So here we are, a month into the Giants season, and what do we have to report? What have we learned? Well, for one thing, our starting rotation is a bit dodgy at the moment. Cain had a good start against the Dodgers to clinch the three-game series sweep at AT&T park the other day, going 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 measley Earned Run, with 3 walks and 4 Strikeouts. Which is more along the lines of what we expect from Cain, but he's still sporting a 5.57 ERA on the season, which is pretty awful. He did get his first win of the season however, and it was against our nemesis and arch-rival no less, so hopefully we're back on track. Granted, in the game on Sunday vs. da Bums, he benefited from some excellent defense, but a fly ball pitcher like Matt Cain depends on the guys behind him to do their jobs. It's part of the deal. At any rate, something has been off with Cain in the beginning of this season, and we here at The Pitch & The Diamond believe that it's a three-fold problem.
A) Tired Arms. There's a definite element of fatigue going on here, and the fact that all five of our starting pitchers have consistent shut-down innings, featuring excellent stuff with high velocity and good snap on the breaking pitches leads us to believe that we're not carrying injuries. But then the blow-up inning arrives, and everything goes haywire. Listening to the KNBR broadcast the other day, Mike Krukow made the observation that when pitchers get tired, they start to lose consistency in their "arm slot", which is the location at which a pitcher releases the ball in his delivery to home plate. When the arm slot wavers, location becomes an issue and bad things happen. Look, these guys won two World Series in three years, and the cumulative effect of going so deep into the postseason twice can't be underestimated.
B) Growing Up. So we've got Cain at 28, Lincecum at 28, Zito at 34, and Vogelsong at 35. Considering that the acknowledged peak performance age for athletes is 27, we've got two guys on the cusp and two guys over the edge. (Bumgarner is 23, so no worries there. Yet.) Not to say that pitchers can't continue to perform at an elite level well into their thirties, but inevitably, velocity drops, location issues arise, the breaking pitches lose their edge, and the pitcher himself has to come to terms with that. Which is exactly what Lincecum is going through right now. In the 2012 postseason, he came out of the bullpen and was absolutely lights out, looking like vintage Timmy. So he still has the stuff. It's a matter of dealing with the unrelenting attrition of age, and the psychological ramifications of not being the guy anymore. Which, to a greater or lesser extent, is what we all have to deal with at some point. It's just that those guys have to do it in the media spotlight with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.
C) Focus. This certainly relates to points 'A' & 'B', but it's a slightly different issue, because independent of age, fatigue, contract issues, and the like, the ability to bear down, shut out the noise and distractions, and just make the pitch is precisely why these guys make the big bucks... and we don't. We here at The Pitch & The Diamond realize just how incredibly difficult it is to be a big league pitcher, having played a bit of ball when we were young. We weren't terribly good at it, but we were good enough to get by, and we know what it takes. In baseball as in anything, all the physical gifts in the world don't amount to a hill of beans if: 1) you don't work harder than everybody else, and 2) you can't focus when the pressure is at a fever pitch. Kinda like in music. It comes down to preparation and performance, both of which are utterly dependent upon one's ability to focus. As to why the guys on the bump are being inconsistent with their focus, we can only imagine that there are a plethora of contributing factors, the aforementioned being the most important. However, the fact that it's May is a great consolation. And we're hitting like crazy. And we're scoring runs like nobody's business. And our defense looks stellar. And our bullpen is solid. And we have Bruce Bochy. Yeah... we're gonna be okay.
At any rate, it is far, far better to start off the season lukewarm and get hot after the All-Star Break. And hey, the Giants are 19-12 as of today, and we're in 1st place in the NL West. As we've said for the last few years, if we can stay within five games of 1st place and hover above a .500 record, we'll be just fine. Sabean will likely pull another rabbit out of the hat with a mid-season trade (alá Ross in 2010 and Scutaro in 2012) and we'll be just fine. So hopefully we put a dodgy April behind us, and this will all seem like a sweaty, grimy, uncomfortable dream come July. This is only the beginning.
