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Hernandez Makes Mariners’ History with Perfect Game

When Felix Hernandez pitched the perfect game yesterday afternoon, it was the first time a perfect game had ever been seen in Mariners‘ history. But, another historical event was also written in the history books — it was the first time in MLB history that three perfect games had been pitched in less than four months. And the fact that it was on the same field that Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox started off the perfect pitch run on April 21.

It was the Seattle Mariners against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday and from the beginning the Mariners didn’t stand a chance. With a fastball that topped out at 95mph, and a curveball that “no human” could hit, according to catcher John Jaso, Fernandez struck 12 of the 27 hitters out; and five of those strikeouts came during the last six at-bats. He threw 113 pitches over all and had a three-ball count on only two of them in total. It might be nothing new for Hernandez, but a perfect game is something he’s worked awfully hard for.

“I don’t have any words to explain this,” Hernandez told Seattle reporters after the game. “When Phil Humber threw the perfect game here, I said “I’ve gotta throw one. I have to. I’ve been working so hard to throw one and there it is. This is pretty crazy. It doesn’t happen every day.”

That it certainly does not. But with the run Major League Baseball is having this year, it’s certainly happening more days than ever before.

USA’s Gold Medal Match to be “All About Soccer”

They nearly lost a match to opponents that they never lose to. Then after obtaining victory against Team Canada on Monday afternoon, instead of celebrating they had to deal with Canadian players crying foul over a game they said should have been theirs. But now, for the women of the American soccer team, all of that drama is behind them. Today they face Japan in the gold medal game; and as Abby Wambach put it, today’s game will be “all about the soccer.”

Hearing Wambach’s words, you may think she was going to meet old friends. “Our teams respect each other so much,” she said. “The Japanese team is so good, and we are so good, and that’s what’s going to be so awesome.” But not all her teammates feel that way.

Carli Lloyd, who had said after the game with Canada that one of the women on the opposing team had stomped on her head, may be bringing some of that residual anger with her. Respect, yes; but Lloyd isn’t forgetting that now they’re up against the team that beat them in the World Cup last year.

“It’s definitely redemption,” said Lloyd. “But it’s also the opportunity to show that we’re the No. 1 team in the world. This game is going to be different. We’re a different team. Japan’s a different team, and we’re ready to bring it.”

And even though the drama of their soccer game against Canada may be somewhat behind them, there’s no doubt that the American team has a lot of revenge to go on. And that it might be just enough to bring home the gold.

Douglas and Raisman the Talk of the Beam

After the balance beam competition yesterday, all the talk is about Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas — but for completely different reasons.

Douglas was the talk of the Olympics last week, and had instantly become America’s sweetheart after making history in getting gold during the all-around gymnastics competition. But her tired performance on the uneven bars — an event that she’s usually got cornered — had many wondering what awaited for her on the balance beam yesterday. Unfortunately, it was more of what was seen on the bars.

Gabby just about screamed that she wanted to go home after slipping during her performance on the balance beam; showing that for young athletes, giving your all for two weeks straight is just too much. But if there was anyone that challenged that line of thinking, it was Aly Raisman.

While Raisman may not have put on an obvious gold medal-winning performance, she clearly outperformed many of her competitors; yet she came in fourth place after the final scores were in. Everyone was surprised by the announcement, but none more than Raisman and her coach, Mihai Brestyan. Brestyan immediately filed a protest and after the judge’s revisted Raisman’s performance, she was awarded the bronze.

The beam was a big day for China, as well. Deng Linlin won the gold while her teammate, Lu Sui, took home silver. Still, there’s no talk bigger than the disappointment, and the determination showed by Team U.S.A. on the beam.

Gabby Misses Out on Uneven Bars

They were said to be her forte. And fresh off her gynmastics all-around gold victories in the all-around and the team competitions, Gabby Douglas had the gold for the uneven bars all but wrapped up. That is, if you believe all the talk that led up to this morning’s event. But when there are team competitions and individual competitions, and heat after heat after heat, athletes can sometimes lose steam. They’re simply tired. And that’s what happened with Douglas as she faced the bars.

Gabby Douglas’ routine came just after that of Russia’s Aliya Mustafina. Mustafina performed brilliantly, with twist after twist and perfectly bouncing from bar to bar, Mustafina was nothing but grace and form. But it was her dismount that left the judges most impressed, and contributed to her score of 16.133. After that dismount, it was clear that Beth Tweddle, of Great Britain and with a score of 16.916  would be knocked down to at least third; after Mustafina and China’s He Kexin, who scored 15.933 with a nearly perfect routine.

