Monday, June 30, 2008


METS FANS have bragging rights over their Yankee counterparts, but supporters of both teams were perhaps left slightly dissatisfied by the events of this weekend.

After embarrassing the Yankees 15-6 in the first installment of Friday’s double-header to complete a 3-0 road sweep, the Mets returned to Shea cock-a-hoop only to be shut out by Sidney Ponson.

When Andy Pettitte got the better of a pitching duel with Mets ace Johan Santana on Saturday, the momentum had most definitely swung the Yankees’ way.

This time it was their turn to be deflated as they once again looked powerless to lay bat on ball against the enigmatic Oliver Pérez.

It was hard to believe that this was the same pitcher who had given up seven hits and six runs in just five innings against the stinking Seattle Mariners on his previous start.

Joe Girardi’s decision to leave lefties Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano on the bench backfired as their rightie replacements failed to do the job.

The Yankees had to put Pérez under early pressure but whatever they tried, they couldn’t get on base.

Michael Kaye, commentating on the YES Network, described it as a “must win” game for the Mets. But in many ways, it was more a “must win” for the Yankees.

For a start, they could have escaped from this year’s Subway Series with a 3-3 split. And despite having a worse record than their cross-town rivals, the Mets are actually better placed in the standings.

The Mets (40-41) are just three games back in the National League East Division, chasing a Philadelphia Phillies team that has lost 11 of their last 14 games.

Bronx Bombers chasing both the Rays and Red Sox

The Yankees (44-38) are five and a half games behind the surging Tampa Bay Rays and five behind Boston in the American League East.

They’re also five games out in the wild card standings so it’s not too difficult to figure out who faces the bigger challenge in the second half of the season.

The Yanks don’t want to fall further behind before the All-Star break and they have an opportunity to make up some ground in the next nine days when they play three against the Texas Rangers, four against the Red Sox and two against the Rays – all at the Stadium.

They will have to do it without Hideki Matsui, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a swollen left knee, a worrying sign for a player who has been plagued by injuries in the last two seasons.

Matsui’s absence significantly shortens the batting line-up and these continual injury problems have made it a disjointed season so far for the Yanks.

On the positive side, Cano has shown signs in recent games of emerging from his slump and Ponson pitched better than anyone could have expected on his “second coming.”

It’s unlikely that he will be able to maintain that standard, but he won’t need any extra motivation on his next start on Wednesday against the Rangers – the club that sacked him for his alleged misdemeanors.

Darrell Rasner worked his way out of a few jams yesterday but, like Ponson, it’s hard to envisage him being a long-term member of the Yankees’ starting rotation.

However, until Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy are deemed fit to return, the Yanks are having to make do with the resources available, unless, of course, general manager Brian Cashman can persuade the Cleveland Indians to part with C.C. Sabathia.

Boston are not without their own injury problems. David Ortiz is still out due to a wrist problem, Kevin Youkilis is day-to-day after being hit in the right eye and Bartolo Colon is also on the DL with a bad back.

The Yanks need to take advantage. A 2-2 split won’t be good enough this week. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008


DAN GIESE AND SIDNEY PONSON pitching for the Yankees in a double-header against the Mets? If pigs could fly.

That would have been my reaction (the clean version, that is) if you had predicted such an event would come to pass at the start of the current baseball season.

But here we are, still in June, and injuries have forced the Yanks to turn to two pitchers who weren’t even on the roster in spring training.

With Chien-Mien Wang, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy all on the DL (Kennedy has begun his rehab in the Minors), only Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina remain from the original five-man rotation.

Desperate times calls for desperate measures. And, believe me, the Yanks must be desperate if they’re having to call on Ponson.

Regular watchers will no doubt recall his five appearances (three starts) in 2006 when he had an ERA of 10.47.

The goods news is he pitched a lot better in nine games for the Texas Rangers this season, going 4-1 with an ERA of 3.88.

But not well enough for the Rangers to overlook an alleged disturbance in a St. Petersburg hotel during a road trip, or a heated argument with manager Ron Washington.

Injuries force Yankees to take pitching gamble

Clearly, the Yankees are rolling the dice with Ponson. How long his “second coming” lasts remains to be seen. If, as I fear, the Mets have their way, it might be “for one night only.”

Giese is a different kettle of fish, if you’ll pardon the pun. He did a good job on his first start against the Cincinnati Reds last Saturday, giving up just four hits in 6.2 innings. 

He’s probably going to be around for a little while longer, at least until the front-line pitchers are back or general manager Brian Cashman makes a trade.

With Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui the latest Yanks to be banged up, it has been a very disjointed first half of the season.

The Mets are already 2-0 up in the Sub-Par Series so the Yanks are going to have their work cut out to repeat last year’s 3-3 split.

True, the Mets aren’t exactly setting the world alight under new boss Jerry Manuel, losing two out of three at home to the worst team in baseball, the Seattle Mariners, those same Mariners who lost all six games against the Yanks.

But they’re always fired up to beat their cross-town rivals and they have the added advantage of coming off a rest day.

With Mike Pelfrey and Pedro Martinez on the hill tomorrow, they undoubtedly have the pitching advantage.

Saturday’s mouthwatering match-up has Johan Santana going against Pettitte, while Oliver Perez faces Darrell Rasner on Sunday.

Both teams have lost ground to make up in their respective leagues and divisions. With the All-Star break fast approaching, this could be well be a pivotal weekend.

Monday, June 23, 2008


HERE’S a tip for those of you who like a bet on horse racing in the United States: Emigrate.

As a purist and long-time follower of The Sport of Kings, I’ve never been a fan of racing on “the dirt.”

All-weather – or non-turf track – racing has become more widespread in the United Kingdom due to the desire of bookmakers to keep the horses running, even in the depths of winter.

Kempton Park, and more recently Great Leighs, have joined Southwell and Lingfield Park as synthetic surface tracks able to operate all-year round.

But the best horse racing in Britain still takes place on the turf: the Derby meeting at Epsom, Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and the Cheltenham Festival for National Hunt (jumping) enthusiasts, to name but a few.

Punters in the UK have never had so much choice. At the track, they can bet with the rails bookies or the Tote. Off-course, bets can be placed at the High Street bookmakers or, more commonly these days, on the Internet.

Betfair, launched in the summer of 2000, has grown to become the largest online betting company in the UK with more than one million customers and a turnover in excess of $100 million a week.

Clients can bet at odds set and requested by fellow punters, thus eliminating the traditional bookmaker. Betfair charges a commission of 5% on net winnings.

For legal reasons, Betfair is not allowed to accept customers from the USA, denying American punters the same choice and value as those in the UK.

Unless U.S. bettors use an illegal bookmaker, they have to place their wagers through the pari-mutuel pool. And, of course, all bets are subject to a much larger deduction.

The New York Racing Association’s take out from the pool amounts to between 15 and 25 per cent, depending on whether your bet is to win, place, show or what is termed in this country an “exotic” (eg exacta, trifecta).

Uncompetitive horse racing, unfair odds

With most races having eight runners or less, you often end up with three horses trading at odds of less than 3-1. Unlike the UK, you can't take a price. Your selection might be 10-1 when you strike a bet, but it could end up being returned at 2-1.

The net result is that no matter how good you are at handicapping, it’s impossible to win in the long term.

If that wasn’t bad enough, horse racing in the United States lacks variety. Racing takes place at the same track every week for a period of months. The NYRA operates three tracks: Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.

In the UK, racing is staged at different tracks up and down the country each day. Fields are much more competitive. Many races have 16 runners or more and distances on the Flat range from five furlongs to two miles-plus. Weights can differ by as much 35 pounds in handicaps.

In the US, most races are run between five furlongs and a mile and a quarter and there’s little differential in the weights. Every other race seems to be a claimer

A distance of one and a half miles is considered excessive for a thoroughbred racehorse, although the last leg of the American Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes – is run over that trip.

Horses tend to be given more time between their races, making it much harder for punters to establish solid lines of form. Not to mention the fact that in many states, they are allowed to run on drugs such as Lasix, which prevents bleeding in the lungs.

Since the British Government abolished betting tax (of around 10%), sports betting has enjoyed a boom period. The United States, in comparison, is living in the Dark Ages.

Internet gambling is not without its dangers. Available 24 hours, seven days a week, it’s extremely addictive and needs to be properly regulated.

But until the U.S. Government falls into line with Britain and the rest of the world, responsible bettors will continue to get a raw deal.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


NOT an American in sight. Nor an Englishman. Yet ESPN, to the delight of all lovers of The Beautiful Game, is showing wall-to-wall coverage of Euro 2008.

Sadly, my beloved England is not involved in the finals of the European Football Championship, held every four years in the even-numbered year between World Cups.

England failed to make it out of a qualifying group containing such soccer super powers as Andorra, Estonia, Israel and Macedonia. Russia and Croatia were the two qualifiers from Group E.

