Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rare Occurrence: A's Swept at Home

Getting swept is never fun, especially when it's at home at the hands of a divisional rival. The Oakland Athletics fell 3-0 to Texas on Wednesday, as Rangers pitcher Martin Perez extended his scoreless-innings streak to 26. Perez struck out only three, but getting fourteen A's batters to ground out was the key to his economical 109-pitch, complete-game effort.

If there's good news, it's that Sonny Gray's solid outing – he gave up three runs over seven innings -- marks the 20th time in 21 games that an A's starter has allowed three earned runs or fewer. And Drew Pomeranz, acquired in the deal that sent the oft-injured Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies, pitched a scoreless eighth to lower his ERA to 1.93. (By the way, a change of scenery hasn't helped Anderson, at least thus far: he had surgery last Thursday on his fractured left index finger and is expected to be out four to six weeks.)

Other tidbits:

* The A's hadn't been swept in a home series since September 3-5, 2012 (against the Angels).

* The team needs one more win (out of their next seven) to clinch their 11th consecutive winning month, dating back to June 2012.

* The A's, who committed one error on Wednesday, are now 10-4 when making one or more errors, compared with 3-4 when going errorless.

Posted by C.S. Soong

Friday, April 18, 2014

Game 1: Sharks Vs. Kings (and Thursday Night Re-cap)

Thursday night showcased some exciting Western Conference playoff hockey. Both the Blues/Blackhawks and Wild/Avalanche games went into overtime, with St. Louis and Colorado each finding a way to win. St. Louis ended the season on a losing streak and has been decimated by injuries but persevered in the first game against defending champion Chicago. The Blues seemed noticeably sluggish compared with the speedier Hawks. It’s hard not to pick Chicago but St. Louis could surprise. Goaltending might be the difference-maker in that series, especially if Ryan Miller regains his playoff form. Toews also seemed shaken in Game 1 and, if he’s injured, that could tilt the series in St. Louis’ favor. Jumping from worst to 2nd in the conference, the Avalanche are the Cinderella story of the NHL this season. With a promising, young forward corps, they are definitely a team on the rise. But are they gritty enough to be a sleeper? It’s likely they could defeat the Wild, who I don’t think are built for a long run. Minnesota’s goaltending is also questionable and squandered a 4-2 lead last night.

Of interest to Bay Area sports fans will be the first-round match-up between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Sharks PR has adopted “Beat LA” as mantra for the best of seven series, with the fans at the SAP Center chanting it throughout Game 1. The Kings are division rivals and frequent playoff foes, with the Kings last defeating San Jose in a second-round Game 7 last year. Rookie phenom Tomas Hertl -- whose hazy command of English has been playfully commented on by fans and media -- quickly made a difference, scoring in his third game back from knee surgery. Hertl has admitted he has a personal stake in the series, as an illegal hit by Kings captain Dustin Brown caused him to miss most of what could have been a Calder-worthy rookie season. In only 35 games, he tallied 15 goals and 10 assists. The Sharks will benefit from the return of sniper Hertl and the physical Rafi Torres (who also scored in his return). It remains to be seen if talented but injury-prone Marty Havlat will play in the series.

The Sharks immediately started the game with a lot of physicality and speed. While the Kings are known for a bruising defense, the Sharks were able to make great outlet passes and had a lot of odd-man rushes in the first period. They quickly jumped to a 3-0 lead, adding two more goals in the second. San Jose played a complete game for forty minutes, though slipped in the third, allowing three goals. Overall, it was a great effort, with contributions from many players. Letting the momentum swing to LA’s favor in the third wasn’t ideal and you have to expect the Kings to come out strong next game. San Jose needs to keep up with the hitting. Quick seemed rattled early on and was eventually chased from the crease. The Sharks need to continue to go hard to the net. I’ve seen many players fear Quick’s athleticism and hesitate, trying to get the perfect shot out. Quick often intimidates shooters, coming way out of the net to challenge players (especially on odd-man rushes). The Sharks didn’t falter mentally nor did they let the Kings dictate the flow (even if the Kings did control possession from time to time) and need to ride that confidence into Game 2.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Profile: Former NCAA Hockey Player Richard Lord

Richard Lord, courtesy of The Globe and Mail
Hey all.  It's been months since I posted.  Apologies all around.  I do plan on posting regularly on the Sharks' playoff run (which is fast approaching).

Through an piece in the Canadian Globe and Mail, I recently learned of the playing career of the late Richard Lord.  While he was known in his hometown of Montreal as a successful engineer and notable figure within the Quebec Liberal Party, Lord also had the distinction of being one of the first Black collegiate hockey players.  He first enrolled in Michigan State in 1949, majoring in chemical engineering.

