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The Week In Sports

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And a couple of games last night reminded us of the human drama sports can deliver, even when there are only cardboard fans in the seats. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. Good to be here.

SIMON: And the - what a game. The Miami Heat held off the LA Lakers last night, 111-108. Jimmy Butler of the Heat and LeBron James of the legend of went back-and-forth with breathtaking buckets all night.

GOLDMAN: So much has been strange about sports in this pandemic, Scott - as you mentioned, the cardboard cutout fans, the piped-in fake noise, bubbles. But, yes, last night, we forgot about that and just marveled.

And I know we're not supposed to turn team sports into individual battles, but Butler versus James was really something. And at one point near the end of the game, ABC announcer Mark Jackson likened it to Ali versus Frazier in the 15th round of a heavyweight fight. LeBron won the scoring with 40 points to Butler's 35, but Butler and the Heat won the game.

SIMON: Yeah. Lakers still lead three games to two. But in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays eliminated the New York Yankees from the playoffs. A great pitcher's duel came down to a duel between the fearsome Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees, who throws lightning bolts, and - I love baseball - an undrafted player for Tampa.

GOLDMAN: Well, as you know, baseball isn't wall-to-wall action like hoops, but it is about buildup to moments.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: And the buildup to last night started last month in a game between these two teams. Chapman threw a ball near the head of batter Mike Brosseau, luckily not hitting him. But it made the blood boil between these two division rivals.

Then flash to last night - eighth inning, game tied 1-1, Chapman pitching, the undrafted Brosseau again batting. They have this epic nine-pitch duel where Chapman keeps firing 100-mile-an-hour pitches and Brosseau fouls them off or doesn't swing. And then on the 10th pitch, Brosseau (laughter) - it's a home run to make it 2-1, which ended up being the final score, which ended the Yankees' season. I'm running out of breath here.

Brosseau was asked about sweet revenge, and he said, nah, that's in the past. But baseball fans everywhere said, yeah, right.

SIMON: Yeah. Another baseball legend, unfortunately, left us this week. Whitey Ford of the Yankees was 91. He was born in New York. And he had the best career winning percentage of any pitcher with 200 or more victories in the 20th century.

GOLDMAN: At his Hall of Fame induction in 1974, Whitey Ford said he was a Yankees fan at the age of 5. And then he became the Yankees' greatest pitcher during the team's golden years of the 1950s and '60s. A smart and crafty left-hander, he won more games than any Yankees pitcher. And he holds World Series records for wins, strikeouts, consecutive scoreless innings pitched. His good friend and teammate and another legend, Mickey Mantle, once said, if the World Series was on the line and I could pick one pitcher to pitch the game, I choose Whitey Ford every time.

SIMON: He did doctor the ball.

GOLDMAN: He did. He did (laughter). He used some mud. He used some dirt. He used some spit. But, you know, those incidents really didn't cloud his greatness as a pitcher.

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: All 16 seasons with the Yanks. They called him the chairman of the board.

SIMON: Jim Bouton said he could make a ball sing "Aida."

NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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