USC, UCLA come away as winners with work to do

USC and UCLA left the football field last weekend feeling good about themselves. Makes sense: They both came away with come-from-behind victories at home.

They were both very fortunate to do so as both teams showed they still have a lot of work to do.

Pac-12 logoUCLA’s 45-44 win at the Rose Bowl over Texas A&M on Sunday night was remarkable. Quarterback Josh Rosen threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Lasley with 43 seconds remaining after faking a spike to help the Bruins overcome a 34-point deficit and stun the Aggies. That was the good news. The bad news was that UCLA had to score on five straight possessions after trailing 44-10 with 4:08 to play in the third quarter.

USC’s 49-31 triumph at the Coliseum over Western Michigan on a sweltering Saturday afternoon ended on a happy ending. The Trojans finally broke open ties of 21-21 and 28-28 by outscoring the Broncos 21-3 in the last 6:57. But it was all USC could do to stop Western Michigan’s rushing game in the first half.

Both Los Angeles schools have big-time QBs who can take their teams a long way and both could receive serious Heisman Trophy talk. Sam Darnold at USC should compete with Rosen for crosstown attention.

It was Rosen who had the more spectacular game last weekend. He was 35 of 59 for 491 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Darnold completed 23 of 33 for 289 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns.         USC was saved by running back Ronald Jones II, who ran for 159 yards on 18 carries for three touchdowns. But the offenses won’t mean much if the defenses don’t tighten up quickly.

It was the ground game that nearly spelled doom for both the Trojans and the Bruins. Western Michigan rushed for 263 yards at USC and Texas A&M put up 382 against UCLA’s 70.

USC, ranked No. 4 before its opener, hosts No. 14 Stanford next Saturday night and the Trojans know what’s coming.

“I’ve been playing Stanford for going on four years now,” safety Chris Hawkins told The Associated Press. “I know what they are going to come do. We all know what they are going to do. They are going to run the football.”

UCLA, meanwhile, can afford to be sky-high all week after topping A&M. The Bruins host Hawaii next Saturday. While the Rainbow Warriors will be looking for their first 3-0 start since 2007, their wins so far are against the likes of Massachusetts and Western Carolina.

With Rosen commanding the offense, UCLA’s defense may have an easier task than USC’s.

THE WEEK JUST PAST

Coliseum thermometer
The Coliseum thermometer started at 100 degrees before USC’s football game, stayed there throughout it and will probably remain there until next Saturday’s game.
Now, while still trying to rehydrate after seeing Saturday’s USC game at the 99-degree Coliseum, here’s a look at the week just past:

