needs to happen.  Every four years, you actually treat this thing like a World Cup or Olympics.  You bring MLB to a halt for four weeks in the middle of the season.  Right smack dab in the middle of summer.  Everyone plays.  All the stars are in midseason form, the arms are stretched out and loosened up, and you'll find the players loosening their fears about playing for their country.  It's all about routine for baseball players.  March is for conditioning, not angry games.  June-July is for playing ball.  Put the classic at a time when it can be played well.  Add games to the schedule.  Let people grow and fall in love with the teams, instead of barely being introduced to them before they are gone.
  • Oh, but but but...what about the money lost by stopping the season?  What about all the other players, what do they do?  Figure it out.  The NHL closed down for the Winter Olympics.  Soccer clubs loan players and make adjustments.  This is what I mean: if you're REALLY committed to the idea of a WBC, go all-in to make it a great event.  This half in-half out mentality leads to a half-assed Classic which still is OK but could be much, much better.
  • Maybe it was just the weak slate of games yesterday until the UCLA game at night, but the first day of March Madness didn't really grab me like it normally does.  I mentioned it in the comments of yesterday's thread, but once again, the networks are doing their best to ruin the sports they pay ungodly sums of money to broadcast.  College hoops games should be 2 hours, period.  Adding 30 minutes of ads and promos just makes the game uneven and fitful in its pace.  And I really am trying not to wish ill on the obnoxiously precocious "very smart little girl" who wants to have her "big girl seat" in the Chevy pickup truck.  Please go away from my life "very smart little girl", and never return.
  • Spring has officially begun.  This pleases me.  Last winter sucked.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

KU/SDSU Highlights, Games 1 and 2

I was not at last night's series finale, but Jack Cronin did a fine job calling a 9-8 walkoff win for SDSU, running the winning streak to 6.  It's the 2nd walkoff win and 3rd last-AB win for SDSU already this year.  

Two thrillers, two Aztec wins.  Now 13-6, the homestand continues with BYU in town for a three-game MWC series.  The rotation for the series is:

Tonight: Nate Solow
Friday: Stephen Strasburg
Saturday: Tyler Lavigne

Yep, the reigning conference pitcher of the week, Jon Berger, couldn't get a start this week.  Good to be the Aztecs right now.

Oh, with a hat tip to AztecRyan over at AztecTalk, check out this early Rivals.com projection...SDSU in the regional field!  Long way to go but a good thing to see...

I'll be calling tonight's BYU/SDSU game from Tony Gwynn Stadium at 6pm on www.goaztecs.com.  Friday and Saturday's games will be on the radio at 1360 AM, a 6pm first pitch on Friday, 1pm on Saturday.


So this week, I'm counting up from #5 to #1.  With something as straightforward as one band's best five songs, I might as well rank specifically.

So, cheating yesterday, #5 for me is Magnificent/Breathe.  Making the rest of the list ridiculously hard, as I'm giving up a slot to a new song(s).  

For #4, let's go into the wayback machine for New Year's Day, which I personally prefer over Sunday Bloody Sunday, just because it's got a little more depth and singability.  A live performance from 1983, check out the differences in the band from 26 years before!

March Madness Begins

At some point I became really bad at picking brackets.  I'm sure I'm just as bad this year.  But in case anybody has interest, I'm taking the #1 seeds in each bracket, for a Final Four of UConn, Louisville, NC, and Pitt, with Louisville beating UNC for the title...and Utah out in the first round.

Sure does make for a fun couple of days of TV watching...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stay Classy USD!!!...Chris Ello, Mar. 19

Quick difference between the sports programs at the University of San Diego and San Diego State...Classy move by USD's Athletic Director Ky Snyder (always remembering he is at heart, an Aztec) to allow SDSU to play it's second-round NIT game Friday night on his campus at the Jenny Craig Pavillion.

The Aztecs were stuck because Cox Arena is being used all weekend for the NCAA Women's Tournament (more below)...Without Snyder's good will, Steve Fisher and company would have had to travel to Kansas State, thereby forfeiting their home-court advantage....

Nicely done, Ky...

