June 23, 2023

🎉 Happy Friday! Last night we got the college baseball game of the year and this weekend we get the CWS final. What a time to be alive.

Note: Kendall's off today, but he'll be back on Monday.

Today's word count: 1,932 words (7 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: ⚾️ Walk-off in Omaha

Ladies and gentlemen, Tommy White. Photo: Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Image

Tommy White has a penchant for hitting bombs — his nickname, after all, is Tommy Tanks — but his blast on Thursday night put all the rest to shame.

ICYMI: LSU's sophomore third baseman hit a walk-off, two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th against Wake Forest to break a scoreless tie and send the Tigers to the College World Series final.

  • He went 2-4 with a walk and that majestic dinger, raising his triple slash to a ridiculous .370/.430/.728 with 23 HR and an even 100 RBI on the year, second-most in the nation.
  • Not that this is too surprising: Last year at NC State — before transferring to LSU this season — he hit an NCAA freshman-record 27 homers with an 1.182 OPS.

Between the lines: It's hard to argue that a walk-off homer to send your team to the CWS final wasn't the best performance of the night. But the game only reached an 11th-inning stalemate thanks to a pitchers' duel for the ages between the two best arms in college baseball.

What happened: LSU's Paul Skenes and Wake's Rhett Lowder are projected to be the first two college pitchers off the board at next month's draft, and last night they showed why.

  • Skenes, a finalist for this year's Golden Spikes Award (baseball's Heisman), threw 120 (!) near-flawless pitches in eight scoreless innings, with nine strikeouts, one walk and just two hits. On the year, he's 12-2 with a 1.69 ERA and 209 strikeouts, by far the most in the nation.
  • Lowder, the ACC pitcher of the year, went seven scoreless innings with six strikeouts, two walks and three hits. He went a perfect 15-0 this year and had a 1.88 ERA for the No. 1 team in the nation. Not bad.

Wild stat: This was the first CWS game in the aluminum bat era (since 1974) that both starters went at least seven innings and allowed three or fewer hits.

🎥 Must-watch play: LSU first baseman Tre' Morgan saved the game in the eighth when he fielded a bunt perfectly with a man on third and somehow got the runner at home.

The other side: Wake's storybook season is over, and thus a mind-boggling streak lives on: The No. 1 overall seed hasn't won the CWS since Miami in 1999, the first year the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

What's next: The CWS final — No. 2 Florida vs. No. 5 LSU — begins Saturday night at 7pm ET.

2. 🏀 Draft night in Brooklyn

Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

To absolutely no one's surprise, 7-foot-5 French phenom Victor Wembanyama was taken No. 1 overall by the Spurs at the NBA draft on Thursday night in Brooklyn.

  • Alabama's Brandon Miller, the SEC's player of the year as a freshman, went second to the Hornets — though it appears some fans would have preferred Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite, who went third to the Trail Blazers.
  • Rounding out the top 10: 4. Amen Thompson (Rockets), 5. Ausar Thompson (Pistons), 6. Anthony Black (Magic), 7. Bilal Coulibaly (Wizards, via Pacers), 8. Jarace Walker (Pacers, via Wizards), 9. Taylor Hendricks (Jazz), 10. Cason Wallace (Thunder, via Mavericks)

Notes:

  • No college, no problem: For the first time since 2001, four of the top five picks didn’t play college basketball, as twins Amen and Ausar Thompson became the first players drafted out of Overtime Elite, the Atlanta-based pro league for 16- to 20-year-olds.
  • Twinning: Speaking of the Thompsons, they became the first brothers selected in the top 10 of the same draft. Plus, Iowa’s Kris Murray went 23rd a year after twin brother Keegan went 4th, making them one of just eight sibling pairs to both be drafted in the first round.
  • What a journey: Keyontae Johnson nearly died in 2020 after collapsing on the court at Florida, and many wondered if he'd ever play again. But he transferred to Kansas State last year, led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight, and last night was taken 50th overall by the Thunder.
  • Surprisingly undrafted: 2022 Naismith POY Oscar Tshiebwe (Kentucky), 2023 Final Four MOP Adama Sanogo (UConn) and three-time All-American Drew Timme (Gonzaga) all went undrafted.
  • The Jalen generation: Five more players named Jalen (or Jaylen) were drafted this year after 11 were drafted across the previous four, as the name's popularity has exploded among this generation thanks to Jalen Rose's fame.

Go deeper:

3. ⚾️ Acuña, Ohtani voted in as All-Star starters

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Ronald Acuña Jr. and Shohei Ohtani have been voted in as starters for next month's All-Star Game after leading their respective leagues at the end of the first phase of voting.

  • Acuña (RF, Braves) led all players with 3,082,600 votes en route to his fourth starting nod in the NL.
  • Ohtani (DH, Angels) garnered 2,646,307 votes and will start as the AL's DH for the third consecutive season.

State of play: The two league leaders at every other position advance to the second round of voting, which runs next week from Monday to Thursday.

Here are the NL and AL finalists …

National League: The Braves lead the way with six finalists, in addition to Acuña.

  • C: Sean Murphy, ATL; Will Smith, LAD
  • 1B: Freddie Freeman, LAD; Matt Olson, ATL
  • 2B: Luis Arráez, MIA; Ozzie Albies, ATL
  • 3B: Nolan Arenado, STL; Austin Riley, ATL
  • SS: Orlando Arcia, ATL; Francisco Lindor, NYM
  • OF*: Mookie Betts, LAD; Corbin Carroll, ARI; Lourdes Gurriel Jr., ARI; Michael Harris II, ATL
  • DH: J.D. Martinez, LAD; Bryce Harper, PHI

American League: The Rangers and Blue Jays are tied for the most AL finalists, with five each.

