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Mean Vato of the Month: Edwin Encarnación

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By Asa Schuster

It’s true, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnación made four errors in the field during the past month.

You can call him E3 (or E5 in the past), but E-Squared wins games with his trusty Marucci more so than with his Rawlings.

Encarnación put an emphatic stamp on May 2014 with his damaging swing and the ink bled through to some of the hallowed pages of the history books.

He single-handedly revitalized the Canadian Space Agency with 16 rocket launches during the month, placing him in the company of Mickey Mantle (1956) in terms of most home runs in May in the American League, and one shot shy of Barry Bonds’ (2001) MLB record of 17 long balls in the same month.

Yes, that was Mantle’s Triple Crown season and the year that Bonds put up an otherworldly 73 souvenirs in fair territory.

Encarnación now has 18 home runs on the season, which is exactly half of his four-bagger total from last season, while in 2012 he enjoyed a breakout campaign resulting in 42 homers.

He got the month rolling on May 6th with a 412-foot bomb off Cole Hamels during an extra-inning 6-5 victory in Philadelphia.

The next night, in a home game he launched Shawn Camp 426 feet with a three-run homer to left-center to ice a 10-0 rout for the Jays.

In the home-and-home series finale, Edwin broke off a pair of 400-foot plus shots to cap a 12-6 win and five-game sweep of the Phillies.

A week later, and Edwin made it another multi-homer game, providing three of the Jays four runs on a pair of 400-foot dingers and victory over the Indians.

Fenway Park played host to his next two double-shots, a pair of twin homer games on consecutive nights as he smacked four bombs in two wins.

He roped two shots around Fisk Pole in the first game, before taking Clay Bucholtz directly over the Green Monster twice the next night.

This sparked a a nine-game winning run for Toronto, in which Edwin stroked seven home runs and 13 RBI at .351 in sweeps of Boston, Oakland and Tampa Bay.

He connected on his 15th and 16th long balls in a 6-8 loss to Kansas City, marking his fifth multi-homer game of the month (tied the MLB record for multi-homer games in a month), by peeling off a combined 862 feet off Royals ace James Shields.

In total, Encarnación smacked 13 home runs and 24 RBI at .325 in 21 wins for the Blue Jays in May; tied for second-highest monthly win total in franchise history.

And for the record, he also flashed the glove a few times during the past 31 days, including this gem he collected off the Rogers Centre carpet and slide to record the put-out at first.

Mean Vato of the Month: José Abreu

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In February 2012, José Abreu was ‘The Best Hitter You’ve Never Heard Of’, by the end of April 2014 he became the most dangerous hitter in the Universe.

Abreu bruised baseballs throughout his first month as a big leaguer, in particular the ten offerings he tattooed over the fences to lead the Majors in home runs and RBI in April.

His first long-ball of his MLB career was a three-run shot off Chad Bettis in the seventh inning of a 15-3 laugher against the Rockies at Coors field, and the next inning Abreu launched his second career dinger with a two-run shot off Wilton Lopez.

Two nights later, he gave the Indians another Cuban double-shot from the plate with a pair of bombs to help carve out a 7-3 win.

He heated up against the Rangers with a blast off Robbie Ross, to spark a run of three home runs in four games.

On April 25th, the legend of Abreu was cemented when he sent Chris Archer long-distance in the third dig against Tampa Bay, before unleashing a walk-off jack against Grant Balfour in the ninth.

Two nights later, he touched up David Price for 405 feet for his ninth long-ball in a win.

In total, Abreu smacked nine home runs and knocked in 25 runs at a .346 clip in 13 wins for the White Sox in April.

José Abreu has officially arrived, and in just his first month in the worldwide baseball spotlight he was the best hitter we’ve now all heard of.

Super Bowl XLVIII: What happened?

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By Asa Schuster

It was the matchup that everybody (outside of San Francisco and Boston) wanted to see, in the venue where nobody wanted to have the game, and it only took the Seattle Seahawks 12 seconds to be the only thing super about Super Bowl XLVIII.

Seattle were so super that they almost made up for the now six year absence of the Supersonics in the Emerald City.

Super enough to end their 38-year franchise drought, super for Shaun Alexander and Matt Hasselbeck, super for Jim Zorn and Steve Largent.

Meanwhile, It was a rough day for legendary quarterbacks as Broadway Joe Namath prematurely tossed the coin, moments before Peyton Manning was startled by his center Manny Ramirez jumping the gun on the opening snap of the game and butchering the play into a safety for the ages.

