For over a week, Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo had been mulling an offer to coach the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, leaving hoops fans all over the Midwest in a state of limbo. Today, Coach Izzo revealed his decision – he is going to stay at Michigan State. Not even the possibility of coaching the game’s greatest player in LeBron James could convince Izzo to leave East Lansing, a place he has called home for the past 27 years, including the last 15 as Spartans head coach.
Izzo has already reached the elite level of active college coaches, and is a certain Hall-of-Famer. He has enjoyed an incredible amount of success at MSU, including 6 Final Four appearances and the 2000 National Championship. Coach Izzo has built one of the strongest, most consistent programs in all of college basketball, and now he is sticking around to try and maintain Sparty’s place among the upper echelon of college programs.
If he had decided to bolt for the NBA, Izzo would have had to try and buck the trend of successful college coaches flopping in the pros. John Calipari, Mike Montgomery and, most notably, Rick Pitino all failed in their transitions to the NBA. All three have since returned to college hoops with success. The NBA and college games offer two distinctly different styles of play, making the college-to-NBA switch very difficult. We’ll see a college coach succeed in the NBA at some point, however, it doesn’t look like it will be Tom Izzo.
Izzo is making the right call here. He has built a top-notch program at Michigan State and has become one of the top coaches in the sport. By staying put, Izzo is passing up the glitz and glamour of the NBA in favor of the black and blue of the Big Ten. That’s a choice all sports fans can appreciate.
History was made in Detroit on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, the gem thrown by Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, as a blown call at first base robbed the 28 year-old righthander of the 21st perfect game in baseball history. Umpire Jim Joyce, who mistakenly called Indians SS Jason Donald safe at first, now finds himself among the most infamous umpires in baseball history. His gaffe will forever be in the discussion of the worst calls of all-time. (Grab a seat next to Don Denkinger, Jim.) In his defense, he admitted his mistake and apologized to Galarraga after the game. While watching these events unfold last night, I felt terrible for Galarraga. I thought he handled the situation in about the classiest way possible. My hat goes off to him for holding his emotions there.
If Joyce got that call right last night, we’d be looking at an unbelievably historic pitching run. We’re barely two months into the 2010 MLB season, yet we’ve already seen two perfect games, a no-hitter, and Galarraga’s should-have-been-a perfect game. There has only been one other season in the history of baseball with multiple perfect games, and none in the modern era, yet we almost had three occur in less than a month. Not even the wisest of baseball’s wise men could come up with an explanation for what we’ve seen thus far.
Joyce’s blown call could end up having quite a lasting impact on the game of baseball. Instant replay is a topic that has been gradually picking up steam for a few years now. Last night’s lack of replay availability virtually guarantees that it will be pushed to the forefront and become the hot-button issue among baseball executives. Personally, I’m on the fence concerning the use of replay in baseball. On one hand, I’m a baseball purist who doesn’t want to see instant replay violate the sanctity of the game. On the other hand, I’m a realist who sees that replay, when not overused, can help ensure the correct calls are made in the game’s crucial moments. Whether we like it or not though, I do believe instant replay is on the horizon for Major League Baseball. Wednesday night’s debacle may have sealed the deal on this issue.
In the end, I believe Galarraga’s near-perfect game will be more memorable than the actual perfect games thrown by Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden. Baseball has always been deeply rooted in the game’s historic past, and last night we witnessed a historic baseball moment that won’t soon be forgotten.
Taking a look at some of the highlights from a wild day in sports:
Roy Halladay throws the 20th perfect game in Major League history. Halladay accomplished the feat less than three weeks after A’s pitcher Dallas Braden did the same. Halladay retired all 27 Florida Marlins who came to bat, sending 11 back to the dugout via strikeout. Halladay almost had to be perfect to get the W, as the struggling Phillies’ offense managed a mere one run (thanks to a Cameron Maybin throwing error) against Florida ace Josh Johnson. Halladay’s gem was the first no-hitter of his career, and the second perfecto in franchise history (Jim Bunning, 1964).
Lakers finish off the Suns in Western Conference Finals. The LA Lakers booked a return trip to the Finals with a 111-103 win in Game 6. Kobe Bryant led the way for the Lakers with 37 points. LA now sets their sights on the Boston Celtics, no doubt seeking revenge for their loss in the ’08 Finals. This should be a great Finals matchup, and I hope to get a Series Preview written up before Game 1 tips off. The NBA’s most storied rivalry resumes Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Blackhawks take Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Chicago Blackhawks notched a 6-5 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in a game where Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Dustin Byfuglien all failed to record a point. The supporting cast picked up the slack and brought the Blackhawks one step closer to their first Stanley Cup in nearly 50 years. The Flyers have had an amazing run thus far, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals as the 7 seed in the East, however, it doesn’t look like they have the firepower to compete with Chacago in this series.
