Thursday, April 30, 2009
The better question is: what is Merriman thinking these days? After all, the Chargers just used their first-round draft choice on his (presumed) replacement.
How would you feel if the boss introduced you to the guy who was going to come in and take your job? "Hey Bob...we know you're the best VP of Sales we've ever had...but this is Tony...and very soon we expect him to be the best VP of Sales we've ever had...have a nice day!"
Chances are you'd be pissed. Chances are you'd have every right to be.
I've got to believe that somewhere in the back (or more likely the front) of his mind, Merriman isn't exactly thrilled about the Bolts' draft-day developments. When you're the most disruptive defensive player in the entire NFL, and you've worked your tail off to come back from a
season-ending injury, you don't expect the team you play for to start planning for your demise.
But that's exactly what the Chargers have done. Though they've said repeatedly that the drafting of English is all about making what should be a scary pass rush even more dangerous...it's pretty obvious to me (and should be to you as well) that the writing is on the wall.
And the wall reads: Shawne Merriman is no longer part of the Chargers future after this season.
Maybe that's OK. After all, it's no guarantee that Merriman will return from his knee surgery as the dominant player he once was...and having English behind him will provide a nice insurance policy. Furthermore, we know that Merriman will be a free agent after the '09 season and chances are he will command millions of dollars (and them some) to re-sign in San Diego. With English in the fold, the Chargers won't be forced into over-paying to keep him.
However, in my mind, this is faulty logic. And here's why: stated or unstated, Merriman is basically now in the position to have to play for himself this season. Knowing that his days in San Diego are all but over, it will be imperative for him to put up big sack numbers (regardless of how many games the Bolts win, or how many tackles he makes, Merriman's free-agent bounty will directly be linked to his sack total and nothing else).
Is this the kind of player you want leading your defense?? Perhaps, the Chargers feel that a
20-sack season from Merriman will help them get where they want to go. But in my mind, it's a guy who's focused on the success of the entire defensive unit -- and not his stats alone -- that would be far more valuable.
Either way, let's give credit to Merriman for his initial public comments. He said the PC thing by welcoming English into the fold. Imagine if Merriman had the frail self-confidence of former Denver QB Jay Cutler. The draft selection of an additional pass-rushing linebacker would have created a Broncos-sized circus.
The way it is now, Merriman will have to share the center ring with an up-and-coming talent nipping at his heels. And he'll have to deal with a ring-leader (A.J. Smith) who seems anxious to drive home the message that his star (and future Hall of Fame?) linebacker will not be welcome in these here parts much longer.
And while it's true that there aren't many guys out there as tough as Shawne Merriman, I think he'll have a tough time handling it.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
No, not the church that frowns upon gays and lesbians...or pre-marital sex and adultery (when it's convenient)...and not the church where whatever sins you do feel like committing will be forgiven with a kneel and an excuse.
I've never gone to that church and never will.
I've gone to the church where failures simply are not tolerated and sins can never be forgiven. The church of the bottom line -- wins and losses.
The Church of A.J. Smith.
I haven't really gone to pray...or to ask forgiveness because I missed a game while out shopping with the wife...or even to complain. Mostly I've just attended with reverence for the General Manager of the San Diego Chargers -- the master of the draft, the all-knowing definer of football talent, the Messiah of trades and free agent pickups.
Gotta say, though, after what transpired this past weekend, I'm starting to lose faith.
Do you understand why the Chargers would use their first-round draft choice to select a player who plays a position that the team is already loaded at? Because I sure don't.
Before the draft ever began I said that no team in the NFL would improve during this off-season as much as the Chargers would...regardless of who was drafted, traded or signed. That's because the Bolts will be adding the most disruptive defensive player on the planet to their roster for 2009.
Supposedly fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him just about all of last season, Shawne Merriman's presence immediately turns the Chargers into Super Bowl contenders. Lined up with bookend pass rusher Shawn Phillips on the other side of the line, San Diego will be able to bring more heat that a mid-April afternoon in Jamul (see last week's weather report for confirmation).
With the pass rush back in order, the last thing San Diego needed was another pass rusher. But in drafting outside linebacker Larry English out of Northern Illinois, that's exactly what the Chargers got.
Of course, the the world's wimpiest media -- located here in America's Finest City if you weren't sure -- could not contain itself after the first-round selection, practically doing cart-wheels and firing off bottle rockets to salute the Chargers (formerly brilliant) front office.
To me, the selection makes absolutely no sense. In fact, it looks a whole lot like what the (confused) Padres did with their first selection in last summer's Major League Baseball draft. Despite the fact that their best player (Adrian Gonzalez) is a first baseman, and their top prospect (Kyle Blanks) is a first baseman, the Padres drafted -- a first baseman.