As to the Arsenal, we're saving a lengthy post regarding the Greatest Team in London til after tomorrow, for on Wednesday, Chelsea meet Tottenham. This is a crucial match for the third and fourth place slots, for if Chelsea wins, Arsenal is within spitting distance of forth place, and all we have to do is win our next two matches against bottom of the table teams. Easier said than done, but Arsenal is having a run of relative quality at the moment, so the End is in sight, and things are looking up. Our destiny is in our hands, lads. Let's do this. Happily, we've made great strides in our focus and consistency (there it is again) in the last two months, and it looks as though we'll squeak into one of the top spots yet again, and thereby qualify for Champions League play next year. And even if Spurs win tomorrow and Chelsea loses, the brass ring is still within our grasp, as both Chelsea and Spurs have difficult matches ahead of them, and points may very well be dropped. And we lead on goal differential, which may very well prove to be crucial. So there we are.
Speaking of The Beginning and The End, how about them Warriors? And them Sharks? Admittedly, we are not huge hockey fans, and we could care less about basketball, but the fact that yet another (and another!) Bay Area sports team is doing well in the playoffs is encouraging, to say the least. This sort of winning mentality is contagious, after all. So good luck to the Sharks and the Warriors. May all your dreams come true.
My god we love the mission. We feel like it justifies our existence, sometimes. We feel at home there, with the oldtimers, the young bucks, the irish remnants, the history... thriving artists, homeless vets, porn stars, glam trannys, the mixing pot extraordinaire, urban farmers, entrepreneurs, medical marijuana millionaires, SF lifers, norteños & sureños, pimps&hos, blue-collars, assorted weirdoes, poseurs, faux hippies, actual hippies in their 70's, lesbians, punks, bikers, aging rockers, twenty-somethings searching for themselves, a healthy assortment of bat-shit crazies, nuns, yogis, sikhs and swamis, hustlas, teenagers, aging G's and Baby Mommas, families on a stroll down Mission Street, occasional naked dudes, hip-hoppers, party rockers, non-stoppers, beboppers, rockers, sweet talkers, tweeters, googlers, techies and trust-funders, gangbangers, rock slangers, tourists, LGBTactivists, & mudders, evangelicals and ex-cons, poets, priests, saints and politicians, all thrown together in the combine and somehow everyone's just tryin to make their way and find their own way to shine. We f*cking love this City. And to this list we must add musicians, because seriously, we're like rats: Live anywhere, can't get rid of 'em, feed off garbage, make noise, sex constantly. Wouldn't be a city without us. Whatta wonderful ol' world, eh?
And yes, also, Los Gigantes signed BOTH Pagan and Scutaro in the earliest days of the Winter Meetings. Merry Christmas, San Francisco. You deserve an early present. Enjoy. Pagan for $40mil, 4 years, Scoots for $20 over Three... That's sixty over seven for two proven performers, seasoned vets in key positions... Not bad, not bad at all, considering those last few years are write-offs. And as a leadoff combination, it's formidable. (Of course, 2013 will tell the tale, and we'll be there to watch it unfold. Oh yes we will.) Also, there's Joe Panik comin up, and he'll need a steady hand to shepherd him into our franchise at Second Base... Scutaro as a shoehorn, if you will. Not to mention Gary Brown and the Pagan influence. Very exciting. And what with locking down Affeldt early, and Wilson's value on the open market wavering, we're looking pretty set in the Winter Meetings. With an addition or two to the bullpen and perhaps acquiring a proper-swinging right-hand-hitting left fielder during the summer, well, then we're over the top. Knock wood. (Ooooh, me 'ead.) ....oooooh, quick aside: so would you like to know the secret thoughts of our collective heart? If so, you've happened upon the deepest secret garden of truth. It is this: Repeat Discreet. Feel the beat, party rockers. We are excited yet trepidatious regarding our prospects for 2013. We're holding off on prognostications and predictions til Spring Training rolls around again. But we're gonna kill it and win it all in 2014!! Every two years, Baby!! Not holding my breath for next season, though. But it could happen. It's always a dream of the future, SPORT.
So much for secrets...
LET'S Go GIANTS!!!