The son of Caribbean immigrants, Lord was known for his tremendous work ethic and his way with people.  As a youth, he excelled at hockey.  He also noticed that kids from Saint-Henri didn't have access to the game quite like kids from wealthier neighborhoods.  In response, as a teenager, he formed the Tornadoes Boys Club, which formed hockey as well as baseball teams.  Edward Kalil, one of the young men who participated in Tornadoes, mentioned Lord's desire to mentor and share knowledge with others.

Michigan State, today a collegiate hockey powerhouse (producing many NHL players), had been disbanded in 1930 because of the Great Depression.  The suspension continued throughout World War II.  The club was reinstated in 1949 and recruited Lord through a scholarship. 

Lord's time with the club, as well as his treatment at Michigan State, were not without controversy. 

While Lord claims he got along with his white roommate (a fellow Canadian), interracial housing was seen as taboo at the time.  They parted ways after only a month rooming together.  Housing would also prove difficult during road trips to face visiting teams, particularly in Denver.   Despite such obstacles, Lord was second on the Spartans in scoring in his first year on the varsity squad, winning over teammates who felt a Black player shouldn't be on the team.  Lord also mentioned the fact that he received the highest number of penalties during his time at Michigan State.  He was quoted as saying: "I got quite a few penalties because everyone was going after me. I didn't retaliate; I just gave the guy a good bodycheck, and the whistle would go."

As a student, the Montreal native also faced discrimination from a professor.  He told the incident to an acquaintance, who happened to be the wife of a Engineering faculty member.  Lord was advised to drop the class and it seems the professor was dismissed by the next academic year.

After graduating, Lord eventually found work City of Montreal's public works department and flourished in a successful career in government.

Of his time at Michigan State, Lord said: "Paulson led the way, and I guess I was a proper candidate, unknown to them. They didn't know I was an organizer of all things. I came down and I didn't let people calling me names provoke me or go out of my mind."

Written by Toni


The Globe and Mail


Sunday, April 6, 2014

A's Take Series Finale

On Sunday the Oakland Athletics came back from an early three-run deficit to defeat the visiting Seattle Mariners 6-3. A's starter Sonny Gray looked shaky in the early going; his pitch count after just two innings stood at 47. But after Brandon Moss belted a three-run homer in the third inning, Gray and a trio of relievers allowed only three Mariner hits the rest of the way. Josh Donaldson singled in what turned out to be the winning run in the fifth inning, and Yoenis Cespedes capped the scoring with a home run to right-center in the eighth. Two of the three runs given up by Gray in his six innings of work were unearned. Other notes:

* Sam Fuld, who started in right field in place of the slow-out-of-the-blocks Josh Reddick, continues to impress. He threw out (almost Reddick-like) Abraham Almonte trying to go from first to third on Brad Miller's single to right. Fuld also made a nice diving grab to deprive Logan Morrison of a hit. In the post-game press conference, A's manager Bob Melvin, citing Fuld's versatility in the field -- he's already played all three outfield positions in this, the first week of the season -- called the Stanford product “a unique talent.”

* Moss's homer turned a 3-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie. That's the beauty of baseball: one swing of the bat can completely change the character of a game. And Sonny Gray looked like a different pitcher after Moss's blast; he set down nine of the next ten batters. Was it the psychological lift provided by the first run support the young hurler's gotten this season, or did he make mechanical adjustments?

* Melvin lost a replay challenge in the fourth inning. Sam Fuld rounded first and was tagged as he slid back to the bag. (He was called out.) Teams are now allowed to show challenged plays on the in-stadium Jumbotron; this particular replay convinced many at the Coliseum that Fuld was safe. Lusty booing greeted the decision to uphold the ump's ruling. Which is to say, the new replay rule did little, in this case, to clear things up in the minds of fans . . . .

Posted by C.S. Soong

Blogging the A's: Some Preliminaries

Hi, C.S. here, with my inaugural post about the Oakland Athletics' 2014 season, which began last Monday. Today (Sunday) I made my first-ever visit to the press box at the Coliseum, from where I watched the A's beat the Seattle Mariners 6-3.

My emphasis in this forum will be on sports, not politics. Why? Because my focus, as co-host of KPFA's Against the Grain, is and always has been intensely political, and I see this new gig as very different, as a chance to follow the ups and downs of one baseball club -- one that, by the way, I've followed obsessively for a quarter-century -- as it grinds its way through the six-month marathon that is the regular season.

I won't post every day, nor will I (or can I) attend every home game, but I'll try to post fairly regularly with my thoughts and impressions, some hopefully interesting analysis, and the insights of players and managers I interact with (once I'm granted clubhouse access, which will hopefully happen soon).

My thoughts on Sunday's game? Stay tuned . . . .

Posted by C.S. Soong