What the hell??? I was banging my head into a wall after that pick, and now I've bloodied my forehead again after the Chargers unexplainable decision.
Not that they haven't tried to explain it. Said Director of Player Personnel Jimmy Raye (who?): "You can never have enough good football players, especially trying to put heat on the quarterback."
Oh yeah? Well I guess you could have 11 great players putting pressure on the quarterback if you wanted to...but it's not going to do you much good if there's nobody back there behind them to cover receivers. And frankly -- even with only three guys rushing -- we already know that the Chargers can't cover receivers.
Said Head Coach Norv Turner: "We felt a real urgency to create situations where we can put more pressure on the quarterback and obviously getting Shawne Merriman back will help us greatly there, but adding a rusher we thought would certainly help us."
Genius!! You mean the Chargers felt that getting Merriman back would greatly help them? But that adding (another) rusher would certainly help them?
Who was doing this draft? Matt Millen? "Yes...we felt that if we could stockpile top wide receivers in the draft for about a decade, our passing game would be unstoppable....Offensive linemen? Quarterbacks? Well, yes, but we do have a bunch of great receivers."
Look, perhaps Larry English will turn out to be a great player. I hope he does. But even if he does, this first-round pick still makes no sense.
Of course, some would say that English will make for a great insurance policy if Merriman is not healthy...or if Merriman is let go after his contract runs out next season.
Maybe so. But I say that Merriman will be back, and with him back, Phillips will regain his mojo on the other side. And if that happens, how exactly is English going to contribute this season?
Other teams may feel like they have the luxury to let a first-round pick rot on the bench for a season and learn. But when you're the Chargers, and your window to the Super Bowl is quickly closing, you need to add a player who can help you now.
And I don't think there's much argument that the Chargers have plenty of holes that need repair -- inside linebacker, defensive end, safety, offensive line just to name a few.
Pass-rushing outside linebacker, to me, did not seem to be that desperate of a need. Of course, the Chargers (who think they know everything) think differently.
I guess I just don't understand English.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
For several years, the centerfold spread in the NFL Draft's Monthly. But now no longer a candidate for the cover story.
Washed up and worn out. You can try a little botox here, a nip-and-tuck there...but there's simply no way to cover up the bumps and bruises. Not enough cosmetics to make choices like Buster Davis, Eric Weddle, Antonio Cromartie, Paul Oliver, Anthony Waters and Jacob Hester disappear.
This weekend, the lights will shine brightly on Smith again as the NFL convenes for its annual rite of passage in New York's Radio City Music Hall. It's a place where the Chargers General Manager used to bring down the house year after year. The curtain calls were endless and the stage was showered with bouquets at the great man's feet -- and feats.
This time around, however, he'll be lucky to still have a spot dancing in the chorus line.
Chargers fans disappointed by the lack of impact players selected by Smith over the past couple of seasons have every right to be concerned about what the Chargers will come up with this weekend.
However, to be honest, your spotlight is directed in the wrong place. Rather than focusing on Smith, it's the players themselves that should be more carefully scrutinized.
There's an old saying in the NFL that the quarterback gets too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when a team loses. Not only is this a popular saying, but it happens to be the truth.
Here's another truth: General Managers get far too much credit for good draft, and far too much blame for bad ones.
Sure Bill Belichek and Scott Pioli in New England have starred in recent years, but there's no way either of them can honestly take credit for the discovery of Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft -- after 199 players had been taken ahead of him. If either Belichek or Pioli really knew how great Brady was going to be then why did they themselves pass on him at least five times?
On the other hand, you can blame the 49ers all you want for wasting the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 on quarterback Alex Smith...but the problem with that logic is that everybody has Smith pegged as the No. 1 QB on the board that year. In essence, the 49ers practically had to take Smith.
The bottom line is -- at least in my way of thinking -- is that the failures of A.J. Smith's recent picks lies more with the picks themselves than it does with the man who picked them.
Players like Davis, Weddle, Cromartie -- and the others -- are all remarkably gifted athletes who simply have not performed to the level of their capabilities. It's not like the Chargers were the only teams in the NFL who thought these would all be great players.
Brady, of course, is the most magical example of the following axoim -- but there are dozens of others. And the axoim is that no matter where a player is picked on draft day, it is what he does after he's drafted that matters most.
You could say that it's up to Smith -- and all of the other General Managers -- to know what these youngsters are going to do once they're brought into the fold. But if that were the case, there wouldn't be a single Hall of Famer in Canton, Ohio, who was drafted after the first or second round.
And we know that this simply is not the case.
Smith, of course, could work himself back into the local fans' good graces if things work out this weekend -- but obviously none of us will really know whether or not he has been successful until a couple of seasons go by.
One thing I do know, however. Smith will work as hard as anybody to make sure everything turns out right.