Perhaps it wasn’t such an easy group after all. Both countries made it through to the quarter-finals and Russia, under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, is still going strong.

Russia plays Spain in the second semi-final on Thursday while on Wednesday, Germany faces Turkey.

Like all tournaments, some of the games have been mundane, others – notably Turkey’s 3-2 win over the Czech Republic – dramatic and thrilling.

Having gone out of three major championships (the World Cups of 1986 and 2002, and Euro 96) in the quarter-finals on penalties, Spain deserved a change of luck.

The Spanish dominated possession in today’s game with Italy, who were lucky to scrape through the group stage, but couldn’t find the cutting edge to score during the regular 90 minutes, or 30 minutes of extra-time.

Spain deserved penalty shoot-out win over Italy

You had the feeling that this was going to be another classic Italian job; that they would sneak through in the penalty shoot-out, despite a less than stellar team or performance.

But goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved spot kicks from Daniele de Rossi and Antonio di Natale. That gave Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas (yes, there is some English interest after all) the opportunity to win it for Spain. He kept his cool to beat Italian keeper Gianlugi Buffon.

Spain will start favorite to beat Russia, winners of the first European Championships back in 1960, having already beaten them 4-1 in the group stage. But it’s worth noting the Russians were without the inspirational Andrei Arshavin that day.

They also boast Spartak Moscow striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, scorer of three goals and one of the stars of Euro 2008 so far. He looks sure to move to one of the top clubs when the tournament is over.

Germany will also be favored to overcome Turkey, but we could be in for another surprise after unconsidered outsiders Greece shocked the world – or Europe, at least – by lifting the trophy in 2004.

Whatever happens, thanks to ESPN we will be able to see events unfold. ESPN is showing every game live to US viewers across its networks.

There’s no David Beckham - and it probably won’t make soccer more popular than baseball. But it has certainly brought a smile to the face of one expat missing his “footie.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


TIGER WOODS is now only four short of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Major golf championships.

In many people’s eyes, he is already the greatest golfer that ever lived.

But after winning the U.S. Open on one leg, the question has to be asked: Where is his competition?

Nicklaus had to contend with Gary Player (9 Major wins), Arnold Palmer (7), Lee Trevino (6), and later Tom Watson (8).

In comparison, Woods is up against Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, who have each won three Majors.

None of these three featured at the business end of this year’s U.S. Open. In the end, it was left to journeyman professional Rocco Mediate and little-known Englishman Lee Westwood to throw down the main challenge.

That Woods was able to overcome his obvious discomfort following knee surgery is further testament to his physical condition and sheer will to win. The golf writers ran out of superlatives to describe him a long time ago.

However, right at the moment, it’s a case of Tiger first, the rest nowhere – both on the course and in the World Golf Rankings.

Mickelson miles behind Woods in World Golf Rankings

He holds a bigger lead over Mickelson than the leftie does over the rest of the top 100.

Third-placed Adam Scott has yet to win a Major; neither has sixth-placed Sergio Garcia. Els hasn’t won one of the Big Four for six years while Singh’s last success came in the 2004 PGA Championship.

There are new pretenders in Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson, but where were they all at Torrey Pines?

The TV moguls aren’t complaining. Tiger’s a big enough story himself to guarantee great prime time ratings.

But how much better would they be if Mickelson, or someone else for that matter, could regularly go head-to-head with Tiger down the stretch?

The truth is no one is consistently good enough to give Tiger a game; no one can match his determination, desire and downright doggedness.

That’s why it’s only a matter of time before Tiger Woods passes the record held by Nicklaus and statistics confirm what we already know: that he really is the greatest.


STATISTICALLY speaking, Willie Randolph (302-253 for a winning percentage of .543) will go down as the second most successful manager of the New York Mets.

He will also be known for becoming the first African-American manager of a New York baseball club.

But, sadly for the likeable Randolph, he will probably be best remembered for presiding over the biggest collapse in the Mets’ 46-year history.

Some felt he should have been fired at the end of last season after his team blew a seven-game lead with 17 games to play in the NL East division, missing out on the play-offs completely.

You can debate whether he still had the support of the players. That he had lost the faith of the majority of Mets fans was indisputable.

The only real surprise about his departure was the timing – 3.12 in the morning (Eastern time) in LA after the Mets had just beaten the division-leading Angels 9-6 to record their third win in four games.

If, as seems clear, owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon had given general manager Omar Minaya the okay to swing the axe, why wait until this morning to do it?

Surely, the announcement should have come a week ago when the Mets returned from a four-game sweep in San Diego.

