Small Balls: Monday June 16, 2008

La première étoile: Rocco Mediate. Yes, we watched in awe as Tiger Woods hobbled around Torrey Pines on a bum knee. And like you, we spent Father’s Day evening on the edge of our couches, knowing full well that Woods would drain that final-hole putt to force U.S. Open overtime. He is the greatest golfer ever. End of discussion. But don’t let Tiger’s heroics completely overshadow the man on the other end of today’s playoff. Mediate hasn’t won a tournament in six years; he hasn’t even made the cut in 8 of his past 10 events. Yet there he was on Sunday afternoon, smiling and waving on his way to a near-perfect fourth round. If Rocco somehow tames Tiger today, he will make history on two separate fronts: the oldest man to win the Open (he’s 45) and the first champion not ranked in the top 100 (he’s 158th). Go Rocco.

Two minutes for … wetting the bed. Kobe Bryant’s metaphor strikes again! Up 2-0 with 15 minutes to play, the Czech Republic seemed destined for a berth in the quarterfinals of the European soccer championships. But then Turkey scored. And scored. And scored. When the final whistle blew, the Czechs were on the wrong end of one of the greatest comebacks in the history of football—if not sport. Turks 3, Czechs 2.

Who’s got tickets? Torrey Pines Golf Course, San Diego, Tiger vs. Rocco. Sorry for the encore, but golf is the only game worth watching today. Eighteen holes for the U.S. Open title. No sudden-death. No penalty shots. And hopefully, no bed-wetting. At last check, Tiger was up two strokes with seven holes to play.

Fun police: So everybody has their shorts in a twist over A.J. Burnett’s supposedly disloyal lobbying for a trade to the Chicago Cubs on the weekend. Let’s take a look at what A.J. said to the Chicago Sun-Times: “As of right now I’m a Blue Jay, and I’m going to pitch to the best of my ability as long as I’m part of this club,” he told the paper. “But if something were to happen and I’d have the opportunity to go to a place where baseball is breakfast, lunch and dinner, that would be awesome…Right now my focus is with this club, but if something like that were to happen, I’d accept it with open arms.” He is hardly bailing out on the team. He’s saying that if he gets traded to a contender, in a big baseball town like Chicago, he’d take it. Why is this a big story? Because A.J. is not a terribly popular player with his teammates—or reporters. He tends to be surly, defensive, and he just hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a guy making $11 million a year, so one false move and they’re going to be all over him. One thing is now certain, though: whether he gets traded this summer or not, this is A.J.’s last season in blue (unless it’s Cubbies blue).

Extra bases: Kicker Troy Westwood been cut by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after 17 seasons. Probably time to cut that lame ponytail, too…Speaking of outcasts, former New York Islanders captain Alexei Yashin may be on his way back to the Big Apple…And the L.A. Lakers are on their way back to Boston after forcing a Game 6 against the Celtics.