And still, Gabby Douglas had yet to take the bars.

Douglas was saved for last, but even as she stepped up to the mat, something was wrong. It just seemed ‘off.’ She still looked confident, yet seemed somewhat unfocused as she waved to the crowd just before taking off down the mat. Was it sheer focus? Or was Douglas getting tired?

It was hard to tell, especially as she first leapt up, gaining her usual impossible heights and seemingly perfect in form. But just seconds into a routine that’s only a minute or so long, Douglas missed a pirouette, coming down on the wrong side of the bars. Had this been Day 2 of the Olympics, Douglas may have been able to recover. And though she did a pretty good job of covering up the mistake, and the rest of her bar performance was flawless, her dismount is really what cost her the most.

Taking a small step onto the mat, a glaring mistake in the judge’s eyes, was a much bigger error that being on the wrong side of the bars, and it was one she paid for. Posting a final score of 14.900, Douglas finished last in a competition of eight on the uneven bars.

After the event Douglas was quoted as saying, “I made a little mistake and I paid for it. You get toward the end of the Olympics and you get kind of drained.” She’ll have to rest up, though because she’s not done yet. She still has to take the balance beam on Tuesday.

But letting this one slip through her fingers might not be as bittersweet as it would be for some athletes. Gabby Douglas’ big Olympic moment came last Thursday, as she won the gold in the women’s all-around competition, and made history.

Chinese Badminton Player Quits After Scandal

Who ever thought that the biggest scandal of this year’s Olympics would take place in badminton? It was on Tuesday that four teams competed, or at least faced off against each other and tried to prove who could be the worst.

During the women’s competition a South Korean team, an Indonesian team, and two Chinese teams were all disqualified for throwing their matches and trying to lose the game. All of this so that they could be paired up against easier matches in the next round, and move on to the highest podium. Instead, eight women are headed home. And now, one of those Chinese players, Yu Yang, has quit the game altogether.

It was during Yang’s match that things practically came to a standstill. Yang had already won a gold medal in 2008, and playing with equally skilled partner, Wang Xiaoli. Together they faced off against South Koreans Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na; but neither pair on either side of the net was putting up any fight. Or movement at all, really. Time after time each team served birdies directly into the net, or let it drop out of bounds completely while standing there and watching it. Clearly something was up, and the officials knew it.

First came the warning from the ref at the side of the net that the crowd was booing, and they really should just get on with it and play. When that wasn’t enough and the abysmal play continued, an Olympic official had to come out and warn them of disqualification. When they wasn’t enough, disqualification from the competition it was — them and two other teams.

South Korea and Indonesia are appealing the disqualifying decision of The Badminton World Federation. However, China says that it fully understands and respects their decision; and that an investigation of their own is also under way.

Perhaps already fearing the consequences of that investigation, or perhaps just bitterly disappointed at having her London Olympic dreams shattered, Yu Yang has already quit the game of badminton.

“This is my last time competing,” Yu Yang wrote on her own personal blog after the decision had come down. “Goodbye Badminton World Federation, goodbye my beloved badminton. You have heartlessly shattered our dreams.”

San Francisco Botches but Takes Aim at the Dodgers

Do the San Francisco Giants have the chops to win the win the series?  With four out of six wins, the National League team is setting a good record, but a low confidence score.  Fans are placing Sunday’s loss against the Philadelphia Phillies, square on Giants’ manager, Bruce Bochy’s shoulders.  Something had to give in the twelve-inning game, and ultimately, what gave were the Giants.  Cry the critics, “Bochy doesn’t know how to play small ball.”

The Giants built their reputation on the strength of their pitchers and by being formidable on the home turf, but their troubles began with who was at the bat.  With a runner on third and less than two outs, Bochy placed Brandon Belt at the plate, and instead of belting it, he struck out.  Neither was Emmanuel Burriss, with a season league batting average of 2.91 able to save the game, striking out and leaving Giants’ fans groaning in their seats.  Looking for a home run, instead of a bunt or a fly ball, the Giants rolled the dice…and lost.

