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Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013

UW BADGERS: SO CLOSE AND YET...

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Fans of Wisconsin football are all too familiar with this. Since the start of the 2010 season 12 of the Badgers' 13 losses have been by seven points or fewer, including three Rose Bowls. It happened again Saturday night in Columbus, giving the team a lot of “what ifs” to ponder through a bye week.

 

Frank: Did you stay awake for the whole thing?

Artie: I managed, but boy, do they commercialize the hell out of college games! It seemed like it took forever.

F: For one thing, halftimes are a lot longer than in pro games.

A: As usual I DVR'd the game and waited 25 or 30 minutes to start watching each half, fast-forwarding through commercials and between some of the plays. But because of all the ads I was catching up fast with the real broadcast! When I finished it was only a couple of minutes off the actual end of the game.

F: I did the DVR thing too, and I can tell you the game took 3 hours 20 minutes from opening kickoff to final gun. The 7 p.m. “start” was really 7:13, so the game didn't end until 10:33. And halftime took 24 minutes, about twice the NFL length.

A: If I'd been watching in real time it would have driven me crazy, or asleep.

F: As for the outcome, how do you feel?

A: I really didn't expect them to beat the No. 4 team at its own place, so 31-24 isn't bad. But it's unfortunate because they kind of shot themselves in the foot. In the first half there were two major turning points that made the 24-14 margin highly misleading. First when Kyle French missed a field goal from 32 yards...

F: Roughly the distance he should have been kicking from at the end of the Arizona State loss. Now I know why Gary Andersen wanted to set him up in the middle.

A: This one was from the left hash marks, but still, at that distance...

F: And French succeeded from 42 yards and the left side in the fourth quarter.

A: But that's the thing; going back to last year the distance doesn't matter. Each kick is like a coin flip with this kid. So that's three points the Badgers should have had.

F: And then came seven points the Buckeyes shouldn't have had.

A: And just as the half ended! First Sojourn Shelton drops an interception, then the secondary allows a 40-yard scoring pass as time expires. That halftime score could easily have been 17-17!

F: I'll say this: Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller can throw! Three of his four TD passes were NFL-caliber.

A: But even with those and OSU's almost 200 rushing yards, the Badgers were right in the game. But they killed themselves with penalties too!

F: The biggest came on their second-quarter punt that should have wound up as a fumble recovery.

A: You can't be sure of what would have happened, but the field position would have been great.

F: Wing man Chris Borland was flagged for what the official called “illegal formation”—being a fifth man in the backfield. But as I replayed it several times, it didn't look like he was more than a few inches off the line of scrimmage.

A: I'm getting a headache.

F: On the snap Borland broke toward the center of the field for a few steps, as though he might get the ball. I wonder if that movement made the official think he was set back farther than he was. Remember, the flag was for illegal formation, not motion. But I also wonder why UW had Borland moving that way in the first place.

A: I can understand the five false-start penalties; the stadium noise must sound like they're on an airport runway. But the face-mask penalty that nullified another fumble recovery sure didn't look like a mask grab to me!

F: I think linebacker Conor O'Neill actually got his hand inside the back of Miller's helmet, and at game speed the ref reacts to the head movement.

A: But isn't there another official upstairs who reviews all that stuff?

F: Yes, although I'm not sure that particular call is subject to reversal. 

A: Anyway, I'm pretty encouraged despite this loss. The defense held OSU to seven points in the second half; Joel Stave looked very good for the most part; and although Melvin Gordon had only 74 yards he averaged 4.9 per carry.

F: On the worrisome side, we have to see how badly Gordon hurt his left knee in the late going. The upshot of the loss is that OSU owns the tie-breaker in the Leaders division, so UW has to finish one game ahead to reach the Big Ten title game.

A: Which makes the game after the bye, Northwestern at home, crucial. But OSU has to play at Northwestern this weekend; maybe the Wildcats can help out there.

 

A GO-GO BREWERS FINISH

F: The Brewers finished with a flourish, taking six of their last eight games and allowing two or fewer runs in five of the wins.

