I very rarely lose track of what's going on in Major League Baseball during the season, but I am deeply absorbed in the World Cup this year. You know when you've made The Leap when it comes to being a soccer fan? When you watch a 0-0 game, like Sweden vs. Trinidad and Tobago yesterday, and you come away thinking it was one of the best games you've ever watched. After the record-setting opener, where Germany and Costa Rica scored six goals between them, I thought wide-open, high-scoring games might be the rule in this tournament, but even some of the mismatches have been close games. Argentina-Ivory Coast didn't seem in question for a moment but the final score was only 2-1 in favor of the Argentines. Paraguay played England to a standstill save for an own goal. The Netherlands and Serbia, however, the first game this morning, was a 1-0 game that was truly not as close as the score. I wrote before play began that the defensive-minded Serbs would have a hell of a time against the Dutch and Argentine stars in Group C, and Chelsea star Arjen Robben was a one-man wrecking crew today. If not for an off day out of Robben's striker partner, the even more highly regarded Manchester United veteran Ruud van Nistelrooy, The Netherlands should have won by about four goals. The Dutch are one of the most beautiful teams to watch in the game, not because of their bright orange uniforms, but because of their ball control. They pass like me playing Winning Eleven on the lowest difficulty level.
I elected not to wake up at seven this morning so I'm catching up with today's action on the TiVo. Mexico-Iran and Portugal-Angola look like mismatches on paper but look what happened with Sweden and Trinidad. The listed T & T goalkeeper hurt himself in warmups and his backup made his World Cup debut and played the game of his life. You gotta love stuff like that -- kind of like Edmonton willing themselves back into the equation in the Stanley Cup finals, while we're on the subject of sports Americans don't care about.
So the "Surprise!" in the title is referring to the standings in the National League West, which I hadn't really looked at since Colorado entered its current persistent funk on a long road trip three weeks ago. It's official: every team in the NL West has now taken its turn being The Story. The Rockies got out to a hot start. The Giants...well, you know about the Giants. The Padres had a shaky April and recovered with their second hot May in as many years. Then the Diamondbacks got on a bit of a roll and suddenly stories were running all over the place about how they were really the class of the division. This was about the time that Brandon Webb stopped being underrated, by the way. Trust me, people know how good Brandon Webb is. Pretty much the whole year, the Dodgers have been hanging around, having injury problems, enjoying some vintage Nomar Garciaparra, and avoiding the huge up and down swings that every other team has gone through. Now that Arizona has lost six in a row, it's their turn to hold the hot potato. Good luck, Los Angeles!
The Rockies beat the Dodgers yesterday in another one of those unfulfilling Coors slugfests, 12-9. It seems as if each of their wins since the disastrous SD-LA-SF trip have fit this description, and you know my bias towards low-scoring games. For me it feels like they haven't won a "real" game in weeks. At this very minute they trail 4-3, so I'm rooting very hard for them to win 5-4. That would put them back at .500, where it really seems they have no business being the way they've played, and it would give them a series win against a team that's not Pittsburgh, another feather in their cap. They're also in last place but only three and a half back of first in what once again appears like the NL Worst. They have a four-game series on the road against the unpredictable Nationals next, and then another trip to St. Louis, who it seems the Rockies are playing disproportionately often this year (they are, in point of fact: they have one extra series against the Cardinals where 14 NL teams have an additional interleague matchup). Of course the non-Pujols Cardinals might be a desirable matchup at this point, and the Rockies have played the men of La Russa surprisingly fearlessly the last few years. Honestly, I'm not going to be paying full attention to baseball until the A's roll into Denver next week. For that series, matching my favorite AL team and my favorite NL team, I promise wall to wall coverage.
Until then, you're all going to have to get used to soccer.