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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Opening loss

     April 13, 2000 -- The Buffalo Sabres had gone on a couple of magical playoff runs prior to the 2000 postseason, reaching the conference finals twice and the Stanley Cup finals once. With Dominik Hasek in goal, the theory went, almost anything was possible.

     It didn't take long to figure out that some of the magic had expired -- one game, in fact. The Sabres ran into an imposing Philadelphia team in the playoffs' opening round of the 2000 season.

     It turned out to be a sign of things to come. The Flyers were in good form when they defeated the Sabres, 3-2 in the opener.

     "We have a lot of character guys in this room, and I think it showed," center Daymond Langkow of the Flyers said to The News' Bucky Gleason . "We would rather be the underdog. I think the pressure is on them. Everybody is expecting them to win. There's definitely pressure on us. We'll see what happens."

     Some hockey experts thought the Sabres were going to win that series. Eric Lindros was out with a concussion, while coach Roger Neilson was fighting cancer. Two power-play goals gave Phliadelphia a big boost.

     "There's a reason why they finished first in the (conference)," Sabres defenseman Jason Woolley said. "They went through a lot this season. To still finish first says a lot about that team. We always have tough games with Philly. We know they're going to be close and it comes down to a bounce here or a bounce there."

-- Budd Bailey

Spring reading: Baseball book reviews

There are always plenty of baseball books released during the time around the start of the major league season, and this year is no exception. Here are snapshot reviews of the ones I've read so far; click on the title to jump to my website for a longer take on each one:

The Extra 2% -- Jonah Keri -- My favorite book of the year to date. This is the story of what went wrong in the early days of the Tampa Bay Rays, and then what went right. It's a great look at how the business of baseball is run in this day and age.

The House That Ruth Built -- Robert Weinstraub -- It's a detailed look at the 1923 season, focusing mostly on Yankees' slugger Babe Ruth and Giants' manager John McGraw. I particularly liked the review of the opening of the now-old Yankee Stadium.

162-0 -- A Mets Perfect Season -- Howie Karpin -- This has descriptions of 162 wins in Mets' history without a great deal of perspective. It seemed rather dry, even for Mets' fans.

Baseball Prospectus 2011 -- Edited by Steven Goldman -- There's no better source of information on players of all types through the game. This year's edition featured a few more typos than usual, and the team summaries seem to drop in quality a slight bit from previous editions. This is still worth your time if you are a big, big baseball fan.

Solid Fool's Gold -- Bill James -- This is a collection of articles by the noted baseball writer, taken from his website for the most part. There's not too much topical here, so some won't find this helpful. But ... James has such an interesting approach that it's never boring to see what he's thinking about a variety of subjects (in other words, he doesn't stick to baseball).

Baseball Miscellany -- Matt Silverman -- The author tries to answer a variety of questions about the game. You might learn a little here, although it seems more targeted for those who are just learning about the sport.

The Greatest Game Ever Pitched -- Jim Kaplan -- The longtime Sports Illustrated writer takes on a classic pitchers' duel between Buffalo native Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal, throwing in short biographies of both men along the way. It's a relatively quick read, and Kaplan is happy to bounce from subject to subject associated with that particular game.

Remembering Fenway Park -- Harvey Frommer -- A sprawling look at the Red Sox and their time in Fenway Park, about the only remaining baseball cathedral we have left. It's almost a history of the team without mentioning road games, which is a little odd, but the pictures are great -- particularly of the old days -- so it's a good looking book.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Jo Jo at the line

     April 12, 1974 -- If Game Four of the playoff series between the Buffalo Braves and Boston Celtics in 1974 was the greatest moment in Braves' history, the Game Six confrontation was one of the saddest.

     It ended with a whimper instead of a roar.

     The Braves trailed, three games to two, in the series, and trailed for much of Game Six in front of a sellout Memorial Auditorium crowd. Finally, Buffalo crawled back to tie in the last minute.

     However, the Celtics had the last shot. Right at the buzzer, Bob McAdoo fouled Boston's Jo Jo White in the act of shooting, knocking White to the ground. Referee Darrell Garretson whistled McAdoo on the play, thus putting the official in the Braves' doghouse for the rest of his life.

