Notebook > Sports

Albert's this & that

Sports | Cardinals first baseman may need six weeks to recover from injury

Issue: "Death blow," June 17, 2006

Perhaps never before has a foul pop-up generated so many television replays. All right, perhaps the famous Bartman fan-interference incident in the 2003 NLCS generated more ESPN buzz. But certainly the second most hyperventilated pop foul happened June 3 when St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols turned to chase an Aramis Ramirez looping foul, but pulled up after straining an oblique muscle in his back.

The injury puts a wet blanket on what could have been a record-breaking season by the 26-year-old Mr. Pujols. Before the injury, Mr. Pujols had 25 home runs and 66 RBIs (a 72-HR, 188-RBI pace). Team doctors said the injured first baseman would need around six weeks to recover.

That created big problems for Cardinals manager Tony La Russa-and not just in figuring out how to replace Albert's bat while maintaining a lead in the NL Central. "You just don't know," Mr. La Russa said after answering what promises to be repeated questioning on Mr. Pujols' health. "You can do anything you want to, but I'm not going to get into this day-to-day soap opera with Albert's this and Albert's that." Fat chance.

Inner circle

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Will change be good for the NBA? We'll see soon. Since 1980, four years after the NBA-ABA merger, only seven teams have won the NBA championship. In 2006, an eighth team will join those ranks. That's because for the first time since 1971, the NBA Finals features two teams with no NBA Finals history-Dallas and Miami.

But whether an injection of new blood will be good for a league recently dominated by San Antonio and Detroit and more classically by Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston remains to be seen. At the very least, the association won't have to turn its championship trophy over to a team outside of a major media market.

Who will take home the golden trophy? Las Vegas made Dallas the immediate favorite despite the Mavs' lack of Finals experience. After all, Shaq has more NBA Finals appearances under his belt than the entire Dallas roster combined. The Heat's legendary coach, Pat Riley, had more playoff victories just in the 1980s with the Los Angeles Lakers than Dallas coach Avery Johnson has managed regular-season games.

Around the Horn

Funny enough, living legend Roger Clemens' first professional appearance in this, his latest comeback, came with the Class A Lexington Legends. When the future Hall of Fame pitcher agreed to return and play another partial season with the Houston Astros, he scheduled June 6 as one of the first of a few minor league appearances so he could knock off some rust before returning to the bigs. How far beyond Class A baseball is Mr. Clemens? When the right-hander pitched from the stretch, he saw his son, Koby, playing third base.

It was close but no cigar for golfing phenom Michelle Wie, who failed to qualify for the U.S. Open by carding 1-over-par golf in her round and a half. The 16-year-old played strongly but faded late to finish five strokes behind what she needed to qualify for the tournament starting on June 15.

Churches in Germany are looking to turn the World Cup from an opportunity for hooliganism into an opportunity for evangelism. Nearly 1,000 German churches say they're planning on hosting parties for the 2006 World Cup, scheduled to be held in Germany starting this month and ending July 9. The invitation may be taken by thousands of Poles-almost 300,000 are reportedly scheduled to descend on Germany for the Cup, though a good portion won't have tickets. German churches hope the Polish fans will choose to watch the games in sanctuaries rather than local bars.

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