Archive for September, 2009

Suddenly, Braves see everything go wrong

What's that thing about a picture telling a story? Matt Diaz gets picked off third, and the Braves' playoff hopes probably go down the drain. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

What's that thing about a picture telling a story? Matt Diaz gets picked off third, and the Braves' playoff hopes probably go down the drain. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

The sudden wake-up call in July, the mind-numbing 15-2 run in September, the otherworldly creature that seemingly once inhabited the body of Martin Prado — this is what happens when everything catches up to a team in one night.

The Braves didn’t lose a game Wednesday night. They suffered the mother of all market corrections. You figured maybe this would happen in December. You know, like maybe Yunel Escobar turns an ankle while hanging Christmas lights. Instead it hit during the final spasms of a playoff race.

What’s more unpredictable? That the Braves extended their postseason hopes this long, or that they probably were ended by Ricky Nolasco and a bizarre base-running mistake by maybe their best base runner, Matt Diaz?

The Braves’ wild-card hopes were badly bruised Tuesday night when they lost to the …

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We’re live from Braves’ miracle watch (day 21)

Javier Vazquez is be pitching for own future, as well as Braves.

Javier Vazquez is be pitching for own future, as well as Braves.

Frank Wren went into the off-season last a year ago knowing he would need to add starting pitching. He will go into the off-season this year realizing he needs to subtract.

One obvious conclusion: “It will probably be a little less stressful this winter,” the Braves general manager said.

Somewhat. But a significant issue has been hanging over the Braves all season, and the core of that issue was on the mound Wednesday night. Javier Vazquez, the same pitcher whose heart and big-game ability was questioned last season by the Chicago White Sox’ turbo-lipped manager, Ozzie Guillen, has been Atlanta’s best starter this season. He went into the Florida game with a 15-9 record and 2.83 ERA (4-0, 1.93 in this improbable September).

There’s also a chance he was starting his final game as a Brave.

“I’m not going to get into our decision-making, and I don’t know, quite frankly, what we’re going to do,” …

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Kovalchuk probably won’t have new deal before opener

If Ilya Kovalchuk doesn't get a new contract, don't bet on the Thrashers' future. (AP photo)

If Thrashers can't make deal with Ilya Kovalchuk, don't bet on future.

With the franchise looking for any opportunity to get on the Atlanta sports landscape, the Thrashers would love to be able to announce before Saturday’s season opener that they have signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a new contract, preferably at a season-ticket holder function Thursday night. But one of the guys negotiating the deal said he doesn’t expect that to happen.

Immediately following a news conference Wednesday, during which he basically expressed optimism that a new deal would be reached soon, Thrashers general manager Don Waddell acknowledged: “I don’t think it’s going to get done before opening night. We’re going to talk again in the next 24 hours, but I don’t see it getting done.”

No pressure. It might be only the future of hockey in Atlanta that weighs in the balance.

This morning, I weighed in on the Hawks’ Joe Johnson’s decision to play out the final year of his contract and test free agency. …

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Johnson needs to be elite before he gets an elite contract

Joe Johnson says he's an elite player? Let him prove it. (Johnny Crawford/jcrawford@ajc.com)

Let Joe Johnson prove he's an elite player. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

The Hawks just opened training camp, and Joe Johnson used the opportunity to announce that he will test free agency after this season.

Normally, when a team’s leading scorer makes such a declaration, it’s a cause for concern. Not in this case.

I’ve banged this drum before but it seems like a good time to repeat it. Johnson is a very good player. But he’s not a difference maker. Difference-makers stand out in the playoffs.  Johnson generally hasn’t done that. Now, if you want to put that on the team around him or the head coach (Mike Woodson) for not placing him in better situations, that’s fine. But by and large, Johnson has not taken games over like stars are supposed to do. I put that on him.

Let him go. Let him jump into the free agency pool and see what’s out there. I just don’t think the Hawks should be in a position to offer Johnson more than the four-year, $60 million extension that he …

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Braves’ miracle takes hit, but it doesn’t change future

Another great play: Yunel Escobar's relay throw to Brian McCann nails Florida's John Baker at home in the second inning Sunday. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

One great play wasn't enough. Yunel Escobar's relay throw to Brian McCann nailed Florida's John Baker at home in the second inning. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Regardless of where this playoff run goes — and here’s your public service announcement: The Braves are in a playoff run, but “I Believe” posters are stacking up in the warehouse, like Izzy dolls in 1996 — there are two things we can be fairly certain of moving forward:

♦ 1) The Braves will be legitimate contenders next season. Not the typical, spring time, everybody’s-happy-and-drunk-on-some-overblown-free-agent-pitcher kind of contender, which tends to last until mid-May, when the city’s baseball fans let go with a collective, “Rut-roh.” But the real, legitimate, they-can-play kind of contender. Because guess what? They can play.

♦ 2) Bobby Cox is not a moron.

Some of you already knew that. But for those who’ve been trying to drop-kick Cox into oblivion, I hope you’ll acknowledge that the …

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Countdown cleansing: Mora, Bowden and Wrestlemania!