But to be truly honest, the less said about Arsenal at the moment, the better. Oooof. Tenth place we are in, sure, but six points separates tenth and third right now, in the English Premiere League Table. That's two wins (or losses) ~at three points a match~ between EIGHT teams. Very tight. This weekend will be awfully telling, as we here at the Arsenal face West Brom, who presently reside in fifth, and looked indomitable early on. Both teams need a win to stay relevant. Of course, We'll be there at 7am, at Danny Coyle's, to shout an sing an laugh an carouse... Good Times, people. Good Times indeed.
And so the Premiere League has come to an end, with an exciting finish on the very last day of the competition. Arsenal somehow found themselves in third place, which means that we automatically qualify for the Champions League next year. We here at The Pitch & The Diamond have to say, we're pleased as punch to see the backside of this season... it was quite the impending disaster. We really could've cared less which of the two Manchesters won it all (the Scum -United- or the Mercenaries -City-? Blah blah blah) but that was an exciting finish, and in spite of the fact that we deeply resent Citeh for hyper-inflating the market by stealing and then overpaying players, we didn't really mind them winning because it afforded us the pleasure of watching all the United players and fans looking depressed and disappointed. Which makes us happy, regardless of circumstances. Plus, at the pub the other morning, during the final matches of the season, there was a lone Citeh fan going absolutely MENTAL when they won (he was an older dude who grew up a ManCity fan) so that was amusing. Arsenal just barely managed to scrape into third, a mere point ahead of the spuds, and with all of our injuries and massive defensive gaffes, we were lucky on more than one occasion to nab three points, or even just one... Thanks again Fulop; your ineptitude saved our asses. And Theo's quote a couple weeks ago about how we were "consistent... in patches" pretty much sums it all up. Quote of the season, that. So it was a horrendous start to the campaign, a rough patch in January/February, then we crack off a string of seven victories in a row, only to just barely limp over the finish line. We must say, though, that it was an exciting season, though not at all in the way that one would prefer. Far too many agonizing matches. Not entirely sure that we deserved third place, but then again, no-one else really earned the spot, and so we're quite happy that spurs, newcastle, chelsea & liverpool all finished behind us, but that had much more to do with their failings and missed opportunities than with our successes. Whatever; we'll take it. And now it's time to look forward to the Summer, both Transfer-wise and Euro-wise. We're excited about the tournament that starts next week; and you may find it interesting that we here at The Pitch & The Diamond are beginning to feel a bit of fondness for Deutschland, certainly in stark contrast to our previous attitude towards the German National Football Team in years past. And it's not just because Arsenal signed Podolski and we should have Mertesacker back next season, (so there's a good chance that we'll have a bit of Germanic influence on the training pitch) but also because the German team is young and talented and plays much more positive attacking football than the Germany of old. In the past, Germany played the most boring possible style of football, hyper-methodically organized, clinical and sterile, inevitably scoring a single, uninspiring goal and then subsequently shutting down and parking the bus for a win. Borrrrrrrr-ing. But now, that seems to have changed, and the German national side is playing dynamic, creative, attacking football. Fun stuff. Also, we Brazillionaires were in Berlin last summer, and that was awesome, plus, we've been watching a bit of the bundesliga this year, and it's been fun to catch. No, they're not our favorite by a long shot (that honor goes to Holland, as usual, with a soft spot for England, Ireland, and yes, France --- The Allies!) but we no longer despise the German national team as we once did. An additional upside to this recent shift in persuasion is that we can now reserve the entirety of our loathing and disgust for the Italian national side. Everyone needs a villain, we suppose, and as much as we love the Italian people, history, countryside, cuisine, art, fashion, design, motorcycles, sportscars, musical traditions, and culture, the Italian National Football team is the devil incarnate. Bring on the Euros!
