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The unlucky legacy of the 2018 Houston Astros

Specifically, it will remember the fly ball Jose Altuve hit over the wall in Game 4 of the ALCS, the extraordinary leap Boston’s Mookie Betts made for it, and the way that after the ball had landed, uncaught, it was declared an out. It will remember the debate that ensued over what constitutes interference, from Joe West’s confident ruling on an essentially unknowable call to the flukily blocked camera that might have otherwise saved Altuve’s home run and the Astros’ season. The future will have no trouble remembering that all as, from Houston’s perspective, bad luck.

In baseball, the point is to win the World Series and the tactic involved — the skill involved — is “avoiding outs” and “getting outs.” But we don’t declare the World Series winner based on who avoided the most outs (i.e., who got the most hits). That would be one kind of sport — golf is that kind of sport, and the discus throw, and the 1,500 freestyle, where every stroke, inch or second counts equally toward the final outcome. But baseball is the kind that has added layers upon layers of suspense and variety: Outs avoided make rallies; rallies make runs; runs make wins; wins make standings; standings make postseason series; and postseason series make the World Series winner.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

And, indeed, outs themselves are made up of layers and sequences — strikes and balls, batted balls chased and caught and thrown and tagged. You might even say the point is to win the World Series but the tactics are “throw good strikes” and “hit the ball hard.” The layers in between give it all texture.6

That’s why it’s fun. And the result is that, along the way from “control the count” to “win the World Series,” only some hits count. A hit that doesn’t produce a rally is ultimately no better than an out, a rally that doesn’t produce a run is ultimately no better than an out, and a run that doesn’t win a game is ultimately no better than an out. We measure skill based on those hits, rallies and runs, but we measure success based only on the higher outcomes.

This is true at virtually every level of play, and it’s almost always what we’re actually talking about when we talk about luck. A team that vastly underperforms its run differential? It scored more runs than its opponent in the aggregate, but there is no partial credit for a close loss. A pitcher who has allowed an unsustainably low BABIP? He gives up lots of hard contact, but there is no partial credit on a diving catch.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

On Thursday, in the third inning, the game scoreless, the series still very much undecided, Justin Verlander got two strikes on J.D. Martinez. He threw a perfect 1-2 slider, right on the outside black, just above the knees. It was a pitch that umpires across baseball call a strike 84 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a pitch that, had it been slightly worse — i.e., slightly more hittable — Martinez probably would have swung at, probably would have whiffed at or hit meekly to the shortstop, or maybe hit for a single. But Martinez took it, umpire Chris Guccione called it a ball, and on the next pitch Verlander threw a hanging curveball — this one, ironically, probably not in the strike zone — and Martinez crushed it for what ultimately would be the game-winning, series-winning home run.

Astros’ Jose Altuve ruled out after fan interferes with Mookie Betts’ attempt to catch fly ball

In the bottom of the first inning, Houston Astros designated hitter Jose Altuve launched a fly ball to the right-field wall that prompted Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts to go into a full jump. As Betts extended his arm high over the 7-foot wall, the ball bounced back onto the field of play.

Replays appeared to show that Betts’ left arm stretched over the wall and into the sea of fans. As he tried to make the catch, Betts’ glove closed a split-second too early. He says it was because the glove made contact on its back side with a fan’s hands. From there, the ball touched another fan before coming back onto the field.

“I was pretty positive that ball was going in my glove,” Betts said. “But as I jumped and went over, reached my hand up, I felt like somebody was kind of pushing my glove out of the way or something.”cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

When the ball didn’t land in Betts’ glove, a hustling Altuve was bracing for the possibility that he’d at least be standing on second base when all was said and done.5

“For a moment, when I saw the ball on the warning track, then I thought, ‘OK. That’s a double. I’ll take it.'” Altuve said.

Immediately, Astros manager A.J. Hinch popped out of the dugout to argue with crew chief and right-field umpire Joe West, who made the initial call. Their conversation took West and his crew to replay.

After 3 minutes, 13 seconds, the review resulted in the call standing. Altuve was declared out via fly out to Betts because of fan interference, nullifying what would have been a potential tying, two-run home run. George Springer was sent back to first base.

“[West] just said that it was fan interference on the field. And my argument was more about that the ball was leaving the yard, the trajectory was there,” Hinch said during the game telecast. “Jose paid kind of the ultimate price for something out of his control.

“I’m not sure if Mookie makes that catch. He’s a great athlete. But how it’s an assumed out, it’s unbelievable.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

After the game, Hinch expanded upon that latter thought, saying: “We assume — and you can assume a lot with Mookie because he’s an incredible athlete — we assume he’s going to make this spectacular catch, jumping as high as he can into the crowd.”

