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Buster Douglas

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By David RothImprobable things happen in sports.

It's part of what makes them interesting.

But the turbo-charged improbability of a true sports outlier — this would be Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson, Villanova beating Georgetown, the present Mets lineup scoring 11 runs on Wednesday night — is a different thing entirely.Associated PressSpanish goalie Iker Casillas has one of those slow-motion 'Nooooooooooo' moments as he fails to stop Clint Dempsey's shot.That happens once every few years.

And it happened on Wednesday when the U.S.

soccer team beat Spain 2-0 in the semifinals of the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Spain is ranked first in the world by FIFA, and is almost implausibly stacked with stars — even casual fans of European soccer will recognize just about every name on Spain's side.

The same, if it even needs to be noted, cannot be said of the American roster."The inequity is what made this match such a spectacle," George Vecsey writes in the New York Times.

"The Spanish players are regulars for Barcelona and Liverpool in the richest leagues of Europe.

The Americans play in the earnest Major League Soccer or are mostly role players and reserves in Europe.

But for these 90 minutes on Wednesday, the Americans were better than the Spaniards — brave and smart and lucky, too — and they will always have this result." (Elsewhere in the Times, Jack Bell compiles video of the few previous U.S.

soccer wins that approach this one in improbability)While the San Francisco Chronicle's Ray Ratto is impressed with the win, he's less bullish on the U.S.

squad's World Cup prospects, given the team's limitations.

"The U.S.

is typically at its best playing defense-first because it is not a team filled with flair and creativity, but one of fearlessness and persistence," Ratto explains.

"There's nothing wrong with any of those character traits, but it is harder to play a conservative, back-into-the-goal-and-hope-your-goalie-saves-your-bacon style game after game and survive."There is, of course, still the sense that many (most?) American sports fans just don't care all that much about this admittedly amazing result.

In the Guardian, Amy Lawrence takes a generous Brit's-eye view.

"It is hard for any of us living in major footballing nations to imagine how frustrating it must be for those dedicated to the sport in America," Lawrence empathizes.

"For the players, the coaches, the small but dedicated number of fans, the administrators, their love for the game is no less real than it is in England or Spain, Brazil or Mexico, Egypt or Zimbabwe.

Anyone observing the whirwind of joy that swept through the U.S.

team cannot for a second argue that it means more to Fernando Torres than Landon Donovan."* * *Thursday night's NBA draft is widely considered to be one of the least inspiring collections of incoming talent in years, so it makes sense that a flurry of trades involving big-name veterans drew more attention Wednesday and Thursday.

Due to the NBA's byzantine rules, most of these deals aren't official yet, but it is almost certain that the cost-cutting Phoenix Suns will deal Shaquille O'Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that the upstart Atlanta Hawks will acquire scorer Jamal Crawford from Golden State.

In the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Brian Windhorst ably limns the good and bad of what he calls "the biggest trade in Cavaliers history." And the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Sekou Smith reports that, if the flurry of text messages he received was any indication, Crawford's new Hawks teammates are delighted to see him come aboard.While there isn't a rising rookie in this draft who could steal headlines from these quasi-blockbusters, Brandon Jennings probably comes closest.

A star high schooler, Jennings opted to take his game to Italy's Lottomatica Roma for a season rather than attending college for the customary one-plus semesters.

He is now projected as a lottery pick despite a frustrating, culture-shock-laden experience abroad.

In the Los Angeles Times, Chuck Culpepper offers a nice profile of Jennings, his experiences in Italy and his pioneering choice to redefine the term "one and done."* * *Perhaps because of how thoroughly Louisiana State dominated college baseball in the 1990s, it doesn't seem that surprising when the Tigers win the College World Series.

The school's dominant 11-4 win over Texas on Wednesday sealed its sixth CWS title and first since 2000.

It's also the first for Paul Mainieri, the hand-picked successor to legendary coach Skip Bertman.

"When Mainieri made the decision to move from Notre Dame to LSU after the Â'06 season, he realized he was going from a relaxed environment in South Bend, Ind., to a pressure cooker in Baton Rouge," Yahoo's Kendall Rogers writes.

"LSU was a program with five national titles, and boy, did fans of the Tigers expect to win.

Mainieri accepted the challenge.

He was motivated by it." At CBS Sports, Dennis Dodd notes that Mainieri's Tigers were also helped along immensely by Jared Mitchell and Chad Jones, two stars borrowed from LSU's football team.* * *Maria Sharapova became the first big name to depart at Wimbledon when she lost to Argentine player Gisela Dulko, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

In the London Times, Barry Flatman argues that Sharapova's loss at the All England Club could wind up being a loss for women's tennis in the pocket book: Sharapova's struggle to return from shoulder problems and possible decline might jeopardize the women's tour's rich endorsement deal with Sony Ericsson.

The cellular company also has an endorsement deal with Sharapova."Big-time tennis revolves around lucrative backers and given the current economic worldwide situation and a still rather bleak outlook presenting itself for the future, optimism is not exactly high that an agreement as lucrative will be forthcoming," Flatman writes.

"Women's tennis currently presents a rather drab and unexciting alternative to the men's game.

Equal prize money may now be a fact of life but comparable interest is ludicrous to even contemplate.

Image is all important and therefore it's imperative that a fit and firing Sharapova is in contention for the big prizes."* * *Aplington-Parkersburg is a high school in a small Iowa town with the unique distinction of having more NFL players among its alumni, per capita, than any other.

The man who orchestrated that unlikely success was Ed Thomas, a community icon and Aplington-Parkersburg's coach for 37 seasons.

He was shot and killed in the high school's weight room Wednesday morning.

Former player Mark Becker has been arrested for the crime.

In the Des Moines Register, Reid Forgrave describes Thomas as a man who was a hero in his small town as much for his spirit and integrity as for the unlikely football dynasty he built.* * *Baseball evokes emotion in fans, but abhors it among its players, with that macho code policed by both active and retired players.

That means there are probably some salty baseball lifers who find Reds slugger Joey Votto unseemly.

Votto missed most of June with an inner ear infection and a more confounding anxiety-related issue, and recently opened up about his struggles with depression and panic attacks after losing his father, Joseph, last year.

The Fix defies you to agree with Votto's doubters after reading Richard Griffin's touching column in the Toronto Star about Votto's hard road back.* * *Dusty Rhodes, a journeyman pinch-hitter who was primarily famous as a carouser before becoming a star of the 1954 World Series, died last week at the age of 82.

Because most of his obituaries were fairly rote — and because his career, beyond his brilliant '54 Series, was hardly legendary — Rhodes didn't make it into the Fix last week.

But we really should've mentioned an excellent appreciation from the Tacoma News-Tribune's Gordon McGrath.

Rhodes finished his playing days with the minor league Tacoma Giants.

"A cotton-picker before baseball, a tugboat captain after baseball, he is remembered as the major league mediocrity who excelled on the brightest, loudest, most gaudy baseball stage in the world," McGrath writes.

"And he is remembered in Tacoma as the household name who gave a fledgling franchise credibility." — Tip of the Fix cap to reader Don Hartline and fellow Fixer Garey Ris.Found a good column from the world of sports? Don't keep it to yourself — write to us at [email protected] and we'll consider your find for inclusion in the Daily Fix.

You can email David at [email protected]
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