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My brother was at the Bills game on Sunday, against the Patriots, in beautiful Orchard Park, New York. (Things looked great for Buffalo at halftime, didn’t they?) On Monday, I asked him — via text message — how it was.
He replied: “The usual. Guys in front of us were doing lines of something. Weird.”
I thought: cocaine. Definitely cocaine. I wrote: “This is what being a Bills fan has come down to.”
He replied: “It’s very trashy. I don’t know why I still get shocked when I go to that bathroom.”
That was it. The Buffalo Bills Experience. And then it hit me: we’re old, my brother and I. But he’s right: the bathrooms at the Ralph are disgusting.
It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.
– Jerry Seinfeld
I read Saturday’s sports section. The Toronto Star’s. The actual, physical sports section of the Saturday Star. Of the newspaper. I touched it. It was in my hands. I read the whole thing. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It’d been a while. I read the news online, exclusively, like a normal person. Every day. I’m one of those people. I have to, for work. Actually, I read everything online. Books, too. I didn’t pay for The Star. Fuck no. I’d never do that. I read it at Second Cup. Well, outside Second Cup. Saturday was a beautiful day in Toronto. Welcome, September.
It was underwhelming, the Star’s sports section. I’m a bit sorry to say so. But it was. Full disclosure: I’m mostly a reader of The Globe and Mail. Sports, news, everything. I grew up reading the Star, though, it was the newspaper my father had delivered to our front door, the newspaper he read, so I like to check in every once in a while. (I’m not a fan of The Star’s website; it’s too damn busy.)
On the front page, above the fold, baseball columnist Richard Griffin had a piece breaking down MLB’s wild-card race. I like Griffin, but it was a pros/cons/prediction “column” about nine teams and what their chances are down the stretch. It was nothing great; hardly Griffin’s finest hour. He calls for the Rays and Tigers to meet in the AL wild-card one-off, and likes the Braves and Dodgers in the NL, because of course you were wondering.
The rest of the front page: A feature about Chris Williams, the “CFL’s most exciting player,” by Bob Mitchell. Now, I have no idea who Chris Williams is, had never heard of him before, and don’t know what position he plays, or what team he plays for. I’m about as casual a football fan as can be. The Buffalo Bills have my heart, and I try to get down to one game in Buffalo a season, before it gets unGodly cold down there, mostly to get wasted on a Sunday afternoon, because that doesn’t get to happen enough, but I don’t fuck with the CFL. I passed on the Williams piece.
On page two, Mr. Griffin had a gamer on Friday night’s 2-1 Blue Jays’ victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Standard, with quotes from Tony Lovullo praising Moises Sierra, the star of the night, about some of the extra outfielding work Sierra’s been putting in, and quotes from Brandon Morrow, and Ricky Romero about Morrow. Nothing terribly exciting. Like I said, I’ll read Griffin more often than not. Not those crazy-long “Bullpen” blog posts he writes — who’s got the time? – but his other stuff, sure. I may not like everything Griffin writes, but he’s a pro. And he uses that Drunk Jays Fans-inspired avatar on Twitter, which I still like to give him credit for.
The rest of page two: A local high-school football story, which I didn’t even think about reading. Life’s too short.
Page three: A column by Dave Perkins on the plight of Ontario’s racehorse breeders. I told myself I wasn’t going to read it, but then went back and did. I owe Perkins that much, don’t I? The column did nothing to change my stance on the issue: While I’m sorry for all those whose jobs are at risk now that the Ontario government is getting out of the horse racing business, the bottom line is that I don’t want the Ontario government involved in the horse racing business.
The rest of page three was devoted to the 2012 Paralympic Games, with articles from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press. Hours later, I can’t tell you what the CP story was about, but the AP piece was about a survivor of the 7/7 attacks in London — she lost both her legs — competing in the games. In volleyball, no less. You have to read the human interest stories. Too much of the news is bullshit to not read the human interest stories.
Pages four and five, save for a three-inch wide CP story on the left side of page four about NHL labour talks having been “recessed,” which I did not read, having already learned the details on Friday, were a huge Kevin McGran spread about which NHL teams made the best moves in the offseason — “Summertime Stanley Cup.” I didn’t read it. It was, like the Griffin piece on the front page, another team-by-team round-up. Far too broad. When I read the newspaper, I want specific. And I want, for the most part, a Toronto focus. I could care less about McGran’s take on the Carolina Hurricanes’ summer, or the Jordan Eberle contract. The NHL season isn’t going to even start on time, and I’m supposed to want to read an offseason round-up? Well, I don’t. I don’t even want to read about the goddamned lockout. The NHL can simply go away until they figure their shit out. I’d rather read a Cathal Kelly column, about whatever the hell he wants to write about. At least that’s original content.