The mighty Broncos had stumbled out of the blocks awkwardly and never recovered as they labored through the rest of the game resembling bumbling donkeys.

The young Seahawks rose to an 8-0 lead and then Manning cocked his right arm back and released a disorientated Mallard that failed to adhere to its intended flight path.

Instead, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor collected the fragile bird and put it in the capable hands of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, who collaborated and campaigned hard to find it a new home; in the Broncos’ end zone.

At 15-0, Manning accidently released an injured Mallard, luckily Seattle linebacker/Park Ranger Malcolm Smith plucked the hapless duck from the air and promptly transported it to their refuge.

Now down 22-0, Manning had an extended break to sit his usual take-home exam during half time.

It was expected that he and the Broncos would regroup and reformulate their game-plan and begin to rack up some points as they did during their record-breaking offensive season.

The first point of emphasis was to avoid Percy Harvin, avoid Percy Harvin, avoid Percy Harvin at all costs with their kickoff to start the third quarter.

Matt Prater’s kick was short and bounced up perfectly for the waiting Harvin, who then peeled off 87 yards and left the Broncos in his dust.

Again, it took just 12 seconds and 12 is the magic number for Seattle.

The orange guys couldn’t catch Harvin and couldn’t catch up with the Seahawks as they soared away with the game, leaving the Broncos battered and bruised.

Seattle’s new brand of smashmouth is perfect for cottonmouth fans in these changing times where more so than ever both cities were prepared to cope with victory and defeat like never before.

Super bowls of legalized marijuana were packed in Colorado and Washington, in Denver it helped ease the pain and in Seattle, well it just enhanced the high.

Tony Romo is still a boob

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The annual Boobie Bowl wasn’t the same with one of the key breasts Jay Cutler not playing, but Tony Romo was still able to defend his title as the biggest boob in the NFL, even though most of the blame can be attributed to his team’s non-existent defense.

With no Cutler, Romo was left solo in the freezing conditions at Soldier Field with the eyes of the world gawking upon him like a bare naked boob and the weight of the Cowboys shaky reputation in December resting on his sports brassiere.

Cutler’s replacement Josh McCown led a masterclass offensive performance that saw the Bears come away with scores on each of their first eight drives to rack up an easy 45-28 win.

Dallas seemed poised for big night when DeMarco Murray rushed for 52 yards on six carries as the Cowboys advanced downfield on the opening drive of the game, which was capped by Romo finding Dez Bryant for a touchdown.

The Bears came right back with Matt Forte providing 31 yards on five carries, before McCown linked up with Earl Bennett to lock the scores.

The Cowboys went three and out on their next drive, after Romo was groped for a nine yard loss by James Anderson on 3rd-and-7.

From there the Bears scored on their next seven possessions, finishing the game without punting or committing a turnover, while Romo scraped together 104 yards before being tapped on the brassiere strap and told to sit the last few plays out with the game beyond reach late in the fourth.

Enter fresh chest meat in the form of Kyle Raymond Orton.

The boob who was traded by the Bears to the Denver Broncos in exchange for noneother than Jay Cutler in 2009 was now at the helm of Jerry Jones’ beloved franchise.

Romo was relinquished of his duties and replaced by the boob who never took another snap for the Broncos once he was replaced as the starter by Tim Tebow in 2011.

The Cowboys defense gave Romo little hope of winning the game, but as he exited the game and made way for the boob who provided the opportunity for Tebowmania to be born, he was well and truly deserving of his title as the biggest boob in the NFL.

Tony Romo we salute you, hooray for boobies!

The new style Blazers

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By Asa Schuster

It was 10 years ago this week that the Portland Trail Blazers began to clear out some of the troublemakers that made up the infamous ‘Jail Blazers’ regime.

The Blazers were a formidable powerhouse in the West at the start of the last decade, with a core of players remaining from the last Portland squad to reach the Conference Finals and legitimately challenge for the title.

That team was also one of the most notorious teams in NBA history for their disobedience, misbehaviour and off-court antics.

On December 3, 2003, the wheel began to turn when the streaky, yet pestilent shooting guard Bonzi Wells was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Later that day, the Blazers hosted and defeated the East-leading Indiana Pacers, who were out to a 15-3 start to the season and went on to finish with the best record in the league at 61-21 (later swatted out of the East Finals by Tayshaun Prince).

Reportedly, on the day of the trade, Wells and Rasheed Wallace were leaving morning shoot-around when Wallace threw a ball the length of the court into teammate Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje’s head.

