With the World Cup swinging back into action Friday with the quarterfinals, be on the lookout for the telltale first-goal graphic. As of the start of play Friday, teams that had scored the first goal of a game were 36-8-6 in the tournament.
ESPN will surely flash that stat if someone scores in the Germany-Argentina game, scoreless at halftime as this column goes live. But savvy readers of this space will know enough to shout at the TV: Bogus stat!
Teams that have scored the second goal are 29-4-6, a better record.
Remember the objective, kids: Score second!
In fact, since the World Cup has gone to knockout games, the first goal has been the most dangerous to score. Turn to the guy on the next stool when that first one goes in and ESPN flashes that graphic, and say, "What are you doing in a bar at this hour? You unemployed too?"
Wait, don't say that. Say this: "In the eight knockout games so far, the only goals losing teams have scored have been the first goal of the game. Everybody who's scored a goal other than the first one has won."
Spain and Mexico both scored first, then lost. All of the other games have been shutouts. Here's the record of the team that scored each goal of a game in the round of 16:
1st goal: 5-2
2nd goal: 4-0
3rd goal: 3-0
4th goal: 1-0
So once again you see the importance of the second goal, yessiree, but the striking thing is the danger in scoring that first one. The rallying cry in knockout games, it seems, is no longer "Get out there and score second, boys!" Now it's "Get out there and don't score first!" A critical distinction.
You can learn so much from ESPN graphics, can't you?
Here are the overall records of the teams that have scored each goal. For comparison, rather than winning percentage, which I've used before, I'll tell you how many points per game these records have earned, with a win worth three points and a tie one:
1st goal: 36-8-6, 2.28
2nd goal: 29-4-6, 2.38
3rd goal: 17-3-3, 2.35
4th goal: 10-0-3, 2.54
5th goal: 3-1-0, 2.50
6th goal: 2-0-0, 3.00
As you can see, no goal is less productive than the first.
Note: This column was published at 12:05 p.m. EDT. At 12:06 p.m. EDT, Argentina scored the first goal of its game against Germany. At 12:08 p.m. EDT, ESPN flashed a graphic saying that teams that had scored first were 36-8-6 in the tournament. Germany scored the second goal, then won the game on penalty kicks.
Those poor 17-2 Twins [PERMALINK]
As long as we're playing with numbers, let's talk about the Minnesota Twins, who are putting up some staggering figures and, apparently, not getting much of anyplace with them.
As several suffering Twins fans have written me to note, the Twins have had the misfortune to get scorching hot at the same time that the two teams ahead of them in the American League Central Division, the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, are also on fire.
The Twins have gone 17-2 since June 8. In the same stretch, the division-leading Tigers have gone 17-3 and the second-place White Sox, who are leading for the wild card, have gone 15-5. So the Twins have made up a half game on Detroit, two and a half on Chicago.
The Twins now trail the Tigers by 11 games and the White Sox by eight and a half. They're also behind the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card race, by two and a half and one and a half games.
Really tough luck. Nobody can remember a team playing so well for such a long stretch and not making any hay in the standings.
But the thing is, it's an illusion. The Twins are making hay. Lots of it.
For one thing, they've gotten rid of the Cleveland Indians, whom they trailed by four games when this streak began and now lead by seven. They've also made up two and a half games on the White Sox while Chicago was winning 15 of 20. That's no small thing. If the Tigers cool off, the White Sox will be the team the Twins are chasing for the division.
And in the process of gaining that small amount of ground on Chicago, the Twins have gone from ninth to fourth in the wild-card chase, passing Baltimore, Los Angeles, Seattle and Texas as well as Cleveland. On June 8 they were nine games out of second place for the wild card. Now it's two and a half. Even if you're not getting that much closer to the leader, you have to pass all those other guys first.
So work is getting done even if it must feel to Twins fans as though all this winning is going to waste.
Winning never goes to waste -- and neither does losing. If the Twins had gone 17-2 starting in mid-May, they'd have pulled to within a couple of games of both the Tigers and the Sox, who they'd have beaten a few times each during the month. And then if they'd followed that streak by going 8-15 -- their record in the 23 games before their current hot stretch -- they'd have lost that ground again and been right about where they started.
Twins fans wouldn't have lamented that their team got hot at the wrong time. They'd have complained that they stunk out the joint during that 8-15 stretch. Their beef now shouldn't be with Detroit and Chicago getting hot while Minnesota is in June, it's with Minnesota going cold in May, or during a 3-10 run that started April 16.
What the Twins have done is righted the ship. Johan Santana has overcome a rough start to again pitch like a Cy Young winner. Francisco Liriano has moved into the rotation and pitched like another Johan Santana. Justin Morneau has begun looking like the slugger the Twins have been waiting for him to be for three years. Nobody stays as hot as catcher Joe Mauer is right now -- he's hitting .456 in June -- but is there any doubt he's the real deal?
The Tigers and White Sox will cool off, as will the Twins, who have their work cut out for them in the second half. But the problem isn't their inability to gain ground during a hot streak, it's the fact that they had all that ground to make up in the first place.
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This column will be taking the full week to celebrate the Fourth of July and honor the silver anniversary of having my right cornea burned by the end of a lit cigarette while at a show by the English band the Fall at Al's Bar in Los Angeles.
It was an accident, but you have to admit, that was pretty punk rock.
My friend Mike, who like me was underage, bought me a beer to put on my eye, since there was no ice. He felt bad because he had pushed my head into the business end of our friend Tina's cigarette as he tried to get me to shove over on a bench. Tina was holding the cigarette up and out, Tallulah Bankhead-style. She was going through a phase like that, and for all I know still is.
I stayed at the show, of course. It was the Fall!
The next morning, upon waking up and finding my eye welded shut, I decided I'd better tell my parents about the incident, whereupon they took me to the emergency room, where I met lots of other people with burned eyeballs, all of whom had been at the beach the previous night, and all of whom had had an encounter with some kind of fireworks. The first thing the nurse said to me was "Which beach?"
I got to wear an eye patch for a week or two.
There are festivities at my house throughout the week commemorating the event, rendering it impossible for me to write the column. I'll see you again -- with both eyes -- on Monday, July 10.
Previous column: NBA draft
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