On page six, I didn’t read an AP article about the U.S. Open, and didn’t read notes about golf, Bob Uecker’s statue, and the CFL. On page seven was a full-page scoreboard, with standings and results from the major professional sports. Who the hell actually uses that page? All that information is available on our phones.
So, in short, I read about a third of The Star’s sports section, and came away thinking, “This is why newspapers are dying.” I wouldn’t pay. I don’t pay. Not for that.
You know what I would have liked to read in the sports section of a Toronto newspaper? (Which isn’t the same as what I’d pay for, just so we’re on the same page — pardon the awful pun.) Something like this from Leafs Nation, about Nikolai Kulemin’s immediate future, and the fact that his agent said he would have asked for a one-year, $3 million deal in arbitration, if contract talks had gone there. Or @DrewGROF‘s piece about Steve Delabar, whose “stuff” — his splitter, mostly — has people talking. Or FanGraphs’ look at Carlos Villanueva, his changeup in particular (with a graph, duh, FanGraphs). The newspapers, as evidenced by this Star piece about Villanueva, and this Star piece about Jose Bautista and Sam Fuld, remain far too interested in getting me quotes from baseball players, even though we all know baseball players don’t say a damn thing when they talk.
I like what the National Post is doing — I’ve seen some PITCHf/x graphs and WPA graphs on their website over the past few months. They’re trying. Although I still don’t understand why John Lott doesn’t post his minor-league round-up, which he tweets, on the Post’s website. Hell, do both. And, again, as a reader of The Globe and Mail, I’m a bit surprised they haven’t created a Blue Jays-specific blog yet, like they did in creating James Mirtle’s Leafs Beat. The Globe gets it — Toronto drives traffic. With the Blue Jays the only baseball game in town, and in the bloody country, and interest in their happenings only increasing online — especially online — a Blue Jays-only web-first blog at The Globe seems to only makes sense. To me, at least. But what the fuck do I know.
Well, one thing, maybe: The sports section seems very much like what it used to be. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?
Some disjointed, but from the heart, thoughts on the Blue Jays and Yankees.
- Watching Yan Gomes clap his hands as he left the batter’s box, and again when he got to first base, after his first big league base hit was one of the better moments of the season so far. We talk, write, tweet, and think about these guys so often, we dehumanize them. First hit in The Show! I hope Brazil went wild. Apparently Gomes’s parents were crying. As they should have been. I hope Yan went out last night. Celebrated.
- I don’t recall another Blue Jay ever wearing #68. I’m just going to assume Gomes is a huge Jaromir Jagr fan.
- After another hitless game, Colby Rasmus has a wOBA of .261, and a 60 wRC+. Adam Lind left Toronto for Las Vegas with a .262 wOBA, and 61 wRC+. Rasmus has been worse at the plate than Lind. Worse. Than. Lind. Awful numbers. For Rasmus, they’re actually better than what he posted in 35 games last year as a Blue Jay, which is very sad, but, again, still awful. It’s incredible how much Lind had been vilified of late, while little to nothing’s been said about Rasmus. I knew he’d been weak at the plate, but I didn’t think he’d been that bad. Not Lind bad. We all need someone to hate, apparently. I’m obviously one of those people who’s willing to give Rasmus a ton of rope. A stupid amount of rope. The longest rope.
- I’d forgotten that Edwin Encarnacion was sent down to Las Vegas two years ago. I remember how much he was struggling at the time, batting an even .200 when he was finally taken out of the lineup, but the demotion slipped my mind. Hard to believe, really, now, with Encarnacion the most productive hitter in the lineup. So that means there’s hope for Adam Lind. Not a lot of hope, considering he’s been terrible for a while, but some hope. As much as there was for Encarnacion, I guess.
- Drew Hutchison’s struck out 24 batters in 33.2. innings. Henderson Alvarez has struck out 15 batters in 55 innings. Some people pray for rain. I pray for strikeouts, mostly. Life ain’t so bad.
- I’ll never understand why Blue Jays fans boo Derek Jeter.
- Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Eric Chavez aren’t “Yankees.” Austerity’s a mother fucker.
- I can’t wait until Vladimir Guerrero takes Ben Francisco’s spot in the lineup.