  • I really don’t think the Coliseum thermometer has worked in decades. I think someone just manually puts the needle where it’s supposed to be at the start of the game. It never seems to move from that spot.
  • According to ESPN Sports & Information, the last team before UCLA to overcome a 34-point deficit was Michigan State on Oct. 21, 2006, defeating Northwestern.
  • ESPN pays a lot attention — probably too much —to win probability. Texas A&M’s win probability was 99.5% as late as 4:21 left in the game.
  • Also from ESPN S&I: Rosen’s 491 passing yards is No. 3 in UCLA history, behind Cade McNown (513, 1998) and Drew Olson (510, 2005). Rosen tied McNown with his 11th career 300-yard passing game.
  • The Pacific-12 Conference went 12-0 for the weekend, which is no mean accomplishment for any conference. The only blemish the Pac-12 has so far is Oregon State’s 58-27 loss to Colorado State on Aug. 26. The Beavers defeated Portland State (barely) on Saturday. Everybody else is 1-0.
  • Just as good as UCLA’s win Sunday was No. 21 Virginia Tech’s over No. 22 West Virginia. The Hokies won 31-24 for their first season-opening win in 11 games against an AP-ranked team.
  • The feel-good moment of USC’s win without question was the Trojans having Jake Olson snap the ball for the point after their final touchdown. Olson was adopted by former coach Pete Carroll eight years ago after he lost both of his eyes to a rare form of cancer. He joined the team as a walk-on long snapper three years ago. He had previously snapped at Orange Lutheran High.
  • One hero of Olson’s snap was umpire Mike Stephens, who steadied Olson beforehand and made sure he knew when the ball was about to be whistled ready for play. Another was Western Michigan coach Tim Lester, who had agreed not to rush a PAT attempt snapped by Olson.
  • The Dodgers seem to be an entirely different team right now than they have in the last 4½ months. And not in a good way. That 2017 World Series may not be as much of a shoo-in as you thought.
  • It’s likely the Dodgers would play the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Division Series, the same Diamondbacks who swept them last week and the same Diamondbacks who come to Dodger Stadium for a three-game series starting Monday.
  • The only good things about the Dodgers’ weekend series in San Diego, in which they lost three of four, were 1.) Clayton Kershaw’s win Friday night (even though the Dodgers managed only one run) and 2.) Cody Bellinger homering on both Saturday and Sunday to break Mike Piazza’s club record for home runs by a rookie. Outside of that, the series was a stinkeroo.
  • What do you suppose will ever happen to Joc Pederson? Sent down to Triple-A Oklahoma City on Aug. 19, Pederson has hit only .125 in 12 games with one extra-base hit. He hasn’t been brought back up with other roster expansion players and now that Oklahoma City’s season is over, the word is Pederson may go to Double-A Tulsa or Class-A Rancho Cucamonga. Pederson has hit only .215 for the Dodgers this season with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs and .156 with two home runs since the All-Star break.
  • Dia de los DodgersCreepiest-sounding promotion of the year: The Dodgers are calling Tuesday night “Dia de los Dodgers.” It’s sort of like the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), in which people gather to pray and remember family and friends who have died. The Dodgers promotional blurb — which comes with a skeleton-looking batter drawing — says, “Honor the spirit and memories of those loved ones who shared your love for Dodger baseball.” The skeleton looks like the Dodgers offense these days.
  • Meanwhile, the Angels continue to battle for an American League wild-card spot. They are 1½ games behind Minnesota for the second spot, tied with Baltimore. The Angels’ relief pitchers were named AL Bullpen of the Week after allowing seven earned runs and 21 hits in 30⅓ innings with 30 strikeouts and 15 walks. Closer Blake Parker had three saves.
  • Stacy Lewis played in Portland, but won for Houston. Lewis won her first LPGA tournament since 2014 at the Cambia Portland Classic in Oregon and the Houston area native donated her entire $195,000 in winnings to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Her two biggest sponsors also helped out with Marathon Oil donating $1 million and KPMG matching Lewis’ donation.
Advertisements

Peanuts and Squirt for communion? Yes, and bread all over the floor

Our best intentions of honoring Jesus don’t always go as planned. Fortunately, He cares much more about our intentions than our execution.

This is about the time I was in a group of people who celebrated communion using peanuts and Squirt. It’s also about another time at church when much of the communion bread wound up on the floor.

Communion is a very special time that most Christians observe at least once a month. It started when Jesus had what is called the Last Supper with his disciples. It was the only time when Jesus instructed them — and us — to remember Him.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood …”

— Luke 22:19-20

Like I said, most Christians observe communion at least once a month (at our church they do it on the fourth Sunday; at other churches I’ve attended, they’ve done it on the first Sunday); there really is no schedule laid out as to how often communion should be observed. Nor is there really any prescribed way on exactly how to do it. It’s likely that Jesus broke a loaf of bread in two and distributed the two halves around the table. It’s also likely that they had one cup of wine that was passed to each of them.

Many churches use special plates to pass the bread and cups around the congregation. The bread is usually a kind of unleavened cracker which can be either hard or soft. Catholics usually use a communion “wafer.” Instead of wine, most churches use grape juice. There are even prefilled juice cups you can buy with a top that can be peeled off.

Sometimes, however, you have to improvise.

Planters peanutsFor years, I attended and later served as a counselor at a college/career conference in the San Bernardino mountains near Crestline on Labor Day weekend. I loved that conference; it made me feel special in a way that few other things have.

It was the first place I experienced the blessing of small groups. Even though they took me out of my comfort zone, I always came away feeling better and closer to God.

