Reflections on a Great Sports Weekend

Quite often, the effects of losing players to injury on a team aren’t felt immediately. That seems to be the case with the Cardinals, who are clearly missing Jon Jay and Lance Berkman. These are two guys who were key contributors to the Redbirds’ 11th world championship, and their magnificent start to the 2012 season. However, Jay was injured for the second time on May 14, after playing in just 27 games. In those games, Jay hit .343 with 18 runs scored.

Berkman started the season as the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter. He played 13 games before injuring his knee in Los Angeles on May 19. Berkman was hitting .333 with a homer and four RBIs in 42 at-bats, and was coming off an MVP-quality season.

While the Cardinals did score a bunch of runs upon the loss of those two, the fact is that the Cardinals are suffering the effects of their absence now. The offense has scored one run in its last 28 innings. Matt Adams, Adron Chambers and Shane Robinson all have the chance to be solid players, and all are serviceable right now. Robinson and Adams were really hot for a while. But the Cards got consistent impact from Jay and Berkman, and are clearly missing those guys now as they’ve fallen to .500 at 27-27 and into third place in the National League Central.

*How fun was it to watch Tiger Woods win his second tournament of the year? Nobody has any idea what to expect from Tiger, but perhaps we need to bet on him in legends’ tournaments. The two he’s won have been Arnold Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill and Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio. This was after a 40th-place finish at The Masters, a missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship and another 40th at The Players Championship.

The lasting image of this one will be Tiger’s flop shot for a birdie at the par-3 16th. Woods’ tee shot went over the green and landed about four yards beyond the fringe, but he hit a transcendent pitch for birdie. On CBS’ coverage, Jim Nantz made a good point about Woods’ reaction. We haven’t seen that since his life fell apart during Thanksgiving weekend of 2009. The shot, and his reaction to it, were classic Tiger.

Nicklaus, whom Woods tied on the all-time PGA win list, said the shot was the best he’d ever seen. “It was the most unbelievable, gutsy shot I’ve ever seen,“ he said on CBS. Later in a press conference, with Tiger sitting next to him, Nicklaus said, “Under the circumstances the circumstances being Tiger has been struggling it was either fish or cut bait. He had one place to land the ball. He’s playing a shot that if he leaves it short, he’s going to leave himself again a very difficult shot. If he hits it long, he’s going to probably lose the tournament. He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. Going in the hole was a bonus. But what a shot!

“I don’t think under the circumstances I’ve ever seen a better shot,” Nicklaus repeated. This one will be seen on Tiger highlights forever, joining his chip at the 16th at Augusta in 2005 and his pitch on No. 17 at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what two weeks from now holds for Tiger at the 2012 U.S. Open. I picked him to win the Masters after he won at Bay Hill, and he finished at five-over. I won’t pick him to win at the Olympic Club, but I wouldn’t bet against him, either.

*In basketball, those who jump all over LeBron James for not taking the final shot in playoff games can’t say that about Game 4 against Boston, and those who accuse the NBA of fixing games to favor the Heat can’t, either.

LeBron wasn’t even on the court for the end of overtime, having fouled out for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat. He did hit the game-tying three-pointer with 30 seconds left to force overtime, but the critics will forget that. They’ll remember that he passed the ball to Udonis Haslem at the end of regulation, and that he fouled out. Dwyane Wade missed the game-winning shot at the end of overtime, allowing Rajon Rondo’s layup and free throw to stand for a two-point win.

If the NBA wanted Miami to win so badly, would LeBron foul out? I don’t think so. Paul Pierce, yes. He’s fouled out twice in this series. But it’s even now.

We should simply enjoy these playoffs. Oklahoma beating San Antonio twice is a stunner, and Boston winning both at home is a surprise. Having two conference finals series reduced to best-of-three is great theatre.

*We can’t expect the same in the NHL Stanley Cup finals. The Kings eliminated the Canucks in five, the Blues in four and the Coyotes in five. They’ve been a dominant force in these playoffs, and we should expect more of the same. With Jonathan Quick playing at the same level he has all postseason, the Kings have been able to win the first two games in overtime.

New Jersey is a formidable opponent, but this is L.A.’s year.

One other hockey note: The Blues’ signing of Vladimir Tarasenko eliminates the need to sign a free-agent forward or make a trade for a scorer this offseason. Tarasenko is regarded as the best player in the world not playing in the NHL. If the Blues can find themselves a solid defensive-minded defenseman to pair with Alex Pietrangelo, they’ll be set to contend for the Stanley Cup next year.