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For over 25 years, Bob Matthews has held the title of Rochester's most popular sports writer/commentator. For over 20 years, Bob has hosted WHAM's nightly sports talk program...consistently ranked at the top of his time slot!
From 1978 to 2012, Bob Matthews was a sports columnist for the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle and a regular "As the Sports World Turns" contributor to the Gannett News Service. He is the only person to be selected Press-Radio Club Sportswriter of the Year (five times) and Sportscaster of the Year, and was a pioneer inductee into the Frontier Field Walk of Fame.
A Rochester native, Bob graduated from Brighton High School where he played varsity baseball, basketball and served as student council V-P. Bob is also a veteran, serving his country in Vietnam.
Always opinionated and outspoken, Bob's proudest accomplishment is advocating for Frontier Field. His all-time favorite athlete...former Red Wing Luke Easter. One of his sports regrets……not being around for the glory year of the Rochester Royals.
OKAY, LeBRON, NOW DO IT AGAIN!
LeBron James showed Thursday night why some people – including me – believe he is the most awesomely-gifted player in basketball history. And – for one of those rare nights – he put on a one-man show in a clutch spot.
With his Miami Heat down 3-2 to Boston and facing elimination from the NBA Eastern Conference finals in a showdown on the enemy’s court – where the Heat were 1-15 in their last tries – he had his game face on from the start and completely dominated the first half: 30 points, 12-for-14 from the field, ruling the boards and playing great defense (always the underrated part of his game).
He eliminated any chance of stumbling in crunch time by making sure there would be no crunch time. He played the first 44 minutes and finally sat down with the outcome assured.
He finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists – and it seemed like a mistake whenever he passed to a teammate. It was his ball on his night. He outscored Boston’s “Big Three” – Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – 45-31. Celtics star Rajan Rondo gamely took his turn attempting to cool off LeBron and was overmatched. Who wouldn’t have been?
Now all King James needs to do to impress his critics – incredibly, there still are doubters – is lead the Heat to a victory at home in Game 7 Saturday night. I like his chances.
I’m rooting for Miami Saturday night because I believe Western Conference champion Oklahoma City would crush the Celtics and I think the Thunder vs. the Heat would be the makings of a classic NBA Finals.
DULLAHAN THE PICK TO THWART TRIPLE CROWN BID
You can watch a possible classic moment in sports Saturday at 6:40 p.m., on NBC, when I’ll Have Another tries to win the Belmont Stakes and become thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown champion – and the first in 34 years.
Since Affirmed won the most recent Triple Crown in 1978, 11 horses won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but failed to win the Belmont Stakes. Most of them were big favorites.
What went wrong? A few were victims of poor racing luck. Some were compromised by dubious rides by their jockeys. Others were beaten by fresher horses primed for peak efforts. And some simply couldn’t handle the 1 ½-mile “Test of Champions.”
I’ll Have Another wasn’t favored in his seven prior career starts but he’ll be the popular choice Saturday – probably at less than even-money.
The Belmont Stakes used to be a formful race. In the previous 143 runnings of this race, the post-time favorite won 61 times (41.9 percent). But the favorites have taken a beating lately. Only 2 post-time favorites won in the last 17 years (Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Afleet Alex in 2005).
The winners of the last 10 winners of the Belmont Stakes went off at odds of 70.25-to-1 Sarava in 2002), 2.00-to-1, 36.00-to-1, 1.15-to-1, 6.20-to-1, 4.30-to-1, 38.50-to-1 (Da’Tara in 2008), 11.90-to-1, 13.00-to-1 and 24.75-to-1 (Ruler On Tice last year).
Another historical trend for I’ll Have Another to overcome: 33 favorites went off at less than even-money and only 12 won the race.
I’ll be rooting for I’ll Have Another, but I can’t recommend him at such low odds. I think two horses have a legitimate chance to pull off an upset at a decent price.
Here is my worst-to-first forecast:
12th – Unstoppable U. This unseasoned colt has only two career races. He won both, at 6 furlongs and 1 mile, but will be running much farther than ever before and against much better competition. He’s likely to set the early pace and give his supporters a cheap thrill until he runs out of gas long before the serious running begins.
11th – Guyana Star Dweej. Hopelessly outclassed. He has 9 career starts but his only win was in a maiden race. He lost his most recent start by 6 ½ lengths to Unstoppable U at Belmont Park April 27. His advantage in their rematch is that Guyana Star Dweej can be rated and figures to eventually catch and pass Unstoppable U before dropping anchor himself.
