This is the last international soccer reference you're going to get for at least the next four years, since the only time I touch on that subject is when the World Cup is going on, and it's going to be brief, but Sunday's championship game between Germany and Argentina was about 100 times better than the 2010 final, which I thought was rather dull (and which I wrote about, four years ago, and it was my last soccer installment before a few weeks ago). Both teams pushed and tried to create offensive chances through the match's 120-plus minutes, there was not much in the way of diving or faked injuries, and, most importantly, I wasn't too concerned with which team won. That probably makes me sound like a typical American fan, but it's true. As I said a few weeks ago, the only team I actively root against is Brazil, and it got demolished in the semifinal. So, yes, this was probably the best title game I've watched since France beat Brazil, 3-0, in the 1998 final.
And that leaves us with the IronBirds, the baseball planet around which I orbit during the summer months, and whose winning percentage is closely linked to how cranky I am during said summer months. As I've written many times in this column, it's hard to get anyone to tell you something positive when you're interviewing managers and coaches on a team with a 2-17 record (that has happened twice in my seven seasons covering the IronBirds, this year and 2010). When a team is going through a stretch that rough, you're going to get the bare bones cliches, as in, "We just need to play our game and look ahead."
When the team is winning, however, things are easier, and the IronBirds have been winning lately. In fact, they won six straight Saturday last week, which, weirdly enough, was one game longer than any winning streak the McNamara Division championship team had in 2013. You read that correctly. The best IronBirds team ever, the only Aberdeen team that's yet made the New York-Penn League playoffs, counted a five-game win streak as its best of the season.
Even more strange is this: Had the IronBirds won on Sunday night, it would have tied them for the longest winning streak in club history. That didn't happen, of course, as Aberdeen lost, 5-3, to Auburn. This year's team has already set the team record for most consecutive losses with 11, so that it turned around and almost set a new mark for consecutive wins sets up a nice juxtaposition.
That disparity highlighted by the long winning and losing streaks is mirrored in Aberdeen's batting and pitching statistics, which I've written about already this season, and which I think is the reason the IronBirds are a 10-21 team rather than an over-.500 team.
You need look no further than Aberdeen's runs scored-to-runs allowed ratio for an illustration of what I'm talking about. Through Wednesday, the IronBirds had allowed the second fewest number of runs and earned runs in the New York-Penn League (110 and 92), and were tied for last place with the number of runs scored (104). A 104-110 ratio usually means you have a losing record, but not something as bad as 10-21. The two other teams in the league with comparably low season marks, Mahoning Valley and Vermont, were at 11-21 through Wednesday. Mahoning Valley had scored 123 and allowed 149, while Vermont had plated 133 and surrendered 159. Twenty-six more runs allowed than scored is what a last-place team should have, not a paltry six, as is the case with Aberdeen.
When the hitting catches up with the pitching on a week-to-week level, expect to see some more six-game win streaks from the IronBirds.