Small Balls: Friday June 13, 2008

La première étoile: Alexander Ovechkin. The Washington Capitals scoring machine was the toast of the NHL awards ceremony last night, scooping up four shiny trophies, including the Hart (MVP) and the Lester B. Pearson (players’ choice for most outstanding). Only 22 years old, Ovechkin netted 65 goals this season—the first time anyone has reached the 60-goal plateau since Mario Lemieux pocketed that many pucks in 1996. It’s only a matter of time before the Russian phenom shares another trophy with Lemieux: the Stanley Cup.

Two minutes for … wetting the bed. That’s how Kobe Bryant summed up the Lakers’ catastrophic collapse in last night’s Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Up by 24 points in the second quarter—and 18 at halftime—L.A. ended up on the losing side of a historic comeback by the Boston Celtics. If bed-wetting is the metaphor of choice, then no mattress was soggier than Kobe Bryant’s. The league MVP shot 6-for-19 in another disappointing performance.

Who’s got tickets? Letzigrund Stadium, Italy vs. Romania. It’s do or die for the Azzurri—and head coach Roberto Donadoni. After a humiliating 3-0 loss to the Dutch, Italy’s national soccer squad must win this afternoon to stay afloat in Euro 2008. Italian fans are just praying it doesn’t come down to penalty kicks.

Fun police: We at Balls have a soft spot for nostalgia. And some of us love the Detroit Tigers, too (OK, one of us). But the saga surrounding Tiger Stadium’s inevitable demolition has dragged on and on to the point of ridiculousness. It’s an old, abandoned park. The field is full of dandelions. And the Tigers haven’t played an inning there in eight years. Tear it down.

Extra bases: Craig Hartsburg is the new coach of the Ottawa Senators…Dog-strangler Michael Vick isn’t the only bad apple in the family…And Rick Reilly with another reminder of why we root for Phil Mickelson (By the way, that clip of Lefty’s duff on the 12th hole is now available. Keep swingin’ for the greens, Phil.)

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