10th – Ravelo’s Boy – He has the most experience in this field but most of it was bad. He has 13 races but won only 2 of them. He hasn’t raced since finishing a disappointing 5th in the Tampa Bay Derby March 10.
9th – Five Sixteen – It took this gelding five tries to win his first race and he was fourth in an allowance race in his only start since. Purchased for $225,000 and a waste of money so far. In way over his head.
8th – My Adonis – A late entry to this field. His main credential is being owned by George and Lori Hall, who won last year’s Belmont Stakes with 24.75-to-1 long shot Ruler On Ice. He was third in his last race, the Canonero II, at Pimlico on the Preakness Stakes undercard May 19. The Halls will try to become the first stable to win back-to-back Belmont Stakes since Meadow Stable in 1972-73. Ruler On Ice was no Riva Ridge and My Adonis is no Secretariat.
7th – Atigun. Has done his best running from off the pace so he figures to pass some of the stragglers. His owner/trainer team of Ed Anthony and Ken McPeek have an interesting Belmont Stakes history. Anthony’s Temperence Hill was 53-to-1 when he upset the great filly Genuine Risk in 1980 and McPeek saddled 70-to-1 Sarava in 2002. Of course, this won’t give Atigun a confidence boost.
6th – Street Life. A sleeper. He was 6th in the Grade I Wood Memorial and a decent 3rd in the Grade 2 Peter Pan when wearing blinkers for the first time but probably would need a strong dose a pixie dust to come from way behind to ace this much tougher test.
5th – Optimzer. One of the two horses in this field that will have run in all three Triple Crown races. The huge difference is that I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby (Optimzer was 11th) and Preakness Stakes (Optimizer was 6th). He had excuses (steadied in the Derby and wide in the Preakness) but probably not enough to make up for his combined losing margin of 27 ½ lengths.
4th – Paynter. He has flashed speed in his four career starts but carrying it for 1 ½ miles is a tough assignment. Impressive jockey/trainer combination in Mike Smith and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who at one point preferred Paynter over stablemate Bodemeister.
SHOW – I’ll Have Another . He had clear trips to help run down pace-setting Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He’s a very nice horse but I’m not convinced yet that he is a great horse. I might have a different opinion by 7 p.m. Saturday.
PLACE – Union Rags. He was the second-choice in the Kentucky Derby (5.10-to-1; I’ll Have Another was 15.30-to-win) after a disappointing 3rd as the big favorite in the Florida Derby. Was squeezed badly at the start of the Derby and made a decent rally to finish 7th, beaten 7 ½ lengths. His connections passed on the Preakness Stakes in favor of preparing Union Rags for the Belmont Stakes and could win it if he fires his best shot.
WIN – Dullahan. The winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes. He had a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 12.10-to-win. He broke in and was bumped at the start, was seven-wide at the quarter pole and closed well to finish 3rd, beaten only 1 ¾ lengths behind I’ll Have Another. He might have been best in the Derby and skipped the Preakness to concentrate on the Belmont Stakes. Is this an omen?: His sire is named Even the Score. The jockey switch from Kent Desormeaux to Javier Catellano is a plus.
I believe I’ll Have Another will be overbet and isn’t the value wager. I plan to purchase a three-horse exacta box with I’ll Have Another, Union Rags and Dullahan. If Union Rags or Dullahan win or finish 1-2 with I’ll Have Another 3rd, it should produce a decent exacta payoff.
THE FIRST RETURNS in balloting for the starters in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game July 10 in Kansas City were released this week and I figure the fans are batting .529 (9-for-17).
In the American League, the most glaring error is at first base, where Paul Konerko (White Sox) is enjoying by far the best season but ranks behind Prince Fielder (Detroit) and Mark Teixeira (Yasnkees) in the voting.
Texas Rangers fans are stuffing the ballot box. I’ll give Rangers fanatics frontrunners Mike Napoli at catcher and Josh Hamilton at one of the three outfield slots, but don’t agree with Ian Kinsler at second base (should be Robinson Cano of the Yankees), Adrian Beltre at third base (I slightly prefer Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera) or Nelson Cruz in the outfield (Toronto’s Jose Bautista and Baltimore’s Adam Jones alongside Hamilton and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees are more worthy). The fans have the right picks at shortstop (Derek Jeter of the Yankees) and David Ortiz (Boston) at DH.
