Sports: The Mighty Clinch, But The Red Sox Cling

The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Texas Rangers all won division titles Friday night. But in New England, the Boston Red Sox have been falling like leaves from a mighty oak in the race for the American League wild card spot. Host Scott Simon talks sports with sports commentator Howard Bryant about this story and more.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

And now it's time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Texas Rangers all clinched division titles last night. But in New England, the Boston Red Sox have been falling like leaves from a mighty oak in the race for the American League wild card spot.

Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, joins us from the studios of member stations New England Public Radio in Amherst. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you doing?

SIMON: I'm fine. And I want to talk about this brilliant Boston Red Sox strategy events last night, 'caused they moved half a game up in the wild-card race by having their game against the Yankees rained out. Rain...

BRYANT: And not only by having it rained out...

SIMON: Yeah.

...but by losing virtually all week. They've won one game this week and have a bigger lead now than they did last week.

Now there's rain predicted all weekend. Is this a brilliant strategy or what? I mean Theo Epstein, my god, he's moving the clouds around. Yes?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BRYANT: He doesn't have to do anything. They can clinch by tomorrow if everyone else keeps losing. It's actually really - it's a difficult thing. The Red Sox have been awful this month and they are backing into the playoffs. But as they say, it doesn't make a difference how you get there as long as you get in, but this has become a race that was extremely exciting last week and now nobody wants to win.

You've got Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim, who both, they came home last night needing to win badly. They scored one run between them. Tampa Bay got shut out. And the Angels lost to the Oakland A's 3 to 1. And so they're both on life support right now. And it looks like no matter what the Red Sox do, all they have to do is hopefully win a couple of games and this thing will be over.

SIMON: You know, but I want to...

BRYANT: Despite being 5 and 16 this month.

SIMON: My word. Well, but here's where the Cubs play a pivotal role over in the National League, 'cause the Atlanta Braves ? who have also been in a tailspin - beat Stephen Strasburg and the Nats last night. Now they're three games up in the National League wild card race, because the Cubs obliged last night by beating the St. Louis Cardinals, which they don't do a lot.

BRYANT: Yes, they did. Yeah. And the Braves are the National League version of the Red Sox right now because they don't seem to want to win this. They were cruising along. They were in great shape. They were probably a better team than Arizona was, even though Arizona was going to win the division, and now Arizona clinched and the Braves are the team that's trying to hang in there. So, essentially what you've got is everybody seems to be a little bit out of gas and you hope that by next week that baseball begins to pick up because we've got some playoffs to play next week.

SIMON: Let me turn to basketball. The NBA is in the 86th day of its lockout. Just announced Friday that pre-season games cancelled through at least October 15th. What are the chances the NBA season won't star at all?

BRYANT: On time I think it's about 100 percent. I don't see this happening. I think what you've got is an ownership group, a strong bloc of owners that are convinced that once NBA players start losing money ? once they start losing game checks in November ? that they're going to crack. They're not going to have the stamina to withstand a protracted work stoppage and they'll come scurrying back and take whatever deal that the owners want to give them.

And you've got Ray Allen with the Boston Celtics yesterday who said listen, I'm prepared to sit out the whole season. This is a matter of principle and we're not going anywhere. So this is a game of chicken right now. If you're going to ask me if I think the season is going to start at all, I honestly believe it's probably maybe 60/40, 50/50 that the entire season gets wiped out.

SIMON: Is the option of a lot of big name stars and even some of the medium levels stars playing for clubs in Europe, Israel and China...

And China and around the world, sure. And that's the big story taking place right now, is Kobe Bryant was just offered $6.7 million to go play in Italy. And Kenyon Martin is going to play in China. And you have a lot of players ? of good players ? who are going to have other options. And if you still have millions coming in then it reduces your incentive to come back to the NBA.

BRYANT: The question is going to be whether or not the younger players who don't have those options are going to have the stamina when they just now started making those hundreds of thousands of dollars...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...if they're going to hang in there too. We'll find out.

SIMON: Howard Bryant, senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN the Magazine, thanks so much for being with us, Howard.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

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