Rafael Nadal v. Daniil Medvedev: Survival Of the Fittest

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Rafael Nadal just won his 19th Grand Slam singles title as he was recently crowned the 2019 US Open Tennis Tournament champion. But it wasn’t easy. Nadal won because he outlasted his opponent. That’s it.  Nadal didn’t necessarily play better or serve better or volley better. He just lasted longer. And that’s the life lesson; sometimes you don’t win big by blowing out your opponent. Sometimes you just figure out a way to stay on your feet for five hours and will your way to a win. It takes guts and grit and resolve and a unanimous resolution to win the match we saw Rafael win on Sunday night. And it was one for the ages.

There were so many lessons and so many story lines and so many memories made that time would fail to capture them all in in one blog. But there’s one story line that I love. It’s about the heart of a champion. Here’s how a Washington Post writer described Nadal’s marathon match with Daniil Medvedev:

“In one of those occasional and stupendous sporting events that winds up flattering the runner-up every ounce as much as the winner, Rafael Nadal spent Sunday evening withstanding a championship match donnybrook rich in unbelievable volleys and awe inspiring, gasping points. A U.S. Open final that was an almost peerless, instant classic was built to such heights that the far-fetched story within it seemed to outweigh even the long-term significance it caused.

Daniil Medvedev, the 6-foot-6, 23-year-old Russian who looks as if he has never encountered a fat gram, spent the 4 hours 50 minutes of Nadal’s 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 win showing that his beanpole frame houses a humongous heart.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/09/08/us-open-mens-final-rafael-nadal-seeks-th-grand-slam-title/?noredirect=on

And so there you have it. Every time we outlast an opposition, we wonder how we made it over. The how is in the heart. And you don’t just need heart; you need a humongous heart, just like the tender, leathery heart of love that our Lord displayed for us on Calvary. The victory of the Cross wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Rafael Nadal would say the same about his momentous US Open Championship win.  And when we are still standing after the enemy has thrown his best at us, we too can say the same.

The Miracle Of Momentum

This past weekend I sat down and watched a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game for the first time this season. And I’m a Philly guy, so I’m all about rooting for the home team. But boy oh boy did I pick the wrong time to watch a bad game.

When I turned on the TV, the Phils had a 4-1 lead, and I said, OK!  Then they extended the lead to a 6 -1 margin, and this was against one of baseball’s worst teams, the Florida Marlins. A five run margin should be enough to win a game, right? Wrong.

A five run margin wasn’t enough. Why? Because the Marlins understood the moxy and miracle of momentum. They got one hit, then another hit, and then two runs and then a few more runs, and the next thing you knew, they were winning 9-6, and that’s how the game ended. The Marlins stole the momentum and won the game.  Just like that. The Phil’s can hit but they sure can’t pitch. They just can’t stop the other guys from hitting, and scoring. In other words, the pitching staff, or more specifically, the relievers, failed them, and this wasn’t the first time this has happened this season. It appears that the Phils relievers aren’t worth their salt.

For all those out there who don’t understand momentum, this one is for you. And for those of us who do respect and hold the muscle of momentum in high regard, let this be a reminder. You don’t want to give away what you’ve worked hard for and rightfully earned, or even what you have been given. 

Momentum in sports is everything. When you’re on a roll, you don’t want to do anything to mess it up or muck it up. If you do make a mistake here or there you recover quickly, and get back to rolling. Trying to sit on a lead and playing “prevent” defense (whatever that is) is always a bad idea. Listen; when you have a good lead, even a little lead, but especially a big lead, you want to do everything in your power to protect it and even pad it, because to lose a lead is next to disastrous, and to lose a big lead is tantamount to preposterous. 

In baseball, a “save” is when a relief pitcher comes in late in the game, say the seventh inning or so, and pitches one or two innings. The reliever’s only job is to keep the other team from getting hits and getting on base and, God forbid, scoring runs. Throwing strikes is good, and getting strikeouts is even better. The worst thing a relief pitcher can do is to give up hits and allow base runners and permit the other team to take the lead and win the game AFTER his team has given him the ball with the lead.