Kendry Morales hits walk-off grand slam, breaks ankle celebrating. In what is without a doubt the craziest story of the day, Angels 1B Kendry Morales hit a walk-off grand slam in the 10th inning to lift the Angels to a 5-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners. The Angels’ jubilation quickly turned to hushed concern as Morales fell to the ground in pain after his celebratory leap onto home plate. This is an enormous loss for the Angels as Morales leads the club in BA, HR, and RBI. The Morales injury could play a major role in the AL West race. The Angels currently sit 2.5 games behind the Rangers and A’s in the division.
The Colorado Rockies received a major shot in the arm on Sunday, as starting pitcher Jeff Francis made his Mile High return. The 29 year-old lefthander dominated the surprising Washington Nationals in a 2-1 Rockies win. In his first appearance in more than 18 months, Francis worked seven strong innings, allowing only one run while striking out six. Francis, who missed all of the 2009 season following surgery to repair a torn labrum, last pitched on Sep.12, 2008 against the Dodgers.
His return couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Rockies are battling to keep pace in the ultra-competitive NL West. The Rockies currently sit in 4th place, 3.5 games behind baseball’s biggest surprise, the San Diego Padres. The Rockies also trail the pitching-rich Giants and the suddenly red-hot Dodgers, who have won 9 of 10 entering Monday’s action.
If Francis can stay healthy, he and Ubaldo Jimenez will form quite the dynamic duo atop the Rockies’ rotation. The Rockies have gotten a solid season from righthander Aaron Cook, but Jason Hammel has struggled, and the team still awaits the return of injured lefthander Jorge De La Rosa. Colorado will need strong starting pitching to compete for a postseason berth, especially with the questions surrounding their bullpen. Closer Huston Street has lingering shoulder issues, and no one has stepped forward to take hold of the 9th inning role.
Colorado still has some pitching questions that need answered, but with Ubaldo Jimenez and a healthy Jeff Francis leading the way, I still think the Rockies will be battling for the NL West crown come September.
Since nearly every sports media outlet has christened this “LeBron James Week”, I thought I would follow suit.
First off, I’d like to weigh in on all the criticism LeBron has taken over the Cavs’ playoff flop against the Boston Celtics. I definitely think it’s fair to place some of the blame on King James. After all, he is the best player in the league and has taken home back-to-back MVP awards. This was supposed to be the year where James and the Cavaliers finally brought a title back to Cleveland. However, in the three biggest games of the season, LeBron failed to take over and prove that he’s the MVP of the league. In Games 4-6, James struggled from the field, going 18-53 overall. LeBron also committed 19 turnovers over the final three games of the series, compared to only 8 over the first three. When watching these games, it was clear that LeBron became uncharacteristically passive on the offensive end, often relying on his supporting cast to carry the load. When the season is on the line, the best players have to step up and get it done, and LeBron James failed to do so. For that reason, some of the blame has to be thrown his way.
That being said, at least part of the blame has to be given to others within the Cavaliers organization. LeBron’s supporting cast, namely Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, didn’t show up against the Celtics. Jamison, in particular, looked like a shell of the player he once was. I, like many others, liked the Jamison trade for Cleveland after it went down, but it turned out to be a flop in the end. General Manager Danny Ferry has tried numerous combinations to try and find the proper mix of players to play alongside LeBron. Nothing has worked so far, though. In my opinion, the Cavs need to find another scorer to complement LeBron and be that reliable second option when James doesn’t have an other-worldly performance.
What will this mean for LeBron and his ultimate free agent destination? Who knows. A month ago, I would have said there was no way LeBron was leaving Cleveland. Now, I’m not so sure. The Bulls, Knicks, Nets, Clippers, and Heat will be coming after him hard. I still think the Cavaliers are the best option for him, but I can just as easily see him leaving for so-called “greener pastures” elsewhere.
With only around six weeks until Lebron can hit the open market, the rumors and speculations have just begun.
As of today, we are right around 1/6 of the way through the 2010 MLB season. We’re nearing the point where we can really get a feel for how players and teams are performing, and what it might mean for the rest of the season.
