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Published: Monday, 7/9/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Shouldering nation's hopes a tough task

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Idle thoughts from an idle mind, with a leftover and an addition mixed in:

The weight of history can be suffocating. Ask Andy Murray.

An entire country nearly stopped in its tracks Sunday as Murray bid to become the first British man to win a Wimbledon singles crown in 76 years.

He fed off that for one set, but reality soon set in against the great Roger Federer, who rolled to his record-tying seventh Wimbledon title and his 17th grand slam championship.

The weight of expectations, it seems, is easier to handle.

Federer is one of the three best in the men's game today, jockeying positions with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in the semis to snuff out a recent stretch of mastery by the Serb.

The theory in some quarters is that the Big Three is so big because the depth of talent in men's tennis is so small.

I'm not so sure one necessarily has anything to do with the other. Greatness is greatness.

■ It is an understatement to suggest injuries have played a role during the first half of the baseball season.

Some teams seem unaffected -- the Yankees lost the game's premier closer, Mariano Rivera, and have shuffled starting pitching while winning 50-plus games -- and others have very much been affected.

Cardinals' ace Chris Carpenter hasn't pitched an inning (and won't), which may be why St. Louis is treading water in the NL Central; Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury, an MVP candidate a year ago, has been out since April 30 with a shoulder injury and the Red Sox have struggled to keep pace in the AL East; and Tampa Bay has been without its biggest bat, Evan Longoria, since a torn hamstring on April 30.

But the Phillies, perhaps, have been hardest hit of all. Second baseman Chase Utley missed the first 76 games, and Ryan Howard, the slugging first baseman, just returned on Friday from an Achilles injury suffered while making the final out of last year's NLDS. Premier starter Roy Halladay has been out with shoulder/velocity issues that led to a 4-5 record in 11 starts. He could begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week.

On top of that, the Phillies have been shaken by Cliff Lee's ineffectiveness. He is 1-5 in 14 starts -- 96 hits and 43 earned runs in 97 1/3 innings -- and he too needs to be fixed. It may not matter. The Phils have plowed a monstrous hole in pursuit of a sixth straight NL East crown.

■ The leftover mentioned earlier is from a recent interview with Tom Matukewicz, the new defensive coordinator at the University of Toledo. I asked Matukewicz, a veteran of 15 seasons on the college level, for his thoughts on working under 32-year-old Matt Campbell, the youngest head coach in college football:

"I think Toledo is fortunate to have him. When I first got here, the No. 1 thing that struck me was his ability to communicate, to sell his values, and lead people to change. His ability to do those things at such a young age is impressive. He's one of the best I've been around."

■ And the addition mentioned earlier is courtesy of Toledo baseball historian John Husman, who read a July 4 column on real sports heroes and passed along a local tie to World War II that must be mentioned.

Ardys "Art" Keller was a catcher for the Mud Hens in 1942-43, appearing in a total of 143 games. He entered military service after the end of the '43 season, served with the Army's 142nd Infantry Division and was killed in action in France on Sept. 29, 1944. Another true hero.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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