The word save is a theological term. In baseball, the relief pitcher could be considered a “savior,” of sorts. A savior is “a person who rescues others from evil, danger, or destruction. The Old Testament viewed God Himself as the Savior, and because God is the source of salvation, He sent human deliverers to rescue His people, Israel. This word was also used to describe the judges of Israel, those “saviors” or “deliverers” who rescued God’s people from oppression by their enemies.” (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary)

A relief pitcher wins the game. In other words, a relief pitcher is a savior who brings salvation. Our Lord is our relief. He will never lose a save. Never. He came to seek and to save all who were lost.  And he can come into your “game,” a.k.a. into your life, and save you too.

Amen.

The Toronto Raptors: Oh Canada!

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Ok. So the Raptors ripped the reigning NBA royals a new one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear you all the way over here. 

Yes the Raptors won Game One. No, the Warriors did not look like the Warriors. Yes, it was the first NBA Finals game outside of the good ‘ole USofA.  No, Durant did not play. And yes, the fans were pumped and primed and the energy in the building was crazy. And no, the Warriors did not match the Raptors’ intensity. So there; a Game One win for the home team.

But just who were those guys in the home whites? Kawhi turned in a pedestrian performance as he ONLY scored 23 points. But the rest of the Raptors? Who were they? And where did that come from?  I mean a guy named Pascal Siakam scored 32 Points!  Thirty-Two points! On 14 for 17 shooting! Seriously?  That guy shot 82.3% from the floor?!  Are you serious? In other words, that guy, that guy who has a 10 point career scoring average, took 17 shots and missed three.  That only happens once in a never. Is this a dream or what?

Ok — let me try this explanation another way, as I try to lower my blood pressure – breath, breath . . . . Pascal Siakam just played in his first NBA Finals game.  His FIRST. Siakam is averaging 18 points per game in the playoffs and he averaged a very respectable 16.7 for the season.  But his unexpected 32 points in Game One was the most points in an NBA Finals debut since Kevin Durant had 36 for Oklahoma City in 2012, and it made Siakam the first player to score 30 or more on at least 80 percent shooting in a finals game since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 2004.

Those two players, Durant and Shaq, were top-two draft picks, as were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, the other players since 1970 with 30 points in an NBA Finals Game 1 within their first three pro seasons.

So, do you believe in miracles?  This guy from Cameroon, who was going to be a priest, turned to basketball and now turns in the performance of his life when his team needed it most. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. As I watched Game One in disbelief, I realized that it appears that we may, just may, have an upset in the making?

While I’m pulling hard for “my” Warriors, it appears that the team from up North has all of the farm animals lined up to make a dress for the ball.  The newest entry on the long list of sports Cinderella’s thinks she can dance her way into the prince’s heart, and the pumpkin is ready and waiting outside. That’s the pumpkin that just got turned into a riding carriage. We’ll see.

Here’s how Jackie MacMullan from ESPN saw it:

“TORONTO — When you are champions, you stick with what got you here. For the Golden State Warriors, the formula in these 2019 playoffs had been fairly transparent: identify the best player on the opposing team — see James Harden and Damian Lillard — and harangue him into a night of frustration and disappointment.

Thus, the blueprint against the Toronto Raptors was to reduce Kawhi Leonard’s basketball life to misery, or at the very least considerable discomfort. Blitz him, double him, triple him if necessary, force him to give up the ball and dare the others to beat you.

It was a sound strategy on paper — except the “others” were not only expecting it, they were aiming to exploit it. So, it was a collection of “complementary” Raptors who vaulted Toronto to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals 118-109 in a raucous Scotiabank Arena, delivering a roundhouse right to a team that so often has seemed invincible.

On a night when Leonard, who had been the most transcendent player in the playoffs, was a mere mortal, players such as Pascal Siakam happily filled the void. Siakam, the 24-year old forward who once was on a path to the priesthood — until a visit, on a lark, to a summer basketball camp in his native Cameroon detoured him on an improbable basketball journey — scored 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. It was a prolific performance that would have been unthinkable two short years ago, when he was a raw, unpolished player who couldn’t shoot.

