Archive for October, 2011

Buyer’s remorse: Braves pay D-Lowe $10 million to go away

Derek Lowe's final act as an Atlanta Brave. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

This was Derek Lowe's final act as an Atlanta Brave. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Not every failure is a function of poor design. Yes, the Braves overpaid for Derek Lowe, but you always overpay for free agents. (That’s why they’re free agents — because the team that had them and therefore knows them best decided they weren’t worth their asking price.) The Braves paid high to buy Lowe for the best of reasons: They needed him.

Let’s return to the dark days of 2008. The Braves went 72-90, their worst record since the pre-worst-to-first 1990, because they ran out of starting pitching. John Smoltz got hurt. Tom Glavine, back after his New York exile, got hurt. Mike Hampton, as ever, got hurt. Tim Hudson got hurt and needed Tommy John surgery. Matters were so dire that the journeyman Jorge Campillo started 25 games, second-most among Braves behind the rookie Jair Jurrjens.

Frank Wren, the Braves’ general manager, entered the offseason determined not to let what happened in ‘08 …

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Heat Check: Everybody – Tech, UGA, the Falcons – is smokin’

The men of Groh are growin' on me, I must confess. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The men of Groh are growing on me, I must confess. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Georgia Tech wins a big game and is back in the Top 25. Georgia beats Florida and has climbed to No. 18. The Falcons don’t even play but gain on New Orleans in the NFC South. Our weekly Heat Check begins with the question: Are we Winnersville or what?

Georgia Tech: A big-time performance was needed, and that’s what the Jackets provided. Coming as it did after two small-time losses, Tech now gives the impression of having turned a corner. (Then again, it’s always nice to happen on a corner and find Dabo Swinney standing there.)

There was a neat little hidden stat coming into the Clemson game, so neat and so hidden I’d have missed it if a faithful Twitter follower hadn’t called it to my attention: In ACC games, Tech was 11th in the conference in total offense but first in the league in total defense. Which tells us that, for all the hand-wringing over Al Groh’s D, he has fashioned a unit that will …

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Fighting to the finish, Georgia overrides Florida – and history

A sight seldom seen in Jacksonville: Mark Richt victorious. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

A sight seldom seen in Jacksonville: Mark Richt victorious. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Jacksonville — At halftime Mark Richt invoked the fresh memory of the St. Louis Cardinals. “Guys that don’t quit have a chance,” he told his Georgia Bulldogs.

Much later, Richt would tell the assembled media: “We didn’t quit.”

Folks can and will argue over the worth of one victory over a Florida team that hasn’t won since September, but no one can question the weight that had fallen on the Bulldogs regarding their strange inability to win this one game. “There was some history and some demons,” Richt said, and the way this game began it was as if those demons would beat Georgia by themselves.

Florida’s first play from scrimmage netted 72 yards. Its first touchdown came on a fourth-and-19 pass 7 1/2 minutes into the game. (Who goes for it on fourth-and-19 so early in any game?) Its second touchdown came on a 99-yard kickoff return by its second-best returner. Everything that had gone wrong for …

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Update: Live from almost-sunny Jax, and here’s Brantley!

A motorized crowd gathers to hear hits like "Sara Smile" and Rich Girl." (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

A motorized crowd gathers to hear hits like "Rich Girl." (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Jacksonville – It was cloudy and windy and chilly when I arrived this morning. The sun is trying to peek through, but as we speak it has been a losing battle. Take that, Florida Chamber of Commerce!

A few minutes ago, Greg McGarity noted a singer at midfield practicing Our National Anthem. He asked me who it was. I didn’t know. Someone said, “It’s the guy from Hall & Oates.”

I said, “Daryl Hall?”

Nope. The other one. The lesser half. The short guy with dark hair, not the tall one with the blond flip.

Your anthem singer: John Oates. I have no idea why.

A Wikipedia check indicates he was born in New York, went to Temple and lives in Aspen. If he has a connection to Georgia, Florida or Jacksonville, I’m unaware of it. But enough about him.

Georgia needs to win today. Georgia has lost 18 of the past 21 to Florida. Florida hasn’t been very impressive under Will Muschamp, but Florida wasn’t very …

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Believe it or not, there was a time when UGA owned Florida

Those were the days: Tim Worley against the No. 1 Gators in 1985. (Photo from www.dawgbone.net)

A Dawg day: Tim Worley scores against No. 1 Florida in 1985. (Photo from www.dawgbone.net)

This will come as scant consolation to Georgia fans, but Florida folks were once like you. The Gators would arrive in Jacksonville fearing the worst, and they’d get it.

Here’s how completely this rivalry has turned: Vince Dooley, the best coach in Georgia history, worked against four different Gators coaches over a quarter-century and had a winning record against each; Mark Richt, the second-best coach in Georgia history, has worked against three different Florida coaches over the past decade and has a losing record against each.

