It's like being told, just before the lights go down: "Oh, by the way, Bruce Springsteen has a sore throat tonight. Filling in will be Milli Vanilli."
I'm talking about the late scratch of I'll Have Another last week in the Belmont. Horse racing, after all, has been waiting 34 years for another Triple Crown winner, another super stallion to follow in the hallowed hoof marks of Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. A lot of folks, even nonracing fans, were hoping I'll Have Another might have what Big Brown, Smarty Jones and the rest of recent pretenders lacked: one more great race in him.
And maybe he would have, too, if fate — in the form of tendinitis in his left front leg — hadn't caused him to be scratched on the eve of the race. Word of his withdrawal stung like a jockey's whip ... and still does. No offense to Union Rags, who ultimately won with a late burst, but history was at stake here, not just a silver bowl, a blanket of white carnations and a first prize that will buy you a lot of oats ($620,000).
Of course, sports giveth, and sports taketh away. They never "taketh away" quite so much, though, as when they deprive us of a potentially great moment or game or series. Perhaps I'll Have Another would have run out of gas, as so many Triple Crown aspirants have, in the more gruelling (1.5 miles) last leg. But we'll never know, and now the moment is gone forever (though his owner, J. Paul Reddam, figures to be reliving it a time or two in the decades ahead). It's already a part of thoroughbred lore — along with Tim Tam breaking an ankle bone coming down the stretch of the 1958 Belmont and Real Quiet losing in a photo finish in '98.
Sports, come to think of it, have been doing a fair amount of taketh-ing away lately. Never mind I'll Have Another's sob story; what about the poor Chicago Bulls? They tied the San Antonio Spurs for the best record in the NBA this season (50-16) and seemed a good bet to reach the Finals. So what happens? They lose their All-Star point guard, Derrick Rose, to a torn ACL in the first playoff game ... and then are eliminated in the opening round by a Philadelphia club that wasn't close to being in their class.
A cruel blow, to say the least. Especially for a franchise that reached the conference finals last year and has been trying desperately to recapture the glory of the Jordan Era. Granted, Rose is just 23, but who knows how many other chances he'll have with the Bulls? There are no guarantees in this game, even for a former league MVP whose best seasons could still be ahead of him.
The Miami Heat, for that matter, were almost in the same situation. Chris Bosh, their most reputable big man, suffered an abdominal strain early in the second round and missed the next nine games. By the time he returned, his team trailed the Boston Celtics 3-2 and faced elimination at TD Garden. Had Miami lost that night, Bosh's injury might have accomplished the unimaginable — and made the Heat, pro basketball's tribute to Conspicuous Consumption, appear sympathetic.
But Miami didn't lose that night. With Bosh chipping in seven points and six rebounds (to complement LeBron James' otherworldly 45 and 15), the Heat battered Boston to force a seventh game. And two nights later, he was an even bigger factor (19 points, eight rebounds) as Miami took the series and, for the second straight year, moved on to the Finals.
Call it Anguish Averted. For the time being, at least. We'll have to see whether Bosh's abdomen continues to behave against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But you have to admit, it's a strange and somewhat alarming sequence of events: three injuries, in rather short order, disrupting horse racing's Triple Crown and the NBA playoffs.
So far, in other words, 2012 ranks pretty high on the Bummer Meter. A horse and a basketball team have had their hopes run into the rail just as they approached the finish line. It makes you wonder what else might be in store for us this year.
And then you remember: The Washington Nationals have Stephen Strasburg on an innings limit.
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