Mets accused of taking coward's way out

Perhaps they feel that by doing it 3,000 miles from home in the small hours of the morning, they can limit the damage in the media. Instead, they have brought more scorn on themselves and been accused of taking the coward’s way out.

Certainly, Randolph, pitching coach Rick Peterson and first base coach Tom Nieto deserved better than to fly the length of the United States to be told they are now unemployed.

Randolph won’t starve. He was due to make $2 million this season and $2.25 million next year. Even if he doesn’t get a second chance at management, he’ll have no trouble finding a coaching role.

But considering the dignity he has shown in the face of adversity, he was entitled to expect a bit more respect in return.

So where did it all go wrong for Randolph? Well, for a start, with the Mets having the highest payroll in the National League, expectations were high.

Of the key signings made during his reign, only one – Carlos Beltrán – has really worked out. Pedro Martínez has spent too much time on the DL while Carlos Delgado’s batting average has declined in each of his three seasons with the club.

Add to that the personal problems with José Reyes last season, the adverse publicity surrounding his comments on race and the blown saves by closer Billy Wagner, and you can see the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Bench coach Jerry Manuel has been named interim manager of the team. Now the speculation will start regarding the long-term replacement for Randolph.


HANK STEINBRENNER, senior vice president of the New York Yankees, is blaming Chien-Ming Wang’s foot injury on the National League.

Wang will miss at least the next 10 weeks and Steinbrenner has called for the NL to “join the modern age” by dispensing with the rule that requires visiting AL pitchers to bat and run the bases.

“I just think it’s time the NL joined the 21st century,” he says. “You don’t need to lose your best pitcher. The pitcher has enough work to do. It’s something Bud (Selig) needs to address and he needs to address it soon. Don’t give me that traditionalist crap.”

Hank has a point. But you also have to ask the question how does a professional athlete manage to sprain ligaments and tear a tendon by simply running from third base to home plate? He wasn't sliding or even running flat out.

If his right foot was really that fragile, surely it was an accident waiting to happen, be it on the bases or on the mound.

Monday, June 16, 2008


IF it wasn’t for bad luck, the New York Yankees would have no luck at all.

Just when the Bronx Bombers start getting it together, they suffer another injury blow . . . and a potentially crippling one at that.

Joe Girardi and his team should have returned home happy from their latest road trip, having gone 5-1 in Oakland and Houston.

Instead, Girardi is sweating on an MRI that will determine the extent of the injury to his pitching ace Chien-Ming Wang.

The signs are not good. Wang felt a pop in his right foot as he ran from third base to home plate. What was described as a “sprain” by the Yanks could well turn out to be ligament damage. Some reports are even suggesting he could be done for the season.

That would be nothing short of a disaster. The Yanks rotation is already minus Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

Wang has won 19 games in each of the last two seasons. He is 8-2 this year and after going through a bad patch, the man from Taipei had returned to form on the road. He gave up just one run in 7.1 innings against the Athletics and none in five against the Astros.

Should AL pitchers be required to bat?

His mishap prompts the question: Should American League pitchers really be asked to bat in National League stadiums during Interleague play?

It’s completely alien to them and, of course, it considerably heightens the risk of injury.

Right now, Wang is irreplaceable. If the news is as bad as feared, general manager Brian Cashman will have little option but to look for a trade.

C.C. Sabathia is the name being bandied about in the media. Sabathia becomes a free agent at the end of the season and the Cleveland Indians would no doubt like to get something for him.

But – and it’s a big but – are they going to be prepared to trade him before the All-Star break when they’re only 5.5 games out in the AL Central Division? 

I guess it all depends on what the Yanks can offer. But you can be sure that even if they’re willing to talk, they’re going to be asking the earth, just as the Minnesota Twins did for Johan Santana last winter.

Wang’s injury notwithstanding, the Yanks have finally found their form. All aspects of their game came together in Houston. Good pitching, timely hitting and outstanding fielding.

With a six-game home stand against San Diego, then Cincinnati, starting tomorrow night, they have an opportunity to make further inroads into the six-game lead held by the Boston Red Sox.

The only problem is they will have to do it without their No. 1 pitcher.

Friday, June 13, 2008


PAUL SIMON told us there are 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. Perhaps Willie Randolph should do a follow-up entitled 50 Ways To Lose A Baseball Game.

The New York Mets manager has collected more than enough material in the last week to write the lyrics.