In baseball news, Tim Lincecum faced Ian Kennedy of the D-bags last night. It was exciting, but mostly in the who-will-be-worse way, rather than the who-will-dominate way. Lincecum has had some fine moments thus far in the season, and seems to pitching well on the whole if you look at his strikeout rate, but either he's losing focus and concentration or battling himself or something, because he keeps having these blow-up innings where he gives up 4 or 5 runs and ruins his start. We heard J.T. Snow on KNBR the other day talking about pitchers, and about Lincecum in particular, and he said, "There are two types of pitchers in the league: Pitchers with 'Stuff' like a 95 mph fastball and nasty breaking pitches, and pitchers who know how to pitch." (So that is to say, pitchers who know how to out-think a batter and get him out with intelligent pitching.) Snow went on, "Timmy used to be a pitcher with stuff, but he's not anymore, and now he has to learn how to pitch." Interesting observation. Perhaps Timmy was listening to KNBR, too, because he seems to us to be pitching a little smarter, and he didn't have his blow up inning last night. (Whew!) He actually earned his second quality start of the season (6+ innings pitched, gave up less than three runs) but there are still worries. We do feel like Lincecum is turning a corner, though. Kennedy has had his problems as well this year, but last night Kennedy had the edge, as he totally shut down Cabrera and Posey. So the Giants lost last night, but Melky Cabrera is on fire right now like pissin with the clap. He. Is. Awesome. 51 Hits in May, tying a franchise record? Fantastic. And you gotta love the Melkmen (the guys in the stands that dress up like Milkmen and cheer wildly for Melky Cabrera.) You know, if we can miraculously avoid injury, and the heart of the order plays to their ability, we might just have a shot at it this year... that 2nd wildcard is gonna make things awfully interesting. And so far, even though we've had some ups and downs, we've been playing reasonably well, and we're showing signs of being a terrific team. Let's hope for health and prosperity, shall we? And just as an update, the de facto starting line up these days is looking like Posey behind the dish, Belt at 1st, Arias/Theriot at 2nd, Crawford at SS, Panda at 3rd, Blanco in RF, Pagan in CF, & Cabrera in LF. Not too far from our predictions of a couple months ago, and very pleasing to us here at The Pitch & The Diamond. We do like to see the youth out there, gettin all seasoned up. Unfortunately, Brian Wilson is out for the year with Tommy John surgery, & Guillermo Mota got busted for violating the league's juicing policy, but Casilla is doing a fantastic job of holding down the closers role. Yes, at the moment, Pablo Sandoval is still recovering from his (other) hamate bone injury, but he'll be back, crushing jacks soon enough. Fortunately, he only had two hamate bones, one in each hand, and now they've both been removed. He should be back in a couple weeks. Joaquin Arias has filled in at Third Base admirably, and in fact, Pablo's defense might be a slight downgrade from what Arias has been giving us recently, but it'll all shake out nicely. And as the most pleasant surprise of the year, Barry Zito is pitching exceptionally well, which is always a relief. We'll be shocked if that lasts past July, as his last few years have hewn to the "Quality 1st half of the season, Lousy 2nd half" program. But we'll take what we can get.
Allrighty, that's it for now. With Arsenal and the EPL out of season during the summer, we'll now be focusing on El Gigantes til late August or so, excepting a bit of Gunners transfer news here and there. It's an off day for the Giants today, but the Cubbies come into town tomorrow, and we'll be at the ballpark for at least two of the three games this weekend. So... LET'S GO GIANTS!!
Well and So. As Spring Training for Los Gigantes winds it's wily way through the sticky wickets of Player Selection, Arsenal continues an historic run towards an unexpected Third (or possibly even Second) Place finish in the wild and wooly EPL, and both sides wend their way through the wilderness of wonderful sport as the wicked and willful wind tosses their ships about upon the waves. Wow, that's alot of W's. So, to recap, Arsenal has, in the last two months, experienced a sort of rebirth, a rejuvenation, a renaissance of spirit, if you will, in that they've been playing cracking football and they're in tremendous form, they're riding high on a streak of seven wins in a row, they've closed a ten point gap (a huge deficit, nearly impossible to overcome) with Spurs (our despised rival) and have, in fact, just in the last week overtaken Spurs for Third Place in the league. Awesome. Arsenal have come from behind to win in four successive League Matches (a feat that's never been done before in the English Premiere League) and -most importantly- they're showing a never-say-die attitude and a willingness to win and a quality of spirit and belief that we haven't seen in years. 'Tis Most Excellent, Indeed. We here at The Pitch and The Diamond are thrilled, needless to say, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves, not succumbing to hubris, not thinking that the season is a done deal (what with Eight Games left, how could we?) and definitely not crowing and preening like some over-wrought bower bird, flashing his (admittedly gorgeous) plumage and drunk on his own (admittedly intoxicating) success. And yet, successful as we have been, and in the most impressive fashion at that, we do feel a familiar sort of Pride in our recent run of form. And we feel confident in expressing our Pride. The last Seven League games have been won thusly:
February 4th: vs. Blackburn Rovers, 7-1. A sound thumping, a tremendous show of power and skill and beauty, a harbinger of the exciting potential that we possess as a team. Up until this point, we'd been struggling a bit in the league, what with a string of injuries to our defense and three unfortunate losses and a draw in January, but this resounding win reminded us of who we are and what we're capable of. Also, it was really fun to watch. Seven goals?! Awesome.