We always had communion the evening before the conference ended. It was the big climax to the weekend. But somehow one year, our small-group leader didn’t get us back to the dining hall in time for squirtcommunion. As someone who was a regular to the conference, I was disappointed to miss that special time.

But we had one more small-group gathering on the last day and our leader had a surprise for us. We were going to have our own communion, he said, but the only things he could find for us to use were a jar of peanuts he had bought at the camp store and a can of Squirt he had gotten from the soda machine.

It wasn’t the same, but it’s an experience I haven’t forgotten.

 

CB064066It wasn’t the first unusual communion I’d experienced. I was a deacon at the church I grew up at in San Luis Obispo and one of our jobs was to distribute communion each month. Five of us would line up on each side of the two pastors at the communion table. The pastors would pass each plate to the deacon next to them and the deacons would pass them down the line until everybody had one.

CB064070Our church had always used the boxed cracker-type communion bread. But one of the deaconesses (yes, there were such people: a remarkable group of women who did some great ministries, including preparing the elements for communion) thought it would be a great idea if she baked some bread and cut it into little bite-size cubes.

It seemed like such a great idea at the time.

The deacons were all in place on each side of the table. I was in college at the time and a lot of my friends from the church college group were sitting in the front. They were already trying to get me to crack up while standing in my very solemn position.

Then the pastor — usually a pretty solemn guy himself — took the lid off the stack of bread plates and began passing them down. It didn’t take long to notice a little trickle of white fluttering down to the floor. Another look and you could also see little cubes of bread from each plate stuck to the bottoms of the plates above them.

Nobody had thought that real bread might stick to the plates when they were stacked. That was certainly never a problem with the hard crackers.

Deacons were trying to take the plates that were being handed to them and at the same time scoop the bread off the plate they had just passed down.

As the organ continued to play When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, my eyes grew big when I saw the pastor grab some of the bread and just stuff it into his pocket. He was no longer in rescue mode. He had gone fully into recovery mode.

The college kids lost it. They were on the floor.

Only the people in the first few rows could see what was going on. All the others, including my parents, were oblivious to the whole thing.

But this was quickly becoming an ecclesiastical nightmare. I mean, this was communion, literally for heaven’s sake! We obviously couldn’t pick up the bread that had fallen onto the floor. We were all beginning to wonder if we’d even have enough bread left to serve everyone, but we couldn’t even huddle for a moment to formulate a plan.

But somehow, we had enough bread to serve everyone. This is a miracle I consider to be just as amazing as the five loaves and the two fish feeding the 5,000.

We stacked all the plates in the lobby and came back down to the front, ready to serve the cup. I had always been concerned about dropping a plateful of full communion cups. The idea of having a problem with the bread had never occurred to me.

That was the first and only month the deaconesses baked bread and cut them into small cubes for communion. Itt was boxed, unleavened crackers from then on.

Chargers lose first round in ‘Fight for L.A.’

cha mkltp 1 for gold bkgd rgbThe Chargers lost the first skirmish in their self-described “Fight for LA.”

Not only did the Los Angeles Chargers drop their NFL preseason opener, 48-17 to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but the team’s first game at StubHub Center attracted less than a sellout crowd.

Not that a sellout crowd would’ve been all that difficult to produce. StubHub Center, in beautiful Carson, Calif., is a soccer stadium, home to the MLS Los Angeles Galaxy, and holds only 27,000. Perspective is everything here. To give you an idea of how big (or small) 27,000 is, it’s two Dodgers crowds.

But in their first game back in Los Angeles (the Chargers played their first season in L.A. in 1960 before moving to San Diego), didn’t even reach the 27,000 sellout figure. An announced crowd of 21,054 was on hand for the Chargers’ first game.

Note: Whenever they call it an “announced crowd,” it’s because it looks like considerably less than what they announced. The word “crowd” is probably a little suspect, too. “Gathering” or “assembly” might be more accurate. Or maybe “sewing circle.”

But when your “announced crowd” still isn’t even anything close to the capacity number at an NFL stadium that holds only 27,000, you’ve got problems. The next smallest NFL stadium is Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum at 53,286. The Raiders have announced plans to leave for Las Vegas after the 2018 season.

