The Mets went into the All-Star break by winning eight out of 10 on their long homestand, pushing ahead of the Phillies and Marlins into third place in the National League East. Aside from the much-needed wins, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson had to be thrilled from the contributions of three players on whom he has bet a lot of chips: catcher Travis d’Arnaud, centerfielder Chris Young and first baseman Lucas Duda.
Young and d’Arnaud were complete busts the first three months of the season while Duda was continuing his career as the poor man’s Adam Dunn/Dave Kingman by belting home runs but striking out all too often. As the calendar turned to July, however, both Young and d’Arnaud were getting big hits while Duda proved that he could be a contact hitter.
The Mets were 11 games under .500 when they returned to Citi Field July 4 after a seven-game road trip. General manager Sandy Alderson knew that he would have to address the media about his perceptions of the first half of the 2014 season. Clearly it was not a get-together that he was looking forward to having.
Alderson began the proceedings by saying he believes the Mets have the personnel to perform far better than they have been, and that they are heading in the right direction. Eyeballs were understandably rolling and heads were shaking after Alderson made that statement.
Until a few days before the 2014 NBA Draft neither the Knicks nor the Nets had a pick. The Knicks were able to obtain two second-round picks from the Dallas Mavericks as part of the deal in which they sent center Tyson Chandler and point guard Raymond Felton to Big D. They used them to select forwards Cleanthony Early from Wichita State and Thanasis Antetokounmpo from Greece. Both selections were warmly received by Knicks fans who attended the Draft at the Barclays Center.
Since his last name is a spellcheck killer, expect nearly every writer to refer to Antetokounmpo simply by his first name. His brother, Giannis, was the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2013 first-round draft choice, and he is known by that moniker the way that LeBron and Pele are referred to without surnames.
Mets fans have heard the term “phenomenon” used to describe pitcher Zack Wheeler ever since he arrived from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Carlos Beltran in July 2011. The season-ending elbow injury to Matt Harvey put even more attention and pressure on Wheeler to pick up the slack for the Mets to have any shot at a winning season in 2014.
While Zack certainly can hit the upper 90s with his fastball, his control is awful. The Mets have played a number of nine-inning games that have gone way past three hours, and they always seem to be ones Wheeler started because he goes to full counts on nearly every hitter and then frequently walks them.
Since few expected the Rangers to go very far in the NHL playoffs, it’s easy to rationalize their five-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. That’s cold comfort, however, to both Rangers players and fans, who will undoubtedly ruminate on three overtime losses preceded by blown third-period leads and punctuated by questionable referees’ calls.
Two particular referee calls may have been the turning points in the series.
California Chrome’s co-owner, Steve Coburn, took a lot of heat after Tonalist defeated his horse at the Belmont Stakes last Saturday. Coburn voiced his “Coward’s way out” comment to NBC Sports reporter Kenny Rice just minutes after learning that his horse would not be a Triple Crown winner as Tonalist, a horse that skipped both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, ruined what many thought would be a day of immortality for Coburn and California Chrome.
Coburn did not seem to care that Tonalist’s owners badly wanted to run him in the Derby but the horse’s sudden illness forced them to change their mind. The fact that Tonalist qualified for Belmont by winning the Peter Pan Stakes a week after the Derby enraged him.
It has been 36 years since a thoroughbred has been able to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes to take the Triple Crown. Many have won the first two races only to come up short at the mile-and-a half Belmont Stakes.
In 1979 Spectacular Bid appeared to be a thoroughbred in the same league as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, but he stepped on a safety pin and was not up to the Belmont challenge. In 2004 Smarty Jones, the pride of Philadelphia Park, had his Triple Crown dreams dashed at Belmont, while in 2008, Big Brown, who went off as a 1-5 favorite, proved to be yet another also-ran. Two years ago, I’ll Have Another, who was so dominant at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, was scratched two days before the race. Thoroughbred racing officials are obviously praying that California Chrome will be able to break the Triple Crown hex.