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The week that was

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We have officially begun week 50 of 52. It’s about the time of year when I curse my immigrant parents for choosing Toronto and not, say, San Diego, and when I try to remember where another 12 months have gone. Time flies when none of Toronto’s pro sports teams make the playoffs.

Goodbye

Scott Downs joined the Toronto Blue Jays almost six years ago to the day as an afterthought. He became so much more than that. Today, he’s an Angel. And he will be sorely missed. Oh, Snakeface. Where do I even begin?

Signed to a minor league contract by J.P. Ricciardi in December 2004, Downs did it all for the Blue Jays. He came out of the bullpen. He mopped up. He made spot starts. He even closed. Through it all, and to very little fanfare, he became one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. Left-handed or right, it didn’t matter to Downs. He made outs, while seldom walking a batter.

What I enjoyed most about Downs was that he wasn’t a flamethrower. He was a pitcher. Fastball, curveball, slider, and a changeup. Nothing overpowering, yet always effective. That curveball; I’ll never forget it.

Over the years, Downs shared the bullpen with the likes of Miguel Bautista, Vinnie Chulk, Josh Towers, Jeremy Accardo, Brian Tallet, Brandon League, B.J. Ryan, Scott Richmond, David Purcey, Josh Roenicke, Brian Wolfe, Jesse Carlson, Jason Frasor, and Kevin Gregg. Save for B.J. Ryan’s freakish 2006 season, I was never as calm as when Downs was on the mound. Above all else, Downs was reliable, and it’s that reliability I’ll miss most.

By signing with Los Angeles, Downs nets Toronto a supplemental draft pick, and the Angels’ second-rounder. That could change, though, and Parkes has you covered on the details. In the end, Los Angeles isn’t Boston or New York, and you’re damn right I take solace in that. Unless Jose Bautista has something to say about it, and, believe me, I hope he does, I’m quite certain Downs will go down in history as Ricciardi’s best acquisition as general manager of the Blue Jays.

Thanks, Scott Downs. Was a pleasure. Enjoy Orange County, and may you write the initials of your children in the pitcher’s mound’s dirt forever.

Winter Meetings

As much as Brett Lawrie wants to begin his Major League Baseball career, there’s no chance that’s happening in April 2011. Lawrie will start the season with the Las Vegas 51s, which means we’re probably in store for more colourful pictures of his time spent away from the ballpark. I can’t wait. Because Lawrie’s the first 20-year-old to have ever been photographed in a compromising situation. In all seriousness, it’s the right move, especially if he’s taking up a new position …

Chalk one up for sanity: Alex Anthopoulos won’t be trading Travis Snider and Kyle Drabek for Zack Greinke. Personally, I don’t believe Anthopoulos considered it. Not even for a second. If we learned anything last week, it’s that Dayton Moore, the man who targeted Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, should be getting Anthopoulos coffee, not putting together a Major League ball club …

I’m now more intrigued about the prospects of Magglio Ordonez in a Blue Jays uniform than Manny Ramirez.

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

I’ve watched the video countless times. If only Brett Favre was on the field, alone, at the time.

In the aftermath of the Metrodome’s collapse, I couldn’t help but wonder: Imagine Toronto was hit with the mother of all snow storms, and our very own SkyDome caved in on itself. Rogers would be forced to build a ballpark. And if they’re serious about buying MLSE, lord knows they can afford a new stadium. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, would spend a season playing in Montreal. Everybody wins.

Make it happen, Mother Nature. As much as I’m a Rogers Centre apologist, I wouldn’t mind some new digs, and this scenario is the only plausible one I can think of.

Saving Bryan Colangelo

On the evening of December 7th, based on Andrea Bargnani’s and the Toronto Raptors’ stats up until that point, here’s what C_R_Black at T.Jose Caldeford concluded:

In summation: Toronto’s offence is 3 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; Toronto’s defence is 12 pts better per 100 possessions when Bargnani’s on the bench; and Toronto’s rebounding is 3 percent better when Bargnani’s on the bench. …

In another (final) summation:

1st point: Despite being the team’s focal point on offence, Bargnani is not a good passer.
2nd point: Despite being a 7-footer (and having a pretty soft touch inside), Bargnani remains a jump shooter.
3rd point: Toronto is better offensively with him on the bench.
4th point: Toronto is better defensively with him on the bench.
5th point: Toronto is better on the glass with him on the bench.

On December 8th, Andrea Bargnani scored 41 points. In one game.

On December 9th, The Globe And Mail’s Michael Grange wrote:

The extension [Bryan] Colangelo signed [Bargnani] to in the summer of 2009 might have looked rich then, but now? The four years and $42-million Bargnani has remaining on his contract look like spectacular value. … It might even make up for signing Hedo Turkoglu.