A: Not that beating the Mets three out of four means all that much. But taking two of three in Atlanta when the Braves were playing for the best record in the league was impressive.

F: We'll have a full-blown Brewers review/preview soon. But clearly, the highlight of the final week was the brouhaha with the Braves involving Carlos Gomez. I can only imagine your dismay over not being there in person.

A: Once again, my dream of witnessing a bench-clearing brawl in person was foiled. And this time I didn't even see it live on TV! I tuned it in on radio just as the bottom of the first was starting, and when I heard Ueck talking about it I said, “Man, I can't believe it.”

F: I only saw it in highlights later. As these things go, it was pretty intense.

A: And I have one hyphenated word for it: Fan-freakin'-tastic! You get 'em, Go-Go! It solidifies his position as my favorite Brewer.

F: There were analysts on MLB Network and ESPN who said Gomez was at fault for lingering at home plate to admire his home run, then glaring at Paul Maholm on the mound and jawing with several Braves on his way around the bases.

A: Big deal! Maholm had nailed him in the knee with a pitch at Miller Park and kept him out for a while....

F: And I think I saw a clip on MLB of a time Maholm hit Gomez when Maholm was with a different club.

A: Anyway, what's the best way for a hitter to retaliate? If he charges the mound he gets suspended and maybe hurt in a fight. So if he gets the chance and blasts one off that pitcher...

F: And “blasts” is the word here. As hard as Gomez hit this one, if he'd connected with his first swing the ball might still be traveling.

A: So why not do some styling? It gives the guy some way to respond.

F: Maholm and his teammates clearly thought Gomez overdid it, although it's hard to tell who began the back-and-forth barking.

A: This gave me that little extra bit of evidence to declare the Braves my most-hated team. Who the hell do they think they are, the self-appointed G-Men of baseball now that Tony La Russa has retired? The Keepers of the Flame, of the Covenant of the sacred Unwritten Laws of the Game?

F: Which in this case seem to amount to, “You can't show us up, and we decide what's showing us up.”

A: This ain't new for the Braves. They actually got to most-hated status a couple of weeks earlier when they pulled the same kind of crap with the Marlins' rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez. He's the guy who escaped from Cuba by boat as a teenager and now might be the NL rookie of the year at 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA.

F: Maybe the lone bright spot in the Marlins' season.

A: Anyway, the Braves were yapping at Fernandez during a game in Miami, and when Fernandez hit a homer he stood at the plate for a couple of seconds—maybe in disbelief—and then started trotting around the bases. And when he got to the plate a couple of Braves were in his face.

F: I saw that clip. Chris Johnson came in from third base to confront him.

A: And of course there was the head jackass, catcher Brian McCann.

F: But at least McCann let Fernandez touch the plate. He met Gomez about 20 feet up the line, and Go-Go never did get home.

A: So again, who the hell are these guys? It's just so La Russa-esque—”We'll decide what's right and proper.” To hell with Atlanta and their crummy fans.

F: Is this colored a little by the fact that Atlanta stole the Braves from this town in 1966?

A: I hadn't really thought of that. Nah, that was too long ago. These Braves are contemptible all on their own.

F: I certainly see your point that a homer is the best way to pay a pitcher back. And I like Gomez; from the times I've seen of him in the clubhouse he seems like a very friendly, personable guy—good with his teammates and the press. But I do think he has a little “hot dog” in him.

A: It can be interpreted that way, but I just see him as being exuberant. And why not? After a few years of underachieving he's established himself as an all-around player this year. And he's not nearly as self-obsessed as, say, Nyjer Morgan.

F: Yeah, the “Tony Plush” act wore out pretty quickly. And to his credit, Gomez apologized pretty quickly for his part in the incident. Among other things, he said, “I overdo it a little... I'm not supposed to go that far.” 

A: No apology needed, I say! And by the way, how could Gomez and a couple of Braves be ejected but not McCann? He blocked the guy from scoring, for cryin' out loud! I wondered whether the umpire somehow also was the same guy who refereed the Packers-Bengals game.