At all.

‘I was joking with him the other day,” teammate Fred VanVleet told ESPN. ‘We used to shoot together in my rookie year, and me and the guy rebounding used to duck sometimes because his shots would come off the rim so hard.

‘He had some bad misses. But what you are seeing now is the result of a lot of hard work. You can just see his confidence soaring.”

And the confidence of the Raptors is soaring as well. Not only do they think they can win, they believe they will win. And that’s how we should be: full of faith, void of fear and brimming with confidence that the Lord of Hosts, the King of Glory. shall fight for us. Regardless of the opposition, notwithstanding the competition, we must trust and believe that we are victors, not victims. We must cling to the Old Rugged Cross and to the truth that we are more than conquerors through Him that loves us.

As for the Warriors, they have their work cut out for them, with or without Durant.

Every Good Player Needs A Good Coach

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Every good player needs a good coach. And every great player needs a great coach. And such is the story of the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors won Game Six of the Western Conference Semi-Finals — IN HOUSTON, mind you — on the strength of their best, leading role players, namely Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. But/and they needed help, and they got big help from their supporting cast:  Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston, plus the rest of the bench.

And therein lies the lesson: In Game 6 against Houston, Steve Kerr employed his bench superbly. Maybe he should have used them more earlier in the playoffs, but as they say, “better late than never.”

Steve Kerr is a great coach.  And he has to be to coach the band of brothers that he has on his roster. Greatness needs greatness to succeed.  And we’re seeing the secret of Golden State’s success in the chemistry between the players and the coach.

Here’s a case in point: Steph Curry received his second foul early in the first quarter of Game Six, and Kerr immediately took Steph out of the game, much to his chagrin. When Curry got back to the huddle, Kerr was blunt with the two-time MVP.

“He keeps it real with us,” Curry said of Kerr after the game. “There was a moment tonight where I had my second foul when I fouled James on the three, and I saw on the board that he had put Quinn in. Obviously, I had a reaction to that. I walk into the huddle and he keeps it real.” 

“He’s like, ‘How can I trust you to not get your third when you know how big this game is right now and you put yourself in a situation — a predicament to get your second foul? So, I got to make a decision.’ Put Quinn in. Quinn was ready. Obviously, I didn’t like it, but we have a strong relationship where he knows I’m not going to lose confidence in that moment, and whenever I get back on the floor, hopefully good things will happen.” https://sports.yahoo.com/steve-kerr-had-blunt-message-223457898.html 

Steve Kerr knows which buttons to push and he knows when to yell and when to whisper. He knows his players. He knows their strengths and weaknesses and their bents and their dents, and he knows how to get the best out of them.  Sounds a lot like Psalm 139, right?

Psalm 139 speaks of how well God knows us. He knows our ins and our outs and our ups and our downs. And He wants to see to it that we are victorious in every situation. That’s why we must believe and rely on our Heavenly Head Coach. He knows us, and He wants to see us be the best we can be.

Here’s how Mike Cruz from ClutchPoints reported on the Warriors Game Six win:

“Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala were the stars of the Golden State Warriors’ series-clinching victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night. But as much as they led the defending champs to their Game 6 win sans leading scorer Kevin Durant, the Warriors banked on their motto, “Strength in Numbers,” to propel them back to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he was proud of how each of the Warriors’ supporting cast made their mark in their Game 6 win and wondered why he didn’t deploy them earlier in their 2019 postseason, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

‘Houston puts the fear of God in you,” Kerr, halfway through a postgame Corona, told The Athletic. “So we played it very close to the vest the first five games, just allowing our best defenders to be out there the whole time, thinking we got to do this. Then look, we’re forced to play the bench and they’re fantastic. And I’m like: ‘Well, what the  . . . ? What was I thinking? I should’ve played them earlier.’ But I’m just proud of them.’

The Warriors’ bench has been its thinnest since the Steve Kerr era began in 2015. Kerr has played his stars nearly 40 minutes per game over this playoff run so far. But with Kevin Durant slated to miss the rest of the series against Houston, he had no choice but to dig deep into his rotation, going 11 deep in Game 6.

