Sports: Tigers Make Playoffs; NBA Lockout Blues

Baseball fans are cheering in Detroit and heaving a sigh of relief. But in New England, pro basketball fans are bracing for the sounds of silence. NPR sports correspondent and noisemaker Tom Goldman talks host Scott Simon through all this and more.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon, and I wait all week to say: Time for sports.

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SIMON: There's cheering in Detroit today, sighs of relief all over New England, for now. And pro basketball braces for the sounds of silence.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us from the great Northwest. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hello, Scott.

SIMON: Let's start in Boston, if we can, my friend. A big win last night over Tampa Bay, stopping at least for a few hours all this talk about the Red Sox might be on the verge of a historic September collapse, and Tampa Bay might be on the verge of a great comeback.

GOLDMAN: You said his story, not hysteric.

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SIMON: Either would apply.

GOLDMAN: Yes. No team has been out of the playoff race by nine games, in September, and come back. Two weeks ago, September 3rd, the Red Sox had a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay in the race for the American League wild card playoff spot. Going into last night, that lead was down to three games.

But, as you said, the Sox came through last night at Fenway Park. They won four to three. Boston's starting pitcher Josh Beckett looked strong in his first appearance after rehabbing a sprained ankle. Particularly heartening to Boston fans, the eighth inning pitching specialist Daniel Bard - the guy who comes in before the closer - he looked sharp after a string of bad performances.

So for the moment, crisis averted.

SIMON: You know, some of my best friends are lost in Red Sox fans. And Chicago Cub's fans, you know, used to feel a sense of affinity. But these guys have one two World Series and they, you know, have a payroll that rivals the Yankees...

GOLDMAN: Right, and the Cubs lost one in the 1400s, I think it was.

SIMON: I believe so when they use the javelins instead of bats.

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SIMON: It was easier to use the javelin and, you know, the big metal mace balls.

But in any event, so are Boston fans wisely anxious or paranoid when they get into a losing streak?

GOLDMAN: Oh, they're paranoid. It's part of their DNA. You know, too many failures in the past; too many almost wins. I was in touch with the last couple of days with our former colleague Richard L. Harris. He's a proud and neurotic member of Red Sox Nation. And he said the two titles since 2004 were sweet but not sweet enough to insulate Boston fans from that sense of paranoia.

After last night's game, Richard emailed: I'm a few steps back from the ledge - will sleep less fitfully.

So I'm assuming Richard, you're up and rested and ready for more stomach churning because there are games today and tomorrow against Tampa Bay. History still could happen.

SIMON: Meanwhile, in Detroit, three to one win last night over the A's in Oakland. They clinched their first division title since 1987. Their first AL Central title ever. They look good.

GOLDMAN: Sure do. You know, up and down the roster they've gotten several new players in the last year who've really performed well. And the Tigers did this with a great second half of the season, after they were down and seemingly out early on.

SIMON: I wore my Cleveland Cavaliers jacket. Actually, one of my two Cleveland Cavaliers jacket...

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SIMON: ...to the studio this morning. Might be as close as I get to basketball all year. Is anything moving there?

GOLDMAN: Not really. This week, players and owners had a full bargaining session for the first time in a while. And both came out sounding gloomy. They're still hung up on this issue of a salary cap. The owners want a structural change in the way - in the mechanism for paying players. They want a hard cap on players' salaries. They think this will help, you know, increase competitiveness throughout the league; the smaller markets, not so rich teams, giving them a chance to win.

Players are willing to give back a lot in salary but they despise the idea of a hard cap. They want to be able to kind of go over the spending ceiling in certain circumstances. So if they can't work this stuff out soon, the season - which is scheduled to start November 1st - is not going to start on time.

SIMON: And last, Tom, you know, it's a bad fan behavior - even criminal fan behavior this year - but you've got a nice story from the stands.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Earlier this month, the final preseason game at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, a woman who was serving drinks and food - she was caring about a thousand bucks from working that day. She tripped on a stair. The money went flying everywhere. And the people in her section shouted to those below, they said: That was the server's money. So a bunch of these fans chipped in and collected every last dollar.

This woman is a mother of four and a full-time student. She was awed by this.

SIMON: Aw. And lucky she wasn't at Yankee Stadium. Thank you so much.

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SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman.

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GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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