Conflicted? I’m not. For all his faults, I love the lanky Italian. Nothing would please me more than for Bargnani to be the best player to come out of the 2006 draft. Bryan Colangelo told us to give it five years, at the very least. While Brandon Roy paid early dividends in Portland, Bargnani might have been the best long-term option. I look forward to finding out …

Back to the timeline: On December 11th, Saturday night, after a 1-for-9 performance the night before, December 10th, Jerryd Bayless couldn’t miss. Making his second start at the point, Bayless scored 31 points to lead the Raptors to their largest ever come-from-behind victory. Stuck 25? No sweat. (The Detroit Pistons are AWFUL.)

Bayless for Jarrett Jack might be Colangelo’s Brandon Morrow for Brandon League. Like it or not, Colangelo’s getting an extension. And for the record, I like it. Colangelo’s entertaining. The roster turnover year-to-year in Toronto is nothing short of amazing. So many years later, and I’m still impressed at how immaculately Colangelo dresses. He still exudes confidence. And if the past seven days were any indication, there’s never a dull week.

Road Trip

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season could have effectively ended Saturday night, after a stretch of fives games against the Eastern Conference’s five best teams. Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. I figured they’d win one game, and lose another in a shootout. Three out of a possible 10 points. Instead, they picked up six. Of course they did. The misery must be prolonged. Heading out west, the Leafs find themselves nine points back of Atlanta for the coveted 8th and final playoff spot. Once again, if you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs, the playoffs will take place in mid-December, and early January …

Regular season playoffs!!!1 It’s just not the same …

If the Leafs are serious about making a run towards the promised land, the 8th and final playoff spot, their road record must improve; 3-8-1 just won’t get it done. And we’ll find out just how serious the Leafs are about turning around their season Tuesday night in Edmonton. The Leafs need to take this one. By any means necessary. I’m thinking 8-0. Or 3-2, in the shootout, using double and triple spinoramas. Hell, if the game is decided by penalty shots, I’m all for Phil Kessel skating backwards from centre ice on his attempt. The Oilers need to be embarrassed on home ice the way the Maple Leafs were. Period. And if Ron Wilson’s players don’t come out ready to play, that’s not on Wilson, that’s on each and every Maple Leaf on the ice. I’m so sick of excuses …

Speaking of excuses: Mike Komisarek. He is one. To quote a good friend of mine, Komisarek’s “THE WORST!” …

Mea culpa: I take back every bad thing I ever said about Colby Armstrong. Money well spent …

Waffles: The worst of our many humiliations …

Moving forward, do you go with J.S. Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson? In 15 starts, Giguere’s faced 406 shots, and stopped 363 (.894). Gustavsson, in 14 starts, has faced 407 shots, and stopped 367 (.902). I guess the difference is negligible. And that’s a shame …

Was that Clarke MacArthur/Jaroslav Spacek fight not one of the strangest altercations you’ve ever seen? …

One day, Nazem Kadri will score a goal. There might be a parade in celebration …

Thursday night, in Dion Phaneuf’s triumphant return to Calgary, do you think Flames fans have a “Sloppy Seconds! CLAP-CLAP-CLAPCLAPCLAP” chant in them? Props to them if they do.

Image of our frigid city courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto.

Rough Weekend

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Four games, two each for the Maple Leafs and Raptors, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Four losses. Another shutout of the Leafs’ so-called “offence.” Another broken foot for Reggie Evans. His other one, believe it or not.

I miss the Blue Jays. No, they didn’t make the playoffs. They weren’t even close. But they won more games than they lost. And that fact wasn’t lost on my mental health.

I picked the wrong time of year to quit drinking for six weeks. But, deep down, I know the truth: There’s no right time to quit drinking. Not when you’re immersed in Toronto’s postseason abyss.

Jay Triano, fast becoming the best quote in town, with the final words:

“You go one-through-five. I’m not going to pin it on DeMar. DeMar got outplayed by Joe Johnson. Jose got outplayed by Mike Bibby. Andrea got outplayed by Josh Smith. Sonny got outplayed by Marvin Williams. Joey got outplayed by Al Horford. Fuck. Okay?  … I mean, I’m not picking on our starters for getting outplayed. Amir didn’t outplay anybody on their bench either. Leandro didn’t… They beat us. Every single position. Every single guy got beat.”

Drink.

Image, most apt, courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 28th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Rebounding for two

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Reggie Evans is a rebounding guru. It’s almost religious, the way he goes about his business.

Twenty-two rebounds. In one game. Three more than all of his teammates. Fifteen in the first half. Five fewer than the entire Philadelphia 76ers starting lineup. Or, if you’d like to look at it this way: Twenty-two rebounds, as many as Andrea Bargnani has grabbed in his last 5 games combined.

But I don’t like to look at it that way.

Bargnani will never rebound enough. It’s best to accept him for who he is, love him, and move on. Plus, Evans is rebounding for two. Per 36 minutes, Reggie is averaging the fewest points (4.9), but the most rebounds (16.3), of his career. Combined, per 36 minutes, Bargnani and Evans are good for more than 20 rebounds. Good enough. Andrea will score, Reggie will rebound.