- That 3-2 curveball Phil Hughes struck out Jose Bautista with in the 5th inning was filthy. Filthy and rude. But an incredible pitch. And that after Jose Bautista took him deep, the last time they met. The curveball: A pitcher’s revenge.
- You have to respect a man with John Farrell’s jawline. It adds to his presidential aura.
- Rock bottom for Jose Bautista had to have been that swing in Anaheim, when he tried to hit a ball that hit the dirt a couple of bloody feet in front of him. He’s looked different since. The at-bats have gotten less and less, well, ugly. The ability to wait for his pitch, and then hammer it, seems to have returned for Bautista. Good ability to have. His patience seemed to have left him for a bit, there. The confidence seems to have returned, too. He simply looks different at the plate. Bautista’s May numbers are great: a .409 wOBA, and a 163 wRC+. Yes, he’s back.
- Bautista looks exclusively pissed off when he’s on the field. He has fun in the dugout sometimes, but I’d like it if he smiled more. He should enjoy being one of the best hitters in baseball. I want him to enjoy the experience. I hope he’s enjoying it, even the tacky Booster Juice billboards.
- Between Hutchison and Drabek, the back end of the rotation, those were two fantastic starts against the Yankees. Two big wins, especially after all the drama. Two games is definitely a sweep.
- I think that overweight gentleman on Twitter fired up J.P. Arencibia. He’s hitting .326/.356/.674 in May, with four home runs, and 10 RBIs. I could go for a donut. Haven’t had one in a long time. Old Fashioned Glazed.
- The Mets are in town. The other team from New York. And I have no feelings about them. Complete apathy.
- Fuck bunting.
- When Brian Butterfield held Yan Gomes at third base after Rajai Davis’s double in the fourth, I thought to myself, “I trust Brian Butterfield completely. I’ll tweet that later.”
- Rajai Davis is on an absolute tear, and I like that Farrell is rewarding him with some playing time. If Farrell’s willing to sit Thames, I think we’ll see Travis Snider sooner rather than later. That’s exciting. Something to look forward to.
- In his one and only full season in Toronto, Scott Rolen, in 2008, saved nine runs at third base, according to Baseball Reference’s Defensive Runs Saved. As pointed out by Grant Brisbee, Brett Lawrie, according to the same BR data, has saved 17 runs already this season. Remember how good Rolen was? I still think about him, every now and then. Shame how his career is ending. But Lawrie. Wow. I can’t wait to see what a full season’s numbers look like, on both sides of the baseball. I ain’t mad at Brett Lawrie. That 3-1 called strike was worth a good helmet toss. A four game suspension? Them’s the breaks.
- Let’s face it, anyone — literally anyone — was going to be better than Francisco Cordero in the 9th inning, but Casey Janssen’s looked good closing games. His strikeout rate, 9.42, keeps getting better.
Image credit: Getty Image, via Daylife.
I was asked last night, over beers, whether I was happy, on a scale of one to 10.
First of all: A score of 10 is unattainable. For anyone.
Second of all: The question was posed to me shortly after I’d watched the Maple Leafs lose 8-0 to the Boston Bruins. Eight-nothing. Who the fuck loses 8-0? And I watched, for the most part, the whole game; couldn’t turn it off. The Bruins can go to hell. The Leafs can, too, for that matter.
I answered “Six-point-five.” And I think I was being generous. Had the Leafs lost 2-1, I’d have probably answered “Seven.” At least. Eight-nothing’s some bullshit.
Image credit: Robert Adams, via This Isn’t Happiness.
Already in his short Toronto Maple Leafs career, Phil Kessel has accomplished something Mats Sundin never did: Being named NHL player of the month. Learning that Kessel was the first Maple Leaf to take home the prize since Felix Potvin way back in 1993 surprised me; I just assumed Sundin did it, that he was the last Leaf to win the award. All those months, all those years, all those points, Sundin leaving Toronto its leading scorer in team history, I figured he won it, at least once, and I simply forgot about it.
At the same time, I wasn’t surprised that Sundin never won the honours. Mats was remarkably consistent, an elite talent — undoubtedly — in the dead puck era, but never bald head and Swedish shoulders above the rest of the competition. Not even for a month. The haters will likely use that as ammunition against Sundin. I maintain, as I always have: Fuck the haters.