  • C: Adley Rutschman, BAL; Jonah Heim, TEX
  • 1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR; Yandy Díaz, TB
  • 2B: Marcus Semien, TEX; Whit Merrifield, TOR
  • 3B: Josh Jung, TEX; Matt Chapman, TOR
  • SS: Bo Bichette, TOR; Corey Seager, TEX
  • OF*: Aaron Judge, NYY; Mike Trout, LAA; Randy Arozarena, TB; Yordan Alvarez, HOU; Kevin Kiermaier, TOR; Adolis García, TEX

*There are six outfield finalists to fill the three spots, but only four in the NL because Acuña is already occupying one of them.

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

🏀 CP3 to the Dubs: The Chris Paul era in D.C. didn't last very long. Days after he was sent to the Wizards in the Bradley Beal trade, Paul was traded to the Warriors for Jordan Poole and two future picks.

⛳️ Women's PGA Championship: South Africa's Lee-Anne Pace, ranked 193rd, shot a bogey-free 66 to take a one-stroke lead after Round 1. 20-year-old phenom Rose Zhang is at -1 in her first major as a pro.

🎓 LSU penalized: Former LSU and current McNeese State basketball coach Will Wade was suspended 10 games for impermissible payments from his time at LSU, whose football program was also forced to vacate all wins from 2012-15 due to their own impermissible payments.

⚾️ Crazy speed: DBacks RF Corbin Carroll, the NL ROY frontrunner and MVP contender, showed off his superhuman speed by scoring from first … on a single up the middle.

5. ⛳️ Rory's first ace

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy did something Thursday that he'd never accomplished in his long and prodigious PGA Tour career: He hit a hole-in-one.

  • The ace came on the par-3 eighth hole at the Travelers Championship, landing about 10 yards short of the pin and rolling right into the center of the cup.
  • Wild stat: McIlroy had played 3,253 par 3s on the PGA Tour before finally carding that elusive hole-in-one.

Where it stands: Despite the ace, McIlroy (-2) is tied for 46th after Round 1, eight strokes behind leader Denny McCarthy, who shot a 10-under 60 that was this close to being a 59.

Plus … World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler continued his torrid play with a 63, moving to 203 under par for the season — 48 shots better than anyone else.

6. ⚾️ Pic du jour: Ryan's gem

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Joe Ryan dominated the Red Sox in Thursday's 6-0 win, pitching a three-hit, nine-strikeout complete game shutout — the first by a Twin in five years.

  • The third-year righty has been great all season, improving to 8-4 and lowering his ERA to 2.98 and his WHIP to 0.91, second-best in MLB.

Also … Twins CF Byron Buxton demolished two homers, one going 466 feet and the other 465. He's the first player in the Statcast era (since 2015) with two 460-foot blasts in the same game.

7. 📺 Watchlist: CWS final

Logos: University of Florida and Louisiana State University

The College World Series final is this weekend, as No. 2 Florida and No. 5 LSU will meet in a best-of-three series to determine the national champ.

  • Schedule: Game 1 is Saturday night (7pm ET, ESPN) and Game 2 is Sunday afternoon (3pm, ESPN). If necessary, Game 3 is Monday evening (7pm, ESPN).
  • By the numbers: LSU's six titles are tied with Texas for second-most all-time, behind USC's 12. Florida won its lone title in 2017.

More to watch:

8. 🚜 The Ocho: Combine demolition derby

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Source: Giphy

Demolition derbies are a timeless American tradition. So too, it seems, are those involving the gigantic farming machinery called a combine.

State of play: Combine demolition derbies are held annually across the country, mostly in Midwest states like Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, though there was also one earlier this month in Lind, Washington.

  • Competitors are typically farmers who modify old, worn-out combines by reinforcing the front of the vehicle to get them battle-ready.
  • Of note: Combine is short for combine harvester, so named because it combines four key parts of harvesting — gathering, reaping, threshing and winnowing — into a single process.

What they're saying: "We figured we had nothing else better to do other than spend our money and waste some time, so we made a combine," one Lind competitor told the Cheney Free Press, before adding a kicker worthy of such an event:

  • "You got to drink enough to be here. That's about it. It's good."

🚜 Watch: Highlights (YouTube)

9. ⚾️ MLB trivia

London Stadium is ready for the weekend. Photo: Courtesy of MLB

The Cubs and Cardinals — who face off in this weekend's London Series — are two of the five oldest active MLB franchises, founded in 1870 and 1882, respectively.

  • Question: Which other three teams are at least that old?
  • Hint: All in the NL.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎾 1 loud thing: Tennis' top grunters

Aryna Sabalenka and Carlos Alcaraz. Photos: Robert Prange/Getty Images; Julian Finney/Getty Images

Monica Seles may forever be known as the queen of grunting, but it appears she has a few disciples in the modern game.

By the numbers: Among the world's top 30 male and female players, No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka grunt the most, according to analysis done by betting.com.

  • They both grunt on 100% of their serves, while Sabalenka grunts on 95% of non-serves and Alcaraz grunts on 80% of non-serves.

The other side: No. 5 Jessica Pegula grunts the least among top female players (7%, 2%) and No. 13 Cameron Norrie grunts the least among top males (18%, 6%).

Have a great weekend,

Jeff "Happy for Rory" Tracy

Trivia answer: Braves (founded in 1871 as the Boston Red Stockings), Pirates (1882, as the Alleghenys), Reds (1882, as the Cincinnati Red Stockings)

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