CHICAGO — The conditions at Wrigley Field on Thursday were eerie and ominous. Instead of a hot Chicago day in late June, thick fog hovered over the city all day. The apartment buildings and rooftop seats just outside the stadium were out of sight all afternoon. Every half-inning, thick fog rolled in and out, making it hard for players to see. Outfielders were fuzzy masses from the stands. It looked and felt like fall.
Against the Chicago Cubs, one of the worst teams in baseball, theWashington Nationals also produced a bizarre result. The normally efficient Doug Fister wasn’t, and he allowed three runs. Steady reliever Craig Stammen couldn’t keep the game tied late, giving up a decisive double just after the Nationals pulled even. The Nationals’ base running was off, and the offense came to life late but didn’t do enough in a 5-3 loss. The fog created by a cooler-than-normal Lake Michigan only made the day more unsettling.
“It was different,” Stammen said. Added center fielder Denard Span: “Just unusual here in the Midwest.”
Fister entered Thursday’s game in a groove, posting a 2.03 ERA in his previous eight starts. He pitched through the fog and the Cubs’ lineup, one of the least productive in baseball, for three innings. In the fourth, Fister put the Nationals in a hole.
Fister allowed a single to Justin Ruggiano on a low fastball, a pitch that normally produces a groundball. Then Fister battled the Cubs’ best power hitter, Anthony Rizzo, for eight pitches, leaving the last one up and leading to a double to put runners on second and third. Fister then went right at cleanup hitter Starlin Castro. Fister fired a fastball inside and off the plate. Castro broke his bat flaring the pitch to left field, and two Cubs scored.
“I felt like I was executing, but at the same time the pitches need to be a little better,” Fister said. “The pitches need to be a little better. I need to make sure they’re in or out a little bit more. If I get it in a little bit farther on that jam shot over the infield, who knows. A lot of shoulda, woulda, couldas.”
In the next at-bat, Fister unfurled a wild pitch that put Castro in scoring position, a mistake that would prove costly with one out. Welington Castillo singled in another run to give the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
Throughout the night, the fog threatened both teams. Span made a handful of difficult plays through the...
Jason Hammel helped the Cubs continue their strong June. And in the process he boosted his trade value.
With scouts watching, Hammel pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up two runs while striking out six in the Cubs’ 7-2 win Friday over the Washington Nationals. Expected to be dealt before the July 31st deadline, Hammel (7-5) only helped his stock as he won for the first time in June, despite having allowed only 10 earned runs in his four previous starts this month.
John Baker, who entered the day hitting .160 with four RBIs, was 3 for 3 with four runs batted in, including a three-run double in the seventh that gave the Cubs a 7-2 lead. Ryan Sweeney also drove in two and Darwin Barney added another RBI.
That was enough to beat Washington starter and former University of Illinois pitcher Tanner Roark (7-5), who gave up four runs and a season-high 10 hits in six innings.
By beating Roark, the Cubs moved to 14-11 this month and 21-17 in their last 38 games.
“It’s been weird. Our last three seasons have kind of followed a similar pattern,” Theo Epstein said before the game. “We get out of the gate the first few weeks of the season we have bullpen issues, closer problems. You lose a lot of close games, you don’t hit with runners in scoring position, we get buried in the standings, make a few adjustments, tend to find our way right around June, play pretty good ball and then by the time the deadline rolls around it’s too late, we’re out of it. And we make some changes for the big picture, for the betterment of the organization as whole and then we make our way through August and September.
“But we’re not opposed to changing that script,” Epstein added. “I said the other day if we want to go win 15 in a row or something, we’d definitely be open to it.”
As well as the Cubs might be playing for their standards, a 15-game streak probably isn’t happening. What’s more likely is that Hammel will soon be sent to a contender for future help, though he helped the Cubs take their second straight from a team trying to win this year.