Wednesday night in New Jersey, Phil Kessel continued his torrid start to the season, picking up another two assists, and running his total to 20 points on the season. In 12 games. (After Thursday night, Kessel’s got 21 points in 13 games.) Absurd. Thank you, Kessel, indeed. So, I was curious: Had Sundin ever reached the 20-point mark in 12 games as a Toronto Maple Leaf? I know, it doesn’t mean much, 20 points in what’s a long, grinding season, but it’s a nice, round number, so I figured, why not? To Hockey Reference, yo.
Below are their respective Maple Leafs seasons, and how many games it took Sundin, and has taken Kessel, to reach 20 points on the year, and the date on which each reached the mark.
1995: 20 points — 20 games — February 25, 1995 (Lockout shortened season.)
95/96: 20 points — 14 games — November 16, 1995 (Injured; missed late October games.)
96/97: 20 points — 15 games — November 9, 1996
97/98: 20 points — 27 games — December 6, 1997 (No points in first seven games.)
98/99: 20 points — 16 games — November 12, 1998
99/00: 20 points — 17 games — November 29, 1999 (Injured; missed games in October.)
00/01: 20 points — 25 games — November 30, 2000
01/02: 20 points — 21 games — November 19, 2001
02/03: 20 points — 17 games — November 15, 2002
03/04: 20 points — 22 games — November 24, 2003 (No points in first five games.)
04/05: No games — No points — Only sadness.
05/06: 20 points — 24 games — December 26, 2005 (Injured all of October.)
06/07: 20 points — 18 games — November 25, 2006 (Injured in November. When it mattered.)
07/08: 20 points — 14 games — November 2, 2007
09/10: 20 points — 21 games — December 14, 2009 (Missed training camp and all of October.)
10/11: 20 points — 33 games — December 20, 2010 (Blame November.)
11/12: 20 points — 12 games –November 2, 2011
So, there you have it: Mats Sundin, in all his years literally and figuratively leading the Maple Leafs, never had a start quite as incredible as Kessel’s this season. The game’s certainly changed since Sundin’s time, but I can’t — won’t! — take anything away from Kessel. His first twelve games have been must-see TV. I read it on Twitter, and although I can’t remember who was behind the brilliance, I know it was retweeted by the King of Reweets himself, my friend and yours, @mlse: “If there’s a Phil, there’s a way.” That’s about the best way to describe this early season, isn’t it?
As for Sundin, I think it’s fitting that his first full season with the Leafs began much like his last, 20 points in his first 14 games. Even though, as a team, Sundin’s final season with Toronto was an incredible disappointment, Mats wasn’t. He was like a fine Swedish wine, seeming to only get better with age.
Also, for shits and giggles, I took a look at Doug Gilmour’s stats from his ridiculous 1992/1993 season, and it took him all of 10 games to score his 20th point on the season. Killer.
It all comes back to Phil Kessel, though. He’s doing things Mats Sundin wasn’t able to. And, well, that kind of blows my mind. And, much like Sundin, Kessel’s doing it without much of a supporting cast (with all due respect to sniper Joffrey Lupul). It’s also worth remembering that Sundin, when he became a Maple Leaf and in his first few years with the team, was surrounded by veterans: Gilmour, Dave Andreychuk, Mike Gartner, Mike Ridley, and Jamie Macoun, to name a few, who helped mentor him, and who eased his transition to our hockey-mad, Stanley Cup-starving town.
There are more parallels: Sundin was 23-years-old when he became a Leaf, Kessel only 22. Sundin played with the guys I mentioned above, and even Larry Murphy (Boo!), Kirk Muller, and the legend he was traded for, Wendel Clark. Kessel hasn’t been afforded that same luxury, if you can call it that. Of the Toronto team that Kessel suited up with on November 3, 2009, his first game in the blue and white, only Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Mike Komisarek, Colton Orr, Jonas Gustavsson, and Luke Schenn remain Leafs today.
The Leafs are Kessel’s team, and he’s inherited the responsibility a lot sooner than Sundin did, at a much younger age, and without veterans the likes of which Sundin had as teammates, whom Sundin certainly relied upon. It makes what Kessel has done — he’s the NHL’s leading scorer, and the Leafs are the NHL’s best team — not only this year, but in his first two seasons as a Maple Leaf, too, that much more impressive.
It’s early still, Kessel might never be as productive as Sundin was, Tyler Seguin might end up turning into one hell of a hockey player, and truthfully I hope he does, but it’s pretty obvious: Kessel was worth the picks.
Image courtesy artobserved.com, via this isn’t happiness.