Like we said, perspective is everything. The night before the Chargers drew 21,054, the Galaxy had 25,667 see it lose 2-0 to New York City FC. This season, the Galaxy is averaging 23,167 in its 12 games at StubHub during one of its worst seasons in recent memory.

It should be noted that the Chargers have gussied up their new stadium as well as they can and certainly in a smaller venue, you are much closer to the action. There are premium locations to watch the game and even “cabanas” to go into in case you’re more interested in drinking than you are in watching the Chargers. Or in case watching the Chargers drives you to drink.

It should also be noted that on Saturday, the Los Angeles Rams, who returned to L.A. from St. Louis last season, drew 62,888 for their preseason debut against the Dallas Cowboys at the Coliseum. And the Rams were 4-12 last year.

The Rams and Chargers are both scheduled to inhabit a sparkling new 70,000-seat stadium in Inglewood in 2020.

In the meantime, three seasons may seem like 30 at StubHub Center to the Chargers, who went 5-11 in 2016.

I’ve covered a high school football state championship game at StubHub Center. Even high school football seemed like a stretch for the stadium then. The press facilities, obviously, have been improved since then, but back then there wasn’t even enough room for someone to walk behind a person who was seated in the press box.

Of the NFL’s 31 venues, 17 are called “stadiums,” as in Arrowhead Stadium or AT&T Stadium. Ten are called “fields,” as in Lambeau Field or Soldier Field. Two (L.A. and Oakland) are called “coliseums.” and one is called the Superdome.

Only one is called “center.”

“Center” is great if you’re an NBA team. In the NBA, 17 of its 29 arenas are called “center” (or in Toronto, “centre”). But in the NFL, you should play in a “stadium” or a “coliseum” or in something “super.”

The Chargers will, eventually. But if Sunday’s Los Angeles debut is any indication, not very many may care.

THE WEEK JUST PAST

Now, while counting my announced crowd on one hand, here’s a look at the week just past:

  • The real “fight for L.A.” came last week when the Rams and Chargers scrimmaged in Orange County. The large-scale brawl started when Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson shoved Chargers receiver Dontrelle Inman. During that scuffle, Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ran onto the field to defend his teammate and was taken down by Chargers receiver Keenan Allen. It was a fight that would’ve been unlikely to happen in the regular season and never would’ve gone on that long.
  • Speaking (again) of the fight for L.A., it would be interesting to see which TV station had the biggest ratings over the weekend: Channel 2 for the Rams, Channel 7 for the Chargers — or Channel 5 for the Raiders. Only thing was the Raiders were tape-delayed. Apparently, they didn’t want to hurt the attendance coming in from L.A.
  • Chris Sale has had a great season pitching for the Boston Red Sox. It seems like so long ago when he was with the Chicago White Sox and was suspended for five games for cutting up a bunch of throwback jerseys merely because he didn’t want to wear one. If he couldn’t wear them, then neither could anyone else. Like we said, it seems so long ago, but it was just over a year ago.
  • The Washington Nationals are breathing a sigh of relief after their slugger, Bryce Harper, sustained only a bruised knee after slipping on the bag at first base over the weekend. The play looked like every ligament in his leg would wind up in Baltimore.
  • Scott Boras, Harper’s agent said Major League Baseball must take steps to ensure that wet, slick bases aren’t a safety hazard in rainy weather. They must do this, apparently, to make sure Boras doesn’t lose any money.
  • Speaking of the Nationals, it was great to see former Angel and Dodger Howie Kendrick hit a walk-off grand-slam home run in the 11th inning Sunday night to beat the San Francisco Giants.
  • Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs said — after striking out, of course — that he would like to see an electronic strike zone in the major leagues. “If we want to change something like that, we’re going to have an electronic strike zone because human beings are going to make mistakes,” Zobrist told ESPN. He’s sure to get plenty of calls his way from umpires now.
  • Wisconsin and Notre Dame announced they will play football at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in 2020 and at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2021. This will be news in three years.
  • Boxer Floyd Mayweather fights mixed martial artist(?) Conor McGregor Saturday, Aug. 26 in Las Vegas. For those of you wondering, like my wife was, it’s a boxing match. No grappling. No judo. No pummeling. No artistry. Also, for those of you wondering, it will be an incredibly overblown event.