LeBron James debuts for Lakers, ‘looking forward’ to challenge

With a mahogany teakwood-scented candle from White Barn burning in the empty locker stall next to him, LeBron James set the mood for his debut with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Before the Lakers embarked on what could be a roller-coaster season, James was a picture of tranquility. With the likes of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Nike co-founder Phil Knight on hand to watch, James played in his first regular-season game with his new team Thursday night against the Portland Trail Blazers.

It felt like a major event, bigger than your typical season opener, with all the hype that has followed James joining the Lakers. Before the Lakers madness started, James listened to his pregame music while wearing a Nike T-shirt with an ad of himself wearing a Lakers jersey.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

He seemed oblivious to the row of cameras and reporters capturing his every move in a cramped visitors locker room at the Moda Center. As he put on his warm-up gear, an “NBA 2K” video game commercial with James in it played on a television near his locker.

Up until Thursday, no one could really know what the Lakers would look like in a real game outside of simulating it on a video game. Still, James liked what he saw in the preseason.10

“I love what we have done so far, I love our potential, but only time will tell,” James said at the Lakers’ morning shootaround. “And this is the first step of a long journey for us.”

The attention and hype surrounding the Lakers and James since the star decided to move to Los Angeles in free agency has been intense.

Before the team left for Portland, head coach Luke Walton stopped by the office of Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss at the team’s training facility. The two talked about how long it has seemed since James joined the team in early July to the season opener.

“It feels like it’s been about a week. It does,” Walton said of the time flying. “It’s funny, from my seat, being a coach, I said it feels like a week ago that all this happened. She was like, ‘I feel like it was five months ago.’ It’s been awhile for her; for me, it’s been short. I think that’s me just being a coach and knowing how much more I’d like to get in. It’s gone quickly.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

The Lakers certainly hope it won’t take long for their young core of prospects, including Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart, to adjust to playing alongside James. In the two other times James debuted with a new team, it took awhile for him and his new teammates to adapt to one another.

Will Durant stay or go? Like Thunder, Warriors are stuck in a waiting game

Kevin Durant will stand on the floor at Oracle Arena on Tuesday night and watch another banner lifted into the rafters and wait for another ring to be presented to him, this time with the slight discomfort of his former team in the building on the same night.

The Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder share a strange, awkward bond, with it less a rivalry and more sympathetic schadenfreude. Durant left the Thunder to join the Warriors, a seismic moment in NBA history, altering the trajectory of one franchise, and enhancing the other.nike nfl jerseys for cheap

But as the Warriors kick off their final season in Oakland, the bittersweet taste of their pending move across the bay lingering over it, like the Thunder experienced themselves, Durant’s uncertain future and the growing rumbles surrounding it will blanket everything else.4

There has been swelling noise Durant could leave the Warriors next summer, with connected insiders dropping hints and close associates either backing them up, or not outright denying them. And speculation goes back even further: In the days following Durant’s departure from OKC, those close to him predicted the Warriors wouldn’t be his final career stop.

But it’s not even an open secret that Durant will consider leaving the Warriors next summer; it’s just reality. And it’s been that way since he signed another short-term deal in July (a two-year contract, with an opt-out after this season).nfl jerseys nike cheap

There’s no financial incentive this time around, no 10-year threshold to hit. Another one-year deal next summer could give Durant full Bird rights in 2019, allowing him to sign a five-year max, but if he had his eye on that he would’ve signed a two-plus-one. (The cap jumping from a $109 million to a projected $116 million could be financially beneficial to a small degree, but that projection wasn’t when Durant signed.)

The actual incentive behind another single-season deal, as Durant said himself, is to keep his options open.

“I could have easily signed a long-term deal but I just wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me,” Durant told ESPN’s Nick Friedell a few weeks ago. “And I think this year is going to be a fun, exciting year for us all. I’m looking forward to just focusing on that and we’ll see what happens after the year.”

Sean McVay’s quest for playcalling perfection

Sean McVay is critical of himself. But that’s what he believes a good head coach and playcaller should be.

Accountability is everything for the Los Angeles Rams, the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL. And it starts with McVay.

“The cold didn’t really dictate the play selection,” McVay said after the Rams held off the Broncos 23-20 last Sunday in bone-chilling Denver temperatures. “If anything, the cold might have just affected my brain with some of the decisions I made.”nfl nike jersey cheap

The critique seemed harsh, if not unwarranted. The Rams, after all, had just won their sixth consecutive game — their second straight on the road, and Todd Gurley rushed for a career-high 208 yards.

“I don’t want to be some Negative Nelly,” said McVay, brazenly aware of his harsh self-evaluation. But the reality is, the second-year coach points out what he must improve, knowing his team has the potential to go as far as he can lead them — and yes, that is a Super Bowl.8

The Rams feature the top-ranked offense in the NFL, Gurley leads the league in rushing yards and Jared Goff is fourth in passing yards.