In the National League, the fans have it right at first base (Cincinnati’s Joey Votto), second base (Atlanta’s Dan Uggla), shortstop (Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki), third base (David Wright of the Mets and one of the three outfield spots (injured Matt Kemp of the Dodgers ). But I prefer Melky Cabrera (San Francisco) and Andre Ethier (Dodgers) over Ryan Braun (Milwaukee) and Carlos Beltran of St. Louis) in the outfield and slightly prefer San Francisco’s Buster Posey at catcher over Yadier Molina (St. Louis).
THE LATEST accolades for the Buffalo Bills regarding the team’s player moves in free agency and the college draft so far this offseason comes from SI.com. Excerpts: “Things started so well in Chan Gailey’s second year as head coach (in 2011) and then the wheels fell off … When the dust settled, Buffalo finished 6-10 and headed into a critical offseason. There, the Bills reclaimed their momentum, keeping WR Stevie Johnson and adding piece after important piece to their defense. … Three things to watch: Mario Williams’ impact on the defensive line; Is this QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s last shot? If the Bills are going to cut bait and walk away (from Fitzpatrick’s contract), next summer might be the time to do it (he’s 13-21 as Buffalo’s starter). The Bills believe they can win now. And if Fitzpatrick can’t get it done, Vince Young will be waiting in the wings for an opportunity; How good can Stephon Gilmore be in Year One? The Bills need a better performance out of their cornerbacks than they did in 2011. … Outlook: The Bills are built to be a playoff team in 2012. Williams is a potential franchise-changing addition, and Buffalo wisely kept on going once it landed him. Last year’s late-season swoon was regrettable, but it also handed this team a fourth-place schedule in 2012. … The defense should be imposing, possibly one of the AFC’s best. The offense could be lethal, too, if a receiver emerges alongside Johnson and Fitzpatrick takes care of the football . … Buffalo has not been to the playoffs since 1999 – and anything less than breaking that streak would be a disappointment.”
COLD, HARD FOOTBALL FACTS isn’t going overboard on the prospects for Buffalo, offering this “totally premature 2012 diagnosis”: The past decade has been a dark period for the Bills organization and there’s little reason to feel very good about the future. The team has made efforts to improve its defense, but still has a long way to go. There’s little reason to believe Ryan Fitzpatrick is the proverbial “quarterback of the future” but he’s not so bad that the team is in any rush to replace him, either. So the team is kind of stagnant at the most important position in sports. … The Bills were largely uncompetitive in the AFC East last season, losing all five divisional games by a combined 169-87 after beating New England in Week 3. A 9-7 season would be progress in 2012, and doable, but probably not enough to earn a playoff spot, either.
ANOTHER LESS OPTMISTIC long-range evaluation comes from ESPN Insider, which projected the core of every franchise for the 2015 NFL season, based on roster (35 percent), quarterback (17.5 percent), 2012 draft class (15 percent), front office (15 percent) and coaching (20 percent). The top five teams are Green Bay, New England, New York Giants, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Buffalo is No. 22. On a scale of 1-to-10, the Bills were 5.5 for roster, 4.25 for QB, 6.25 for draft, 7.75 for the front office and 6.25 for coaching (total 55.81). The Packers were 87.25, followed by the Patriots (85.38), Giants (81.,13), 49ers (78.43) and Steelers (77.94). The Jets are 16th (60.63) and the Dolphins are 28th (44.75). Dallas is 14th (62.06) and Cleveland is and (38.81).
A READER THIS WEEK pointed out the large number of t big-name first basemen in the American League this season and asked me to rank them. Interestingly, while there is no shortage of impressive sluggers at the position in the AL, few of them are off to good starts. Here’s how I rank them based on 2012 production at this point of the season:
Paul Konerko (White Sox) -- .371, 11 HRs, 33 RBI … the only one having an exceptional season … he deserves to start in the All-Star Game but probably won’t.
Prince Fielder (Detroit) -- .319, 9 HRs, 37 RBI
Adam Dunn (White Sox; shares time with Konerko at 1B/DH) -- .223, 18 HRs, 39 RBI
Chris Davis (Baltimore) -- .294, 9 HRs, 23 RBI
Mark Teixeira (Yankees) -- .245, 10 HRs, 33 RBI
Adrian Gonzalez (Boston) -- .272, 20 doubles, 4 HRs, 31 RBI
Albert Pujols (LA Angels) -- .244, 8 HRs, 31 RB I ... heating up
Justin Morneau (Minnesota) -- .237, 10 HRs, 31 RBI
Mitch Moreland (Texas) -- .269, 8 HRs, 20 RBI
Justin Smoak (Seattle) -- .229, 10 HRs, 29 RBI
Eric Hosmer (Kansas City) -- .220, 7 HRs, 29 RBI
Carlos Pena (Tampa Bay) -- .196, 8 HRs, 25 RBI
Casey Kotchman (Cleveland) -- .221, 4 HRs, 19 RBI
Daric Barton (Oakland) -- .198, 1 HR, 4 RBI.
Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto) has impressive numbers (.279, 17 HRs, 43 RBI) but has more than twice as many games as DH than at 1B.
ONE PLUS ABOUT MINNESOTA BEING SO BAD last season is that the Twins had the No. 2 overall pick in Monday’s 2012 Major League Baseball entry draft. I always prefer selecting a hitter over a pitcher – so many more things can go wrong with pitchers – so I was encouraged to see Minnesota pass on a few “can’t miss” pitchers in favor of a high school outfielder: Byron Buxton of Baxley, Ga.
A few tidbits on Buxton:
Known to family as friends as “Buck” … He hit .545 his senior season and was 10-1 as a pitcher, averaging over two strikeouts per inning and striking out 18 in last week’s victory for the Class AA Georgia state title. He stole 36 bases in 37 attempts, has great range in center field and a powerful and accurate throwing arm, and is expected to have way above average power when his 6-1, 175-ound frame fills out. He is a solid student, a workout warrior and has never been in any kind of trouble.
He is projected to rise quickly through Minnesota’s farm system. If all goes well, he could be playing for Rochester as soon as 2015 (assuming the Twins still are Rochester’s parent club).
He is compared to Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the No. 1 overall pick. In the 2005 draft.
Buxton generally was regarded as the most promising non-pitcher in this year’s draft.
WATERLOO NATIVE TOM COUGHLIN more than deserved his new contract extension with the New York Giants: 3 years (through the 2014 season) for a reported $20 million. He couldn’t have made nearly that much as head coach of his alma mater Syracuse.
Next stop Canton and a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
His Hall of Fame portfolio will be tough to ignore: 142-114 (.537) record in 16 seasons with Jacksonville and the Giants. He gets extra credit for building the expansion Jaguars from scratch and making them competitive almost right away. … 12-7 in the postseason, including two Super Bowl triumphs (2007 and 2012 seasons). At age 65, he hasn’t lost a thing.
Knuckleballer R. A. Dickey of the New York Mets could be baseball’s most underrated pitcher: 9-1 record (leading the majors in victories), 2.44 ERA, 80 innings, 65 hits allowed, 19 walks, 78 strikeouts. He has 24 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Mets manager Terry Collins is considering starting the durable Dickey on three days’ rest to help ease the pressure on the worst bullpen. … Dickey was discarded by Minnesota after the 2009 season. He made 5 late-season starts with Rochester: 2-1, 5.13 ERA, including a complete-game shutout.
The Los Angeles Angels are 23-15 since their brutal 6-14 start. Two two biggest factors in the team’s resurgence are the arrival of rookie outfielder Mike Trout and Albert Pujols’ bat warming up. … Interleague play resumes this weekend. The American League won the first round 24-18. The best regional matchups are Mets at Yankees, Phillies at Orioles and Rays at Marlins. … As amazing to me that it took until the 8,020th game in New York Mets history for Johan Santana to pitch the team’s first no-hitter is that Mets pitchers had recorded 35 ONE-hitters. … Don Mattingly continues to do a remarkable job as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team has the best record in the majors (37-21) and superstar Matt Kemp has missed 22 games due to injuries.
Minnesota’s four top farm teams entered Friday night with a respectable 117-119 combind record … Cito Culver update: the New York Yankees 2010 first-round draft pick out of Irondequoit hit his first home run of the season Wednesday night for the Chaleston RiverDogs (Class A South Atlantic League). The switch-hitting shortstop is batting .225 (45x200) with 32 runs, 5 doubles, 2 triples, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 36 walks, 47 strikeouts, 12x17 stolen bases and 14 errors in 51 games.
Rochester RazorSharks veteran star guard and fan favorite Keith Friel will return to the Premier Basketball League Team as player-assistant coach to Rod Baker. It will be Friel’s eighth season with the team.
Possibilities for Blue Cross Arena at the Rochester Community War Memorial: A post-Summer Olympics tour stop by the U.S. women’s and men’s gymnastics teams … An NHL exhibition game between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers (Ryan Callahan) before the 2013-14 NHL season.
The Hickok Belt Pro Athlete of the Month for May is Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.
The latest former NFL star in financial trouble is running back Jamal Lewis. who had a bankruptcy court hearing delayed this week. He retired in 2009 after nine NFL seasons. He’s 32 years old.