Bring your requests to God; accept His will and peace

Three weeks ago, I wrote about prayer instead of sports. Prayer is something I think about a lot these days, in my journey toward the next chapter in my life, so I hope you’ll bear with me. This week I want to sort of “fine-tune” a few things about prayer.

prayerDo you ever feel as if you don’t know what to pray for in a certain situation? Or even how to pray?

Sometimes it’s baffling. We want to pray the way God would have us pray, but it’s not always clear exactly what that means.

Should we pray for what we want, even though what we want might not be what God has in mind for us? Should we only pray for God’s will with no specifics about what we would like to see happen? And even if we do pray, does it really make any difference since God not only already knows what’s on our hearts, but how it’s all going to turn out anyway?

Sometimes even when we turn to God’s Word to try to find the answers to these questions, we can still come away not understanding exactly what we need to do.

Are you praying right now about serious health issues, either for loved ones or for yourself? How do you pray for something like that?

You quite naturally would hope for that person or for you to be fully restored to health and may well have the faith to believe God could do that.

In Philippians 4:6, the apostle Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

That’s a wonderful promise. Giving your anxieties over to God and experiencing His peace is a relief. Even in the darkest times, the peace of God surpasses all comprehension. With God, anything is possible. God can do anything within His will.

Here’s the thing we may not want to face: It may not be in God’s will for that health to be restored. It may instead be in God’s will for that person to be called home.

That’s a hard fact to deal with, but Jesus Christ, who underwent every kind of trial we could ever face, dealt with the same thing Himself. On the same night He was betrayed by Judas, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In Mark 14:34-36, Jesus had just told His disciples His soul was “deeply grieved to the point of death”:

“And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.’ ”

Jesus acknowledges that God can do all things and then asks that He might be spared from having to die the gruesome death He knew was ahead. Then Jesus submits to the Father’s will instead of His own, knowing that God’s will is perfect, even for Him.

It’s the perfect example of how to pray in times of crisis. God, as Paul has stated, wants to hear our requests and wants to give us His peace. Even Jesus went to the Father with His desperate plea, but He received God’s peace by submitting to His will.

A perfect example for imperfect people. We often think we know exactly what God should do, or at least what we would do if we were God. But we’re not God. There is only one God and He is sovereign over us.

Why does God do the things He does? Why does His will sometimes seem wrong to us? We won’t know until we are with Him in heaven. We need to be content in knowing that God is in control of everything, that none of our crises are a surprise to Him, and that even if what we believe to be the absolute worst happens, God is still Ruler over all.

Be anxious for nothing. Pray and let God know what’s on your heart. Then accept the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, knowing it will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Hating to wait on the Olympics, but it’s for a good cause

Pourquoi devons-nous attendre?

(Why must we wait?)

Yeah. Pourquoi?

Why does France get to go first? Why do we have to wait and go second?

Los_Angeles_Memorial_Coliseum_(Entrance)
The Los Angeles Coliseum will host its third Olympics in 2028.

It was learned Monday the International Olympic Committee plans to take the unusual step of awarding two Summer Olympics at once, giving the 2024 Games to Paris and the 2028 Games to Los Angeles.

Originally, L.A. and Paris were competing only for the 2024 Games, but the IOC decided, with two strong candidates, it would give 2024 to one city and 2028 to the other.

As the Los Angeles Times reported Monday, “it has been expected that L.A. would agree to go second, if only because local bid officials expressed a willingness to consider the option. Paris officials, by contrast, had consistently pushed back against waiting another four years.”

First of all, it’s great that the Olympics are coming back to Los Angeles. After hosting them in 1932 and 1984, it will become only the third city to have hosted three Summer Games, joining London and, yes, Paris.

But it could’ve — and should’ve — been the second. L.A. is much more prepared to host the Games than Paris. Much of what is needed to host the Games is already in place in Los Angeles whereas Paris is likely to have to build a good share of its structures.

Doesn’t it make more sense to give the Games that are coming up sooner to the city that can be ready quicker? Doesn’t that seem like a formula to bring about the most success for the Olympics in general?