February 11th: vs. Sunderland, 2-1. It's always a difficult match, away to Sunderland, in that they play a very rough and tumble, physical sort of football, and their home pitch is not very well maintained, and they play with determination and grit. It was a tough match, but we fought through til the end, and secured a positive result. Theirry Henry secured a vital victory with a late winning goal, and although it was a grind and took a bitter toll (we lost Per Mertesacker to a freak injury), it showed that we could fight through til the end and win in challenging circumstances. We came from behind after going down a goal in the 70th minute, and displayed a mettle that we'd been previously lacking.
February 26th: vs. Tottenham, 5-2. And this was, we think, the turning point in the season. Tottenham Hotspurs are our North London rival, and this particular fixture is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year. This match was remarkable in that Spurs went up two goals in the first forty minutes, and it was looking fairly bleak for us. But then we dug deep, reached way down into the depths of our souls, and found the resolve we'd always known we had. We scored two goals to draw even in the last five minutes of the first half, the first a powerful header by Sagna, the second a beautiful curling shot from Van Persie. We then went ahead six minutes into the second half and never looked back. Two more from Theo Walcott would make an emphatic statement that we were not to be underestimated, and that we are, and always will be, the dominant team in North London. Brilliant. Superb. Wonderful. Jubilant. Joyful. And that doesn't even come close to capturing it. Bloody Brilliant, indeed.
March 3rd: vs. Liverpool, 2-1. Another thrilling come-from-behind victory, even though admittedly Liverpool was the better side, creating more chances and playing better football on the whole. But we kept fighting til the very end, never giving up, and grinding out another success with a tremendous last minute Van Persie volley. Perhaps Liverpool should have scored three or four, but they've had great difficulty scoring goals this year, and in the end we persevered and secured a massive win. Sometimes the better team loses, and we've been on the receiving end of that unfortunate circumstance far too many times. So it was nice to benefit from the twist of fate, not least because Liverpool features Luis Suarez, one of the most vile human beings to ever play the sport of football. Karma? We think not, but it's terribly satisfying to see someone so awful lose to a team so wonderful.
March 12th: vs. Newcastle, 2-1. Again, a last gasp of a goal and yet another come-from-behind victory in stoppage time with a shocking winner from Vermaelen, our rock-solid central defender. Previously in the match, Newcastle went ahead with a terrific strike, but less than a minute later we equalized on a bit of magic from (who else) Robin Van Persie. And again, we fought hard until the very dying embers of the match, and proved ourselves to be unrelenting. It was a highly deserved win, and that made it four matches in a row in which we'd come from a losing position to win, a feat that's never been done before. Now we're showing our true colors.
March 21st: vs. Everton, 1-0. We showed our fortitude yet again with a hard-fought win over a tenacious side, and with Tim Howard (the US National Team's starting goalkeeper) playing for Everton, it's never a foregone conclusion at Goodison Park. Another Thomas Vermaelen goal, another grind, another victory. And with this win, we rose above Tottenham to move into Third Place in the league. We should explain that Spurs had been playing excellent football all year, and in January it was beginning to look as though we might finish below them in the table for the first time in seventeen years. It was being said that Spurs were fielding the best team in fifty years (!) and we were floundering about with the worst team in two decades, and yet, and yet... we thrashed them 5-2 and then closed a ten point gap in a just over a month. And we did with heart, spirit, determination, and True Grit. We are The Arsenal.