The question is whether or not the players he selects will work as hard as he does.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Correct me if I'm wrong...but it all comes down to money and the Friars inability to: A.) pay to develop good players... B.) pay to acquire good players... C.) pay to keep the few good players that they do have.
All of this belt-tightening has us feeling rather lousy about the Local 9 -- despite the hot start.
But losing the likes of Trevor Hoffman, Shane Victorino, Jason Bay, Gary Matthews Jr., Derrek Lee, Milton Bradley, Ramon Hernandez, Geoff Blum, Mike Cameron, Khalil Greene, Mark Loretta, Randy Wolf and (soon, we imagine) Jake Peavy will look like nothing if the Padres let their biggest ticket item get away.
Along with now being the most famous Miss USA runner-up in history, and America's hottest lightning rod for controversy, Carrie Prejean has -- for the last couple of years -- been a member of the San Diego Padres.
Well, to be exact, she has been a member of the Pad Squad...and chances are she has fired a
T-Shirt or two in your direction between innings at Petco Park.
Now that you're aware of this...what's more important to you? Finding a way to keep Peavy or Prejean?
Well...let's put it this way. If this season turns out the way most expect it eventually will and the Padres are an also-ran by August...I'd rather watch Carrie chuck T-Shirts in a half-empty ballpark than watch Peavy chuck and duck.
With the money the Padres can save by dealing Peavy, they can hook up the hottest item in America to a long-term deal. I mean, really, who cares about wins and losses anyway?
Of course, by keeping Prejean, the Friars' gay and lesbian following may take a hit...but who would you rather have as the face of the franchise? A young lady strong enough to believe in her convictions under intense pressure or an outfielder who -- when the going gets tough -- beats up young ladies.
Agree with her or not, it took a lot of guts for Prejean to answer as she did the other night during the Miss USA pageant when she was asked about gay marriage by (celebrity?) judge Perez Hilton...Personally, I don't agree with her, but it's refreshing to see someone who's not afraid to be politically incorrect...Meanwhile, it took no guts at all for Brian Giles to hit and shove his girlfriend to the ground.
For now our attention is (and should be) on the Padres' play on the field. It has been a fun start to the season.
But when the dog-days of summer arrive, let's hope we at least still have Carrie. With her schedule now busier than ever the former Vista High student will not be able to tend to hjer Pad Squad duties as often as she has in the past.
The Padres have to make sure they don't let her get away for good.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Don't know about you...but all I remember about last year's Fall Classic is that the final game took longer to play than a cricket match...should have called it the Winter Classic.
Anyway...as for me...my favorite time of the baseball season is April...right now...Why? Because this is the month that makes all the experts look like idiots. (Being as I'm clearly no expert, I get a certain amount of joy out of stuff like this).
Examples: Well, of course, the Padres are one....Which expert was it exactly who pegged the Padres for maybe nine wins before the All-Star break?? Same guy -- or gal -- I assume who had the Friars taking 2-of-3 from the unbeatable Mets and then 2-of-3 from the defending World Champion Phillies. On the road, no less.
Marlins opening the season 11-1?? Can't tell you how tired I got reading about that over and over during Spring training.
Last-place finishers in the American League?? Pretty sure I saw where the
Rays-Indians-Angels trifecta was a better bet than Lindsay Lohan staying sober.
Just when is it, by the way, that Peter Gammons is going to finally come clean and tell us that truth be told, he's really just as dumb as the rest of us?? Probably the same day he admits knowing that the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang would be dazzling the American League with a
34.50 earned run average...or that the greatest Red Sox hurler of them all, Daisuke Matsuzaka, would be on the shelf with a 12.79.
I must have missed it, but I'm certain Tim Kurkjian called Brandon Webb on the DL with a 13.50 and also had the Cy Young-World Series MVP Daily Double pegged by coupling Cole Hamels and his 11.17 ERA right along with him. Hamels couldn't even hold a 7-1 lead against the Padres.
Here are some more: Jason Stark's blog predicting that April's batting leader would be the Nationals' Christian Guzman at a robust .515...And ESPN's Buster Olney breathlessly telling us that young stars like Alex Gordon (KC, 2-for-21 .095), Gervany Soto (Cubs, 2-for-19 .105) and Alexei Ramirez (Chisox, 5-for-40 .125) would all come crashing down to earth.
It really is amazing how much time we all waste listening to these guys...and even worse, how we're duped into believing everything they say.
You know...I hope April never ends. Think I can get the Padres to join me in that?
Early candidate for stupidest free-agent signing...goes to the Cubs who piled the dough up for outfielder Milton Bradley...Bradley already has more times out of the lineup (two -- one for a pulled muscle, I think, and another for a suspension) than he has hits (one).
My choice for April's MLB Player of the Month...already belongs to Padres closer Heath Bell. Sure the seven saves and perfect ERA are nice, but they're far from the reason he gets my vote.
