Ray Ratto

MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

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USATSI

MLS respects timing more than dominance, so Quakes have a counterpuncher's chance

The San Jose Earthquakes cheated the reaper Sunday, which is news in and of itself. I mean, they’re a playoff team so rarely that getting to a 35th game is quite the achievement, and they should not begin the arduous process of sobering up until Tuesday morning.

I mean, their playoff game with Vancouver is Wednesday night, so slapping themselves back into form is probably a priority.

They got an improbable stoppage time goal from Marco Urena Sunday against Minnesota to sneak through the back door into the final Western Conference playoff spot Sunday, their first appearance in the postseason in five years. It was as electrifying a moment as Avaya Stadium has seen since it opened, and one of the best goals in franchise history if only for its importance.

That said, the Quakes also enter the postseason with a losing record (13-14-7) and the worst goal difference (minus-21) for any playoff team in league history. They are the most cinder-based of the league’s Cinderella stories, and are dismissed with prejudice by most observers as being as one-and-done as one-and-done can be without being none-and-done.

This is a league, though, that has respected timing more than dominance. In 2016, the Montreal Impact finished last in the East and got to the conference final; in 2012, Houston (which was a relocated Quakes team) just snuck in to the postseason and reached the final; in 2005 and 2009, the worst (Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake) ended up first.

In other words, the Quakes’ pedigree, modest though it is, still allows it a counterpuncher’s chance. Its attack, which is third-worst in the league, playoffs or no, is matched by its defense, which is fourth-worst in the league. Their years as a de facto vehicle for Chris Wondolowski are coming to a close, sooner rather than later. They are in no way an elegant team. They are working on their second coach of the year (Chris Leitch).

But therein lies their mutating charm. Their postseason pedigree stinks, but there is a no compelling reason why they cannot cheat a result or two. After all, the lower scoring a sport is, the greater chance for an upset, and the Quakes’ history screams that no franchise could use one more.

So they head for Vancouver, a raucous crowd and a difficult side, carrying with them only their humble resume and the indomitable cheek demanded of the upstart. I mean, anybody in their right mind would much prefer the Whitecaps’ chances, but you gotta be who you gotta be.

Plus, the Quakes are getting a 35th game, which is more than they had a right to expect, all things considered.

A's becoming even harder to ignore after wild walk-off win vs Astros

A's becoming even harder to ignore after wild walk-off win vs Astros

OAKLAND -- August is a nice time for October. For one thing, the weather’s better.
 
The baseball, on the other hand, looked very autumnal, at least here at the corner of 66th and Are You Kidding Me – where The Magic Is In The Concrete.
 
The Oakland A’s, for whom cheating gravity is merely pregame stretching, stole game one of this very playoff-y series with the Houston Astros, 4-3, on Matt Olson’s 10th-inning home run – and when we say stole, we mean swindled.
 
They won the game because Olson turned on an 82-mph slider from  Tony Sipp. They got to Olson because Ramon Laureano is a masterful second-story man.
 
Laureano, pinch-running for Chad Pinder (who had drawn a particularly diabolical walk to start the ninth inning), raced home from first on Nick Martini’s one-out double down the right field line – except that he was called out at home by umpire Alfonso Marquez because of shortstop Carlos Correa’s brilliant cutoff and throw home.
 
Only Laureano jumped up after his head-first slide, Mutombo-fingered manager Bob Melvin and demanded a review of the play. After three fairly agonizing minutes, the call was reversed and the game was tied, en route to being won.
 
In other words, the Astros won all the way until they didn’t, 23,535 fans went home captivated, and the American League playoff race is a little more on than ever.
 
The last two innings were indeed quite highlightable, for both aesthetics and weirdness, and Oakland’s role as the impish mega-underdog was enhanced. The A's cut their deficit behind Houston back to one game, are three games behind the New York Yankees, who beat Toronto 7-5 in a rain-shortened game, and 3 ½ ahead of Seattle, who was comprehensively mauled, 11-1, by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
 
But the momento dei momenti was Martini’s line smash off the right field wall, Laureano’s mad dash from first, third base coach Matt Williams’ emphatic windmilling to send him home, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman’s seeming indecision on how best to avoid Laureano, Correa’s throw, catcher Martin Maldonado’s tag and the out that wasn’t.
 
“I wanted to know about possible interference by (third baseman Alex) Bregman,” Melvin said afterward, explaining how thorough he intended to be in getting the call overturned. “I wanted to know about blocking the plate (by Maldonado), and I thought he (Laureano) definitely got his hand in. I thought the tag was a little delayed.
 
“Of course,” he added, “I’m obviously biased.”
 