F: Best not to rehash that disappointment. But yes, it was really weird that McCann didn't get tossed. Maybe the fact that the Braves were in the running for the best record in the NL was a factor—but if so it shouldn't have been.

A: McCann did something that really did mock the game. There is no rule, written or unwritten, that says a homer isn't a homer.

F: By the way, did you notice another reason you should be angry you weren't at that game?

A: Oh, don't tell me...

F: Kyle Lohse went all the way and threw only 89 pitches, so the time of game was 2 hours 31 minutes.

A: Just a tad off my Holy Grail of 2:27! This is killing me.

 

ON TO THE PLAYOFFS

F: Just guessing, but can we assume you're not pulling for Atlanta in the post-season?

A: Not even if they play the Dodgers, who are just a half-step from being my most-hated team.

F: But do you have any favorites?

A: Well, because of my love for Bud Selig, as usual I have my heart set on a World Series that would wreak havoc with the big-city TV ratings. Something like Oakland-Pittsburgh, which would also feature perhaps the nicest stadium in baseball and the worst.

F: And the smelliest, at least during the times when drainage problems have caused raw sewage to back up into parts of the Oakland clubhouses and dugouts. It happened in June and again in September. The only time I've been to the Oakland ballpark was in 1984, and at the time I thought it was a pretty nice place. But then they stuck that monstrosity of an upper deck in center field because Al Davis demanded it as part of the deal to bring the Raiders back from Los Angeles.

A: For years the A's have wanted to get out of town, with San Jose being their preferred spot these days. But the Giants have some kind of territorial rights to block that, and so far they have. And Selig apparently doesn't want to rock the boat.

F: Speaking of the commissioner, how do you feel about his confirmation last week that he'll be stepping down after next season?

A: Can't come soon enough for me. But he's said he's leaving before and then changed his mind. So I'll believe it when it happens.

F: The owners certainly don't want him to go.

A: Of course not; he does whatever they say.

 

THE BUCKS GO COURTING

F: What do you think of the Bucks' new court design?

A: It's hard to tell without seeing it in person, which I may never do because of what it would cost to get anywhere near it at the Bradley Center. Even the photos I saw in the paper confused me.

F: How so?

A: The stories talked about two big M's in the design, but I really had a tough time finding them.

F: I know what you mean. The M's are clearest if you're looking from one of the “end zones.” The tops of the M's are at mid-court and the legs go down the sidelines. But in the middle of the M's the diagonals don't come to a point because they stop at the free-throw lines.

A: To me the M's seem like one of those cheesy optical illusions you'd see in Highlights magazine in the waiting room whenever your ma dragged you to the dentist.

F: Nice memory. The court is an homage of sorts to the Robert Indiana design of the '70s and '80s, although it's nowhere near as gaudy. It seems OK to me, but I think I saw a couple of headlines that implied the Bucks are hoping it draws fans. If someone is going to an NBA game just to see the court, that person must have plenty of disposable income.

A: One of those M's should stand for “moolah,” because they'll need a ton of it to build that new arena that all the big shots say they need.

 

NOT QUITE AN INSPIRATION

F: And now a topic that I'm sure got your patriotic heart a-pounding. The America's Cup remains in America!

A: Big deal. I wouldn't have had any idea it was going on if you hadn't brought it up two weeks ago.

F: But according to some media, the victory was one of the greatest comebacks in sports history...

A: If you consider sailing a sport.

F: The Oracle team representing the USA went into the finals needing 11 wins because of a penalty, while Team New Zealand needed only nine. The Kiwis started fast and got to one win from the Cup, but Oracle won the last eight races.

A: That's nice, but who cares? Those things didn't even look like boats.

F: Not that I would care anyway, but the glorious triumph lost its luster when I read on ESPN.com that among Oracle's 11-man crew, only one was an American.

A: But I suppose the zillionaire who financed the operation was a Yank, ain'a?

F: Larry Ellison, one of those software honchos. I'm sure the 99% are just thrilled for him.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has never been flagged for illegal formation.

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