The Count's also getting a little pudgy.

The Count still can't believe Michael Stipe just sat in the corner (losing his religion?).

Sorry. Until this morning’s blog on long term projections of Tech and Georgia football, I hadn’t blogged since the Georgia game Saturday. I was off Sunday and then it was a soul-cleansing day for the Chosen Peeps (as well as relative religious hanger-ons like me) and I required 24 hours of prayer and fasting before my soul was allowed to go back to square one. Actually, I should come clean here. It wasn’t quite 24 hours of fasting. I sort of blew it with the two, post-sundown beers at the Steve Wynn/Baseball Project show Sunday night at The Earl. But then I compensated for that with two more post-fast beers at the Steve Wynn/Baseball Project show Monday night at 40 Watt in Athens, where, by the way, every R.E.M. member was in attendance and every one played (Mike Mills, Bill Berry, Project band member Peter Buck), except for Michael Stipe. He sat in the back of the room, just being …

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Take Tech over Georgia right now in the long run

The Jackets are not without their issues, but Jonathan Dwyer created some positive foreshadowing in the last game.

The Jackets have issues, but Jonathan Dwyer created positive foreshadowing in last game.

Sometime today, Mark Richt and Paul Johnson will speak at their weekly news conferences and assess for the world their respective football teams to this point. And if either has actually figured them out, that puts them ahead of the rest of us.

I’ve covered two Georgia games (Oklahoma State, Arizona State) and two Tech games (Clemson and Miami). I saw most or all of the other ones on TV. Both teams leave me thoroughly confused. Also somewhat dizzy.

Which team will go to a better bowl game?

  • Georgia.
  • Georgia Tech.
  • Neither. Both teams are average.

View Results

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Tech has extended its personality changes from half to half (vs. Clemson) to game to game (awful vs. Miami; great vs. North Carolina). So I guess that’s progress. At least it leaves a week between games for therapy and makes for easier billing with the insurance company.

The Dogs can’t seem to …

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Fortunately, Dogs aren’t about impressing pollsters anymore

I'm assuming after kicking the game-winning field goal, Blair Walsh and teammate Drew Butler (13) were thanking somebody upstairs and not declaring, "We're No. 1." (AP photo)

Let's assume Blair Walsh and Drew Butler were not declaring, "We're No. 1" after the win. (AP photo)

ATHENS — If after one game you were convinced that this would be a dreadful season, and after two games you figured maybe the quarterback wouldn’t be so bad after all,  and after three games you once again were ready to catapult Willie Martinez out of Athens, out of the state and out of a job, well, guess what? They’ve come full circle.

Maybe it’s best to just not assume anything about Georgia this season — certainly not an easy victory.

Blair Walsh kicked a game-winning 37-yard field goal as time expired Saturday to give the Bulldogs a 20-17 win over Arizona State at Sanford Stadium. And that’s really all you want to know without a bottle of Tums.

Given that this is a bottom-line business, the Bulldogs will try not to think about how they got there. There was an offense that committed three more turnovers, leading to 14 of the visitors’ 17 points and left the team at a …

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We’re live from Athens (and Dogs need to channel Butkus)

Can this guy get his defense ...

Can Willie Martinez get his Georgia defense …

(UPDATED BELOW: Check out the rain picture.)

ATHENS — The former Hall of Fame linebacker, Dick Butkus, once remarked, “I wouldn’t ever set out to hurt anyone deliberately unless it was, you know, important – like a league game or something.”

This is why if you suddenly find yourself in a friendly flag football game one day and Butkus is on the other team, you should immediately stop and say, “Oh, look at the time. I forgot I have that thing

... to play a way that would make Dick Butkus (51) proud?

… to play a way that would make Dick Butkus (51) proud?

I need to do today.” And then leave.

Now, I realize this is college football and not the NFL. I’m not suggesting any player should ever intentionally try to hurt an opponent. But Georgia plays its fourth game of the season tonight against Arizona State, and I’m still waiting to see those things football fans love to see and hear things football fans love to hear: train-wreck collisions and grunts.

The Bulldogs are coming …

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Sports and rock unite! Wynn brings ‘Baseball Project’ to town

The Baseball Project (left to right): Peter  Buck, Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, Scott McCoungegy.

"The Baseball Project" (left to right): Peter Buck, Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon and Scott McCaughey.

As a general rule I don’t blog about music in this space, because even though entertainment and sports have somewhat cross-pollinated for decades — from Marilyn Monroe meets Joe DiMaggio, to Madonna meets A-Rod, to, well, Kate Hudson meets A-Rod — I figure I’d start getting emails like, “Schultz! What does this have to do with the Auburn game! And by the way, your picks stink!”

But hang with me here — particularly you baseball fans.

I went to high school with a fellow named Steve Wynn, whom you may have heard of. Steve and I were both sports writers for the almost-Pulitzer Prize-winning University High “Warrior” in Los Angeles. At some point, he determined he had a better future in music than newspapers. When he performed on the David Letterman Show last year (see video below), I think that confirmed he had made the right decision.

Steve started a ground-breaking band called the …

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