Life — growing up, the human experience — is about making mistakes. They’re inevitable. What’s important on this journey is to learn from your mistakes. Not repeat them. So I’m a bit disappointed in myself because, with the Toronto Maple Leafs sitting pretty at 4-0-1, just as they were last October after five games, here we are, again: I’m ecstatic. I’m thinking this team’s different, this team’s the one that will end the postseason drought. I learned nothing from last year, when the Leafs got my hopes up, only to murder those very hopes a month later, in November, when the games mattered. Nothing at all. Actually, I’m even more excited this time around, after five games. Should the Leafs win four out of their next five, I think it’ll be pretty obvious to everyone else, as it will be to me, that the Maple Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup.
How could you not be excited after watching The Phil Kessel Show these past two weeks? Sure, people, including Ron Wilson, are talking about Kessel being a streaky scorer and really being in the zone right now, and that might well be the case, but Kessel looks like a different player on the ice. While his supporters, and I’m surely one of them, have continued to trumpet the fact that he is one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive players, already a three-time 30-goal scorer at only 24-years-old, it’s the complete nature of Kessel’s game that has all of us thinking things we probably shouldn’t be. You know, hardware: a Maurice Richard trophy, maybe an Art Ross, hell, maybe even a Selke. Kessel looks dangerous out there, on every shift. You didn’t have to be watching to know when Kessel had the puck over the Leafs’ first five home games; you could hear it. He had the crowd buzzing. It was … fun. And if Kessel lights up Boston …
I know, I know, this Leafs team isn’t perfect. Far from it. It almost makes them easier to love. Nobody likes a perfectionist. But the flaws are evident, five games in. It’s a serious problem that Kessel and linemate Joffrey Lupul are scoring all the goals. Someone, anyone, please find a pineapple for Mikhail Grabovski to murder; he’s got to get going. The defence has been poor. Not that that’s surprising, really. But my worst fear seems to have been realized: Luke Schenn has been infected by the disease known as Mike Komisarek. Schenn looked awful on Winnipeg’s second goal Wednesday night, just brutal.
But one man’s struggles are another man’s opportunity, and after the way Jake Gardiner played last night, it’s impossible to keep him out of the lineup. And good on the kid. For selfish reasons, of course. Gardiner’s making it easier to let go of Tomas Kaberle.
It’s so much easier to support this team when the trades Burke has pulled off — Kessel, Gardiner, Lupul, Dion Phaneuf — seem to be working, and working out quite well, isn’t it? Speaking of trades, I wouldn’t object to the acquisition of Rene Bourque, but I’m mostly surprised that Calgary would even consider trading again with Toronto. The Flames are one fucked up organization.
A few words on Lupul: helluva finish on his first goal of two last night. What I love most about his success is that I know how much it pisses off, and will continue to piss off, Edmonton Oilers bloggers and fans. I hope he scores 35. In the battle of rebuilders, screw the Oilers, I say.
A favor: If you see anyone out there wearing a Carl Gunnarsson jersey, shake his or her hand. I will do the same.
Another reason to be a lot more excited about this season’s edition of the Leafs, compared to last: James Reimer. The fate of this 4-0-1 team doesn’t rest on J.S. Giguere’s groin, and the wounded psyche of Jonas Gustavsson. Advantage, huge advantage, this year’s squad. In all seriousness, I’m looking forward to seeing how Gustavsson does tonight. The Bruins aren’t scoring goals; they’ve got 11 in six games, Kessel’s scored seven in five. If this Leafs team wants to be taken seriously, now’s the time to capitalize on a struggling Boston squad, and to make sure that not one bloody soul at T.D. Garden is chanting “Thank you Kessel!” Well, except for Leafs fans. They should definitely be chanting “Thank you Kessel!” at T.D. Garden.
Also tonight: Nazem Kadri makes his debut. More skill. And there’s nothing wrong with more skill. Can’t wait.
The Leafs have yet to lose in regulation, their power play stinks, their penalty killing stinks even more (77.3%, ugh), they have zero secondary scoring, and, as cliched as I know it reads, have yet to play a full 60 minutes. Yet I’m thinking 6-0-1, what with Boston and Montreal — both struggling, both beatable — on the schedule before a date with the Flyers.
Should the Leafs take 13 points out of their first available 14, sorry, but I have to think playoffs. It’d be a crime not to. Let’s be honest: I’m thinking playoffs, hockey in spring in Toronto, already. It helps takes my mind off the coming long and depressing winter.
Image courtesy Crystal. Thanks, Crystal. It’s my favourite.