Needless to say, Golden State’s unsung heroes delivered in every way possible. Kevon Looney continued his impressive play with his hustle, rebounding, and improved ability to finish around the rim. Veteran guard Shaun Livingston, likewise, turned back the clock and gave them an offensive spark off the bench.

Andrew Bogut started in place of Durant and was part of their solid start to Game 6. Jordan Bell gave them a spark with his defense and athleticism, while backup guard Quinn Cook gave quality minutes with Curry struggling and saddled with foul trouble in the first half.

The Warriors could possibly get injured stars Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins back at some point during the Western Conference Finals. Kerr could definitely try to use his bench more moving forward to give his stars fresher legs as they get deeper into another championship run.”

Tiger Woods Wins The 2019 Masters!

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In what might be the greatest comeback in sports history, Tiger Woods outlasted a loaded leaderboard to win the 2019 Masters and win his first major in more than a decade.

Tiger did it. He absolutely did it. After five years and major surgery, Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters golf tournament. And despite what you think of him or what he went through, his comeback is noteworthy. It took faith and guts and fortitude and gumption.

So here’s to Tiger. He came back and his comeback is a throwback to when we fell in love with him way back.

Here’s how Sports Illustrated reported the epic win:

“Tiger shot a final-round 70 on Sunday at the Masters to claim his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship, his first since 2008. Woods trailed Francesco Molinari by two shots entering the final day, but used a vintage back-nine to claim the tournament, redemption and a victory many golf fans thought they would never see.”

So you see, on this Good Friday, we look back to the Cross, the Old Rugged Cross, and remember that after death comes life. And for Tiger, after a meteoric rise and a very public and humiliating fall, he too has risen from the dead.

You Wanna’ Bet?

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The Eagles were not supposed to make the playoffs this year, but they did. At one point in this post Super Bowl celebration season, the Eagles were 4-6 after being embarrassed by the New Orleans Saints in a 48 -7 blowout loss.

The Eagles weren’t supposed to beat DA Bears in Chicago at Soldier Field. But they did.  The Chicago Bears have the NFL’s No. 1 Defense, and everybody said that the Eagles didn’t stand a chance against them.

And Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey WAS supposed to make a field goal to win the game, but he didn’t. Cody Parkey missed a very makeable 43-yard field goal with five seconds left on the clock. And Parkey didn’t just miss it, he hit the left upright – again (he hit the upright five times this season) and then the ball bounced off the crossbar into the end zone.   And the final irony is that Cody Parkey is a former Eagle!

Final score: Eagles 16 – Bears 15. Game over.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles did it again. Nick Foles lead the Eagles to yet another improbable, late game comeback. This time it was against the most dominant defense in football, on the road, late in the game with his team’s back against the wall.

Saint Nick engineered a 12-play, 60-yard drive in the closing minutes and found trade-deadline acquisition Golden Tate for a 2-yard touchdown on fourth down to lift the Eagles over the Chicago Bears, 16-15, in a wild-card matchup at Soldier Field. The Eagles earned the right and advance to play the top-seeded New Orleans Saints in the divisional round Sunday.

The slang term “you wanna bet” is said in answer to something that someone has said, meaning that you are certain that they are wrong. Case in point, the Eagles improbable Super Bowl Victory last year when everybody bet against us, but we still won. Need I say more?

Now, in this post Super Bowl celebration season, Eagles fans believe that we are playing with house money. According to the Urban Dictionary, “playing with house money refers to money that was given to you, easily obtained or stumbled upon. In other words risking it in a bet means you would have nothing to lose. Eagles fans are certain that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain in these playoffs. It’s kinda like last year when no one picked us to win the Super Bowl when Carson Wentz went down to injury. But everybody was wrong.

In sports playing on house money refers to going up against an overwhelming favorite and playing loose and free like you have nothing to lose. A number 16 seed playing against a number one seed in the NCAA tourney would be playing on house money. And the Eagles, the No 6 Seed in this year’s NFL Playoffs tournament, are absolutely the underdog AGAIN!