     White had three chances to make two shots, with no Braves or Celtics lined up on the foul line. The solitary White missed the first one, but hit the next two.

     Boston 106, Buffalo 104. Game over, season over.

     For more on that season, click here.

--- Budd Bailey

Post Time: As the Derby Trail Turns

By Gene Kershner
 If you loved how wide open the Masters was Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, when at one point, nine contenders were within a shot of the lead on the back nine, this year's Road to the Kentucky Derby is for you. The Derby trail took some peculiar twists and turns on Saturday afternoon, highlighted by the unseating of the Juvenile champion, Uncle Mo, at Aqueduct Race Track.
 If you had bet that trainer Todd Pletcher would win one of the three major weekend prep races, we would have been right with you, especially with the heavily favored Uncle Mo running in the $1M Wood Memorial. When Joe Vann, a Pletcher trainee (and Post Time's second choice), took the $300K Illinois Derby a few minutes before the call to post at Aqueduct, it looked like it would be a stellar afternoon for the Pletcher barn.
 What followed was a shocking upset at the hands of Toby's Corner who split Arthur's Tale and Uncle Mo in the final 100 yards of the Wood. By the way, those three were Post Time's top three selections in Friday's blog and if you boxed them in a $2 trifecta, you'd be $170 richer. If you boxed Post Time's top four in a $1 superfecta (cost - $24) you would have cashed a $433.50 ticket (or $43 if you played it for a dime)!
 What does this mean? It means the Kentucky Derby is now a wide-open affair and that the seemingly invincible Uncle Mo is now just another horse with question marks as to stamina, conditioning and health. He came out of the race with a slight injury to his left front foot which occurred at the gate break, which his connections are not concerned with. The connections will have blood work done on Mo on Tuesday, prior to his shipping to Churchill Downs on Monday, April 18.
 The one thing that his Saturday effort will ensure is that he'll be at a way better price than his Derby futures final odds, and most likely he will relinquish his status as the morning line favorite. That title will most likely defer to Florida Derby winner, Dialed In, or The Factor, should he back up his effort in the Rebel with a similar race in next weekend's Arkansas Derby.
 We'll wait and see on Uncle Mo, it is still considerably early still to pass judgment on him based on one poor effort and dismiss him as a win candidate on the First Saturday in May. There are so many factors still in play, including post position, Churchill workouts and whether something was bothering him in the Wood. We've seen him hit the acceleration button in the past, however, when Johnny V pushed the button on Saturday, Uncle Mo just didn't have it. Remember, Uncle Mo does have a victory over the Churchill Downs track last November. Don't count him out just yet.
 On the west coast, Bob Baffert continued his dominance of the Santa Anita Derby, winning his sixth title in the signature preparatory race at the beautiful Arcadia, California race track. Midnight Interlude, a maiden winner last out, overtook a game Comma to the Top in the stretch, taking the top prize and jumping into the Derby picture, winning at odds of 13-1. The race, in combination with Uncle Mo's poor showing in New York, prompted Comma to the Top's trainer Peter Miller to rethink his decision to skip the Derby.
 As one can see it's anyone's Derby at this point and the handicapping puzzle just became all the more difficult. It's time to sharpen the Post Time pencil, put on the green eye shades and get to work. We've started to build our annual Derby spreadsheet with facts and figures that can serve as a guide to finding the winner.
 Look for thoughts on this coming weekend's prep races, the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes, in Post Time's Friday's blog.
 Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer, handicapper and member of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com and tweets @EquiSpace.

Bandits notebook: Seven out of eight

This might be a good time to sort out the National Lacrosse League playoff picture.

The Bandits are in the driver's seat in the East at 10-4. Since Buffalo has the tiebreaker over Toronto (10-5), Buffalo needs one win in its last two games or needs Toronto to lose its last game.

Buffalo needs to win its two games and needs Calgary to lose its last game to gain home-field advantage for the entire playoffs. (Calgary would host Toronto if those two met in the final, no matter what happens the rest of the way.)

