Shanoff's Wake-Up Call: Rays, K-Rod, USC

Today's Calls: Jason Hammel vs. K-Rod, Manny Ramirez vs. Vince Young, Curt Schilling vs. Brett Favre, Ohio State vs. USC, Bobby Petrino vs. Ike, Ron Hornaday Jr. vs. Barry Bonds and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: The Rays didn't need to win the series with the Red Sox this week, as I argued yesterday. ↵

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↵Still, coming into a series where they hadn't beaten the Red Sox at Fenway all season long, it was improbably awesome that they ended up taking two of three from the defending world champs. ↵

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↵Unlikely heroes continue to emerge for the Cinde-Rays: Last night, it was reliever Jason Hammel, who replaced an injured Troy Percival with the bases loaded and no outs in the 14th, Rays up 4-1. ↵

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↵This is usually the moment when the Red Sox crush an opposing team's hopes and dreams — especially in a big game. ↵

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↵Hammel faced three batters and earned 3 outs — and perhaps the most impressive save yet of the Rays' season. Leave it to Joe Maddon: “You've got to give Jason Hammel a lot of credit — my God.” ↵

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↵Indeed. After last night — after this series — I cannot believe there would be any remaining doubters about the Rays' legitimacy. ↵

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↵The Angels are A.L. West champs, with 17 games to go in the season. Certainly a motivation remains — securing home-field advantage throughout the A.L. playoffs. ↵

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↵That said: Will they become one of those puffy early-clinchers who waddle into the short-series LDS, fat and lazy, only to be bounced in five games or less? Perhaps. But it sure beats being the Yankees right now. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, K-Rod notched his 56th save, putting him just two saves away from tying the single-season record — again, with 17 games left. ↵

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↵Manny for N.L. MVP, Cont'd: This is the best kind of “Manny being Manny” — 834 feet of whammo from two 2-run HRs to lead the Dodgers to a W (and their largest division lead of the season, 3.5 games). Manny has 14 HRs and 40 RBI in 38 games since the Dodgers got him. ↵

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↵A.L. Central: There's a corollary to yesterday's argument that division titles don't matter. Correction: They do when the Wild Card isn't an option! In the Yankees-Red Sox Era, that's usually how it plays out for the other two A.L. divisions. ↵

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↵With the A.L. Wild Card seemingly out of reach (for now), the White Sox and Twins are battling for a winner-take-all division title. Last night, the Sox earned the tougher win, snapping the Jays' 10-game W streak; the Twins merely had to beat the Royals to keep pace. ↵

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↵(I guess the Angels do have it right: Clinch early and don't even let it be an issue. Who needs the drama? By the way, "for now" is relative: With Boston's loss and the Twins' win, Minnesota is only 5 GB the WC.) ↵

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↵Vince Young Watch: The team rallied around him yesterday — and VY did the smart thing, showing up for practice as if nothing happened. (Emotional meltdown? What emotional meltdown?). Maybe this week's "situation" was a blip, but maybe it was foreshadowing. ↵

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↵Curt Schilling scolds: Sports fans are "bitter" for cheering Tom Brady's injury? Wait: They weren't cheering injury; they were jeering Brady. There's SUCH a difference. ↵

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↵That Brett Favre says the Pats are still the team to beat in the AFC East, despite losing Tom Brady, says what Favre thinks about the talent of his new Jets mates and his evaluation of his new division. (Not that Favre is wrong, by the way. You'd just like to see him being a little more "gunsling-ish" and emphasizing it's the Jets' time.) ↵

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↵Build-Up to USC-Ohio State: Some sort of big-game redemption for Ohio State? Ha! Can't say this any more clearly: Domination by USC. (AccuScore agrees with me, to a point, projecting USC by 10 points. I think it will be more than that, possibly double.) ↵

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↵Beanie Watch: He practiced yesterday, and coaches put him at “75 percent,” which could either mean, “Hey, 75 percent of Beanie Wells is a pretty good RB!” or “Hey, Ray Maualuga will destroy him!” ↵

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↵Weather: The only thing saving Bobby Petrino from a humiliating loss at the hands of Texas is Mother Nature herself — even then, Ike's arrival merely delays Petrino's thumping until the end of the month. ↵

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↵No Top 25 Thursday night CFB games tonight, but it is more than made up by the matchup of No. 13 Kansas at No. 19 South Florida on Friday, in one of the most intriguing non-conference, non-USC/OSU games you'll get all year. ↵

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↵Business: It's not just NBA players leaving to play overseas; now, players are dropping their U.S. shoe contracts, too: Baron Davis — one of the more entrepreneurial players in the NBA — is leaving Reebok for Chinese brand Li Ning. ↵

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↵The Last Word: The defending NASCAR Truck Series champ used PEDs? The logical question for many of us is: For what? ↵

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↵Ron Hornaday Jr. is driving a truck, not driving an NFL offensive lineman or driving an MLB pitch 400 feet. ↵

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↵I mean, I know he's 50, but isn't that why they make Viagra? ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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