Living life on house money refers to narrowly escaping death at some previous point in your life. In other words you have defied death and every day that you are still breathing is a bonus. And that is what we as believers do. Through Jesus Christ we have escaped death. Now we have nothing to lose and everything to gain if we live our lives sold out in complete obedience to the will and ways of God. It takes faith and courage. Because God never fails.

So the moral of the story is, I don’t encourage or endorse betting, but you can always bet on God. Always.

You wanna’ bet? 

18 Innings?  Dodgers Win Instant Classic In A World Series Seminar On Perseverance

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Max Muncy Celebrates His 18th Inning Walk Off Homer in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series

Some wins don’t come easy. And some loses come after you’ve given it all you’ve got. So is the story of Game 3 of the 2018 World Series played at storied Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles between the Boston Red Sox and the LA Dodgers. It has become an instant classic for its longevity and its lesson on durability.

Late into the Pacific time zone night and early into the East Coast morning, neither team was willing to yield an inch in this pivotal, potentially Series deciding game between these two baseball superpowers. It was a vintage Ali-Frazier, 15 Round heavyweight fight which left both boxers bloody and bludgeoned. After 18 innings of jitters and nerves, the Dodgers emerged, or rather survived, this bought with the hope and confidence that they can yet pull another rabbit of their hat and actually win this Series. Lose the game and they would be down 0-3; win and they cut the deficit to 2-1; it’s a difference and differential that’s as wide and wanton as you can get. No team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit in the World Series.

This game had enough ups and downs and gripping drama and nail-bighting tension to fill half a season, all wrapped up in a 7 hour and 20 minute baseball battle. Ironically enough, I wrote about the last longest game in postseason history too. That one was “only” six and one half hours long. See https://godandsports.net/2014/10/05/unforgettable-wins-and-unspeakable-loses/

We all like quick and easy. We all like instant and immediate. We all like it and want it now, and when we’re in a hurry, “right now.” But life is not always so obliging. Life does not always cooperate with our desires and demands. The hard but necessary lesson is this: Heaven uses the vicissitudes of life to teach us that what we want does not always come when we want it. Sometimes we are required to wait it out and tough it out. Sometimes we have to persist and preserve through an 18 inning type of trial and suck it up and stick it out until victory is won.

It’s a part of our spiritual training and is a page out of God’s playbook. To endure and to stand and to stomach and hold on and hold out will teach us how much God loves us and how much He has already endured for us, especially on the Cross. Ours is to trust that He still knows what’s best for us.

I don’t know where you are, but that’s where I’m at, because “life can be queer with its twists and turns, as everyone of us sometimes learns . . . but just don’t quit.”

Here’s how ESPN Staff Writer Bradford Doolittle put it:

“With a Cody Bellinger throw and a Max Muncy blow, the Los Angeles Dodgers have crawled back into the World Series. It only took the longest game in the history of the Fall Classic to do it.

Muncy’s dramatic opposite-field home run in the 18th inning off Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi lifted the Dodgers to a will-testing 3-2 win in Game 3 of the World Series, which started late Friday afternoon but ended early Saturday morning, cutting the Red Sox’s lead in the World Series to 2-1.

It was L.A.’s first walk-off Series win since Kirk Gibson’s Game 1 homer off Dennis Eckersley in 1988, which sparked the Dodgers to their last title. Muncy became the first player to hit a game-ending homer in a World Series game since former Cardinal and current Dodger David Freese in 2011. Not bad for a player who was released by the Oakland A’s before last season.

“It’s been a dream,” Muncy said. “This whole year has been a surreal experience that it’s hard to put into words. Just getting a chance to play in the World Series has kind of capped it off. Getting a chance to hit a walk-off home run, obviously there’s not many words I can use to describe that. The feeling was just pure joy and incredible excitement.”

It also was an act of mercy for everyone on hand at Dodger Stadium and watching on TV. The homer ended a game that lasted 7 hours, 20 minutes and ended at 3:30 a.m. Boston time. The time of game would have been long for a doubleheader. It also was the longest World Series contest by innings.” http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/25094012/mlb-max-muncy-gives-los-angeles-dodgers-epic-world-series-win