Bell loudly (and correctly) called out ESPN (and all of their geniuses) for totally ignoring the 27 teams not named the Yankees, Red Sox or Mets. Bell said there's no reason for him to tune into the Worldwide leader any longer because he likes to see what's going on in baseball, not just what's going on in New York and Boston.
It's about time somebody (other than me) had the guts to call out ESPN's one-coasted coverage of what (I thought) is called the National Pastime. When history's keepers of the grand-ol' game change it to the Anything-North-of-Baltimore-and-East-of-Pittsburgh Pastime...well, then I'll start tuning in again.
Either that, or when one of the geniuses in Bristol can correctly predict what's going to happen in baseball during the month of April.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
(not-quite-a) classic Steve Martin comedy, "The Jerk"...(caught some of it STARZ last night, by the way).
The idea of the scene is that what matters little to most -- or all -- or us, means the world to "The Jerk," his name actually being in print finally validating his existence.
Same goes with the release of the NFL schedule...only in this case, you're all "The Jerks," and I'm the one who understands (correctly) that is means little...."The NFL Schedule is here! The NFL Schedule is here!"
Now we know the Chargers will open their 2009 quest in Oakland, against the Raiders...Then they're home for Baltimore and Miami...Then there's a whole bunch of more games before the regular season ends January 3rd at home against Washington. (By the way, if they keep ending the season later and later, the Super Bowl one day will be played on the 4th of July).
And now we have all of the "experts" in the NFL world breaking down every team's schedule and determining what it all means. "The Chargers have to play Dallas, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh!".....Oooooooohh! "And they play at Philadelphia, and play at Cleveland in December where it will be cold!"....Oh, oh!
My goodness, what are they going to do??...Well, my best guess, is that they'll show up every Sunday or Monday wherever the schedule tells them to, and they'll try to win the games.
End of story. Or is it?
Breathlessly, the experts have figured out which team has the hardest schedule (Miami) and which has the easiest (N.Y. Giants)...and that means, well, what exactly?
Not much. If it did then why bother figuring out who supposedly had the toughest schedule in the NFL last year? Answer: the Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Speaking of things that don't matter, the NFL draft is now just a week away, and all of the
draft-niks are warming up their projection sheets....Who will go No. 1 to the Lions? Who'll be picked 19th? Or 27th?
When somebody can tell me who'll get the next Tom Brady in the 6th round, or tell me which team will by savvy enough to sign (defensive player of the year) James Harrison as a free agent because he's not drafted at all...then maybe I'll start paying attention.
Until then, the whole affair is like trying to pick numbers in a lottery. Teams could do just as well closing their eyes and pointing to names in Steve Martin's phone book.
I do have one draft prediction, however: the team that will improve most from last season to next season will be the Chargers...Not because of anybody they draft next weekend, but because they will welcome back a supposedly healthy Shawne Merriman for '09.
No team will find anybody with that much impact in the draft, no matter how hard they look or how much attention they pay to Mel Kiper.
You can go ahead and continue to love Lance Armstrong if you want to, but one of these days you will get your heart broken. (Just like Sheryl Crow).
Armstrong says he may be barred from this summer's Tour de France because -- his explanation -- the people over in Europe can't stand him. (If true, by the way, kudos to the people over in Europe).
But here's the real reason why Armstrong may not be allowed to compete: Tour officials showed up unannounced at Armstrong's residence and asked him to take a drug test (completely legal, under the rules that govern the sport).
Armstrong said "sure," then disappeared for over 20 minutes, spending most of that time in the shower. Did he just want to look squeaky-clean for the authorities? Or was he increasing his chances of testing squeaky-clean?
You go ahead and decide. Me? I already decided a long time ago on Armstrong. In a sport where every single decent Tour competitor has flunked drug tests over the past decade, I simply can not believe that Armstrong was the only top-flight cyclist who was riding clean.
He has never tested positive for anything (and he reminds of this fact constantly)...but neither has Barry Bonds.
As is always the case, the NBA will get exactly what it wants for this year's NBA Finals -- Kobe and the Lakers versus LeBron and the Cavs. Can it possibly turn out any other way?
Of course, it can't.
And just in case Kevin Garnett does try to make a comeback at some point during the
post-season, believe me when I tell you that David Stern has Jeff Gillooly's phone number on speed dial. One good whack on the knee from Tonya Harding's former husband, and the Celtics will be finished.
We know you don't care much about hockey, but at least the Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't rigged. Sure some teams are better than others, but there's really no way of knowing which two teams will meet in the finals.
My guess is Detroit versus New Jersey...Two teams that have goaltenders that have been there many times before....(By the way, it's too bad you're not watching the playoffs -- or don't know where to find them -- because the Chicago-Calgary game on Thursday night was a blast).
