Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Upset and the Devil Child

I'm not a soccer guy.

This in spite of playing AYSO, high school and college soccer for a combined six seasons, and pick-up games on the fields of Boston and Williamsburg, VA for probably another four or five years. Like basketball, it's a sport I enjoy playing more than watching.

That said, I spent a lot of time covering high school soccer when I first broke into reporting, and I do watch the World Cup. Not religiously, but I do enjoy the occasional WC game.

Yesterday team USA accomplished something in the FIFA Cup tournament that most who know soccer would call one of the unlikeliest of achievements. They beat Spain in the semi-finals.

I don't claim to know a lot about the sport from an international perspective, but I know this - US Soccer isn't going to get the credit it deserves for this win due to the lack of interest in this country. Sure, it will from American soccer fans, but it's sad that the rest of the country probably won't acknowledge this win for what it is. This was the US beating Team Russia in hockey in the 1980 Olympics.

The only parallel that doesn't exist is that Spain isn't the big bad villain of a shadow war with the United States. But, otherwise both Spain Soccer and the Russian Hockey (are/were) the best in their respective sports. Spain had gone undefeated for 35 matches, and had notched 15 straight wins. Their goalie had gone the equivalent of five games without giving up a goal when the US scored on him.

Both times the US faced the most dominating team in the sport in the semi-finals, needing to beat that team to move on to the finals. If the Americans can win the FIFA cup, they seal the deal and the parallels with the 1980 US Hockey Team are close to complete. All that will be missing is the attention Hockey got for its win. And that's a shame.

Devil Child...

Jon Lester got the win last night and is now 6-6 after going 6 innings, while giving up 6 hits and striking out 6. Yup, Jon Lester is Damien.

Overall, Lester has put up average numbers this season - 6-6, 4.68 ERA - however, after a rough start to the season, Lester appears to have turned a corner.

Since May 21, the Red Sox lefty is 4-2 in seven starts with five quality starts. He has had only one start in which he gave up more than three earned runs, has given up only one run four times, logged one complete game and has a 2.78 ERA over that stretch.

To put that in perspective, previous to May 21, Lester was 2-4 in eight starts with a 6.51 ERA. Only three of those eight starts qualified as quality starts, and five times he gave up five earned runs or more. On top of that, over the last seven games he has averaged two-thirds of an inning more than he was averaging over his first eight games. While that might not outwardly sound like much, in essence he has pitched roughly an extra five innings.

Speaking of turning a corner, David Ortiz might have. I'm still hoping this isn't just a streak, or a signal that Big Papi has hit the beginning of the end and this is his last hurrah, but after starting horribly, Ortiz has come on strong in June.

Sure, he's only batting .219 with an OPS of .700, but as recently as May 30 the big guy was hitting .185 with an OPS of .569. Since May 30 the big man has been on a tear. He has hit six of his seven homeruns since May 30 he's batting .297 and has 15 (of his 33 total) RBI. For the month of June he's hitting .327.

Historically, his best months have been June (career .307 average in June) and July (.322 for his career), so it should be interesting to see what happens over the next month to Ortiz.


Teresa said...

You are right....I wouldn't have understood what a big deal the soccer win was because it isn't a sport I follow. In my part of the country, it is the sport they put overactive kids in before they can play basketball. Thanks.

Suldog said...

I've always contended that Soccer would be huge in the US if the rules were changed to eliminate offsides. Won't happen, of course, but the resultant higher scores would do the trick.

Lisa K. said...

I'll never understand the appeal of soccer. Just a tad above Nascar in entertainment value.

"Yup, Jon Lester is Damien."

If Lester is Damien, then Josh Beckett is Sybil. If he makes the ASG and Wakefield doesn't, I'm going to be pissed.