“We’ve had some of the most bizarre endings that I’ve ever had in my life. You can’t even make it up,” said Randolph. And that was BEFORE yesterday’s farcical 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

While closer Billy Wagner blew his third consecutive save, he was by no means the only culprit. Catcher Ramon Castro and second baseman Damion Easley both missed game-ending plays.

Castro was also guilty of swinging at a pitch way outside the strike zone on a 3-2 count with two on and none out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Mistakes like that have a habit of coming back to bite you.

“We’re just in one of those real bad ruts where the baseball gods are not good to you,” added Randolph, whose team has now lost six out of seven to fall three games below .500 at 31-34.

Like their cross-town neighbors, the Yankees, the Mets seem to take one step forward, two steps back.

After Randolph’s meeting with Mets ownership, the team won successive series at Shea against the Marlins and the Dodgers.

Now, they’re back in the doldrums and their disgruntled fans are wondering just how much longer Randolph has to right the ship.

Mets are missing two clutch hitters

To be fair to Randolph, the gods really haven’t been smiling on him. He’s without two clutch hitters, Ryan Church and Moisés Alou, through injury, although Alou’s continued absence hardly comes as a surprise.

With Carlos Delgado hitting at .241, pitchers know that if they can get past David Wright and Carlos Beltrán, the rest of the line-up holds no terrors.

Johan Santana may not have lived up to everyone’s expectations so far but his ERA is just 2.85 and he couldn’t have done much more yesterday, apart from possibly pitching the eighth inning.

While many Mets fans are ready to write-off the season – and some are even preparing to jump off the Whitestone Bridge – the Yankees are probably in a worse position.

Although seven games back, compared to the Mets at seven and a half, they’re chasing the world champion Boston Red Sox rather than the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Yanks showed last season that you can make a charge in the second half. The Colorado Rockies proved you can come back from the dead.

Right now, though, neither New York team is meeting the massive expectations of their fans. And while Joe Girardi will get a free pass this season, Randolph is running out of time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008



DON’T know about you but I’m sick and tired of hearing Joe Girardi and his players saying the New York Yankees are “better than we’ve shown so far.” No, Joe, you’re not. Derek Jeter is much closer to the mark when he describes the Yanks as “consistently inconsistent.” You are what you are, and at 33-33, the record says the Yankees are distinctly average.


SO trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. is blaming Big Brown’s Belmont failure on a bad ride by jockey Kent Desormeaux. Is he on drugs (Dutrow, not the horse, that is)? Big Brown wouldn’t have won the Triple Crown with the Lone Ranger in the saddle.


WE already know LeBron James is a closet Yankees fan. Now, it seems, Kobe Bryant is rooting for the Bronx Bombers too. Outspoken Boston Rex Sox pitcher Curt Schilling criticized Kobe for “bitching at his team-mates” during the NBA Finals between his Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Asked for his response, Kobe declared: “Go Yankees!”


VIAGRA, apparently, doesn’t just add pep to your sex life. It can enhance your sporting performance too. Sadly, it didn’t work for one Yankees pitcher on the mound last season, although it did seem to spice up his social life. Either way, the Yanks won’t be erecting a statue to him now.


WHAT price the New York Giants to repeat as Super Bowl champions next season? Michael Strahan has retired, Plaxico Burress is holding out for a new contract and Jeremy Shockey still wants to be traded. The feelgood factor lasted for little more than four months.

Monday, June 9, 2008


A FELLOW New York Yankees fan I know refuses to look at the baseball standings until after the All-Star break.

Well, unless the Yanks go on an amazing run in the next five weeks, they’re not going to make pleasant reading.

The Kansas City Royals arrived at Yankee Stadium on Friday having lost their last 11 games on the road and with the second worst record in the American League (23-37).

They left today with a 2-2 split of the four-game series and can count themselves unlucky not to have won it 3-1. The Royals were robbed of victory by a miraculous comeback on Saturday.

The Yanks now embark on a six-game road trip to Oakland, then Houston, still in last place in the East with a record of 32-32.

If the crowd was in a state of shock on Saturday when Mariano Rivera gave up his first home run since August, 2007, they must have been even more stunned today when José Guillén went yard on an 0-2 count.

Guillén owned New York, hitting four home runs in three games. This time, there was no comeback as the home team left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth.

Mo took the loss – and will probably take most of the blame. However, that shouldn’t be the case.

A-Rod two-run homer too little, too late

The hitters should hang their heads in shame. They didn’t manage to score off starter Luke Hochevar (5.13 ERA) until the seventh inning and the sum total of their afternoon’s work was a two-run homer by Alex Rodriguez. It’s worth nothing that the unhittable Hochevar had managed only four wins in his previous 21 games.