Oh...and about SDSU...word is that the Aztecs were willing to give away their second-round game....unitl Fisher himself stepped in and demanded that the NIT find a way for the second-round game to be played in San Diego....Never mind that the SDSU Athletic Department apparently felt that it had exhausted all options.

Fisher and the NIT -- working with Snyder -- got the job done, so that SDSU could play in front of its home fans....

A birdie told me that some felt the Aztecs' heirarchy were too quick to give away the game because the second-round opponent was likely to be Kansas State (which it is)...Don't know why that would be...but SDSU Athletic Director Jeff Schemmel is a K-State alum.


Anyway....the bottom line is that USD does things right...San Diego State has to start doing things right.

Speaking of USD, everything with its men's basketball program suddenly has gone all wrong...It was just one year ago that I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Arizona, munching some chips and guacamole, when De'Jon Jackson hit the shot the toppled UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament....The restaurant in Arizona went wild.

Me included....Though like Ky Snyder, I'll always be an Aztec at heart, it was wonderful to finally see a team from San Diego come through on the national stage (quick, tell me the last time that happened).

But this year has been a mess for the Toreros....first guard Brandon Johnson suffers a devastating knee injury that takes him out for the season...then Trumaine Johnson gets kicked off the team...then, with the WCC Tourney no longer in San Diego, they get wiped out quickly by Santa Clara in the quarterfinals...now forward Rob Jones says he wants to transfer so he can be closer to his ailing father (nothing wrong with that).

But unfortunately, that USD win over UConn now seems like it was a long, long time ago...and getting back to that stage for Coach Bill Grier and crew seems like it is a long, long ways away.

So...this college basketball postseason belongs to San Diego State...and especially to Beth Burns' women's team...A bit more than a year ago, SDSU was awarded with hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at Cox Arena for 2009...It was at that moment, the young Aztecs made it their goal to be there.

And so now they have accomplished that goal....this Saturday at 5 p.m. SDSU (seeded 10th in the Berkely Regional) will meet 7th-seeded DePaul in the women's Big Dance...not bad for a program that went 0-and-16 in conference play just three years ago.

Burns' team went 14-and-0 at Cox this season...and to remind her squad of their home-court dominance, T-Shirts were purchased for the players last week with "OUR HOUSE" printed on the front and "14-AND-0" printed on the back.

Led by super-athletic guards Quenese Davis and Jene' Morris, and 6-foot, 4-inch center Paris Johnson (all underclassmen), the Aztecs are maybe a year ahead of schedule...But they might just be precocious enough to believe they can advance Saturday night.

It wouldn't hurt the cause, of course, if the San Diego fans would come out and represent...tickets are still available, and this club deserves a solid crowd of at least 6,000 for the big event.

And then there was the big event that just finished up in San Diego...the World Baseball Classic at Petco Park...Japan (the defending WBC champs) and Korea (the defending Olympic Gold Medalists) advanced to the finals...I tell you this, because I'm figuring very few of you were paying much attention.

Despite Mexico's inclusion in the field (the U.S. team played its 2nd-round series in Miami), the crowds at Petco looked like a Padres-Nationals game in late August. (Though the fans that were there were far more spirited).

Bottom line: San Diego sports fans don't like it when their teams and their city are overlooked and forgotten about...but when the fans overlook and forget about big events...well, as the old saying goes, you are what you are (thanks, A.J.).


I was able to download No Line On The Horizon the other day and have been listening to it ever since.  As a life-long U2 fan, I thought they would never really produce another great album again, but this might be the one.  I almost think of it as another Unforgettable Fire, but for their middle-aged years.  

So, this got me thinking about Top-5 all-time U2 songs, which got me in the mood for another round of High Fidelity.  This should definitely engender some controversy, as U2 is just about the most popular band in the world and everyone's got 5 of their songs that they love.  

Right off the bat, I'm going to cheat!  I can't pick one from the new album, but I think both of these songs have a great chance to be on people's Top-5's moving forward.  Which one do you like better?  

