Just when your cynicism is at a sneer level and your skepticism is bottling up all joy, along come Landon Donovan, the plucky Slovakians and a pair of tennis players who wouldn’t say uncle. Throw in baseball’s newest uberrookie Stephen Strasburg and the Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga example of confession and forgiveness.

Maybe this will be the summer that restores the quaint notion the goodness and goose bumps of sports are still with us. That the unexpected still happens to delight or dismay.

Minutes after Donovan scored the goal that gave the U.S. a victory over Algeria and new life in the World Cup, commentators were already using the M-word. The miracle goal, the miracle ending.

Miracle? Pure hyperbole, and it cheapens the goal and the effort. The U.S. worked for the victory and earned it. The rest of the world used to identify America by our can-do attitude.

Until we got fat and arrogant and reeked of entitlement.

You couldn’t help but smile and cheer with Slovakia after its win over defending World Cup champion Italy. They were us. We could relate to their euphoria because we were there just the day before.

Last week, only the most dedicated tennis fan could pick American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut out of a lineup. Two among dozens of players at Wimbledon. Two names that in any other year would simply march across the bottom of your television screen on the sports ticker. Now their epic fifth set will stamp them forever in your memory.

“It’s one of the greatest examples of effort in sports of all time,” said Justin Gimelstob, a retired tennis player quoted in the New York Times.

Forget the physical component for a moment. The strength of the human mind that refuses to give in to exhaustion is the amazing part. If you compare tennis to boxing, as a sports editor once told me, those three days on the grass court won’t be witnessed again.

The grace and sportsmanship of both men under that pressure is a worthwhile lesson.

IndyCar racing is returning to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next summer. Will you?

The open-wheeled rockets driven by Mario and Michael Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Nigel Mansell, Tony Stewart and dozens more gave fans great racing moments. The problem was, too few were in Bob Bahre’s grandstands to watch. Many New Englanders want fenders on their race cars and contact, incidental or intentional.

Among the speedway’s unforgettable moments was Andre Ribeiro’s victory in 1995. In their excitement, Ribeiro’s fellow Brazilians started climbing the safety fencing along the front straight, alarming track security who previously had not seen such passion.

CART was replaced by the Indy Racing League a year later. The IRL was gone after 1998. The Bahre family sold the track a couple of years ago to Bruton Smith.

With the never-ending speculation that one of the two current Sprint Cup dates will be given to another speedway, gaining an IndyCar race makes sense — and cents.

The ever-perceptive Rick Knight responded to a recent column on Reid Coulombe, one of the 12 Westbrook All-Stars he managed at the Little League World Series in 2005.

“Life is about constant change and to see these boys go their separate ways can be painful at times, though certainly not unexpected,” wrote Knight in an e-mail. “As their former coach, I would have much preferred to see them stay together as a team, but understand that life takes us down many different paths. Instant fame can make future expectations extremely difficult and in some cases, unattainable.” How true.

Two weeks ago I was invited into the sports department’s World Cup pool. Was told I didn’t need to know anything. Just pick by turn the names of four countries out of a hat.

My hand reached for my first grab: Uruguay. Followed by Paraguay, the U.S. and the Netherlands. In my ignorance, I was underwhelmed that night. What, no Italy? No France?

Thursday afternoon the luck of the draw redefined itself. I’ve got four group winners moving on.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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