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LAst Night's Action: Dodgers, Angels Sweep Towards .500

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LA Dodgers defeat Colorado Rockies 7-6. Matt Kemp hit a homer in consecutive games for the first time since August 21 and 22. Fortunately for the Dodgers it was his fifth career grand slam that gave the Dodgers the 5-1 lead in the third inning. The Rockies being resilient, they had the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning down 7-5 with Ronald Belisario on the mound. But Belisario got out of the jam allowing only one run to score. The Dodgers sweep the series begging the question where this performance was when they were still in the wild card hunt back in the last weekend of August.

LA Angels defeat Oakland Athletics 2-1 (11 innings). The Angels had the bases loaded in the bottom of ninth with a chance to win the game. Nothing. They did it again in the bottom of the tenth. Again nothing. But in the 11th inning with runners on first and second, Torii Hunter made sure not to waste the opportunity hitting a single up the middle to score Jeff Mathis. In the final home series of the season, the Angels got the sweep.

NOTABLE NOTES

Zenyatta’s California Farewell. Zenyatta, the filly that captured the hearts of everyone except the folks who voted Rachel Alexandra as horse of the year last year, will attempt to tie a modern-day record with a 19th consecutive win at Hollywood Park on Saturday. She’ll run the $250,000 Grade I Lady’s Secret Stakes which posts at around 4:15 pm. The seventh race of ten that day, it will be broadcast live on TVG.

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She will then defend her crown in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic next month at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup weekend, before retiring. If she wins, she will retire 20-0, an astonishing record for any horse.

Kings’ Thoughts. After watching the Kings demolish the Ducks 8-3 Tuesday night in their Staples Center preseason showdown a couple of things caught my eye.

  • The 19-year old Brayden Schenn was very impressive. In every shift he did something to make a positive contribution for the Kings on and off the puck. And his fight against Luca Sbisa with 1:11 left in the game got everyone in the Staples Center cheering. The two have a history, but it was good to see a kid who doesn’t back down from anyone or anything on the ice.
  • The Kings really needed Ilya Kovalchuk. You don’t see it in the 8-3 final score, but the Kings still have problems in the offensive zone. Head coach Terry Murray is trying to preach an attack-first mentality in the offensive zone, but old habits are hard to break. They could use another attacking winger and their second line still needs some tinkering around with.
  • This isn’t really a Kings’ thought, but the Ducks are going to be bad. Very bad. Their special teams is what is going to allow the Ducks to stay in games, but if their defenseman don’t improve by the time the real puck drops in two weeks they’re going to be in a whole world of hurt. New York Islanders hurt.

Jay Bruce Walks Off the Division. With Jay Bruce’s walk-off opposite-field homer on the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning, he clinched the NL Central for the Cincinnati Reds for the first time since 1995 - their last postseason appearance. It’s a remarkable achievement for a team that fell off the map after that mired in mediocrity. (The lone exception was in 1999 when despite winning 96 games they came second to the Houston Astros in the division and tied in the wild card chase with the New York Mets. The Reds lost the one-game playoff to the Mets that year and went back into mediocrity and worse. By the way it should be noted that the opening day starter for the ’99 Reds team was Brett Tomko.)

Seeing this homer made me think of other walk-off homers that have clinched a division and the first thing, and only thing quite frankly, that came to mind was this (forgive the video quality, it was 2004 after all).

It had been since 1995 since the Dodgers won the NL West and 1996 since they were in the playoffs. Fox had just “sold” the team to the McCourts in 2004, Paul LoDuca was traded at the trade deadline but the Dodgers just kept chugging along. In fact, if I remember correctly, the Dodgers that season led the Majors in come-from-behind wins.

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So that penultimate day of the season with the Giants trailing the Dodgers by a two games in the division, the Dodgers sent out Elmer Dessens to start who went four innings and gave up two runs. The Giants added a run in the seventh inning off of Duaner Sanchez. Meanwhile Brett Tomko had shut out the Dodgers for 7 1/3 innings giving up four hits and two walks.

But that bottom of the ninth they tied the game and had the bases loaded for Steve Finley. And that grand slam happened, and for every Dodger fan it was the improbable actually happening.

Anyhow, that’s what came to mind for me. Does anyone else have any memorable walk-off homers that won a division?

SEC vs. Pac-10. This caught my ear listening to The Scott van Pelt Show on ESPN Radio on Tuesday. They decided to pit SEC teams vs. Pac-10 teams: Alabama vs. Oregon; Florida vs. Stanford; Auburn vs. Arizona; LSU vs. USC; Arkansas vs. UCLA; South Carolina vs. Arizona State; Kentucky vs. California; Mississippi State vs. Oregon State; Ole Miss vs. Washington; Tennessee/Vanderbilt/Georgia vs. Washington State. While it’s no doubt the top of the SEC are among the best in the country, the rest of the Pac-10 with the exception of Washington State prove to be quite strong.

This is not a debate on which conference is better. All this thought exercise shows is that the depth in the Pac-10 (again, taking away Washington State) is quite impressive.

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By the way, how great would it be to watch Alabama vs. Oregon and Florida vs. Stanford? Where can I get tickets to those games?

Oh 49ers. Amongst some friends who are diehard 49ers fans, I mentioned glibly that the 49ers are a joke. Of course their first reaction rather than make an argument for their team was to bring up the Dodgers (which I have acknowledged over and over again are a joke.) I told them 49ers head coach Mike Singletary is just not head coaching material and is trying to make a 1980s-style team work in 2010. As a diehard Bears fan it really hurts me to talk badly about Singletary, but the truth is the truth. Nonetheless the conversation devolved into why Joe Torre needed to go (I like him personally but did think it was time to make a change), how Ned Colletti is awful (While he’s done all right with no money, he’s been disastrous when given money) and what clowns the McCourts are (can’t contest that one at all.)

In a much more eloquent way, SI’s Ann Killion makes the same argument contrasting the way the 49ers have been trying to cure what ails them to what the Kansas City Chiefs have done. Basically the Chiefs have brought in people who are qualified rather than try to promote in house qualifications be damned. To quote Killion, “The 49ers seem allergic to the idea of bringing in experienced, successful football people.”

Moral of the story: don’t be glib when talking to San Franciscan.

TONIGHT’S ACTION.

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LA Angels (78-80) at Texas Rangers (88-70). Scott Kazmir (9-15, 6.03 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (4-6, 4.25 ERA). 5:05 pm FSWest, AM 830 KLAA.