March 24th: vs. Aston Villa, 3-0. Admittedly, not a terribly challenging match, as Villa has been playing shite football all season and never really tested us, but still. Seven wins in a row is seven wins in a row. And it is awfully fun to win. Notably, the last four goals we've scored at Everton and against Villa were scored by four different players, none of whom are named Robin Van Persie. This is important because RVP carried us through the early part of the season, as seemingly the only player we had that could put the ball in the net, and when darkness crept in from the fringes and doubt shrouded our thinking, he kept hope alive. So it's heartening to see the team effort paying dividends as a variety of players score goals.
So now, hopefully, we can continue our excellent run of form. The point here is that we play with conviction and with the belief that we can win, against all odds, with our backs to the wall, in the darkest hour, no matter what the conditions may be. When we play to the best of our ability, we can go toe-to-toe with any team in the world, and it all comes down to one thing: Heart. We play with a Stout Heart, and we absolutely believe in ourselves. 'Tis a wonderful world, and winsome indeed to witness such winning ways.
It is Indeed Glorious to be a Gooner. C'mon Arsenal!!
And so it begins again, with the San Francisco Giants returning from the offseason healthy, happy, and ready to strive for another championship. We love Spring Training, what with the mix of veterans, rookies, faces old and new, all vying for a spot and honing their weaponry... The ace pitching staff returns more or less intact, we've got a few new bats in the outfield that will provide some much needed offense with Angel Pagan & Melky Cabrera (we won't get into how poor our offense was in 2011, but suffice to say we had the worst run total in all of baseball last year... yet we still finished the season only four games out of the playoffs, a huge credit to our pitching staff) but most importantly, Buster Posey returns in fine form, looking like he's back to full health. Yes, he'll contribute significantly on the field, but we think it's a tremendous mental asset & a huge confidence booster for the team to see him back out there. When we lost him in the end of May last year, it felt like all the air was sucked out of the room. Personally, we were depressed for weeks. But he has been exceptionally diligent in his rehabilitation over the past ~9 months, and it's very, very exciting to have him back out there. Also, The Panda looks relatively trim, leading us to believe that he took his off-season exercise regimen seriously and has realized the benefits of staying in shape, Wilson looks to be ultra-fit and back in the zone, Brandon Crawford is looking like our de facto starting shortstop (which we thought should have been the decision last June, as a gold glove calibre SS is crucial for a team that relies so heavily on pitching, since preventing runs is just as good as scoring 'em) and Nate Schierholtz is healthy and back in Right Field, ready to use that cannon of an arm and his lightning speed on the basepath. We had such an awful year in 2011 in regards to injuries, using the Disabled List 25 separate times (that's ALOT) and relying on some roster patches that didn't hold up well (Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera -aka the other, lousy Cabrera-, & Carlos Beltran, none of whom really panned out) and so we struggled mightily with our bats. But it looks like everything is back in place, and this team should give the NL West, and all of MLB for that matter, a great show. The first game of Spring Training is tomorrow at noon; you can bet we'll be listening on the radio!