Leave it to the French to get all up in a huff, excuse me, soyez insulté, about not being first in line.

“Je sais quand je ne suis pas voulu (I know when I’ve been insulted),” said the French. “Je prends mes jouets et je rentre chez moi (I’m taking my toys and going home).”

The decision to make L.A. wait another four years — from something that is seven years from now to something that is 11 years from now — is difficult for people all excited about getting the Olympics here as soon as possible. But the practicality of waiting four more years is undeniable.

First, let’s not understate the idea that U.S. politics could be in a vastly different place than they are now. There are certainly plenty of people around the world who would find the vision of President Donald Trump opening the Olympic Games to be completely abhorrent. If Trump were to win re-election in 2020 and the Games were here in 2024, it would be he who would be at the Coliseum or at the new Inglewood stadium declaring open the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad. Waiting until 2028 could make the rest of the world feel much better about the Games being in the United States.

Or, as the French would say, “Votre président est un ninny.”

The biggest advantage to Los Angeles being willing to postpone its party is financial. The IOC is willing to give L.A. significant concessions in ways the IOC usually doesn’t do. For instance, it plans to contribute $1.7 billion of its broadcast and sponsorship revenues to Paris in 2024. That contribution could increase to $2 billion by the time we get to 2028.

The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were famous for the legacy they left with the surplus they had after they concluded. Well, to be more to the point, they were famous just for having a surplus. “Vous plaisantez (You’re kidding),” said the French. The surplus was, and still is, used to fund youth programs in Southern California.

Ever since then, Olympic Games have operated in the red. The IOC has a contingency plan for host cities to help with overruns and are not available until the Games are over. But the Times said the IOC plans to give L.A. a $180 million interest-free loan right away to help the organizing committee’s operations for an additional four years and to start helping youth sports.

The actual contingency fund, more than $487 million, would become a surplus if the L.A. Games can once again come in at or under budget. That would bring even more money to the youth of Southern California.

So, while I’d selfishly prefer to see an L.A. Olympics in 2024 when I’d be 68, it’s much better for the greater good if I wait until 2028 when I’m 72.

Seventy-two?

Sainte vache!

Holy cow!

Kershaw’s injury is no reason to back away from Dodgers now

Clayton Kershaw looks on during batting practice.
Could the Dodgers’ dominant 2017 season be derailed by Clayton Kershaw’s back injury? (Arturo Pardavila III photo)

Maybe it was too good to be true. Is Clayton Kershaw’s back injury the thing that brings the Dodgers back to earth? Or will this just be part of an amazing story or perseverance that will culminate in their first world championship since 1988?

The Chavez Ravine feel-good movie of the summer took a sudden genre change toward horror in the past week. Not only did the Dodgers lose (gasp!) two games in a row for the first time since June 5-6 on Thursday and Friday against the 47-50 Atlanta Braves, but Kershaw (15-2, 2.04 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) is headed to the disabled list after reinjuring his back Sunday. Reports say he could be out 4-6 weeks.

Already you can hear the millennial bandwagon jumpers at Dodger Stadium whining: “Oh, noooo! Nobody said people might get injured or that the Dodgers might actually lose a game I went to!”

Look, folks. The Dodgers were 68-31 going into Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Twins, the best record in the majors by 2½ games and the National League’s best by eight. In the NL West, they lead Colorado by 10½ games and Arizona by 11½.

Every conceivable break has gone the Dodgers’ way at this point. It would be foolish to think at least a little adversity wouldn’t pop up at some point.

But understandably, this isn’t just a little adversity. This is very significant. Kershaw is just about as close to a guaranteed win as there is in baseball. Even though his Dodgers teammate, Alex Wood, is 11-1 with a 2.17 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .188 (Kershaw’s is .197), Wood still doesn’t instill nearly as much confidence in the Dodgers and their fans as Kershaw does.

(By the way, Wood’s record was 11-0 and his ERA was 1.56 before Atlanta beat him Friday.)

This isn’t the first time Kershaw has had back trouble. He missed 2½ months last season with a herniated disk. It’s noteworthy that the Dodgers played well in his absence and wound up winning their fourth straight NL West title.