Coming Together

I was at the baseball game at Tony Gwynn Stadium between Kansas and SDSU.  This two game series is one of those quiet, unnoticed but truly important moments in the Aztecs' season.  The Mountain West (as we saw in hoops) has its identity issues in every sport, but in baseball the conference is seen as weak.  It's hard to get more than one team in from the conference UNLESS a team really schedules well and shows well against tough non-conference competition.  For the last couple of years Tony Gwynn has really been trying to beef up the schedule and test his team against top schools from the West and Midwest.  Last year the Aztecs showed well against USD but lost to teams such as Missouri, Long Beach State, Oregon State and Arizona.  Instead of getting a winning streak revving the Aztecs started 11-10 and finished 31-28. 

This year's start looked very similar to last year, with SDSU beating USD four out of five but struggling against Cal State Fullerton, Kansas State and Pacific.  At 7-6, the Aztecs started last week with their most important win of the year to date, the 6-run 9th inning comeback at UCLA.  Then, last weekend, all three starters shined on the mound as State swept UNLV.  Which brings us back to last night, and Kansas in town for two.  10-5 on the season, with a strong schedule and some impressive wins, the Jayhawks stood between a possible big time winning streak and another stop-and-start pattern for the Aztecs.

Ryan O'Sullivan got the start for SDSU, the freshman coming in from shortstop to make his 4th start on the mound.  Thanks to the aggressive schedule, Ryan has faced nothing but tough teams in his midweek starts, and he came in to last night with an 0-1 record and a 7.04 ERA, by far the highest on the staff.  Ryan has been solid at short but has struggled badly at the plate the last couple weeks, and you could sense he was hungry to contribute to a win.  

For the first time last night, it really came together for O'Sullivan on the mound.  He had a sinking, moving fastball working and retired 12 in a row.  Ryan also showed a solid slider to right-handers and an offspeed breaking ball.  O'Sullivan really has an aggressive, bulldog attitude while he is pitching and the infield fed off his energy and made good plays behind him.  

Cory Vaughn continued his tear in the 2nd inning by taking an outside fastball deep to right-center field for a wall ball.  Most would have had a double on the play but with his speed Vaughn easily made 3rd base.  That same speed revealed itself on the next play, when Mitch Blackburn hit a reasonably hard grounder to short.  Vaughn was moving on contact and the shortstop had no play but first base.  1-0 Aztecs.

Kansas freshman right-hander Lee Ridenhour was spectacular from there.  With a mean fastball and filthy slider, Ridenhour struck out 8 over 7 innings with just three hits allowed.  The Aztecs wouldn't even sniff another scoring threat on the night.  Which left SDSU hanging on for dear life in the late innings.

In the 7th Easton Gust booted a routine grounder for a leadoff error, and after a sacrifice O'Sullivan issued his first walk of the night.  The 7th was uncharted territory for the freshman, but Tony Gwynn stuck with him against Kansas' best hitter, third baseman Tony Thompson.  The sophomore slugger had a 23-game hitting streak active, 1 away from tying the Kansas record.  It looked like he had it on a deep launch to right field, which was carrying over Cory Vaughn's head.  But Cory continued his star performance by somehow catching up to the ball, leaping, and grabbing the ball high over his head on the dead run toward the wall.  Both Kansas baserunners were off and running and Vaughn was able to throw back in and double off the lead runner to end the inning.  A spectacular play!

Chase Thomas came on in relief to start the 8th but walked the leadoff man, and Andrew Leary relieved him.  The right-hander has become an unsung hero on the Aztecs, so I will sing his praises here.  Even after Brandon Meredith made a shaky decision trying to throw for the lead runner on a bunt and failing, Leary came back to strike out three in a row and get the game to the 9th. 

On came Addison Reed, who was a perfect 6-for-6 in saves so far this year.  A leadoff single was followed by a sacrifice and a strikeout.  Then, it was the big hitter Thompson at the plate for one more chance.  Reed got ahead 0-2, Thompson fouled one off, and then Reed lost his grip on a slider and hit Thompson in the back.  Corey Lytle followed with a worm-burner ground ball to 2nd, but Mitch Blackburn booted the play for an error (after making several good plays on the night).  Now with the bases loaded, it was nervous time, but Reed knucked down and got left fielder Nick Faunce to pop out and preserve a 1-0 win.