The question on everybody’s mind is, after a strong start, will the Giants be able to keep up their lead in the second half of the series?  All eyes are on Nate Schierholz.  While his playing has been erratic, with a lot of downs along with his ups, he managed to score two home runs in the Giants’ twelve inning losing game against the Phillies.  However, Schierholz is a bit disgruntled by Bochy’s apparent reluctance to use him much in the game.  He has hinted that if the Giants are willing to make a trade, he’s interested in a team that will give him a consistent role.  With an unreliable bat, this may be easier said than done.

Not so easy to dismiss are Gregor Blanco and Melky Cabrera.  Batting in their home runs against both Atlantis and Philadelphia, they prove the Giants do have power hitters.  With games looming against the L.A. Dodgers, who have just swept up the New York Mets and tied two to two wins against the Cardinals, it’s the Giants turn to make it or break it.  The Dodgers aren’t going to take the games lying down.  After a slow start, they’re pounding the bases for their fifth straight win.  The Giants have the pitchers, but they also need their batters, because when it comes to the Dodgers, it’s going to be close and exciting.  Get those tickets now, because these are the games you won’t want to miss.

After the Big Names Crumble, Webb Simpson Wins the U.S. Open

There’s one thing to be said for the U.S. Open: it’s always exciting. Before Thursday began it was all about Tiger Woods, and people just couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do. For the first two days of the tournament he seemed to be proving everyone right and looked like he was back at the top of his game. Then Sunday came and Tiger fell apart. And while two other favorites — Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell — didn’t crash and burn; they didn’t soar on to victory either. That honor was reserved for Webb Simpson.

Simpson started out on the tournament flying very low on the radar. Bogeying two of the first five holes and going up five above par, he certainly didn’t pose a threat — especially with so many of the big names doing so well. But it all came down to the 18th hole. Tiger was already out, Simpson held the lead, and all that was left was for Furyk and McDowell to finish up. McDowell birdied hole 17 to keep him in it but his 24-foot miss on the last hole finished him off. And with no trophy to speak of.

“There’s a mixture of emotions inside me right now…disappointment, deflation, pride, but mostly just frustration,” McDowell said after being knocked out of the running. “That’s the U.S. Open. You’re supposed to hit it in some fairways. And that was the key today really for me.”

But Furyk was the real threat. It was he who had held the lead since Friday; and taking it away from him was going to be tough. All Simpson could do was sit and wait. A bogey on the 16th hole was enough to revive hope in any of his competitors, but when his ball dropped in the sand on hole 18, the tournament was Simpson’s. At the end of the day, Webb Simpson, another U.S. Open unlikely, walked away with the US Open Championship Trophy and a cheque for $1.44 million.

In an interview with NBC after the tournament Simpson said, “It was pretty nerve wracking. I knew it was a tough golf course. I had to go out and do as well as I could. I probably prayed more the last three holes than I’ve ever done in my life. It helped me stay calm and get in with two under.”

Whatever it was it worked; and that, along with a quiet determination for all 18 holes, won Simpson the 2012 U.S. Open. In the meantime, he provided golf enthusiasts with a thrilling match that lasted all weekend long.

It’s been a Surprising Turn of Events in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Going into the Stanley Cup playoffs, most thought that the Vancouver Canucks would emerge as the victors of the West, while the Pittsburgh Penguins would be the victory story of the East. Now though, just three games in, both are in dire risk of being eliminated — and very, very soon.

The Vancouver Canucks have one legitimate reason for allowing the Los Angeles Kings to take the first three games of round one away from them — they’re missing their star, Daniel Sedin. They knew they would be going into round one and that they’d likely miss him for the entire first round. What they didn’t know was that they might not have much more time than that. What might be most frustrating of all for the Canucks is that other than missing their power forward in Sedin, they can’t seem to figure out where the problem lies on their bench.

Roberto Luongo has a reputation for being a ‘streak’ goaltender, meaning he’s either hot or he’s not. His performance this round though, hasn’t been anything that fans can complain about, as he’s played up to par. And when Canucks coach had no other way to make his team better, he started backup goalie Cory Schneider in place of Luongo. It didn’t matter; the Kings still took that game 1-0.

The Canucks’ biggest problem is that with the goalie at the other end of the ice — Jonathan Quick. The Canucks just can’t score on him, and without Sedin, that’s likely what’s going to end their playoff run early. The Canucks and Kings play again on Wednesday, April 18.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simply in Pittsburgh. The Penguins haven’t been swept out of the playoffs since 1979; and now, with all their star players healthy and many claiming them the Stanley Cup champs before the playoffs even began, it looks like history is soon going to repeat itself. In a matchup between two explosively powerful offensive teams, this series has been one of the most exciting to watch in a long time. Big fits and lots of scores is what good hockey is made of, and this one has brought a little of both.