After leaving Sunday’s game at the end of the second inning, Kershaw felt “just felt a little something in my back that wasn’t normal,” he said.

“I’ve done countless, countless hours of back maintenance and rehab just trying to stay healthy and felt really, really good up to this point. There’s definitely frustration, for sure.”

At the same time Kershaw goes on the disabled list, a second starter, Brandon McCarthy will join him there due to a blister.

All this happens a week before the trade deadline and even before Kershaw’s exit, the Dodgers were reported to have interest in right-hander Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers.

The Dodgers’ ERA is the best in baseball and if Kershaw has to spend much time of the disabled list, that statistic will go up, but it will still be impressive. In addition, the offense has been jaw-dropping. It’s not a reach to say the Dodgers can keep up their safe margin in the standings even if they have to be without their ace for a while.

THE WEEK JUST PAST

Now, while checking the Billboard playlist to see if the Dodgers are singing I Only Have Eyes for Yu, let’s take a look at the week just past:

  • The Dodgers weren’t the only team to lose a starting pitcher Sunday. The Washington Nationals pulled Stephen Strasburg (10-3) with a 4-0 lead in the second inning because of “an achy forearm and tightness.” Of course, this potential injury isn’t as scary for the Nats as it once might have been because of Max Scherzer.
  • Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but the world champion Chicago Cubs finally overtook the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central standings after winning Sunday night. The Cubs’ margin, however, was only .001 going into Monday’s game against the White Sox.
  • As we said, the baseball trade deadline is looming next Monday. They say the best trades are the ones you don’t make, and almost none of the trades that are being rumored will be made. It takes a lot less to make a rumor than it does to make a trade.
  • Jordan Spieth’s remarkable turnaround in the final round of the British Open — one stroke behind after the 13th hole to a three-stroke victory — was one of the event’s most sensational performances. It certainly caught the attention of Jack Nicklaus:

  • I still believe The R&A is way too snooty when it insists on referring to its event as just “The Open.” There are too many “opens” out there, not the least of which is the U.S. Open. There’s no shame in calling it the British Open.
  • So there. Nyah, nyah, nyah.
  • Legendary Lakers coach John Kundla died Sunday at the age of 101. Legendary? Definitely. Kundla’s Lakers won six championships. And you never heard of him? You can probably be forgiven. Kundla’s titles came before the Lakers moved to Los Angeles, when they were still the Minneapolis Lakers. Those championships came not only in the NBA (1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954), but also the league’s immediate predecessor, the National Basketball League in 1948. The star of the Lakers back then was 6-foot-10 center George Mikan.
  • Even though he was born in Pennsylvania, Kundla was a Minnesotan most of his life. The Lakers hired him from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul and after coaching the Lakers from 1947 to 1959, he opted to stay in the state after the Lakers moved to L.A. and coach the University of Minnesota from 1959 to 1968.
  • No one should fault Kyrie Irving for wanting to be traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers so he can be the star somewhere else and escape from the shadow of LeBron James. However, making your request public when James himself knew nothing of it tarnishes your brand just a little bit.
  • It was downright comical to see the Lakers celebrate winning their Summer League championship as if it were the NBA Finals. But comedy right now is still what the Lakers do best.
  • By the way, if you see anything — anything — about LaVar Ball, Floyd Mayweather or Conor McGregor, don’t look at it. Just don’t look. Please.

Prayer: So personal, so powerful

(No sports today, folks. Instead, please read my essay on prayer. Thanks!)


It’s so amazing that God wants to hear from us. He wants us to pray, to come to Him with our needs, our wants, our joys, our sorrows. He wants to hear about our day, to hear about all the news, about what the kids are doing, about how much your parents are actually starting to make sense now that you’re all grown up (what a concept!). He wants to laugh with us, to cry with us.

prayerGod clings to every word we say to Him. Try to wrap your mind around that for a moment. The God of the universe wants to hear from us. Us, with all our imperfections, all our foibles and follies.

He certainly doesn’t have to. He could be a God who, after creating everybody and everything in the universe, might just sit back on His heavenly throne and spend His time looking down upon it all with pride. If you were God, wouldn’t you do that? I’m sure I would.