It used to be a trademark of the great Yankees team to take an early lead, then tack on.

This current team doesn’t seem too concerned about scoring until they’re behind and they can’t hit in the clutch either. Their failure to score pinch runner Chad Moeller, who was on second with only one out in the eighth, came back to bite them.

Robinson Canó – predictably – struck out on four pitches with two on and one out in the eighth. Melky Cabrera hasn’t been much better lately either and he couldn’t get decent bat on ball.

The Yankees decided to sit Jorge Posada ahead of their West Coast trip and a bottom three in the order of Canó, Molina and Cabrera went a combined one for nine.

So the Yanks finished their latest homestand against Toronto and Kansas City 4-3. Compare that with the Boston Red Sox, who have won 15 of their last 16 at Fenway Park, including a four-game sweep of the Royals.

History tells us not to panic; that the Yankees will come good in the second half of the season. Right now, that’s hard to believe.

With the notable exception of Mike Mussina, denied a 10th win of the season by his inept teammates, the pitching looks lightweight and the hitting far too inconsistent.

By moving Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the rotation, the Yanks have taken away one of their great strengths. Now, it seems, even mighty Mo is human.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too disappointed by a split series with the Royals. After all, we have one thing in common. We’re both in last place.

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BIG BROWN wasn’t the only athlete denied greatness at the weekend. While the 1-4 favorite proved a bust in the Belmont, world No. 1 Roger Federer was almost as big a flop in the final of the French Open.

With five Wimbledon Championships, four US Opens and three Australian Opens, Federer is just two Grand Slam singles titles away from equaling the record of 14 held by Pete Sampras.

Some regard the Swiss as the greatest player ever to pick up a tennis racket. Others will refuse to acknowledge that as fact until he triumphs on the red clay of Roland Garros.

And judging by his humiliating defeat at the hands of his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

Like Big Brown, Federer was beaten as soon as the gates opened. Perhaps he should be dope tested too after losing 6-1 6-3 6-0. He had at least managed to push Nadal to four sets the previous two years.

Federer insists the result will have no bearing on his attempt to win a sixth successive Wimbledon crown later this month.

“Grass and clay, you know they’re so far away,” he said, “that losing in four of five [sets] or no chance like today, I don’t think it has a big effect on me mentally.

“I mean, I’ve beaten Rafa 6-0 in a set. I’ve beaten him in finals before. I’ve beaten him also quite comfortably on previous occasions.”

World No. 1 loses in Paris final for third year running

Maybe so. But the manner of Nadal’s victory must surely leave a psychological scar on Federer, who was clearly more than a little irked to lose to the same opponent in the final in Paris for the last three years.

Only five men have achieved the Career Grand Slam: Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi.

To be considered THE greatest, Federer really needs to win on all four surfaces before he retires.

Federer will be 27 in August. That might seem no age at all, but in tennis terms, the man from the land of the Alps is on the downward slope.

Recent results suggest he’s not quite the dominant force he was a year or so ago. And there are plenty of young bucks coming through to challenge the alpha male.

Federer will need no extra motivation to reassert himself on the green grass of Wimbledon. But unless he manages to win in Paris, his résumé will never be complete.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


HORSE RACING needed a hero. Instead, it ended up with an inquest.

Big Brown, sent off a 1-4 favorite to become the 12th winner of the American Triple Crown and first for 30 years, once again proved there is no such thing as a “certainty” as jockey Kent Desormeaux was forced to pull up the horse before the home stretch.

Time may tell exactly what caused Big Brown to become Big Flop. Was it his cracked hoof? The absence of steroids in his system? The oppressive heat and humidity on New York’s Long Island? Or perhaps something more sinister?

The conspiracy theorists will no doubt have a field day. Big Brown is the 11th horse to have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown only to fail in the Belmont since Affirmed beat Alydar in the race in 1978.

From the moment the gates opened, the omens were not good. The striking, three-year-old bay colt failed to settle, as he had done in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

The writing was on the wall long before the field, reduced to nine by the morning withdrawal of Casino Drive – reckoned to be the only conceivable danger to Big Brown – turned into the straight. “He was empty. He didn’t have anything left,” said Desormeaux, who wisely decided to ease his mount down to a trot.

One man’s misfortune is another man’s gain and Alan Garcia, a master at riding a horse from the front, kicked at just the right time on the rank outsider Da’Tara, who started at odds of 38-1.