Following Adam LaRoche’s fourth-inning home run that tied the game 2-2, Hammel retired the next 10 batters until Wilson Ramos’ one-out single in the seventh. That also ended Hammel’s day, with Brian Schlitter replacing him.
Schlitter ended the inning by getting Ian Desmond to ground into a double play.
London: Roy Hodgson must remain England manager because he is slowly developing a more enlightened style, because the mistakes made against Uruguay were more down to lapses by individual players and because, frankly, the reservoir of high-class, experienced, home-grown managerial talent is painfully shallow.
The declaration of support by the Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, is well-timed and well-judged. Hodgson is being backed because it is felt that he has fostered the best team spirit for years, a togetherness that can be taken into the interminable Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Yet Dyke, for all Friday’s utterance, is still a maverick who could respond to public opinion and was not part of the Club England cabal who appointed Hodgson. For now, though, the FA seems strong behind Hodgson.
After two Group D defeats and yesterday’s exit, Hodgson’s future is inevitably a subject for legitimate discussion. The starting point in any debate about the right candidate is to establish whether he needs to be English. The FA says yes, and it would be an affront to all the good people working at St George’s Park, developing the coaches and managers of the future at a magnificent base that cost £120 million (Dh750.7 million), if another Eriksson or Capello were whisked in through Heathrow to Wembley.
Yet Dyke has vacillated on the subject, leaving the possibility of another foreign recruit. That is wrong. The England manager should be English; if the contenders lack true quality, certainly compared to some of the major managers on the global stage, such as Luiz Felipe Scolari, then the FA needs to invest even more time and money in the long-term process of developing Scunthorpe’s answer to Scolari.
If that argument is settled, and the job should go to an Englishman, then there are genuinely few rivals to Hodgson. The players might respond to the popular Steve Bruce, and one player in particular would be very keen, but does Bruce possess the tactical nous? It is impossible to see the FA turning to Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew, or even turning back to Glenn Hoddle, however fine a tactician.
Any defenestration of Hodgson, though unlikely, could come from a more youthful quarter. There will be calls for a younger leader, taking charge of a team being shorn of the old guard for the simple (even for England) qualifying campaign towards Euro 2016. Gareth Southgate is being nurtured through the Under-21s as...
You can't be the England manager by default. You can’t be the England manager because the Football Association are out of ideas. You can’t be the England manager because we have managed expectations down to a level where picking some new names while losing every game that matters constitutes level par. You can’t be the England manager without making it out of the World Cup’s group stage.
Except now you can. Greg Dyke, FA chairman, confirmed it. Roy Hodgson will see out his contract until 2016, at least. The country, staring at its worst World Cup performance since 1994, and its first group-stage exit since 1958, must consider itself satisfied. This is as good as it gets. This is what we must expect. This is who we are now. The smiling idiots just happy to be at the party. But don’t forget to book that cab home for 11.30pm. Wouldn’t want to be out too late.
Hodgson isn’t a turnip or a wally, but he isn’t the answer, either. Who is? The FA don’t know and are not interested in finding out. Dyke talks blithely of winning a World Cup in 2022 but his is an organisation devoid of ambition. The desire to be better, to progress, to go further, has deserted them. They are happy as they are. A new kit every year and out with Australia. They have settled. And that shouldn’t be.
I am still waiting for an England player who can match pre-injury Paul Gascoigne in 1990.
There are no guarantees from here, even with change. There is no outstanding candidate, no English equivalent of Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger, no popular choice as there was in the days of Brian Clough.
Yet that is not the point. We do not know what another manager would bring to the job until we offer that chance. We do not know whether, within Steve Bruce or Alan Pardew, or Gary Neville, Gareth Southgate, even Paul Clement, is an insight or a spark that could take this team forward. We know what Hodgson did with it, and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t enough.
The FA has a problem, though, and it is not just in its paltry list of suitable candidates. It is pregnant with West Bromwich Albion — eight months gone with a mid-table club that has somehow been allowed to take over the way English football is run. Hodgson is the manager, Dan Ashworth is the FA’s technical director, the friends of Ashworth are on the technical staff.