But that’s not our God. Our God is not only so infinite that He created the earth, the sun, the solar system and every planet in it, every star, every galaxy and the entire universe, He’s also so infinitely personal that He has numbered every hair on your head and knows about every care on your heart.

He cares about us as if we were the only thing He ever created.

Do you feel alone? Do you have things going on in your life you feel you can’t tell anyone about? Tell God. It’s not as if He doesn’t already know about it, but He longs to have you come to Him with it. He is your safe place, your shelter.

Max Lucado, in his book, Facing Your Giants, writes about the Psalms that David wrote and how often he uses the word “refuge” in them, more than 40 times:

“But never did David use the word more poignantly than in Psalm 57. The introduction to the passage explains its background: ‘A song of David when he fled from Saul into the cave.’ Lost in shadows and thought, he has nowhere to turn. Go home, he endangers his family; to the tabernacle, he imperils the priests. Saul will kill him. Here he sits. All alone. But then he remembers he’s not. And from the recesses of the cave a sweet voice floats:

“ ‘Be merciful to me, O God!

“ ‘For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I make my refuge.’ (Psalm 57:1)

Lucado concludes with this: “Make God your refuge. Let Him be the foundation on which you stand!”

Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder and CEO of the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, was left a quadriplegic by a diving accident 50 years ago this month at the age of 17. Since then, she has used her experience and the skills she learned after a long rehabilitation to help others in similar situations.

In one of her recent daily devotions, Tada remembered how much she leaned on Jesus Christ, especially in the time immediately following her injury:

“I recall times long ago in the hospital when Jesus came through as my friend. There were times when He was my one and only comfort during dark lonely nights after visiting hours. Friends or family weren’t allowed in, so I soothed my pain by imagining a visit from another Friend.

“I pictured Jesus — walking through the open doors of my hospital ward, His figure a silhouette against the light from the nurses’ station down the hall. My mind’s eye saw Him walking softly past the beds of my sleeping roommates. I’d comfort myself, imagining His standing at my bedside. The sharp pang of loneliness was eased as I thought of questions He might ask: ‘Tell me what happened in therapy today. Was it nice to see your sister earlier in the evening? Tell me all about it.’

“Talking with Jesus strengthened my confidence in Him, a friend who would ultimately see me through months of suicidal depression at the prospect of permanent paralysis. He was the one who lent a sympathetic ear, His eye contact never faltering.

“What a friend I have in Jesus. But I wonder … what kind of a friend does He have in me?

“Too often we stay at an arm’s-length distance, pulling back from the full intensity of an intimate friendship with the Lord. We satisfy ourselves with ‘less’ when it comes to our relationship with Him. But His love explodes our selfishness when we hear Him say, ‘I have called you friends [John 15:15].’ His love breaks our hearts as only an intimate friend can.”

Maybe you want to talk to God, but aren’t sure what to say. Or maybe your grief, despair or anger is so completely painful and debilitating, you don’t know how to express them. It’s important that you know this: The Holy Spirit is there for us, pleading our case before our Heavenly Father.

In Romans 8:26, the apostle Paul tells us, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

Does that describe how you feel? We can still come to God even in our weakest, most defeated, most ashamed moment and even when we know we can’t possibly even lift our heads before God, the Spirit will communicate for us to Him.

Two verses later, in Romans 8:28, Paul continues: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

An important thing in prayer is to turn ourselves over to God’s will. Prayer isn’t an Amazon wish list. While it’s perfectly fine to present our needs and even our wants to God, we need to understand that God is sovereign and that it is His will that will be done.

Even Jesus, when He prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before His arrest, submitted to the Father’s will. Jesus “fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’ ” (Matthew 26:39)

Jesus, being as human as you and I, did not want to suffer the pain of His beatings and crucifixion and asked that if it was possible, to have it taken away. But He still recognized He should submit to His Father’s will.

Back in Romans, Paul sums up his point by saying this in 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?”

Indeed, who could stand against us if God is for us?

Romans 8 concludes with this powerful statement in verses 35-39:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

“ ‘For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;

“ ‘We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Prayer, such an intimate, personal thing, brings us in contact with the most powerful Friend we could ever have.