But, for once, this race wasn’t about the winner. It was about the supposed “good thing” who not only lost his unbeaten record but, to all intents and purposes, failed to complete the course.

Sweat-smothered trainer Rick Dutrow Jr was too upset to attempt to offer any excuses. While Dutrow could perhaps be accused of over-confidence, no one expected the Belmont to pan out the way it did.

The public, particularly those who backed Big Brown at prohibitive odds, deserve an explanation. The crowds turned out in their thousands to witness the coronation of the king. Instead, they were stunned into silence.

Riding on the back of Barbaro’s ultimately fatal injury in the Preakness in 2006, and the death of the filly Eight Belles after finishing second to Big Brown at Churchill Downs earlier this year, this is another bad news story racing could well do without.

How can we have any confidence in a sport when, for no apparent reason, the red-hot favorite trails in last? Shocks happen, short shots get turned over regularly. That’s why you never see a poor bookie.

The Triple Crown, three tough races over a variety distances in the space of just five weeks, is one of the toughest prizes to achieve in sports.

But the fact remains that Big Brown and his supporters were never in with a chance. The horse's abject failure casts another huge shadow over the supposed “Sport of Kings.”

Thursday, June 5, 2008


WHERE would the New York Yankees be without the Mo and Moose show?

In a season where, so far, the negatives have far outweighed the positives, perhaps we should pay tribute to the two veterans who have kept our team in the ball game.

Mariano Rivera, along with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, is an automatic pick for the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 15. Now, after recording his ninth win of the season, Mike Mussina could possibly be joining them.

Rivera continues to build his legacy as the greatest closer the sport of baseball has ever season. In 26.0 innings this season, he has allowed 11 hits and one run for a ridiculous ERA of 0.35.

His cutter has just as much cut as ever; his two-seam fastball still freezes batters. He’s getting them out on both sides of the plate.

There were those who thought age was finally catching up with him when he made a shaky start to last season.

But, at 38, he looks better than ever, which is good news for the Yankees after they rewarded him with a three-year contract worth $45 million.

Mussina defies the critics who claimed he was finished

While Rivera’s peerless performances will come as no surprise to baseball aficionados, Mussina’s resurgence is a completely different story.

Mussina, 39, entered the final year of his contract as the man most likely to make way for Joba Chamberlain and the other young guns. When he started the season 1-3, it looked only a matter of time before he was dropped from the rotation.

Instead, he’s been the man riding shotgun as the youngsters have fallen by the wayside.

Wily old Moose reached eight wins before the start of June for the first time in his 17-year career and was again exemplary in last night’s 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, which snapped a three-game losing skid.

When the Yankees have desperately needed a win, it’s been Mussina – rather than Chien-Ming Wang or Andy Pettitte – who has come up with it.

Last night may have belonged to Derek Jeter, whose 2,416th hit of his 14-year career moved him ahead of Mickey Mantle into third place on the Yanks’ all-time list.

Mussina, however, was undoubtedly the Man of the Match. When the Yankees really needed a pitching performance, Moose produced the goods.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


JOE GIRARDI is supposed to be a man of character; a man not afraid to stand up to his superiors if he thinks they’re wrong.

After all, he was fired by the Florida Marlins for allegedly telling owner Jeffrey Loria to “shut the f**k up” when he was heckling the homeplate umpire.

In his days as a player with the New York Yankees, he was seen a leader of men, a key figure inside the clubhouse. As a broadcaster with the YES Network, he wasn’t shy to give his opinion.

Well, if Girardi really is all these things then he needs to open his cell phone this morning, call Yankees’ senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner and tell him that he’s putting Joba Chamberlain back in the bullpen.

Of course, it won’t happen. Having openly campaigned for Joba’s switch to the rotation, Steinbrenner won’t be backing down after one start.

And having publicly supported the move in the first place, Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman won’t want to lose face either.

But if the three wise monkeys really do have the best interests of the team at heart, they should swallow their pride and admit they are making a big mistake.

I’m not saying Joba will never make a starter. I’m sure he will. But after last night’s farce at Yankee Stadium, I believe the experiment should be abandoned right now.

Here are the reasons why:

1. The Yankees are bottom of the American League East, seven games behind the Rays and six and a half behind the Red Sox. If they’re going to continue their proud record of making the play-offs every year since 1994 then this is no time for experiments. Had Joba been available in Minnesota, they might not be on a three-game losing streak right now.