Post-lockout, when 51-year-old Ed Belfour was inexplicably signed to play goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I wished for him to just, you know, go away. After what we all knew to be true was confirmed: that Belfour could no longer play the position, that the Eagle was grounded. I wished upon Eddie — God love him, a great goalie who absolutely owned Ottawa in the playoffs — a bender, the likes of which he’d never seen. The bender I knew he had it in him to go on. It broke my heart to watch a once-proud goalie, who had 10 bloody shutouts in 2003/2004 (for the Leafs!), go out the way Belfour was. It was obvious: he was done.
Mikael Tellqvist and J.S. Aubin were never good enough to truly care about. I do remember when the Leafs faced Tellqvist, though, back on December 4, 2008 in Phoenix. He was awful, and played only 40 minutes after allowing three goals on nine shots. Vesa Toskala, Toronto’s goalie, was worse, allowing six goals on 26 shots. Toronto lost, the final 6-3 Coyotes. With Andrew Raycroft backing up Toskala, effectively leaving Toronto without a back-up goalie, the Leafs had no choice but to go down with the leaky ship.
(In his dreams, Toskala owns a boat: The Vesina.)
We’ve watched some awful goaltending in Toronto over the past few years. I mean really fucking awful. And it’s led to some serious personal bitterness. When Toronto faced Raycroft in Colorado in late January 2009, I wanted nothing more than for the Leafs to light him up. Payback. It was a game that I’d have circled on my Leafs calendar, if I had one of those Leafs calendars, you know, from Shoppers Drug Mart, the ones we all had as kids. Actually, physically circled, in red, on the calendar, along with, I don’t know, something subtle like “DEATH TO RAYCROFT.” The Leafs scored on Raycroft that cold, awesome January night, and scored on him often. It was fantastic. Seven Toronto goals on 30 shots. It was fun.
That’s what being a Leafs fan of late had been reduced to: revenge. I won’t lie: I wanted some very bad things to happen to Vesa Toskala. I’m still a little bit bitter over the fact he bolted for some Finnish beer league, where I have no doubt he’s one of the shittier goalies, before the Leafs, and Phil Kessel, got to him.
Tonight, in a few hours, J.S. Giguere makes his not so triumphant return to Toronto. Looking back at his 2010/2011 numbers — 11 wins, 11 losses, and a .900 save percentage — Giguere was better than I thought. Which is fucking sad, because those numbers aren’t very good. They’re
average brutal. And that’s how I’d describe Giguere’s time in Toronto: so very average brutal, even though it seemed worse. But I don’t care. About Giguere, I mean. I could care less whether the Leafs light him up. I’d like for them to beat Giguere, and Colorado, obviously, so we can all enjoy another “Four-and-Oh!!!1″ parade, but in the grand scheme of things, Giguere doesn’t matter. (Although I’m still a little pissed off with Ron Wilson and the fact he started Giguere on March 17 in Florida, last season, against the Panthers, a 4-0 shutout loss. Giguere had no business playing that game, it being Reim Time and all, the Leafs still on life support in their valiant and very honorable quest for eighth place in the East. But, whatever.)
Finally, I feel indifference towards a former Leafs goalie, and this pleases me. Because I could hate Giguere. I could want the Leafs to absolutely destroy him, and his groin, the one that’s keeping his career alive, albeit barely, because it made absolutely zero bloody sense for Giguere to not have surgery, and play most of last season injured. But to blame Giguere for that would mean I’d have to blame the Leafs, the management, the fucking franchise, because certainly part of the blame for that bonehead decision — to keep playing the ancient and injured Giguere — falls on the Leafs’ shoulders. And, well, I think all of us supporters of the Leafs are past blaming the team. Really, what’s the point? The shit list’s way too long. It’s much easier to breed contempt for players who don’t perform, instead of the geniuses bringing them in in the first place.
The point is: I no longer need to concern myself with the long list of goalies who have, over the years, absolutely screwed Toronto. Because the Maple Leafs actually — finally! — have a goddamn goalie. If Giguere shuts the Maple Leafs out tonight, which he very well might, he isn’t J.S. Giguere the former terrible Leafs goalie who of course shut them out. No, instead, he’s just another terrible goalie who shut out the Maple Leafs. Period.
I wasn’t so sure this day would come. I probably didn’t think it would be today, and I definitely didn’t think the goalie to lead me away from the bitterness would be James Reimer. But today’s the day, and Reimer’s the goalie, and, for a little while at least, everything is perfect. No, literally. The Leafs haven’t lost yet.