Just how long will the Padres be able to keep this magical early-season run going? My best bet is mid-May or so...the good news is that just as the Friars are falling, the NCAA college baseball tournament will be getting underway.
Don't look now, but both San Diego State (No. 15) and USD (No. 24) are ranked and have a good shot at post-season play. My wish would be for both to win their opening-round regionals and then face-off head-to-head in a 2-out-of-3 Super Regional...with the winner going to the College World Series.
For guys like me who care about the minor sports in San Diego -- and enjoy following them -- an SDSU-USD showdown with everything at stake would be fantastic.
Friday, April 17, 2009
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO--Nothing could stop Stephen Strasburg on Friday night at Isotopes Stadium. Not the University of New Mexico Lobos. Not the frigid weather. Not even the pack of student cheerleaders who formed a picket line in front of the dugout in the middle of the 7th inning, preventing Strasburg from taking the mound for a few minutes. (OK, they were performing a routine, but it sure looked like a picket line). And by the end, the Lobos and their fans were howling in dismay as the top-hitting team in the NCAA was blanked on their home field by college baseball's best pitcher.
In a tense, nail-biting game that started with 42 degree temps and randomly mixed mist and freezing rain, Strasburg pitched his first complete game shutout of the season as the 15th ranked Aztecs (26-13, 9-4) edged the Lobos (28-11, 8-5) 1-0. Brandon Meredith launched a solo homerun deep into the left-field picnic section to lead off the top of the 4th, and that lone run held up to win thanks to Strasburg's brilliance, grit, and determination. Throwing 129 pitches, Strasburg allowed 7 hits, walked one and struck out 14. In doing so, he passed Mike Erb (SDSU '85-'87) for 2nd place on the all-time SDSU strikeout list (301 career K's), and trails Bruce Billings by just three for the all-time school record (304).
But Strasburg's dominance was tested multiple times on Friday, and the Aztecs' ace responded each time with his biggest and best pitches. In the 5th, miscommunication on a foul popup between Meredith and Erik Castro (1 for 3, 8 game hitting streak) allowed a catchable ball to drop off the bat of Lobos' left fielder Adam Courcha. The next pitch was ripped well over 400 feet to left-center field for a leadoff triple. Strasburg knuckled down and retired Daniel Gonzalez on a weak grounder to third before striking out Mike Brownstein (leading Divison I in hits) and Max Willett to end the inning. Counting those two punchouts, Strasburg struck out 7 of 8 batters to cruise into the 8th.
Meanwhile, Lobos' senior left-hander John Hesketh mixed and matched a sinker and slider to keep the Aztecs' bats as cold as the weather. Hesketh allowed just Meredith's homer in 7 innings, striking out six while giving up 5 hits and 3 walks over 7 innings. 2nd year New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham then ran out his four top relievers to get the next six outs, offering Strasburg no margin for error.
In the bottom of the 8th, Strasburg was tested once again, as Gonzalez lined a fastball to the opposite field for a leadoff single. After a sacrifice and a groundout, DH Ryan Honeycutt, who entered the night batting .464 on the season, lined a two-strike fastball to left field for a base hit. Even though the ball got right to Brandon Decker in left field, Gonzalez was waved home by third-base coach Ken Jacome, and Decker's two-hop throw beat Gonzalez by several feet to home, where Erik Castro blocked home plate and completed the 7-2 putout to end the inning.
The last gasp for the Lobos came in the 9th when cleanup man Rafael Neda delivered a clean single to left field to put the leadoff man and tying run on base. After pinch-running, Lobos' coach Birmingham decided to give up a precious out by sacrifice once again, moving the runner Monger into scoring position. Monger then stole third, once again putting the tying run 90 feet away with less than two outs. But with his pitch count rising, Strasburg dug deep for a finishing kick. He whiffed all-MWC outfielder Brian Cavazos-Galvez on a slider in the dirt, and then got first baseman Justin Howard to come around on another slider to end the game.
The game ended with celebrating Aztecs and chirping Lobos. Several New Mexico players came out of the Lobos' dugout to bark at the SDSU players as they were exchanging handshakes and high fives in the center of the diamond. Coaches and players from the Aztecs responded and while there was no confrontation to speak of, the intensity is likely to be cranked up even a notch higher for Saturday's 5pm (PDT) game. Jon Berger will throw for San Diego State, and I'll have the radio play-by-play at www.goaztecs.com.
