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The Inside Track | Mike Penner SOUND AND VISION

Weekend Is a Corker, but NBA Is on Bubble

June 07, 2003|Mike Penner

History is in the air today, here for the making, resonating in some of sport's most storied and revered cathedrals.

Belmont Park.

Wrigley Field.

Stade Roland Garros.

The Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

It could be a champagne-soaked Saturday, with chilled bottles poised to toast Funny Cide's Triple Crown-clinching triumph at the Belmont Stakes, a new women's French Open champion in Paris, another New Jersey Stanley Cup in Anaheim and Roger Clemens' 300th career victory at Wrigley -- no corkage fee required.

By the time they mop up all the spilled bubbly, will anyone notice they're also holding the NBA Finals this weekend?

(Yes, they actually are. San Antonio versus New Jersey. David Stern, can someone over there please send up a flare?)

Forty-eight hours of impending sensory overload, on a roll ...

TODAY

* Belmont Stakes

(Channel 4, 2:30 p.m.)

Horse racing hasn't had a Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century, not since Affirmed in 1978, so this unexpected run by a 3-year-old gelding has given a struggling sport a badly needed electric jolt ... and don't the Cubs wish Sammy Sosa were as empty-handed as Jose Santos turned out to be?

Having grabbed the country's attention, race caller Tom Durkin is making preparations to make the most of the moment.

"I've got a number of things that I've written down, thought about," Durkin said during a midweek conference call. "I tend to put them on tape recorders and just play them over and over in my head.

"For this particular race, I'd be gilding the lily if I went a little bit too much with the superlatives here. I mean, if you just say the fact, 'He's won the Triple Crown,' what more can you say? So it's probably going to be pretty simple, understated, I would think."

And how many times has Durkin already run this race in his mind?

"Oh, probably no more than two or three hundred."

* New York Yankees at Chicago Cubs

(Channel 11, 10 a.m.)

Speaking of called shots, these are the teams and this is the site that combined to produce the setting for Babe Ruth's fabled home run during the 1932 World Series. Getting a handle on when and where Clemens will win his 300th has been somewhat more problematic, with the pitcher squandering chances poetic (against his long-abandoned Red Sox) and golden (against the hapless Tigers) in his last two starts.

So, quite happily for Fox, Clemens has taken it to Wrigley, where a national audience awaits a high-octane matchup between the Rocket and his protege, Kerry Wood, the only two pitchers to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. Sosa, having appealed his eight-game suspension for bat corking, will also be available, albeit a few days too late for maximum entertainment.

Suppose Sosa had busted that corker against Clemens. What would Clemens have done with the evidence? Besides threatening the world javelin record.

* French Open women's final,

(Channel 4, 6 a.m.)

Women's clay tennis at 6 in the morning? NBC decided to televise the French women's final live for the first time, hoping to ride the interest piquing around Serena Williams' bid for a calendar Grand Slam. Then, Williams got booed out of the tournament in a semifinal and, oh well, NBC got stuck with the Belgian Open final -- Kim Clijsters versus Justine Henin-Hardenne. Breakfast over Belgian waffles, anyone?

* Stanley Cup finals, Game 6

(Channel 7, 5 p.m.)

In Gary Bettman's perfect world, this would be New York against Los Angeles, instead of New Jersey against Anaheim, and 1993 instead of 2003. So close, so far. Ratings haven't been good for Bettman, ABC, ESPN and Paul Kariya this series, but with a victory today, the Devils finally can put everyone out of their misery.

* Colorado Rapids at Galaxy

(ESPN2, 1 p.m.)

If you build it, they will not win again? So goes the MLS season so far for the vagabond defending champion Galaxy, which is 0-4-4 in road games while waiting for construction on the Home Depot Center to conclude. The Galaxy hasn't been much to look at lately, but the stadium is something of a minor miracle -- a glittering Euro-style soccer gem, seemingly airlifted and set down smack dab in the middle of Carson.

SUNDAY

* NBA Finals, Game 3

(Channel 7, 5:30 p.m.)

San Antonio at New Jersey, which is what happens when Shaquille O'Neal delays foot surgery three months, Kobe Bryant plays hurt and Chris Webber and Dirk Nowitzki wrench their knees. It's a post-superpower NBA now, and Phil Jackson recently told Fox's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" that he has had "a hard time watching the game, I'll be honest with you, even listening to the commentary. Sometimes I turn the sound off and try to watch. Or sometimes I just watch the fourth quarter. It's not been easy for me to watch the game." He isn't alone.

* French Open men's final

(Channel 4, 6 a.m.)

More Sunrise Semester tennis, this time a French Open final between Juan Carlos Ferrero and Martin Verkerk? John McEnroe once worded it perfectly. You cannot be serious.

* Arena Football League semifinal

(Channel 4, 2:30 p.m.)

Tom Hammond will be at Belmont on Saturday, hosting NBC's coverage of a possible Triple Crown victory. And after that brush with history, where does Hammond head next? To the Arizona Rattler-San Jose SaberCat Arena League game, where else?

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