What should always be a two-term cycle, at most, has been...
LOS ANGELES — The long road ended in the 95th minute of the 108th game. Deep into double overtime of another thriller Friday night, after nine months of grueling hockey, Alec Martinezgrabbed the puck in the Los Angeles Kings’ zone and led the rush.
It all happened so fast – pass, pass, shot, deflection – and then time seemed to slow as if this were a sports movie. The puck hit the right pad of New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and ricocheted right to the blade of Martinez’s stick. Martinez smacked the puck into the open net, and that, finally, was it.
The Kings had won, 3-2, and earned their second Stanley Cup in three years – emphasis on earned. Martinez jumped, tossed his stick, tossed his gloves, waved his hands and hugged his teammates as Lundqvist lay flat on his stomach.
“After it went in,” Martinez said, “I think I blacked out.”
From euphoria? Or exhaustion? Or both?
“What we went through this year makes it so much more special,” said winger Justin Williams, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player and the third Cup of his career. “Each Cup is unique, but god, we earned this one.”
Two years ago, the Kings made an incredible run to the Cup. They took a 3-0 lead in all four series. They went 16-4. They ended 45 years of frustration by winning the first championship in franchise history.
This year, the Kings made another incredible run to the Cup, but this was an incredible of a different kind. The Kings lost their first three games to the San Jose Sharks. They were one game from being swept in the first round. But they became only the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-7 series, and that was just the start.
They rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the second round and beat the Anaheim Ducks in seven. They won an epic Western Conference final with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in seven, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in Game 7 and winning in overtime when Martinez scored on a deflection. They became the first team ever to win three seven-game series to make the Cup final.
Kings winger Justin Williams hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Rangers in Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup …
Though they were favored to win the Cup final and ended up beating the Rangers in five, they faced 2-0 deficits in Games 1 and 2 and won...
The record books will show that the Los Angeles Kings won the 2014 Stanley Cup by defeating the New York Rangers in five games. Years from now, those who didn’t actually live through the 2014 Final might be fooled into thinking that such a short series was lopsided — that the heavily favored Kings breezed to their second title in five years. Of course, nothing could be further than the truth. The underdog Rangers, making their first appearance in the Final in 20 years, turned out to be a worthy opponent. Three of their four losses came in overtime, and the last of them — in last night’s double-OT Game 5 — came in an epic game hockey fans will be talking about for years come.
“Epic,” of course, might not how Rangers fans would choose to describe Game 5 this morning. They’d likely opt for “excruciating,” or “torture-like,” or “heart-attack inducing.” The wild overtime produced numerous chances for both teams, but Kings fans won’t spend be spending the summer thinking about their near-misses. Rangers fans, meanwhile, will spend months if not years thinking about the goal-post that Ryan McDonagh hit in the first overtime, or the breakaway that Chris Kreider couldn’t convert on, or the Rick Nash shot at a wide-open net that was deflected away by a stick in the second overtime. There were other chances, too. If you see a Rangers fan today, give him or her a hug. They had a rough night.
It was the kind of tension-filled game that could get non-fans hooked on the sport — and make the existing ones question why they do this to themselves. The Rangers, for the third time in this series, blew a lead in Los Angeles. And in each of those games, the Kings would complete their comeback in overtime. Just a couple of plays over the past two weeks could have dramatically changed the outlook of this series. The Kings might have still won eventually, but Rangers fans can't help but wonder, "What if?"
Last night's Game 5 had a little bit of everything. There was controversy, on a questionable penalty call that gave the Kings a power play on which former Ranger Marian Gaborik would score to tie the game at two. There were huge shifts in momentum: The Staples Center crowd was silenced by a Brian Boyle shorthanded goal near the end of the second period, before the ice would tilt back towards the Kings in the third. And there were brilliant...
Staples Center was so quiet, you could have heard a tooth drop. The Kings looked so exhausted, it was if they were skating through a natural nightmare.