NOTES: the Aztecs dodged a jam and an injury scare in the bottom of the 2nd inning. With two outs and runners at 1st and 2nd, Courcha hit a flyball into foul territory down the right field line. Cory Vaughn came in and gloved the ball, but failed to call off 2nd baseman Mitch Blackburn, who wound up colliding with Vaughn and knocking the ball loose. Blackburn then catapulted over the 3-foot fence in right and fell into the empty first row of the stands, landing hard on concrete. Blackburn was shaken up for a few moments but continued in the game without further incident. The folks at Isotope Stadium might consider putting up a guardrail for the players to avoid catastrophe...New Mexico entered the game with a .376(!!) team average, leading the NCAA in average, hits, doubles, and triples...they had never scored fewer than 2 runs in a game this season before getting shut out by Strasburg...Pat Colwell ended an 0-13 skid with a double in the 7th...the 15th ranked Aztecs improved to 11-2 on the road this season.
"Head behind the ball, head behind the ball," said Gwynn, "doesn't matter who you put up there (on the screen), you'll see their head is behind the ball."
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
NOTE: this is cross-posted from the all-new www.619sports.net...check out the "dot net" later this afternoon for all-new fresh podcasts!
A cold and windy night at Tony Gwynn Stadium saw the Aztecs hit two solo homers but not much more in a come-from-ahead 7-3 loss to UCLA. The 15th ranked Aztecs gave up five runs in the 8th inning, a frame keyed by an error and two big hits, two-run doubles from UCLA's Eddie Murray and Blair Dunlap. But while a casual observer might pin the loss on some shaky relief, or Ryan O'Sullivan's late error, head coach Tony Gwynn pinned responsibility on a lineup which has struggled to string together hits for three consecutive games.
"I kind of thought we were flat tonight," said Gwynn after the game, "and when you're playing a team like UCLA, you've got to put runs on the board, it's that simple. We let them hang around, hang around, hang around, and the error set up the big inning, but you've got to give them credit."
UCLA junior right-hander Garrett Claypool was touched up for a wind-aided solo homerun by Mitch Blackburn in the 1st inning. Cory Vaughn's blast to deep center field in the 2nd, his 7th longball of the season, gave the Aztecs a 2-1 lead. But from there Claypool was outstanding, allowing just three hits over the next four-plus innings, while striking out a career-high eight. Claypool allowed 5 hits in 5 1/3 innings, walking none.
The Bruins tied the game at 2 in the 4th on Tyler Rahmatulla's RBI single off reliever Andrew Leary. Nate Solow started the game for SDSU but went only three innings, a precautionary move set up by the shoulder troubles of senior starter Jon Berger. With Berger questionable for his Saturday start in New Mexico this weekend, Gwynn decided to hedge his bet by limiting Solow's work on Tuesday night, leaving him potentially available for another start against New Mexico this weekend.
In the 6th, the Aztecs broke through to take a 3-2 lead. Brandon Meredith ended a 1-for-12 mini-slump with a double to right, chasing Claypool from the game. Lefty reliever Matt Grace was greeted by an RBI single off the bat of Erik Castro, putting SDSU in front. But a Cory Vaughn double-play ball ended the inning, and put a cap on the Aztecs' offense for the remainder of the night. Grace wouldn't allow a hit over the next two innings.
Senior reliever James McLaughlin stranded three runners in two innings of relief, but tired in the 8th, when the Bruins mounted their fateful rally. Chris Amezquita led off with a clean single to left, and with one out, Rahmatulla hit a chopper to the to the hole at shortstop. Ryan O'Sullivan, who dazzled with a pair of outstanding plays early in the game, fielded the ball, but as he spun to throw to 2nd the ball popped out of his glove for an error. Justin Uribe followed with a bounding ball gloved by a diving Mitch Blackburn at 2nd base for an infield hit, loading the bases.
Eddie Murray then timed a McLaughlin slider and lined it over Josh Chasse's head in left field for a two-run double, putting the Bruins on top 4-3. Kegan Sharp relieved McLaughlin and got Niko Gallego (son of long-time A's infielder Mike Gallego) to ground into a fielder's choice, with Uribe run down between 3rd and home. But the chance to end the inning down only one evaporated when Dunlap took an outside fastball to right-field for another two-run double, chasing home Murray and Gallego to make it 6-3. A surprise two-out bunt single by Gino Aielli capped the five-run uprising for UCLA.
From there, Grace and former Rancho Buena Vista left-hander Gavin Brooks sent the Aztecs home empty-handed, and left Tony Gwynn with an empty feeling when thinking about his team's offensive output.
"The truth of the matter is, offensively we have to take responsiblity for that game. You have to generate more than three runs, or the possibility of what happened tonight can happen."
Gwynn was concerned coming into the night about the Aztecs feeling fat and sassy about their top-15 ranking in the country, but his pregame and practice warnings to the team about keeping their edge apparently went unheeded.