The first game was considered a high-scoring one for the playoffs, with Pittsburgh giving up four goals in answer to Philly’s three. The second game saw even more action with Philadelphia scoring a whopping eight goals to Pittsburgh’s five — still a playoff game with 13 goals in total, which is a rarity indeed. Yesterday afternoon, Philadelphia once again scored eight goals, while Pittsburgh had one less in them, scoring only four. Still, the Penguins say that they don’t need to change their game much and that they’re giving a good effort. And that’s probably what’s going to get them swept out of Round One.

While the demise of these two teams are definitely the biggest stories so far during the playoffs, here’s a look at where the other 6 series stand:

In the West
San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues: Series tied at 1-1; next game April 16.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes: Series tied at 1-1; next game April 17.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators: Predators up 2-1 in the series; next game April 17.

In the East
Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers: Series tied at 1-1; next game April 16.
Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins: Series tied at 1-1; next game April 16.
New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers: Series tied at 1-1; next game April 17.

Playoff Fights have Already Begun

One of the best parts of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for any fan is being able to watch NHL greats drop the gloves and take on tough demeanors that you don’t see in the regular season — even in the NHL. This year though fans are getting a taste of the fights to come a little early, as players use the media to take shots at each other, before the first round has even begun.

Brooks Laich, forward for the Washington Capitals, probably had no idea he had just started a war when he told the Washington Post on Wednesday that he was guaranteeing his team a playoff berth. When he said, “I have a belief we’re going to be in the playoffs and that’s it. I don’t want to discuss any scenario that we’re not,” he probably just thought he was being supportive and believing in his team. But, in order for the Capitals to move into the playoffs, it would mean that the Buffalo Sabres do not; and that’s perhaps why Buffalo’s goaltender, Ryan Miller, took Laich’s remark so personally.

Shortly after Laich made his remarks, Miller had thoughts of his own to share, telling the Buffalo News, “We’re not playing against him and I don’t think he’s Mark Messier,” this of course, referring to Messier’s famous Cup-win guarantee in 1994. The difference between the two scenarios is that when Messier made the guarantee, it was for everything; and this is really pretty meaningless, and probably was just Laich showing faith in his team. Miller continued on to say, “So I think he’s searching for a spark for his team. They should be desperate right now, too, so I just think they’re looking for little things.” Miller even went on further to say that Laich’s comments could actually hurt the Caps, when “guys don’t react well to that.”

The mind games are certainly going — at least from the Sabres’ end. The other difference might be that when Messier made the guarantee, he followed through on it. Fans will have to wait to see if this one pans out the same way.

Who will Win the NBA Finals this Year?

While the Miami Thrice have had people talking about the Miami Heat all season, they may not even end up being a contender for the title. Although they’re sure to make it into the playoffs (not officially, but we are still talking about the Heat,) there are teams that are better and some that even though they aren’t, may just pack a surprise punch or two.

The smart money for the team that will take it all is on the Chicago Bulls. With only 11 losses this entire season, and 40 wins, they have proven that even without one of their best players they’re still an unstoppable team. Derrick Rose may be back for the playoffs, but with so many injuries this season, the Bulls can remain confident even if he’s taken out early.

The team most likely to give the Bulls a run for their money are the Oklahoma City Thunder, who only have one more loss and two fewer wins than the Bulls. That streak alone combined with the sheer talent of Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, and Reggie Jackson are enough that the Bulls should be at least somewhat worried.

The Miami Heat come in just behind these two teams, which definitely puts them up as one of the best teams in the league, but they’ve still got competition on the road ahead. And with being just 3 points behind Chicago, the battle between these three might just come down to who’s the most exhausted from the shortened schedule, and who can handle the playoff pressure the best.

It’s not all about the East though. The Western Conference is going to have some teams that might just be up to the challenge of taking on some of the best. The Lakers will have a shot simply because they still boast Bryant as their best player; and the Dallas Mavericks are not only a good team this year, but are still coming off the high of winning the title last year. And who knows? In the NBA Finals anything can happen, and the Mavs may just emerge once again as the dark horse of the competition.