Leafs lose, Avs win, I hate Giguere.
Image via this isn’t happiness.
Wade Belak never seemed to take himself too seriously. That’s why I liked him. That’s why, like everyone else, I was shocked to hear of his death. He’s gone way too soon. But his death, his apparent suicide, serves as just another reminder that no matter what you see on the surface, everybody’s got demons, demons that they’re fighting, every single day.
There are so many questions, and, frustratingly, zero answers. The pictures of Belak and his family, his wife and kids, are just gutting. What drove Belak to kill himself, and leave them behind? Why wasn’t Belak’s death treated with the same sensitivity as Rick Rypien’s? Was it because Rypien’s fight with depression was public knowledge? Was Belak tortured because he was an NHL enforcer? Was he depressed? Did he reach out for help? Did he have a history of concussions? If he was lost, “retired” at 35, knowing only a life in and around hockey, it didn’t come across. By all accounts, he was upbeat, content, the same old Wade Belak, and keeping busy.
It doesn’t make sense. Suicide never does, I guess. But it’s impossible not to make the connection, to tie Belak’s death to Derek Boogard’s, and Rypien’s. It’s impossible, when three hockey players, all enforcers, all so damn young, are found dead over the summer, to think that fighting still has a place in professional hockey. I’m done. I’m out. I don’t want to see it anymore. It isn’t worth it. Nobody can tell me that it is.
Wade Belak had this self-deprecating way of making himself seem like a regular guy. Like any other guy. He was like me, like you, like all of us, except that he played ice hockey, and fought, for a living. I’ll remember Belak as a Toronto Maple Leaf, for his wit, his interviews that were always so refreshing, especially compared to those of his teammates. I’ll remember Belak for the way he stood up for his teammates, especially for Tomas Kaberle, and for the goal he scored on December 4, 2007, against Nashville, the one he waited almost four years to get, the one that had the entire Air Canada Centre chanting his name. It was the last goal he ever scored in the NHL.
Wade Belak was only 35-years-old. Boogard and Rypien, even younger. I can’t help but think about how young they were, over and over and over again. There’s something about these three men dying that’s left me cold, that’s taken away from the invincibility of a professional athlete, the guy who’s “living the dream,” even the enforcer. Even though I know, to begin with, that the invincible pro athlete doesn’t exist, that he’s a construct, a product of television, and the Internet, and a vicious news cycle. These guys, they’re just like us. Sometimes they’re not happy. Sometimes they hate their job. Sometimes they drink to ease the pain. Sometimes they’re so fucking afraid of the future, they’d rather not even face it. The deaths of Belak, Boogard, and Rypien have taken away from the innocence of hockey, and of sport. The game’s supposed to give, not take away. Enough.
Image credit: Reuters, via daylife.
For the Blue Jays, it was revenge, pure and simple. Unlike the last time Toronto and Seattle completed a three-game set, the mood in the Toronto clubhouse – the swanky, air-conditioned Rogers Centre clubhouse – was jovial.
“I’d be lying to you if I said we didn’t talk about that April series before game one on Tuesday night,” said manager John Farrell. “They ended our season after, what, 10 games? I hope they lose another 12 in a row.”
The unofficial end to the Blue Jays season came after only 11 games, actually, but that hardly mattered Thursday afternoon, in the glow of victory. After blowing a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning, the Blue Jays rallied to win 7-5, sweeping the reeling Mariners out of town, and, in the process, salvaging what was, up until then, a lost season. Now a game above .500 with just over two months left to play, Toronto’s right back in the thick of the playoff race.
“Eight-and-two in our last 10, and only eight-and-a-half games back in the Wild Card,” Farrell said, beaming. “It’s on. This is what it’s all about. I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.”
So is Travis Snider. While he went hitless on Thursday, he continues to look confident at the plate; like he’s now able to leave his poor at-bats behind, instead of dwelling on them. Since his recall, Snider’s put up a .384 wOBA, along with a 145 wRC+, while driving in 17 runs. And he’s playing centre field, and playing it well.
“The food’s a lot better in the Major Leagues, let me tell you,” Snider said, seated at his locker, enjoying a post-game rack of lamb. “But everything tastes better when you’re winning, and when you’re contributing.”
He didn’t even have to say it, before I did for him: “Meats don’t clash.”