"Sometimes … it's quicksand," said Trevor Lewis.
That was Wednesday's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final for the heavily favored hometown guys. It was quicksand. They were churning, then they were sinking, and their fans were mostly staring.
Early in the game, Bailey, the team's 6-foot-4 lion mascot, felt compelled to hold up a sign that read "Stand up, it's the Cup," as if to remind everyone suffering from an apparent Blackhawks hangover that this new series was, like, way more important. Late in the game, the Kings required the services of videotaped cheerleader Will Ferrell to remind the crowd of their favorite three-word chant.
But the entire evening felt like Go-Kings-Stop. This didn't seem like two years ago. This didn't even seem like two weeks ago. This Kings team that trailed the New York Rangers and royal goalie Henrik Lundqvist by two goals before eventually forcing an overtime looked as if it had finally run out of breath.
Then suddenly the chant, as it has done throughout the past six weeks, changed again with a play that defined not only a team, but could eventually define a series.
Barely four minutes into overtime, the Rangers' Dan Girardi tried to clear the puck out of the Rangers' zone. He whiffed. Mike Richards controlled the loose puck and passed to Justin Williams, who swatted it past Lundqvist and into a building-shaking roar that could echo into next week.
It is not enough to say the Kings simply won Game 1 in overtime, 3-2. This was no mere win. This was theft. This was escape. This is one the Rangers could remember long into the summer. This might have been their best chance to control this series, and it floated away from them like that puck off Girardi's stick, and today the Kings are fighting to keep from smiling.
"We keep playing like that, it's going to bite you in the you know what," said Lewis.
Oh, but this game didn't even leave a mark, and did you know that 77% of the teams that have won Game 1 of the Final have eventually won the Cup?
"We didn't do a lot of things right, that's not the way we want to play," said Drew Doughty.
Yeah, well, they did at least three things right, and did you know the last two teams to win Game 1 of the Final in overtime have won the...
Despite losing their grip on a 2-0 lead and watching the Kings skate to a 3-2 overtime triumph, the Rangers managed to salvage good vibes in moving forward with their first Stanley Cup appearance in 20 years.
"(We understand) that it wasn't our best and we have to look at what we did well and learn from that," said Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein. "We can get better for Game Two."
Blowing an early two-goal advantage and a chance to steal a critical road game could have been heartbreaking for New York, but it was instead enlightening as they did well to temper the Kings' potent attack.
Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist deserves his share of the credit, after finishing with 40 saves.
In the nail-biting third period, with the game tied at 2-2, Los Angeles took a 20-3 advantage in shots over the Rangers who narrowly held on by the thread of Lundqvist's goaltender glove.
"It was intense," said Lundqvist, the Rangers' all-time franchise leader in play-off wins with 42.
"They threw a lot (at me) to create chances from rebounds. There were a couple close calls."
Lundqvist has made a career out of dodging close calls while piling up a glittering list of achievements. He helped Sweden to the 2006 gold medal at the Turin Olympics, and took home the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top netminder in 2012.
He has served as the Rangers backbone for nearly a decade and on too many nights has rescued a struggling offense.
However, the 32-year-old Swede could not pull off the feat on Wednesday. Carl Hagelin netted a shorthanded goal in the first period to put the visitors ahead 2-0 but New York ended the game with a scoring drought of more than 49 minutes.
Despite the lack of offense, the Rangers did flash plenty of speed in creating opportunities that may pay dividends later on in the best-of-seven series.
"That's going to be our key to try to win the series (our speed)," said Hagelin. "We did a great job of getting breakaways, we just didn't score.
"Our mindset going into the series tonight (was that we can play with them). Anything can happen."
The Rangers have certainly proved that this post-season as they have consistently advanced despite being the underdog in each series.
New York prevailed in a pair of Game Sevens in the opening two rounds before beating the Montreal Canadiens in six games to clinch the Eastern Conference title.
Los Angeles will likely be their toughest...