Baby, he can drive your car—or whatever. After dominating at Atlanta Motor Speedway (at 22 he's the youngest to win there), he is No. 1 in the Sprint Cup Series, leads the Craftsman Truck circuit and is third in the Nationwide standings. Says rival Jimmie Johnson, "Put him on a tricycle, and he's going to haul butt."
Eighteen months after his last game, 15 months after Tommy John surgery and a week after being delayed in the Dominican by visa woes, the Twins' 2006 sensation took the hill. How'd he do? He set down five of his first six batters, striking out one Manny Ramirez. Said Liriano, "I feel strong."
Since the NHL trade deadline (and the importing of premier defenseman Brian Campbell), SI's Cup pick has run its winning streak to nine. "This feels good," said captain Patrick Marleau, who potted his third straight game-winner on Sunday.
March 16, 2008
Magic assistant Patrick is in first place, doing fine work with Dwight Howard and angling for a head-coaching job. At Georgetown, Junior is a senior and did something not even Pop did as a Hoya: win two straight Big East titles. Ewing Jr. (right) to The New York Times: "I'm one up on something on him, finally."
He's driving well, but stuff keeps happenin'. He got penalized 100 points for racing with his oil tank uncovered on March 2. After some grumbling, his team put a lid on it, and Edwards led in Atlanta. Then his engine blew on Lap 274 (result: 42nd place), leading Edwards to say he had the best car, "other than something coming apart in the engine."
The Bulls guard is averaging a career-low 5.8 points, has had his minutes cut since Chicago got Larry Hughes and is now having lateness issues. He was benched after missing a shootaround. Did that bother him? Duhon to the Chicago Tribune: "I haven't been playing a lot anyway."
Since the NHL trade deadline (and the exporting of elite forward Marian Hossa), last season's division winners have sunk deep in the Southeast. Nine losses in 10 games can be wearing—as coach Don Waddell's spectacular screaming fit (at a ref) made clear.
Dodgers sophomore Andy LaRoche was battling to win the third base job when he was hit in the thumb with a pickoff throw. He'll need surgery and will miss two months. ("A shock," he told the L.A. Times.) Brother Adam's having a solid spring, but for the Pirates, who at 3--8 looked in midseason form.
SI PLAYERS NHL POLL
Who is the NHL's best skater?
Marian Gaborik, Wild RW 32%
Scott Niedermayer, Ducks D 21%
Sidney Crosby, Penguins C 11%
Alex Ovechkin, Capitals LW 8%
Ilya Kovalchuk, Thrashers LW 5%
Players could not vote for a teammate.... Niedermayer is 34 years old; the average age of the others in the top five is 23.... Aside from Niedermayer the Hurricanes' Bret Hedican (6th, 2.0%) and the Sharks' Brian Campbell (12th, 1.1%) were the only defensemen among the top 14.
[Based on a survey of 365 NHL players] • For more on the poll, and to comment on it, go to SI.com/players.