Mike McCoy walked by, and I asked him if I could have a word. He came up big in Thursday’s matinee, hitting two clutch doubles, and scoring the go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th, to make sure Seattle’s losing streak continued.
“Sure,” McCoy said. “But I want to ask you a couple of questions first. I saw you talking to Farrell. Did he mention me at all? Say he needed to talk to me?”
I told McCoy Farrell hadn’t.
“Excellent. I’m still here,” McCoy said. “You wouldn’t think you could get tired of hearing, ‘We’re sending you to Las Vegas,’ but you’d be wrong. I try to stay away from John, you know? Alex, too.”
“Well, you could always hide behind Jon Rauch,” I told him.
“That’s actually a pretty good idea,” McCoy said, clearly thinking about it. “Shit, Farrell’s coming this way. I gotta go.” And he took off; a departure Nyjer Morgan would have been proud of.
As I was making my way to Ricky Romero’s locker, where he was pulling a crisp $100 bill out of his wallet and handing it to Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind stopped me.
“You know who I just spoke to on the phone? John-Michael Liles,” he said. “Yeah, the new Maple Leafs defenceman. He’s from Indiana! Like I told you last time, man, it’s just a great state. Ask him about it. Lets go Hoosiers!” he yelled, and walked away.
Lind’s a little bit crazy.
I finally got to Romero, who was now alone at his locker, writing the letter “W” over and over again on a notepad. I looked down and caught “WIN” written a few times, too, but mostly there were only Ws. I made the decision not to ask.
“Uh, Ricky, hey, I know it’s none of my business, but I saw you handing Edwin a hundred dollar bill a few minutes ago. What’s up? He win a bet?”
“Yeah, actually he did,” said Romero. “We’ve got a bit of a wager, you know, between millionaires, when he’s on the field when I’m pitching. You know as well as I do it’s a circus when he’s out there, especially at third base. So any play he makes, error free, I have to give him $50. If he makes an error, he owes me $100, and $200 for the second error, and $300 for the third error, and so on. I know he hasn’t done it yet, but I think Eddie’s probably capable of making five errors in a game. He’s got it in him to do that. Just depends on the bounces, and the guy keeping score.”
And this is how ball players keep a 162-game season interesting, I thought.
“How many plays did Edwin make today?” I asked, while thinking that it was funny that we were still talking about Encarnacion’s defence. Other than Jose Bautista, Encarnacion’s been Toronto’s best hitter in July, putting up a most impressive slash line: .328/.394/.500; a .400 wOBA! Believe it or not, Edwin’s walked seven times in July; he walked only nine times in April, May and June combined.
“Only two plays,” Romero replied, as we got back down to business. “Both in the 2nd inning. Luckily for Eddie, Seattle didn’t hit another ball his way.”
I feel for the Mariners right now, from Ichiro to their fans, the team in the midst of a soul-crushing 12-game losing skid. You know they had to have been trying to hit the baseball at Encarnacion. Towards him, in his vicinity. It’s the right game plan. It’s just that nothing’s working for Seattle these days, except for Eric Wedge’s mustache.
Usually when a team’s caught up in a losing streak the likes of Seattle’s, you figure they’re bound to win a game, thanks to a lucky bounce, or an error-filled game from Encarnacion. Something. Anything. But not the Mariners. They don’t look like a ball club that’s going to be winning a game anytime soon. Even after Miguel Olivo tied up the game with his grand slam in the 8th inning, and stole Romero’s precious “W” out from under his fingertips, the momentum didn’t feel like it had swung. The Blue Jays were going to find a way to win. More to the point: the Mariners were going to find a way to lose. And they did, with the light-hitting duo of McCoy and Rajai Davis doing the the damage. Now off to Boston, then New York, and then back out west, at home to Tampa Bay, it might be August before the Mariners win again.
But the fate of the Mariners is hardly the concern of the Blue Jays. They’re off to Arlington, Texas to face the Rangers, who play the opposite of Mariners baseball, and who own the American League’s best home record: 31-18.
“They ought to get a roof down there,” said Jose Bautista. “What baseball fan wants to pay to sit in that heat? That ain’t beast mode.”
Neither is Jo-Jo Reyes, I thought, who’ll be on the mound Friday night, deep in the heart of Texas. But should Jo-Jo and the Blue Jays, against all odds, continue their winning ways and sweep the Rangers, they’re guaranteed three more wins after that, with Baltimore in town after an off-day on Monday. That’d be a nine-game winning streak; definitely beast mode.
Image credit: Getty, via Yahoo! Sports.