SDSU has now won 5 straight and 7 of 8, and at 12-6 on the season, the team is coming together and winning games they didn't use to win.  Tonight's game now looms as an even bigger chance, as a win would link up this win streak to the next conference home series against BYU, with the Aztecs' top pitchers coming back around in the rotation.  The game will be on goaztecs.com tonight at 6pm.  

A couple of other notes...

  • Why are WBC games as long as World Series games?  I set up last night's Puerto Rico-USA game to tape for 4 hours and still came up short for a 9-inning game.  Grr.  Yay for the USA comeback in the 9th, though.  Now Peavy will get one more chance for redemption, at his favorite stadium in which to pitch, Dodger Stadium.  
  • A great first step to redemption for the Aztecs' men last night against Weber State.  Chris was there so I'll leave the analysis to him, but if SDSU can get past their 2nd round opponent and a pretend home court at USD on Friday, they could possibly earn a rematch with St. Mary's and a chance to exorcise one of their demons from this season.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Poor and Predictable SABR coverage on MLB-N

At least three quick disclaimers at the top:

1) I first saw this at another blog, linked at the bottom
2) I'm big friends with several people at BP, and friends with Matt Vasgersian
3) Other than Matt being an ex-Padre announcer, this isn't about SD sports

Putting three ex-players on a studio set isn't going to make anyone smarter.  MLB Network takes a stab at understanding Baseball Prospectus' statistical projection system, known as PECOTA, on their MLB Tonight show, and they swing and miss miserably.  

What's the matter with this handling of the topic?  Let me count the ways...

First, the "chalkboard" walk-through of PECOTA goes out of its way to sound obscure and confusing.  Phenotypic attributes?  This could be partially BP's fault, for an overly wonkish explanation of PECOTA, but there is no understanding of how these 4 metrics are used to predict future performance.  There is no presentation of how successful PECOTA has been in 6 years at actually predicting what happened.  Just a "balanced" intro (some find it gospel, others overkill) and then a quick zip through some confusing stuff, wham bam!  PECOTA explained.  Now, let's present and discuss!

So they put 4 projections for the year on a graphic.  Kevin Youkilis is going to hit .275-20-82, CC Sabathia (or is it C.C. again this year?) is going to win 15 games exactly, etc.  No mention of how PECOTA actually shows a range of performance.  A high-middle-low projection.  A breakout and collapse rate.  Useless little "details" or "facts", which we will quickly learn are not welcome in the upcoming discussion.

Now, Matt comes out of this and immediately frames the discussion.  "This is always controversial stuff..."  He then gives a disclaimer shout-out to Baseball Prospectus, and then turns to the player 'pen for "expert analysis".  

Sean Casey: an ex-player who was signed by a scout
Barry Larkin: an ex-player who was signed by a scout
Harold Reynolds: an ex-player who was signed by a scout

Shockingly, this trio agrees that stats "can't tell a player's heart", that "stats are ridiculous" because there's a "game inside the game", and that "stats have a place", and that place is the arbitration hearing, not the clubhouse.  

Do any of these three players have any idea whatsoever what PECOTA is?  Of course not.  

Question for the MLB Network: where is the BP representative?  Where's NATE SILVER??  You know, the guy who created PECOTA?  Same guy who accurately predicted the election last year on FiveThirtyEight.com?  AND made multiple national TV appearances last year?  Don't you think there should be at least one person on the set who knows what they're talking about if they're going to devote 6+ minutes to a topic?  

Matt is stuck in a ridiculous position.  He's the only one on the panel who can even defend statistical analysis or PECOTA, and he's the moderator.  A moderator who then commits a massive error by putting up a straw man for the panel to knock down: (at 4:01 in video)

"If you had one thing to trust though, and you had to make ONE CHOICE, do you believe the guy with the calculator or the guy with the straw hat and the stopwatch that's at the ballpark, YOU CAN ONLY PICK ONE."  (caps my emphasis)

Matt!  YOU DON'T HAVE TO PICK ONE!  That's the whole point!  Sabermetrics and scouting both belong in EVERY major league front office!  Nobody has to pick one.  That's like asking the president, "if you can only pick one, the facts and intelligence on your desk or your gut instinct, what do you choose?"  The answer is: STUPID!  I use everything!  