But even as the Rams average 464.3 yards and 32.7 points per game, McVay sees plenty of areas for growth, beginning with him as the playcaller.cheap nfl nike jersey

“One of the things that I’m not afraid to admit is that this is only the fourth year that I’ve done it,” the 32-year-old McVay said. “By no means do I have all the answers or the solutions.”

Goff, who has passed for 1,928 yards and 12 touchdowns with five interceptions this season, said McVay can be too hard on himself.

“He does a great job with us,” Goff said. “And he holds himself to a high standard.”

In the immediate aftermath of each of the Rams’ victories, McVay is quick to credit players, while often chastising himself, stating that he could have put his team in better situations.

“That’s what we love about him,” Gurley said. “He is just a great coach no matter if it is our fault. He is always taking the blame and he says he can do a better job.”

Kirk Cousins proving to be ‘real deal’ as new leader of Vikings

“I was surprised by how much my teammates gave me that license to lead quickly,” Cousins said at the start of training camp. “I thought they were going to want to have me prove myself a little bit longer than maybe I had to. They were very supportive and said, ‘No, man. It’s your show. Let’s go.’”

Cousins’ personality doesn’t always lend itself to him being the most vocal person on the team. At times, he says he’ll speak up and share his opinion if he feels compelled to, but Cousins considers himself more of a “reluctant” leader.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Two weeks ago in Philadelphia, Cousins was given a chance to step outside of his comfort zone. Prior to the Vikings’ rematch of the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, a locker room leader and captain, asked Cousins to break down the pregame huddle.3

It was a responsibility the Vikings had rotated among several players over the first four games but had often been the job bestowed upon Everson Griffen. The Pro Bowl defensive end excelled in playing off raw emotion and expletive-laden passion to get his guys ready to run through a wall, a la the speech he delivered ahead of the Vikings’ win in Washington last season, a game he missed because of a foot injury.

With Griffen away from the team dealing with issues related to his mental health, the opportunity became Joseph’s. And he passed the baton to Cousins.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“It was important because Linval asked me to, and you don’t say no to Linval,” Cousins said.

Cousins, whose fiery personality is seen often by his teammates but seldom in public, dove into an impassioned pregame speech, emphasizing finishing every block, every tackle, every play, and above all else, the need to “finish the damn game.”

Kylian Mbappe driven by Didier Deschamps and desire to get better

Comparisons are probably made too frequently in football. They are easy, after all: The Mohamed Salah of last season and the one of this season is one example; the win rates of Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson at Manchester United is another.

Stats are measured against other stats, records against records, regardless of context, situation, time and era. Comparing one thing or person against another thing or person appears to be the go-to way of defining greatness or otherwise.

As such, when Kylian Mbappe scored four goals in 13 minutes on Sunday for Paris Saint-Germain against Lyon at the Parc des Princes, not only was it one of the greatest individual performances in any league over recent years, but it also led to an avalanche of comparisons.new nike nfl jerseys for sale cheap

You would have learned that the 19-year-old is way ahead, in terms of goals, than Lionel Messi at the same age. “Kyky,” as his France teammate Paul Pogba calls Mbappe, has scored 67 times in all competitions for club and country since making his debut for Monaco when he was 16. Messi, by contrast, had 20 at the same age. Messi had one hat trick, whereas Mbappe has two coups du chapeau and a four-goal game.7

No other player has been so great so young in terms of pure statistics (without taking into consideration other factors such as the level of the league in which he plays and PSG’s dominance), but we should stop comparing him to Messi, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo Nazario, Pele or anyone else. Instead, we should simply enjoy the development of an incredible talent because the most important thing is to let Mbappe continue his incredible progress and see how far he can go.nike nfl cheap jerseys

On Monday, when he joined the rest of the France squad at their Clairefontaine training camp, Mbappe was congratulated by Didier Deschamps for his quadruple. The French head coach watched the PSG-Lyon game on TV with his staff and could hardly believe what he was seeing. Despite following “KMB” since he was 15 at Monaco, Deschamps was nonetheless amazed by what he saw.

“He is doing things that are out of the ordinary,” Deschamps said later on Monday. “What he is capable of doing despite being so young… He is out of this world. It’s Kylian. It’s prodigious what he does and what he is capable of doing. I am privileged that he is French.”

Alex Cora pushed all the right buttons in getting Red Sox to ALCS

John Henry, the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, stood inside the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium late Tuesday night, answering questions from a group of reporters as the victory celebration blared in the background.