As for our beloved Arsenal, we're in a very tenuous position at the moment. Since the last post, we've been mercurial in our quality, having matches where we look unbeatable, and then crumbling miserably and crashing in a burst of flames. Immediately after the last post, we thrashed Blackburn 7-1 (the equivalent in American Football would be a score of 45-7 or so) and then a week later, beat Sunderland 2-1. Both great matches, and it was awesome to see Thierry Henry out on the pitch. And then, alas, we went to Milan for the first leg of the UEFA Champions League round of 16, and got thumped 4-0. It was disastrous, and then we immediately returned to England and lost 2-0 to Sunderland in the FA Cup (multiple different competitions are played simultaneously in top flight football.) Both of those losses were excruciating, but then, miraculously, we rebounded to absolutely destroy Tottemham Hotspur 5-2 last Sunday. The joy of decimating Spurs is singular; Gooners absolutely hate Tottenham. The rivalry between Arsenal and Spurs is one of the greatest and most intense in all of English Football; both teams are from North London, both teams (at least at present) have a similar style of play, and both teams have a ridiculously passionate fan base, although theirs is remarkably smaller and less robust, and we sing, drink, and carouse with much greater aplomb. And we're far better looking. Spurs (or, as we prefer to call them, Spuds) have historically been the also-rans to Arsenal over the last hundred years or so, very occasionally finishing ahead of Arsenal in the table, but almost always ending the season behind the Arse. And Spuds haven't won the title since they won it once, and only once, in 1961, a fact that we're all too happy to remind them of, in song, on a regular basis. The Arsenal, by contrast, have won the league 13 times, in almost every decade since the thirties. However, this year, the Spuds have fielded what is quite possibly the best team they've had in 50 years (they were admittedly the better team throughout the 60's, but we don't think about that period much, and it was a long, long time ago) and they're widely believed to be closing in on a top-four finish, which means a Champion's League berth in 2013 and most likely finishing above Arsenal for the first time in almost two decades. Or so the pundits like to say. BUT we were down 2-0 at 40', losing the match just before half time, and it was looking like the end of Arsenal's season for all intents and purposes, but we somehow found the resolve and the will to score 3 goals within 13 minutes of play, which shifted the momentum of the game, mangled their spirits, and hopefully turned the tide of our respective seasons as well. And then came two more goals from Theo Walcott for a remarkably strong victory. We absolutely whipped them, crushed them, broke their spirits and won the match with resounding emphasis, and hopefully they'll crumble against Manchester United on Sunday. Arsenal has a match this weekend against a strong team, meeting Liverpool tomorrow morning at 4:45am, and it'll be a tough one, but we can do it. Every match at this point is crucial, because our momentum is tenuous; if we keep winning, we'll have a good chance of finishing in the top four, but if we lose, the tide could turn and we may falter. It's nerve-wracking, honestly... So C'mon Arsenal!! Let's do this.
The Niners are out of the playoffs, and American Football has lost it's luster for us... so it's back to our beloved franchise, Arsenal, here on The Pitch & The Diamond. Admittedly, we're not really American Football fans, but it sure was fun seeing the 49ers tear through the league on their inspired run. Yet sadly, the entire season came down to one dropped punt return... so often, you can do everything right for 18+ games, and then one tragic moment of inattention ends it all. Much like when that Ravens kicker shanked the field goal attempt to fail to force the game into overtime... Sad. So now we've got the Superbowl to (somewhat) look forward to this coming weekend, but we here at The Pitch & The Diamond find precious little of interest in a matchup between the NY Giants & the NE Patriots. 'Tis a good excuse to drink and eat and hang out with friends, though. Yet once Baseball starts up again in April, there's a brief overlap between Baseball & Futból, which is somewhat frenetic, but til then it's all Arsenal, all the time.
Arsenal most recently won our FA Cup match against Aston Villa over the weekend, but we had a rather disappointing match against Manchester United (a deeply despised rival) on the same day as the Niners final playoff game (January 22nd), which Arsenal lost 3-2. Heartbreaking, really, and as Sundays go, that was a particularly disappointing one. One of those days where everyone you want to win loses... An interesting point: there was a substitution at around ~60' into the Arsenal match where our Manager, Arsene Wenger, took off a stellar young player by the name of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (we call him "Ox") and put on Andre Arshavin in his place. Now, a few years ago, Arshavin was an excellent player for us with pace, cleverness, a fine finishing touch, and a nose for the net. But something has happened in the last couple of years, where his skill and confidence seem to have deteriorated significantly. He's no longer the player he once was, and yet Wenger (the Manager) continues to rely on him and believe in him, time and time again. Needless to say, after the Ox/Arshavin substitution, ManUnited's Manager made his own substitution and re-aligned their team's formation, and ManU immediately exploited Arshavin's weakness and scored the winning goal. If it were a chess match, that would have been Checkmate, and it was frustrating because Ox was doing so well (he assisted on one of our previous goals) and every Gooner (Gooner = Gunner = Arsenal fan) on the planet knows that Arshavin is mediocre at best, these days.