With that in mind, I decided to pick my early leaders for AL and NL Cy Young:
American League – Francisco Liriano, Twins
In addition to the Cy Young, Liriano would have to be a leading contender for Comeback Player of the Year as well. The 26 year-old lefthander, who is three years removed from Tommy John surgery, is starting to regain the form that made him one of the best young pitchers in all of baseball. Coming off a forgettable 2009 season, where he finished 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA, Liriano has been a resurgent force atop the Twins’ rotation. Through five starts this season, Liriano is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA (2nd best in the AL), and has yet to allow a home run in his 36 innings of work.
So what has been Liriano’s secret to success in 2010? Confidence, both in his health and his stuff. In ’08 and ’09, it was clear, when watching Liriano pitch, that he was holding back because of his elbow. This was especially true when throwing his slider, which had been one of the best in the game. This season, however, Liriano has seen his fastball velocity return to pre-surgery levels, and his slider has become an out pitch once again. Liriano’s return to dominance has been a pleasant surprise for the Minnesota Twins, who currently lead the AL Central with a 19-10 record.
Other Contenders: CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett (Yankees), Matt Garza and James Shields (Rays)
National League – Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies
While the American League is lacking in early Cy Young contenders, the National League has several pitchers who have staked an early claim to the award. None more so than Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez. The 26 year-old righthander, who burst onto the scene during the Rockies’ 2007 World Series run, is quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball. Jimenez has been the most dominant pitcher in the National League in 2010, narrowly edging out Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay. On April 17, Jimenez threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history against the Atlanta Braves. In his most recent start, a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres on May 3, Jimenez racked up 13 strikeouts over 7 strong innings. Overall, Jimenez has put together an eye-popping early stat line: 6-0, 0.87 ERA, 44 K in 41.1 innings pitched. Jimenez is in the hunt for the Pitching Triple Crown, as he sits tied for 1st in Wins, 1st in ERA, and tied for 4th in K’s.
What makes Jimenez so dominant is, first and foremost, his great stuff. He features one of the best fastball-slider combinations in baseball, and everything he throws has outstanding velocity and movement. As he has matured physically, his velocity has gradually risen. This season, as he begins to enter his prime, his fastball and slider velocities are the highest of his career. According to FanGraphs, Jimenez’s average fastball velocity is 96.8 mph, and an even 88 mph for his slider. What also makes Jimenez special is his ability to hold that incredible velocity deep into starts. He has always been known as a hard-thrower, but this season, Jimenez is putting it all together and realizing his, seemingly, unlimited potential.
Other Contenders: Roy Halladay (Phillies), Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito (Giants), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)
On Friday night, Mariners starting pitcher Cliff Lee dazzled the Seattle fans for the first time since the offseason trade that brought him to the Great Northwest. Lee, making his first start of the season due to a lengthy DL stint, dominated the Texas Rangers over 7 shutout innings, striking out 8 in the process.
On Saturday, however, Lee was grabbing headlines for reasons other than his masterful Mariners debut. That afternoon, Lee’s agent hinted at his client’s future plans, which apparently don’t include signing a long-term deal with Seattle. Lee’s agent told ESPN’s Buster Olney:
“We’re five months away from free agency, so I think that’s the most likely scenario at this point. We’ve not really had any significant discussions with Seattle. I wouldn’t anticipate a deal [with the Mariners].”
It definitely sounds like Mariners fans better come out to watch Lee pitch while they still have a chance. You can’t really blame him (or his agent) for wanting to test the free agent waters, though. The 31 year-old Lee will most certainly be the cream of the pitching crop this Winter. The left-hander is right in the prime of his career, enjoying immense success in recent years. Over the last two seasons, Lee compiled a 36-16 record for the Indians and Phillies, winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2008 with Cleveland.
Also working in Lee’s favor is the relative weakness of the free agent pitching market as a whole. The only other frontline starters destined for free agency come with red flags firmly attached to their million-dollar arms. Diamondbacks’ hurler Brandon Webb, who took home the NL Cy Young in 2006, hasn’t pitched since Opening Day of 2009, due to lingering shoulder issues. Also scheduled to hit the open market is Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez, who has an ERA of 9.78 through 5 starts this season.
With Lee as the best free agent pitcher available this Winter, teams looking for a potential ace will be lining up for the chance to sign him, which means a big payday is on the horizon. Sorry, Seattle.