2. Okay, so the starting rotation is weak and the Yanks lack a pitching ace. But what about the bullpen? Do you really want to see Kyle Farnsworth (eight home runs in 26.1 innings) or Edwar Ramirez pitching the eighth inning? With Joba coming in for the eighth and Mariano Rivera the ninth, the Yanks are a virtual lock to hold a lead.

3. The Joba Rules. Joba threw 62 pitches in two and a third innings last night. You need your starter to go at least six, hopefully seven, innings. It wouldn’t be so bad if Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte were occasionally pitching a complete game, but they’re not making it beyond the fifth either. We’re going to see a shaky bullpen, already minus Brian Bruney, being pressed into service night after night.

4. The future. Joba should be marked “handle with care.” In less than a year, the 22-year-old has attained almost cult status in New York. Why tarnish that image by thrusting him, unprepared, into the rotation now? The transition should be made in 2009 spring training.

This was the season when the Yankees decided to go with youth over experience. Why would they need Johan Santana when they had prospects such as Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy?

Two months in and this highly touted trio have yet to win a game for the Yankees in a combined 15 starts.

Of course, that stat is very unfair on Chamberlain. He has been one of the few bright spots in a so far gloomy season for the Yankees.

He’s the one guy on the team who outwardly shows any passion and ignites the fans. Now we’re only going to get to see him throw for a brief spell once every five days.

That’s why if Girardi really is in charge of this team, he needs to get out the scissors and stop Steinbrenner from pulling the strings. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


NEW YORK is a short on true sporting superstars right at the moment. Take a trip to Belmont Park this Saturday and you might just see one.

His name is Big Brown and he’s on the verge of making horse racing history.

The three-year-old colt has already cruised to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Now he is a mile and a half away from becoming the first winner of the American Triple Crown for 30 years.

The stats are against him. Since Steve Cauthen and Affirmed outdueled Alydar in a head-to-head battle down the stretch in 1978, 10 horses have tried – and failed – to complete the third leg of the Triple Crown.

It takes an extraordinary thoroughbred to win three classic races, staged on different tracks and at different distances, in the space of just five weeks.

But on the evidence of his five races so far, unbeaten Big Brown is exactly that – an extraordinary animal with exceptional talent.

He has the cruising speed of a Rolls Royce, the acceleration of a Ferrari and, up to now, the durability of a Jeep.

Colt overcomes a crack in his hoof

Not even a crack in his left front hoof has kept him off the racecourse and, according to work watchers, he looked as good as ever when breezing five furlongs on Long Island today (Tuesday).

A 1-5 favorite for the Preakness, he’s expected to go off at a price of around 1-3 in the Belmont at 6.25pm on Saturday (live coverage on ABC).

If he wins, as expected, it’s more than likely he will be retired on the spot. Sadly for the sport, connections have already announced he won’t continue running as a four-year-old. Already worth a fortune at stud, he'll be worth even more as only the 12th winner of the Triple Crown.

So if history can’t beat Big Brown then who can? He’s likely to face a maximum of eight opponents, many of whom he’s already beaten.

I find it impossible to imagine either Denis of Cork (15-2) or Tale of Ekati (10-1) – third and fourth in the Derby – overturning the form. Sadly, the filly Eight Belles is no longer with us, having collapsed after passing the post in second place.

Macho Again (20-1) was runner-up in the Preakness, albeit five and a quarter lengths back, while Behindatthebar (20-1) was a late scratch at Pimlico due to a bruised left front foot.

Truth is that in both races, jockey Kent Desormeaux spent most of his time looking in the rearview mirror. He would have won at any distance and could have won by twice, maybe three times the margin.

Second favorite Casino Drive looks only danger

That leaves Casino Drive as the only conceivable danger. The Japanese horse has several key factors in his favor. He’s already won over the track, taking the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes. As a half brother to the last two winners of the Belmont, Jazil (2006) and the filly Rags to Riches (2007), he’s certainly bred for the race.

Perhaps even more importantly, he arrives in New York a fresh horse, having skipped both the Derby and Preakness.

Whether he’s in the same class as Big Brown is extremely unlikely. But, as any punter will tell you, the best horse doesn’t always win on the day.

Big Brown’s trainer, Rick Dutrow Jr., is refusing to contemplate defeat. Despite a less than ideal preparation, he dismisses the challenge of Casino Drive.

“He’s got no chance of beating our horse,” he says. “I’ll be in the winner’s circle when they get to the quarter pole. That’s how I feel. I don’t see that this horse can beat him.”

For the sake of horse racing in the United States, for the sake of Eight Belles, and for the sake of the New York public craving to crown an equine hero, I hope he’s right.