Anyway, it brings up an interesting point: Why do Coaches and Managers stick with a losing proposition (namely, an inferior player) when it's clear as day that said player is unable to perform at the highest level and is hurting the team? A great baseball analogy would be Aubrey Huff last season for the Gigantes. He showed up to spring training out of shape & wasn't playing well from the get-go, and he never quite found his rhythm, yet Bochy kept starting him, game after game, month after month, apparently unable to apprehend what apparently every other person in the friggin world could see plain as day: Huff couldn't play. I'm sure there's a certain myopia that sets in, deep in the clubhouse mentality, but it seems to be something a bit more insidious than that, especially regarding Arshavin: a willingness to lie to oneself about the truth. I mean, we all do it, to a certain extent, perhaps because we don't want to admit that we're wrong, or losing our edge, or we're getting older, or that we bought something that isn't worth what we paid or whatever, but the difference is that the self-deception that Arsene and every other big-time (and not-so-big time) manager perpetrates has tremendous repercussions: financial, emotional, career-wise for the players... I don't know why it happens, or why it happens so often, really, and it's baffling, to a certain extent: Why can't they see it? Why don't they realize that their loyalty to an inferior player is costing the team? I know there are myriad variables that go into these decisions, the majority of which we're blissfully unaware, but still. Does Wenger really have no choice but to sub Arshavin and Chamakh in every match at '60? Doesn't the predictability alone give him pause? I'm glad we have Ox up and running, now, but still. Why does this happen?
A friend of ours, named Hippo, explains it thus: "This is a symptom of the sporting times. $$$ + superstition (AKA strategy) = playing someone who has/is/will continue to underperform. Managers must consider the effect they have on the clubhouse/locker room as well as on the playing field and often they cave to the pressures of consistency and not rocking the boat. Also, you've spent the money for the player, & now you have to play him. Although in futból, unlike baseball, you can easily ship a player off to some other club without much fanfare. Baseball is different in that they can't so easily rid themselves of a functionless player because they HAVE to continue paying them if they cut him, and they can only trade them to 31 other teams. American Football seems to do this best: when a player has worn out his welcome they dangle him in trade talks and then release the guy without an obligation to give him even his next paycheck (this happens every year to a number of big name guys - Braylon Edwards being a great example this year for you 49er fans). It comes down to dough and superstition."
Well, okay, that's definitely a huge part of it. But regardless, it's infinitely easier to sit on a barstool and figure out the world and solve all it's problems than it is to actually DO something. And barstools are awfully comfortable...
Speaking of which, Arsenal has a bloody-early-butt-crack-of-dawn match this coming Saturday morning at 5am PT vs. Blackburn Rovers, and if the pub is open for the match (which they most likely will be) we'll be there. Blackburn is struggling quite a bit this season, and we should have an easy time with this match, but one never knows. Besides, Theirry Henry, one of the greatest strikers to ever play the game and an Arsenal legend, is on loan with us for the next few weeks, and we don't want to miss a minute of his action on the pitch. And there's something about watching a live match with your mates at your favorite Pub when all the world's deep in slumber that just can't be replicated.
Hello there. So, those of you who know us know all too well that a few of the Brazillionaires are a bit sports-crazed at times, most notably on weekend mornings around 7:00am... Joe, in particular, can veer towards madness when his teams do remarkably well (or tragically poorly). As a group, our number one team is, of course, the San Francisco Giants. We like to go to Giants games during the season, follow all the action, share season tickets, talk about Baseball, and some of us even listen to games on the radio (oldschool-style!) and go to Spring Training in Scottsdale as well. You could say that we're fans. We also strongly favor Arsenal, an English Football (aka Soccer) Team, and you may have noticed that quite a few of our photos and live performances feature jerseys and kits from our teams... anyway, we just thought it'd be a nice change of pace to blog about Sports, and Joe thought that "The Pitch & The Diamond" had a catchy ring to it. There'll also be various ruminations on other Sports topics in addition to focusing on Baseball & Soccer, and perhaps even some remarkably off topic Posts, but we'll try to keep it on point (i.e. Giants and Arsenal) and maintain a certain level of cleanliness, specifically in regard to language. Sports can get a bit dirty, after all. Hope you enjoy the read!