Indeed, the call looked too close to overturn, but after a dawdly 3:06 of study time, Marquez reversed himself, and the die was cast for Olson, who crushed Sipp’s fourth slider in a six-pitch at-bat to improve the Elephants’ vistas both ahead and behind.
 
And speaking of bias, Josh Reddick is biased too, and the Houston right fielder and Oakland ex-pat who chased down Martini’s drive was not in an understanding mood.
 
“From everything I saw, he was out,” Reddick said. “I have no idea what they saw. There was no angle that showed otherwise. I’m tired of getting screwed by replays. That’s not the first time. I’m upset by a call that controls everything. I threw it gunning for home plate all the way; I wanted to get the ball to Carlos. He has the best arm in the infield and the most accurate arm. I knew the longer they looked at it they were trying to get it right. Obviously they didn’t.”
 
But there was no doubting Olson’s drive, which left the bat with clear intent to travel far.
 
“It’s definitely one of the cooler things I’ve done in my career,” Olson said. “It’s the most juiced I’ve gotten on a field for sure, just for us to stay in that game.”
 
And to reaffirm what the nation is beginning to understand – that the A’s die harder than most.
 
“We’ve known that we’re a capable team, we’re a very good team all along,” Olson said. “We knew it going into the year that we were going to have a chance to make a run, so glad to finally get a little recognition for it and when we go out and win games like that, people are looking at us a little bit.”
 
Well, actually, a lot. Friday’s game was not a statement by any means – there are still 40 more games to navigate for both teams, and Seattle has 39, and the schedule is sufficiently entwined to recreate games like this again and again before the playoffs are sorted out.
 
But the A’s gave further notice to the reluctant eyes, feet and wallets of the greater East Bay that they will be increasingly difficult to ignore. Friday’s game was a clear worth-the-price extravaganza, and if they keep piling those up, they’ll be nearly irresistible.
 
Nearly, that is. One never assumes they’ve turned that particular corner until they’ve actually completed the turn. For the bandwagon, it's early yet.

Stephen Burbank, the real opinion that matters on Colin Kaepernick and the NFL

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AP

Stephen Burbank, the real opinion that matters on Colin Kaepernick and the NFL

John Elway explaining Colin Kaepernick is basically where outrage goes to die. It's just another move before checkmate, is all.
 
By now, people know how Elway dismissed the notion of Kaepernick as a Bronco by saying, “He had his chance. We made him an offer.” People know it was a lowball offer that Kaepernick, in the early stages of monitoring the market while still technically under contract to the San Francisco 49ers, quite reasonably declined. Elway knows that. He knows that you know that.
 
And he couldn’t be less interested in whether you think he might be engaging in a form of hypocrisy or disingenuousness – which, by the way, he pretty clearly is. Think what you like, he said. I’m not going to tell you all the owners are colluding to keep him out of the game, and if you don’t like the answer he gives you, he couldn’t care less.
 
It’s life in 21st century America, when we no longer shrink from the lies we tell, and when caught we simply shout them louder without any regard for reaction.
 
But even asking the Kaepernick question is an exercise in disingenuousness at this point. Nobody believes any team will ever consider him because the 32 owners are already in too deep on the "he's not good enough" cover story. We’re just waiting on the judgment by arbitrator Stephen Burbank on Kaepeernick's collusion claim.
 
That’s it. There’s your end game. Not John Elway’s contemptuous swat or any of the back stories from the other teams. Kaepernick is seeking to be paid by people who may have agreed in concert not to pay or play him, and the question is a legal one now rather than a football one.
 
It’s been a legal question for some time, in fact, because the owners made their stand to kneel before the current president and kneel on Kaepernick. They did math. They counted numbers. They considered money and ratings points and bought the whole “the anthem is killing us” narrative because they wanted to. Kaepernick gave the owners grief for doing something his own team and teammates did not at any point object to, and he is being made to pay for that.
 
It’s that simple, save Burbank’s judgment. Colin Kaepernick is not going to be a football player ever again, which is a risk he probably never thought would be an option when this all began but knows very well now. He hasn’t played in a year, isn’t going to play in this one or ever again. This is now an argument about damages.
 
Thus, asking John Elway about Colin Kaepernick was, in a certain way, a wasted exercise if the goal was to find out if there was any interest in Kaepernick as a Bronco. It was instructive, though, to see how dismissively Elway rid himself of the notion, and how willing he was to bend the fact to fit the answer. It was a short but very clear master class in crisis management – “You asked for an answer, you got an answer. It has little to do with the thrust of your question or the circumstances at the time, but that’s not the deal. I gave you words and you wrote them down, now go away.”
 
Life is so much easier when you don’t have to worry about the disapproval of others. That is, unless and until Stephen Burbank decides to make his own disapproval legally binding.