The Bandits and Toronto must finish one-two in the East. Rochester has wrapped up third, and Boston has wrapped up fourth. Who would you rather play in the first round.

Calgary is set to win the West, while Washington is on the verge of finishing second (a win or a Minnesota loss). The Swarm needs to win twice while the Stealth loses its last game to claim second.

So the only drama left is between Colorado and Edmonton for fourth. If Colorado wins a game or Edmonton loses, the Mammoth is in and Edmonton goes home for the season.

--- Budd Bailey

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Sweet sweep

   April 11, 1981 -- Hockey fans below a certain age probably don't remember the idea of the best-of-five playoff series in the NHL. The first-round matchups were like that in the early 1980s, and they were always a time to be nervous. One false step and a regular season was on the verge of being wasted.

   That's why the Buffalo Sabres let out a big exhale on this date.

   The Sabres finished off the Vancouver Canucks in the opening series of the '81 Cup playoffs, taking the third game by a score of 5-3. That completed the sweep.

   There were plenty of familiar names on the scoresheet. Danny Gare and Tony McKegney had two goals each, while Lindy Ruff also scored. Don Edwards got the win in goal with 23 saves.

   The game was the last postseason hurrah for some members of the Buffalo organization. The Sabres went on in the next round to lose to Minnesota in five games. Coach Roger Neilson was
shown the door after that series.

   Then in December 1981, the Sabres traded Jim Schoenfeld, Gare, Bob Sauve and Derek Smith to Detroit. That definitely marked the end of an era in Buffalo's hockey history.

--- Budd Bailey

Masters Final Round Review

From Augusta National

At the Top: South African Charl Schwartzel ended a string of 10 straight pars with birdies
on the final four holes to score a two-shot victory over Aussies Adam Scott and Jason Day.

 Whatever Happened to . . .: Rory McIlroy? He disintegrated on the back nine and shot 80 -
the same score he put up with the lead in the second round of last year's British Open.

Tiger Pause:  Augusta's rolling hills came alive when Woods eagled No. 8 to tie for the
lead. But he missed a 3-foot par putt on No. 12 and a 3 ½-foot eagle putt on 15 and couldn't
close the deal.

In His Defense: Phil Mickelson was never part of the party, shooting 74 and finished tied
for 27th, his worst placing at a Masters since 1993.

Toughest Hole: The par-3 4th, playing 240 yards, gave up just one birdie and claimed 21
bogeys.

 Easiest Hole: The 15th narrowly edged out the 13th in the battle of the generous par-5s.
Both yielded 24 birdies.

Eagle Sightings: There were six, five of them on par-5s. Schwartzel made 2 at the 350-yard
par-4 third.

Record-Setting: Day's final-round 68 was good for a 72-hole total of 276, the lowest total
ever by a Masters rookie.

He's Honest: Spain's Alvaro Quiros wasn't kidding was he said his goal following a
first-round 65 was to make the cut. He shot 73-75-74 the rest of the way and tied for 27th.

Quotable One: Bo Van Pelt, who was within a shot of the lead after eagles on 13 and 15:
"This is what everybody … this is what you dream about and what you've heard stories about.
 There were plenty of roars today.  It was a good day to be on the couch watching golf I've
got a feeling."

Quotable Two: McIlroy: "You know, I'm very disappointed at the minute, and I'm sure I will
be for the next few days, but I'll get over it. I've got to take the positives, and the
positives were I led this golf tournament for 63 holes."

  -- Bob DiCesare

 

Sunday at the Masters -- Afternoon Update

AUGUSTA, Ga.  -- 12:30 p.m. Arrived at Augusta National 45 minutes ago. Up late watching Deadliest Catch reruns. Love that show and missed most of the 2010 season so it was good to catch up.

Very little red on the board so far today. Stats show there are birdies to be made at Nos. 2, 3, and 7. Early groups just getting to back nine  ... If Jason Day shoots 70 today he'll match the best four-round score by a first-year player (278, Toshi Izawa, 2001). . . . Rory McIlroy would be the first wire-to-wire champion since Raymond Floyd in 1975  and only the fifth in Masters history. McIlroy's playing his third Masters. Tiger Woods broke through in his third Masters. So did Byron Nelson.