From 1964 through 1989, Georgia beat Florida 18 times (and tied once) in 26 meetings. In the 21 games since, Florida has won 18 times. The Bulldogs can’t even rent the game they used to own. The series flipped when Dooley retired as coach after the 1988 season and Steve Spurrier took the Gators in 1990, but even after Spurrier left for the NFL after the 2001 …

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OK, Braves fans: Maybe we SHOULD be watching this Series

David Freese gets his freeze-frame moment. He had a couple, actually. (AP photo)

David Freese gets his freeze-frame moment. He had a couple, actually. (AP photo)

Yeah, it was unbelievable. A team down to its last strike — twice! — will play one game to become the World Series champ. For sheer thrills, this Game 6 was a match for the Game 6 of 1975. (It wasn’t as well played, but hey, you can’t have everything.) But enough gushing. There’s a lesson to be had.

The Cardinals trailed the Braves by 8 1/2 games in September and were tied with the local nine after Game No. 161. (And, had the Braves not blown Game No. 162 in the ninth, they’d have been bound for a play-in game in Busch Stadium.) But we saw in Game 6 the chief difference between the 2011 Braves and these Redbirds.

The Braves had better starting pitching and a better bullpen, but the Braves’ lineup didn’t put pressure on an opponent the way the Cardinals’ does. Sometimes pressure isn’t always rewarded. Last night it was. St. Louis rallied to tie or take the lead five different times, most notably …

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Are you watching this Series, Braves fans? (Didn’t think so)

We watched the night the Braves got this trophy, didn't we? (AJC file photo)

We watched the night the Braves were handed this trophy, didn't we? (AJC file photo)

I was just on a Tampa radio show — primary topic: Georgia-Florida — when the host wondered if we Atlantans were watching the World Series. In a wicked combination of guess/generalization, I said I didn’t think so. (As for myself, I refuse to watch baseball on Fox. I listen on SiriusXM. But I’m of that advanced age where baseball on radio is a slice of nostalgia.)

I also believe this, and national ratings would seem to support me: Baseball has become what the skeptics used to say college basketball and college football were — a regional sport. (And didn’t we use to call it the National Pastime?) Gone are the days when you’d watch the World Series just because it was the World Series. Now there has to be a hook, and there’s really not one for us Atlantans.

(Unless you’re talking about unpleasantness. We could watch Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz work for the Rangers and think, “Hey, aren’t those …

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If Meruelo can’t have the Hawks, will anybody buy this team?

If the sale doesn't go through, can he at least keep the hat? (AP photo)

Even if the Hawks' sale doesn't go through, does Alex Meruelo at least get to keep the hat? (AP photo)

Buzzard’s luck is when you can’t kill anything and nothing will die. And now, not for the first time, we wonder if the local NBA franchise should change its name from Hawks to Buzzards.

After seven years of being lost in the wilderness we called the Atlanta Spirit, the Hawks finally found someone — and significantly, this entity was a one and not a many — who really wants to own them. He’s Alex Meruelo, and his introductory briefing in August was long on nothing except enthusiasm. He was going to do this right, he said. He was going to work his hardest to win Atlanta’s trust and make the Hawks relevant again. Frankly, it sounded great.

But now we learn that Alex Meruelo of Downey, Calif., might not be buying the Hawks after all. The sale, reports esteemed colleague Tim Tucker, is in jeopardy because the NBA isn’t sure Meruelo has the wherewithal to buy and run the team in the …

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In the NBA lockout, millionaire players trump billionaire owners

I'm telling you: You owners won't like Kevin Garnet when he's angry. (AJC file photo)

I'm just sayin': The owners won't like Kevin Garnett when he's angry. (AJC file photo)

The NBA saved itself as a business by forming a partnership with its players and as a sporting entity by promoting those players to the absolute max. Today the league has locked out its players, and this might be the one time when millionaire players can outlast billionaire owners. Because NBA players know, in a way that other professional athletes never have or will, that the power lies with them.

There was a time when we thought of the NBA and thought of teams. (Mostly the Celtics and Lakers and Knicks, but teams still.) That time, however, was before most of today’s players were born. They — and we — know the contemporary NBA as that exalted realm where the best players aren’t known just by name but by first names, and sometimes by initials.

The NBA nearly collapsed in the late ’70s and the early ’80s. Pro basketball had become such a ratings loser that NBA finals games were being taped …

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Even if Brantley starts for the Gators, Georgia’s still favored

Here's that picture of Brantley again. Couldn't find a better one. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Yes, here's that picture of John Brantley again. No, I couldn't find a better one. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The Vegas folks waited a while before posting a line on Georgia-Florida because they wanted to see if Florida quarterback John Brantley is apt to play. On Monday, the Gators classified Brantley as “probable.” And Georgia has been made a three-point favorite.

Which makes you wonder: If Brantley had been listed as “doubtful” or even “questionable,” would Georgia be a seven-point favorite?

There’s no doubt Brantley makes some difference for the Gators. Florida was 4-0 and had taken an early lead on Alabama — which admittedly didn’t last long — the night he suffered his “lower leg” injury. They’ve scored a total of 17 points in two games since.

Brantley has been better under Charlie Weis than he was last season. Had he thrown enough passes to qualify, he’d be second in the SEC in passer-efficiency rating behind Jarrett Lee of LSU. (Brantley’s at 152.6; Georgia’s Aaron …

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