"All of a sudden you're ranked, all of a sudden you win a couple of games in a row, all of a sudden offensively it's not that difficult to put runs on the board, you start to get comfortable, and then bang! You get it shoved down your throat. If you ask any one of those guys, we talked yesterday about getting a little complacent, a little happy with what you've accomplished already, instead of putting the pedal to the medal and grinding. This was a game as a staff where we felt we didn't grind enough, so hopefully it's a lesson learned. Now we go into the weekend in New Mexico, an offensive park, where we'll have to put runs on the board, so hopefully this is a lesson learned."
The Aztecs are now 25-13 on the season, heading to Alberquerque this weekend for a three-game series that will determine first place in the Mountain West Conference. The Lobos and Aztecs are tied atop the MWC at 8-4, with TCU a game behind. I will have the play-by-play on www.goaztecs.com, starting Friday at 5pm with Stephen Strasburg on the mound.
hat tip to goaztecs.com for the Tony Gwynn quotes, you can see his entirepostgame interview here.
NOTES: The Aztecs received a mixed bag of injury news prior to Tuesday night's game. Right-fielder Cory Vaughn returned to the field, after being held to DH duties for the past three weeks with a sore right elbow. Freshman first baseman Jomel Torres also returned to the lineup and went 0-2 at DH, after missing two weeks with a foot injury. However, Jon Berger's shoulder continues to leave a question mark hovering over the weekend rotation. Berger will be re-evaluated today after throwing on the side yesterday. Either he will make his regularly sheduled Saturday start, or Tyler Lavigne will be moved up into the Saturday slot, with Nate Solow coming back on Sunday. Also, DH Blake Silguero was hoping to mark his return to the lineup on Tuesday after missing a month with a broken hamate bone in his left hand. However, Silguero aggravated the injury during batting practice and was unable to play...Pat Colwell had reached in 33 of the first 35 games for SDSU, but has gone 0 for his last 10...Erik Castro extended his hitting streak to 6 games with a 2-for-4 evening...O'Sullivan continued some dazzling defensive work with a pair of highlight plays at shortstop, making a running over-the-shoulder catch of a Dunlap popup in the 3rd, and robbing Gallego of an infield hit with a charging grab and sidearm throw in the 5th.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Sure, sure...the Padres are 6-and-2, have won five in a row, and are sitting atop the National League West. But it's all just a mirage, right?
A dream from which we will all soon awaken.
So why bother? We know this movie is eventually going to suck. The reviews were terrible across the board.
But you know what? Here we are...and the opening credits actually seem quite enjoyable. Maybe it won't turn out so bad after all?
Maybe it will. Probably it will. But -- at least for time being -- why not grab a box of popcorn, kick your feet up, and have a little fun?
Jody Gerut becomes the first player in major league history to christen a brand new ballpark with a home run. Put a little extra butter on that nugget and chomp away.
Nick Hundley smacks out four hits to wrap up a three-game sweep of the Giants and sprays hits all over Petco Park against the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. How'd you like another shake of salt with that, Mr. Lincecum?
Chase Headley has already homered twice and brings with him great promise for the future. Grab another handful, and don't even bother with the napkins.
See? Feels a little better doesn't it?
Go ahead and save all the piss and vinegar for later on this season. For now, we've got a burgeoning box-office smash on our hands.
One thing everybody forgot when they painted the Padres into the basement prior to the start of this season: nobody -- and I mean nobody -- can find no-name pitchers in the bushes better than Padres GM Kevin Towers can.
Frankie De La Cruz? Edwin Moreno? Luke Gregerson? Edward Mujica? I thought they were all clowns from the Tijuana rodeo. Turns out nobody in the National League is laughing now.
After four one-hit innings last night at (the new) Shea, the San Diego bullpen now has a 1.19 ERA for the season. Among the entire bullpen crew -- which also includes Duaner Sanchez, Clay Meredith and Heath Bell -- only Mujica has allowed a run.
Say what you want about this trade and that trade...whine endlessly about the payroll...wonder where all the young hitters are...but never question Towers when it comes to finding arms.
It's early, but I doubt any day the rest of the season will be sadder for baseball than Monday...first we lose one the game's most iconic voices, Phillies play-by-play legend Harry Kalas...then we lose one of the game's most entertaining players, Tigers pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych...
For those who don't remember, every team in the big leagues used to be identified by the famous voice behind it -- Jack Buck (Cardinals), Ernie Harwell (Tigers), Mel Allen (Yankees), Red Barber (Brooklyn), Bob Prince (Pirates), Chuck Thompson (Orioles), Curt Gowdy (Red Sox), Harry Caray (Cardinals...then Cubs)...and let's not forget Jerry Coleman (Padres).
None call games anymore, and most are gone.
Kalas will never be forgotten in Philadelphia. But his passing reflects another piece of the majesty of the National Pastime slowly being torn away from our memories forever.
As for Fidrych, perhaps you had to grow up when I did to fully appreciate his magical hold over the game during his one brilliant season, in 1976. I was a high school freshman when "The Bird" started talking to the baseball and house-cleaning around the mound.