A year ago, Henry and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made the decision to fire a successful manager, John Farrell, who still had a year remaining on his contract. Farrell had won a World Series in 2013 and back-to-back division titles in 2016 and 2017, but after consecutive defeats in the division series, Henry and Dombrowski looked outside the organization for a new manager.nike jerseys nfl cheap

They settled on Alex Cora, a former ESPN analyst who had spent 2017 as A.J. Hinch’s bench coach for the World Series champion Houston Astros. He would be good with the media, would more easily identify with Boston’s young players as he had played in the majors as recently as 2011 and would bring some of the Astros’ analytic bent to the Red Sox’s game preparation.

After the Red Sox eliminated the New York Yankees in four games, the soft-spoken Henry assessed Cora’s performance thusly: “He was a magician.”7

“We’re very fortunate to have in A.C. [someone] who is not very far removed from playing the game, which definitely helps,” he said. “It seemed like every button he’s pushing is the right one. I think he’s got a great feel for the game. He understands the game. He does a great job of managing and communicating with everybody on what’s going on, and I think it showed in this series.”

Sale even told the story that when he walked into the clubhouse before Game 4, he told Cora he wanted the ball at some point in the game.

“I told him and walked away and he started laughing, so I didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, but it worked out,” Sale said.

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Cora also influenced the team’s off-field groundwork in three significant ways. He brought the advanced scouting department completely in-house, relying on video scouts and analysts. He shifted responsibility for defensive alignments from the coaching staff to the analytics department. He emphasized keeping players fresh — not just down the stretch after the Red Sox had built a big lead in the AL East, but even going back to the first road trip of the season.

How Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek, ‘the new Lewandowski,’ went from unknown to star of Serie A

It’s late May 2018, and Genoa president Enrico Preziosi is sat at a table in an Ibiza restaurant with an agent who is showing him clip after clip of a Polish striker he thinks would do well in Serie A.

Goals had been hard to come by for the Grifone over the last nine months, Gianluca Lapadula took 30 games to score four, and were it not for the team’s defence they would have probably been relegated. Only Verona and Sassuolo scored fewer … So the agent has Preziosi’s attention.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

The guy in the video, Krzysztof Piatek, found the net 21 times last season for KS Cracovia. He’s being hailed as the “new Robert Lewandowski” — words which must have prompted Preziosi to have a flashback or two.8

While Blackburn fans blame the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruptions for grounding Lewandowski and stopping him from talking to Sam Allardyce about a move to Ewood Park in 2010, Preziosi only has himself to blame for not buying the striker when he had the chance that same year. The toy-maker came so close to having Lewandowski’s signature that La Repubblica and Sky Italia declared it a done deal.

Genoa’s manager at the time, Gian Piero Gasperini, had watched Lewandowski play for Lech Poznan against Udinese and liked what he saw. The Poland international passed a medical and was the guest of the club at the Derby della Lanterna against Sampdoria. “I shook his hand in the hotel,” Gasperini revealed to Sky Italia in 2016.

But just as everything seemed ready for completion, a now infamous statement appeared on Genoa’s website denying an agreement had been reached. The whole thing collapsed, and the stories as to why continue to conflict.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Preziosi would later bring up an eye-watering commission demanded by the intermediary brokering the transfer. However, Genoa’s sporting director at the time, Stefano Capozucca had a slightly different version of events. “When the President saw him in the stands [at the derby], he was unimpressed by his physical structure,” he said. “He was a lot less imposing a figure than he is now and didn’t look like a classic centre-forward.”

How the Chiefs coached the recklessness out of Patrick Mahomes

One of the third-quarter throws that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes made recently against the Denver Broncos broke a lot of the NFL’s unwritten rules for a successful pass.

The right-handed Mahomes was drifting to his left. He threw the ball late to the middle of the field. The pass was made across his body.

But Mahomes still made it work. Tight end Travis Kelce was open and the Chiefs got a 29-yard gain on the play and, eventually, a field goal on the drive.

This was a case, and there have been others this season with Mahomes, when the Chiefs have benefited from letting their quarterback use his uncommonly strong arm.

“They never encourage that,” Mahomes said of coach Andy Reid and the other offensive assistants. “As long as you complete it and you get the first down, they’re fine with it. At the same time, you have to know when not to do that.
Mahomes has yet to get himself or the 5-0 Chiefs into trouble with any of his daring passes. The Chiefs have tamed Mahomes, who arrived with a reputation for making some reckless passes, without taking away the qualities that attracted coach Andy Reid to him in the first place.

That’s a big reason why Mahomes, in his first season as a starter, has 14 touchdown passes with only two interceptions heading into Sunday night’s game against the Patriots in New England.

“Most guys are told not to do that,” said fullback Anthony Sherman, who was referring to the Kelce pass but could have been talking about other unconventional Mahomes passes. “He goes out there and executes it and it’s like, ‘OK, I guess you can do that.’ … Coach Reid gives him the ability that if he thinks he can get it there, throw it and get it there. He knows he’s going to have to get the ball into some tight windows, but he trusts his arm enough.