But asking three guys who were each started on their path to MLB, millions of dollars and an eventual seat on a players' panel at MLB Network by a SCOUT SIGNING THEM, whether they'd pick a "guy with a calculator" or a scout, you are asking a really silly question.  And again, this is a direct by-product of having not a single person in the discussion who is actually knowledgable about the topic.  

I know Matt knows the benefits of sabermetric analysis and he offers a couple of valid counterpoints in the discussion but basically he's offering the classic false-neutral position which devalues the debate some more.

Fox News has had better in-depth analysis than this, although actually the similarities are strikingly familiar.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

All About the Aztecs...March 17

The question, as far as I'm concerned is, how do Lorrenzo Wade, Richie Williams and Kyle Spain want to be remembed?

Throughout this season, the trio -- along with center Ryan Amoroso and backup guard Matt Thomas -- have been referred to on many occasions as the best Senior class in San Diego State basketball history.

The references, I'm sure, are flattering...but at this point in time, they are far from accurate. I mean, let's take a look at what they've accomplished: as freshmen, they rode the coat tails of Marcus Slaughter and Brandon Heath to a Mountain West Conference title -- then immediately were ridden out of the NCAA Tournament by Indiana....as sophomores, again it was Heath who led them, this time to the NIT where a magical shot by the sharp-shooting guard at least earned them one victory, over Southwest Missouri...as juniors, they again fell short of the big dance and hardly even looked the part of a postseason team, rolling over in favor of Florida. Spain, in fact, wasn't even around for the disasterous conclusion, having been suspended from the team for a second time.

Wade joined Spain on the police blotter prior to the start of this season, and Williams has been in trouble off the court as well during his career....So, back to the beginning: just how do they want to be remembered? What happens in the NIT, which begins tonight when the Aztecs host Weber State (7 p.m., Cox Arena), will go a long way towards defining their legacy.

To me -- as it stands now -- Wade, Williams and Spain are nothing more than an example of great talent frittered away. Sure they've won a bunch of games, and there have been some awards sprinkled in. Sure they've helped elevate SDSU basketball to the level of yearly contender (something that Aztec fans could only have dreamed of a decade ago).

But when the chips have all been on the table...when that one victory was needed to push the program over the top...the trio of stars have simply come up short.

How can this possibly be called the greatest Senior class in Aztec history without a single marquis victory anywhere on its resume'?...What I remember about this group is that it didn't even bother to show up last year against Florida....What I remember is that had it won any of its three important non-conference games this season (all losses to Arizona St., Arizona and St. Mary's), it would have made it to the NCAA Tournament...I remember a 14-point second-half lead blown against BYU, a loss that ultimately cost them a share of the Mountain West title and a No. 1-seed in the conference tournament.

Ultimately I remember Saturday afternoon when -- presented with one last chance at the Big Dance -- they rendered dramatic victories over UNLV and BYU useless by stinking up the joint worse than Utah did and losing the MWC Championship Game.

Honestly I'd rather remember Wade, Williams and Spain differently...The three of them have provided some spectacular moments...and perhaps they can provide a few more.

Yes, the NIT isn't the NCAA's...but once again a chance has been presented...a door has been opened...an opportunity has been offered...Beat Weber State, beat either Kansas State or Illinois State in the second round, and get revenge on (probably) St. Mary's in the quarterfinals.

End your careers in Madison Square Garden playing in the NIT semifinals (or even the finals)...Those are the memories I'd rather have.

Meanwhile, the San Diego State women's team -- to me anyway -- has become the polar opposite of the men's team...Beth Burns' squad has not just met expectations, but they have easily surpassed them.

And their reward was a Monday celebration in their Cox Arena locker room when they watched together on television and received news of their NCAA Tournament berth.

To really understand what this accomplishment meant, one needs only to go back three seasons, when SDSU won only three games total and finished an imperfect 0-and-16 in conference play. Change, of course, was needed...and it started with the signing of point guard Quenese Davis and the transfer from Cal to SDSU of athletic two-guard Jene Morris.