Boumtje-Boumtje fell to the floor in pain, while Wells and Wallace famously ‘giggled like schoolchildren and ran away’. 

And from there, as they later shed Sheed in February and waived Qyntel (‘Here’s my basketball card’) Woods the following season, they morphed from a team of talented troublemakers and gave way to the unfortunate injury-riddled era of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.

From the seemingly never-ending supply of knee-braces in Portland, somehow LaMarcus Aldridge safely emerged with both legs intact to guide the next generation of Blazers.

Portland now boasts an exciting lineup that can once again threaten for a run in June, but this time they are reloaded and refreshed with some of those front office and coach friendly ‘high-character’ type players.

10 years since the week Wells was traded, the Blazers once again hosted the East-leading Pacers, who were out to a league-leading 16-1 start.

On the back of 28 points and ten rebounds from Aldridge and Damian Lillard pumping in 14 of his 26 points in the fourth-quarter, the Blazers (15-3) joined the Spurs atop the West and handed the Pacers just their second loss of the season.

Taking time to reflect back at their forefathers, it’s clear that the current crop of Aldridge, Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews and Thomas Robinson are a long-awaited breath of fresh air in the City of Roses.

We won’t mention Mo Williams, there’s always one.

Grey Cup 101: Foreigner’s guide to the Canadian Super Bowl

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By Asa Schuster

Canada is a little weird; it’s a tad British, a wee bit French and partly Americanized.

But Canada is weird in a good way, the people talk a little funny and some of the cities and towns have fantastic names.

For instance, this week’s Grey Cup is being played in Regina, a city that is pronounced with an unexpected lewdness and is thus referred to as ’The City that Rhymes with Fun’ and ‘The City that Smells like it Sounds’.

The Grey Cup is the Super Bowl of the Canadian Football League (CFL), an eight-team gridiron competition, which is rarely watched or followed south of Windsor, Ontario.

Even within Canada the CFL’s popularity is fractured and only commands moderate interest while the ponds are defrosted and the rinks are dry.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats contest the 101st Grey Cup on Sunday on a gigantic playing surface of 110x65 yards, featuring two 50-yard lines and massive 20-yard deep end-zones.

There’s 12 players on each side of the ball to help fill up the massive field and the teams have three downs to achieve each ten-yard gain.

The Roughriders are fortunate to be playing on their home field at Mosaic Stadium, as the Grey Cup location is predetermined before the start of the season.

The Riders are the pride of the quaint prairie province of Saskatchewan in the second-smallest professional sports market in North America behind only the Packers in Green Bay.

Saskatchewan is also home to Saskatoon (Paris of the Prairies), Moose Jaw (The Jaw), Maple Creek, Foam LakeRegina Beach and the Ghost Town of Smuts!

Canadians enjoy rough-riding so much, there were two teams in the CFL named after rough-riding for 48 years until the Ottawa Rough Riders folded in 1996.

In fact, one of the pre-game performers at the Grey Cup is a Canadian signer named Serena Ryder, and she’ll be joined by Saskatchewan’s own The Sheepdogs.

The Roughriders have been around for 103 years and have won the Grey Cup three times previously, most recently in 2007.

The Tiger-Cats are an underdog team from the gritty steel town of Hamilton (The Hammer), which lurks in the southern shadows of Toronto.

They exacted some revenge on their arch-rivals the Toronto Argonauts in the Eastern Final last week, overcoming a seven-point halftime deficit with a 19-0 second-half as Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford looked on.

The Ti-Cats have been playing away from Hamilton all season after their home field of 62 years, Ivor Wynne Stadium was demolished to make way for a new stadium for next season.

In the interim, The Ti-Cats played their home games in nearby Guelph (The G-Spot) at their University field this season, which seemed to bring good luck as they reached the Grey Cup for the first time since 1999.

Their new stadium Tim Hortons Field is named after Canada’s favorite coffee and donut chain, a ubiquitous eatery across the entire Great White North imperative to spiking the caffeine and sugar levels of the nation and named after an iconic hockey player from The Hammer.

You just can’t make this stuff up, this incredibly awesome Canadian stuff.

Enjoy watching the 101st Grey Cup if you can, or just check out the highlights later on CFL.ca, or don’t worry about it and just follow all the Week 12 action of the NFL as you were going to do.

Aşık streak destroyed, Rockets blasé on mental health

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By Asa Schuster

Houston Rockets big man Ömer Aşık has proven his physical durability throughout his NBA career.

He once left a playoff game against the Miami Heat bleeding profusely from the neck, he returned and played the next game.

