And now, it’s time for another edition of “Late To The Party” – a segment where I touch on stories that have long passed the ever-moving news cycle.
Why do I do it, you ask? Because there are just some sports stories that slip through the cracks in my world, that I still want to talk about.
But, most of all, it’s because it’s my blog, and I feel like it.
Stop asking questions. Let’s just get started, here:
Item: Filipino Wrecking Machine fights for the last time
From: May 16, 2015
The man known they call “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” couldn’t have picked a better venue to end his eight-year MMA career: in the land of his forefathers.
In what would be his final professional fight for the UFC, Middleweight contender Mark Muñoz (13-6) squared off against Englishman, and The Ultimate Fighter alum, Luke Barnatt (8-2) in UFC Fight Night 66: Edgar vs. Faber. The event took place in Pasay City, Philippines – a metropolitan region in the Capital city of Manila.
Talk of Muñoz’s retirement had ramped up after the 37-year-old had suffered a three-match losing streak over the past 20 months – two by chokehold submission, one by KO, and all in the first round. Munoz confirmed his decision to retire in the weeks leading up to the Barnatt fight – a decision he made for his four children:
For me it’s about my family. These past six years have gone by so fast. My oldest daughter, she’s 15. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the UFC. It’s been six years. Since I’ve been in mixed martial arts it’s been seven years. So pretty much half her life I’ve been competing in mixed martial arts. I’m getting emotional even thinking about the times and special moments I’ve missed with her. I don’t want to make the same mistake with my three younger children.
And, on the morning of May 16th (in the US), a determined and healthy Muñoz stepped into the Octagon in the country where he became the sport’s greatest ambassador, against a man six inches taller, and ten years his junior. Judging from the actual fight, however, you wouldn’t know Barnatt had any sort of advantage over the Japan-born Filipino-American.
It may not have been as crisp as it was in his heyday, but there were flashes of the old Wrecking Machine – his ground-and-pound “Donkey Kong” technique still had life in them, and he had quite a few takedowns, dictating the majority of the fight on his own terms. He caught Barnatt with some key strikes to the head, as well, en route to a storybook ending: a unanimous decision victory.
He earned a few words of gratitude to the majority Filipino crowd in Manila, and to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. Some of those words were even in the native tongue of Tagalog:
Good luck in retirement, Mark. As a fellow Filipino, your presence will be missed in the UFC and MMA.
Item: Giants’ Casilla throws “Immaculate Inning”
From: May 17, 2015
It’s a relatively rare feat in the sport of baseball. It was done by a San Francisco pitcher – at the end of a game, no less. And practically no one (outside of the media) really noticed.
In the middle of what would become an eight-game winning streak, Santiago Casilla stepped onto the mound for an inning of work. When he walked off, he had accomplished something that had only been pulled off 79 other times in the recorded history of professional baseball – an era that stretches back 126 years.
What is an Immaculate inning, you ask? It’s an instance, within the course of one side of an inning, a pitcher records three outs on nine pitches – all of which are strikes.
The Giants were clinging to a 9-8 lead over the Cincinnati Reds, in a game where both teams were trading off runs in the late innings. Casilla – a solid closer that has been known in the past to blow late leads (including a 4-run blown save with two outs in the ninth against the Braves on May 31) – proceeded to mow down Marlon Byrd looking in three pitches, strike out Brandon Phillips swinging in three pitches, and punch out Jay Bruce swinging in three pitches.
Despite the semi-historic feat, no one really regarded it as such – not even TV announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper:
It’s still the last time a pitcher has completed an Immaculate Inning, to date. He joins Milwaukee pitcher Mike Fiers (on May 7th) as the only hurlers to throw Immaculate Innings this season. It was the first Immaculate Inning thrown in a closing situation since Tampa Bay’s Rafael Soriano did it against the Los Angeles Angels on August 23, 2010. And he’s the first Giants pitcher to pull off the feat since the great Orel Hershiser threw an Immaculate 4th inning against the Colorado Rockies on June 16, 1998.
At the end of the day, admittedly, it’s a piece of statistical nonsense. The likely reason no one hailed Casilla’s Immaculate Inning was that it was in the midst of an exciting, high-scoring game, and Giants fans cared more about getting out of the matchup with a victory than anything Casilla did on individual basis. They were just hoping that a win would spark a streak that could set up a successful first half of the season.
Ultimately, it’s one of those quirky statistical feats that baseball stats nerds can use to stump each other on Trivia Night. But, when it happens, it’s still pretty cool.
That is, if you just so happen to notice.
Item: Vlade Divac declares Kings C/F DeMarcus Cousins “untradeable”
From: May 20, 2015
As far as they’re concerned, the Sacramento Kings have taken the “For Sale” sign off their most prized possession. At least, they made that clear as early as three weeks ago.
Vice President of Basketball and Franchise Operations Vlade Divac echoed sentiments from Owner Vivek Ranadive that Kings center/forward DeMarcus Cousins was, under no foreseeable circumstances, on the trading block. This was in response to earlier comments from head coach George Karl that no player was untradeable:
Well, I think coach [Karl] kind of stepped it up further than he should … Of course, everybody has their opinion, but right now, if we’re talking about today, yeah, DeMarcus is untradeable. He’s a guy who we’re going to try to build around and see where he’s going to take us.
And it would make sense for a team supposedly on the rise, after finishing the season with a future Hall of Fame coach in Karl, and an 11-19 record to end the 2014-2015 campaign. Despite Cousins’ well-known (if not kind of overblown) emotional shortcomings, he is probably one of the best big men in the league – as his final stat line of 24.1 points per game, 12.7 rebounds per game, 1.75 blocks per game, 3.6 assists per game and 46.7% field goal percentage (in 59 games) would suggest. He will likely be the centerpiece of a promising young team – one that will likely add the likes of Willie Cauley-Stein in the NBA Draft later this month.
That doesn’t stop the media from pontificating the possibility of nabbing Cousins for the right price. For example, Boston looks like a top destination for Cousins, according to the NBA Rumor Mill. Considering their recent run to the playoffs, a quality big man like Cousins could be worth a King’s Ransom (no pun intended), if it meant he would be the missing link to a contending team in the East for the Celtics. Additionally, with the rumors surrounding former Kings head coach Michael Malone in Denver, the Nuggets could be a potential trade spot.
However, since the team has no intentions to trade Cousins as of now, they continue to work the free agency market. For example, reports have arose that the Kings have become a “Dark Horse Destination” for free agent PG Rajon Rondo. This would be huge news … if this were 2012. But the 29-year-old is coming off a down year with Dallas, and it is still unknown what he has left in the tank, despite his relative young age.
But, if Rondo rises from the ashes as a fraction of the player he once was – coupled with the high-efficiency games of both Cousins and Rudy Gay, the prospect of an entire year under Karl, and the possibility of young talent from the draft – the Kings could be a “dark horse” to make the playoffs in 2016.