Two-time San Diego County Player of the Year center Paris Johnson (from San Diego High) joined the following year as did All-CIF power forward Allison Duffy (from El Capitan High).

Young and precocious, the kids took their lumps for two seasons, but steadily grew together...They made their first mark in last year's conference tournament, upsetting a pair of NCAA teams, Wyoming and TCU, before losing the MWC final to New Mexico.

This year, they shook off a season-ending suspension to Duffy (who is expected back next year) and became champions. They tied for the conference title with a 13-3 mark, and went 23-7 overall...Morris and Johnson were named first-team all-MWC, and Morris was named the conference's defensive player of the year...Davis earned second-team all-MWC honors and became the school's all-time leader in assists...Burns was named Coach of the Year (tends to happen when your team improves by 19 wins over a short three-year span).

Now they'll face 7th-seeded De Paul in the first round of the NCAA's on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Cox Arena...Can they beat the Blue Demons? They absolutely can, if for no other reason than the fact that they went 14-and-0 at home this season (including a win over No. 4-ranked Texas).

After that...they'd almost assuredly meet Pac-10 champ Stanford in the second round...Stanford was the NCAA runner-up last season (beating UConn in the National Semifinals), and they're ranked No. 2 in the country this season....No chance, you say? Well...just keep in mind that the second-round game would be played at Cox as well.

One last note about the women...regardless of what happens this season, this group is still a year ahead of schedule...Next year, Davis and Morris will both be seniors...Johnson and Duffy will be juniors...and Jessica Bradley, an all-Big 12 conference transfer from Baylor, will join the ranks.

The future is even brighter.

Another fantastic performance by the Aztecs' All-American pitcher Stephen Strasburg last Friday, kicking off a three-game weekend sweep by Tony Gwynn's team of UNLV. (By the way, SDSU owns UNLV in everything this year. Football got one of its two wins over the Rebels, both the men's and women's basketball teams were 3-0 vs. Vegas, and now baseball beats 'em three-straight).

But the best pitching performance of the weekend was not turned in by Strasburg, but rather by UCSD senior right-hander Travis Decker, who pitched a no-hitter on Saturday and defeated top-ranked Cal State Stanislaus, 6-0...Decker walked the first two hitters of the game, then retired 20 batters in a row to complete the seven-inning jem.

Decker's effort was the centerpiece of a four-game UCSD sweep of Division II's top-ranked squad and improved the Tritons to 15-7....Nicely done!

Aztecs Baseball Weekend In Review

A tremendous weekend for SDSU Baseball ended with a three-game sweep of UNLV yesterday, 15-2 at Tony Gwynn Stadium.  The Aztecs have now won four straight and seven of their last eight games, improving to 11-6, 3-0 MWC.  Thoughts on all three games:

FRIDAY: Over 2,100 take in the game at TGS, leading to a host of logistical problems, from long ticket lines to parking structure-change making issues.  By the 3rd inning it was hard to find an empty seat in the house.  They've come to see Strasburg and Stephen does not disappoint, striking out the side in the 1st and 2nd innings and recording an insane 10 K's through four innings.  UNLV scores off Strasburg twice, the first involving a walk-steal-balk and the second a strikeout-wild pitch.  Stephen runs up his pitch count, forcing him out after 7 innings, but the big crowd sees 14 strikeouts against just one walk, with six hits and two runs allowed.  Three in the first and one in the 2nd is enough for the SDSU offense, and the bullpen survives a shaky 9th from Addison Reed to close out a 4-3 win.  Erik Castro shows signs of breaking out of a season-long slump with his first HR of the year and a 2-for-3 night.  