The odds day Manny Pacquiao isn’t a cinch to beat Timothy Bradley in Saturday night’s WBO welterweight championship fight at MGM Grand in Las Vegas: bet $360 to win $100 on Pacquaio and bet $100 to win $300 on Bradley.
The Buffalo Bills are down to 50-to-1 to win Super Bowl XLVII. Here are the complete updated odds courtesy of Bovada.net: Packers 13x2 (6 ½-to-1) … Patriots 8x1 … 49ers 10x1 … Broncos (the Peyton Manning Factor) and Texans each 12x1 … Eagles 14x1 … Ravens 16x1 … Bears, Giants, Saints and Steelers each 18x1 … Cowboys and Lions each 20-to-1 … Chargers, Falcons and Jets each 25x1 … Panthers 35x1 … Bengals 40x1 … Bills, Cardinals, Chiefs, Dolphins, Seahawks, Redskins and Titans each 50-x1 … Raiders 65x1 … Buccaneers and Rams each 75x1 … Vikings 100x1 … Colts and Jaguars each 150-x1 … Browns 200x1.
THERE HAVE BEEN 45 NEAR-MISSES in thoroughbred racing’s quest for the Triple Crown. Here are the horses that won two of the Triple Crown races. Will I’ll Have Another join them Saturday or will he become the 12th Triple Crown champion?
Man O’War (1920) – Did not run in the Kentucky Derby…Won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. … The Triple Crown wasn’t a big deal back then. If he had a chance, Man O’War probably would’ve won it.
Pillory (1922) – Did not run in the Derby…Won the Preakness and Belmont
Zev (1923) – Won the Derby and Belmont…12th in Preakness
Twenty Grand (1931) – Won Derby and Belmont…2nd in Preakness
Burgoo King (1932) – Won Derby and Preakness…did not run in Belmont
Bold Venture (1936) –Won Derby and Preakness…did not run in Belmont
Johnstown (1939) – Won Derby and Belmont…5th in Preakness
Bimelech (1940) – Won Preakness and Belmont…2nd in Derby
Shut Out (1942) – Won Derby and Belmont…5th in Preakness
Pensive (1944) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Capot (1949) – Won Preakness and Belmont…2nd in Derby
Middleground (1950) – Won Derby and Belmont…2nd in Preakness
Native Dancer (1953) – Won Preakness and Belmont…2nd in Derby
Nashua (1955) – Won Preakness and Belmont…2nd in Derby
Needles (1956) – Won Derby and Belmont…2nd in Preakness
Tim Tam (1958) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Carry Back (1961) – Won Derby and Preakness…7th in Belmont
Chateaugay (1963) – Won Derby and Belmont…2nd in Preakness
Northern Dancer (1964) – Won Derby and Preakness…3rd in Belmont
Kauai King (1966) – Won Derby and Preakness…4th in Belmont
Damascus (1967) – Won Preakness and Belmont…3rd in Derby
Forward Pass (1968) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Majestic Prince (1969) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Canonero II (1971) – Won Derby and Preakiness…4th in Belmont
Riva Ridge (1972) – Won Derby and Belmont…4th in Preakness
Little Current (1974) – Won Preakness and Belmont…5th in Derby
Bold Forbes (1976) – Won Derby and Belmont…3rd in Preakness
Spectacular Bid (1979) – Won Derby and Preakness…3rd in Belmont
Pleasant Colony (1981) – Won Derby and Preakness…3rd in Belmont
Swale (1984) – Won Derby and Belmont…7th in Preakness
Alysheba (1987) – Won Derby and Preakness…4th in Belmont
Risen Star (1988) – Won Preakness and Belmont…3rd in Derby
Sunday Silence (1989) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Hansel (1991) – Won Preakness and Belmont…10th in Derby
Tabasco Cat (1994) – Won Preakness and Belmont…6th in Derby
Thunder Gulch (1995) – Won Derby and Belmont…3rd in Preakness
Silver Charm (1997) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Real Quiet (1998) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Charismatic (1999) – Won Derby and Preakness…3rd in Belmont
Point Given (2001) – Won Preakness and Belmont…5th in Derby
War Emblem (2002) – Won Derby and Preakness…8th in Belmont
Funny Cide (2003) – Won Derby and Preakness…3rd in Belmont
Smarty Jones (2004) – Won Derby and Preakness…2nd in Belmont
Afleet Alex (2005) – Won Preakness and Belmont…3rd in Derby
Big Brown (2008) – Won Derby and Preakness…did not finish in Belmont.