2:05 p.m. Early returns show birdies plentiful at No. 2 (13, plus an eagle). Among non-par 5s, No. 7 has yielded seven birds, No. 10 two and No. 12 three. Nos. 12, 14 and 9 are playing below their par of 4. So there are numbers to be made out there today. . . . Pin at No. 18 is tucked just behind the bunker. Plan of attack will be to play it 20 feet beyond pin to ridge and suck it back.

3:55 p.m.: That was an interesting walk. Went out to watch McIlroy start his round. Was adjacent to 3 fairway when Schwartzel holed out for eagle and a share of the lead. Watched McIlroy miss 5-footer for birdie on 3. Heard roar at nearby 8 green and got there in plenty of time to see Tiger made his eagle putt. The real indication the old Tiger might be back was the par putt conversion at No. 9. He never missed those, not after an eagle. He makes it, McIlroy bogeys No. 5 and suddenly Tiger's in a three-way tie at the top. Never imagined it happening. Never.

-- Bob DiCesare

 

This Day in Buffalo Sports History: "Don't go, Shane"

   April 10, 1993 -- If there was any justice, Shane Conlan would have retired as a member of the Buffalo Bills. But sometimes storybook endings stay in the storybooks.

   Conlan, a native Western New York, was part of the Bills' Super Bowl era in the early 1990's. But he couldn't work out a contract with the Bills after the 1992 season, and jumped to the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent.

   It was a very bittersweet situation for both Shane and the Bills," agent Brett Senior told The News' Mark Gaughan. "It came down to the Rams and the Bills, and I spent an extensive amount of time working with John Butler (the Bills' general manager), but they could not match what the Rams were able to put together."

   Conlan agreed to a three-year deal, and was said to be worth $1.8 million per season. That almost doubled his salary with the Bills.

    "To lose somebody of his ability, and considering what he's meant to the Buffalo Bills, you hate to lose a player like that," Bills' general manager John Butler said Saturday night.

   Conlan spent those three seasons with the Rams, and didn't play football after that. Interestingly in hindsight, he never made an All-Pro team after leaving Buffalo.

--- Budd Bailey

Masters 3rd Round Review

From Augusta National

At the Top: Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, 21, needed but a steady 70 to expand his lead to four shots in his quest to become the youngest major winner since Tiger Woods captured the 1997 Masters.

Lurking: McIlroy will be paired with 2009 Masters champion Angel Cabrera, who shot 67 Saturday. Cabrera's steel. The kid better be ready for a test. South Africa's Charl Schwartzel, South Korea's K.J. Choi and Aussie Jason Day are also four back.

Tiger Pause: There was no carryover from Friday's 66. Woods shot 74 and couldn't get his putter going. He's seven back and tied for ninth. He'll be gunning for pins from the get-go today.

In His Defense: Phil Mickelson shot 71 and is tied for 18th, nine back. All three of his green jackets have been won in even years.

Toughest Hole: No. 1 came to the fore Saturday, playing to a stroke average of 4.327. It yielded just two birdies opposed to 16 bogeys and a double.

Easiest Hole: There were three eagles and 25 birds at No. 13. No surprise with the pin back middle. The field carved it to the tune of a 4.531 stroke average.

Eagle Sightings: Six, all on par-5s.

Deja Vu: Spain's Sergio Garcia shot up the leader board early, at one point tying for seventh at minus-6. Sergio? The guy who never has made it through a Masters without shooting a 75 or worse? Heads up. Here comes the free-fall. Final score: 75.

False Alarm: Like Woods, Aussie Geoff Oglivy failed to fire. He followed consecutive 69s with a 73 and, like Woods, is seven back.

Quotable One: Adam Scott on the influence he's had on fellow Aussie Jason Day: "I don't know, it's hard to mentor a guy who is beating me. Maybe he's got some advice for me."

Quotable Two: England's Luke Donald on whether he was monitoring the leader boards as he shot 69 to move into contention: "Yeah, they're big and white and they're everywhere.  They're hard to ignore."

-- Bob DiCesare

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