SATURDAY: It's a matinee, scheduled head-to-head with the start of the MWC basketball championships in Las Vegas, so I knew the crowd would be a big drop from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.  About 1600 less, as a matter of fact.  Those watching the basketball disappointment at home miss one of the most complete games of the Aztecs' season to date.  The story is Jon Berger, a senior who got boxed around badly last year but has found great control and a breaking pitch to complement his excellent changeup.  Berger strikes out a career-high 10 over 8 innings, all but one on his slow-slow-slower change.  After a slow start against impressive whip-thin UNLV freshman right-hander Tanner Peters, the Aztecs rise up with three runs in the 5th and three more in the 8th.  Pat Colwell's in the middle of things as usual, leading off with a base hit for the 5th straight game, he finishes 2-4 with an RBI.  Leading 6-1 in the 9th, Tony Gwynn thinks he's going to be able to rest his closer, until James McLaughlin loads the bases with nobody out.  In comes Reed for his best appearance of the season, striking out three straight for his career-best 6th save.  6-1 SDSU the final. 

SUNDAY: Here is where the Aztecs can really separate themselves from other teams in their conference.  While UNLV throws Corey Hales, a senior with an 8.10 ERA, the Aztecs counter with Tyler Lavigne, a solid sinker-baller who has kept his team in the game every time out.  SDSU's pitching depth is starting to reveal itself, and never more so than today.  Lavigne strikes out 8 in 5+ innings, and is never hit hard.  The only three singles he allows are little rollers or choppers off his sinker.  The Aztecs' bullpen finishes off with four shutout innings, with three hits and no walks allowed.  Oh, what about the offense?  Feasting on the back end of the Rebels' pitching staff, SDSU bangs out 14 hits and 15 runs in a 15-2 laugher.  Ever since his walkoff HR against USD last Friday, Cory Vaughn has been on an absolute tear: 

7 games: 10-26 (.385), 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 9 RS, 3BB, 2 HBP, 4K, 4 SB

Yesterday Cory ripped an 0-2 fastball up the middle for a two-run single in the first, used his speed to leg out an infield dribbler for a single in the 3rd, laced a triple down the left-field line and into the corner in the 5th (part of a 7-run inning), and then blasted a hanger over the left-field fence for a 3-run HR in the 7th.  He never got to bat again, finishing a double short of the cycle.  It was also great to see Josh Chasse, a hard worker who struggles to crack the outfield lineup, come off the bench and go 2-2 with 3 RBI, including his first college HR, a no-doubter in the 8th.  

Kansas is in town Tuesday and Wednesday and then it's BYU for a three-game series on Thursday-Friday-Saturday.  I would anticipate the SDSU rotation for the next five days to be as follows, but it's not official:

Ryan O'Sullivan-Tuesday
Nate Solow-Wednesday
Stephen Strasburg-Thursday
Jon Berger-Friday
Tyler Lavigne-Saturday

Sunday, March 15, 2009

So Disappointing

One more shot made in a 2-point loss.  One more win.  One less underdog winning another conference tournament, putting one less dead spot in the field of 65.  One more iota of exposure nationally for a good team and a good conference.  Any of this would have been enough for the SDSU men to make the NCAA tournament.  They got none of it, a perfect S-storm that managed to send 65 schools dancing while the Aztecs polish up their sandals to shuffle off to the NIT.  

Being the #1 seed in the NIT has to be the most hollow "honor" ever bestowed upon a basketball team.  I'm trying to search for the positives here: at least SDSU fans will get to watch Wade, Spain, Richie, etc at home again.  At least the Aztecs will get another gate or two, which helps the coffers.  At least SDSU will get to play on national TV, and if they do happen to roll off a few wins, they'll get second stage exposure.  On the flip side, you're #1 among the also-rans...so if you win the whole NIT, you're still big fish of the small pond, but if you lose, you were upset and underachieved again.  Awesome.

Do I think they should have made the field?  Yes.  They should have done it by beating St. Mary's at the Wooden Classic.  They should have done it by hanging onto their lead against Arizona State.  Or not blowing a 14-point second half lead against BYU.  Or by winning in Laramie against a defense-challenged Wyoming team.  Or by finding a way to put the ball through the hoop in the MWC final against Utah.  As they stood this afternoon, the Aztecs were probably still one of the best 65 teams in the country.  But if they had done ANY of the things listed above, there wouldn't have been any question.  

I have changed the poll: please vote as to whether you think SDSU got what they deserved, or got robbed of a spot in the NCAA's.