No player since has looked like he enjoyed playing the game the way Fidrych did.
A film of Fidrych in action should be shown to every single "corporate" ball-player who steps into a clubhouse from here on out.
Kalas should narrate.
Monday, April 13, 2009
RIGHT NOW, you can go check out our first-ever series of 619 Sports Topically Targeted Podcasts. Surf around the site, hit the different tabs...you'll find Chris and I talking Padres, Aztecs, the Masters, and more! None of the podcasts are overly long, as our goal is to entertain you without taking all day to do so.
My personal thanks to Danny Simmons for hours of hard work behind the scenes to help create and maintain the new site. Danny is our hidden MVP! Also a major tip of the hat to Scott Horvath at SDSU for all his continued help and advice.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
"Ready for me now?", I asked.
The good news, personally, was that the excellent pizza joint across the street from our hotel was still open when I got back, after 1:45am. Two slices to go, thank you very much! Joe's Pizza By The Slice is Vegas' answer to Bronx Pizza in Hillcrest. VERY good.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Thursday, April 2, 2009
But, of course, true Padres' fans aren't laughing.
Friday is indeed the day for everybody to have a chance to come out and see the Aztecs' All-American, can't-miss, future Hall of Fame right-hander pitch for the first time in a big league ballpark. According to everyone who has ever seen a baseball game of any kind, it won't be the last time.
But after Strasburg pitches, there will be another game at Petco on Friday night, one that I have a feeling will be looked upon with far less fanfare and far more trepidation.
More on the season that nobody-seems-to-be-looking-forward-to later. But first, a bit more about our star.
Strasburg has been the subject of recent articles in Sports Illustrated (five pages, with pictures!), on ESPN (TV, website, magazine), at Yahoo Sports...and anywhere else anybody happens to be musing about the National Pastime these days.
One TV wag said that Strasburg -- who most certainly will be the No. 1-pick in this summer's MLB draft, and will most certainly command a salary in the neighborhood of $50-million -- is baseball's version of LeBron James.
With all of that fanfare, there's no doubt that curious eyes want to get a glimpse of this local phenomenon. So Friday at Petco (vs. UC Davis, 2:30 p.m.) will be your chance.
Personally, I have no idea how Strasburg's pro career is going to play out. At this point he's really nothing more than the latest great thing. Some of these guys (LeBron) live up to the expectations. But, frankly, most do not.
What I can tell you is that Strasburg has been fantastic so far. Coming out of West Hills High in Santee with little attention three seasons ago, Strasburg spent a year in a relief for SDSU before bursting onto the scene last spring with his amazing 23-strikeout game against Utah.
This season, radar guns have recorded him throwing fastballs at up to 102 mph (which really seems ludicrous, but hey, he does throw very hard)...And he's 5-0 with an ERA of a buck-fifty. He's also averaging a not-of-this-planet 19.2 strikeouts for every nine innings pitched.
He's good. Very good. And I'm happy to report, he's been just as good off the field. A down to earth kid who really just wants to be a good teammate more than anything else, Strasburg has not let any of the overwhelming attention go to his head.
He works his butt off between starts, and he works hard in the classroom as well. Though he's just finishing up his Junior season, he'll be just one class shorts of graduating by season's end.
Guided beautifully by a guy who's already a Hall of Famer, Aztecs' baseball coach Tony Gwynn, Strasburg seems to have all of his ducks in a row. He'd like to finish up this season by leading the 21st-ranked Aztecs (19-10) to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 18 years.
Then it should be on to the big leagues -- which, of course, is where the Padres presumably reside. I say presumably because in this, the 40th-anniversary season of the Friars, I'm not so sure many of us feel as if the Padres really belong.
After Strasburg is done wowing us on Friday afteroon, the Padres will begin (embarrassing us?) Friday night in their first local exhibition game of the year against the Angels.
You tell me...but I don't think there's ever been a Padres' season looked upon with as much dread as this one. In the early days of the '60's, you still had a bit of a novelty...In the '70's enough progress was made from time-to-time that fans held out at least a glimmer of hope.
The brilliance of Gwynn (along with a couple of World Series appearances) took care of the '80's and '90's...And for most of this decade, win or lose, we could at least hang around until Trevor Time.
Now it's as if there is no hope at all. Not a single preseason publication picked the Padres anywhere but 5th this year in the NL West, and the Friars were only that high because there is no 6th....Following last year's 99-loss debacle, not a single player of any substance has been added to the roster....And those that have some substance, the Padres spent the entire off-season trying to get rid of (see Jake Peavy while you still can!).
There are no dreams this season....no chance...and really nothing at all to look forward to.
Unless, that is, Strasburg takes the mound again at Petco Park on August 31st when the Nationals -- the team that figures to draft him -- come to town.