In conclusion: Reginald Jamaal Evans must never, ever leave. Thanks to his exploits, and the work of Amir Johnson, the power forward position is the only productive one the Raptors boast, and it isn’t even close.

Finally, a Canada Goose-inspired warm welcome to Jerryd Bayless. In his debut, the backup point guard combined with Jose Calderon for 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting, 11 assists, five rebounds, and only two turnovers, reminding me of the good old Caldeford days. It’s surely all downhill from here.

Four wins in a row. A half-game out of a playoff spot. Only two games behind the Miami Heat.

Image of Reggie doin’ work courtesy of Reuters, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 25th, 2010 at 2:38 am

Buffalo’s Bills

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Let me tell you, there’s no experience quite like it. You haven’t lived until you’ve stood on your seat at a cold and wet Ralph Wilson Stadium, a number of light beers in your system, and belted out “Shout!!!1″ – the Buffalo Bills’ anthem – at the top of your lungs. I did just that on Sunday. I sang like I’d never sing again. Like the Bills might never score again. Like the Bills might never win again. Because, let’s be honest, they probably won’t.

I went to the Bills and Bears game two weeks ago, on November 7th, at the Rogers Centre, where Chicago fans outnumbered Buffalo fans by a wide margin. Where hardly anyone sang “Shout!!!1″ Where it was louder on Buffalo third-down attempts than Chicago third-down attempts. Where everyone, especially the Bears, was far too comfortable under the roof. Home game? Home game my ass.

I know, the timing of my bi-annual visit with friends to Buffalo to watch the Bills was about as ironic as it gets. The Argos were, after all, facing their hated rivals from Hamilton in the CFL’s Eastern Semi-Final. Playoffs. Playoffs!!!1 We probably should have gone to the Hammer. But we chose Buffalo. And who picks Buffalo? Ever? For anything?

But after spending the past two Sundays watching the Bills live and in the flesh, north and south of the border, I learned a valuable lesson: The Bills are Buffalo’s football team. They’ll never be Toronto’s team. We don’t deserve them. Not when our only tailgating option in Toronto is a Budweiser sponsored event where beer isn’t served after 12:30 pm. Are you kidding me?

Look, it’s hardly about the football game. Especially when we’re dealing with the inept Bills. It’s about the experience. It’s about crossing the border at 9 am in your Drew Bledsoe Bills jersey, all the while praying the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer you’re about to hand four passports to got laid the night before. Three of you were born in the Middle East, after all. It’s about celebrating a rare hassle-free entrance into the United States with high-fives, and setting up shop in an Orchard Park parking lot at 10 am. It’s about lighting up the grill; burgers, hot dogs, bacon, and tandoori chicken. Even Caesar salad! It’s about beer. Bud Light and Coors Light, 18 cans for only $20, and drinking far too much, far too early in the morning. It’s about playing three-on-three touch football, and running a flea-flicker to score a touchdown deep in a makeshift end zone. It’s about walking up to Ralph Wilson Stadium, beer in hand, passing police officer after police officer. Most importantly, it’s about being told by my brother to look at a young man, drunk out of his mind, struggling to put on the upper half of his Buzz Lightyear body costume, as he walks up to the gate to enter the building. Unfortunately, Buzz didn’t get in. Not because he was far too inebriated. Because he didn’t have a ticket. I love Buffalo.

Inside, in a seat that costs you a quarter of what it costs to watch the Bills in Toronto, it’s all about making money. Full disclosure: I’ve attended both this year and last year’s Bills regular season games in Toronto for free. I wouldn’t pay. I’m frugal — not cheap — and the prices are absurd. Anyway, back to business. Literally. During the game, it’s about betting $1 bills on each play. Pass? Run? Five yard gain? Three-and-a-half yard gain? First down? Next penalty? Incomplete pass? You name it, you can play it. It’s about taking money from your friends, and even taking money from a couple of strangers in front of you who want in on the action. There’s plenty of dollar bills to go around. I made a killing during the game. Enough for a free $8 beer for my trouble. But I gave it all back at the end of the game, after the Bills weren’t able to cover a spread of 4.5 I generously took bets on. But Buffalo was victorious. That was all that mattered. They will not go 0-16, and make history, again, for all the wrong reasons. Best of all, we got to sing “Shout!!!1″ one last time.

After the game, Bills fans were buoyant. Rightfully so. And I realized what a travesty it would be if the Bills were ever taken away from Buffalo. Lord knows they don’t have much.

“One and eight. Ain’t it great?”

Indeed it is, random Bills fan. Indeed it is.

Image courtesy of comcast.net.

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 16th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Change is good

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The banner’s gone. It brought us nothing but bad luck. Turns out it was, in fact, cursed. Who knew?

Here’s to new beginnings.

Image courtesy Fuck Yeah Toronto!

Written by Navin Vaswani

November 15th, 2010 at 10:49 am