In fact, up until Thursday he was the NBA leader in consecutive games played with a streak of 239, having never missed a game in over three seasons.

He was benched in the second half of the Rockets game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday and reportedly requested a trade for the second time since Dwight Howard joined Houston in the offseason.

Aşık had started the first eight games of the season, but saw his playing time dwindle as his front count combination with Howard came under increasing scrutiny.

It’s been up to Rockets coach Kevin McHale to formulate a system to allow the two low-post forces of Howard and Aşık to coexist.

The 6’10” McHale, should have some idea as he shared the low-post with 7’0” Robert Parish with the Boston Celtics for the entirety of his playing career.

Against the New York Knicks on Thursday, Aşık did not play at all, and McHale said that Aşık ‘wasn’t feeling good’ before the game.

Aşık was physically able and eligible to play, but saw his consecutive games played streak snapped due to what appears to be a ‘psychological’ injury.

This is particularly interesting, as it seems McHale and the Rockets management have little sympathy or tolerance for mental health issues.

Last season, the Rockets had drafted Royce White 16th overall, with the knowledge that he was diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder, that included among other things a fear of flying.

Once it became clear that White really didn’t ‘feel good’ about flying and some other social situations, the Rockets were unable to incorporate him into the roster and he never set foot on the court for Houston, he is yet to play in a regular season NBA game.

In the offseason, the Rockets signed Howard, while they traded White’s rights to the 76ers, who cut him from the team before the season started.

McHale is an old school guy, molded from the tough-guy era of the NBA in the 80s when far less was made out about mental health sensitivities. 

In today’s NBA, players miss games when their bodies are banged up, but they can completely disappear once they’ve been flagged with mental health concerns.

With Aşık currently pegged as being psychologically injured, his days in Houston seem numbered, but perhaps a change of scenery is just what he needs to start ‘feeling better’ and being able to play again.

Season just starting for Alex kid and the undefeated Chiefs

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By Asa Schuster

9-0 ain’t bad.

It ain’t bad at all, but it won’t mean much once Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs resume their season following this week’s bye.

The Chiefs are surprisingly sitting atop the AFC with the best record in football and the last undefeated team left in the NFL.

So far, they’ve handled a relatively friendly schedule, including a pair of sneaky 17-16 wins against the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys.

They sit above the highly touted Denver Broncos, who they face twice in the next three weeks; effectively a miniature in-season playoff series that will undoubtedly determine the dynamic of the AFC West.

The Chiefs defense has allowed the second fewest points so far at 111, while the Broncos high-octane offense has easily accumulated the most points at 343 (over 40 points per game), thanks to their quarterback Peyton Manning’s All-World Start to the season.

The Chiefs have come up with the most defensive touchdowns with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries turned into scores.

Smith hasn’t lost a game as a starter going back to October last year and is 11-0-1 in his last 12 starts, including the  24-24 draw against St. Louis last season in which he was knocked out of the game in the first half with a concussion.

Despite being medically cleared to play the following week, Smith had lost the starting job to the electrifying Colin Kaepernick as an awkward quarterback situation unravelled in San Francisco.

And just like the iconic 49er Joe Montana before him, Smith dusted himself off and took his talents to Kansas City.

This season, Smith doesn’t have to worry about a hot-shot backup taking his place, although he wasn’t concerned last season until he was suddenly supplanted by one.

The Chiefs don’t have the luxury of hotshot backup, they’ve placed their faith in Smith and coach Andy Reid.

At 9-0, the playoffs may seem just around the corner, but the Chiefs must first endure a double shot against the Broncos, sandwiched between a date with the San Diego Chargers and followed by a matchup with the Washington Redskins.

After that, they have a would-be ‘trap game’ against the Oakland Raiders and a would-be blockbuster against the giant-killing Indianapolis Colts in Week 16.

The Colts have already beaten a string of sexy title-favorite powerhouses so far in the 49ers, Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

Montana had already conquered the NFL with four championships by the time he became a Chief, Smith is simply trying to reach his third playoff game.

10 years ago, when Trent Green was their guy, Priest Holmes was the highest-scoring rusher and Tony Gonzalez was in his prime, it was the 4-5 Cincinnati Bengals that spoiled the Chiefs 9-0 start on November 16. 

They finished 13-3 for the third time in franchise history and the Colts eliminated them in the opening round of the playoffs.

Their date with Manning and the Broncos this year is November 17.

The Chiefs may have carved out a perfect 9-0 start, but it’s all been preparation for when their season really starts next week.